The Catechism of the Catholic Church #24
March 23, 1997
Brother John Raymond
We have been considering The Catechism of the Catholic Church's guides in a life of prayer. One that we may take for granted are our parish priests. As we head into Holy Week they will be guiding us through the Liturgy in our life of prayer. "They are ordained to lead the People of God to the living waters of prayer: the Word of God, the Liturgy, the theological life (the life of faith, hope and charity) and the Today of God in concrete situations." (CCC #2686)
It is natural to some to turn to the priest for direction in our spiritual life. Even though the priest shares our common humanity, by the Sacrament of Holy Orders he becomes a special channel of God's graces to us. Before becoming a monk I asked for direction from priests in major decisions in my life. Some of my friends would go on a regular basis for what is called, "spiritual direction." Being guided by someone else in the spiritual life has ancient roots. The early hermits in the Egyptian desert used to look for a "spiritual father" to guide them. The Irish call this having a "soul friend." It is easy for us to misguide or deceive ourselves in the spiritual life. Jesus promised to be present when two or three gather in His Name.
A spiritual director need not be a priest, but certainly a priest brings with him the graces of ordination. Yet, God can certainly give to some of the faithful gifts of wisdom, faith and discernment for the sake of the common good. (Cf. CCC #2690) I know of a couple of holy people who have these gifts and direct others, including bishops and priests. Still we need to keep in mind St. John of the Cross' warning to take care into whose hands we entrust ourselves. A director needs to be learned and discreet but most importantly experienced himself in the spiritual life. Otherwise, "'he will be incapable of leading into it souls whom God is calling to it and he will not even understand them.'" (CCC #2690) St. Teresa of Avila said she preferred a learned guide to a holy one. She said the holy one may not be able to guide others whereas a learned one should be able to.
There are other guides in prayer such as prayer groups in communion with the Church. (Cf. 2689) Many have benefited from these groups. Another guide that we may take for granted is proper catechesis. Since our childhood some of us have been taught by religion teachers about prayer. Hopefully they taught us to meditate on the Word of God in our own personal prayer and to put it into practice both in our participation in the Liturgy of the Church and in our lives. From our catechesis we often learn popular piety also. Of course, some of us may remember those "memorized" prayers. Although some may look down on these we need to remember "The memorization of basic prayers offers an essential support to the life of prayer." (CCC #2688) It is good for us to slowly go over these prayers from time to time and think about what we are praying in a meditative way.
Many religious have consecrated their whole lives to prayer. They are "one of the living sources of contemplation and the spiritual life of the Church." (CCC #2687) They devote their time to praising God and interceding for others. Places of contemplative prayer are usually popular places for people to go for direction in their prayer life. Also, contemplatives have written and continue to write books about prayer. (Some even write columns about it!)
As Jesus taught that the way to Heaven is narrow it's certainly easier to keep on the straight and narrow road with a good guide. The Catechism guides will surely help our life of prayer.