I don’t do well driving in strange
cities. Not long ago my family and I spent several hours driving around the Washington, DC and Silver Springs,
MD area trying to find the home of my wife’s cousin. We would get thoroughly lost
and then stop at a gas station and ask for directions. The directions were helpful but didn’t relieve me of trying to
apply them as we searched for certain streets and tried to make the appropriate turns. We got lost several times more and
each time stopped again to ask for directions. Eventually, we made it to our goal.
Spiritual direction is something like the
process described above. It is a resource to help us on our spiritual journey. It is a long term spiritual relationship that
is meant to provide companionship, accountability and guidance on one’s life journey to the Kingdom. Its focus is on
the on-going conversion of the directees. It helps the directee to discern the signs of his or her vocation, to place him
or herself in an attitude of ongoing conversion, to bring to maturity in the person traits proper to Christian spirituality
and to nurture a balanced synthesis of state in life, profession and Christian faith.
The spiritual director is not meant to
be primarily a teacher or therapist. Yet, at times the director may teach certain skills to the directee. The director may
ask the directee questions similar to those asked by a therapist. However, the goal is different than the goal of a teacher
or therapist. The goal of the spiritual director is to encourage spiritual growth and transformation. To do this it may be
necessary to teach the directee skills of reflection or contemplative prayer. It may be necessary to have the directee read
spiritual classics and to discuss the implications of those classics for the directee. It may be necessary to ask probing
questions to help the directee effectively reflect upon his or her life experience and its impact on the spiritual journey
being made. Further, while the therapist may see pain as something to relieve a person of as soon as possible, the spiritual
director may see the pain as a means to greater spiritual growth by working through it rather than masking it with medication.
Not long ago I surveyed
a fair number of Catholic deacons about their experience of spiritual direction, among other topics. Most of the deacons found
that spiritual direction was a good reality check for them. They could discuss what was going on in their life with their
spiritual director, especially their relationship with the Lord, and get good feedback. They also felt that spiritual direction
was a good source of encouragement as they faced the challenges of their ministry. Others reported that spiritual direction
helped them to understand themselves and their relationships with God and others much better.
For anyone serious about spiritual growth
a spiritual director is important. Much of the spiritual journey is counter cultural; relying just upon books and the
assumptions common to our society is not always wise or effective. Further, we are often in denial and blind to our own needs
and faults. The objective perspective of a spiritual director often provides insight that we would never have come to without
the prodding and questioning of a spiritual director.
The specific approach to spiritual direction
usually reflects the personality of the director and directee, the training of the director and the needs of the directee.
Always the ultimate focus is the directee’s relationship with God and its development. Some directors focus on the prayer
life of the directee as the key factor to understand and dwell upon. Others take a more holistic view encompassing the range
of characteristics of the spiritual life. Both approaches are valid and have a long history.
So, how does one go about finding a spiritual
director? Spiritual direction is a gift given to some people and not to others. A
spiritual director can be anyone; a lay person, religious, or cleric. Ideally, the person exhibits this gift in his or her
interaction with others and people are drawn to the person. Almost all clergy and religious have some formation in Christian
spirituality. The amount and quality of formation depends on their interests, related ministry, and additional formal training.
All clergy and religious should be capable of problem focused pastoral counseling; as clergy and religious are often approached
with problems to be listened to and assisted with. Individuals may or may not be comfortable with or skilled enough for spiritual
direction even though hold an office in the Church.
So, start with your parish. If you are
seeking a spiritual director, check with your pastor. If he is uncomfortable in being your spiritual director, look for other
clergy or religious associated with the parish with whom you would be comfortable and who would be willing to mentor you.
Retreat houses often have staff who are willing to serve as spiritual directors or know people in the diocese who serve in
this ministry. Also some retreat houses and Houses of Prayer offer group spiritual direction, which draws upon peer group
interaction as a form of spiritual dirction.
Third Order groups, Lay Contemplative Associates,
and other pious associations relating to prayer and Christian spirituality often provide some form of individual or group
spiritual direction to their members. These groups are frequently affiliated with major religious orders (Benedictine, Franciscan
or Jesuit) and influences by these religious traditions. Even individuals with a natural talent and trained in spiritual direction
are available in many dioceses. If you are not sure how to contact a spiritual director in your diocese, ask your pastor.
The chancery office probably has a list as well.
What are the qualifications for a spiritual
director? First of all, the person must have the spiritual gift of spiritual direction. He or she should have also had enough
life experience and be sufficiently mature to take on this ministry. After all, you can not give what you do not have. Formal
training in spiritual direction and theology is extremely helpful. A number of institutes offer such training and certification.
Training can also be obtained through related degree work and practical ministry in the field. In choosing a spiritual director
it is best to look for one who has formal training—either in a degree program or in a certification program. One hopes
that he or she also has the gift for this ministry.
Normally, you will approach a person you
wish to have as a spiritual director and ask if he or she is willing or able to serve in this role. If there is a positive
response, an initial meeting is usually scheduled to get a sense of what the directee wants out of the relationship and what
the director is willing and able to provide. It is also an opportunity to see how they interact and if both would be comfortable
with the relationship. If they are agreeable then a time will be set for beginning regular meetings for spiritual direction.
This initial interaction involves no commitments on the part of anyone.
Is there cost involved? This really depends
on the spiritual director. He or she will let the potential directee know about any cost during the first meeting. Some spiritual
directors are clergy or religious and derive the greater part of their financial support from another ministry. They do not
expect any income from spiritual direction. Others depend on a variety of income sources, including the time they devote to
spiritual direction. Even in these cases the cost is not outrageous. Just be sure to discuss this aspect of the relationship
during the first meeting
Allen, Joseph. Inner Way: Eastern Christian Spiritual Direction. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.
Barry, William, and William Connolly. The Practice of Spiritual Direction.
New York: The Seabury Press,
Dougherty, Rose Mary. Group Spiritual Direction: Community for Discernment. New York:
Paulist Press, 1995.
Edwards, Tilden. Spiritual Friend: Reclaiming the Gift of Spiritual Direction. New York:
Paulist Press, 1980.
May, Gerald G. Care of Mind Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction. San Francisco: