By Gladyce Janky
Spiritual direction within Catholicism is a conversation between God and the person being directed, referred to here as the directee, with assistance from a director. The director acts as God’s vessel, inviting “deeper reflection and greater responsiveness to God’s presence in our lives, (Women at the Well, Kathleen Fischer, Paulist Press, 1988). Christian spiritual direction began with Jesus’ ministry to his disciples, the Rich Young Man, and the Woman at the Well, to name a few New Testament examples. In the third century, the faithful, longing for spiritual advice, visited the hermitages of the desert fathers and mothers. The monastic orders of the Medieval period saw the rise of many spiritual teachers and mystics whose voices we continue to rely on for guidance. For example,
Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine nun (1098 – September 17, 1179), said Our souls should be like a transparent crystal through which God can be perceived.
Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order (1182 – October 3, 1226), is the author of the Peace Prayer – Lord, Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace.
Teresa of Avila, founder of the Discalced Carmelite Order (March 28, 1515 – October 4, 1582), advised, You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.
Because of renewed interest in spiritual direction, certification programs are available for religious men and women and practicing Catholic lay women and men. Many directors have experience or special training to accompany individuals in Twelve-Step programs or those dealing with emotional and spiritual hardships from significant loss or life transitions.
Sometimes called spiritual companions, directors create a safe, non-judgmental space to hear the directees’ sacred stories. They ask thought-provoking questions inviting deeper reflection on our lives through the lens of faith. And directors listen for what is not said but still needs placing in the loving arms of our Lord Jesus Christ. An example is a question posed by author and spiritual director William A Berry, SJ: Do you believe God wants your friendship?
Both teenagers and adults are welcome to work with a director. Typically, the first session focuses on building rapport so both participants can decide whether to meet again. The director often asks questions such as, What do you want or feel you need from spiritual direction? Or What do you need to feel comfortable sharing your stories with me? The directee might ask about the director’s training, philosophy of spiritual accompaniment, or what format is available for meetings – many directors offer opportunities to meet in person, by telephone, FaceTime, Zoom, or other media. Directors often end sessions with the question, Do you want to meet again, thus giving the directee the freedom to choose what they most desire for their spiritual growth.
Unlike counseling or therapy, which focuses on problem-solving with the primary relationship between the patient and counselor, spiritual direction is not about fixing. And the focus is on the relationship between the directee and God. The director provides “hospitality” and space for Holy Listening. As explained by Margaret Guenther, Hospitality is an occasion for storytelling with both laughter and tears, and then the guest moves on, perhaps with some extra provisions or a roadmap for the next stage of the journey (Holy Listening, The Art of Spiritual Direction, Margaret Guenther, Crowley Publications, 1992).
Professional standards of conduct require directors to meet regularly with their director, supervisor, or peer supervision group and to keep all conversations with directees confidential. They attend workshops, retreats, or continuing education to nourish and grow their faith and competency in their ministry.
Finally, spiritual directors are wise men and women, pilgrims on the journey, seeking to accompany fellow travelers toward a richer experience of the God who loves us unconditionally.