Why Did St. Faustina Need a Spiritual Guide?
Robert Stackpole Answers Your Divine Mercy Questions
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 2, 2011)
A reader of this column named John recently sent me the following about St. Faustina:
Our discussion group, which is reading the Diary of St. Faustina for the second time, had a discussion on what was the purpose of entry #637 in which Faustina asks God to speak to her through her confessor. My problem was that this was unnecessary since she had many direct conversations with God and therefore did not need to be guided by her confessor. ... In other words, if she needs guidance, she could ask God directly and not go through a second party. Any thoughts?
I think that the beginning of an answer to your question as to why St. Faustina was so keen to ask God to speak to her through her confessor in entry #637 is found in three other places in the Diary (and please note: in her day, one's spiritual director was also one's confessor, so these passages really apply to spiritual directors). Please read the entire entries, but here are some excerpts.
First, in entry 145, St. Faustina tells us that "from the moment he gave me a spiritual director I have been more faithful to grace. ... For many years He [Christ] Himself educated me, until the moment He gave me a spiritual director. Previously He Himself made clear to me what I did not understand, but now He tells me to ask my confessor about everything, and often says I will answer you through His mouth. Be at peace."
In entry 680 she writes: "During meditation today I understood that I should never speak about my own interior experiences, but that I should conceal nothing from my spiritual director; and I will especially ask God to enlighten my spiritual director. I attach greater importance to the words of my confessor than to all the lights taken together that I receive interiorly."
In entry 939 she writes: "A soul that will not fully submit its inspirations to the strict control of the Church; that is, to the director, shows that a bad spirit is guiding it."
Why this deference to the spiritual director, even more than to what she thinks she hears Jesus say to her directly in her heart? First of all, because it is so easy for a soul — even a devout soul — to have trouble discerning exactly what the Lord is trying to say and what His will is in any given situation. It is so easy to deceive oneself, or to be deceived by Satan, because of hidden pride, fear, impatience, and so on. In that sense, everyone should double-check their major discernments in life with a spiritual director, if they have one. Beyond that, St. Faustina was receiving extraordinary private and prophetic revelations (visions, locutions, etc.), and such extraordinary phenomena can just as easily come from the devil, from wishful thinking and fantasy, or even from mental illness. All the more reason to lean more on the authority of a devout and wise spiritual director than solely on one's own capacities for discernment. That is why, I think, Jesus tells her in entry 145 that she can find peace of heart when she relies on her spiritual director, and not on herself alone.
In his classic work, The Introduction to the Devout Life (Part I, section 4), St. Francis De Sales tells us of the importance of having a spiritual guide:
"A faithful friend," we are told in Holy Scripture, "is a strong defence, and he who has found one has found a treasure. A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality, and those who fear the Lord find him." As you see, these divine words chiefly refer to immortality, and for this we must above all else have this faithful friend who by advice and counsel guides our actions and thus protects us from the snares and deceits of the wicked one. For us he will be a treasure of wisdom in affliction, sorrow, and failure. He will serve as a medicine to ease and comfort our hearts when afflicted by spiritual sickness. He will guard us from evil and make our good still better. ...
Who shall find such a friend? The Wise Man answers: "Those who fear the Lord," that is, humble souls who sincerely desire to make spiritual progress. Since it is important for you, Philothea, to have a guide as you travel on this holy road to devotion, you must most insistently beseech God to provide you with one after his own heart. Have no misgivings in this regard for he who sent down an angel from heaven, as he did to young Tobias, will give you a good and faithful guide.
Finally, one of the best things about seeking the guidance of a spiritual director is that it plants the soul deeply in the soil of humility. In our walk with Christ, we are frequently besieged by changing moods, fears and anxieties, self-doubt, and confusion of mind. Sometimes we feel as if we are being blown about in every direction at once! The devil likes to use these doubts and uncertainties to blow us off course. For example, St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, almost gave up her vocation to the Carmelites on the very eve of the Profession of her vows! She wrote of this in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul (Christian Classics edition, 2010, p. 186):
Not a single doubt about my vocation had yet come to my thoughts; it was necessary for me to become acquainted with that ordeal. That night, after visiting the Stations of the Cross after Matins, my vocation appeared to me as a dream, a figment of my imagination. ... I found life at Carmel to be quite beautiful, but the devil inspired in me the assurance that it wasn't made for me, that I'd be deceiving the Superiors by going forward along a path to which I wasn't called. ... My darkness was so great that I could see or understand only one thing: I didn't have the calling! ...
I wanted to do God's will and return to the world rather than remain in Carmel doing my own will. So I asked my [Novice] mistress to come out, and full of embarrassment and shame, I told her the state of my soul. ...
Fortunately, she saw more clearly than I did, and she reassured me completely. Besides, the act of humility that I had done had just put flight to the devil, who was perhaps thinking that I wasn't going to be daring enough to admit my temptation. Immediately after I finished speaking, my doubts left me. Nonetheless, in order to make my act of humility complete, I wanted to go on and confide my strange temptation to our Superior, who was content to laugh at me.
If souls as pure and devout as St. Faustina and St. Therese needed to lean on spiritual guides for support and counsel, how much more so do you and I need to do so today! May our Savior grant that each one of us may find, when the time is just right, the spiritual director we need to help us follow Him ever more faithfully.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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