Sample from the Summer 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David discusses the role of the spiritual guide in helping the seeker toward the authentic, dynamic connection with our deepest selves and with the God of our tradition. He explains that finding our true divine Self, is essentially St. Paul’s message to the Galatians that, “Christ lives in me.”

Integral Yoga Magazine: What is the role of the spiritual guide in the Catholic tradition?

Br. David Steindl-Rast: The spiritual guide is very important. In the monastery, from the earliest times of the Egyptian desert, onward, it was important for monks to open their hearts to the spiritual teacher. There is the story of the monk who walked many miles in the desert to go to his spiritual father. The monk, upon returning to his cell, realized he had forgotten to ask a question and he walked all the way back. Later on, the emphasis was on confession and that was more the sacramental aspect of spiritual direction. Only in relatively recent times, the 19th and 20th centuries, was the original idea of the spiritual guide rediscovered by lay people.

Since the Second Vatican Council, spiritual direction has found its expression in the Church in connection with the sacramental form of confessing your sins. It has become more a matter of receiving guidance and creative dialogue. You don’t have just the confessional, where you are not seen by the priest who gives absolution. You have a special room and sit together at a table, which is more conducive to a spiritual conversation. In the monastery, the guidance through the abbot or another spiritual guide has been very strong in the western Church and more so in the Eastern Church.

IYM: Could the spiritual director be compared to the guru or lama in Hindu and Buddhist traditions?

DS-R: In The Imitation of Christ, a classic of mainstream Christian tradition, there is a passage that says (and I’m quoting from memory): “If you have found a spiritual guide consider him as one in a million and he should be to you like an angel of God.” However, in practice, this relationship to a spiritual guide is not stressed as much in Catholicism as it is Hinduism or Buddhism.

IYM: You are a Benedictine monk. What influence does St. Benedict have on Benedictine monks today?

DS-R: The Rule of St. Benedict is a short text providing the basis of how Benedictine monasteries are set up and it still guides the whole life of each monk. So, St. Benedict and his Rule are very important for a Benedictine. That is also true for the founders of other Orders within the Church. Actually, after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the Church has officially promoted a movement to come back to our roots and renew the spirit of each Order according to the vision of its founder. Daily we recite a prayer to St. Benedict as intercessor and a section from the Rule is read in the community every day.

IYM: What is the role of an intercessor?

DS-R: Just like you have a friend who takes a great concern for your wellbeing and you say to the friend when you are in need, “Remember me and send bright light in my direction and hold me up in your heart when you pray to God.” You can say that to living friends and to those who have gone before us. If they are saints, their prayers are considered all the more powerful. We speak of the “communion of saints.” This is the whole big family of people close to God. We can turn to them and ask them to pray for us. Tradition assigns to certain saints special “departments” or areas of expertise, so to speak—like St. Christopher or Archangel Raphael when we take a journey, St. Anthony when we lose something, and so on.

IYM: Is there an element of transmission involved when praying to a saint or to Jesus? Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. once explained that, “Mother Theresa used the word conduit. The idea of a live wire conducting current as a conduit of God’s grace.” Saint Peter Julian spoke about the Sacrament of the Eucharist saying, “Jesus the Son of Mary is now on earth in the Holy Eucharist.”

DS-R: The element of transmission has been largely sacramentalized as “apostolic succession of bishops.” But, close friendship with a saint, like a loving relationship with a friend is very nourishing to many people. That is also a sort of transmission of their spirit. There are millions whose spiritual life is strongly influenced by a saint whose life story they know and whose picture they may have in their home. This makes God’s providence less abstract. God’s love is best mediated to us through friends, whether they be here on earth or beyond…

Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.