The Spiritual Directory
(Editor's note: these documents are intended to be used in a booklet format. Print out the sheets, place them last to first with text facing up throughout, alternating the landscape orientation - top to bottom, bottom to top - and place them in the rapid document handler of your photocopier, selecting the setting "one-sided to two-sided" feature.)
In the spring of 1588 Francis de Sales (1567-1622) completed his study of liberal arts at Clermont College in Paris, and after successfully passing his examinations, he received the licentiate and master of arts degree. Shortly thereafter, he made his way to Padua, Italy, where he would spend the next three years of his life studying law and theology in the second oldest university town in Europe.
Francis was seriously concerned about continuing to cultivate and develop his spiritual life even as he pursued graduate studies at the university. This was especially challenging in Padua, a city that, among other things, had a reputation for being a pretty wild, tough and sometimes perilous place. In the interest of maintaining a healthy balance between things sacred and secular, Francis developed a simple, practical and down-to-earth program to help him to live in the world without being of the world in ways that employed both disciplined resolve and artful skill.
Francis called this rule of life that he developed for himself at Padua his "Spiritual Exercises," a title no doubt strongly inspired by the influence his Jesuit education and spiritual formation. The "Spiritual Directory" (as it is known today by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales) presents a way of making spiritual connections with various moments throughout a typical day and offers a means an approach to preparing for formal prayer, Confession, Holy Communion, and the celebration of Eucharist.
Francis de Sales would later apply the lessons that he personally learned from using his own "Spiritual Exercises" when he and St. Jane de Chantal founded the Visitation of Holy Mary in 1610, developing what is now known as the "Spiritual Directory." It was adapted two hundred and fifty years later for use by the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales and the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, the later being a community of priests and brothers. This version is offered for use by people of any and every state and stage of life.
The goal of the Spiritual Directory is the assist us to develop the interior attitudes necessary to recognize the presence of God in all things, people and circumstances, attitudes that likewise assist us in our efforts to embody the humble, gentle love of neighbor so clearly demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ.
Regardless of our unique role in God's plan of salvation, the challenge that we collectively face is how to accept, internalize and pursue divine values even while deeply engaged in the demands, responsibilities, limitations and possibilities of the human experience. The Spiritual Directory helps us to see ourselves, others and the entire created order through the mind, heart and eyes of God, thus challenging us to treat ourselves and one another with profound respect and reverence, even in the midst of the give-and-take, the ups-and-downs of daily living.
Fr. Brisson, who (along with Mary De sales Chappuis, VHM) founded the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, made this observation regarding the Spiritual Directory:
"It provides everything that is necessary for our progress in virtue. In itself, it provides for all our needs. When trouble overwhelms us, it teaches us how to work through it; when a difficulty arises, it gives us the key to victory over it; when we commit a fault, it gives us the means to repair the damage."
- September 20, 1902