Spiritual Direction is For You

Spiritual Direction is a practice becoming more popular in the Church today as people seek to know the voice of God with clarity. And with its popularity comes the question: “what is spiritual direction?”. It is first important to clarify that spiritual direction isn't only for clerics, religious or the super-pious - it is for every baptized person who wants someone to help guide them on their journey of following God’s will. That’s what spiritual direction is; “...a relationship through which we come to better know, love, and follow Christ through the help of a kind of spiritual coach. It is a process through which we come to know and love Christ and ultimately experience the heights of spiritual union with Him, even in this life.” Navigating the Interior Life, Burke. When addressing the laity, St. John Paul II wrote in Christifideles Laici that the fundamental objective of their formation is the ever-clearer discovery of one’s vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it so as to fulfill one’s mission.”  Everyone has a calling, a mission in life. Today there are coaches for everything: personal life and relationships, finances, investment portfolios, health and fitness goals, even organization, and wardrobe, so the question is why not have a coach to help with spiritual life? Spiritual Direction involves a relationship where both parties work together to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the follow those promptings in a concrete, daily manner. The task of choosing a spiritual director is therefore not an easy one and not something to be taken lightly. It’s important to take into account the director’s qualities, spirituality and if there is personal compatibility. Not to mention the fact that those who are spiritual directors are quite busy and could be hard to find!  Another thing to keep in mind when deciding to begin a spiritual direction relationship is the difference between counseling and spiritual direction. The difference can be seen analogously as going to see a doctor and getting a fitness coach. The two work together for total health but in different ways and for different periods of time. The doctor makes sure everything is working fine or helps with an illness, and the fitness coach will work consistently for specific results in physical fitness and capacity. Knowing what one needs and is looking for is important, and of course, it's ok to need both! The new Spiritual Direction Certificate Program (SDC) offered through Divine Mercy University seeks to respond to the ongoing need for the followers of Jesus Christ to assist one another on their path of becoming ever more faithful disciples of the Lord. The goal of the SDC program is to prepare candidates with the requisite dispositions, knowledge of the theological and human sciences, interactions skills, and supervision tools that will enable them to be spiritual directors with the heart and mind of Jesus Christ and in the tradition of the Church’s tried experience. The program is open to all - priests, religious, laity, consecrated - who are eager to deepen in the tradition and practice of the spiritual life and spiritual direction. For more information on the Spiritual Direction Certificate Program visit: www.sdc-divinemercy.org.

Why Are We Keeping Christ in Christmas?

You’ve likely heard this slogan: keep Christ in Christmas. It’s the mission statement for the Knights of Columbus when they begin selling themed Christmas cards and bumper stickers, sending the proceeds to various charitable causes. It’s their annual effort to promote the true spirit of Christmas. It’s a slogan that’s typically echoed across social media, occasionally coming close to starting interweb and personal wars between “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” wishers. It is a movement to shift from an engrossment with materialism that intensifies in the weeks leading up to the holiday itself, and return to the light of Jesus Christ and the spirit of giving. We see it in giving gifts to others without expecting or asking for anything in return: gifts for children we’ve never met, their names hanging from the angel tree in the back of the church; gifts of donated food or funds or clothing for the homeless; the gift of bringing the spirit to the home bound, or simply providing the gift of assistance to those who have difficulty helping themselves. The Christmas season is also arguably the most highly anticipated and most festive time of year in the world, and everything gets a lot busier. Our lives become filled with Christmas pageants, recitals, home decorating, caroling, movie marathons, lots of holiday marketing and lots and lots and lots of shopping. Whether you’re a “Merry Christmas” person or a “Happy Holidays” person, it’s difficult to ignore that today’s fast-paced, consumer world creates a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety that can lead to a dreading of Christmas, a day which should be a holy, joyous occasion. “I think what people bemoan about the fast pace is not so much the fast pace, but precisely the materialism of it,” said Fr. Robert Presutti, Divine Mercy University’s chaplain and the director for Spiritual Direction Certificate program. “Unfortunately materialism itself, whether it’s Christmas or not, is deeply unfulfilling. It’s deeply frustrating because we were made for so much more than these material values. When you take Christ out of Christmas, what happens is just increased frenzy activity. I think the fact that people feel the way they do at Christmas is not so much about Christ being taken out of Christmas; He’s being taken out of human activity period. I think it’s a symptom of a much larger problem.” Perhaps, according to Father Presutti, we should try to disengage Christmas from the rural, slow-paced culture with which it has been historically associated, like a country setting where there’s plenty of space and snow is coming down. What does it mean to live it in the middle of a city? What does it mean to live Christmas in the middle of a lot of hustle and bustle? “When you think about the first Christmas, Mary and Joseph didn’t have a quiet time. They were going from place to place with quite a bit of stress. And yet, they were completely focused on it being totally for the Lord. And when the Lord came, that was the joy of Christmas,” said Fr. Presutti. Amidst everything that the season brings in our lives, do we leave any room to journey towards Bethlehem? Do we ever find ourselves capable of lowering our “Keep Christ in Christmas” shields, turn off the carols and marathons and remember how it all began and why we should be overjoyed? As we embrace, inhale and consume the season and spirit of Christmas in today’s world, what happens to us when we allow the Son of Man to be a part of it as well? “It’s something more radical than just keeping Christ in Christmas,” Fr. Presutti said. “I don’t know if illuminating the activity is going to somehow make Christmas more spiritual. But it is, in a certain sense, putting Christ in the center of the activity. Why do we go through the trouble of celebrating at Christmas parties? Why do we go through the trouble of actually making ourselves a little more tired to buy gifts? It’s because there’s a value--something so deep in this Christmas season-- that it’s worth it, and that becomes fulfilling.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his 2005 Angelus address for the third Sunday of Advent, reflects on how the world has turned away from the true spirit of Christmas, citing how our consumer society suffered a sort of commercial ‘pollution’ that risks changing Christmas’s intimate, authentic spirit, marked by recollection, moderation and joy. Benedict also shares that, to break through chaos and commercial pollution, all we have to do is turn towards the crib: “The crib helps us contemplate the mystery of God’s love that was revealed in the poverty and simplicity of the Bethlehem Grotto,” he says. “The crib can help us understand the secret of the true Christmas because it speaks of the humility and merciful goodness of Christ, who ‘though he was rich, made himself poor’ for us (cf. 2 Cor 8:9)’. Jesus’ poverty enriches those who embrace it, and brings Christmas joy and peace to those who, like the shepherds in Bethlehem, accept the angel’s words: ‘Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes’ (Lk 2:12).” “Go back to the root,” Presutti said. “Don’t live Christmas the way modern culture has over the last 200 years; go back to the root. What is this Advent season? It’s a time of preparation to receive the greatest gift of all. We’re not celebrating, we’re preparing.”   The Advent season and the approach of Christmas compels us to keep in mind two things. First, that Christ came to us over 2,000 years ago out of pure love. He came to us incarnate as fully God and fully man, and that he entered into our world, with all its associated ugliness, pain, discomfort, cruelty and sin, solely for the sake of us. Secondly, is that Christ told us that he will come again. “Some writers have also stated that in preparing for Christmas,” said Fr. Presutti, “we’re actually also preparing for the second coming of Christ. We’re orientating our lives towards the Lord Jesus. By preparing to celebrate His birth, we’re also preparing for our final encounter with Christ, and it also prepares us for Christ who comes to us today in many different ways.” Let’s go back in time for a moment. In the winter of 1914--the fifth month of World War I--hostilities were at a standstill. After the Race to the Sea and First Battle of Ypres, leaders reconsidered their strategies, leaving their troops to maintain their positions in the trenches. In the days leading up to Christmas, British, Belgian and French soldiers laid down their weapons, left the trenches and approached their German enemy, exchanging gifts of food, cigarettes and other items. The truce also allowed the sides to bury their fallen comrades, who laid dead on the land between the two sides. The truce took different forms across the battlefields. One account described a British soldier getting his hair cut by his pre-war German barber; others spoke of pig roasts and kickabouts with makeshift soccer balls. Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade recalled the Christmas Truce beginning in song. “First the Germans would sing one of their carols,” Williams wrote, “and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started singing ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymns to the latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this really a most extraordinary thing -- two nations both singing the same carroll [sic] in the middle of a war.” After over 100 years, the Christmas Truce--which has been immortalized and fictionalized in novels, films and even an opera entitled Silent Night--is still remembered as a Christmas miracle and a true testament to the power of hope, humanity, and good in each of us, even in the truly darkest hours of our history. “Somehow,” said Fr. Presutti, “the presence of Christ guarantees what’s good, authentic and well appreciated in human culture, period.”

DMU Honored for Faith-Based Counseling

OnlineMasters.com has selected Divine Mercy University (DMU) as one of the Best Master's in Counseling Programs for 2019. On top of being ranked 13 out of 26 top-ranked programs in the United States, DMU earned the added distinction of Best For Faith-Based Counseling. This speaks to the amazing work that the program is doing and the quality education that it can help students with their career aspirations. OnlineMasters.com identified the top programs in the nation that are the best in the areas of curriculum quality, program flexibility, affordability, and graduate outcomes. Leveraging an exclusive data set comprised of interviews and surveys from current students and alumni in addition to insights gained from human resource professionals; every online degree program was analyzed with only the top 26 making it to the final 2019 list. The methodology incorporates the most recent data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and statistical data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Most importantly, only programs from accredited nonprofit institutions were eligible. “U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show the career opportunities for education counselors will continue to grow at a rate of 13%, which is faster than average.” stated Barbara Montgomery, Program Recognition Manager. This is just one of the many reasons OnlineMasters.com researched, analyzed, and ranked the top Master's In Counseling Programs. View the complete list of rankings to see all universities.  Learn more about the Online Master's in Counseling program at Divine Mercy University.

DMU Residency Converges on Sterling Campus

Although it won’t officially open until next fall, Divine Mercy University’s new campus-in-progress in Sterling, Virginia, served as the host facility for this fall’s residency for the Master’s in Counseling program. This was the first residency hosted at DMU’s future home just off of Old Ox Road. It was also the largest cohort that DMU has ever hosted, with 38 students from all over the United States converging on Northern Virginia. The residency went from October 10th-14th and, for many of the students, this was the first opportunity to meet their DMU instructors and each other in person. “I met my professors online before I met them in person,” said Dawn Costanzo, a counseling student from Front Royal, VA. “We had already established a relationship by interacting through Zoom sessions, emails, and assignment feedback. When I did meet them in person, I felt that I already knew them.” “It was reassuring to see peers classmates, cohorts there,” said Travis Speier of Nashville, TN.  “It was a pretty unique way to get to know everyone. I felt like I was on retreat with the atmosphere endowed, anointed, and in a sacred space.” For Anthony Coppage of Dothan, Alabama, meeting his classmates and professors in person was a refreshing and defining moment in his online education journey. "Flying out to D.C.," he said, "waking up each morning in a dorm setting, and riding on a bus with classmates to participate in the application of my online education in a very hands-on way was extremely welcomed. The physical presence of both my cohorts and professors cannot be understated.  We were able to share experiences and connections that would not have been possible through modern technology. I believe many life-long connections were forged during those wonderful four days." The residency component of selected courses is required of students in the Master’s of Counseling program, and takes place on three extended weekends (Wednesday-Sunday) within the duration of the program. While at the new campus, the students, faculty and attending support staff engaged in a number of group discussions presentations, including a panel discussion made up of faculty members discussing professional ethics and hot topics in the world of Catholic counseling, allowing the students to learn how to navigate between the roles of faith and counseling. "I think the best part of the residency was meeting the faculty," said Edith Ray of Louisiana. "I was encouraged by their example of love for us as students and I felt like they truly are committed to supporting me in my future graduate studies. In addition, I was inspired by their obvious love for their vocations to counseling and teaching as well as to their clients." [caption id="attachment_520" align="aligncenter" width="633"] In October, 38 students in DMU's Master's in Counseling program met in person for the first time. It was also the first time the residency was hosted at the university's new campus.[/caption]   On Friday and Saturday, the students divided into groups of three and jumped right into skills development workgroups. “I was shocked that we would actually be practicing clinical techniques so soon in program,” said Speier. “We were given scenarios to act out and basic techniques to practice on one another. I was shocked considering how soon we were, but it really was a good experience. During the workshops, each group was visited by faculty, who would sit in and observe as the students played out their scenes and offer feedback, pointers and identifying weak spots for improvement as the sessions progressed. “For me,” said Speier, “it was an experience that was not easy: the idea of being a counselor and wanting to talk to people, hear their story, what they are dealing with. The experience of being the one counseling--asking open ended questions, keep the client discussing, summarizing what was said, demonstrating cohesion--was personally the hardest role to play.” Despite the challenges, each student was able to take the skills and techniques they were learning in class and actually apply them in a counseling session setting, receiving positive feedback and critiques from the other students. “I found it difficult to think about open ended questions,” Speier said, “finding myself thinking about what my next question would be while the person was talking, struggle to stay present. That was tough. The role of the supervisor was about trying to hone in on objective manifestations seen, where bodily, emotional, verbally or even spiritual signs were noticed while other two are counseling each other. It was very interesting to see body language from that perspective.” "The workshops and especially the roleplay were my favorite aspects," said Coppage. "I was able to absorb a lot more in person from interactive discussions. Roleplaying was a personal and profound experience where I acquired a real taste of things to come. I could really sit down and understand my strengths and weaknesses as a future counselor." On Sunday, the final day of the residency, each student received a one-on-one evaluation from one of the many faculty members on site--highlighting strengths to continue developing and weaknesses to address--leaving the students with the confidence of knowing where they stand and what they need to improve on as they continue their journey.   “The residency provided an opportunity for us to practice these skills in-person, to receive feedback from our peer clients and from the professors,” said Costanzo. “I left the residency more comfortable in my role as a future counselor and more confident in my abilities to help others. I'm grateful that this opportunity to practice helping skills comes early in our sequence of classes; it was an opportunity to confirm my commitment to becoming a counselor.” "There is nothing like the personal and physical application of intellectual knowledge," said Coppage, "and my first residency experience is one that I will always truly cherish and remember throughout my career." For Speier, even with the packed schedule throughout the extended weekend, the information and pointers discussed during the residency’s workshops--honed in on by the faculty addressing the global need for good, well formed clinicians--left him with a stronger understanding of the gravity of the counseling profession. “With Dr. Keyes’ trauma program,” he said, “the stories and experiences they shared over the years, I became more and more aware how much of a vocation this is. It's not just about my desire; there is a good possibility that God has something to do with this. These are lives-- people's lives--we have a chance to engage in a very unique way and enter into a sacred space. That relationship is profound, with a feeling of awe and being in presence of something awesome. That feeling was nurtured throughout residency and grew.” Learn more about our M.S. in Counseling by visiting  https://divinemercy.edu/.

Only Half of Veterans with PTSD Are Treated

Some football programs at both collegiate and high school levels have a tradition: at the end of the national anthem, when the home team scores or wins the game, a small cannon is fired at a safe distance behind one of the end zones in celebration. One evening, a young man was catching up with old colleagues and mentors during a match between his alma mater and a local rival. This young veteran had just returned from a tour in Iraq. He stood at attention and saluted the flag as the national anthem played over the speakers. The anthem ended, the cannon was fired, the players took their positions on the field and the crowd took their seats on the bleachers. But the young man remained standing, hands at his sides, frozen still, his skin pale as the echo of the cannon reverberated throughout his body, causing him to relive memories and moments from which he just returned. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that can develop after experiencing shocking, scary, or dangerous events. U.S. veterans and active duty service members make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the nation, with absolutely no guarantee that they’ll return alive or unscathed. They leave their families and friends, miss the weddings of their siblings or the births of their own children in order to step up and stand against the forces that wish to do them and our way of life harm. But, in doing so, they put themselves at risk of developing this disorder. As we honor our veterans for their sacrifice and bravery, we may forget that -- even though they survived the trenches, jungles or deserts -- not everyone returns home whole. The reality is that, despite returning to civilian life, the trauma they witnessed is never far from their minds, making their transition a greater challenge and even putting their physical and mental health in greater jeopardy.   According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, up to 20 percent of veterans who saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan develop PTSD or major depression in a given year, as well as experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Additionally, 12 percent of men and women who fought in the Gulf War have developed PTSD, and an estimated 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. Among the number of veterans who return from war with mental health issues and PTSD, only about 50 percent will actually receive the mental health treatment they need. Both active duty service members and veterans face great barriers to mental health treatment issues that make them hesitant to pursue treatment, including wait times, demographics and logistics regarding traveling distances, age and gender. “[My therapist] kinda encouraged me to get enrolled in the VA, which I had not done for five years after retiring from the military,” said Christopher Provost of Colorado while speaking with StoryCorps. “I didn’t realize how angry I was when I got out of the military. That was a big thing... in dealing with the post-traumatic stress." Provost joined the National Guard to ski and compete in biathlons -- a sport that combines cross-country skiing and target shooting. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but he didn’t consider enrolling for VA benefits until about five years after retiring from the military. “I was hearing about the shortage and the backlog,” he said, “and, you know, all the amputees that weren’t getting their appointments, and, you know, people killing themselves in VA parking lots because they couldn’t get their therapy appointments. And I’m like, I’m fine. I’ve got a job, I’ve got a house over my head, I’ve got a car. I’m doing fine. They need help before me. And so I was kinda putting...I guess it was a displacement.”   According to Benjamin Keyes, Ph.D., Ed.D., Director for Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies at Divine Mercy University, there are five symptoms of PTSD. Unstable moods and reacting to certain triggers are the most easily recognizable. “I had a friend in college,” he said, “who had just gotten back from Vietnam. Whenever we heard a helicopter approach or fly over, he would hide under a desk or do whatever he could to take cover." Other symptoms include self-isolation, hyper arousal and intrusion of consciousness, in which they are stuck on a thought or memory from the battlefields that they can’t shake or push from their minds.   “Though some cases are similar in symptom and description, all cases are different for each individual,” Devon Alonge, a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts student at George Mason University. Devon served as an armourer specialist for the U.S. Army, and deployed to Iraq in 2011. “For myself,” Alonge continued, “having been in a combat zone for six months, I deal with some issues regarding anxiety and, in some cases, claustrophobia.”   Shame is an incredibly critical factor in treating veteran PTSD. Some may feel embarrassed over their service-related mental disabilities, whereas others experience shame over needing to seek mental health treatment and are afraid of being seen as weak, or that they should still be fighting with their comrades-in-arms, but have gone home instead. When the shame is not addressed, it leaves our veterans in danger of falling into alcoholism and substance abuse, and even lead them to commit suicide. According to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, veterans with PTSD have higher rates in suicide and suicidal behavior. Approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day. “When soldiers return home from war, there is a sense of relief,” said Dr. Keyes, “But then they feel a sense of guilt about being home while others are still in the fields fighting. As they adjust to civilian life, they’ll feel that they should still be fighting in the war with the people they left behind.”   Dr. Norman Hooten has experienced this first hand. A full-time health care provider who helps veterans fight substance addiction, non-cancer related chronic pain and PTSD, Hooten served for over 20 years in the U.S. Army and special forces before retiring as Master Sgt. Norman “Hoot” Hooten, and fought in the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, which was later chronicled in the book and film, Black Hawk Down (Sgt. Hooten was played by actor Eric Bana in the film).   He experienced losing someone struggling with a mental health disorder when a platoon sergeant he knew early in his career committed suicide after struggling with PTSD and substance abuse. “In the military, we never want to lose people, but it becomes understandable when we lose people on the battlefield," Hooten said to the Military Times. "A generation of veterans have survived the horrors of war to come home and commit suicide. I do not want to accept this. I want to do everything I can to make a dent in this problem. Even if this is about saving one person.” It’s highly important -- and the very least we can do -- for us to ensure that necessary mental health treatments, both clinical and spiritual, are available to our vets and service members when they return home, and that starts with the relationships they build both in service and in life. Research has shown that kindling and rekindling relationships are critical to promoting change in those who are suffering and need help. These are the first stepping stones toward building hope -- especially amongst veterans who served together -- and are the first line of defense in identifying the signs of mental illness or PTSD. “Sometimes we get too comfortable not communicating with one another for a year or more because we tend to always think we are all close and fine," said Dr./Sgt. Hooten. "But that one phone call every now and then, or that meet-up for a fishing trip might make the difference in saving a life.” Divine Mercy University’s co-director for the Online Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Dr. John West, has had the privilege of working with many veterans and soldiers returning from war who had survived traumatic events in battle, including one man whose vehicle was blown up during a firefight, breaking his back. “When I first started seeing him,” he explained, “he was completely hunched over, walking with a cane. His back was broken. His life was broken. He was just filled with despair and hopelessness.” At one of their sessions, the man brought a baseball because he loved baseball so much, and asked Dr. West to hold onto it for him. From then on, during each session of working through the trauma and adjustments, Dr. West handed him that baseball as a source of comfort while they spoke. After a few months, he began to heal, both physically and emotionally. “His whole life started to be reconstructed,” Dr. West said. “By the time we were finished -- when he had been able to move past the trauma, adjust to this new phase of his life and regain his dignity -- he was ready to move on. As he was walking out the door after our last session, he had that baseball in his hand. But he stopped at the door, looked back and tossed it to me saying ‘someone else needs this more than I do now.’”   Divine Mercy University is one of the nation’s leading graduate institutes that trains students in addressing and treating PTSD and other trauma-related disorders, with the specific mission to help patients flourish. “You can recover,” said Dr. Keyes. “Our students are trained to think about how people can flourish in their lives, and how they can help our veterans deal with emotions they suppressed while in combat zones. Having that as an overlay is a quality difference in treating PTSD.” Learn more about what you can do to help those around you suffering from PTSD or other trauma. (The Effects of Trauma)
About DMU
Divine Mercy University (DMU) is a Catholic graduate university of psychology and counseling programs. It was founded in 1999 as the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. The university offers a Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology, Master of Science (M.S.) in Counseling, Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology, and Certificate Programs.