“The Holy Spirit gives to certain of the faithful the gifts of wisdom, faith and discernment for the sake of this common good which is prayer (spiritual direction). Men and women so endowed are true servants of the living tradition of prayer. According to St. John of the Cross, the person wishing to advance toward perfection should ‘take care into whose hands he entrusts himself, for as the master is, so will the disciple be, and as the father is so will be the son.’ And further: ‘In addition to being learned and discreet, a director should be experienced. . . . If the spiritual director has no experience of the spiritual life, he will be incapable of leading into it the souls whom God is calling to it, and he will not even understand them.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2690)
As I have studied the lives of the holy men and women who make up the communion of saints — officially canonized or otherwise — I have noticed three things they share in common. One, they have a deep and abiding relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ. Two, not only have they each submitted their will and their life to the Lordship of Jesus, they have fully embraced the gift of their baptism as active members of the Catholic Church, His Mystical Body on Earth. Three, in order to maintain and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church each of them has sought out spiritual direction.
So, what is spiritual direction? What is a spiritual director?
What is Spiritual Direction?
Spiritual direction is a discipline through which a person explores and deepens his relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the context of confidential ongoing conversation with another disciple of Jesus who, because of his/her personal experience and intellectual knowledge of God and the spiritual life, accompanies others on their way home to God.
Spiritual direction helps us become aware of the ways in which we cooperate with, ignore, or in some cases actively hinder the Holy Spirit’s work within us.
Grounded in the truths of the faith once delivered to the saints (cf. Jude 1:3), loyal to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, and drawing upon the spiritual wisdom of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, spiritual direction is a ministry in service to the whole Church. Through it we grow in our prayer life, and learn to live more fully into and out of our call to holiness in whatever state of life God calls us.
What is a Spiritual Director?
A spiritual director is a person whom we have chosen after prayerful consideration to accompany us, to hold us accountable, to encourage us, to challenge us and, when necessary, engage us in fraternal correction along our way of discipleship.
Our spiritual director helps us to notice God’s presence and activity in our life. He or she can encourage us to explore our personal reactions and responses to the Holy Trinity’s presence and activity within and around us.
A spiritual director will usually have some training in the ministry of direction. Sometimes, however, a director is simply a woman or man who has a reputation in the community of faith for being able to offer spiritual insight and counsel when asked to do so.
What to Expect in Spiritual Direction?
A spiritual direction meeting is a one-on-one meeting (though sometimes direction takes place in a group setting) during which the director and the directee discuss the spiritual life of the directee. Where have you noticed God in your life since last we met? When have you experienced God as absent from your life since we last met? In what ways has God comforted you in your afflictions or afflicted you in your comfort since we last met? These are typical questions that might be asked and discussed in a spiritual direction session.
The frequency of spiritual direction is usually once a month for an hour. Sometimes it is necessary for various reasons to “meet” over the phone. Even video conferencing is becoming more common in this technological age.
The fee for spiritual direction depends upon the director. Some spiritual directors ask a set fee for their services. Some spiritual directors accept a “free will offering” of any amount; some spiritual directors do not expect and will not accept compensation. It is appropriate to discuss this matter with any prospective spiritual director to be sure that you are in agreement regarding a fee.
I would simply remind my reader at this point that if your spiritual director is a person in consecrated life, he or she has taken a vow of evangelical poverty. Monetary gifts or gifts in kind are usually very helpful.
Lest someone be concerned about confidentiality, be assured that meetings with a spiritual director are normally held in the strictest of confidence. (This rule would likely be abrogated should a directee suggest some form of harm to self or others during a session.)
In closing, I would like to encourage my reader to consider finding a spiritual director. Avail yourself of this time-tested discipline for growth in Christ. I will also reiterate what I stated at the beginning of this brief article: all the saints of whom I am aware had at least three things in common. They were all deeply committed to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior; they were faithful to His Body the Church, and each had a spiritual director.
As Patrick Coffin used to say at the close of nearly every edition of the Catholic Answers Live radio program: “Be a Saint. What else is there?”