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Even saints need spiritual direction

October 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Carmelite Spirituality, Dan Burke, Spiritual Direction

I posted this over at the best Catholic Newspaper on the planet – National Catholic Register – thought you might enjoy it

When Alonso Sanchez de Capeda decided to raise his daughter in a pious Catholic household, he did not anticipate his child of seven would run away in hopes of being martyred by the Moors. This event in the life of the young St. Teresa of Avila revealed two concepts that would color her entire life: she would have an unquenchable thirst to love and serve God, and she would be in need of spiritual direction.

Our use of athletic metaphors to explain spiritual concepts is almost as old as the Church herself. St. Paul exhorted us to run the race of life as to win and to attain the imperishable prize of eternal life. Yet, how many times do we find ourselves suffering from spiritual atrophy? Maybe we wake up one day to realize not only have we stopped running the race, but even the race itself is a puzzle. The spiritual life of a Catholic is never one of self-sufficiency or independence, but is deeply woven within the community of faith. And within that community we see a need for a kind of spiritual coach. We see a need for spiritual directors.

In her own spiritual life, St. Teresa was plagued by questions regarding the gravity her own sins and the mystical graces that had been given her. In the beginning, her incredible sensitivity toward sin led many to misunderstand the actual sate of her soul. Unfortunately, this led to questions of whether her visions were of divine or demonic origin. Influenced by poor opinions, St. Teresa began various mortifications to hopefully free herself of these “demonic” visions.

However, her spiritual director and confessor St. Francis Borgia worked with her, and they came to see that her visions were a grace from God. With her soul at peace and properly focused, St. Teresa was able to embrace the most wondrous of visions.

Over her life St. Teresa had a number of prudent spiritual directors including St. Peter of Alcántara, several Dominicans (Pedro Ibanez and Dominigo Banez), many Jesuits, and the aforementioned St. Borgia. St. Teresa’s unyielding passion had to be tempered by the prayerful insights of directors that loved both her and the Lord. Under their guidance, she flourished in the will of God, and was able to lead sweeping Carmelite reforms, write numerous works on the mystery of living a vibrant relationship with Christ, and experience the glory of God in the most vivid and sublime of ways.

Pope Benedict XVI has regularly called for everyone – priests, religious, and laity – to place themselves under the guidance of spiritual directors. Spiritual directors are instruments of the Holy Spirit that form us in the ways of holiness. They are coaches who speak from their knowledge and experience of the faith. And like athletic training, it can be arduous and frustrating. It is a spiritual exercise that demands regularity, a devotion to the work of the Holy Spirit in the process, and a humble and teachable heart.
St. Teresa shows us that it can be a difficult path, but she also shows us the magnificent fruits of a well-directed soul. This Saturday is the memorial of St. Teresa. May her heart – which is now a relic in Avila – not only remind us of the wonders of mysticism, but also of the benefits of having a spiritual director.

St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Sr. Timothy

    Dan, this is a great descripion of the role of and need for spiritual direction. And poste just as St. Teresa’s  feast day begins. Good timing. Sr. Carmen Laudis, OCD

  • Avila Power

    This is so wonderful. My Spanish grand mother called me Teresa de Avila after St Teresa of Avila. I have loved reading her books and about her life. It gives one great courage to know how even this great Saint struggled spiritually, and eventually reached Sainthood. Thank you for publishing the article about her.

  • Mich103

    I could not agree more with the necessity of spiritual direction in guiding our souls toward all that is Good (God). That spiritual exercise may not always be easy but is necessary to increase our strength, help us recognize our gifts and persevere to win the ultimate race! Eternal life with the Lord!
    Thy Kingdon Come! “Everything is a Grace”.

  • Whenever I have received spiritual direction, it has been a great gift. At the same time, I struggle with the idea of asking a priest to be my spiritual director on a regular basis; it seems selfish to me. Reasoning: we don’t have enough priests for everyone to have a spiritual director, and the few we have are already so busy! Why should I be so important that I get to take up a wonderful priest’s precious time on a regular basis?

    • Angela – there will be an updated post for you on Tuesday to answer your question.

      • AnnieB

        I have struggled to find a spiritual director. My Parish priest is now acting in this way but he is so busy that our meetings are erractic and I feel unable to ask for a higher priority as I know how busy he is. I am looking forward to your additional comments.

  • Guest

    Thank you, Dan for this Post. I recall reading one of her Books when I was young. I now feel compelled to revive my reading habits and read more of her wonderful books.

  • judeen

    how the devil is so tricky… I have found a good spiritual freind to talk to helps us.. when we can see spiritual things with others.. yet the devil hides our eyes.. and a freind can point them out… and it is just what myself had said… before.. yet I can not see it… on me.. one can think one is right on track yet the tricks of going to the left or right is easy… we need each other to keep on track with God

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