Spiritual Parents

Miguel Ángel Fiorito, SJ

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The term “spiritual” is one of those words which, although it had a profoundly rich meaning in the early days of Christianity and in all the great epochs of the history of the Church, every now and then it becomes weakened  by more superficial meanings, or is transformed into a synonym of largely negative terms – such as “incorporeal, immaterial” – and becomes just one of many edifying words, a synonym of “religious” or “supernatural.”[1]

For Origen, the spiritual person is a practical person, because the Spirit is acquired through action and the Spirit becomes manifest through actions. A spiritual person, according to the Alexandrian theologian, is one in whom theory and practice are united, involving care for one’s neighbor and a spiritual charism for the good of one’s neighbor.  Between these two charisms, he emphasizes above all what he calls diakrisis, that is, the gift of discerning the diversity of  spirits.

Spiritual Parents

What is needed. 1) To be a “spiritual parent” it is not necessary to be male. A woman can also be one; obviously in this case she will not be called a “father,” but rather a spiritual “mother.”

Many women’s religious congregations have a beautiful custom: that of calling the superior “mother,” while the others are “sisters.” This custom is rooted in a long religious tradition. It was born in the East, among the monks and nuns of the desert. In such a place there was no anti-feminism because any Christian, man or woman, could be a “monk.” In the same way any Christian, man or woman, could be the “spiritual parent” of another.

If, in the spiritual life there is no fundamental difference between men and women, why should there be one when it comes to “spiritual parenthood,” that is, in the help that some of us give to others? García M. Colombás affirms: “The spiritual parent was one who, full of the Holy Spirit, communicated the life of the Spirit, generated children according to the Spirit. Evidently, like monks, nuns could also possess the Spirit. She who possessed the Spirit received the title ‘amma’ or ‘mother,’ which corresponds to the masculine title of ‘abba.’ […] Amma does not necessarily imply the exercise of spiritual motherhood, but rather the ability to exercise it; hence it would be wrong to always translate this term as ‘abbess’ or ‘superior’ of a female community. Many holy women, undoubtedly more numerous than the holy men, have perhaps kept hidden their high spiritual qualities  which would have allowed them, if there had been the opportunity, to guide other souls on the paths of God.”[2]

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