To become a father is a miracle. If we look at life through the lens of scripture we realize that special grace has entered the home without asking permission. We can no longer live for ourselves, but for the Spirit acting in another. We do not self-elect spiritual fathers, we are chosen.
The monastic fathers considered the monk's desire to become a spiritual father an indication of disordered passions. Not to mention proposing themselves as such, and the procuring of followers. The monk is only a disciple with his ears wide open; to become a master seems to him to abdicate his original vocation.
It is healthy - even for those who are not monks - to remember such things. Believers also exercise their sense of faith in recognizing the true bearers of the Spirit in the midst of so many other elders. A kind of empathy is triggered in which the secret of the future father as the bearer is glimpsed. This secret has a very simple term, which is to struggle. The father in the Spirit is above all this: the one who has fought the same battles as us and won by the pure grace of God. His wounds shine through, but not because he was good at getting by, so much as because he was rescued and medicated by Another. On his own, he could not have made it.
This is why true spiritual fathers are never Pelagians, for they know very well that on their own they would die under the blows of dehumanizing passions. One is not spiritual by virtue or by willpower, and even if one had disciples, they would be reduced - poor unfortunates - to mannequins on which to place beautiful clothes for display. Unfortunately, there are many fathers who impose a kind of behavior to be observed, they are directors of souls who, in order to appear good, have stopped being good and open to grace. When these fathers (or mothers) also become “founders,” the damage is even more regrettable. These copies come out in a kind of series as if from a toy soldier factory, and consciences, the sacrarium of the Spirit, are annihilated. To Pelagianism can be added depersonalization. The recent history of many new realities of consecrated life records similar situations.
It is an uncomfortable miracle to be chosen to be a father; and what Paul wrote to the Corinthians becomes true, stating “death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Cor 4:12). On our own account, we would gladly be occupied with hanging on to the lips of the Word and leading a normal Christian life, seeing that there seem to be quite a few teachers without pastoral care and pastors without knowledge.
by Giuseppe Forlai
Spiritual Director, Pontifical Roman Major Seminary