|Fr. Fernand Cassista, M.S.|
Once Upon a Time
In 1993 I was granted the gift of a nine month sabbatical by our Provincial Superior. After 28 years or so of active ministry, in a variety of fulfilling and grace-filled ministries, I felt the need to take time for myself for much needed reading and study, rest and a thirty-day Ignatian retreat, often called the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a retreat which I had eagerly anticipated for some time. And so in early September of 1993 I went to Loyola House in Guelph, Ontario, staffed by the Jesuits and other spiritual directors trained in Ignatian Spirituality and spiritual direction.
I must candidly confess that one of my reasons for making the thirty-day retreat was to decided my future. I had become disenchanted with religious life and parish ministry where I felt more like a diocesan priest than a religious, having to deal with diocesan meetings and regulations, all the while having to participate in community gatherings and responding to community obligations. I felt weighed down by rules,
regulations and finances with little energy and enthusiasm to do the pastoral ministry effectively.
I also found it difficult to pray well. I needed an extended period of time of retreat to deepen my spirituality and to make a decision about the future. I had been faithful to daily prayer but it was not as fruitful as it had been in the past. I had been seeing a spiritual director regularly and that was helpful, but even my spiritual director confirmed that maybe I was ready for a thirty-day retreat.
A Gift of Thirty Days
After I arrived in Guelph, we began a period of disposition which prepared us — all forty or so retreatants — for the thirty-day experience. It took very little time before I felt the power of God's grace at work, and assuring me that indeed, I was meant to be a religious and priest. That's where my heart was. Once again I felt deeply grateful for the call to religious life and priesthood. Entering as fully as I could into the process of the Ignatian retreat, I felt deeply affirmed, loved and called to follow Jesus.
The Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises focuses on the passion and death of Jesus. I fell deeply in love with Jesus such as I had never experienced love before. I grew in knowledge of myself, my human weakness and my human dependence on God, and that I was a loved sinner as we all are. My greatest desire at that point was no other than to love him in return and to follow him faithfully and with deep gratitude.
Compared to much of the spiritual direction I had received in the previous years, the daily meetings with my spiritual director during the Thirty-Day experience was by far more helpful, supportive and challenging than I had ever experienced in spiritual direction previously. As a result of my profound experience during the retreat and having deeply appreciated the ministry of my spiritual director during the retreat, it became very clear to me that becoming a trained spiritual director is what I desired for my future years as a priest and religious.
I came to appreciate the fact that the ministry of spiritual direction was truly a ministry of reconciliation in the spirit of our La Salette charism. Our Lady of La Salette had invited us to conversion, to be reconciled to her Son, to turn to him with our whole heart and soul, and to be grateful for his saving death and resurrection. She invited us to fall in love with her Son whose love for us is unconditional and infinite.
Spiritual direction became for me a privilege way of helping others to be reconciled with God, with self and with others - a privileged way of making known the great message that Mary came to share at La Salette. Consequently, after the thirty-day retreat, I requested permission to participate in the following summer of 1994, in a program for the training of spiritual directors also in Guelph. The permission was granted and so along with some twenty other priests and religious, I received the necessary training in Ignatian Spirituality and direction and in the fall of 1994, I became a full-time spiritual director at our La Salette Retreat Center in Attleboro, where I have also been involved in preaching retreats with the members of the Retreat Center Staff. Ever since, I have enjoyed a most fulfilling and fruitful ministry, for which I am very grateful to God.
Spiritual Direction: Important Points to Remember
I learned about spiritual direction, first of all by being a directee myself during the thirty-day retreat. I became aware of how attentive my spiritual director was to me and how he consequently responded and questioned me inmost effective ways. I learned by being a directee of a well trained Jesuit director and benefitting from his expertise. Secondly, I learned from the courses, the teachers, the advice and counsels of those leading the summer course I attended. Thirdly, I learned much by practicing spiritual direction for some 18 years as well as from much helpful reading on the praxis of spiritual direction.
It would be impossible to include here all that was learned and read during the courses I attended and in personal experience. But I can share some important aspects of spiritual direction.
1. A spiritual director should be a person of prayer with a great love of the scriptures. One cannot give what one does not possess. A director also must be aware of the movements of the Spirit and those of the “evil spirit disguised as an angel of light”, within self, which will allow him/her to help the directees recognize the same spirits within themselves.
2. A spiritual director should be an attentive listener, one who notices what a directee is saying and not saying, what one expresses and what one seems to be unaware of, seems to evade or hide. The director should be able to sense or intuit issues that are “skirted” so as to invite the directee to trust and honesty. Otherwise the “skirted” issues become blocks to spiritual development or growth.
Directees who truly seek a deeper relationship with God, of ten come to learn that certain experiences, habits or addictions, beliefs or assumptions can stand in the way of attentiveness to God or in one's capacity to
respond to the promptings of the Spirit. Transparency with one's director can allow the director to assist more effectively in addressing such blocks and difficulties, or if the issues are beyond the scope of spiritual direction, then professional therapy can be suggested or encouraged. While it is true that some blocks can be overcome with spiritual direction, others do need more help than a spiritual director can normally offer. A director can help inasmuch as he/she listens attentively, so as to help the directees see and hear their own experiences and their own hearts.
- Next >>