Obviously, it ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people.
In Search of Wisdom
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of men and women who receive spiritual direction from a priest or trusted spiritual guide. Spiritual direction is an ancient practice in the Church and is useful for anyone discerning a vocation, navigating a difficult life situation or who simply desires to go deeper in their relationship with God. The ultimate spiritual director is the Holy Spirit, who strengthens, animates, and sanctifies us, but the Christian practice of regular in-person spiritual direction can be helpful in keeping us on the path to God. In fact, the practice of spiritual direction has become so popular in the last few years that anyone seeking a spiritual director quickly realizes the demand for spiritual direction at present far exceeds the number of spiritual directors who are available to meet.
It is good to seek a spiritual director, especially at critical crossroads in someone’s life. But if we look past the moment of decision or crisis to the balance of our entire life, a deeper question remains: is there someone who could inspire our hearts, challenge our thinking and call us to deep conversion when we are twenty years, or fifty years, or eighty years?
The Forgotten Tradition of Spiritual Masters
Another ancient practice that has fallen out of fashion in the last few decades is the exercise of entrusting oneself to the care of a spiritual master. What is a spiritual master? A spiritual master is someone who is well versed in the spiritual life and has walked this path in their own history and circumstances, through joys and trials, and has emerged victorious in Christ. Many saints have written beautifully about Christ, the Church and the spiritual life, and these are worthy of our attention. But a spiritual master is someone whose teaching is whole and complete. Their writings can never be exhausted, not because they wrote many words but because the depth and breadth of their words cannot be exhausted. In other words, a spiritual master can take you from the beginning to the end. Spiritual masters are proven and the truth of their teaching, infused by the Holy Spirt transcends time, making it possible for someone in the 21st century to learn from someone who wrote in the fifth century or the twelfth century or the nineteenth century.
If you are looking for a spiritual master, someone who can take you from the beginning all the way to the end, the most reliable source for spiritual masters is the Doctors and Doctoresses of Church. Known for preeminent holiness, extensive writing and unique insights into doctrine and the spiritual life, their works transcend time and continue to reach minds and hearts that are centuries removed. There are thirty-six men and women in all and their lives span nearly 1700 years, beginning with Irenaeus of Lyon and ending with Therese of Lisieux.
Finding a Spiritual Master
How do I find a spiritual master who can inspire my heart, challenge my thinking and call me to deeper conversion through all the circumstances of my life? The Christian Classics Ethereal Library (ccel.org) or CCEL is a good place to start. In the nearly 30 years since its founding, CCEL had made thousands of works available at no cost to scholars, professors, faith formation groups, the disabled or homebound, those who cannot afford expensive books, or anyone simply in search of wisdom.
CCEL’s founder, Harry Plantinga, a father and professor of computer science at Calvin College in Michigan was struggling with the recent diagnoses of his three-year-old son, Peter and 14 month-old daughter Anna, who were both deaf. Seeking a way to deal with this crisis, Harry found a scanned copy of The Imitation of Christ on the internet. The book challenged him, made him angry at times, and ultimately got him through a dark period. This experience motivated him to “pay back the net” by making classic Christian books available for free download. He scanned about 40 books and uploaded them. By 1997, the site was being accessed more than 10 million times a year.
CCEL is a not just a portal to the past, it makes the wisdom, conviction, experience, insight, humour, failures, and triumphs of Church’s saints accessible to everyone. Here you will find the major works of the Doctors and Doctoresses of the Church available for download, arranged by topic, genre, author, in several formats and languages, free of cost and noisy advertisements.
As you search for the spiritual master whose thought and writing will best lead you to Christ, at CCEL you will also find plenty of inspiration outside the spiritual master category to challenge and inspire you on your path toward God. What did St. Ignatius say to the crowd that lined his route to Rome where he would face execution? How did the Patriarch of Antioch, now shackled in chains, use the occasion to exhort the early Christians to unity and perseverance? You can read his letters on CCEL in the Early Church Fathers section, volume I. Boethius wrote The Consolation of Philosophy chained to a prison wall as the city of Rome crumbled around him. Why is this still considered to be the most influential work in the West on Medieval and early Renaissance Christianity? You can find it on CCEL. Ever wondered what sorts of prayers Michelangelo penned when not busy painting the Sistine Chapel, the hymns St Ambrose composed when not otherwise occupied with mass persecutions of the Emperor Theodosius, or the how the gentle precursor to St. Therese, Brother Lawrence, taught us how to practice the Presence of God when he wasn’t cleaning or cooking for the monks? Thanks to CCEL, these works, previously unavailable to most people are a few clicks away, making the oldest things available to the young and not so young. Happy reading!
Author: Sr Mary Sarah Galbraith, OP.
Sr Mary Sarah is the local superior of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia located in Bacchus Marsh.
 What’s Wrong with the World, (1910)