Faith is awareness of God as a personal God,
with our personal response to the love in which we have come to believe.
It is a personal encounter,
a contact with the divine Persons into which we are taken by the grace of God.
From A Heart to Know Thee by Fr. E. J. Cuskelly
I learned about Spiritual Direction in 2006, nearly 30-odd years into my life as a Catholic. A Spiritual Director is someone who guides my prayer life and budding relationship with Christ through by encouraging, teaching and challenging me. Shortly after discovering that such a wonderful thing existed, my prayers were answered when, after a call to the local retreat house, I was assigned Fr. Joseph Dang. Fr. Dang was very soft spoken with a thick Vietnamese accent. Every week I would have to really focus to not only hear but understand him; which I am convinced was part of God’s plans to teach me to be quiet and pay attention! It was a wonderful first experience with Spiritual Direction. Fr. Dang and I alternated between getting to the root of the issues that kept me from loving and trusting God more fully to his teaching me different prayer practices. Since he was a Priest, some visits included the wonderful gift of receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Fr. Dang and I met every other week for about a year, until he was transferred by his religious order to Texas.
Following his transfer, I tried two other directors, but neither was the right fit. Then came a spiritual desert period. Throughout my prayer drought, as I continued the search for a new director, I was amazed at all the wonderful things the Lord bloomed spiritually within me. I learned to persevere in prayer even if I wasn’t “feeling” it; and found many opportunities to put into practice all those lessons gleamed during my time with Fr. Dang. It was a beautiful time of reflection – and I realized for the first time that even though I couldn’t feel God’s presence, I was not distancing myself from Him.
In the past when that loving feeling faded with spiritual things I would fade away from prayer. This time as the honeymoon phase seemed to be moving into the day to day living of the faith, instead of gradually leaving God equation., I prayed all the more. This time things were so different, I continued to seek and enjoy the search, praying without ceasing as St. Paul teaches, and without my even realizing it, was growing in relationship with Christ.
Yet, I still longed for a spiritual companion. I was unsure who to ask next — the retreat house was out of options, the local Archdiocese had availability but the travel was unappealing to meet with someone on a regular basis, and as for local Priests, I felt uncomfortable given their already overloaded schedules. I’ve since learned it is not my place to determine if someone’s schedule is too full to include Spiritual Direction – don’t be afraid to ask though do be prepared for them to decline. If they say no, don’t take it personally or feel you wasted your time as they may be the avenue to whom God does have for you! That is exactly how I found my current Spiritual Director.
We had recently settled into a new church and I adored our new Pastor. His homilies, bible studies, and confessions were phenomenal and like nothing I had experienced before in my life. I prayed, asked God to guide my choice, and then approached him. He sweetly offered to meet once every other month but hoping to find something a little more regular, I declined. Father suggested asking our Deacon – that idea had NEVER occurred to me. Of course, a deacon it made perfect sense. A deacon is called to serve the Church. They are educated in theology, receive pastoral training and are ordained. *Note: Although my experience has been with ordained ministers, lay people make fantastic Spiritual Directors too.
At first I was unsure if OUR Deacon was the one for me – he was considerably older than I and we’d not spoken much in the few months I’d been a parishioner. One Sunday morning, I prayed at Mass, during the Consecration, for a clear sign that Deacon Jerry was the spiritual directing guy for me. He was preaching at the Mass that morning, not a normal occurrence, so I took that as my sign. After Mass, I scurried to catch him but he was gone – so much for that ‘clear’ sign.
I was still at the Church helping the musicians pack up when Deacon Jerry re-appeared – seemingly out of nowhere – back on the altar. I got so excited, I rushed to speak with him, unaware that one of the guitar players had put his case at my feet. I soared through the air, landing at Deacon Jerry’s feet. Quickly stood up and gathered myself, pretending like the acrobatic show never happened, and asked if he’d join me on my journey to grow closer to Christ. He graciously accepted – it may have been a pity thing seeing how desperate I must have seen throwing myself at his feet and all! Regardless of why he said, I am awfully grateful he did. Ten years later, we are still on this spiritual journey together!
The quote at the beginning of this post came from a book Deacon Jerry gifted me in October, 2013 – A Heart to Know Thee by Fr. E. J. Cuskelly. This book was a huge part of his own spiritual journey, that he wanted to share it with me. Honestly, he has been so formed by Fr. Cuskelly’s teachings; it is like having the good deacon with me all the time in book form! While it is difficult to sum up exactly what I have gained in my countless hours in conversation with my Spiritual Director – perhaps it is best to say that the book is not the only gift Deacon Jerry has given me!
All Rights Reserved, Allison Gingras 2017