Telling and retelling the story: The gift of spiritual direction

April 13, 2021

These past few weeks, it seems people are increasingly out and about. Not only that, more than a quick wave or nod is being shared as we stop to talk for a minute. It’s great!

Unsurprisingly, the conversations always include details about how the pandemic has been experienced. That is also great because although the topic is the same, there is a particularity to each person’s experience. In the telling and retelling of the story, we learn more about the person and also ourselves. In the telling and the retelling of the story, our hope for a rebuilding of community is witnessed and nurtured.

The two who returned from Emmaus to the Upper Room in Jerusalem, and were there when Jesus suddenly stood in the midst of all those gathered, already knew the value of telling and retelling their story.

We hear about it in the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter. I imagine that while everyone who was present had all or some combination of the emotions recounted — startled, terrified, disbelieving, incredulous for joy, amazed — the two from Emmaus could more easily dwell in Jesus’ greeting of “Peace be with you.” Jesus had already accompanied them in their telling and retelling.

The gift of spiritual direction, the gift of accompaniment in the telling and retelling of our stories, can make all the difference in our life too. It can affect whether we remain startled, terrified and disbelieving, or able to be full of joy and amazed, even during a pandemic.

Originating with Jesus, as all Christian ministry does, spiritual direction has been present throughout the history of the Church.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, it has responded to the needs of the time in its form and emphases, yet has always been rooted in the certainty that the stories of our life contain within them invitations for growth in relationship with God and partnership in proclaiming the Kingdom.

Both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and many saints and holy persons have spoken about the importance of spiritual direction for those who are serious about their desire to love God and others and avoid the temptations to self-delusion that so easily get in the way of that commitment.

Just like the conversation that Jesus had with the two on the road to Emmaus and so many other conversations He had during His years of public ministry, a monthly spiritual direction meeting is centered on sharing your story.

While experience in prayer is always part of it, the spiritual director listens to everything, and together you can arrive at a sense of how the Holy Spirit is there, present and moving right in the middle of it all.

In the telling and retelling of your story, sometimes you hear a word of consolation, encouragement, or perhaps challenge from Jesus and are changed. Over time, no matter what is going on in your life, you grow in your capacity to hear and dwell in Jesus’ greeting of Peace be with you.”

Spiritual direction relies on those with a desire to understand God’s place in their life more fully and those who have the formation and gift for hearing those stories and recognizing they are sacred tales.

Fortunately, there has been a continuing resurgence of both in recent years. Many of the parishes in the Archdiocese offer spiritual direction, as do retreat houses and the Emmaus Spirituality Center. The Spiritual Direction Institute, now located at the Emmaus Spirituality Center, has been forming clergy, religious and laypersons in the ministry of spiritual direction for over 36 years.

Those who feel they may have a call to spiritual direction ministry are encouraged to request more information or to submit an application for the 2021-2022 school year. Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center likewise offers a three-year spiritual direction formation program for those who are predominantly Spanish speakers.

All of us are called to participate in God’s continuing work of bringing the Kingdom to fulfillment. It is great! May we be led by His spirit in the telling and retelling and in the listening of our stories, in the rebuilding and recreating of community. As Jesus told those in that Upper Room and reminds all of us — You are witnesses of these things.

Kathleen Messina is the director of the Spiritual Direction Institute at Emmaus Spirituality Center.