Thursday 28 August 2014

On the use of the human sciences in spiritual direction

A question I have been asking myself these days is: if we have had great spiritual directors in the past who had little or no knowledge of psychology and the human sciences (and Don Bosco is himself a prime example here), why do we need, today, the human sciences?

Perhaps because the situation has changed, as Pascual Chavez points out in his Bari lecture? A new context that is not monolithic as was that of Don Bosco and his early Salesians, but pluralistic, one in which there are many agencies of education and formation, over which we have little control, important among them being the media? A new anthropology?

At any rate: drawing from personal experience, the story I tell myself, with my 8 + 3 + 3 plus some years of spiritual direction, mostly to young salesians, is that I have done reasonably well; and that yet, especially with the passage of time, I have increasingly felt the need for affective-emotional-sexual and spiritual work. A good initial dose of personal growth and spiritual direction, along with ongoing supervision, is the ideal. This is increasingly confirmed in interactions with salesians with experience in formation and spiritual direction from all over the world - people like Miguel Angel Garcia, Fabio Attard, Jose Pastor Ramirez, Johny Nedungatt, Jose Kuttianimattathil. 

There is the factor of what Jarema calls The Hole in my Chest, the father wounds and the mother wounds. Many, if not all, Salesians will have to contend with this Hole in the Chest, if they are to become sane and healthy spiritual directors, directors who do not easily fall into traps of transference and counter-transference.

This is not to say that we will be Saved by Psychology. I take it for granted that there is a sound faith basis, coupled with a sound supporting theology, for all this work. I will not be one to downplay the importance of the theological (see Gillini Zattoni, and Lonergan on the importance of intellectual conversion). My own experience points out to the indispensable role of sound faith convictions in the living out of the consecrated life. A fully Catholic and Salesian religious life is quite impossible unless we have an extremely discerning attitude towards the now inevitable New Age inroads into much of what is on offer in the area of the human sciences. 

The further, allied reflection is that personal woundedness can be turned into a bridge for access to the woundedness of clients and confreres. The Wounded Healer is the suggestive title of one of Nouwen’s books.

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