Counsel the Doubtful
[The following is authored by Philip Kosloski, He is a writer and author of In the Footsteps of a Saint: John Paul II’s Visit to Wisconsin. He blogs at philipkosloski.com and writes to help all Catholics master the art of prayer by conquering the practical obstacles that prevent a fruitful relationship with Christ.]
The basic definition of “counsel” is “giving instruction or advice to direct the judgment of another.” To “counsel” in the spiritual realm refers to helping someone with a difficult spiritual decision they are about to make. What makes this an even trickier situation is that the person receiving counsel is “doubtful.” This means that the person is “uncertain” about the outcome and questions the possibility of a resolution. Putting it all together, to “counsel the doubtful” is to give an unsettled person wise advice concerning a spiritual decision.
What does this spiritual work of mercy look like in the real world? Most commonly those involved with spiritual direction perform this work of mercy. In such cases, a priest, religious, deacon or even a lay person are charged with the task of leading troubled souls to spiritual solutions. It requires a very holy and devout person to sift through the muddy waters of life to give consoling words to someone in need.
However, this work of mercy is not meant to be performed only by qualified priests, but should be much more common among lay men and women. The reason being that our friends and family come to us on a regular basis for guidance in spiritual matters. Often they do not even think of talking to a priest, or are uncomfortable or embarrassed to do so. They may not even be Catholic and are struggling in the spiritual life and have no one to turn to except us.
One aid that has been helpful to the laity is the book The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living, which helps a person understand God’s action in their soul. Once a person can better understand God's movements in his/her own heart, he/she can then help someone else in need. When the spiritual situation requires a more detailed theological response, we should always have recourse to our parish priest and ask for his assistance.
“Counseling the doubtful” is an important work of mercy that is especially revealed in spiritual direction, but should also be taught to the average Catholic who seeks to bring peace of mind to a friend or family member.