The Times and the Living God

January 2, 2012

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The New York Times recently published one author’s rather positive experience of a five-day silent retreat at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA: “In Pennsylvania, a Quick Shot of Peace, On a Budget”.  I naturally perk up at any sympathetic encounter with Catholicism that makes the Times, especially if it involves a work of the Society of Jesus.  Since such pieces are almost invariably written from the perspective of the slightly bemused “seeker,” moreover, they at least suggest what kind of “first impression” we make.

What seems to have struck Susan Thomas (the article’s author) is actually what she would have been hard-pressed to find in the spas or Ashrams or organic farms that also received honorable mention in the “budget spirituality” section: encouragement to discover the living God.  As is the case with most distressed people who have sufficient sophistication to write for the Times, unremitting introspection and pop psychology seem to be the very air that Susan breathes.  She found, however, a perceptibly different approach recommended at the Jesuit Center.  At the first meeting with the nun who directed her, says the author,

I told her about my stress-related illnesses, which had hospitalized me twice earlier that year; about my sparkly-minded children; about watching my Lear-like father die in front of me; about my divorce, subsequent remarriage and unexpected conception of my son; about my dip into poverty; my husband’s unemployment; my darkest fears; of aloneness.

Bracing herself for psychological platitudes, the author is surprised by her director’s reply: Read the rest of this entry »

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On the Feast of St. Francis Borgia

October 3, 2011

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St. Francis Borgia, SJ

Despite the evident sanctity of St. Francis Borgia (1510-1572), third general of the Society of Jesus, he has not been altogether immune from criticism.  Having introduced detailed “rules” on dress, prayer, and social interaction across the course of his generalate, Borgia is not uncommonly identified as the figure overseeing the transition from a charismatic and spontaneous Society to an “order” marked by military discipline and rigid uniformity.  Whatever the justice of these remarks, I thought I would at least present the direction methods of Bl. Peter Faber, SJ (1506-1546), methods which suggest how, from the very beginning of the Society, discipline and uniformity coincided with spontaneity and charism.  (This also relates to Fr. Monnig’s post about the “religious experience” and “holiness” models of spiritual direction).

Ignatius himself considered Bl. Peter Faber the most gifted director of the Exercises, and voted to elect him the first Jesuit general (the only vote Bl. Peter received).  It was Bl. Peter Faber’s custom, however, to give “Instructions” toward the end of the Exercises in order to help exercitants “consolidate their fruit.”  This “consolidation,” not surprisingly, required that uniform disciplines be undertaken by the exercitants:

 In these [“Instructions”] Bl. Peter Faber recalls the end that must determine all the actions and the order that must be present in them so that they remain regulated according to God. Read the rest of this entry »


Spiritual Direction and Confession

September 11, 2011

“Confession is not spiritual direction.”

This is a principle that I have followed and a maxim that I have often repeated.  By this I mean that in confession, people generally need only some brief counsel, encouragement, and absolution.  Of course, the sacrament of penance is private and personal, and there are many situations that would require something different.  But I had thought it a sound principle to distinguish clearly these two different activities.

I might have to revise this thinking in light of what I have learned from reading the Congregation for the Clergy’s recent document “The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy: An Aid for Confessors and Spiritual Directors.”  This document was dated March 9, 2011, but seems to have received very little attention.  This is probably for several reasons.  First, there is nothing controversial in it (unlike the 1997 Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life–which remains in my opinion the wisest, most useful, and practical instruction for confessors, not only on the particular topic it addresses but for the general principles it provides).  Read the rest of this entry »