A spiritual director listens, questions and leads you to a deeper understanding of your relationship with God.
Originally, spiritual direction arose among the desert anchorites, the hermit monks who followed the call of Christ to purgation and perfection into a hostile and demanding environment. Living in isolated cells, the desert monks would travel to receive formation and instruction from spiritual Fathers and Mothers, the elder monastics who have been tested and perfected through the monastic life. Some of the instruction received in this early spiritual direction has been collected as “sayings” or “wisdom” of the Desert Fathers, and remains valuable advice today.
As these people began to gather in communities, the tradition of spiritual direction continued within the monastery, with elder monks directing the formation of novices and juniors, as well as the continued discernment and spiritual practice of professed monks. The monastic tradition recognized the continuous need for direction and consultation to advance through the trials of the spiritual life. Though religious men and women often served the lay community as spiritual guides, it was not until the 20th century that the monastic style of spiritual direction was practiced widely outside of the monastery. Until this time, and even now, the most common form of spiritual direction for Catholics is during the sacrament of Reconciliation. Before absolution, the priest will listen and offer advice to advance beyond habitual sins and challenges. Spiritual direction is similar to this, but will often last much longer than Reconciliation, often 45 minutes to an hour, and will explore subjects and issues not commonly addressed in the sacrament.
Every spiritual director ministers according to the need of the individual, there are however, common approaches to direction one could expect.
Spiritual direction is prayer and attentiveness to the activity of God. Before a meeting with a spiritual director, you should prepare with prayer and self-reflection. When you meet with your director, you will also start with prayer and continue praying through conversation and reflection.
Honest conversation is the key to spiritual direction. After entering into prayer, we ask God for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, remembering Christ’s assurance “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) We speak honestly of our experiences, challenges, triumphs, sorrows, joys, and ambitions. If we hide our need and experiences from our spiritual director, we risk interrupting this relationship and standing in the way of our own spiritual advancement.
A spiritual director will do more listening than speaking. Your opportunity to “talk through” your spiritual life, responding to the director’s questions, and clarifying your thoughts and intentions within the conversation, allows you take to responsibility and a leading role in your response to God. The spiritual director does not “do the work” in your relationship with God. Directors are guides called to aid in your response to God’s call. They will give instruction, words of advice, admonishment when necessary (but never judgmental), and ensure you recognize and joyfully respond to progress.
Importantly, you do not have to obey your director without question. Even if you owe obedience to your director, obedience is oriented to honest listening and response, it is freeing rather than oppressive and restricting. With this in mind, it is acceptable to leave a spiritual director if the relationship is not profitable. Usually, the decision to choose another spiritual director will occur after the first several meetings, though it is always acceptable to discern the end of the relationship. However, because a director may be challenging does not mean you should choose a new director. The questions to consider center around your spiritual growth (are your progressing?) and personal comfort (is the relationship professional and open?).
Not everyone is called to be a spiritual director. Spiritual direction is a ministry gifted to the director, by the Holy Spirit. Be selective with your choice of spiritual direction, talk with potential directors beforehand, and see if there is something inspiring and motivating in that conversation. Seek out trained or experienced directors. Many spiritual directors today will have studied theology, spirituality, and spiritual direction. Additionally, senior members of the Church community, though they may not be strictly trained in spiritual direction and theology, will often have a talent for spiritual direction developed through years of devotion and prayer. Additionally, some directors may require a small fee for their work.
After beginning spiritual direction, one of the most important points to remember is that the conversation taking place is about you. If the conversation tends to focus on the spiritual director, you may need to look for a new director. Additionally, after developing a relationship with your spiritual director, remember that the director is not like a usual friend. For example, it would be atypical to go out for drinks, to the movies, or other recreational activities with your director. There must be a certain degree of objectivity between you and your director, in order to prevent the friendship form interfering with honest discernment.
If you are interested in spiritual direction, please contact our Vocation Director through the form below.