Need and content of a spiritual accompaniment
WORD FROM THE FOUNDER
Deacon Georges Bonneval
Why is spiritual accompaniment a necessity?
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste,
how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything
but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Mt 5: 13)
The motivation that makes us desire to live the grace of spiritual accompaniment should be inspired by this statement of Jesus: “You are the salt of the earth”. It is a question of ensuring that we never lose the salt and the flavour of our baptized being, of our evangelistic vocation and identity.
Salt prevents corruption, and it gives taste to food. To be salt of the earth is to fight against everything that degrades man. The life in the Spirit begins with ourselves and then radiates back to those who have lost the taste of life.
Times of spiritual accompaniment are precisely a ‘providential kairos’, a vital pause, in order to read the action of God in our sometimes-complicated lives. Today, more than at any other time, we risk not being present to ourselves and because of that, we have difficulty to find the direction and the orientation of our life’s course.
Why is the exercise of spiritual accompaniment a necessity for the disciple of Christ? Because he seeks, “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2: 12b), to do the will of God in his life.
It is said that one day some of the brothers went to Abba Antony (Saint Anthony, monk of Egypt of the 3rd century) and said to him:
“Abba, tell us: How to be saved?” The old man said to them, ‘Listen to Scripture. It suits you very well’. They answered, “But we want to hear it from you, Father.” 1
Just as the priest in confession pronounces on us the words of forgiveness in the Name and in the place of Christ Himself, so in spiritual accompaniment, we need to hear the Lord's counsel ‘from another’. Of course, we must mention to our spiritual companion the reality of our everyday life because the spiritual life is played in this reality. The spiritual is grafted on
the human reality of our incarnated life.
Spiritual accompaniment helps to recognize the Spirit of God at work in the reality of our history and in our human relationships
It helps us to deepen our relationship with God, to shape our life after Christ and His relationship to the Father. He invites us to accept ourselves as we are under the loving gaze of God, without hypocrisy, dismissal, nor rejection.
Finally, spiritual accompaniment is necessary to adjust our mission of the Church, by honestly sharing with our director our ways of interacting with others, as well as our reactions in certain situations...
Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, wrote in 1999 (Year of the Father):
“There is also a diffuse fear of the exercise of
paternal responsibility, the exercise of authority,
education... In the same way there is spreading
what is called the “syndrome of Peter Pan” in which
people want to remain children, without maturing.
Then the fear of educating becomes a kind of
conspiracy: parents who do not know subconsciously
respond to these quirks. It is argued that parents
do not feel ready to violate the freedom of their
children, to lead and direct, to correct, and they
mistakenly believe that either their children are
already trained, or they suffer from serious disorders
that stand as impassable barriers to directing them.
And they do not realize that by not educating
them in a responsible way, they severely harm the
formation of their children. They become people
who do not mature, who do not grow up.”
How to prepare for your spiritual accompaniment
a) Seriously prepare your next session, through your various examinations of conscience, noting how you live daily in a notebook or journal. You can write down the topics that fester within you, the questions you wish to ask, the difficulties you encounter... that you will present to your spiritual companion.
b) You must take the initiative to ask for the next session. It should not come from your spiritual companion because he needs to see in you: your freedom of choice, your motivation, and your personal decisions.
c) Spiritual direction itself always begins with a prayer to put the two persons, spiritual companion and the one accompanied in the presence of the Lord. Keep in mind that it is the Lord who is your main companion. Place yourself in His hands and welcome what the Lord will say (or not say) through this moment. I personally used to say the prayer to the Holy Spirit so that He would be the Inspirer and the Conductor of the session.
d) Bring “material” which concerns your life and your story. These are precisely the points that you have previously noted in your notebook, on which you want to talk. Beginning with your everyday life, then concerning the salvation of your soul (not the accessory and secondary points). You do not have to talk a lot or give too much information. Whoever
presents himself must not arrive without any material to present.
“Just to write down a thought to tell my spiritual
father, even before I finished writing it, I felt
benefit and relief, so great was my security and
e) We must not forget the opportunity to give thanks in the presence of the spiritual companion for the graces and benefits received from God. Indeed, spiritual accompaniment is not only a request for help, otherwise the person would easily become ungrateful, even in his practice of spiritual exercises!
“Those who are taught the word must share
in all good things with their teacher.” (Gal 6: 6)
St. John of the Cross advises in this sense: "Whatever the soul receives, in any way, even supernaturally, it must immediately tell his spiritual master, clearly, sincerely, fully and simply.”
f ) Eastern monastic spirituality emphasizes “opening one's heart and thoughts” to one's spiritual companion. The manifestation of evil thoughts ("logismoi", from Greek meaning “tempting thoughts”) is important to be revealed in a session, to then learn good spiritual weapons.
St. John Climacus describes five moments in the assault and the temptation of thoughts: “The fathers of discernment”, he said, “have differentiated one from another: the attacker, the liaison, the consenter, the captive, the combatant and what is called the passion of the soul.” 3
g) Note then what will come out of the session of spiritual accompaniment: the biblical references, the wisdom, and the advice of your companion. By writing them down, these notes will allow you to then re-read and follow up on the guidance. They will help you remember that inspired moment when God came to speak to your heart.
The monk is a 'philologos', which means a lover of the Word. Thus, it was said of Antony of the desert: “He was so careful that he did not let anything fall from the words of the Scriptures but kept them all to the point that memory was his place of books.” 4
h) Rest in prayer and listen deeply, with faith and submission, to the content of what the Lord has just given you and brought to life through your spiritual companion.
i) It is not necessary that a good session of accompaniment is long. Its quality does not depend on the quantity! The young desert monks waited for ‘one word’ sometimes one word ‘humility’ from their staretz (translated literally from Russian by “old man”). A good session is between twenty and forty minutes. In our opinion, no more than an hour! It is better shorter and more consistent. A session that is too long ends up weighing (with both!) and risks discouraging the fidelity and the rhythm of the next sessions.
j) The person being accompanied may (must!) react freely to the advice of their spiritual companion. The session which I remember best is the one in which I became clearly impatient with my spiritual Father. I did not agree on how God kept me waiting!
St John Climacus goes so far as to say that he prefers people who are passionate about passions, even if they are misguided, to those who never have any pathos, that is, who show no feeling, who are not enthusiastic about anything.5
For the passionate, conversion will lead them to orient and discipline their passion towards the Lord and towards the charity of their brothers, and that, with the same force with which they had loved to commit the sin! Whereas among indifferent souls there is not much matter to reform or convert!
For Climacus, chaste is “the one who banishes love (carnal) by love (agape)” and “extinguishes material fire by immaterial fire.”
Maxime the Confessor declares in this sense, “The soul is perfect when the power of passion is completely turned towards God.” 6
k) Offer to the Virgin Mary what the Lord has shown you through your spiritual companion. She has an important role as Counselor of Souls and Intercessor. She will continue this time of accompaniment, interceding for your needs according to the will of
the Lord. She knows how to discern (as in Cana) your needs “they have no more wine” (cf. Jn 2:3) and on the other hand, the will of God.
l) Ensure the correct frequency and regularity of your accompaniments. They will be a blessing especially in the long term.
m) You can also write to your spiritual companion, especially if he is traveling or living away from home. Spiritual accompaniments by mail has revealed some very interesting archives. For example, the many Letters, between St. Francis de Sales and St. Joan of
Chantal (in the 17th century).
The perpetual pact that our spiritual companion should make us sign should be this one: “never forget the salt offering of my Covenant with God!”
“You shall not omit from your grain offerings
the salt of the covenant with your God; with
all your offerings you shall offer salt.” (Lev 2: 13)
In conclusion, let us note how Pope Francis recommends the traditional exercise of the
examination of conscience, an exercise that prepares us for all our spiritual accompaniment sessions:
“In this sense, what may be recommended is
the age old ‘but good’ practice of examining the
conscience. 'Who among us', asked the Pontiff, ‘in
the evening, before the day is over, alone and in
the silence asks himself: 'What has happened in
my heart today? What has occurred? What things
have passed through my heart? It is an important
exercise, a complete ‘grace’ that can help us to be
good guardians.” Because, the Pope recalled, “the
devil comes back, always, even at the end of life”.
And to keep watch so the demons do not enter our
heart, it is essential to know how to ‘be in silence
before one’s self and before God’, in order to check
whether someone we don’t know has entered our
house, and whether the key is in place.” This, the
Pontiff concluded, “helps us to defend ourselves
against so much malevolence, also against what
we might do ourselves”.
Because “these demons are so clever and are
capable of misleading everyone.” 7
1. St. Anthony, 9.
2. An Eastern Father.
3. St. John Climacus, in Ladder of Divine Ascent.
4. Anthony’s Life 3:7.
5. Cf. Ladder of Divine Ascent, 5, 28.
6. Maximus, Centuries on Charity, III, 98.
7. Pope Francis, Homily at Santa Martha, October 10th, 2014.