St John Of The Cross


purifies the beginner's appetites and emotions by withdrawing consolation from his spiritual exercises, the spiritual director reassures him of the necessity of this dryness for his own healing and growth: as God's communication of Himself directly to the beginner's spirit suppresses his discursive powers, the director guides his prayer in the transition from meditation to contemplation. Without a director's reassurance and guidance, a beginner may be unable to respond properly to God's action in his life.1

To properly support God's action in his directee, the spiritual director must be well-versed in the theology of the spiritual life. Specifically, he must understand the nature of contemplation as God's direct communication of Himself to a human person, its developmental stages, its psychological effects and the signs distinguishing it from laxity and psychological dysfunction.

In addition to spiritual theology, a director should be prepared for his role with a knowledge of psychology, particularly in the areas of motivation and abnormality. With the help of motivational theory, a spiritual director will recognize the desire for sensory pleasure that inspires beginners in their religious exercises and understand their need for God to cleanse the unconscious roots of their imperfections. Realizing how strongly self-gratification motivates even those


1NI,3,3; 4,8; 5,3; 6,8; 7,5; 10,1-6; 11,2-4.


who have turned toward God, he will caution beginners against extremes in their religious practices, especially in their bodily penances.1

Abnormal psychology enables a director to recognize and interpret such dysfunctional behavior as affective disorders, personality and character disturbances, and neurotic reactions when these appear in his directees. Because God's communication produces psychological effects within the person, a director must both distinguish the emotionally disturbing effects of purgative contemplation from psychological abnormalities of a merely natural cause and understand the purifying role of psychological disorders when they appear together with the aridities caused by contemplation.2

A director also prepares his directee for contemplation by his skillful involvement in their relationship. He must not only help the more humble and virtuous beginners overcome the shame they feel in discussing their progress and activities with him (aun a sus maestros espirituales tienen vergüenza de decirlas), but he must also handle the variety of ways in which beginners act out their imperfections with him.3 He must recognize and interact with their hostility, dishonesty, and manipulation in a manner that will promote their


1N1,1,3; 3,2-3; 4,2-5; 5,1; 6,1-3&5-6; 7,2-5.

2Nl,4,3; 9,1-9; 14,1-4.




The director must be especially tactful when he becomes the object of the directee's sexual thoughts and desires. John notes that beginners during the time of prayer may experience impure thoughts regarding "persons who have been a help to them (personas que aprovechan sus almias),"2 which presumably includes their spiritual directors. Because these thoughts can frighten and terrify beginners (aterrarlas y acobardarlas) and tempt them to abandon prayer, a director must be able to acknowledge these thoughts calmly and help his directees to work through them peacefully.

The director must also be conscious of the affective quality of his relationship with the directee. We have seen in an earlier chapter that John approached spliritual direction as a "service of friendship."3 His letters indeed reveal the strong emotional bonds that existed between him and some of his directees.4 As these bonds form with his own directees, the director must discern whether their friendship promotes readiness for contemplation in the directee or interferes with it. To make this evaluation, the director may apply


lNl,2,3-4; 6,3-4.


3See biographical section above, pp. 86-87.

4See letters to Juana de Pedraza and Ana de Jesús Jimena in Collected Works, pp. 690-691 and 702-703.


John's criteria for spiritual friendship. These guidelines are worth quoting in full:


lNl,4,7. For an extensive investigation of the affective element in spiritual direction, including the psychological dynamics of transference and countertransference, see the doctoral dissertation by Giovanni Giorgianni, L'Elemento Affettivo nella Direzione Spirituale (Messina: Pontificia Unversitas Gregoriana, 1959).


The skill required for relationships with his directees further suggests that a spiritual director must be personally experienced in the spiritual life. Unless he too disposes himself for contemplation through meditative prayer and mortification of inordinate appetites, the director will very likely seek self-gratification in his ministry and contaminate the direction relationship with his own imperfections. The director cannot, of course, presume God will grant him the gift of contemplation. Yet most who dispose themselves for this gift are eventually brought into the dark night of sense.1 The experience of this night prepares the director in two significant ways to fulfill his instrumental role in God's guidance of souls: by purifying him of self-seeking motives that could mar his relationship with his directee and by providing him with a firsthand understanding of the aridities and trials accompanying God's communication.

Besides his own spiritual life, his experience in guiding others enables a spiritual director to carry out his ministry more effectively. This experience is particularly important in understanding both the imperfections of beginners and the manner in which God leads those destined to attain the high state of divine union.2

Throughout Book One of The Dark Night, John continues



2N1,13,3; 14,6.


the metaphor of journey to express the spiritual life.1 As a guide for persons who walk the road of Christian perfection, the spiritual director prepares them through prayer and mortification to receive God's communication and assists them through the dark night of sense by supporting them in their trials and aridities and directing them in contemplative prayer.2 Guiding persons along this road also requires that the director exercise judgement and discernment. He must, for example, make judgements concerning the progress of his directees (such as whether or not their aridities are caused by purgative contemplation3 and whether or not a person seems called by God to the higher states of the spiritual life).4 But he must also apply the principles of discernment of spirits in particular circumstances to determine the motives of his directee's behavior.

We have already seen that John uses the criterion of effects or fruits to discern whether a spiritual friendship is prompted by the flesh or by the spirit.5 John speaks further of determining God's will in particular instances, showing


1Dark Night, Prologue; Nl, Explanation, 1-2; 1,1; 6, 1 &7; 7,1-2&4; 8,3; 9,7&9; 10,1-3; 11,4; 12,9; 13,4; 14,1.

2N1, chap. 10.

3N1, chap. 9.

4Nl,9,9; Nl, chap. 14.



that one's personal satisfaction cannot be the sole discerning factor. Discussing the imperfections of beginners, he writes:

One means of determining God's will is obedience, including obedience to one's spiritual director.2 This in turn involves the place of authority and obedience in spiritual direction. In Book One of the Night, John favors the term spiritual master (maestros espirituales).3 However, spiritual masters may include confessors and religious superiors (maestros espirituales, como son confesores y prelados).4

These exercise spiritual authority because of Orders or office;




3Nl,2,3; 2,7; 6,3.

4Nl,2,3. John's reference to religious superiors as


consequently a relationship of obedience exists between them and their disciples. In these cases, the directives of a confessor or a religious superior can be for the disciple a decisive means for determining the will of God in particular situations.

In discussing obedience to spiritual directors as a norm for discerning the will of God in particular cases, it is important to notice that John regards spiritual authority as an exercise of reason by which spiritual masters place limits upon their subjects when there is danger that they may carry their religious exercises to harmful extremes. Ideally, even directors who do not possess spiritual authority because of orders or officel will not hesitate to exercise the authority of reason and discretion or impose upon their disciples the "penance of reason and discretion (penitencia de


spiritual masters concurs with a traditional role performed by superiors in the Church--that of "abbas" or spiritual father to their subjects. John performed this function for his Carmelite brethren when he was their superior (see biographical section above, p. 62, and this section, p. 149). This practice is not universally followed today among those in religious life. In fact, Church law expressly forbids religious superiors from demanding a manifestation of conscience from their subjects, although subjects are encouraged to open their hearts freely and voluntarily to their superiors. Codex Juris Canonici, Canon 530. See Dacian Dee, The Manifestation of Conscience (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1960).

lSee, for example, Nl,3,7 where the term spiritual masters (maestros espirituales) does not necessarily connote orders or office.


razón y discreción),"1 for obedience to reason is an indication of God's will for a person,2 is necessary throughout the entire spiritual journey,3 and disposes one to receive God's communication in contemplation.

As seen in Book One, the subject matter of the spiritual direction relationship is the total experience of the directee, all that is "felt" on the spiritual journey. This may include feelings that arise due to the imperfections of beginners (for example, the grief and sadness at seeing others more advanced in virtue),4 the dryness (sequedades) of the dark night of sense.5 or the delights occasionally caused by contemplation.6 Through these experiences, a director can determine his directee's progress in the spiritual life and the road along which God is guiding him.

As one views the directee in the first book of The Dark Night, one is struck by the pervasive self-seeking and myriad imperfections in beginners. Yet these are persons who have turned their lives to God and are serious about attaining per-



2see above, pp. 187-90.

3Nl,6,1. See also Nl,4,8 and 6,6.


5 N1,9,2.



fection.1 As they continue in the spiritual life, one sees their progress as, for example, they move from insisting upon guiding themselves (sólo por su paracer)2 toward greater openness to the counsel and direction of others.3 One also notices the wide variety of differences in these individuals. Each beginner manifests his imperfections in his own unique way.4 The length of time God keeps a person in the dark night of sense depends upon that person's particular needs.5 And God chooses some persons to ascend to the heights of divine union, while others remain forever at lower stages.6 Thus, a director must respect the good will of beginners, helping them to struggle with their imperfections and preparing them for God's purifying communication in the dark night. And he must appreciate their individuality, realizing that God leads each person to Himself along each one's own individual path.


The Dark Night presents God's direct communication of




3Nl,2,7; 12,9.

4Nl,2,1-5; 4,2-5.


6Nl,8,1; 9,9; 11,4; 14,1&4-5.

pp 310-320

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