Nine men and women who completed the Diocese’s formation program for spiritual directors are now certified to serve in the ministry of guiding Catholics in their spirituality.
Bishop Ronald Gainer celebrated holy Mass for the new spiritual guides and presented their certificates on Feb. 6 at the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg.
A spiritual director is a person who accompanies individuals on their journey toward union with God. In individual sessions, spiritual directors help guide their fellow brothers and sisters into a deeper relationship with God and his will for their lives.
The Diocese began its inaugural Formation for the Ministry of Spiritual Direction three years ago in response to the growing number of requests among the faithful for guidance in the spiritual life.
The nine men and women who recently completed the formation program are now certified in the ministry: Ann Marie Waters, Chris Wood, Kathy Perry, Melissa Arc, Michelle Peterson, Michael Ciccocioppo, Pam Gent, Rosy Gonzalez and Tanya Janoski.
A subsequent group of 18 is underway with the Diocese’s second formation class that began last month.
“A lot of people are looking for ways to deepen their spirituality to get closer to God, and to live that more in their daily lives. Spiritual direction is a way to continue that relationship and learn how to grow closer to Him,” said Pam Gent, a graduate of the first class. “A spiritual director walks with you along that way, and helps you to discern where God is leading you, or what obstacles might be in the way of your relationship with Him, so that you can grow closer to God.”
A member of St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle and a youth minister and teacher at Corpus Christi Parish and School in Chambersburg, Gent said “anybody who has the desire in their heart to deepen their spiritual life” can benefit from spiritual direction.
Spiritual direction is not counseling. While it can include discussion about relationships and struggles in life, spiritual direction focuses on discovering God working in day-to-day life. Spiritual direction doesn’t focus on problem-solving, but rather on a person’s relationship with God.
Spiritual directors are listeners, and serve as a compassionate presence. They listen, offer observations, pray with the individual, and offer suggestions that help guide a person along the path on which God is leading them.
Gent said she encourages people to be open to the Holy Spirit in considering the benefits of spiritual direction.
“Even if you don’t know if God is calling you to spiritual direction, try it out. You can always decide it’s not for you, but it’s always good to get closer to God and the Holy Spirit – you can never go wrong with that,” she said. “Follow God’s will, and see where it leads you.”
“It doesn’t change the things that go on in your life, but it changes how you perceive them, and what you get from them. Through spiritual direction, you learn how to deal with things that happen, and see them in a different perspective,” she explained.
The Diocese’s Formation for the Ministry of Spiritual Direction is a three-year program designed for adults experienced in the spiritual life who are seeking to discern the call and to deepen “the gifts of wisdom, faith, and discernment” (CCC 2690) given by the Spirit for this ministry, as well as the necessary qualities, presence and interpersonal skills.
The program consists of prayerful accompaniment, personal reflection, contemplation, a curriculum of extensive reading on prayer and the spiritual life, and writing reflections. Monthly meetings via Zoom and at the Diocesan Center include prayer, discussion of assigned readings and practice of necessary skills.
The program was developed by Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Formation to the Ministry of Spiritual Direction; and Carol Morel, BODV, MACM, spiritual director; in consultation with Ryan Bolster, Diocesan Director of Adult Education and Catechist Formation. The formation team also brought together an Advisory Formation Board consisting of clergy and laity. A priest of the Diocese, Father Stephen Kelley, functions as the chaplain for all those involved in the program.
“It really is a great program. A lot of it involves practices, getting used to keeping habits, and developing a prayer life in your daily life,” said Gent. “There is a lot of reading, which I found beneficial. It’s been a rigorous process, but I would do it all over again. To have the support of Sister Geralyn and Carol has been wonderful, and they are great models for us. The program has been such a grace.”
Having been the recipient of spiritual direction for many years, Gent felt called to serve as a spiritual director herself. “Through the formation process, I learned how to help other people, but most of all, my own spirituality grew, and that was probably the biggest benefit of the whole program,” she said. “I learned so much more about God and the Holy Spirit and fell in love with them again.”
A Ministry of Accompaniment
In his homily during the Mass he concelebrated with Father Kelley on Feb. 6 on the occasion of their completion of the program, Bishop Gainer thanked the spiritual guides for being “the first group, the pioneers in this very special and much-needed ministry.”
Just as Jesus sends the apostles in groups of two so they can accompany one another as they teach, preach and heal the sick, “your ministry is certainly one of accompaniment, to walk with another and help them discover things about themselves and what God is doing in their everyday lives,” the bishop said.
“By your listening and gentle direction, our brothers and sisters will come closer to our Savior, Jesus,” he said.
Bishop Gainer encouraged the spiritual directors to consider each meeting and each period of direction as a Sabbath.
“I’d like you to think that when you sit down with a brother or a sister who seeks you out, you’re entering into a Sabbath with that person,” he said. “Whatever day of the week it might be, it is a time to rest, to be still, to enter into God’s peace, and to help that person discern what God is doing in their everyday lives.”
He concluded the homily with a blessing, taken from the ending of the day’s First Reading, from Hebrews, Chapter 13:
“May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will. May he carry out in you what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
(For more information on spiritual direction and how to connect with a spiritual director, contact Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, at SrGSchmidt@hbgdiocese.org or 717-657-4804, ext. 254.)
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness