“Ask a Priest: Should I Quit a Spiritual Direction Program Led by Liberals?”

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Q: I am taking a three-year program to become a spiritual director. After praying, I discerned that the program was for me and that I am called to help others in this way. However, the religious sisters that run the program are on the liberal side. I feel I’m not learning anything, and sometimes it takes away my peace. In one class one of the sisters teaching Christology presented theology of liberation as a legitimate option. I grew up in South America and I know firsthand how toxic it was. I voiced my opinion — maybe too passionately — and after that I have been criticized many times. The nun told me that I am ignorant. I feel she wants me to quit. The other students, most of them Americans, researched theology of liberation after watching me get so upset. I want to become a spiritual director but not in this environment. I don’t know if I should give it more time, or quit and move on. – F.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good that you want to help others through spiritual direction. It can be a very noble task.

The best spiritual direction is usually done in an atmosphere of peace and calm. This program that you are in doesn’t sound as though it is cultivating peace in you.

Perhaps you own passionate reply to the talk about liberation theology might have fueled the fires of discord. But what is done is done.

You might want to consider a few points.

First, ask yourself whether you are learning anything good in this program. There might be elements that are very helpful. Part of the art of life is learning how to pick good fruits in a less-than-perfect orchard. Perhaps you could pick the good and leave behind what isn’t so good.

Here it helps to keep your eye on the horizon: You are studying with a view toward helping others in their spiritual lives.

Second, if the program becomes unmanageable — that is, if the tensions are too great and make it almost impossible for you to actually benefit from whatever good you find in the instruction — then you might look for an alternative. Websites such as siena.org and www.spiritualdirection.com offer formation through various means. With flexibility you might be able to find a solution.

Third, whenever debates arise, try to see them as opportunities for evangelization. In presenting the Church’s official teaching on liberation theology (as explained in these two documents by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Libertatis Nuntius and Libertatis Conscientia), for example, try to see debates as an opportunity to love others by helping them understand Gospel truth more deeply.

(For more reading, see the section on “The Liberationist Approach” in the document “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” by the Pontifical Biblical Commission.)

A good way to prepare yourself for spiritual direction, aside from a solid prayer life and sacramental life and intense studies, is to learn to deal calmly with opposing viewpoints in the Church, which, admittedly, can be difficult.

People look at things very differently. They might have valid points … and some not-so-valid points. This is where you learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.

This is part of what discernment is about. And part of what you will face as a spiritual director.

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