Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Monday, July 7, 2014

Am I my child's spiritual director?

Thinking of myself as anyone’s spiritual director seems a bit overwhelming for me.  Yet, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason it can and should be called a domestic church.”  (2204)

Our domestic church is given great responsibilities.
“The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation.  ‘The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.’  The right and duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.”  (CCC: 2221)
The Catechism does not mince words.  “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children . . . The home is well suited for education in the virtues . . . Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children . . . A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life.” [emphasis mine]

These statements from the Catechism are worthy our attention, and our careful reflection.

In the previous section (What is a contemplative life?), I referenced St. John of the Cross in “The Living Flame of Love.” In Stanza 3, St. John of the Cross addresses spiritual directors and how they can do so much to help or hurt the progress of souls under their care.  In quite a number of places, he admonishes them to get out of the way.  He shares examples of souls being held back from spiritual progress because of a spiritual director guiding the soul’s prayer in ways that are not conducive to spiritual growth.   I believe that what he writes can apply to parents and their children, inasmuch as the role of a parent rests so heavily on being essential in the initial work, but becoming more hands-off as a soul matures.  I’m not sure that there are hordes of children out there, on the brink of spiritual marriage with God but for their meddlesome parents.  However, parents would so well to consider this:
“These directors should reflect that they themselves are not the chief agent, guide, and mover of souls in this manner [of spiritual progress], but the principal guide is the Holy Spirit, who is never neglectful of souls, and they themselves are instruments for directing these souls to perfection through faith and the law of God, according to the spirit given by God to each one.”  (Stanza 3, 46)
It is essential to provide a moral education.  Not only in providing the beauty and truth of Church teaching in its splendor, we lay a moral foundation with the books we read, the films we watch, the music we play, and the political choices we make.

In recent years, I’ve come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I haven’t been hands off enough in the area of prayer.  I am an “instrument for direction,” in that I lay the groundwork.  However, each person’s journey to God is so personal that I have to reflect that I am not “chief agent, guide and mover” of my children’s souls.  I feel I do a good job in teaching love of faith and providing enriching materials, but I’m not sure I’ve provided my children enough dedicated quiet time, time for solitary reflection without my inserting a “teachable moment.”

Now, there’s obviously the need for common sense here.  Clever children (smart alecks?) will try to insist that there’s something God wants them to do or to have that is just not so.  Thus, all this falls into the category of “whatever works, as long as it is within the framework of Church teaching.”  St Teresa of Avila: 
“And I interpret the passage in my own way, even though my understanding of it may not be in accord with what is meant. For if we do not depart from what the Church and the saints hold, the Lord gives us license – from what I think – just as He does when we think of the Passion and consider many more things about the anguish and torments the Lord must have suffered than the Evangelists record.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, Chap 1)
There is so much room for freedom and creativity in the Church.  It gets my goat when (misguided) people suggest otherwise.  You are the spiritual director.  You do provide the moral framework.  But the rest can be filled in by the individual, as long as it does “not depart from what the Church and the saints hold.”  

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