Traveling the Path: Getting to Know S. Montiel Rosenthal
How would you define spiritual direction?
I define spiritual direction as walking with a person in terms of their journey with God. It’s not so much directing – that’s an older term – but more reflecting back to them their own experience in a light of focused attempt at their getting to know God more deeply in their lives.
How did you begin this ministry?
I was interested in spiritual direction for a number of years, and have gone to spiritual direction since entering the Community. More focused training and attention on spiritual direction came out of a need from my experience as a missionary in Armenia and working with Armenians and other missionaries who were working there. There was a perceived need for spiritual direction, and it largely didn’t exist. I then went through the Vincentian training program for spirituality in the workplace, which was based in Princeton, New Jersey. Most of our training in spiritual direction happened longitudinally, but we came together for more focused sessions during that training period.
Your bio mentions that you have interests in Near Eastern Spirituality and Spirituality in Medicine. Can you describe these and explain how you might use them in spiritual direction?
I have an interest in Near Eastern Spirituality coming out of my experience in Armenia. It’s not terribly different from what we consider Western or Christian spirituality; they have very common roots, but they also have a unique expression of that. That uniqueness is certainly connected with the Armenian liturgy, whether it’s in its apostolic form or its Catholic form, but also there’s a different perspective based on culture, history, and people’s lived experience.
I’m also a family physician, and the way that people’s sense of who they are and how they’re called to be is also an integral part of their health and wellbeing. Aspects of spiritual direction definitely come into play many times in a day at varying levels with different folks who I administer to as their physician.
What do you like to know about a person when they begin meeting with you?
Usually what I do when I meet with someone for the first time is talk about their hopes and expectations in terms of spiritual direction, a little bit of my experience, and what I bring into our time together. I’d like to know a little bit about their past that informs their decisions. There are very different styles of spiritual direction, and some that folks have never heard of but may be open to. There are also folks who have a clear agenda or a set of goals that they bring to that, and it may be prayerful intention in terms of dealing with a particular issue in their life.
A few people have come to spiritual direction who really would benefit more from pastoral counseling. That’s a very different discipline; I’m not a pastoral counselor, and if my sense or mutual understanding is that that’s what someone is looking for, or that they need more focused assistance – maybe with a psychologist or psychiatrist – then I’ll invite folks to seek assistance elsewhere because spiritual direction may not be the best use of their energy. There are other folks for whom joint counseling and spiritual direction in their lives is very growthful and very helpful.
What is most rewarding for you in this ministry?
It’s humbling in that I’m not the person doing this. Certainly I hope that I serve as an agent of God in the sense of being a conduit or a reflector, but I’m not in charge. I hope that for my directees, I’m a conduit for helping God break open in their life. To come to see a growth in a person over time is very rewarding. It’s a big part of who I am.