Canon Law and Spiritual Direction | Amanda Zurface

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I get questions about Canon Law often. Lately, I’m getting more and more about Spiritual Direction. These two things are foreign to the secular world and even pretty unfamiliar in the “Catholic world” as they say. So I welcome any opportunity to share about these great gifts the Church has given to us! Olivia McCarthy, host and founder of the podcast Heart, Home, Faith, invited me to join her for a conversation about these very things this week. 

Olivia is a wife, mother, and student of theology, who has a deep love for Catholic Social Teaching and is a running enthusiast. Her primary mission is to uplift Catholic women, giving them the community and support they need. I have interviewed on the radio many times, but this was my first podcast. It was just like chatting with a friend knowing a hundred other friends were listening in!

Olivia’s questions and commentary were honest, real, knowledgeable, and faith seeking. I was moved by her desire to learn more about the Church (sharing that search with her listeners!) and converse on the things of God, including how to grow in relationship with Him! She shared some of her story as well, which was inspiring, and an opportunity to give God thanks for insight into another woman’s life who is also seeking to faithfully live out her vocation! I have found a dear friend and encourager in Olivia. I know you will too! 

I hope you walk away from this podcast knowing that the Church only ever desires your good! and that she (The Catholic Church) has everything you need for spiritual nourishment, including fellow joy seekers rooting you on, ready to share everything we know, including our own stories, to help the next woman. 

I hope you enjoy my conversation with Olivia as much as I did. Here we are. 

Here are my notes I prepared for the interview. You can listen to the interview in its entirety on Apple or Spotify

Q: I know Canon law exists, but other than that I don’t really know what it is. Could you explain what Canon Law is and how it contributes to the faith?  

A: That’s how I was until my sophomore year of theology, believe it or not!

Funny story, when I sent my first inquiry about studying Canon Law, I sent it to the Dean of Canon Law at the Gregorian University in Rome. I was so nervous! He sent an email back and the first thing he said was: “If you want to study Canon Law, you need to first learn how to spell it.” Apparently, I had written “cannon” like a cannonball, instead of “canon” (from the Ancient Greek “kanon” meaning “rule”). So, I chuckle when I think about that.

I always say that Canon Law is Theology but in legal language. Much of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which is the book of rules (or laws) that guide the Latin Rite (the Eastern Rite which is home to 33 other rites, have their own code they follow) was greatly influenced by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and the documents that came from it. 

Every government has a legal system to guide itself. The Catholic Church is no different! Canon Law is actually the oldest legal system in the Western world.

And what it does is it regulates the Church’s activities, including that of her members towards the mission of the Church which is the salvation of souls.  Which the Church calls the supreme law and it is the last canon of the 1983 Code of Canon Law (Canon 1752). There’s no other motivation behind it, or at least there shouldn’t be.

Canon Law protects the Church, which includes her members (every vocation) and the sacraments. It’s always seeking our good and has our relationship with God always in mind. 

Q: What is your story? How did you become involved in Canon law consultation? 

A: I fell in love with the Lord when I was in 8th grade… By His grace(!), I couldn’t get enough of Him, what the Church taught, and finding new ways to serve. 

I studied Theology and Social Justice (focusing on the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church) in undergrad, thinking I would go on to study Diplomacy. 

I spent a semester abroad in Rome and a Canon Lawyer priest encouraged me to consider studying Canon Law if I wanted to work for the Holy See Mission or the Vatican in some capacity at the United Nations or other political sectors. At the time, I really still had no full knowledge of what Canon Law was.

I then returned home to the United States and I was encouraged by two more Canon Lawyers to consider it. God kept up on putting canonists in my path!! 

At the end of my undergraduate studies, I knew God was allowing me to study Canon Law. So, I pursued it and moved to Rome. I studied there for two and a half years and finished my licentiate in Ottawa. 

And since receiving my licentiate in 2013, I have been serving in direct roles on the diocesan and parish level and in faith-based organizations, including helping individuals and organizations on topics of Canon Law. 

Q: You also offer virtual spiritual direction? What is spiritual direction, and how does spiritual direction benefit people?

A: Spiritual Direction is an incredible gift the Church has given to us! It became popular (for all vocations) after the Second Vatican Council and when the council documents were printed speaking to the universal call to holiness: meaning that everyone is called to a life of holiness, not just priests and religious! 

It is something I believe everyone should consider (all states in life). Because It is an intimate journey of accompaniment with someone you’ve selected who has shown himself/herself to be mature in the faith and seeking holiness too. 

The director is someone to help you as the directee listen to God on whatever question you have brought to the context of Spiritual Direction. The question meaning, what is the spiritual directee looking for/asking of God? Examples include:

  • What is my vocation?
  • How do I find healing?
  • How do I live God’s design for my body and in my current vocation?
  • How do I know God loves me?

In the context of Spiritual Direction, you receive so much. I can’t speak well enough of it especially because of the benefits I have received from my own personal journey with Spiritual Direction. You receive encouragement; affirmations; and challenges that are accompanied by growth. Accountability is very present too. Especially by way of the director holding the directee accountable for his or her prayer life and participation in the sacraments. So, there’s an accountable relationship aspect to it. 

If you stick with Spiritual Direction and receive it regularly (I recommend once a month) again, it’s shocking the growth you will see in your own life. 

Q: I’ve had spiritual direction with priests- what is the difference or benefit of a woman receiving spiritual direction from another woman?

A: I have had both priests and laywomen as Spiritual Directors. They all bring their own gifts to the relationship. A huge benefit of having a priest as your director is direct access to the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation before or after your spiritual direction session. 

Some women may feel intimidated about meeting with a priest or is in need of a more feminine response to topics she is seeking clarity on. 

I know there are women who may feel more comfortable sharing with a woman on topics, including sexuality, struggles, and addictions. 

I think sometimes your spiritual director is put in your life. You don’t go looking for a priest, man, woman, etc. 

Q: We connected early on over our love of fitness! I’m curious- what would you say is the role of fitness in a healthy spiritual life? And, what is a healthy spiritual life?

A: God designed us so beautifully. A major aspect of His design is that we are body-soul persons! 

So, how we take care of our bodies impacts our souls. The way we are living our spirituality impacts our bodies. We can feel it in our muscles, moods, how we sleep, appetite and cravings, everything! 

So, what does it take for each of us to be living a healthy lifestyle? This doesn’t just mean what are our relationships looking like. But also, how am I respecting my body in light of what I put in it, and how am I moving it too?

Regarding a healthy spiritual life…

We are all in different stages of spirituality (or what we can call our relationships with God). All of our relationships look different in different seasons. There are three pillars to the spiritual life:

The Heart

So, to ask yourself if you’re healthy in the heart I would say ask yourself: “How are you allowing God to reside in your heart – how are you giving Him a home?” or “being His Bethlehem” as Danielle Rose says in her beautiful song “Let me be your Bethlehem.” 

The Church and Community

So, how are you healthy in the way you are active in the Church and community life? Ask yourself: “Are you receiving the Sacraments and having holy friendships, accompaniment who doesn’t try to solve your problems but journeys with you in them (Spiritual Direction is part of this)?” Are you giving of yourself? A life of self-gift and generosity is so key to the spiritual life. 

Sacred Scripture

Are you looking to God in the Bible? Are you meditating or as they say munching/digesting on His Word?

So, I would say a healthy spiritual life means staying true to the Commandments (part of making a home for God in your heart), keeping a direct line of conversation with God open, reception of the Sacraments, and giving of yourself! 

Q: What are real, actionable steps that women can take to have a healthy spiritual life (even in the midst of a crazy pandemic and the chaos of home, family, work, swirling around!)

A: I absolutely want to encourage 15 minutes of prayer a day or more! This is going to look different for your vocation.

  • Morning and Evening Prayer: Consider using the Magnificat Companion or the prayer app Hallow.
  • Make time for a Retreat: Even a stay-at-home retreat (I have a free guide available.)
  • Holy Friendships: Can you have virtual coffee or in-person coffee with a friend once a month? 
  • Spiritual Direction: And lastly, of course, I am going to encourage Spiritual Direction. I just want to say to our listeners: go all in and find someone to accompany you. There’s a great quote by Saint Philip Neri where he says:

“Those who have themselves for a spiritual director have a fool for a spiritual director.”

That quote has been a reality check for me on many occasions. 

Q: What is your favorite thing about Catholicism?

A: Everything is so available to us to grow in relationship with God! Including Himself!!

Catholicism shares so well how personable and relatable God is. I mean…we have direct access to sit with Him at Adoration, we can go tell Him our sins and receive His mercy at Confession, we get more of Him every day at Mass…in Holy Communion… we get to talk to His mother directly in the Rosary and she pleads for our cause…and we are told over and over again how greatly He delights in us and wants our good! I mean…what more can we want?! 

Q: I think you have an e-book on pre-order now? Can you share a bit about your e-book, how to get in contact with you for spiritual direction and where we can follow you to learn more?

A: Yes! I am so excited about it! It’s on the topic of joy…true joy…it’s titled: Seeking Joy: Finding God’s Will in Ordinary Life

We can confuse joy with what the world tells us it is, but I jump into the topic with the mindset of the Church and look at joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit…and reveal that joy isn’t happiness it’s something so much deeper that comes with suffering and sacrifice. So, I look at the lives of the Saints, the topics of death and mourning, and overall how when we align our lives with God’s will for our individual lives, we open ourselves up to the gift of joy!

It’s $9.99 and is available for pre-order in the store. It’s set to officially release the second week of December. 

Regarding Spiritual Direction, I am available and ready to accompany ladies in the spiritual life. It is such an exciting and privileged space. Sisters, you can email me or message me on Instagram or Facebook.

I’m probably most well known as a canon lawyer and Catholic writer. Here on my website, though, you can find everything from travel advice, prayer guides, book recommendations, spiritual direction, workouts, garden tips, food and drink recipes, and the opportunity to partner with me on things that are important to you. 

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