Some time back, I read a classic on spiritual direction by Jean Grou who ministered in the late 18th century. A spiritual director, at his or her best, is one who is well-acquainted with the voice of God through long practice in listening and discerning. His description is quite comprehensive. (Remember he was writing for a male monastic community. We would use inclusive language today.)
“It is necessary that the [director] should be, as it were, the voice of God, the instrument of Divine grace, the co-operator with the work of the Holy Spirit, and, consequently, that he should be an interior man, a man of prayer, a man well versed in spiritual things, as much by his own experience as by study and reading; that he should have no purely natural designs, either of vanity or self-interest, but that he should only consider the glory of God and the good of souls; that he should never act according to the leadings of his own spirit, but that he should judge of the things of God by the spirit of God. From all this it is easy to conclude that true directors are very rare.” (Fr. Jean Grou, S. J. Manual for Interior Souls. London: St. Anselm’s Society, 1913, p. 128-29.)
- An interior person. One who does not just live their lives at the surface, but is engaged with the depths of God and the depths of their own soul. Such a guide is rightly self-aware without being self-focused.
- A person of prayer. Spiritual direction is the fruit of actual, consistent and extended communication with God. A spiritual director who never or rarely prays is like a dry riverbed. From where will come the rivers of living water?
- A person well-versed in spiritual things, as much by…experience as by study and reading. Where does my expertise lie as a Christian leader? Do I excel in organizing, in preaching, in gathering a large group, in counseling? These are, of course, powerful and fruitful skills. A spiritual director is a leader who excels and is well-versed in spiritual things through practice and study. This must not be unseasoned theory nor ungrounded experience. The fruitful spiritual director joins their experience with the classic and recorded experience of others from centuries past.
- A person…with no purely natural designs, either of vanity or self-interest, but considers the glory of God and the good of souls. As God brings increasing visible leaders to my door, am I more interested in the potential “status windfall” to me or in his or her spiritual well-being regardless of whether anyone ever knows of our connection? Am I seeking the good of another or my own alone?
- This person should never act according to the leadings of his own spirit, but judge of the things of God by the Spirit of God. A good spiritual director is able to discern the difference between their own judgments and God’s, their own ideas and God’s, their own counsel and God’s. Never quick to speak. Always quicker to listen.
Grou’s closing comment here is fitting—it really is easy to come to the conclusion that true directors are quite rare. Few have the kind of experience and character that he describes here.
Father, may You raise up a growing community of such spiritual directors. Make me more and more such a person.