One of the great resources of our Catholic tradition, and one that’s in increasing demand today, is the discipline of Spiritual Direction. In order to define what it is, I think it’s important to start with what Spiritual Direction is not. It’s not therapy, nor is it Pastoral Counseling. It’s not sacramental confession and reconciliation, either, although in some cases there is some cross-over between the two.
Spiritual Direction is a process through which one shares one’s spiritual journey with an experienced– and presumably wise– person who has the training and aptitude for careful listening and reflection. It is a conversation in which we endeavor to discern to movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and to discern how to respond with integrity to the Spirit’s prompting. Ongoing spiritual direction is virtually a requirement for those in formation for priesthood and religious life, but it is also helpful for anyone facing an important life transition, or struggling with a question of spiritual discernment.
A spiritual director meets regularly with a directee, perhaps once a month. Like other personal relationships, it’s important to find a director whose approach and style are a good fit with your own.
Perhaps the greatest challenge in the field of spiritual direction today is finding a director. Many priests and religious sisters or brothers can provide spiritual direction, but their numbers are far exceeded by the demands for their services. Fortunately, there are formation programs developing around the country to train lay people in the art and practice of spiritual direction. If you think you might benefit from spiritual direction, a good place to start is your local Catholic parish, who may be able to put you in touch with spiritual directors in your area.
A good spiritual director is like having a trusted friend who can hold up a mirror to your life and help you see yourself– and your relationship with God– more clearly.