Preparing Surgeons of Souls

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“Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And, with some sweet oblivious antidote,
Cleanse the foul bosom of that perilous stuff,
Which weighs upon the heart?” –  Shakespeare, Macbeth

The Society of Ignatians strives to form the future priest as a true surgeon of souls since his mission as confessor and spiritual director requires not only great knowledge but an ensemble of virtues since “the directing of souls is the art of arts” (Pope St. Gregory the Great)

Catholics who have sought to travel along the roads of spiritual progress have always valued the aid of a priest who is a true master of the Christian mysteries. The following text, from the autobiography of Raissa Maritain, narrates her and her husband’s impressions of their first meeting with their spiritual director, Father Clérissac.

“On our way for the first time to Father Clérissac’s in Versailles, we recalled with much emotion  those first steps we had taken towards the Church when, three years earlier, we had mounted the steps to Montmartre, in answer to the call of him who was to become our godfather.

“We were now accomplishing our first important advance, not indeed towards the Church but into the very bosom of that Church where for two years we had been like lonely children and like beggars; beggars for Heaven, for truth, and for peace, receiving our comfort, not from the hands of men, but from the divine life of the Sacraments.

“Now, we felt, our period of solitude and loneliness was nearly ended, and it was time to begin learning to live in the world without yet conforming to the world – on account of the Gospel, which we wished to follow.

“We were aware that we would have to learn to hold fast to our Faith in difficult circumstances, and that we would have to pray to God more than ever to keep and to allow to grow within us that life of grace received in baptism, without at the same time refusing to ourselves a fair increase of the life of human experience.

“We quite naively entertained these great desires, seeing in them the natural aspiration of every Christian living in the world. And it seemed very simple to go and say to a man of God: ‘Direct us towards their accomplishment’.

“Jacques and I received a flashing and penetrating gaze from two deep-set eyes full of secrets and knowledge, and before those eyes we felt completely young and ignorant.

“As Father Clérissac spoke, telling us of the difficulties in what we were seeking, I admired his noble and ardent face with its strong, clear-cut features, the brow furrowed by wrinkles and crowned by a brush of gray hair, and the perfect folds his white Dominican robe made around him, making him resemble a personage in one of Fra Angelico’s paintings.

“The program he proposed was severe. The face of the Father was also severe, in spite of his painful sensitivity which showed through the formal rigidity of his bearing.

“Willingly he took our souls in his care, and for the five years which followed until his premature death at the age of fifty, he was our friend and guide. Not once did he betray the magnificent impression he made upon us at that first interview…

“The moral and intellectual stature of Father Clérissac stands out in high relief in this book, exactly as we had the privilege of knowing him, and it is easy to see how he could not fail to attract and captivate us. He loved truth, he loved intelligence.

“How often we heard him say: ‘Christian life is based on intelligence….Before everything else,God is truth. Go to him and love him under this aspect’. He thought like Saint Augustine that eternal bliss consisted in the joy of Truth – gaudium de veritate.

He loved the Church and delved ceaselessly and profoundly into her mystical character of participation in Jesus Christ, her leader and the Holy Ghost, her animator. He said: ‘Let  us embrace the Church for eternal and divine reasons’, and not because she is ‘a cause defensible before reason and history’.

“He loved everything that had life, that was beautiful and sincere.

“From Léon Bloy to Father Clérissac we had been led from one man of the Absolute to another man of the Absolute; both had an heroic faith, an unshakable fidelity, and both were intransigent concerning our obligations in regard to Truth, hating mediocrity” (RAISSA MARITAIN,  We have been friends together. Adventures in Grace. Image Books, New York,1961, p. 175-177)