Ladder to Heaven: Seven Steps of Spiritual Direction


William Blake -- Jacob's Ladder

By. Fr. Sean McDermott


One of the problems in Direction is to know where one is going. We might know that the end, the telos, for humans is the Beatific Vision, but how does one start on that journey? In the classic work, The Spiritual Life, Very Rev. Tanqueray S.S.D.D. argues that though Direction is quite personal and must answer the needs of particular people in particular circumstances, he has found a general path of steps. While some might come in well along their way, this progression will be found in all. He offers this "certain measure of unity to spiritual direction" in seven steps. These are helpful guideposts for clergy, Directors, and laity to consider.


1. Sanctify all actions, grounding the person in a spirit of faith.


The first step starts with attentiveness and intentionality--the offering of one’s actions to God.


2. Purification through mortification and penance.


Our life long process of sanctification requires us to give up our own desires (mortification), work against our sins in thanksgiving to God (penance), and live out the gifts of grace God has given us. This, therefore, according to Tanqueray is a long step to which one must return often.


3. Inculcate humility as a fundamental virtue.


The result of step two will be growth in humility, the fertile soil for the blossoming of charity.


4. Grow fraternal charity and specifically add this to their personal examination.


Personal growth and humility, however, is only effective in so far as it builds our love for God and our neighbor. As the Lord’s Prayer states, our relationships with others in our community affects our relationship with God.


5. Habitual union with Our Lord.


As we grow in charity towards our neighbor, we also grow in charity with Our Lord. This results in a desire to be with Him more and more.


6. Cultivate manliness or strength of character based upon strong convictions.


The fervent desire to be with Him now inspires one to once again grow one’s virtues, but this time at a much deeper level.


7. Zeal for Our Lord.


As our love for Our Lord grows, all our desires are turned towards Him, culminating in a zeal for Our Lord in all our doings.


Fr. Sean McDermott is Curate at All Saints Anglican Church in Charlottesville, VA and Editor in Chief at Earth & Altar.

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