Saturday 4 April 2015

Being open in spiritual direction

From Patrick H. Byrne, "Ethics, Discernment and Self-Appropriation" paper presented at the International Lonergan Workshop, Jerusalem, to be published in Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education:

These observations bring to the surface the important role played by a director of the exercises, and beyond that, to the conditions for the emergence of good directors. Toner draws attention to this historical dimension of the spiritual exercises in the context of his commentary on the thirteenth ‘rule’ for first week. There Ignatius points out that an interior movement from evil sources “behaves as a seducer does, in seeking to carry on a clandestine affair and not to be exposed.” Whenever people find themselves wanting to conceal what they are doing or contemplating doing, this is a sure sign of a degenerating orientation. Without actually telling anyone what to do, Ignatius simply observes that such inclinations are overcome when one discloses such intentions “to a confessor or to another spiritual person who is acquainted with [this] trickery and malice.”[1] Toner elaborates upon Ignatius’ observations, saying that such inclinations are dissipated by

(1) our being open with someone about our spiritual life and (2) our being sure that the person with whom we are open is not only a good person who truly wants our good, but also a person with adequate learning and experience in the ways of good and evil spirits.[2]

Such people are, unfortunately, not easy to find.[3] The problem is also due in part to the very structure of human consciousness, which we might call a hermeneutical problem.

The first and most important step in being open to another is our coming to know reflectively with clarity what is going on in our lives. Very few people can come to this knowledge except by trying to tell someone else about it… openness helps self-knowledge, and self-knowledge in turn helps to openness, and both together help to overcome the deceits of [evil sprits] already set in motion.[4]

Just as self-knowledge was essential for genuine discernment for Aristotle and Paul, so it is for Ignatius as well. Yet because ‘openness’ for him depends upon a self-knowledge yet to be attained, this points toward the need for aids to self-knowledge that lie beyond the retreatant herself or himself namely, good and wise directors of the exercises. But such directors must themselves have come to self-knowledge and genuine openness through the processes of maturation in spiritual discernment. Which of course means that they, too, must have had good directors, tracing all the way back to Ignatius himselfand beyond Ignatius, most importantly, to the very Spirit of God, and to the traditions of spirituality upon which Ignatius drew as he added his own unique insights.[5]

[1] Toner, Spirits 27 [326].
[2] Toner, Spirits 200.
[3] Toner says that this is due in part to the fact that the Spiritual Exercises have not been properly or carefully interpreted. He set himself the task in the two books cited here, and beyond, of making up for this deficiency, so that the exercises may be directed more effectively. See Toner, Spirits xv-xvii and 16-17.
[4] Toner, Spirits 200.
[5] Toner remarks that even if a person is not successful in finding a good director, the Spirit will “counsel anyone of good will who cannot find human understanding and guidance,” Toner, Spirits 201. While this is of course true, it is also true that the work of the Spirit can accomplish is promoted and advanced by truly discerning directors.

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