Testimonial : What We Expect from our Spiritual Counsellor

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"The fact that we have moved house and region several times due to Jean-Régis’ job has meant that we have been in five different teams and have thus experienced Teams life in diverse ways. We have known seven Spiritual Counsellors in our twenty-three years of Teams life.  Three were diocesan priests, two were friars of the Order of Discalced Carmelites at the Broussey Monastery (Bordeaux region) and two were priests in the Congregation of the Holy Spirit in the Paris area.

For us, it was seven different meetings because of seven different experiences inscribed within seven different stories.  But the same single experience was always shared : the luck at being able to exchange and live our Teams life while being accompanied by a man of God, whose presence was more than precious, essential even, to help us progress spiritually in our exchanges with team members. In such a case, the Spiritual Counsellor is a true witness to what is experienced in the team, but above all we expect him to be an active witness !

As we reflected as to how to share our particular experience with you, we felt like starting simply with man, as God created us ; ‘man and woman, he created them’; to start with all that he put within us so that we manage to live together and we decided to use the different senses like sight, listening, the word, thought, heart and gestures as the means of communication between us and above all the means to mature and grow.

Using these points, we will talk about our relationship as Teams members with our Spiritual Counsellor, within the framework of a team meeting.

In all our different teams, the priest was always a brother for us, a friend, exactly like the different team members we encountered, but with a something extra or something Other.

Sight is often the first means of meeting someone: in order to see each other, we have to be present to and before one another.  We need to dare to look at each other and see one another just as we are.

Every month, there is the monthly meeting. And for our priests, we know that this is the extra meeting in their already overbooked diary.  But imagine our disappointment on the evening when we get to the meeting and the Responsible Couple tell us, “Father Hervé cannot come; Sister Nicole is ill and cannot be with us.”  It is a secret disappointment and an empty place at the table.  It is just like at home, when someone misses the family reunion. No one can replace them and we know ahead of time that the reunion will not be perfect, or truly complete.

Taking the time to meet: How lucky we are when a priest, monk or nun says ‘Yes’ and turns up every month at the meeting.  The regularity of the meeting and such shared joy !

Listening is fundamental in a team. 

How can you share if you don’t listen ?  We were often stunned to hear our Spiritual Counsellor reuse a phrase that we had said a few weeks beforehand.  Spiritual Counsellors, who were very respectful and listened to what we had to say, always accompanied us.  We realised that by letting team members speak the most, he seemed to be in the background but in fact was there listening all the time, all the better to intervene judiciously.  The Spiritual Counsellors often refocused our discussions, with a view to making us more coherent.  Often they were the ones to seek out a quieter team member, who had something on their mind, but did not know how to say it.  Some of them were very gifted in listening to the very heavy silences of our unsaid things.

Of course, listening doesn’t happen without words

We all know that we first must listen before being able to speak.  In our teams, we exchange news, we confront and oppose each other’s ideas, we search together for answers to our questions, we laugh, sometimes we cry or sigh and it is there when we are all together that we are brothers and sisters in truth.

We are happy to feel that our Spiritual Counsellor is sufficiently at ease to share spontaneously something of his joys and worries of the past month.  Thus we experience trust and confidence between us all.  We are happy to know that he can find within the team a place where he can speak more personally and that allows him space to breathe.

Sometimes one of our Spiritual Counsellors used to come early to the house, when it was our turn to host the meeting, just be able to see how each of us was doing, to chat to our children, and even sometimes to help out in setting the table or with other last minute details.  We believe that it was a way for him to get to know us better and to see us in our daily lives at home.

Words cannot work without thought.

And here is where we hope to find in our Spiritual Counsellor something that no other team member can contribute, namely their doctrinal, theological, biblical training.  Through their training, they bring a particular perspective to the discussion and help us to refocus on the essentials, namely our life together as a couple.  We have anchored our daily lives in God and we wish to be helped in this domain and particularly in the study of the various topics, which sustain our personal meditation and our way of faith.

In the past we have asked our Spiritual Counsellor ahead of time to prepare a short piece on a particular point of the study topic that seems complicated to us.  His perspective is always welcome.  Of course, we don’t ask him to prepare and give him all this extra work at every meeting !

However, in our current team, and we have done this before in previous teams, the Spiritual Counsellor meets up with two couples to prepare the organisation and content of the next meeting and every month it is a different two couples with him.  This too is another way for him to get to know us better and to better help us too.

This leads us to the heart of our talk.

This is where we would situate the prayer time with the team, in true communion with each other.  Prayer is the privileged time where thought is expressed in the shared word amongst all in order to be in communion with God through the intercession of his Spirit.

We really love when our Spiritual Counsellor gathers up, a bit like scattered flowers, each person’s prayer and makes a bouquet out of them, which then becomes the team’s prayer.

There too, we expect our priest or nun to goad us out of our laziness.  Thank you for the little insidious questions like, “So, where are you with your personal prayer ?  What’s the problem with private prayer ?  And your children: when do you all get together to pray together ? Can I admire your prayer-corner ?”

But we are also reassured when he confesses simply to us that this week was so full of parish duties that he didn’t pray enough or properly.  The Counsellor is a person like us, but also different and always a brother, a friend.

We are happy to sometimes be able to go and pray with him, for example during a weekday mass celebrated in this monastery or parish.  We also confide in him intentions outside of the team prayer time.

Another highlight that is experienced with the heart is the annual team retreat with all members.  This is a great moment of communion between all team members and the Spiritual Counsellor.  He does not preach and we experience a truly intense moment as a team.

Finally, Teams life is moulded by multiple gestures, which enable friendship between us all.

We pick up the phone to ask how so and so is doing; we drive someone to a doctor’s appointment; we prepare a cake to celebrate someone’s birthday; we send each other cards when we go on holidays… These are all things that anyone can do, but there is one that enables us to live and that we cannot do alone…and that is celebrate the Eucharist.

As a team and with our Spiritual Counsellor, we need to experience this communion with Christ; we need to share the bread of life.

How wonderful it is when we can do it together !

Sometimes we change the meal table into an altar to celebrate a mass at the beginning of a new year together as a team, to give thanks for the months gone by that have been so rich in sharing and friendship.  We can also all go and have our team meeting in our Spiritual Counsellor’s religious community and perhaps invite a priest who could celebrate the Eucharist with us.

There you are !  I think you understand.  Every time we moved and changed team, we always hoped not to run into the Spiritual Counsellor that could be nicknamed the shy one, the silent one, the moralising one, the authoritarian one, the passive witness and of course, the absent one.

In conclusion, Teams life is a small Church with its ups and downs, with men and women who actively seek a harmonious life together as a Christian couple loving God and being loved by God, but who progress more or less laboriously on the road to married spirituality.  We are a small Church that is supported, accompanied and guided by each of you here."

Team members.