Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Part 5 Theological and Pastoral Issues

Chapter r57 Spiritual Direction

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Quotes

Distinguish

Function and Casualty

Agents and Training

Confidentiality

Occasion

Personal Context

Postures

Alcoholics Anonymous

Family Systems Theory

To Think About

The Clergy Experience

Summary by Richard Gula

The Twelve Steps

Scripture for the Twelve Steps

Questions for Discussion

Preliminary Questions

Are your Spiritual Director and Confessor the same person? Whom do you see more frequently, your Spiritual Director or your Confessor?

How do you plan to prepare yourself for your role as Spiritual Director? How is this different from your preparation to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation?

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Bibliography

William A. Barry & William J. Connolly. The Practice of Spiritual Direction, Seabury Press, 1982.

Richard M. Gula. To Walk Together Again.  New York/Ramsey: Paulist Press, 1984.

Richard M. Gula. A Reconciling Community: The Context for Penance," Church 6:2, Summer 1990, p. 27.

Monika K. Hellwig. Sign of Reconciliation and Conversion, Wilmington: Glazier, 1986.

Sellner, Edward C. "What Alcoholic Anonymous can Teach us About Reconciliation." Worship 64 (1990): 331-348.

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Quotes

1. "Over the years our spiritual direction has come to be focused more and more on helping people develop their relationship with God. . . . As we have come to understand it, spiritual direction differs from moral guidance, psychological counseling, and the practice of confessional, preaching, or healing ministries (though having affinities with them) in that it directly assists individuals in developing and cultivating their personal relationship with God." (William A. Barry & William J. Connolly. The Practice of Spiritual Direction, Seabury Press, 1982. Preface, p ix.)

2. "To state the integrity of sacramental reconciliation as clearly as possible, and to make the contrast between sacramental reconciliation and pastoral counseling and spiritual direction as starkly as possible, I would say this: the Sacrament of Reconciliation is primarily an act of worship in and through which the penitent turns to God in praise and thanksgiving for the forgiveness of sins. The primary role of the priest is to be the host inviting the penitent more deeply into the reconciling activity of God in Christ and through the spirit in the community of God's people, the Church. . . . Pastoral counseling and spiritual direction are best done elsewhere. . . . Pastoral counseling and spiritual direction can easily come into conflict with the task of facilitating reconciliation. . . .Above all, priests as confessors ought to try to avoid fostering a counseling relationship in the sacramental forum. The primary reason is that such a practice diverts the focus of the sacrament, and compromises its integrity. (Gula, pp 232-233.)

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Distinguish

1. Psychiatric therapy

2. Psychological and/or pastoral counseling

3. Moral guidance

4. Spiritual direction

5. Celebration of reconciliation

6. Ministry of preaching

7. Ministry of healing

8. AA Fifth Step  (Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.)

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Function and Purpose 

1. Psychiatric therapy -- for therapy.

2. Psychological and/or pastoral counseling

3. Moral guidance -- formation of conscience and decision making.

4. Spiritual direction. "Over the years our spiritual direction has come to be focused more and more on helping people develop their relationship with God. . . . [Spiritual direction] directly assists individuals in developing and cultivating their personal relationship with God." (Barry, p ix) "We define Christian spiritual direction, then, as help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God's personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship." (Barry, p 8) "Who is God for me, and who am I for God?" (Barry, p 5) "Spiritual direction is about taking time to walk with another on the spiritual path. It is about discerning the subtle movement of the Holy Spirit in the ordinariness of life." (Carol Whittaker, Franciscan Renewal Center, Scottsdale AZ.)

5. Celebration of reconciliation -- Celebration of the mercy of God.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation is primarily an act of worship in and through which the penitent turns to God in praise and thanksgiving for the forgiveness of sins. 

6. Ministry of preaching -- Building up the Body of Christ. Faith comes by hearing.

7. Ministry of healing. Healing of mind, body, and soul.

8. AA Fifth Step

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Agents and Training

Note:  each of these require a special set of natural gifts and professional training.  Not everyone is gifted in all of these areas or even any of them!  And certainly not everyone is trained in all these areas, in fact, seldom is a person trained in more than one of these areas.

1. Psychiatric therapy

2. Psychological and/or pastoral counseling

3. Moral guidance

4. Spiritual direction

5. Celebration of reconciliation

6. Ministry of preaching

7. Ministry of healing

8. AA Fifth Step  (Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.)

[Do you want the same confessor each time you celebrate the sacrament? Do you want the same Presider each time you celebrate the Eucharist?  Do you want the same director when you go for spiritual direction? Do you want the same counselor when you go for therapy? Do you want the same homeliest each time you celebrate Eucharist? Why / Why not?]

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Confidentiality

1. Psychiatric therapy - professional secrecy (legal term: doctors, lawyers, profession people. VALUE: client relationship and trust of profession).

2. Psychological and/or pastoral counseling - professional secrecy

3. Moral guidance - some secret some public

4. Spiritual direction - "internal forum" (a religious concept, usually not recognized in law) and a degree of professional secrecy (but priests are not treated the same as doctors and lawyers in all state law codes.)

5. Celebration of reconciliation - while "the Seal of Confession" assures that nothing heard or said in confessor/penitent relationship will ever be repeated or in any way influence the behavior of the confessor, it also restricts the confessor in giving spiritual direction, i.e. he is not free to mention things said on other occasions etc. And at the same time, the confession itself is a public, ecclesial event.

Note:  Because you can NEVER use the information you learn in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I tell seminarians preparing for this ministry:
1.  Learn as little as you can in this context.  For example, recall the scene in The Name of the Rose:  "Master, I have something I must tell you. Would you hear my confession?"  "Well, I'd rather you first tell me as a friend." ...
2.  What do you do when you want to remember something --e.g. something important you learn in class?  Do you write it down?  Repeat it to yourself several times?  Associate it with the person who said it?  Associate it with other knowledge?  Imagine ways in which you can use it?  Because you cannot use information gained in the Sacrament of Reconciliation in any way, try to do the very opposite with this information:  do not write it down, repeat it to yourself, associate it with the person who said it, etc.  "In one ear and out the other..."

[NOTE:  this is very different from #1-4 above]

6. Ministry of preaching - usually not secret

7. Ministry of healing - usually not secret

8. AA Fifth Step

There are various kinds of "secrecy":
1.  There are things you might learn in the Sacrament of Reconciliation
    You are bound by the sacramental seal.
2.  There are things you might learn while you are doing pastoral counseling.
    You are bound by the (divine and civil) laws governing professional secrecy.
3.  There are things you might learn while giving spiritual direction.
    You are bound by the laws governing the internal / external forum.
4.  There are things you might learn in ordinary conversation.
    You are bound by the laws of Christian love. 

Regarding "telling the truth, Father Bernard Häring told us this story one day in class: 

One day during the Great War the Gestapo came to Saint Aloysius Orphanage and ask Mother Mary Daniela, the Religious Superior, "How many Jewish orphans do you have here? I am going to take them and kill them and render their fat into soap." Mother Mary Daniela said: "I know what you are doing is terribly wrong, but I cannot tell a lie, we have seventeen Jewish orphans." The Gestapo took them, killed them, and rendered them into soap. The Gestapo came to Saint Joseph's Orphanage and ask Mother Heinrich Bernadette, the Religious Superior, "How many Jewish orphans do you have here? I am going to take them and kill them and render their fat into soap." Mother Heinrich Bernadette said: "O, I'm sorry, I know the nation needs soap, but we have no Jewish orphans here." And twenty-four Jewish children lived to see another day.

Which person preserved the values necessary for human communication, Mother Mary Daniela, or Mother Heinrich Bernadette?

The "Seal of Confession"

Canon 983  §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.

When discussing the seal of the sacrament the underlying principle is this:  If the Church requires that all serious sins be submitted to the seal, the Church promises that the seal is inviolable.  The issue is not "breaking the seal" so much as "harming the Sacrament".   Without the assurance of the seal, who would tell their sins? 

Consequences???

A pedophile priest explained how he easily dealt with his crimes against children: the Confessional. He said that after each Confession --  he went to 30 different fellow priests over a 20 year period -- he felt "like a magic wand had been waved over me."  It happened more than 1500 times, he said.  The priest, Father Michael McArdle, an Australian, was recently sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to molesting 14 boys and two girls. Earlier the diocese paid out $500,000 to just nine of his male victims. ... McArdle's bishop, in commenting on the case, upheld the need for the absolute secrecy of the Confessional.  (from "NCR clergy abuse tracker" 2004)

Canon 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal [reveals the sin and the sinner] incurs a latae sententiae  [= automatic] excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

A direct violation -- you deliberately reveal the sin you heard and reveal the person who committed it.   
An indirect violation -- you say or do something that would help someone figure out something someone said to you in confession. 

A "direct violation" is not only, for example, "I know Martha Jones has had an abortion, she told me so Last Saturday in confession."  But also:  [In your Saturday evening homily, after hearing confessions for an hour you say]  "This parish has less respect for life than any parish I have ever seen.  Why the first three people who went to confession this evening each had an abortion!" [and two dozen people who came early to Mass were sitting there and saw who was in line to go to confession.]

The problem is usually when you think you are being "safe" but step over the line.  e.g. On the day of your "First Mass" as you are hurrying from the sacristy to your reception/banquet, your Aunt Sara stops you and asks to you to "hear her confession."  You do, of course.  Then later, at your little speech after the banquet you mention how wonderful it is to be a priest.  "Why already after Mass on the way here I heard my first confession, and wow! was it a big one:  adultery, abortion, the works!  How wonderful it is to bring God's healing and forgiveness to the sinner."  And, unknown to you, during the reception Aunt Sara has been tilling everyone:  "Isn't he wonderful.  He is going to be such a good priest.  I already was his "first confession" and he was wonderful!." 

This story was originally told as a joke (ending with the moral: "never be late!") but it is a good example of what moral theologians refer to as indirect violation of the seal.  The priest does not say the sin confessed and the name of the person confessing it, but from the context, others can infer this information, and thus the seal has been broken indirectly. 

A priest was being honored at his retirement dinner after 25 years in the parish. A leading local politician and member of the congregation was chosen to make the presentation and give a little speech at the dinner. He was delayed, so the priest decided to say his own few words while they waited. "I got my first impression of the parish from the first confession I heard here. I thought I had been assigned to a terrible place. The very first person who entered my confessional told me he had stolen a television set and, when questioned by the police, was able to lie his way out of it. He had stolen money from his co-workers, embezzled from his employer, had an affair with his boss's wife, taken illegal drugs, and gave VD to his sister. I was appalled! But as the days went on I knew that my people were not all like that and I had, indeed, come to a fine parish full of good and loving people."

Just as the priest finished his talk, the politician arrived full of apologies at being late. He immediately began to make the presentation and gave his talk. "I'll never forget the first day our parish priest arrived," said the politician. "In fact, I had the honor of being the first one to go to him in confession."  

The point:  You can NEVER NEVER NEVER reveal a sin you heard in confession.  THEREFORE, "fence it in" [Genesis:  we are not to eat the fruit, or even touch it] don't ever talk about what went on or might have gone on in the sacrament.

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Occasion

1. Psychiatric therapy -- make an appointment; in doctor's office; pay bill.

2. Psychological and/or pastoral counseling -- make an appointment; in doctor's (pastor's) office; pay bill. Availability of resources, phone to make referral, paper to take notes for next meeting, refer certain cases to someone who can be of more help, etc.

3. Moral guidance -- appointment, class, etc.

4. Spiritual direction -- make an appointment with the director; relaxed, quiet, reflective setting.

5. Celebration of reconciliation -- at scheduled times, in the church or parish worship space (or in a reconciliation chapel -- which has different architectural requirements than a counseling situation: cross, bible, type of chair, etc.)

6. Ministry of preaching

7. Ministry of healing

8. AA Fifth Step

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Personal Context

1. Psychiatric therapy -- usually alone with the therapist.

2. Psychological and/or pastoral counseling -- formerly alone, now often in "systems" e.g. family systems counseling. [because our psychological problems happen and are solved in relationships.]

3. Moral guidance -- individually or collectively (e.g. in a theology class.)

4. Spiritual direction -- usually the spiritual director and the person being directed.

5. Celebration of reconciliation -- public, ecclesial, church, liturgical event.

6. Ministry of preaching -- usually ecclesial, e.g. Sunday Mass.

7. Ministry of healing -- usually hospital or home sick room, or communal healing service.

8. AA Fifth Step

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Postures

Psychiatric therapy -- lying down on a couch?

Psychological and/or pastoral counseling -- sitting

Moral guidance -- sitting

Spiritual direction -- sitting

Celebration of reconciliation -- standing: e.g. we stand when we are anointed with the oil of Confirmation; we stand when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ; we stand when we exchange marriage vows; we stand when we hear the proclamation of God's forgiveness in sacramental absolution.

Ministry of preaching.

Ministry of healing.

AA Fifth Step

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Alcoholics Anonymous

The story of Alcoholics Anonymous has much to teach us about the dynamics of conversion and reconciliation. The Twelve Steps were written by people who know how difficult it is to live as we were meant to live. We learn slowly, step by faltering step, like a child learning to slowly walk; we learn painfully, often against our wills, in the school of suffering. Then one day, in our recognition of powerlessness, we learn surrender and what it means to pray: what it means, finally, to take the risk so that new life can be born. (Edward Sellner, p 348)

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To Think About

 

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 02/22/13.  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org