Everything that the obedient man does is a source of merit to him. If he eats, obedience is his food; if he sleeps, his dreams are obedience; if he walks, if he remains still, if he fasts, if he watches: everything that he does is obedience; if he serve his neighbour, it is obedience that he serves.
Saint Catherine of Siena
Saint Teresa pointed out that, “Provided that we don’t give up, the Lord will guide everything for our benefit, even though we may not find someone to teach us.” And Francis de Sales similarly: “when [spiritual direction] is lacking, He can make up for all we need.”
This applies to everything: Jesus will provide spiritual direction if we have none. Don’t give up hope. God’s providence is there – always. That said, spiritual directors have a specific duty as regards obedience, and those being directed have a specific duty as regards obedience, too. But if there is no particular spiritual director, and Jesus is the only “director” we have, what about obedience?
One aspect of obedience is to be ready to listen to the suggestions of all those around us, for by this means Jesus can mediate his will to us and let us, by free initiative, obey our neighbours. Not having a director does not remove this aspect of obedience. Since obedience is a quick school in the virtues, this practice can be recommended: Except when an erroneous will is discerned and our conscience genuinely vetoes it, our neighbour’s will can be an object of this remote, more freely chosen obedience. The words of Saint Francis de Sales for this (much better than mine) are “yielding to the wishes of our neighbour in whatever is not contrary to the commandments of God.”
Saint Catherine of Siena even went so far as to say that such an obedience-unto-all is the heart, the depth, the real meaning of obedience to a spiritual director; that is the virtue of obedience, to subject ourselves to every least creature through God:
She flies all causes that may incline her vice or hinder her perfection. Therefore she annuls her self-will, which is the cause of all her evil, and subjects it to the yoke of holy obedience, not only to the Order and its chief, but to every least creature through God.
Or, as Saint John of Ávila wrote,
If you obey implicitly, you will enjoy great peace and make rapid progress in a short time.
Don’t have a director? Want obedience? Want virtue? It is there, waiting… God always provides. Obey implicitly those around you, annihilate your will so that theirs and God’s may become more easily manifested. God always provides a way. It may not be an easy way, for the Cross is not easy in itself; but it is a way.
Once while thinking of the severe penance [another woman] performed and about how… I could have done more if not for obedience to my confessors… The Lord told me: “… Do you see all the penance she does? I value your obedience more.”
Saint Teresa of Jesus
If the soul wishes to share his life, she must pass through the death on the cross with him: like him she must crucify her own nature through a life of mortification and self-denial, and surrender herself to be crucified in suffering and death, as God may ordain or permit it. The more perfect this active and passive crucifixion may be, the more intimate will be the union with the crucified and therefore the richer the participation in the divine life.
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Kisses? Yes, kisses. Throughout Marcel Văn’s Conversations with Jesus, his little Jesus strengthens him by giving him kisses. Throughout Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue, there is a spiritual journey discussed in terms of kisses: kissing the feet, kissing the body, kissing the face of Christ, as three distinct points of reference on the spiritual journey (beginners, proficients, the so-called “perfect”). We could probably multiply examples. This idea of a kiss is common.
It goes without saying that there is a great depth to the image of the kiss – and it is, of course, primarily as an image that the saints treat of it, for we are talking about spiritual realities with our everyday, pliable human words – yes, that goes without saying… But just what is that great depth? Could we be more specific about the idea, the image, of the kiss? Why did Little Văn feel such confidence and comfort in a kiss? Why did Catherine base her description of the spiritual life on kisses?
Two quotes from Francis de Sales illuminate the subject:
And thus one mouth is applied to another in kissing to testify that we would desire to pour out one soul into the other, to unite them reciprocally in a perfect union.
Did you not note, Theotimus, that the sacred spouse expressed her desire of being united to her spouse by the kiss, and that the kiss represents the spiritual union which is caused by the reciprocal communication of souls?
the divine Saviour was accustomed to kiss his disciples when he met them; and not only his disciples but even little children, whom he took lovingly in his arms.
Yes, it is that intimate: a reciprocal communication of souls. And to all appearances, Jesus was fond of the gesture, not only in images, but in real life (after all, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, indicating the common but intimate feature of our Saviour’s relationships).
All that said, there’s a reason Saint Francis addresses these words, in his Treatise on the Love of God, to “Theotimus” (a man’s name). It’s actually because, apparently, some men found it difficult to follow Introduction to a Devout Life because it was addressed to “Philothea” (a woman’s name):
A great servant of God informed me not long ago that by addressing my speech to Philothea in the Introduction to a Devout Life, I hindered many men from profiting by it: because they did not esteem advice given to a woman, to be worthy of a man… Besides, it is the soul which aspires to devotion that I call Philothea, and men have souls as well as women.
(Hehe, “men have souls as well as women”; Francis has a ripe sense of humour and sharp wit…!) But it is precisely this idea that he will address his spiritual concerns this time to men that is interesting. The image of the kiss between Christ and the soul is, Francis feels, especially important for his treatise – a treatise which circumstances seem to have forced to be directed at a “man”.
These are not just images for women like Saint Catherine. They’re actually images and realities for all. Saint Francis made that pretty clear, in his witty way: “and men have souls as well as women.”
A few centuries later, Marcel Văn came along and expressed it this way: If you lack something of a spousal relationship to Christ, then you lack all the other relationships (father and son, teacher and pupil, friends, etc.) at the same time. Those are only human relationships. The divine relationship takes all. You can’t put aside the parts that make you uncomfortable.
Kisses it is then!