Spiritual directors serve as guide on
By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
Father Brad Pelzel, vocations director, said the function of a spiritual director is to help the seminarians become “good, holy and happy priests” or if they are in the early stages discerning whether they have a call to the priesthood or not.
“When they go into spiritual direction, it is under the same seal as confession for the most part,” he said. “For the seminarians, there are two aspects of dealing with their problems. Every one of us has had successes and failures in our lives. Sometimes we have dealt with those better than other times.”
The church’s two simultaneous levels of approaching problems, internal forum and external forum, said the vocations director.
“Internal forum are matters of conscience and areas of our sinfulness, but it is also discerning internally in our prayers what is God calling, what is God asking,” he said. “External forum are the things that can be judged by witnessing. I am considered external forum. As the vocations director, I am the bishop’s agent. Everything I find out, I am responsible to share with the bishop.”
The spiritual directors, Father Pelzel said, deal with the internal matters.
“In moving towards priesthood, one of the things we want to do is move towards the holiness that God calls all of us to, but in a particular way in a seminarian context,” he said. “The spiritual directors help them deal with their sinfulness – take a look at what is going on, the decisions they make and what is going on in my heart when these things happen.”
The vocations director added that the spiritual directors are very important “in holding this up to the light and saying, ‘Where is Jesus in all of this?’”
Father David Hemann, pastor at St. Michael Church in Sioux City, said he tries to be a good priest and loves being a priest, so he loves sharing they joys of priesthood with perspective seminarians.
“I also like to realistically share with them the challenges of priesthood,” he said. “I present both the death and resurrection to them. I make it clear to them that the resurrection is the final word and that there are definitely sacrifices that need to be made but there are also incomparable joys that are given in this life.”
When the priest meets with the seminarians, he asks them how their relationship is with God, family, coworkers and also with themselves.
“I try to encourage them to live a balanced life of prayer, work, study, fun and socialization,” said Father Hemann. “I try to lead them to a balanced life but also a very purposeful life. I am only there to help them discern, but in the meantime, I often share the joys of priesthood with them.”
What he says to the young men is that “it is such a meaningful life – trying to grow in holiness and to come to union with God. Actually having as your job to pray, preach, sanctify people through the sacraments and bring people to everlasting life, is such a meaningful, rich, full vocation. It deeply compliments the other vocations of singlehood and family life.”
Father Hemann doesn’t tell the young men they are supposed to be a priest. He tries to direct them to be true to themselves and “be men of deep, substantial daily prayer.”
“If in that prayer the Lord is calling you, pursue it,” he said. “It is most important to do it out of a right relationship with God, others and themselves for the ultimate good.”
It is important, Father Hemann said to have someone “who has walked the walk” help guide the young men on their journey.
“We have wisdom to give them,” he said.
Father Kevin Richter, pastor at St. Joseph Church in Le Mars, said the spiritual director’s role is to keep the seminarian focused in their spiritual life – “to help them be attentive to what is happening at the deepest levels of their heart and to help them discern what God is calling for not only in their larger vocation of priesthood but also in their daily vocation of living.”
“It is helping them put language to their experiences of God in prayer to help them recognize what are authentic movements in God and what are things leading them away from deepening their relationship with God,” he said.
For Father Richter, when he visits with someone else on that level and talks “about things of God, relationship with God, love of God for us, all of that serves to re-center me in my own spiritual life and re-energize me.”
In the world today there is a trend for people to have physical trainers for exercise, he pointed out. A main component of that is being accountable to someone.
“It is the same in spiritual life. If we have someone that we sit down with on a regular basis to review my attentiveness or inattentiveness to God that really brings about a greater accountability” said Father Richter. “It also enhances my own interior awareness. If I know I am going to be seeing a spiritual director in a couple weeks, I am more likely to be attentive and noticing what I know the spiritual director will be asking me about.”
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