The Priests’ Convention
Philadelphia, April 29-30, 1924
From The American Church Monthly, June, 1924, Vol. XV, No. 4.
Edited by Selden Peabody Delany, D.D.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
THE title of this paper will suggest to most minds something formal and professional, as though Spiritual Guidance belonged exclusively to the work of the Sacred Ministry. Yet, taken simply and literally, "spiritual guidance" is found in a vast variety of human relations and in a very wide range of social experiences. Spiritual guidance is the direction of a human spirit in its true development and its appointed progress. Every mother who seeks to help her child to do right is giving spiritual guidance. Every teacher who sets true standards of behaviour before her pupils is giving spiritual guidance. Every man who appeals to what is best and highest in his friend is exercising spiritual direction. This is so evident that it might seem superfluous to say it. But it is worth while to remind ourselves at the outset that just as the Catholic Faith is the full statement of truths which belong to men everywhere, and in embryo are implicit in the human soul naturaliter christiana, and just as the forms of the two great Sacraments of the Gospel are universal human acts, an ablution and a meal, so the discipline of the Church is not something adventitious and artificial, but is the more exact and scientific application to her children of what is familiar and often instinctive in ordinary everyday life. Bear with me if I dwell a little longer upon this.
First, by way of contrast, let me relate an incident mentioned by the head of one of the great English Public Schools. Speaking of the fact that his real difficulty is not with the boys in the school but with their parents, he says that the father of one of his boys said to him: "I want to ask you to tell me frankly whether or not I said the right thing to my boy before he came back to school this past term. I felt that the time had come for me to have a serious religious talk with him, and I am anxious to know if you think that I put it in the correct way. The evening before he left us for school, I told him to come into my study and said to him, "Now, Tom, you know that if we don't do what is right we shall be very uncomfortable. Now don't you think that was the proper thing to say?" A serious religious conversation! There is not the faintest suggestion of religion in it. No [335/336] doubt the poor, dear man wanted to give some spiritual guidance to his boy, something that, in his foggy way, he conceived to be religion, but all that he arrived at was an appeal to his son's calculating selfishness.
Set over against that an instance of spiritual direction where the child from whom it came was entirely unconscious of giving any guidance at all. In a Mission which I conducted in California many years ago, a little girl in the children's Catechism went home to her mother and said, "Mother, I'm going to say my prayers every morning now; I suppose it's because you say your prayers every morning that you are so good." The mother had not consciously said a prayer for twenty years. She put her hat on and came round to the church, and said to one of the priests in the Mission: "What am I going to do to justify my own child's faith in me?" And, as a result, she was baptised and confirmed and became a woman of unusual piety. Her own child had given her spiritual direction more effective, through the power of the Holy Ghost, than is often our privilege as priests to impart.
Between these two extremes we could, of course, arrange a long series of instances of spiritual guidance in ordinary life, and, at the center as it were, we might place the spiritual direction which it is one of the functions of the priesthood to exercise. What I am anxious to do, what I trust I have done, is to point out that priestly spiritual guidance is but the focusing and sharpening of what is going on all the time within the Church and even beyond her borders. This is, of course, but one of the manifold manifestations of the sacramental principle of the Catholic Church, that what is true at all times needs to be accentuated at certain special times, that what is found in all places should be uniquely true in certain special places. Spiritual guidance is not confined to the priesthood. As a matter of fact, spiritual guidance, in the most technical sense, has been exercised in the very highest degree, and with results of surpassing impressiveness, by those who were incapable of the sacerdotal office. To cite but two instances. St. Hilda, presiding over two Communities of men and of women, at Whitby Abbey, counseled and guided the souls of men who afterwards became priests and Bishops; and St. Catherine of Siena did not shrink from giving spiritual direction to the Pontiff of Rome [336/337] when exiled at Avignon, and in her brief life of three-and-thirty years converted and guided a vast number of souls.
What is the relation of spiritual guidance to the ministry of the Sacrament of Penance, of which you have heard to such excellent effect this morning? It is important, I think, to see clearly that there is no necessary connection between spiritual direction and confession and absolution.
At one period of my life, many years ago, I made my confession every fortnight to a learned and saintly priest who was, I think, at that time the confessor for two Communities of Sisters. I made my confessions quite regularly, and with careful preparation. Yet month after month passed, and I received not one word of counsel or of spiritual direction, simply a penance and the gift of absolution. I daresay that this was just the treatment that I needed at the time. I think it had a certain chastening influence on my bumptiousness and self-importance. But it served to bring home to me rather strongly the fact that spiritual direction is not an essential element in the Sacrament of Penance.
Certainly it were better for a priest to give no counsel in confession that to feel it incumbent upon him, in every confession, to make a "few moral remarks" of a manifestly conventional character. An experienced priest urges those who hear confessions to be simple and direct and businesslike in their method of administering the Sacrament of Penance. "Such a method," he says, "increases the confidence of the faithful in their priests: words which are few and to the point gain a weight which is lacking to a vague prolixity. Above all, it must be insisted that the confessional is not the place for sermonizing. One has heard of cases where the Sunday morning sermon is practically anticipated by the penitent who goes to confession on Saturday night. So possessed was the confessor by the mischievous idea that he must say something, that having nothing particular suggested by the needs of the penitent, he could only speak of what was occupying his own mind before entering the tribunal. He had better far set a penance, give absolution, and keep his sermon for the proper time and place."
It seems hardly necessary to warn against the error on the part of either a confessor or a director of trying to dominate a soul, to go before it and try to drag it along a path marked out by his own self-will, instead of going behind it to help it, as occasion arises, [337/338] on the path that God the Holy Ghost is opening to it. Direction is not domination, and the ideal that we put before people must be not of our own devising or origination, but what we humbly perceive to be God's purpose for them, and what He is gradually making known to them. Even when people desire more than this it may not be well that they should have it. A Sister who was at one time under the spiritual guidance of Fr. Benson, the Founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, of Cowley, relates how when she went to him with various questions and perplexities she always came away feeling strengthened and encouraged, yet on thinking over what had been said she rarely found that he had settled her difficulties out of hand, but had rather shown her how to deal with them, how to seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost.
To say a word more about confession, we should, I think, not only exercise restraint upon ourselves but also take some pains to make people understand that they are not to expect that every time they come to confession they will have a high and stimulating ideal of the Christian Life set before them. They should realize that that is not the purpose of confession and absolution, that the priest in absolution is primarily concerned with removing the hindrances that sin may have brought to the soul in its progress towards perfection. For it is sin, unrepented of and unforgiven, which dulls the ear of the soul to the call of God, and so prevents it from recognizing the vocation which God has for it. Above all, if a soul is in mortal sin, and consequently is not in a state of grace, its first and most imperative need,—on which indeed its eternal destiny depends,—is that it should be restored to God through the cleansing of the Precious Blood. It is to that end that the faithful confessor addresses himself. And, in seeking that end, he must not require of the penitent more than a true sorrow and regret for the past and sincere acknowledgement of his faith, and a firm purpose to yield obedience to the will of God in the fulfillment of His precepts in time to come. To require more than this of a penitent, to demand heroic virtues or to urge the acceptance of the evangelic counsels, might be utterly to discourage and dishearten the penitent sinner and so to bar the way to his return to the Father.
I do not mean to say that spiritual direction should never be given in connection with confession and absolution. In the case of [338/339] devout persons who come regularly to the confessional and rarely if ever have to own to mortal sin, it may be entirely proper to take the occasion of confession to give spiritual counsel and guidance, and spiritual direction may be needed by imperfect souls to warn them against future dangers, and to instruct them how to combat vices and how to make use of sacramental help. But spiritual direction is not per se an essential element in that sacrament.
Where, then, does spiritual guidance belong, in the exercise of the sacerdotal office? It is very beautifully and solemnly set forth, in words that came to each of us at one of the most awful hours of our life.
"Wherefore consider with yourselves the end of the Ministry towards the children of God, towards the Spouse and Body of Christ; and see that ye never cease your labours, your care and diligence, until ye have done all that lieth in you, according to your bounden duty, to bring all such as are, or shall be committed to your charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfection of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion, or for viciousness of life." That is a very high standard, and it lays upon us a very terrible responsibility. No doubt we do, to some extent, discharge that responsibility by our public preaching, teaching, and catechizing. That is not now the question. But we cannot reflect upon these searching words without coming to feel that more is meant than public instruction and exhortation.
One of the most evident occasions for the private exercise of spiritual direction is the preparation of individuals for Baptism or Confirmation. About the Sacrament of Baptism there can be no debate. Very rarely nowadays I suppose, except perhaps in a Church boarding school or in mission work in non-Christian lands, is there a class of catechumens for Holy Baptism. The necessary instruction is given individually. Indeed, the rubric at the beginning of the Office for the Baptism of Such as are of Riper Years, requires some dealing with each catechumen by himself. "When any such persons as are of riper years are to be baptised, timely notice shall be given to the Minister; that so due care may be taken for their examination, whether they be sufficiently instructed in the Principles of the Christian Religion." [339/340] Such examination must evidently be made of each separate catechumen. At the close of the Office stands the rubric "It is expedient that every Person [notice the singular number] thus baptized, should be confirmed by the Bishop, so soon after his Baptism as conveniently may be." Then, turning the page, we find "A Catechism, to be Learned by Every Person before he be brought to be Confirmed by the Bishop," and that catechism is very pointedly addressed to each candidate separately. "What is your Name?" "Dost thou not think that thou art bound to believe, and to do—" "What is thy duty to God,—towards thy neighbour?" And the Catechism gives not only teaching concerning the Christian Covenant, the Christian Faith, and the Christian Law but also spiritual direction in the explanation of the necessity of prayer as the condition of receiving the grace of God, without which His commandments cannot be kept or His service be accomplished. There follows upon such explanation the examination as to whether the Paternoster is known by heart, and a careful analysis of what is desired and asked for in that prayer. The rubrics at the end of the Catechism provide that the children of the parish shall be taught the Catechism in groups, yet the whole structure of the Catechism seems to imply that, in addition to this, children shall be dealt with individually.
Bear with me, my dear brothers in the priesthood, if I seem to labour this point unnecessarily. It is really very germane to our subject. For it shows that the Church has made provision for spiritual guidance to be given to each of her members at the most impressionable and formative time of life, the time at which, as modern psychology shows, the soul is most responsive to the appeal of religion and is determining its attitude towards life here and hereafter. I cannot think that the mind of the Church is carried out when the preparation for Confirmation is limited to a series of Confirmation lectures, addressed to a more or less promiscuous group of people, old and young, learned and ignorant, with the very minimum of personal application.
One extreme example of this I will give. It would be amusing, if it were not tragic in the wrong done to souls in denying them the spiritual guidance which the Church means they shall receive. A friend of mine told me that as a young man he was for a time in a parish where the vicar was singularly devoid of tact and imagination and of ability to understand the needs of [340/341] his people. Preparation for Confirmation was given in a series of lectures, lacking in power to inform or stimulate the candidates and quite unintelligible to all but the few educated persons who occasionally presented themselves for the Sacrament. One year, as the time for the Bishop's first visit approached, the vicar gave notice that, as there was an unusually large number of persons who wished to be confirmed, he would divide them into classes. A ray of hope came to my friend. At last, he thought, there was to be some discrimination. The children would be taught by themselves, with suitable language and appreciation of their needs. The young people would have their instruction, the older people theirs. A new era in the parish would begin. But the hope faded suddenly as the vicar went on with his notice: "All those whose last name begins with any letter from A to F can come on Monday evening, those from I to L on Tuesday evening" and so on through the alphabet; the same lecture was to be given every evening!
I do not want to weary you, but I must take a moment to point out that, in the mind of the Church, the objective to be kept before the baptized is not Confirmation, the Laying on of the Hands of the Bishop. I am afraid that that is the idea with a certain proportion of our people. The coming of the Bishop, especially to the smaller towns and villages, is a dramatic event. It is natural for a parish priest to try to make it such, that a witness may be borne to other bodies of Christians that we have and maintain the Episcopate, so insuring the grace of the Apostolic succession and our place in the Catholic Church. And since the special function which the Bishop performs in visiting our parishes is the bestowal of the grace of Confirmation to a group of people at a public service, usually rather largely attended, the result is a strong emphasis on the Sacrament of Confirmation. But the Prayer Book is quite plain in regard to the subordinate place that Confirmation holds in the order of the sacraments. To quote once again, this time in full, the first rubric at the end of the Office for the Baptism of those of Riper Years: "It is expedient that every Person, thus baptized, should be confirmed by the Bishop, so soon after his Baptism as conveniently may be; that so he may be admitted to the Holy Communion." That is the goal which the Church has in mind for every one of her members who arrives at years of discretion, [341/342] not simply to have been confirmed,—an event which can find place but once in a lifetime,—but to be a communicant, and so receive our Lord in the Sacrament of His love on through life and, if it may be, at the very hour of death. I am sure that it would make a vast difference to our people if this simple demand of the Church were obeyed, if every baptized soul were the subject of spiritual guidance as looking forward and preparing to kneel at the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ; if our Church Schools were avowedly classes for First Communion; if our children were so trained that to become communicants was as normal and unquestioned a result of their Baptism as to join the family at its daily meals is the eventual natural and normal result of a child being born. And if this order, which the Church so clearly intends, were observed, how much more effective would be the appeal to those brought up in Protestant denominations! For one such person who can be led to feel the obligation to be confirmed, a hundred could be found who have some sense that a person should partake of the Lord's Supper. Even that sense, alas, is often vague and sometimes quite unknown, but any actual need of being confirmed is vastly more rare.
If children are to be led to look forward understandingly and eagerly to receiving the Blessed Sacrament then there can be no question that they will be influenced to do so by being brought to a holy familiarity with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. "No Gospel like this Feast spread for Thy Church by Thee." Perhaps there can be, for a right-minded child, no more impressive and effectual spiritual guidance than to kneel with other children close about the altar, even in the sanctuary, while an experienced priest describes the meaning of the Mass celebrated right there at the altar, and explains how to make acts of devotion and adoration to our Blessed Lord, in the Sacrament of His Love. Next to that, of course, is the guidance and instruction which enables the child to seek our Lord in the tabernacle, and to tell Him of his childish joys and temptations and trials.
All that I have said thus far may sound primary, if not platitudinous. Yet it has seemed worth saying, because it illustrates the fact that "spiritual guidance" is not for some limited and elite circle of exceptionally devout people, but should find place [342/343] in the experience of every soul that comes within the sphere of the Church's influence.
Yet, that being understood, a wide field opens before us, namely the whole exercise of the pastoral office in dealing with the vast variety of individuals with whom the priest comes in contact. Each of these individuals has his own natural temperament, his peculiar heritage and environment, his especial degree of intelligence and education, his own temptations and spiritual experience, and above all his response to, or rejection of, the claims of divine love, his hardness in wilful wrong-doing or passionate longing to be set free from sin and to go forward in the way of holiness and perfection. Any of this motley company may at any time or place be brought into contact with a priest and the opportunity be given for spiritual guidance, counsel, and advice.
It is evident that adequately to classify this multitude of souls would be a task far exceeding the limits of time alloted me. Yet some division should be made. And the simplest and most generally recognized is the scheme of the threefold way, as set forth, as far back as the second century, by St. Clement of Alexandria, and handed on and developed through all ages of the Church. This scheme, familiar to you all, is that of the purgative, the illuminative, and the unitive way. These three stages of the soul's progress in holiness are "briefly and simply stated, yet with a theological precision which is admirable, in the baptismal office, where we pray that the Christian neophyte may pass the waves of this troublesome world and come to the land of everlasting life by continuing 'steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity'."
The purgative way is the way of faith. It may be a very dim and unformed faith, a faint recognition of the unseen, the sense that behind the veil of outward things is the presence of a Divine Being. This much of faith is more widely extended than is commonly supposed. Even the primitives in Africa, although they confess that they know nothing about God, yet declare that there is One from whom all things have come, who is thought of as so remote that He cannot be approached, and to whom no prayer is said or sacrifice offered. So also among ourselves, there are obdurate sinners who have striven to drive all thought of God out of their hearts, yet there is almost always a faint [343/344] spark of faith left, "a grain of conscience that makes them sour," that betrays itself in the very fierceness of their professions of unbelief. And, of course, there are many men who boast of their lack of faith, who yet do practice something of religion in secret, like the young men of whom some one says that they: "talk atheistically in coffee-houses all day although it can be proved against them that at home, morning and night, they say their prayers."
What spiritual guidance can be given to such as these? It is not often, perhaps, that we come into sufficiently close contact with them to be able to make any personal appeal. What we should do, it seems to me, is to gather a group of earnest persons who we can carefully instruct as to how to deal with people who sit loose to all definite faith, how to waken them to some sense of spiritual need. That should surely be the first step, yet it is often forgotten or ignored. Unless some consciousness of need can be aroused, spiritual guidance is practically impossible. No counsel or exhortation finds entrance. And this sense of need is apt to be awakened much more quickly by a layman or woman in the same walk of life than by a priest. The priest has his work to do, but at first, with these people who are still so far off from God, he must do it rather by prayer and penance on his own part than by direct appeal to them. "After prayer and penance," says Saudreau, "which touch the heart of God and obtain His all-powerful help, one of the most efficacious supernatural methods is the apostolic training of devoted fellow labourers who may be better able to approach the sinner and work for his conversion that the ministers of God themselves. The general who trains good officers greatly increases his chance of victory; he who would do everything by himself will very soon feel his impotence, whatever his personal qualities may be. In heathen countries the missionaries, in their apostolic labours, employ the aid of catechists, those forerunners who prepare the way and dispose the pagans to receive the good news."
It is felt by a good many parish priests that we are not making the use of the laity that we should. If we would call upon men and women to win others to God, and prime them for the effort, a certain proportion of them would become true spiritual guides. Certainly we ought to do our utmost to refute what is [344/345] perhaps the most dangerous heresy of our day, that the conversion of the world is be left to the clergy. Nothing is clearer in the history of the past than that it has not been the priests but the rank and file of the faithful laity that has awakened the careless and drawn them into the Church.
Of those thus far described as subjects for spiritual guidance it can hardly be said that they have entered upon the purgative way. Their faith may be only an irresistible conviction in an unseen and almighty Power which brings simply a sense of fear, as "the devils believe and tremble;" yet we must remember that however hardened such souls may seem to be they are still, while they remain in this world, in a state of probation in which grace may reach them and bring the first dawn of penitence and the desire for release from the tyranny of sin. A priest may never venture to despair of any soul. He must hope for those who have lost all hope for themselves. He speaks in the name and power of Him who is able to save to the uttermost, of Him who says "him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out."
But there are those who have entered upon the threefold way, and who yet are only at the threshold. They have a true faith, although it may be largely in eclipse through carelessness and indifference, or by reason of acquiescence in some habit of sin. Such as these are within reach of grace; they can be approached; they may respond to spiritual guidance.
What they need is a true conversion to God. And conversion may come in any one of many ways. It may come gradually, as divine truth grows clearer, as the soul listens with more and more attentiveness to the voice of God, and begins to make increasing effort in prayer and the practices of a good life. Or conversion may come quite suddenly through some unexpected experience, some revelation to the soul of its own sinfulness and need and of the justice and goodness of God.
It is not only the simple or ignorant who are stirred by such a sudden call. Both St. Paul and St. Augustine, as well as countless lesser saints, have left us vivid descriptions of their conversion at a definite place and time. What we, as priests, need to keep clearly in mind is that conversion in its essential meaning is of absolute necessity for every soul including our own. More than that, conversion is requisite for every created spirit. Conversion does not necessarily imply that there has [345/346] been alienation from God through sin. St. Thomas Aquinas finds the palmary instance of conversion in the holy angels. They had never known sin, yet they had to be converted, they had to come in to God with their allegiance, to make an unconditional surrender of themselves to Him. Dean Church gives a most illuminating description of conversion in a sermon on Blaise Pascal, "Pascal," he says "was a converted man, by which I mean a man who at a definite time of his life has felt himself touched and overcome by the greatness and reasonableness of things unseen, and has consciously turned to God not from vice but from bondage to the interests of time, from the fascination of a merely intellectual life, from the frivolity which forgets the other world in this."
It must not be forgotten that a little child, fresh from the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism, may give itself to God when the first consciousness of His fatherly love breaks upon it, and, being then and there converted to God, may continue in all its after life in union with Him, never suffering the disaster of a mortal sin, never refusing in any grave matter obedience to His claim upon it. Such a soul illustrates the beautiful saying of Bishop Wescott, "we can trace in outlines of light the movement of a soul to God which uses every temptation and assault of evil as a step in its upward course." He is speaking of the life of our Divine Redeemer, but this has been true also in measure of a few of His blessed saints. Yet, as to the vast majority of souls, conversion will mean not only the act of allegiance to God but of turning away from sin. And for all souls it will mean not only an event but a process. The question to be asked is not: "Have you been converted?" but: "Are you being converted?", "Are you giving yourself to God day by day, for the accomplishment of His holy will in your life?"
What of spiritual guidance is called for in the early steps along the purgative way? Spiritual writers say of this way that it is the way of faith and of fear. The fear may be at first a mere slavish dread. But the wise spiritual guide will encourage the soul by the promises and assurances that God gives of His willingness and longing to restore the soul to Himself, so that it will pass from servile fear to filial fear, from fear of the penal consequences of sin to fear lest it wound afresh the heart of its tender and compassionate Lord.
 Much of very simple instruction is needed in most cases of newly converted souls. It seems, at first sight, strange that people of good intelligence and liberal education should have such crude and distorted and ever shifting ideas of God, at one time thinking of Him as an infinite Amiability and again as a stern and relentless Taskmaster. But this is often due to ignorance of the Catholic Faith, and it may be to the darkening powers of pride and self-indulgence. The soul sees God through the mists of its own varying moods, and interprets Him to itself by its own capricious gaiety or gloom. What is needed is a patient instruction in the truths of the Faith, that God may be known as He has revealed Himself in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Adorable Trinity. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their transgressions unto them."
What delicate care is needed to soften the hardened heart, to rouse the careless sinner, to counsel the doubting, to enhearten the discouraged, to comfort the soul just awakened to the torturing sense of its own folly and wilful wrong doing!
The exercises in which the soul is to be instructed in the purgative way are vocal and mental prayer. Ordinary vocal prayer is that "by which the soul in set forms adores God, thanks Him, confesses its sins and asks His pardon, and implores gifts and graces for itself and others." A very touching instance of vocal prayer is given in a little book "An African Trail;" The white woman teacher said to a native mother, "You who have at home six children, how can you bear not to beg of God on their account?" "I not beg of God?" said Menge, "I certainly beg of God; Not a single day but I say to God, Ah, Tat! Ah, Tat I Ah, Tat!" That is to say, and to reiterate, "Ah Lord."
Vocal prayer, prayer in definite forms of words is necessary in all stages of the spiritual life. It must, however, be accompanied by mental prayer or it will be a mere perfunctory repetition of words with no meaning attached to them, like the Arabic formulae that our Mohammedan natives in Africa rattle off without any idea of what the words stand for. Ordinary mental prayer consists of "considerations, affections, and acts of the virtues, petitions, and resolutions. All this is proper to the purgative way, but not to be discarded, although it will alter in character, when the soul advances beyond this way."
 We pass on to the second stage in the threefold way, the path of illumination. It is so named because the shadows of the purgative way have begun to lighten, and faith has opened the door to hope. Here the soul no longer looks back with regret for the failures of the past, but rather forward with the anticipation of better things to come.
"The Christian pilgrim must not only be steadied in his advance by strong convictions: he must be spurred by the spirit of eager resolutions inspired by the hope of Heaven. The director is not only concerned with the illumination of his mind but with the strengthening of his will, with hope as well as with faith."
Indeed the failure in faith, both in accepting the truths of divine revelation and in confidence in divine protection and assistance, is often due to weakness of will. The Athanasian Creed places the attitude of a right will before even that of a right faith. "Whosoever has the will to be saved;" that assumes that the holding of the Catholic Faith depends, largely at any rate, on the determination, the volition, to be in a right relation with God and man.
Fr. Baverstock, from whom I have just quoted several sentences, says that "in no other region is the influence of a director more important or more difficult to exercise rightly."
The two great sins against hope are presumption and despair. "Presumption," it has been said, "is the shipwreck of holy souls, despair of souls that are not holy." But, indeed, both these disastrous vices are found in persons at all the various stages of the spiritual life, and sometimes in the same person.
The spiritual guidance of those who are sinning against the virtue of hope by spiritual despondency is perhaps the commonest occasion for spiritual guidance. Not infrequently such despondency is manifestly the work of Satan in his effort to ruin a soul. For instance, a frequent device on the part of the great deceiver is to confuse temptation with sin. Under that delusion from the father of lies, temptation is thought of as a half-sin, as it were, staining the soul with a guilt only somewhat less than that which comes from deliberate transgression of God's holy law. The consequence of this is that souls are discouraged and disheartened, and may even grow reckless and desperate and so throw all restraint to the winds. But, as a [348/349] matter of fact, temptation and sin are mutually exclusive. As long as the temptation continues to be felt as a pressure that is being resisted, the sin cannot find place. The contrast between temptation and sin can be made very sharp and clear and will be pointed out by a wise spiritual guide. Temptation does not involve guilt. Sin does involve guilt. Temptation is an opportunity, the opportunity for victory. Sin is a disaster, the disaster of wilful failure. Temptation develops strength through courageous struggle. Sin enfeebles through cowardly submission. Temptation is a privilege. Sin is a penalty. Temptation is to be met with joy. Sin is to be always a cause for grief. Temptation enables us to glorify God. Sin dishonours Him. Temptation is a means of closer union with God, through our claim upon the grace of Christ. Sin is a drawing away from God, or an actual separation from Him, by a denial of Christ's claim upon us. Temptation is the subject for exultant praise of God, in the assurance that victory may be ours. Sin is the subject for bitter regret, for penitent confession, for expiation and amendment. These are some of the truths that the spiritual guide will try to bring home to those who are harrassed with temptation and in danger of despair on its account.
Another class of persons who stand in special need of spiritual guidance is that of the scrupulous. Scrupulosity comes from various causes,—physical, mental, spiritual.
Not infrequently a knowledge of psychology is required to diagnose the malady correctly. What needs to be kept in mind is that, however unreasonable and imaginary the scruples may be in themselves, the cause of them may be grave mental disturbance or spiritual disorder, and that the pain and distress are often very real. The scrupulous require very skilful handling. "They are especially difficult to treat, for two reasons. The first is that they require a regimen which in some ways reverses the ordinary principles of direction. For instance, with most Christians few things are more important than careful self-examination. Many souls are kept back from advance for no other reason than that they will not take the necessary pains over this. But, with the scrupulous, minute self-examination is a danger against which they have to be warned. The other reason is that the scrupulous who especially require to submit implicitly to directions, are commonly very bad at doing so. [349/350] And they need a director who is himself free from scrupulosity, and from its opposite fault of laxity. If he be lax, they will be fortified in their scruples by detecting his laxity; if he be scrupulous, he will encourage in some degree what has to be fought against." To take one single instance. People are sometimes tormented with the feeling that they have not said their prayers with sufficient attention; that they have not "meant" them as they should. They feel obliged to go over some familiar form of prayer again and again, only to end in sheer weariness, even more uncertain and dissatisfied than they were when they began. In such a case as this the person should be instructed to say the prayers aloud, if possible, and forbidden to repeat them, no matter what discomfort or inconvenience may occur.
One cause of scrupulosity is the making of unwise or rash resolutions, resolutions that are difficult to keep, not perhaps because of their magnitude but because they impose a severe tax upon the memory. It would be a serious mistake to discourage the making of resolutions, but people should be told that some slight resolution, easily remembered, if persevered in, may do much to strengthen the will and stimulate devotion, just as quite light and simple physical exercise can develop the muscles to an extraordinary extent.
One other difficulty, which often occurs in the very passing from the purgative to the illuminative way, is that of distractions and aridity in prayer and at Holy Communion. In the heat of the conflict with outward temptations, such as are found in the purgative way, the soul cries out for help in vocal prayer and often experiences immediate help and relief, and is moved to intense gratitude and joy. But, as the force of open assaults lessens, the person finds vocal prayer wearisome and monotonous and mental prayer dry and apparently fruitless. The person is very prone to be discouraged and to fancy that God is displeased, or that the soul is falling back instead of going forward. It is the part of the spiritual guide to explain that "mental and spiritual advance brings not the sense of success but of failure," that "difficulties in prayer are quite commonly a sign of spiritual progress," and that dryness in prayer, with its revelation of the supremacy of God, is a great emancipation, "for truly we are no longer the slaves of our devotional moods, our religious prejudices and predilections."
"For Thou art oft most present, Lord,
In weak, distracted prayer;
A sinner out of heart with self
Most often finds Thee there."
 It is plain to see what need such souls have of a discriminating spiritual guide who can distinguish between the difficulty in prayer which comes from some persistence in wrong-doing, —in pride or ambition, or a secret resentment and ill-will,—and that which often accompanies the passage from one stage of the spiritual life to the next.
When there is strong aversion to prayer, when the person finds that the effort to pray in accustomed form stirs, as they say, "the very devil in them," it is sometimes well to forbid any prayer at all, beyond an Our Father morning and night, and intercessions for other people. If persons submit to such restriction, the desire for prayer is pretty certain to return.
Please understand that I am not attempting to give a methodical instruction in regard to spiritual direction, for which I am quite unequal, but only to illustrate by a few familiar instances, something of the importance and responsibility of spiritual guidance and the necessity of careful preparation for it, the necessity of a clear understanding of the main principles of directions and some acquaintance with the science of psychology.
As will have been evident, spiritual guidance, more and more as the soul goes onward in the life of perfection, is concerned with the ways of prayer. For indeed it is difficult to distinguish between progress in perfection and progress in prayer. What is said of one is true of the other. "Our progress towards God" as St. Augustine says, "is not by steps of body but by affections of heart," by ever-renewed acts and aspirations which are the very substance of prayer.
We shall do well, therefore, to recognize two forms of prayer which are specially suited to the soul that, while still in the illuminative way, is reaching the threshold of a new region, the way of union, the essential character of which is supernatural love.
The first of these is Affective Prayer. In this prayer the element of consideration, that which tends to become "preaching a little sermon to oneself," and is largely occupied with calling up by the intellect reasons for practising this or that virtue and applying scripture texts to one's condition, passes away. The [351/352] soul thinks less, in the way of discursive thought, and feels more; it requires no arguments to move it, for it passes at once to sorrow for sin, gratitude for the goodness of God, aspiration after Jesus, joy in the Holy Ghost.
Beyond this is the prayer of simplicity or Active Contemplation. Here the soul gazes upon our Lord, "seeing Him with a clearness of spiritual vision," and rests in the consciousness of His Presence, with or without words to Him.
It may seem as though spiritual guidance were little in demand by such souls, yet doubts and perplexities may arise, and unless the spiritual director has some accurate knowledge of the ways of prayer, and can interpret the signs of God's dealing with a soul, and can cooperate with the inward guidance of the Holy Ghost, he may distress and dishearten the soul, and do it lasting harm.
I have left myself no time in which to illustrate even briefly the experiences of the unitive way and the demands it makes upon the spiritual guide. I can only give a summary from Lehudey drawn out by Fr. Baverstock, a conspectus of what many souls have passed through in their progress towards the goal of union with God in love. Here, as from the very beginning of the spiritual life, the principle holds good: "God giving Himself to the soul, the soul giving itself to God, in this is the sum and substance of Christian perfection!" This is only in other words what St. John says: "We love Him because He first loved us." Our whole life as Christians, from beginning to end, is a response to God, a saying "Yes, Lord" to Him.
Mystical Contemplation, then, or Passive Mental Prayer, the characteristic devotion of the unitive way, requires a twofold preparation.
1. Active. On the part of the soul, consisting of silence, recollectedness, continual prayer, mortification of the passions and the cultivation of simplicity. Interior peace has to be guarded carefully.
2. Passive. God's part of the preparation. This consists of what is known as The Dark Night of the Soul.
This is twofold:
(a)The night of the senses or passive purification of the senses of which [352/353] the signs are—
I. Great dryness. The soul "cannot find rest or comfort anywhere."
II. Powerlessness of the mind when engaged in prayer: great difficulty in vocal prayer, ordinary mental prayer becoming impossible, vagueness and indistinctness, yet occasional consolations.
III. Delight in solitude and waiting upon God. No desire for creatures or inclination to seek satisfaction save in God.
IV. Sharp intense temptations against faith, hope, the providence of God. The soul tormented by blasphemous thoughts, scruples, etc.
V. Trials from men, from the director, from good people.
VI. Trials of sickness.
(All these are to effect detachment, thus purifying the soul; they generally last for some years.)
(b) The night of the spirit, or passive purification of the spirit. Of this there are three stages.
I. God plunges the soul into further darkness and anxiety. Yet at times He communicates to in such vivid lights as pain and dazzle it, and paralyze the exercise of both the intellect and the will in its prayer.
II. There is an acute realization of God's greatness and the soul's nothingness. His holiness and its sinfulness; this is an agony to the soul.
III. There is an intense crucifixion. "The soul feels that God is near her and calling her; fired, transported, desperate, she almost dies through desire to see Him."
Upon this dark night of the senses and the soul there follows the joy of passive contemplation. God reveals Himself in a new way, by an infused knowledge, admits the soul to a special union and floods it with interior peace. [353/354] There are four degrees in this state.
1. The state of quiet. The powers of the soul are still left free and these may cause distractions.
2. Full Union. All the interior powers are seized and the soul is fully occupied with God.
3. Ecstatic Union. The outward senses are so absorbed that consciousness of the outward world is almost, or quite suspended.
4. The Transforming Union. In this stage ecstasies are rare; the senses are both purified and strengthened; all the energies are wholly controlled by God.
This, even so briefly stated, is really overpowering. Yet it is the record of what has been, not fantasy or imagination, but the sober and normal experience of many souls, in all ages. And there is no security that any one of us here may not be called upon to exercise spiritual guidance to a soul in any one of these stages of progress.
Surely, however unknown in our own personal experience such spiritual elevations may be, we ought to have some theoretic knowledge of the way of union, and of what counsel to give.
Such conditions as these that have just been outlined may be looked for in Religious Communities, although not necessarily found in any particular Community, and by no means confined to the Religious State. St. Catherine of Genoa, one of the greatest Christian mystics, was a married woman, and at the head of a large hospital.
And may I, in closing, urge upon you, my dear brethren, not to refuse to deal with the souls of Religious. And in dealing with them not to deprecate or discourage their acts of self-devotion, or feel that they must be treated with mere commiseration and softness. Of course you will be kind, but I beg of you to be severe as well. Painful as it may be to a priest who feels that he is falling miserably below his own ideal to give spiritual guidance to a soul of heroic sanctity, yet, if called upon, he is bound to do so, and to take his humiliation as a medicine for his own spiritual infirmity.
May God the Holy Spirit guide, bless, and at the end reward you, for your faithfulness in the spiritual guidance of souls.