If you’re on the road and you get a flat tire, run out of gas, or get lost, what is the first thing you’re going to do? Call for assistance! Whether it’s a roadside assistance company, a friend, or a family member, you’re probably not going to be able to get to your destination unless someone helps you out.
In the spiritual life, you’re just as likely to make wrong turns, encounter obstacles, and feel like you’re running on empty, and when that happens you’ll need some spiritual assistance to help get you to your heavenly destination. But that also means that you are called to offer spiritual assistance to those around you, helping them on their road to heaven. If you don’t feel comfortable with that role, or don’t know how to offer spiritual assistance to someone – The Inner Life® is here to assist you!
Fr. Sam Martin recently stopped by The Inner Life to explain what spiritual assistance is, what it isn’t, and how we can discern when we should step in and offer our help.
Fr. Martin first explained that spiritual assistance is something we are all called to, saying, “Spiritual assistance is being able to share our faith, being witnesses, ambassadors, as St. Paul says. It really is sharing the faith that God has given us, which is a gift. It’s a theological virtue, which means that it comes from God and it leads us home to God.”
It’s likely that at some point in your life you’ll encounter someone who has had their faith shaken or has lost hope. And there can be a temptation to see that as a sign of their weak faith, rather than recognizing that faith and hope are gifts from God. And as Jesus told us, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” If someone we know is lacking faith and hope in their life, it is our duty to offer them the faith and hope that we have been given.
“I think of St. Peter’s exhortation in his epistle where he says be prepared to give reasons for your hope. Well, that’s a way of giving assistance to others,” said Fr. Martin. “When they’re maybe struggling or going through some real darkness and they need encouragement. We have a belief in the Resurrection, that life is changed, not ended, in death. So we have many things that we can contribute and share. And all of those things would be components of a type of spiritual assistance that gives reasons to others for our hope and grows their hope, too.”
Fr. Martin also made the distinction between spiritual direction and spiritual assistance. While a spiritual director should be someone who has training, formation, and the approval of the Church, you don’t need to have a degree in theology to offer someone spiritual assistance.
“Any sincere, baptized, Catholic is able to give some assistance,” said Fr. Martin. “And there are many times when we should and probably lack confidence. I would guess for most of us our biggest struggle is thinking, ‘Well, who am I to say this?’ Or ‘I feel like if I bring this up I’m judging.’ There are a lot of delicate moments of discernment that really require prayer.”
And, as Fr. Martin pointed out, prayer is really the key to being able to offer spiritual assistance. If you lack the confidence to offer help to someone who is struggling, he said that, “We have to have a confidence that the spiritual director par excellence is the Holy Spirit. And Jesus said that we’d be led to places where we might not be comfortable, and we would be asked to give our testimony. And He said that the Holy Spirit will provide, will help you. We want to remember that and really rely upon that.”
Or maybe you have the opposite problem, and you’ve burned some bridges because you were too eager to offer assistance to someone when it wasn’t your place to do so. Again, Fr. Martin suggested turning to prayer to discern whether or not the Lord wants you to say something, and ask Him to give you the words that will be the greatest help in the situation.
“That is the question that seems to me is the one that is for every situation, the one that we need to pose to the Lord,” Fr. Martin said. “Is it me, Lord, that you want to say something? If so, I’m willing, but help me. And if we’re unwilling, well, we can admit that too. It’s a great encounter we can have with the Lord, acknowledging if I am supposed to say something. It’s a fair question and one that the Lord will help us to resolve.”
Listen to the full conversation below: