This fall/winter, the Diocese will begin a formation program for candidates to discern the call to serve as spiritual directors. In conjunction with the start of the program, The Catholic Witness connected with Carol Morel, BODV, MACM, spiritual director and program team member. In this Q&A, Morel explains the purpose of the ministry, the call to serve as a spiritual director, and how the formation program will unfold.
Define what a spiritual director is, and what they do.
The spiritual director is a person of prayer, gifted by the Holy Spirit with faith, wisdom and discernment to accompany a person one-on-one through the journey into union with God. The spiritual director knows the territory from personal experience and the study of spiritual theology – and can therefore recognize and support certain transitions along the way, as well as identify potential pitfalls.
Of course, the Holy Spirit is really the Director; the spiritual director serves by “directing” the person’s attention to how God is moving in their life, how He is gifting them, and how they are responding to His call. Over time, healing and ongoing conversion gradually make more room for the Indwelling Trinity to operate freely in one’s soul, unfolding a pathway, little by little, toward the summit of Love – “the full stature of Christ.
How does a spiritual director differ from a counselor, or from the counsel one might receive from clergy or a consecrated individual.
Although relationships and struggles are often discussed in spiritual direction, the emphasis is not on problem-solving, but rather on discovering how God is moving amidst these very situations, and in the whole of one’s life. It remains always about one’s relationship with God. Whereas counseling relationships can be short-term, the spiritual direction relationship is generally long-term, meeting monthly for as long as the person desires to continue – often, for many years.
An individual might benefit from both spiritual direction and the various forms of counsel which you mentioned, simultaneously. The role of the spiritual director is to be a compassionate presence for the long haul – to prayerfully listen throughout the session to whatever content the person is moved to share; ask evocative or clarifying questions; offer observations and sometimes a suggestion regarding spiritual reading or practices; and pray with and for the person, faithfully praying for the individual between sessions. The spiritual director does not lead a person according to the director’s spirituality, but rather seeks to glean the way by which God is leading that individual, and to support the person’s progress along that unique way.
How long have you been a spiritual director?
Much to my surprise, the calling emerged about 20 years ago, not long after I responded to the calling to homeschool. So, I offered accompaniment to people in an informal way for many years, as time allowed. It was not until the homeschooling was completed, in 2013, that I set aside other ministries to focus almost exclusively on spiritual direction.
What drew you to this ministry?
Looking back, I realize now that God had prepared me for this work from my earliest years, forming me through many sufferings and many victories in Christ. I became aware around age five of the Blessed Mother’s promise to accompany me along the way, to ensure that I would persevere.
In the most difficult moments, she would make her presence known, and all would be peace again, for a time. At a critical moment of spiritual crisis, she obtained for me the grace of conversion, and later a dramatic healing during Eucharistic Adoration. The floodgates of the interior life of prayer reopened, restoring the intimacy I had enjoyed with God as a child. He then took me deeper into the mysteries of the Kingdom through Scripture and the writings of Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta, the Little Daughter of the Divine Will. “Unless you turn and become like children…” Turning takes a moment; becoming takes a lifetime. Life became a great adventure in the Divine Will from that moment on. That was 25 years ago.
Some five years later, my pastor identified the charism of spiritual direction and suggested that I pursue a master’s degree at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, in support of this ministry – which I eventually did, while simultaneously homeschooling and serving in various parish ministries. Providentially, my daughter and I both graduated in 2013; at that point, while continuing to study and promote Luisa’s spirituality, I began to dedicate myself formally to the ministry of spiritual direction.
While education is an important component, I would like to emphasize that this ministry is a gift; in fact, it is known as “the art of arts.” The mystery and surprise in the spiritual direction relationship are what appeal to me most. It is a ministry of prayer – of relationship with God – on the part of both the spiritual director and the person seeking spiritual direction. I am often amazed as I experience aspects or even the whole of my life in Christ being brought to bear in any given moment. And at the same time, I suspend that awareness, beholding instead the person before me, discovering with them God’s action in their own unique story, as it unfolds over time.
It is a calling to be a spiritual director and obviously, there is some desire to want to serve people in this way?
Yes, I would never have dreamt of serving in this way if God had not called me and persistently convinced me of this call, overcoming my initial resistance. And yet, there was always that great interior desire to assist people in coming to know and love God more deeply. My resistance eventually melted away through the unceasing prayer: “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30), and through the help of a spiritual director who understood me.
One of the signs of being called and gifted for this ministry is that people open their hearts in conversation with you. They might say, “I’ve never told anyone this before…” Another sign is the sheer joy of serving God’s people in this way.
How will the Diocesan program form candidates who are accepted?
Recognizing that spiritual direction is a gift, we assist a group of people in discerning the call and support them in their spiritual growth over a three-year period, during which we facilitate their formation for the ministry. We offer a monthly accompaniment in which we pray together, unpack the assigned readings, and practice the necessary skills. Monthly reflection papers on the readings help the candidates to interiorize and integrate the material.
The first year delves into the fundamentals of the life of prayer; the second year moves deeper into the workings of the interior life, and the third year features a practicum in the ministry of spiritual direction in one’s parish setting. It is beautiful to behold God forming each candidate Himself, over time.
You mention “the interior life.” Please explain what that means.
What you think about when you are alone and how you converse with yourself – your preoccupations – reveal the content of your interior life. We are made for a marvelous inner dialogue with God; when we turn from serious sin to embrace our baptismal call, we open to those possibilities. “The spirit comes to the aid of our weakness.”
Little by little, the more we allow God to love us, to save us, to sanctify us, the more room we give the Indwelling Trinity to operate in us. Our inner monologue becomes, more and more, an inner dialogue of love with God – and we find that we are cooperating more and more with His grace through faith, hope, charity and other virtues. We gradually learn to be our true selves, to identify as beloved children of God, to allow Him to heal us and transform us in Christ, and to desire that all souls would come to know and love Him, too. Our life becomes a participation in the mystery of Christ – a means of giving glory to the Father through, with, and in the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
God intended from the beginning of Creation for us to know His love and to be “filled with His fullness” – to participate in His glory! Original sin disrupted His original plan, but Christ conquered sin and death, enabling us to progress from glory to glory by way of the Cross – which, if we embrace it, purifies us, infuses in us God’s light and life and love, and brings us into conformity with His will – little by little, reordering us and restoring His original plan: the Divine Will reigning gloriously in souls, on earth as it is in heaven. Along the way, God gifts us with discernment and with deepening grades of prayer, correcting any distortions we might have in our image of Him, and removing the obstacles to living in His will. Spiritual direction can ensure that we progress along this path of docility to the Holy Spirit and transformation in Christ.
God provides the essentials of the interior life as the means by which we navigate this journey into His magnificent Will. These essentials include the great gifts of prayer, the Sacraments, and true devotion to Mary; the grace to hear the Word of God and live it in ongoing conversion; to meditate on and live the mysteries of Christ; to embrace the Cross; to practice penance and mortification; to exercise the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit; to discern the spirits; to persevere through the “dark nights;” to discern the call to the apostolate or a vocation – ultimately, through faith, to grow in love of God, love of ourselves for His sake, and love of neighbor.
Is there anything else you want to mention about spiritual direction and the upcoming program?
God “is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us” (Eph 3:20). How Providential that the Lord of the harvest is equipping and sending laborers into the vineyard today through the ministry of spiritual direction! These are unprecedented times; the Church is participating in the mystery of Christ intensely. We anticipate a great renewal after this time of purification. I hope that more and more people will prayerfully consider entrusting themselves more deeply to the Lord through the ministry of spiritual direction, so they can participate more fully in the glory that is to be revealed. I pray that many will discover the beauty and the joy of the possibilities that spiritual direction opens up in the soul.
I would encourage anyone interested in the ministry of spiritual direction to contact Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, for a list of spiritual directors in our Diocese. Likewise, anyone interested in the Formation for the Ministry of Spiritual Direction can contact her for an application at 717-657-4804, ext. 254, or email@example.com.
To read more about the Formation Program for Spiritual Directors, click here.
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness
Are you called to be a Spiritual Guide?
The Diocese of Harrisburg’s Formation for the Ministry of Spiritual Direction is accepting applications from those individuals who may be called to be a “true servant of the living tradition of prayer.” (CCC 2690)
This three year program of formation is designed for adults experienced in the spiritual life who are seeking to discern this call and to deepen “the gifts of wisdom, faith, and discernment” (CCC 2690) given by the Spirit for this ministry, as well as the necessary qualities, presence and interpersonal skills.
Formation sessions will meet monthly at the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg, or through Zoom.
For more information, contact:
Sr. Geralyn Schmidt, SCC
717.685.4168 ext. 254 or
Applications due by August 21, 2020