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God speaks pinkerwjhharvardeduMany people today are looking for focus in their spiritual lives.  This comes when a person attends church, prays, reads the Bible yet wants an added extra something to help them grow personally.

In such cases, a spiritual director (SD — my abbreviation, not theirs, by the way) can help.  St Josemaria Escriva described an SD as ‘a director for your soul’.  Writing for CatholiCity, Fr John McCloskey explains:

You may have several or even many during the course of your life. He will provide you the answer to your many questions as our circumstances change and as we grow ‘in wisdom and grace’.

… One would search with great difficulty throughout history to find canonized saints who did not receive regular spiritual direction. After all, even our Blessed Mother, the Immaculate Conception herself, found her vocation through the words of the Archangel Gabriel. And even she asked how this might come about.

Finding a Spiritual Director

Father McCloskey advises asking your more spiritually-developed friends if they have an SD.  If they do, ask them for a referral.  Philip St Romain, in his Handbook for Spiritual Growth, advises asking your parish priest for recommendations or phoning a nearby retreat house for spiritual direction. You can also become a lay associate of a religious order, since the religious community will offer spiritual formation as part of their programme for you and other laypeople.  (Specifics will be in the next post.)

It is important to note the following about SDs:

– They may be laypeople, religious or ordained.  When he was still a layman, Pope John Paul II’s first SD was a tailor.

– Look for faithfulness to your church’s teachings, along with exceptional piety, wisdom, prayerfulness and maturity. 

– They do not necessarily need to be certified SDs, although it may help if they are, because they will understand Christian mysticism and psychological development. 

– They may be trained in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.

– They are more than just a ‘big buddy’ on your spiritual journey. 

– They are normally in spiritual direction themselves and have also worked through challenges in their own lives.

– They are not psychotherapists, and they may or may not be trained counsellors. They are also not confessors.  Nor are they your parents!

– They are not gurus but enlightened pilgrims on the same journey as you.

Evaluating a Spiritual Director

Choose more than one initially and perform ‘due diligence’ on them.  Ask them about the points mentioned above.  See how they mesh with your personality and your needs.  Your best friend’s SD might not necessarily be right for you!  

On your first meeting, say that you would like an initial consultation.  Explain why you are looking for an SD.  Ask them how they can help.  Ask them about their qualifications, experience and so forth — the points in the aforementioned section.  Ask them what sort of programme they might propose for you.  It may be more structured or more fluid, depending on their style. Don’t decide immediately at the end of the conversation whether they are right for you.  Thank them and tell them you’ll be in touch once you have decided. Once your consultation is over, think about how that relationship would potentially work for you. Be sure to follow up with those who have met with you for a consultation. 

Ask how much the sessions cost. Sometimes they are free of charge. Generally, however, you will need to make some payment or, in the case of religious or ordained SDs, a donation to their church or religious order. The sessions are usually reasonably priced, perhaps $40 a time.  If you really would like SD but cannot afford the outlay, ask them if you can make another arrangement — perhaps pay less or barter (e.g. donation of skills in repairs or gardening).  You never know!

What happens in Spiritual Direction?

Generally, you and your SD meet once a fortnight but at least once a month.  You also are likely to:

– Get to know one another in the first few sessions.

– Reveal aspects of your life and thoughts from the start, maintaining honesty in all your sessions.

– Avoid game-playing with the SD.

– Set ground rules and expectations from the start — these are likely to come from each of you.

– Delve into your personality type more than you have before — at least in a different way.

– Receive spiritual exercises to practice or assignments to complete between sessions — prayer, Bible readings, keeping a journal.

– Discuss your marriage, relationships, family and work.

– Discuss spiritual failings that might be preventing you from moving closer to God.

This may sound daunting — and at times it can be — but if you are serious about your relationship with God and wish to move forward with spiritual direction, be prepared to transform your life. 

For more information, please read the articles cited at the top of the post.

Tomorrow: SDs near you

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