“For it is not you who speak, but the Holy Ghost.”
It is absolutely true that in matters of conscience obedience to a spiritual director is obedience to God, for Christ has said to His ministers on earth: “He that heareth you, heareth Me” (Luke, 10: 16.)
A soul possessed of this spirit of obedience can not be lost: a soul devoid of this spirit can not be saved (cf. St. Philip Neri).
Saint Bernard says there is no need for the devil to tempt those who ignore obedience and permit themselves to be guided by their own light and deterred by their fears, for they act the devil’s part towards themselves.
Do not fear that your director may be mistaken in what he prescribes for your guidance, or that he does not fully understand the state of your conscience because you did not explain it clearly enough to him. Such doubts cause obedience to be eluded or postponed and thus frustrate the designs of God in placing you under the direction of a prudent guide.
It was the priest’s duty to have questioned you further had he not fully understood you, and that he did not do so is a positive proof that he knew enough to enable him to pronounce a safe judgment. God has promised his special help to those who represent Him in the direction of souls. Is not this assurance enough to induce you to obey with promptness and simplicity as the Holy Scripture commands?
God does not show the state of our souls as clearly to us as he does to him who is to guide us in his place. You should be quite satisfied, then, if your director tells you the course you follow is the right one and that the mercy and grace of your Heavenly Father are guiding you in it. You should believe and obey him in this as in all else, for as St. John of the Cross tells us, “it betrays pride and lack of faith not to put entire confidence in what our confessor says.”
Spiritual obedience is most needful for a Christian. Ignore, therefore, the groundless suspicion that you sin by obeying, and walk confidently in this path exempt from danger. “You sometimes fear,” says St. Bonaventure, “that in obeying you act against the dictates of your conscience, whereas, on the contrary, far from incurring guilt, you really increase your merit before God.”
We should allow obedience to regulate not only our exterior actions but likewise our mind and our will. Hence do not be satisfied with performing the works it prescribes, but let your thoughts and desires be also moulded according to its direction. In fact, it is in this interior submission that the merit of spiritual obedience essentially consists.
Obedience should be simple and prompt, without reservation or disquietude. Simple, because you ought not to argue about it, but decide by the one thought: I must obey; prompt, for it is God whom you obey; without reservation, because obedience extends to everything that does not violate God’s law; without disquietude, because in obeying God you cannot go astray: this thought should be sufficient to drive away all fear of doing or of having done wrong.
When choosing a director, be careful to select one who has the necessary qualifications. He should be not only virtuous, but prudent, charitable and learned. St. Francis de Sales gives the following opinion on the subject: “Go,” said Tobias to his son, when about to send him into a strange country, ‘go seek some wise man to conduct you.’ I say the same to you, Philothea. If you sincerely desire to enter upon the way of devotion, seek a good guide to direct you therein. This advice is of the utmost importance and necessity.
Whatever one may do, says the devout Avila, he can never be certain of fulfilling God’s will, unless he practice that humble obedience which the saints so strongly recommend and to which they so faithfully adhere. And the Scriptures tell us: “A faithful friend is a strong defense: and he that hath found him, hath found a treasure. A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality: and they that fear the Lord shall find one” (Ecclesiasticus 6:14-16).
But who can find such a friend? They that fear God, the Wise Man answers—that is to say, those humble souls who ardently desire their spiritual progress. Since it is so essential, then, Philothea, to have a skillful guide in the devout life, ask God fervently to give you one according to His Heart, and rest assured that when an angel is necessary to you as to the young Tobias, He will give you a wise and faithful director.
In fact, the selection once made, you should look upon your spiritual guide more as a guardian angel than as a mere man. You place your confidence not in him but in God, for it is God who will lead and instruct you through his instrumentality by inspiring him with the sentiments and words necessary for your guidance. Thus you may safely listen to him as to an angel sent from heaven to lead you there.
To this confidence, add perfect candor. Speak quite frankly and tell him unreservedly all that is good, all that is evil in you, for the good will thus be strengthened, the evil weakened, and your soul shall thereby become firmer in its sufferings and more moderate in its consolations.
Great respect should also be united with confidence and in such nice proportion that the one shall not lessen the other: let your confidence in him be such as a respectful daughter reposes in her father, your respect for him such as that with which a son confides in his mother. In a word, this friendship, though strong and tender, should be altogether sacred and spiritual in its nature.
“Choose one among a thousand,” says Avila: “among ten thousand, rather, I should say, for there are fewer than one would suppose fitted for this office of spiritual director. Charity, learning and prudence are indispensable to it, and if any one of these qualities be absent, your choice will not be unattended with danger. I repeat, ask God to inspire your selection and when you have made it thank Him sincerely, and then remain constant to your decision. If you go to God in all simplicity and with humility and confidence, you will undoubtedly obtain a favorable answer to your petition.”
In conclusion, it may be well to remind you that the director and the confessor have not necessarily to be the same priest. St. Francis de Sales was the spiritual director of many persons to whom he was not the ordinary confessor. “To a director,” he says, “we should reveal our entire soul, whereas to a confessor we simply accuse ourselves of our sins in order to receive absolution for them.”
This article is taken from a chapter in Light and Peace by R. P. Quadrupani, Barnabite which is available from TAN Books.