Recently, St. Mary’s held a “School of Prayer.” This was a series of talks on various forms of prayer as a response to popular request from the students. The Busy Student’s Retreat is largely based on daily spiritual direction over a week’s time, and is very successful here. I asked Sister Celestina if that enthusiasm for spirituality in young adult Catholics is the norm she experiences in her work here.
She says, “Yes! These kids have a great thirst!”
That is why so many spiritual directors are needed at St. Mary’s. The three Sister Apostles of the Interior Life are here, three lay spiritual directors, several priests, deacons, as well as the priests and religious who come in and do spiritual direction every week, and at other times. “It is still not enough!”
She explains to me, for those who don’t know, what spiritual direction is. Here she begins to speak passionately.
She tells me that the “Gospel icon, if you will,” of the charism of her order is the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus seeks her out, though she has gone to draw water at a time nobody would be expected to be there, as if she were avoiding others. But Jesus finds her. “She is shown her truth as a daughter, and she goes out to share with others.”
“Jesus is very determined and also tender. He comes very close to her wounds.” He shows our identity is not a sum total of our sins or wounds, but in our belonging to Him as children of God.
“Jesus comes close to [people’s] wounds in a very determined way, but not like a moralistic teacher. He is tender. “
To Sister Celestina, this describes the goal of spiritual direction and evangelization. “We bring people to encounter.”
“God did not send down a book. He sent His Son- into relationship, and that is what we do.”
One must not “think of the other person as an empty container that you have to fill with truth, but as a brother or sister. So you take interest in their lives.”
“Every human being you encounter thirsts for more because they are each made in the image of God. They thirst. There is a thirst in these students. I think it is important to allow the Holy Spirit to awaken their desires.”
That is the approach she takes as a spiritual director.
For spiritual direction, “there are a lot of requests.” There is an intake form on the Aggie Catholic website and the requests for spiritual direction are coordinated by a campus ministry intern at the Student Center.
The goal of spiritual direction is for the directee to grow in holiness, she says. The real spiritual director is the Holy Spirit. She often tells her directees, “It is not just you and me, it is you and me and the Holy Spirit.”
The goal is to discover God’s will and inspirations, to learn how to listen, to discern what is coming from the Holy Spirit and what is not. Another goal is helping to remove obstacles to growth, learning to pray or growing in prayer. Guidance and support are needed “to know what to do with the consolations and desolations of the spiritual life.”
She says that it is very important to develop what she calls a “double channel of listening”. She tries to listen deeply to the person talking to her and to pay close attention to the Holy Spirit speaking in her heart at the same time. “If we are relaxed and open, and not too worried about what we need to respond, the Holy Spirit will help us see how we can help that person.”
“Every topic is welcome,” she says, “because all of life must be penetrated by the Holy Spirit, and God is part of all that we do. “
“The more open you are in spiritual direction the more fruitful it will be. When you are open, you are humble, but this is a freeing experience that you are loved as you are. The moment you bring things to the light, they are already being healed.”
I asked her if she works with non Catholics also. She said she can and she has. “I would need to be attentive and delicate, but still be transparent about who I am.” Her goal would be to “simply place them more and more under the influence of the Holy Spirit.”
She tells me about some of the other things the sisters do at St. Mary’s.
They sponsor Samuel’s Group, a program about discernment. She calls discernment, “making decisions with God in the picture.” By discernment she also means “the discernment of spirits.” This tradition of discernment of spirits goes back to the desert fathers. It is very important, she says, to “become aware of your interior movements, since God speaks to us in our thoughts and feelings and desires.” It is important to learn to distinguish the authentic inner voice that is the leading of God, from other influences inside us and outside us that can be misleading or harmful. A spiritual director can help one learn and refine that skill of discernment.
“You come to recognize the movement of God through your soul like the vibration of guitar strings after they have been touched.”
“Jesus himself had to practice this discernment of spirits in the desert,” she points out. “Discernment of spirits is a fundamental teaching of the spiritual life.”
“It isn’t just do it yourself. It is always with God; with God, and the people God places in our lives. Always, it is in the context of relationship,” that we listen for God.
“The work we do is relational.” She says.
The sisters open their house for what they call, “A night at the convent,” and also for a movie night a few times a semester, just to share their life with the students. They like to cook for the students. “Sharing food is such an important part of loving.”
They have had up to forty people in their living room, and they see new faces all the time, Catholics and non Catholics alike.
They also hold Holy Hours at the convent, and these are always crowded.
“It’s a beautiful time in their life for formation,” she says, “because of the particular gifts of that age group; the enthusiasm, flexibility, the energy, the dreams, the ability to take risks, the capacity of jumping, leaping into new things.”
She says that what they do at St. Mary’s is facilitate encounter with Christ which forms disciples, and then disciples “automatically become Apostles, and they go out,” bringing with them the tender and determined love of Christ and the truth of their experience with His transforming love- “into the lunch line, into the class room, into the whole world.”
*“We, the Apostles of the Interior Life… testify … that the interior life is the real and transforming source of joy for the world. We are a community of consecrated women… reaching out to men and women through evangelization and friendship with a family-like style and a spirit of initiative and of personal relationship that can foster spiritual generation and growth. We accomplish this mission specifically through spiritual direction and formation in the area of prayer. “~ from Recipes for the Interior Life by the Apostles of the Interior Life
For more of the Apostles of the Interior Life http://aggiecatholic.org/avi
For more about St. Mary’s Student Center aggiecatholic.org