“Without shifting, the spiritual guide falls into authoritarianism”

What are the prerequisites for tailored support?

Any accompaniment needs some kind of initial contract. “What am I looking for when I come to see a guide? “, “What does he offer me? », « What will be the rhythm and the modalities of the meetings? “. It is also good that it is clearly stated that everyone is free to suspend this accompaniment at any time. When you feel uncomfortable with some kind of invasion going beyond the limits, you have to distance yourself. If the person being accompanied tries to call their companion at 11 p.m., it is not wise to answer as if nothing had happened. It’s like with his shrink or his lawyer!

The relationship is asymmetrical: if we are looking for a friendship, a place to share, it is respectable, but it is of another kind. My guide is not there to become my friend, my confidant or my teacher. This distance is constitutive of the accompaniment, because the latter aims not at deepening my relationship with the accompanist, but with God.

What to expect from the accompaniment, which is a place of listening? The line between the spiritual and the psychological can be thin…

In situations that will slip into abuse, there is a sort of totalizing attitude, where I will expect the support person to provide solutions to my problems that he does not have to bring me. Either it is the guide himself who will impose himself as a reference in areas where he does not have to intervene. The guide – who is a figure of authority, which etymologically means “that which causes growth” – is at the service of the filial life of Christians so that they grow in their relationship with God and with their neighbour. In a certain way, he must seek to render himself useless as quickly as possible so that the person advances through his judgment and his choices, and grows in his responsibility.

So how to distinguish what is psychological, legal, medical?

Everything is often closely linked, but an adjusted guide will very easily refer the person to the notary, the lawyer, his doctor or the shrink for what does not seem to be part of the evangelical life. Knowing that the Gospel will enlighten the way of life, whether in the professional, family, friendly or intellectual spheres. This recognition of incompetence in one or more areas or in the face of complex personalities is a sign of maturity and professionalism.

Can the companion be the confessor of the same person?

Remember that spiritual accompaniment is not reserved for priests. It is also possible within the framework of the confession to ask for advice. I don’t see any incompatibilities, but if the guide is not a priest, it is important to recognize in this man or this woman a sacramental life, of regular prayer and charity. Let us also remember that if the priest has the duty to welcome those who ask for the sacrament of forgiveness, not every priest can respond to any request for accompaniment. And it is not wise to ask just any priest to be his attendant…

Does a guide need to be trained?

If it is a matter of counselling, therefore of something limited in time, what is needed is the experience of baptismal life and a depth of the Gospel. As far as long-term support is concerned, serious training is necessary for anyone.

The companion is not God and can commit blunders. What can we accept?

As in any true human relationship, and even more so in any relationship lived under the gaze of God, he must be able to question himself and adjust, and not wait for it to always be the accompanied who sticks at his will. If you admit to him that you have experienced such and such a question or statement as an awkwardness, his reaction will be revealing: “Indeed, perhaps I formulated it badly” or “I regret having asked it” are poles apart. of “You don’t understand, you just have to work better on yourself” or “You have to trust me, don’t be embarrassed by these questions, between us, we can afford it”.

Is there a requirement for lucidity on both sides?

The accompanist is primarily responsible for what happens in the relationship. We call on him to help us grow in this vigilance of heart, this self-knowledge, in a deeper look at our life and our capacity to love God and others. So we cannot demand this lucidity from the outset on the part of the person who comes precisely to ask for advice.

The guide must be clear with himself. Especially since we all need recognition, affection, friendship. “Am I going to seek this from my companions? “If so, in what form and to what extent?” It’s normal to be happy with the progress of those we accompany, but it’s their life. This presupposes that the guide has a stable life, nourished spiritually, so that he does not seek to make up for his own shortcomings.

What should alert?

We must be attentive to the feeling of unease that would appear. Spiritual accompaniment is not an obligation for anyone, and even less with “that person. So if there’s something that makes me uncomfortable, it’s important not to slip on it. If we refuse to question ourselves, we enter into a relationship that risks becoming unfair.

Beware of exclusive discourse: “You can only see me”, “We are living through something extraordinary”, “The others cannot understand”. Beware also of anything that also involves mockery vis-à-vis outsiders and anything that requires secrecy vis-à-vis the person being accompanied. The guide is obviously bound to secrecy, but as soon as he begins to impose this secrecy, we are very clearly in the non-adjusted.

Do you have other examples of abuse?

I distinguish the abuses of failure and those of excess in the accompaniment. The first will be resignation, dilettantism: a person seeks serious support and finds a very approximate answer; the guide never has time or does not think he has anything to convey. In abuses by excess, there is a sort of circle of admiration, of courtship, around a figure that one finds extraordinary: “She is of such depth, it is she, and she alone, who can understand you. As soon as you sense this small milieu of fascination around a person, it’s not a good sign.

So we can’t admire his companion?

Yes, but between respect and idolatry, there is a difference. Between “I know someone who seems to me to be good advice. I am going through a difficult time. It might be useful for me to talk to him. » And « She is such an extraordinary person, I am sure she will answer all my questions », the tone is not the same. This exclusivism, this absolutism, and this form of mysticism disregard all this long and patient work of the virtues, of learning in ordinary and daily things, to which spiritual accompaniment responds.

Accompany without abusing the other… but also God? Is there a possible deviance in the guide tempted to put themselves in his place?

It is vital that he has a keen awareness that he is the servant of the person’s encounter with God. When someone entrusts me with something from the intimacy of his theological life, it requires infinite respect for the sacredness of the conscience of the other. As soon as I set myself up as an idol, that I take myself for the alpha and omega of the life of the other, that I try, perhaps unconsciously, to occupy this place of God by leaving aside my place as a creature, I enter into the logic of abuse.

Saint Joseph is thus a figure par excellence of spiritual fatherhood. He who puts himself at the service of Jesus, who steps aside so that he grows up and follows his path. If there is not this self-forgetfulness, this shift, we fall into authoritarianism: “You will live by me and for me”, which is the essence of seduction. Instead of a paternity that comes from God and leads to him, we are there in a relationship of “You must receive yourself from me and live in my gaze”. It is often in this movement that sexual abuse and violence find their place.

To read
Of spiritual fatherhood and its counterfeits, by Pavel Syssoev, Deer, 2020.

“Without shifting, the spiritual guide falls into authoritarianism”