in the Catholic Mystic Tradition
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition
as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.
Spiritual Counsels |
Spiritual Direction |
Summary: When You Feel Stuck
psychotherapy in the Catholic mystic tradition is prayer and
combined with a sincere study of the faith. Its
that simple. If only we did exactly what Christ told us to doto turn
away from the satisfactions of the world so as to pray
constantly and live chaste and humble lives
filled with loving sacrifices for the salvation
of other soulswe would be spiritually and mentally healthy.
Many individuals through the
ages have found healing for their emotional pain in this way. But such healing
requires total surrender to God. Its all or nothing.
that you take up relentless, persistent prayer to
God (and to the saints and angels for their intercession) that you will grow
in holiness, and, at the same time, you must force yourself to maintain
a calm trust in Gods protection and guidance despite your fears
of admitting your own helplessness and despite your impatience
with things not happening as quickly as you want.
Its a sad truth that
in todays world, despite our prayers and
confessions, many Catholics do not live lives
completely ordered to the commands of Christ. We are
afraid of making the total surrender to Him that Christ
asked us to make. Despite our best conscious intentions we constantly encounter
psychological obstructions that hold us back from living
Accordingly, many individuals
today need psychotherapy to help them overcome the unconscious
resistances to doing the very things they know consciously they
should be doing.
Psychotherapy (often referred
to colloquially as therapy) has as its objectiveeven when
informed by the Catholic faiththe resolution of psychological
conflicts that produce psychiatric
are created by hidden emotional resentments, beginning in childhood and
continuing throughout life. These resentments can so erode your confidence
and self-esteem with feelings of anger,
victimization, self-blame, and
self-punishment that they affect not only your
mental health but also your social health and spiritual health.
In fact, individuals
caught up in their unconscious defenses dont really
desire to serve God. Deep in their hearts they
use the name of God only as an excuse to serve their own pride.
And why is this?
Well, you may not want to admit this to yourself, but all of us have dark and hateful
thoughts and imaginings that we keep shrouded
in secrecy and dont want to reveal to anyone, especially not to a psychologist. How many
times have you said to yourself, If people knew what I was really like,
they would never want anything to do with me? But the more you try to hide the truth of your life from
others, the more you hide it from yourself, and the more you fall into pridethe pride of doing
everything your way.
Now, many various
theories and techniques have been developed since the early 1900s when Sigmund
Freud formulated the concept of psychoanalysis. All of these techniques have
one basic objective: to help us do the things we would like to do, but,
by ourselves, cannot manage to do.
Some of these techniques are
based in conscious, rational thought processes.
techniques, for example, focus specifically on changing thoughts and behaviors.
Note that vocal prayer is the pre-eminent form
of Cognitive-Behavioral therapy.
and reasoning are also forms of psychotherapy. Note that this has
been a preferred method of Christian psychotherapy, beginning with Christ
Himself, continuing with the Apostles, and fully exemplified by men such
as St. Thomas Aquinas, whose work is often recalled by modern Catholics in
their practice of psychotherapy, and St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual
Still, some persons develop such
deep resistance to changing their lives for the good that psychotherapy must
reach deep into their unconscious minds, well past their conscious
Imagery helps you visualize things that could or might happen so that
you can achieve them or avoid them in the future. Note that St. Ignatius
of Loyola anticipated this concept in his Spiritual
Prayer (or contemplative prayer) calls upon unconscious mental processes
to allow profound inspiration by the Holy Spirit. Note that Catholic mystics
through the ages have had much to say about this.
can be interpreted to help you understand emotional elements of your life
that you have not yet recognized consciously. Note that the Book of Daniel
provides a practical example of this, while the Book of Sirach (34:5) warns
us that dreams are not meant to be taken as predictions of actual future
Therefore, in the form of
psychotherapy I practice, and as I describe on this website, you can be
guidedthrough the sacraments, vocal and mental
prayer, fasting, study,
and the insight resulting from the psychotherapeutic relationshipinto
understanding the roots of your unconscious conflicts and defenses; you can
learn to identify the events of life that have wounded you and to understand
the emotions surrounding those events.
That is, its not enough
just to know intellectually what
happenedit is important to feel the pain and then be able to identify
and name the emotions associated with your pain.
This process happens through
your speaking with your psychotherapist so as to interpret
connections through spontaneous associations to your intellectual memories
and through other techniques, such as dream
Eventually, you can recover a
full awareness of your emotional life that in childhood you learned to suppress
as a psychological defense.
The goal of all
this work is not to blame your parents for what they failed to do
but to get past your hidden resentments
at your parents for what they failed to do, so that you can take full
responsibility for your life and ultimately
forgive your parents and honor them. Remember,
so long as you have unconscious resentment for your parents, it will be
impossible for you to honor themand trying to honor them without admitting
your unconscious resentments for them is just a lie.
for Emotional Awareness
Some persons will say that they
want nothing to do with touchy-feeley psychology and will insist
that their lives are quite fine without it. Those who say this, however,
have usually experienced family dysfunctions such as alcoholism, or emotional,
physical, or sexual abuse. In an environment of lying, broken promises, arguing,
and violence, they grew to fear emotions as something
Nevertheless, in order to live
a true Christian lifestyle, everyone, male and female, needs to be able to
manage his or her internal emotional reactions to external events, so as
to remain always in a place of Christian purity of heart. Two common
emotional traps illustrate this.
Lets say that someone says
something critical to you. Your immediate reaction, based upon learned behavior
from childhood, will be to defend yourself. That can provoke more criticism,
and more arguing, until you get so exasperated that you start saying hateful
and vengeful thingsand right there you have abandoned purity of heart
and fallen into sin. This all happens because interpersonal conflicts result
from failed emotional communication.
Lets say youre on
your way home from work and suddenly you feel a temptation to stop at a bar
and drinkto use drugsto shopliftto stop at a strip
clubto get a massage from a prostituteto
masturbate. So right there you have abandoned
purity of heart and fallen into sin. This all happens because behind every
temptation is an emotional reaction to some event that has shaken your
Emotional awareness, therefore,
is a psychological tool that provides protection from sin.
Interpersonal conflicts result from failed emotional communication. Temptations
do not just appear out of nowhere; behind every temptation is an emotional
reaction to some event that has shaken your self-confidence. It is impossible
to stay in the place of Christian purity of heart if you fail to understand
your emotional reactions to the events around you.
Thus through psychotherapy you
can learn to respond to every moment of the present with a complete understanding
of the emotions involvedand this understanding gives you the ability
and appropriately to the situation.
if someone says something that hurts you, you can say to yourself, OK.
Im feeling helpless and abandoned. In the midst of these feelings,
you can recognize how you responded
to similar feelings as a child. Then you can choose an appropriate,
non-defensive, mature, and psychologically
response to your current feelings.
But if you
havent done your psychological work, instead of naming your feelings
you will just feel a vague yucky inadequacy and
go off and drown the yuck with food or drugs or some other dysfunctional
behavior. The sad thing is that when you drown the yuck, right along with
it you drown the possibility of forgiveness.
Spiritual direction seeks to,
well, direct a person in ways that bring him or her closer to living a holy
In spiritual direction you learn
to surrender yourself to total trust in God so that, no matter what happens
to you, you can bring the pain before God and ask for the strength and courage
to deal, in imitation of Christ, with what needs to be done in any
Because of deep psychological
conflicts, however, many persons find it difficult
to make a total surrender to God, and they discover that education and reasoning
do little to overcome their resistances. In this case, techniques of
psychotherapy (see above) must be used to understand and overcome the
fear that puts up an obstacle to the spiritual
purgation necessary for living a
You Feel Stuck
People often tell me that they
feel stuck and unable to make any spiritual progress, and they ask me what
Learn to Pray
Well, first of all, pray. But
be careful here. Dont pray for specific things to happen or for material
objects; instead, pray for God to inspire you and give you guidance, and
pray for the wisdom and courage to perceive and carry out that
Moreover, dont expect that
God will tap you on the shoulder and say, Hey
[N]! This is what I want you to do.
Gods answer to your prayers will come though ordinary daily events.
It will be up to you to open your heart to believing that ordinary
eventsunder the influence of constant prayercan help guide you.
For everything that happens (especially for
distress), say to yourself, What is this
telling me about what I need to learn about myself and how I need to
One really good prayer is the
following prayer of my own. (It really works, because I used it during my
take me as Your disciple.
Guide me; illuminate me; sanctify me.
Show me what is holy,
and I will pursue it.
Show me what is unholy,
and I will turn from it.
Command me, and with Your grace
I will obey.
Lead me, then, into the fullness
of Your Truth and Wisdom.
Second, as a way to back up your
prayers with fasting/sacrifice, follow the Spiritual
Counsels on this website.
Third, if you find that you have
difficulty praying and keeping the counsels, then consider that your stuckness
could be a form of anger, directed at others,
especially your parents. That is, you may be
unconsciously creating a disability so as to send
yourself to hell to prove to others that they have failed you. In this
case, you may need psychotherapy to resolve this problem.
Fasting does not refer only to
abstaining on certain days from the attractions of certain foods. We must also
fast constantly from the spiritually unhealthy attractions of
the social world around us. Similarly,
prayer does not mean simply saying
a Rosary and going to Mass.
We must pray constantly from the heart, with every breath, that God will
guide us, teach us, inspire us, and give us courage to see through our own
self-deceptions and overcome the repugnance of total surrender to Him.
from the Heart
How to turn the
emotional wounds of daily life
into psychological growth.
in the Catholic mystic tradition
about the spiritual depth of