During a men ́s retreat in the Georgia mountains with Fr. Colum and Fr. Felix, I received a little light that helped me to see and grow. At first, I didn ́t want to go; but thanks to a hurricane heading towards southwest Florida, I chose to go. God gave me many graces and lights on this trip, including the grace of going to confession after having let a considerable amount of time pass since my last confession.
One of the lights that I received came at perhaps a somewhat surprising moment: white water rafting. White water rafting consists in going down a river with a rapid current (which makes the water look white, especially as it hits against rocks) in an inflatable raft. After putting on full body wet suits, which made us look absolutely ridiculous, we were divided up in groups of about five, with a guide for each group.
I had never been white water rafting before and was a little nervous, but after our guide told us his name (Tupelo) and how long he had been rafting, I realized that our guide had a lot of experience and knew what he was doing. As we drifted along, he explained to us some of the dangers that we would face. He also explained how to avoid some of the dangers. For example, if you fall out of the raft, he said to keep your legs extended in front of you rather than below you. He explained that there are many rocks hidden below and the current goes so fast that if your legs were caught by a rock, you would most likely break a bone. Tupelo sat in the back in order to steer us and from there he would give us directions, such as when to paddle and on which side. At times he would tell us to paddle harder or to stop paddling. The thought came to me of the importance of obedience and docility, not only to Tupelo in this particular moment of my life, but also to my parents and my spiritual director (whom I had been carefully avoiding).
Some parts of the river were particularly dangerous. After a lot of rain, the rapids in this river reach the highest and most dangerous category. These kinds of rapids are life threatening, because if someone gets caught under water, the current is so strong that it is almost impossible to break through the surface. After going down waterfalls of varying sizes, he informed us that we were approaching what was called “Decapitation Rock,” and that it was important to obey his instructions carefully. We would paddle until he would tell us to duck down, because we were going to pass right under a large overhanging rock. As he told us to paddle, I didn ́t feel like obeying, because I didn ́t like the thought of smashing my head against a huge bolder; but our guide told us to. We did as we were told with promptitude, especially when he yelled out “duck.” All I saw was a dark shadow.
During the whole excursion, our group only fell out of the raft once, going down the last waterfall. Somehow our guide managed not to fall out (another sign of how good were the hands into which our lives had been entrusted). At every waterfall, one of the guides would wait on land with rope ready to throw in case someone needed help. Much more important than going through an exciting experience, I had received a spiritual light to recognize the importance of obedience to the representatives whom God places in our lives, especially our parents and spiritual directors. I had been going through a phase of “it ́s cool to be rebellious.” This light received while white water rafting was like an antidote to this poisonous mindset. In particular, I had been avoiding my spiritual director, whom God had given me to help me avoid slamming against large, low hanging rocks and from being caught beneath dangerous rapids in the spiritual life. His voice had sounded loud and clear about certain dangers, (like Tupelo yelling “duck,”) but I preferred to ignore his advice. I was certainly not happy in my superficiality, caught under a life threateningly dangerous current due to my own rebellion and stubbornness. It was as if I was trying to white water raft in a dangerous river without any experience and without a guide. We must also keep in mind that in the spiritual life, we have a mortal enemy who is actively seeking our spiritual death. It ́s as if in addition to all of the dangers of rafting, someone was trying to pinch a hole in your raft. The saints, who are the experienced guides on the path towards heaven, have recognized the importance of having a spiritual director. St. Basil said: “To believe that one does not need counsel is great pride.” St. Bernard wrote: “He who constitutes himself his own director, becomes the disciple of a fool.”
It is important to seek out a good spiritual director: holy, wise, with experience. St. Francis de Sales says to look for a spiritual director who is full of charity, learning, and prudence. For our part, it is important to be totally open and honest, docile and obedient. As the Psalm says: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts…” We should respect our spiritual directors as representatives of God and should have a filial confidence towards them. It is good to prepare for spiritual direction beforehand, begging light from the Holy Spirit. St. Francis de Sales gives us a little piece of advice in how to speak with our spiritual director: “Open your heart to him with all sincerity and fidelity, manifesting clearly and explicitly the state of your conscience without fiction or dissimulation.” The spiritual director helps us enormously. Many times, simply in telling him our temptations and doubts, the light enters and we can see clearly again. Once one has a spiritual director, it is not recommended to change directors unless one has a seriously good reason.
Thanks be to God, our Teacher, who provides us with this very helpful means towards our salvation and sanctification through his visible representatives: “your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ́This is the way, walk in it, ́ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Is. 30:20-21). Like the voice of Tupelo giving directions from behind, the Lord indicates the way in which we are to go. Christ promised to be with us always and has told us that He is the Way. He has decided to give audible directions through His faithful representatives: “He who hears you, hears Me” (Luke 10:16).
Deacon Br. Peter Dittus