Spiritual Formation for the Laity

March 15, 2016

As we continue our commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, we begin a series of reflections on the four areas of formation highlighted in this important document on the preparation of lay women and men for lay ecclesial ministry.

The first area we consider is that of “Spiritual Formation.” According to Co-Workers, the goal of spiritual formation is “to arouse and animate true hunger for holiness, desire for union with the Father through Christ in the Spirit, daily growing in love of God and neighbor in life and ministry.” Spiritual formation “promotes and strengthens that fundamental conversion that places God, and not oneself, at the center of one’s life.” Without it, any ministry that we engage in “will lack the vital soul and source needed to bear lasting fruit.”

Guided retreats, days of recollection, and spiritual direction are all components of the spiritual formation process that SPSSOD students undertake, especially within the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry degree program.  To those just starting on this journey, spiritual direction is often the least familiar of these practices. Sr. Paul Therese Saiko, a retired faculty member who continues to advise and direct students in this area describes it as follows:

Individual spiritual direction is a long-held spiritual practice within the church defined by William Barry, S.J. and William Connelly, S.J. as “the help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to (1) pay attention to God’s personal communication; (2) respond to this personally communicating God; (3) grow in intimacy with God: and (4) live out the consequences of that relationship.”

For students seeking leadership in the church, spiritual direction is a highly recommended practice. There are three persons involved in the spiritual direction dialogue. First, there is the directee who seeks out a trained director to be a companion in deepening one’s spiritual life. Secondly, there is the spiritual director who assists the directee to discover and discern God’s call in the midst of one’s prayer, daily activities, interactions, and inspirations. Thirdly, both director and directee rely on the most important companion in the dialogue - the Holy Spirit. Together they pray, listen, and interact discerning as best they can the inspirations and direction of the Spirit as revealed through prayer, daily life, study, and experience.

Through this process of prayer and dialogue, directees are guided to be attentive to God’s grace in their individual lives and to explore what obstructs one’s attention to God’s grace. With time and guidance the directee is led to name and honor the near occasions of grace as well to find the grace offered in loss, grief, anger and fear.

Through this practice, done intentionally and well, each directee struggles to answer the question that has been the sole topic of this art: What is God up to in my life?