Spiritual Direction Encourages Relationship with God

Wendy Healy Features

NEW YORK — Ever since St. Francis prayed before the crucifix asking God to “illumine the darkness” of his heart, people have sought to know God better. 

Spiritual direction programs help people get closer to God by deepening their faith and developing stronger relationships with the Lord. This time-honored practice — where a religious leader is a companion in fostering the contemplative presence — is in place at several churches throughout the Province. 

It is sometimes called spiritual companioning, because the Holy Spirit is the ultimate director, according to the Franciscan Center for Spiritual Direction at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston.

The Shrine and St. Francis of Assisi in New York City have two of the Province’s larger spiritual direction programs.

St. Francis of Assisi, New York City
The Center for Franciscan Spirituality and Spiritual Direction at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City opened two years ago. It grew out of a need to give people more time than what they receive at confession, according to director Anthony LoGalbo, OFM.

He said people would often ask friars to spend more time with them in confession, and since this was not always possible, the church decided to establish the spiritual direction program. 

Upcoming classes at the center include:
• “Images of St. Claire of Assisi,” July 20 to 25, 6 to 7:30 p.m., with Sr. Meg Holden, FSP
• St. Bonaventure’s “Itinerarium: An Exploration of The Soul’s Journey Into God,” Saturday afternoons, Sept. 19 to Dec. 19, 1 to 2:30 p.m., with Tony LoGalbo.
• “The Love and the Prostitute: Intimacy and Betrayal in the Spiritual Life,” Nov. 2 to 30, 6 to 7 p.m., withAnthony Carrozzo, OFM.

More information about the courses, whose fees are $20, can be obtained by calling 212-736-8500, ext. 253.

Tony estimates that he and his team of Anthony Carrozzo, Fr. Joseph Cavoto, SA, and Sr. Mary Petrosky, FMM, see approximately 100 people a month, encouraging them to reflect on their lives in light of the Gospel. The participants are from all age groups, according to Tony, and are led to spiritual direction for a variety of reasons.

Many participants, he said, have been away from the Church and seek a way back. They meet once a month privately with their spiritual director, who accompanies them on their spiritual path.

“Spirituality emerges from their concerns,” he said. “Sometimes it takes an illness, crisis or something else to prompt people to reflect on their life.”

Reflecting on life is one of the practices of spiritual direction, according to Tony. “Reflect on your day. How do you know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been?” he asks.

To foster this contemplation, he encourages people to find five to 10 minutes at the end of the day to reflect. “Get quiet,” he said. “Get close to God.”

He also encourages people to read the Bible and consider ways to be of service to others. 

Tony, who has always been involved in some type of spiritual direction throughout his ministry, whether working with men in formation or with the Cursillo movement, was asked to head St. Francis of Assisi’s program.

While 2009 presents many new challenges for Christians, basic spiritual direction is unchanged, he said. “People are dealing with the same issues right now,” he said, although he finds it is a lot more difficult for people to be faithful now. “The climate is such and the general atmosphere is one of much more atheism today.”

Tony works with each participant to try to find a practice that speaks to him or her. 

Spiritual direction can:
· Help a person identify and trust his or her own experiences with God
· Integrate spirituality into daily life
· Discern and make choices
· Share hopes, struggles and losses
· Develop a sensitivity for justice and concern for the poor
· Live the essence of faith with integrity 

Many spiritual direction programs now, according to Tony, have lay people trained as spiritual directors, because not enough priests are available to handle all the needs. 

St. Anthony Shrine, Boston
Francis McHugh, OFM, directs the Franciscan Center for Spiritual Direction at St. Anthony Shrine. Although the Center was started in the late 1980s, Francis came to the shrine in 2008 from St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, Va.

Eleven spiritual directors, mostly friars, and three interns work part time in the ministry, which has grown in the past few years. 

Since the recession, Frank said he has seen a lull in participants, mainly, he thinks, because money is tight and spiritual direction has a fee, although scholarships are available.

In addition to one-on-one time with a spiritual director either once a month or more often, groups are run for women and men, for centering prayer and lunchtime rosary.

Frank said he always begins by asking a participant, “What is your heart’s desire?”

The person who seeks spiritual direction is encouraged to allow God to be the center of attention, according to the Center, and all of life’s issues are appropriately brought to spiritual direction.

Participants can learn to:
· Be more aware of God’s presence
· Live in the present moment
· See God in the ordinary
· Recognize God at work
· Respond to God

Ministering with Frank are Richard Flaherty, OFM, John Hogan, OFM, John Maganzini, OFM, Raymond Mann, OFM, Gene Pistacchio, OFM, Sr. Linda Greenwood, OSF, and several lay people. 

At Other Churches
Spiritual direction also takes place at the Church of St. Mary in Providence, R.I. Pastor Frank Sevola, OFM, andCharles O’Connor, OFM, provide the direction, along with five certified lay people, according to Rene Perreault, a Secular Franciscan, who leads the program.

In addition to private sessions with people of all faiths, Perreault said he goes to the local hospital to meet with patients with HIV and AIDS. “We companion them,” he said. “It’s more of a spiritual companionship, helping them to find where God is in this mess that is their life.”

In the next month, the church plans to offer spiritual companioning to people who have lost jobs and their homes. “We’re bringing spiritual direction to a place of need,” said Perrault.

At St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, pastor Charles Miller, OFM, said Robert Menard, OFM, and John Heffernan, OFM, and a lay person are available for ongoing spiritual direction.

—Wendy Healy, a freelance writer in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to
 HNP Today.