Pointing to God’s Love as a Spiritual Director

by | Aug 4, 2023 | Prayers, Spirituality

“Hello, would you like three free tickets?” I asked a group of college-aged people as they stood in line to purchase their entry at a music festival in Milwaukee. They looked skeptical and exclaimed, “Free? What’s the catch?” I quickly explained that I was given a coupon for four free tickets, but needed only one ticket for myself. They were overjoyed at their good fortune even though they were mildly skeptical until they had successfully used the tickets to gain entry into the venue. I had been skeptical a few days earlier when a woman I had met at a church event offered me the ticket coupon. This is never going to work, I thought to myself, because it seemed too good to be true.

As I reflected on our initial skepticism and subsequent joy of receiving free tickets, I thought about what I had said to my directees in spiritual direction: God’s love is free. It is hard to believe this simple notion because we are conditioned to live our lives in a transactional manner: you have to give something to get something in return. So, if a stranger offers free tickets, one is immediately suspicious. Perhaps, the free tickets are a prop to a social media video. Or worse, it could be a prank or a scam. We are naturally accustomed to viewing our interactions with others in such a give-and-take manner.

In spiritual direction, the focus is on helping the directee perceive and experience God’s unconditional, personal love for them. In the Catholic tradition, we believe that God desires a personal relationship with each of us, and so God attempts to communicate his love and hope for us. As humans however, we sometimes miss God’s love for us due to distractions and false notions about God’s methods of communications. Helping my directee, Mike, know of God’s love for him as Mike, an individual creature in this vast universe, was the main focus of our spiritual direction sessions.

Mike (not his real name) had many reasons to be suspicious. Childhood tragedy, God’s hiddenness over the years, confusing spiritual guidance, and hypocritical church leaders had caused him to lose confidence in a benevolent God. Besides, Mike viewed love as a transaction. If someone loves you, it is because you treat them well and may treat them well in the future. If you want them to continue loving you, you must continue to do something for them. Mike had trouble understanding love as “willing the good of the other, for their sake.” In his opinion, the “for their sake” clause seemed unreasonable and unattainable.

I believe that we all need someone to love us unreasonably, for no reason except for our good. Human love usually falls short of this measure because our love for others is affected by our past experiences of hurt and rejection. Unrequited love scars every human heart. As a result, because we have rarely received pure love from humans, we have a hard time freely receiving God’s unconditional love for us. Instead, we think that God will want something from us if we accept His love, or we fear that God will have the right to be disappointed with us if we have a relationship with Him. God, however, is perfectly loving because perfect love is God’s nature. In fact, we exist because God loves us into existence without demanding anything in return.

In my view, the most appropriate response to this gift of God’s unconditional love is gratitude. We know that we are undeserving of such love; undeserving not in the sense that we are evil people who ought to be punished for our misdeeds, but in the sense that nothing we do will earn us more or less of God’s love. God does not need anything from us, and so His love is totally free. When faced with such magnanimity from God, our hearts are naturally moved to a sense of contentment and gratitude. We don’t feel obligated to compensate God for His actions.

As a spiritual director, I learned to love the directee as best as I could from my human standpoint. I was neither an employee doing a job, nor was I going to receive anything in return from my directees. Perhaps, I would never see them again after the summer. Thus, being a spiritual director was a purely voluntary service in which I hoped to see my directees as fellow children of God. I also learned to be humble about my abilities to be that lighthouse they sought for direction in their stormy lives. I would not be able to answer every question they had but I aspired to be open to God’s surprises in their lives. God cannot be put in a box was my constant refrain.  And most importantly, I prayed that I would allow God to speak through me. After all, the main focus of our conversations would be my directees’ relationship with God.

As I reflected on the experience, I was moved by the vulnerability of my directees. They expressed their deepest wounds and longings to a person who for all purposes, except for being a Jesuit, was a stranger. They were much more forthcoming about deeply personal concerns than I was when I first went to spiritual direction looking for answers to questions posed by atheists. I was grateful that my spiritual director had had the patience and openness to converse with a spiritual neophyte. Even though he faithfully met with me once a month for three years, I doubt he had much to gain from speaking with me. Perhaps, he was merely pleased to converse with someone about spiritual matters. In the same vein, for me, speaking to a fellow faithful about God was the greatest gift of being a spiritual director.

Being a spiritual director is one of the many privileges of religious life. As I continue to live my vocation as a Jesuit, may God give me the grace to be an imperfect channel of His unconditional love to all those seeking guidance in their spiritual journeys.

The author would like to thank the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (formerly known as the Apostleship of Prayer) for the opportunity to be a spiritual director through their Hearts on Fire Retreat program in the summer of 2023.


Daniel Mascarenhas, SJ

dmascarenhassj@thejesuitpost.org   /   All posts by Daniel