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Finding a spiritual director – watch out for confused sheep…

Foundational to any sound spiritual direction is the idea that there actually is a tangible direction to discover.  That is, the practice presumes that spiritual truth is an alfred_soord_the_lost_sheep_525 for post on finding a spiritual directorexpression of objective reality – just as objective and real as a map of your own hometown.  For instance, if you asked someone to give you directions to the Cathedral and you ended up at the town dump, you would clearly know that something was amiss.  The Cathedral and the dump can't be the same thing at the same time.  Those of you who have a rational basis for your thinking are shaking your head right now saying,  “Of course – who in their right mind would disagree with this?”

Unfortunately, there are many in the Church in positions of authority, in religious orders, who would disagree with this kind of thinking.  No, they wouldn't disagree with the way that I just stated it, but they do see the world in terms that will, spiritually speaking, confuse things as diverse as a Cathedral and a place of rotting spiritual refuse.

A great example of this sad confusion surfaced in a conversation I had today with someone who was taking classes with a religious order to become a “spiritual director.” In one of her recent classes the nuns brought in a Buddhist, a Natural Spiritist, and a number of other non-Christian representatives to share their spiritual insights.  The goal was to understand that, as she said, “we are all Children of God” and that “we can learn a great deal from the spiritual lives of those who come out of these other religions.”

I was a bit dumbfounded even though I am accustomed to this particular convent spreading dissent and confusion.  What struck me was how readily this “spiritual direction” trainee had accepted what they presented to her. A number of scripture verses began to swirl in the back of my head as I cordially smiled and listened… “I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). “All who came before me are thieves and bandits but the sheep did not listen to them” (John 10:8). By the way, Jesus is talking here about one of the groups that presented their “spirituality” via the nuns.  Another verse came to mind, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, they follow me” (John 10:27). I wondered if she had ever read or pondered any of these passages.  With deep incredulity, I wondered why someone would look outside of the endless depth and riches of their own faith, the One true Faith, the pinnacle of all that is good and true, into the spiritual wastelands of those who reject Christ both directly and indirectly.  Even looking at the good of what is available in some of these religions, it is something like being diverted away from the most lavish banquet ever served in the history of time to a garbage can in the back of a greasy dive.  Yes, something in there will be semi-edible, but why would anyone who had a seat reserved for them at this great feast ever choose to eat this way?

This scenario points out the tip of the iceberg regarding a few serious issues facing those seeking sound spiritual direction.  Here are a few ways to avoid taking direction from a lost sheep who claims to be a spiritual director:

1) Don't settle for the garbage bin when you have a seat reserved for you at the feast of the King of Kings!  The great spiritual Doctors of the Catholic Church provide unfathomable wisdom and depth that cannot be plumbed in any one lifetime by any one person.  If you are seeking spiritual direction, ask your would-be director where they get their inspiration and training.  If it is outside of the person of Christ and the tradition of His Church and the Doctors of the Church, you are about to be led into a spiritual garbage dump.

2) Don't settle for the first answer to your question and don't be ashamed to dig a little.  After all, you are seeking truth and guidance into a deeper relationship with Christ. There is no greater aspiration in this life, nothing more worthy of careful consideration. A great second question to determine if a director can lead you to the true banquet of Christ is to ask them their position on Pope Paul VI's encyclical,  Humanae Vitae.  If you get anything but unequivocal and strong support for this controversial but clear teaching of the church  – you are headed for a spiritual garbage can.

3) Finally, don't settle for PseudoSpirituality in the form of New Age Catholicism.  Ask them about “centering prayer.” If they enthusiastically smile and point to a method whereby you can quickly achieve contemplative union (a sacred word, a specific posture and breathing technique, etc.), you are headed for a very confusing journey into a rotting carcass of spiritual darkness.

Unfortunately, finding a sound spiritual director instead of a confused sheep can be difficult.  Don't give up, don't stop praying, and don't settle for anything but a place at the table where you belong, with the King of Kings.

Seek Him – Find Him – Follow Him



Art for this post on finding a spiritual director: The Lost Sheep, Alfred Soord, date unknown, file copy.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Sharon

    I am working my way through your excellent article on Centring Prayer. It is the clearest explanation I have read. Some time ago some people came to a discussion board at which I post and invited us to sign up for Christian Meditation For Children. Following the practice of keeping my friends close but my enemies closer I signed up. What they are doing, disguised as Christian meditation, is concerning. They have already infiltrated some of our Catholic schools in Australia. Here are two websites:
    A couple of websites I am concerned about are aimed at children. What do you think and what can I do about it?

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Sharon in Christ,

      For what it is worth, I reviewed some of the material and I think you have real reason for concern. If I were in your position I would look up Sharon Lee Giganti’s web site and contact her. She would likely have some good ideas.

      Pax Christi

  • Susan

    The link to “centering prayer” above is missing/broken.

    • Fixed! Thank you and my apologies.

  • Epenar

    If any Priest deviates from the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” revised in accordance with the official Latin text promulgated by Pope John Paul II, first printed in US in March 2000 –
    then beware.
    Read this Catechism from Cover to Cover to avoid all confusion.
    Great for anyone over age 16.

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