The question is a good question, a very practical one: How do you know when you ought to speak to your spiritual father about something that you’re encountering in prayer? Well, if it’s something disturbing and it doesn’t go away, something that you really wouldn’t anticipate would come up when you are praying, if prayer engenders feelings that you really don’t like, it’s time to talk to your spiritual father to find out what’s going on.
It’s true in everything we do in the spiritual life. There’s a right way to fast and a wrong way to fast. So we need to pray with humility; we need to pray with an open heart, but it just may be something as simple as we begin to access the heart, the heart is wounded, and the hurt all starts to come out. For example—I’ll give you a concrete example, and maybe it will be easier. Someone begins to pray the Jesus prayer and feels a tremendous amount of anger and is ashamed. “What’s going on? I love God. I want to pray. I am trying to obey the commandments of Christ. I begin to pray the Jesus prayer, and I get angry. I don’t know whom I am angry at. I just know I’m angry.” It’s a good reason to go. Imagine how frustrating that would be to keep that for six months or a year, and it doesn’t go away, and every time you pray you’re angry. It’s a real drag in the spiritual life to have to do something like that, so it’s time to go. It’s not a normal—I should be careful on the word “normal”—it’s not what one would perhaps normally expect when you pray, but maybe there’s a reason for it.
In fact, a spiritual father might explain to you how you can pray when you are angry, how it’s possible, how you can pray through your anger but not nurse it. You don’t want to become more angry. But at the same time, if you have that reaction, there could be a reason for it. This is where it becomes very, very helpful to put all the pieces together. You pray the Jesus prayer, yes, but you also go to confession, so you have a place to bring that. You also receive the body and blood of Christ; you have a way to be healed. If you find it difficult to pray on your own, you have liturgical worship; you go to the Church, the Church carries you. This is where you can see the whole life of the Church supports you when you have a difficulty in one particular area.
But I just gave that as an example. It’s a very practical one, and by the way nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean you’re bad when you’re angry; it doesn’t mean that, but it something you have to deal with; you don’t want to just leave it and get discouraged and then this discouragement can lead to a kind of spiritual depression. Don’t leave it that long. Go talk about it. It may not be that your spiritual father knows instantaneously what the problem is, but now somebody’s watching it with you. You’re being followed in the sense of a doctor following a patient, monitoring symptoms, checking in with the person. “Do you still feel that way? Are there other times when you feel angry?” so and and so forth. That would be a practical example of something that could happen. People have all kinds of different reactions when they pray. That’s just part of the landscape.