Some guide us into the light without realizing it

One of my guilty pleasures is watching "Days of Our Lives," the NBC daytime drama celebrating its golden jubilee in 2015.

Jul 10, 2015

By Mike Nelson
One of my guilty pleasures is watching "Days of Our Lives," the NBC daytime drama celebrating its golden jubilee in 2015. There is a distinctly Catholic tilt to "Days," although it is admittedly more present in its characters' professed faith than in their actual behavior.

A while back, a "Days" storyline featured a man, Father Eric, who loved his vocation but had also fallen in love with a woman he'd been in love with years before he became a priest. In other words, your typical soap opera dilemma, for which Father Eric sought help from his Spiritual director/friend, Brother Timothy.

Amid your typical heavy-handed soap opera dialogue, I was nonetheless struck by how the Spiritual director addressed his priest friend's problem. Rather than tell him, "You should take this course of action," Brother Timothy challenged Father Eric to really discern what he wanted, and what God wanted for him.

"I can't make that decision for you, Eric," Brother Timothy told him.

That is how good Spiritual directors and guides work: they listen, they ask questions, they offer insights. And they allow those who seek their counsel to arrive at their own answers, nourished and enlightened (they hope) by prayer, faith and love.

I have never had a Spiritual director or guide, not in the formal sense. I am, however, blessed with knowing wise people who over the years have offered assistance, advice, counseling and direction of a Spiritual nature, rooted in God's love. It has helped me through challenging times.

Sometimes, they help me with their attitude of understanding, as much, if not more than, the words they use. Sometimes, the message comes without the messenger even knowing it.

I well recall, before I ever thought of becoming Catholic, listening to a priest speak at a religious education conference about his life with conviction, with humor, with honesty -- sharing the challenges and joys he faced in his priesthood -- and coming away thinking, "This man is living a life he loves, a life built around his love for God. But he has not forsaken his own human nature, his own capacity for loving people, his own penchant for wiseacre humor."

The message I received from this was not, "Let's all be priests," or even, "Let's all be Catholics." It was, "It's OK to have God at the center of your life."

This priest had, without knowing it, opened the door to a new direction for my life. He had helped guide me, without a single shove, toward a closer relationship with God.

Years later, after I had become Catholic and was working for a Catholic newspaper, I got to share that story with the priest I'd heard that day. He seemed genuinely surprised, but happy.

"I never knew anyone was actually listening to me," he laughed.

There were other people and events that guided me at that conference -- speakers, musicians who sang, people who loved the Lord and one another joyfully and genuinely.

Most of all, there was my wife who had encouraged me to attend this event with her, believing in her heart that something good would happen for me and for us. She was right, of course -- the best Spiritual guide anyone could ever marry (and she's taken!).

Reflecting on all of this, it occurs to me that Spiritual guidance is available to a greater extent than we realize -- certainly from those who practice it as a profession, and do it very well, but from (and for) each of us, by the lives we live and the examples we set.

All God asks is that we observe, we listen, we pray and, ultimately, we believe God is with us, guiding us like no one else can. And, like Father Eric, we won't need Brother Timothy to tell us what to do.

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