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Half the vocation of the spiritual guide of men


I thought this was a stirring little passage from Romola, by George Eliot, that gets at something in how one might ‘speak the truth in love’ to another. Fra Girolamo (the book is all Catholic of course, being set in 15th Century Florence) has just come upon and arrested Romola in the midst of her wrongfully taking flight from her life as she knows it (I’ll not give all the story away), and this is the exchange that follows. Personally, I don’t think this is only ‘half the vocation of the priest or spiritual guide of men’, but something we are all, who call ourselves part of the Church, to be engaged in.

‘I will not return. I acknowledge no right of priests and monks to interfere with my actions. You have no power over me.’

‘I know – I know you have been brought up in scorn of obedience. But it is not the poor monk who claims to interfere with you: it is the truth that commands you. And you cannot escape it. Either you must obey it, and it will lead you; or you must disobey it, and it will hang on you with the weight of a chain which you will drag for ever …’.

She started up with anger in her eyes, and faced the speaker … She had started up with defiant words ready to burst from her lips, but they fell back again without utterance. She had met Fra Girolamo’s calm glance, and the impression from it was so new to her, that her anger sank ashamed as something irrelevant.

… The source of the impression his glance produced on Romola was the sense it conveyed to her of interest in her and care for her apart from any personal feeling. It was the first time she had encountered a gaze in which simple human fellowship expressed itself as a strongly felt bond. Such a glance is half the vocation of the priest or spiritual guide of men, and Romola felt it impossible again to question his authority to speak to her …

Perhaps ‘a glance’ sounds all rather unquantfiable, but it’s the in love half of speaking the truth that is here brought into action.
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