DOES THE SPIRITUAL DIRECTION OF ST. TERESA OF JESUS ASSIST THOSE OF ANOTHER FAITH TRADITION?
Whether a soul is seeking union with Christ the Lord or seeking, for example, nirvana through the 4 noble truths of Buddhism, there are common disciplines, whether we seek the Way in Christ Jesus or we follow self-imposed disciplines on a path to interior peace. Some pathways have particular teachings which seem to be in common yet the ultimate goals are distinctly different. This would affect the guidance offered within a spiritual direction setting.
Practitioners of Buddhism for example follow a pathway which involves an understanding of the place of suffering in that tradition. One of its four noble truths focuses on the need to grow in awareness of suffering in the present in order that it may cease and have no power to destroy the future. In Christianity, the Holy Spirit gives the graces to recognize the power of suffering, interior and exterior, in the present, for the purgation of our souls. The Lord Jesus leads His children into an awareness of the beauty and power of offering our suffering and we learn that when it is offered to God through the Sacred Suffering Humanity of Christ, we join Him in His vicarious suffering for other by helping to carry the Cross. We are drawn into His Act of Redemption.
In spiritual direction, and although the ultimate understanding of suffering is totally different, St. Teresa of Avila* provides a wisdom that is transferable and gives light to both the Christ-seeker or the Buddhist: "The blessings of suffering unlock....the power of patient endurance, no matter the hardship" (St. Teresa). For a Buddhist, her spiritual direction on God's virtue of endurance is revelatory and helpful because "endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but the final victory comes to the one who endures"(Buddha).
St. Teresa speaks to self-abandonment, the willing surrendering of all earthly attachments to cling to God alone. This too is one of Buddha's noble truths. Understanding the teachings of other faiths is essential when spiritual direction is involved.
It is important that the Spiritual Director understands the directee's chosen path and with deeper understanding can offer relevant insights rooted in the wisdom and the teachings of Teresa of Jesus.
St. Teresa guides us on how to grow in self-knowledge, in our interior responses to life-suffering, our self-mastery, self-control, all nourished by humility. These are graces from God and these teachings and insights of Teresa that may bring light to someone on a path that is "corresponding" (Karl Rahner) to the Christian path. In the Interior Castle, she teaches us that the more a soul realizes its littleness and frailty, self-knowledge deepens as does humility. She teaches the crucial need for self-knowledge, humility, meditation, surrendering to God all that attaches and burdens the soul. She teaches that two important components of humility are to walk in truth and self-knowledge, "Spiritually, no matter how much we have matured, we must cultivate self-knowledge" (St. Teresa).
For Teresa, humility is the foundation of spiritual life and prayer, without which nothing can grow. This is true also for a person traveling the path of Buddhism where: "... only a humble mind can readily recognize its own defilements of craving, aversion and ignorance, thereby embarking on the path of enlightenment and liberation".
Here, the wisdom of St. Teresa offered in the First 3 Mansions of the Interior Castle can spiritually direct any soul into deeper humility and self-knowledge. For a Buddhist, these are disciplines which take the soul into enlightenment. For the Christian seeking Christ Who dwells within the soul, these work together as we are led by the Holy Spirit into our own KENOSIS which involves the purging and subjugation of all within our de-formed nature that creates a barrier to our union with God.
When we focus on the KENOSIS of Christ at the Incarnation, we understand that He did not empty Himself of His Godhood. He emptied Himself of the glory that is His by Nature. In the call to our own KENOSIS, we ask the Holy Spirit to assist us in the self-emptying of our sinful nature to be filled with the Divine Likeness of the Nature of God (CCC 1702).
Our endless self-emptying alerts us to awareness of sin and humility deepens. Self-knowledge is born from this humility and in deepening self-knowledge, we are assisted in remaining faithful to our baptismal promises and to resisting temptations through self-discipline, offering our small sacrifices through Christ that others may be given new life.
Self-knowledge alerts us to the need to practice ascesis for spiritual reasons which is our Spirit-given desire for a deepening encounter with the Triune God Who dwells within us and in Whom all interior peace is found.
For a Christian seeking union with Christ within, this is "an exacting work, renewed effort at every stage of life" (CCC 234).
A soul may not be seeking the Indwelling God Present in the soul, but instead be seeking a pathway to interior peace and self-fulfillment through self-control, self-knowledge, self-mastery. This soul seems to be bravely embarking on such a journey alone. It is essential that the Spiritual Director understands their chosen path and is able to direct that soul with deep compassion.
I look to the insights of Catholic Theologian Karl Rahner to better understand a theological response to walk with this soul into interior peace. This person is someone not overtly Christian but one who is seeking spiritual direction to try to follow a path, for example, of self-forgetfulness, not in a nihilistic manner but to learn the reality of emptiness and to increase their own capacity for compassion. Rahner recognized the beauty of the Spirit of God at work in those who do not recognize His Presence and who are not striving to find Him. By the grace of the Holy Spirit however, this person lives the fragrance of Christ's Presence by seeking and spreading peace and compassion and acceptance. Rahner proposed that such souls are moved to choose to live lives of goodness, "according to their conscience," yet who do not name the Source of the loving inclinations which are nothing less than reflections of Christ, Himself Present but to whom that awareness of Himself has not been given. Rahner refers to these souls as "anonymous Christians" in whom the Spirit of God provides the possibility for salvation of a corresponding faith for non Christians.
As Spiritual Directors, therefore, we attend to their seeking with holy listening and great reverence for the Spirit of God active in their souls in His hidden Presence.
When offering Spiritual direction to someone of another faith, I hear the Lord's cry, "That all may be one". This calls me to respond to that longing of the Savior. Knowing the power of prayer and the call to evangelize, I would silently petition the Lord, continually praying that He bless them with an awareness of His Spirit which is the only necessary knowledge and call them to Himself
"... that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete" (John 15:11).
* St. Teresa of Jesus is also referred to as St. Teresa of Avila which is in keeping with common usage at her period of history.