Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
It is a joy to read a book that helps in the area of spiritual direction for those interested in pursuing this endeavor. I especially savor a book written by a Jesuit, It could really be considered a manual. It is about putting theory into practice. It is rooted in a thorough study of the Spiritual Exercises and the Ignatian tradition of spiritual direction that flows from them. But the author’s intent in writing Is less to analyses this tradition more deeply, and more to show how it can best be used in helping others to develop their relationship with God, and so come to know more clearly how God is calling them in the circumstances of their own lives.
Father Moons focuses on two audiences: first, it is offered to aspiring spiritual directors, offering them tools to use in their service of others through the process of spiritual accompaniment. Much of what is written here is part of the training courses designed and taught by the author. This book can also be useful for those who have experience and want to revisit or reconsider that experience. It can be a critical mirror confirming or questioning existing practice. It doesn’t say how it should be done, but how it can be done.
The goal of the book is to help address a paradoxical need in the Church. On the one hand, spirituality is of the highest importance. The great twentieth-century Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner noted that the Christian of the future whether Anglican, Calvinist, Catholic, Evangelical, Lutheran or Pentecostal will only exist if he or she is a mystic. Rahner described what the faith of the future would look like and proposed that the most essential aspect would be a personal experience of God: “The Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic.” It is indeed, precisely this experience that spiritual direction thematises, with the aim of quickening, deepening and purifying it. On the other hand, churches are in desperate need of good spiritual directors. Moons once had a Dutch seminary rector ask, “Where should I send my seminarians? After I moved to Belgium a bishop once asked him: “To whom shall I send young people who are searching for meaning? Or people who are discerning a vocation? Or those who are considering a career switch? Or those who cannot hear the voice of God?
This book also promote the ecclesial culture that Pope Francis promotes. This culture could be seen as not exclusively looking at the ‘letter’ of the law as expressed in the Catechism or in ecclesial rules, but as attempting to discern what is ‘good’ in a specific context and for concrete individuals. Spiritual direction is indispensable for this cultural shift. A particular feature of the book is its use of ‘verbatims’, transcribed conversations distilled from the author’s experience in directing others and leading workshops. These are themselves excellent teaching tools, inviting the reader to pause and ask: “What would I have said in response to that remark? Or where do I think this conversation is going? Experience directors will develop their own style and approach. The point is not necessarily to parrot what the director in any particular verbatim would say, but to understand why they reacted in the way that they did and thereby notice more clearly their own habitual patterns of response.
The way Pope Francis carries out his ministry since he was elected Pope. His constant aim has been to help the Church and its members to become more discerning, to be able to listen to what the Spirit of God is saying in the midst of the clamor of others voices that surround us. Discernment is indeed an art, rather than an exact science. This book should be in the hand of anyone discerning to be a spiritual director.