‘Keeping good men good.’ My local Catholic priest explains what it means for him
Mindful of my current interest in ‘keeping good men good’ I had the opportunity to speak today with a local Catholic priest, Father Raymond Legge. Although both he and I know that the history of the church has certainly not been unblemished in the matter of maintaining the purity of priests, he gave a few interesting responses to my questions on the role of the ‘spiritual director.’
He told me: “A priest tries to help all members of the community in their spiritual life. They tell him of their problems – all kinds of problems – and he listens carefully, offers understanding, and tries to give ways in which faith and sacraments can offer a solution. He is not a therapist as such – although he is often called upon, in his pastoral work, to deal with both physical and mental health issues and to direct the members of his congregation to qualified persons.”
“But because he is always listening to the doubts and problems of others, he himself must have someone to whom he can go occasionally to reveal his mind. The purpose of this is firstly to just release everything his mind is loaded up with to someone, to verbalise it to someone who listens patiently – this in itself is helpful – and to have a discussion with that person on possible solutions to faith problems, and challenges in walking the faith, in the light of scripture.”
When I asked him more about the qualities of such a ‘spiritual director’ to whom he himself goes, he replied: “The spiritual director has qualities of personal holiness; he or she must be well read in the scriptures and be able to present examples from scripture that may be useful in throwing some light on the discussion at hand. The spiritual director must also be of strong faith and have a good prayer life.”
“And, of course,” said the Father with a knowing look, as if I already understood such things, “Everything discussed is completely confidential.”
He further explained that the spiritual director is of necessity someone removed from the management structure of the Church, and is often someone who is met while spending a few days on retreat. Often the director is a person who is much older than the priest.
The occasion for this conversation was a friendly reciprocal interfaith visit. The Church of Our Lady, Queen of all Creation in nearby Hemel Hempstead had invited us after their visit to Bhaktivedanta Manor last year. The congregational leaders and the priest arranged a colourful exhibition of parish life and the various church activities using pictures, literature and artifacts. They shared details and explanation of their faith, and laid on an afternoon buffet tea and concert for everyone.
A presentation on the basic beliefs of Christianity and the importance of tradition in the Catholic Church generated much conversation. The devotees of Krishna were then welcomed to attend the Saturday evening Mass.