Saturday, July 2, 2016

Catholic Hermit on Spiritual Counsel

I do not tout myself as a spiritual director, nor do I seek any such titles or services.  However, the good Lord tends to bring some souls to this consecrated Catholic hermit, back-sliding and tired and pained as I am.

There must be something to be thankful for in many life experiences of the challenging sort, and to be a most imperfect human specimen in various aspects, not just bodily.  For one thing, the more I realize that my ideas and thoughts are so slipshod and vulnerable, the more I beseech His Real Presence to replace my mind with His Mind.

I am most grateful for the death of my will nearly three months ago, but the more I muddle along in this life, the more I recognize that my thoughts need to go.  I truly need God's Mind--His Thoughts, His Ideas, His Insights, His Wisdom--to replace my inept-yet-sincere mind.

Still, some persons contact me from time to time with questions, asking for counsel and prayers.  One considers herself to be a spiritual daughter; I always emphasize with these souls that we are spiritual friends, spiritual cohorts in our striving in the spiritual life while clumping through the temporal realm.  We are pilgrims who happen to be in the same world at the same time with the same challenges even if they come in differing circumstances.

The 55 coursework hours in a masters-doctoral clinical psych degree has been invaluable in many ways, to store in my mental quiver.  Far more helpful have been the numerous calamities and missteps from which I have learned numerous lessons along the way.  In the practicum part of the degree program along with internship hours counseling clients, I took to heart the admonition to not let others become dependent nor attached.

If there is not progress in six weeks, or in complex cases six months, in counseling a patient and various modalities and approaches have been utilized, then it is the professional's obligation to suggest a different psychologist.  I stand by this standard even though many PsychD's do not.  I also emphasize "progress," for even a modicum of progress is progress.

But definitely after a client has not responded nor has made breakthroughs for some time, a professional should have the concern and caring to recommend some other professional.  I stick to this guideline in spiritual guidance, as well.  (I do admit that I did not utilize it a few times when with spiritual directors, all priests and one bishop, that I should have moved on when there was not progress.  However, I also considered that at times the challenges and frustrations with some of these included some spiritual growth just in the interaction with the director!)

That I do not allow people to become dependent upon me, is perhaps my main point.  It is not helpful to them and is not good for me.  Why spin our wheels or get stuck even if it is spiritual sand?

Part of the issues can come when one is not a priest regardless of being an eremitic, professed and living one's vows in the consecrated life of the Church.  The one seeking spiritual counsel spends time and effort with the hermit, and the hermit spends time and effort in discussing or corresponding, but the counseled does not trust that what is offered is of benefit.

Some people feel they need the counsel of one with a title and position, wearing a habit or having some external sign of ordination, for example.  Of course, not all those wearing habits or holding titles such as priest or bishop or who have been through seminary or religious order formation, have current spiritual sense or the ability to counsel others.

I tend to seek the counsel of a priest or bishop for direction, myself.  But I'd not be opposed to being advised by someone in the consecrated life of the Church or anyone who by life example shows fruit of living by the Spirit.  I have not often found others to be adept with background in my spiritual life particularly in the areas of suffering, mystic, and consecrated eremite (hermit).  Add that I am a convert of many years but prior had lived in the world as parent, spouse, student, employee.  I do have spiritual friends who are marvelous in praying and in giving me wise counsel on temporal and spiritual issues from time to time.

I have not found many priests or bishops to be adept in spiritual direction with lived experience of mystical and eremitic life or who have a deep, spiritual, "electric" connection--as I say, have both or all three prongs in the socket of the spiritual life.  Not many these days have read, for example, Tanquerey or indepth studies of mystics, mysticism, or books of the great spiritual writers of the centuries.  

Not many priests have had training in spiritual direction or counseling beyond, perhaps, a course or two in seminary.  They are laden with many administrative and financial responsibilities in running parishes or dioceses.  Order priests and religious can tend to have more training and personal spiritual gifts in the area of spiritual life, of spiritual direction, or so has been my experience.

I was fortunate to have met a very holy priest of many years when I first converted to Catholicism nearly 22 years ago.  At the time I was being directed by a mercurial priest suffering from ineffective recovery from alcoholism.  He no longer drank, but he had the residual temperament of a dry drunk and became quite threatened by my presence in the parish and envious of my mystical experiences, which of course, I could not stop from occurring.

I also have been fortunate to have met an order priest from another country and continent who is adept in the spiritual life and lives an incredibly rich, spiritual, faithful life, himself.  Distance and internet service malfunctions hinder much communication, but the prayers and occasional messages suffice.  Much is up to ourselves, frankly, to remain very much in soul school all our lives as well as to keep a life of prayer--of conversation with God--breathing, seeking, loving, thriving incessantly.

But as a hermit of whom God has blessed with whomever in my life, there are a handful of persons who contact me for spiritual counsel.  The number is static, increasing, decreasing, persons coming in and out of communication.

One young man is already well on his way, moving toward a vocation after having ceased some experimentation and rebelling against God.  He had contacted me for help with dream interpretation, and once a few were pin-pointed, he had his answers, all made sense, and he no longer needs to be in contact unless he wishes to update me on his marvelous next steps into a monastery.  There, others will continue to guide him, and he in turn will have others later on, to guide spiritually.  In fact, some of his dreams and our correspondence have helped me grow spiritually.

That is always a truth in successful counseling whether it be in the realm of psychology or spiritual direction (although I think all ought to come under the auspices of spiritual direction, for the spiritual undergirds all else in our existences).  The one guiding is often blessed equally or more with insights from the exchange of prayer, study, thoughts and issues shared between director and directed.

The other day I had an email from a spiritual friend.  It regarded some temporal issues, and it touched upon some aspects that have been hindering this person for a couple years.  The person did not expect, no doubt, what would be my response.  Perhaps I can be thankful for more than average pain when I responded, for I was blunt and direct on blasting at the temporal mentality toward, in this case, medications and obvious payment for necessary doctor visits.

Pride can eat at us when we let it, to an extreme in medical issues.  Some can become paranoid about conspiracy theories that the pharmaceutical industry and government are trying to intentionally poison us or cause us to be dependent upon various medications--that antibiotics are an evil, or inoculations against certain diseases are wrong.  Some may think they don't have the money to pay for medical treatment or tests when they have insurance coverage and are working full time, dining out, taking trips, mortgage paid off,  and so forth.

This is simply erroneous thinking, self-deception, pride in thinking the home-made remedies are superior and that somehow we do not need the assistance of medical professionals who have years of temporal training and knowledge on various aspects of the human body and ailments.

So I had little sympathy when I received the email.  I bluntly responded, laying out the realities and facts, and that we need to knock off our deceptions and be thankful that we have the intelligence to know what we need when we need it, and that includes medical help that requires us to justly pay the person and services who provide the help and beneficial results.  We sometimes need antibiotics or else must suffer, live out the consequences, or die in the aftermath.

I do not have a lot of tolerance for going over and over temporal aspects or issues when the path is rather obvious--especially if we are older and along our way also in the spiritual life.  I reminded this spiritual friend of the facts, and I also apologized if my words seemed harsh or too blunt.  But frustration sometimes is a good thing; and honesty is the best policy.  I always include myself in any chiding, for always I can see in myself various examples of like-kind obtuseness at some points in my life even if not of the same topic.

Another person emailed of an issue going on in personal life, within the spousal relationship as well as with a friend's relationship.  I was very direct--again blunt--in my response to that as well.  I have lived out enough mistakes and hardships in various aspects of the temporal life as well as the spiritual, and it just seems quite clear--usually, again, the self-deception that we get into, even if very much by the devil delighting in fogging our judgment and perspective.

I have come to a point, perhaps due to age and pain level and a sense of not wanting to spin my wheels more than I already have in my spiritual mission, that I lay out the raw truths as they come to me.  I do pray that what is pointed out are God's insights or that if mine, wrought from lived experience and life lessons.  I no longer care if the person decides to close their laptops and depart the correspondence, or decide not to call again.

Always in whatever counsel anyone asks of me, I try to steer us both or all into the spiritual, into Scripture, into truths of God and eternal life.  The concern needs to be for our souls and others' souls.  All the flim-flam of temporal distractions can be dealt with fairly simply, even if they are what seem to entangle our minds and emotions, our earth time and efforts.

We simply must be alert to that reality and not let these "things" and "hang ups", these niggling situations, distract and knit us into circuitous wads of turmoil.  I know that for myself, I look back and appreciate those persons in my life, including a doctor gifted in the paranormal, and the two priests so adept, who had the wherewithal to be direct and cut through my own "mustard" that I'd earnestly try to slather over the hot-dogs-and-buns I'd get myself into.

However, sometimes the assessment or direction can be incorrect.  We need to discern if that is so, all the time knowing that even if not quite correct or is distorted, there may be some kernel of truth or some splinter from which we can learn, regardless.  But in most cases when the counsel is "off" even a little, we should seek someone other to give us counsel.

Above all, the best of direction will occur the more we develop our relationship with Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  When our wills die and His takes over, when our minds are replaced by His Mind, when our emotions and understanding and images and outer senses are honed and united in His, to His abiding in our souls with increasing fullness and omnipotence, the more we are crushed and fall to the earth, are buried and die in order to have new life--the better will be the perfection of God's directing our souls.

In the meantime, I am increasingly blunt and direct when it comes to temporal aspects, especially if the person seeking my counsel seems stuck in temporal issues or is daftly self-deceived.  I would want the same for myself.  I admit to some regrets in instances when others did not risk enough to lower the beam on me, or were timid in speaking up when I was about to temporally err and thus, of course, do both temporal and spiritual damage to all the layers and levels of life and to my immortal soul.

Recently I've been reminded of the great responsibility I have as a consecrated Catholic hermit. I need to keep up with the spiritual reading, particularly those old tomes that are written by the greatest of souls who directed successfully many souls into union with God.  I need to keep reading of the lives and deaths of holy men and women who continue to affect our souls here on earth from the other side of the veil.

I also have a responsibility to be quite direct and not waste God's time, others' time, nor the time He has given me here on earth, when it comes to spiritual counsel requested of me.  As a hermit, it is easy enough to not get myself entangled in others' lives.  I must respect the boundaries God enforces when I do not--to live in the silence of solitude, hidden from the eyes of men, in prayer and praise of God, in helping to work out my salvation and the salvation of others through, with, and in His Real Presence.

Those souls who come to me or God brings to me, whether people I know or people who encounter me online and get into contact, or whether those who I am taken to in spirit in bi-location experiences with certain assignments given in each circumstance--these are the souls to whom I am responsible to counsel directly, efficiently, prayerfully.  I must not hold back for fear of offending when spelling out some danger or misstep that I am shown, or in calling out some self-deception or foolishness.  We all are culpable, after all, even if sincerely well-intentioned.

It is the least I can do, to communicate forthrightly, without mincing words.  It is not about me.  Nor should it matter if the person/s ever speak to me again or if they desire counsel at all, for it is not a matter of being in the business of spiritually directing.  Some persons, even lay people, enter "spiritual direction programs" for a certificate and then set up quasi-practices and expect a fee or gratuity.  As a consecrated Catholic hermit, I feel it is my way to follow Jesus' way.  Freely given, freely give.

Life as a Christian is all about loving God above all things (even the delight of spiritual friends) and loving others as Jesus loves us.  When I ponder the Gospels, specifically the admonitions of Jesus, we have in Him an excellent mentor in how to verbalize and instruct as well as how to confront and chastise if need be.  We need this for ourselves, as well.

God bless His Real Presence in us, little children all.  Let us die to ourselves and be filled with Him as if we are new wine skins ready for His fullness of Light, Love, and Life.

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