Here is some basic guidance from Father Hecker on developing a spiritual life. This material is primarily drawn from “Father Hecker’s Spiritual Doctrine” as found in Walter Elliott’s The Life of Father Hecker (1891). Walter Elliott was Father Hecker’s secretary and companion during Hecker’s last years of life.
Basics for a Spiritual Life: Learning to Listen to God:
1. At first, in all your conscious actions, calm your mind. Place yourself in a receiving attitude as a listener. Then you can decide. Imperceptively and insensibly grace will guide you.
2. Keep your own counsel; don’t care what other people say. Use your own sense and trust in it. Don’t try to get anyone to agree with you. As no two noses are alike so no two souls are alike for God never repeats Himself.
3. Nobody these days wants God. Everyone has the whole world on their shoulders and unless one’s own petty ideas and schemes win out, so one prophesizes the end of the world! You are on the right road, so push on! Here is our maxim: “Be sure you are right and then act!”
4. How much of the soul that is good and noble is smothered by too much restraint. The whole purpose of restraint is to reject what is false and to correct a preference for a lower good with a higher good. But beyond this, Be free!
5. I know a man who believes that he doesn’t know anything! In fact, every day he knows a little less than he did the day before. He hopes to know absolutely nothing on his last day of life. (To place yourself in a receiving attitude is to be empty) O Blessed Emptiness, O Blessed nothingness where we can say “You are my God and my all.”
RESPONSE: FR. PAUL ROBICHAUD, CSP
Father Hecker had a minimalist understanding of spiritual direction. As Father Elliott writes, “Hecker’s fundamental rule was to have as little of it as possible. He started out with the purpose of doing away with method at the earliest moment when it could be safely done.” To be with Father Hecker for spiritual direction meant that eventually the only spiritual director you would end up with would be the Holy Spirit. Learning to listen. To empty out the distractions and preoccupations that clutter your mind, in order make space for God’s presence within you. This allows you to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. This was the process Hecker used in spiritual direction.
Hecker was also a realist. A spiritual life was not an escape but developed in the day to day events of your life. As Hecker wrote, “It is out of the cares, toils, duties, afflictions and responsibilities of daily life, that we build the pillars of sanctity in our age.” For Hecker both the responsibilities we face and the opportunities that arise are the basic building blocks out of which our holiness develops. Virtuous habits then become patterns of behavior and when they are mastered, they become means of grace.
Paulist Father Paul Robichaud CSP is Historian of the Paulist Fathers and Postulator of the Cause of Father Hecker. His office is located at the Hecker Center in Washington D.C.