What spiritual direction is and is not
“What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?”
(Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola 53)
Fathers William Barry and William Connolly, in their book The Practice of Spiritual Direction, define spiritual direction as:
Help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of that relationship.
Echoing this thought, it is good to keep in mind that the real director in the spiritual direction relationship is the Holy Spirit. Given this, the primary relationship is between the Holy Spirit and the directee, the secondary relationship between the director and directee.
To further understand the ministry, below are some general thoughts as to what spiritual direction is (or can be) and what it is not.
Spiritual direction is (can be):
An experience that over time, helps you become more attentive to God’s presence and action in your life
Facilitates the growth of your relationship with God and can lead to a greater appreciation for the role of the sacraments in your life.
A contemplative approach rather than a psychological approach
Facilitates the formation of your growth (and/or development) in both the human and divine likeness of Christ
A process of seeking to understand and follow God’s will in all aspects of your life
Most particularly relating to your life of prayer and service, but not exclusively
Something that flows from and enriches your religious experience
A discernment of the movement of the Holy Spirit working in your life
A relationship of trust that involves a commitment to be open and candid.
Spiritual direction is not:
Directive in terms of telling a person what to do
Psychological counseling (as noted above)
Pastoral or crisis counseling
The sacrament of penance. However, if your spiritual director is a priest, you may discuss with him how the sacrament of reconciliation may fit into the direction setting.
Primarily advisory (although some suggestions might be offered)
Primarily informative (although there can be “teachable moments”)
Relinquishing of personal responsibility
What is expected of me if I am in spiritual direction?
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.
In striving to live your Christian faith more fully through the ministry of spiritual direction, the primary responsibility is on you, not the director, as you work to become more aware of God’s presence and action in your life. Spiritual direction is a practice wherein the repetition or frequency and the seriousness of intent are what help the practice bear fruit. A normal rhythm for spiritual direction is an hourly meeting once a month. It is up to you to schedule and plan for the sessions. It should also be noted that spiritual direction is not a replacement for other essential spiritual practices, namely participation in the sacraments and parish life. The dialogue with your spiritual director arises from your prayer, awareness of God in your life and other life experiences.
As you begin spiritual direction, here are some questions a spiritual director is likely to ask you:
Have you had spiritual direction in the past? If yes, what would you say was the benefit of spiritual direction for you?
Why are you interested in spiritual direction at this time?
Tell me a little of your spiritual autobiography. How has your spirituality changed from childhood to now?
Can you describe a particular experience of God’s love and presence in your life?
What is your current level of involvement in your parish? In the sacraments?
How would you describe your prayer life? Are there particular prayer practices that you are attracted to right now? Are there some prayer practices that are difficult for you right now?
Are you spending time with scripture? Are you doing any spiritual reading?
Have you ever attended a retreat(s) and can you describe the experience?
How do you see God working in the relationships in your life?
Are you engaged in any service or social justice activities? Are there any that particularly interest you?
Is there an invitation from God in your life right now? How are you responding?
What is expected of the spiritual director?
“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else”
Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4:20-21
While the primary responsibility of the direction experience is on the directee, there are certain expectations and ethical behaviors that are appropriate to expect of a spiritual director, which include, but may not be limited to:
Is engaged in the sacramental life of the Church
Participates in his/her own spiritual direction
Has appropriate theological and spiritual training
Is engaged in ongoing formation for spiritual directors
Is part of an ongoing supervision group which meets regularly
Is balanced and mature; has a sense of joy
Has sufficient life experience and the capacity to reflect on their life experience
Is aware of one’s own vulnerability, strengths and weaknesses
Is able to respect other struggles with Catholic teachings and practices, yet is comfortable and knowledgeable in offering the truths of the Catholic faith with freedom and clarity
Respects the dignity of all persons
Communicates to directees the expectations of the directee/director relationship, including evaluation practices and the process for terminating the relationship
Asks directees who are in counseling to inform their therapist that they are receiving spiritual direction
Respects the directee’s privacy and maintains confidentiality as required by law and ethical codes
Is competent and professional about meeting times and meeting space
Why do we need to know what Spiritual Direction is? What exactly is spiritual direction? First, a bit of history is important. Often called spiritual companionship or spiritual friendship, it dates back almost two millennia and since then has held a special place in the Church’s prayer traditions. During the early years of Christianity, many people sought out guidance from those we now call the Desert Mothers and Fathers. That guidance continued through the lives of great saints who were known for their spiritual wisdom. One shining light in this area was St. Ignatius of Loyola who wrote “The Spiritual Exercises,” which includes Rules for Discernment that have helped to shape the spirituality of untold numbers of people. Today, there is a resurgence of interest from both those seeking spiritual direction and those seeking to become directors. Why?
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced the coronavirus (or Covid-19) a pandemic. A pandemic is an outbreak of a disease that spreads across a vast region such as continents or worldwide. On March 13, 2020, the United States President Donald Trump announced the coronavirus pandemic to be a national emergency. Within hours entire state school systems closed, employees mandated to work from home, businesses closed, and grocery stores emptied.
As plans increased to combat the spread of this disease, anxieties increased as well. I became laser-focused to pray against this disease and the many people it’s affecting all around the globe.
Everyday challenges can be a test of our faith, no less a global pandemic. Not only are people worried about their health; as schools and jobs close, people are also concerned about childcare, elderly families in nursing homes, and bills. This pandemic is not only a threat to our health but our trust in God.
To help strengthen your faith in such an uncertain time, I’m sharing some encouraging reminders on how to keep your trust in God during a global pandemic. We should trust in the Lord and not fall into our fears.