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Who should I go to for spiritual direction?

May 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Perspective, Spiritual Direction

Dear Father John, I'm a new Catholic as of April, 2012. I received spiritual direction that was immensely helpful with a priest about four times, before I was received into the church. While in my first confession, that priest told me I needed Metthias Grunewaldongoing spiritual direction for many specific reasons. He said I should contact the pastor because he, as an assistant pastor, could not guarantee meeting with me long term. I did meet with the pastor, who concurred with what the first priest said and also said he was leaving but I should let the next pastor know. I met the first priest a month later and he forgot everything he said before and was telling me that I couldn't count on a parish priest for spiritual direction long term but I should contact a monastery to see if a monk or nun could help me. My RCIA sponsor contacted the Carmelites for me and they said they could not. He keeps saying now that priests aren't available for long term spiritual guidance, but I read online that people have pastors and parish priests as spiritual directors for years. Anyway, I'm feeling very discouraged. He said I need ongoing support because I have a developmental disability that makes it hard for me to sort things out spiritually, and so I am often easy prey to darker influences. Also, I'm a serious and devoted student in contemplative prayer and wish to pursue a contemplative life in a related career (which is not also a religious vocation.) Is what he's saying a personal rejection? Is what he's saying even true? More importantly, my anxiety is building over not knowing who to trust for guidance right now. I do have a therapist who is Catholic and she is helpful with emotional issues I work through but she will not advise on moral/faith issues that come up and she says I need to talk to my priest.

Welcome home!!! As an adult convert to Catholicism myself, I am always deeply edified and encouraged when I hear of others the Lord has led down similar paths. I would encourage you during these first months as a new Catholic to keep meditating in your heart on St. Paul’s beautiful and powerful phrase: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Trust in God!

And that’s where I would like to begin answering your important question. In the midst of this difficulty, which is clearly a painful one, and in the midst of every difficulty that you will face along your journey to the Father’s house, remember that God is right beside you. He protects us from many, many difficulties, and the ones he permits us to face are, from his perspective, opportunities for growth. Be sure of that. Your struggle to find stable and dependable spiritual guidance is, in itself, a magnificent expression of your love for God and your hope in his grace. God will honor that, and he is pleased with that, and he is upholding you even as you continue your search. Even canonized saints (St. Margaret Mary, St. Faustina, St. Elizabeth of Hungary…) faced this difficulty, so you are in good company.

Before I offer my own answer to this important question, I want to request that our readers’ share their wisdom. I know that many of our readers have faced this same problem. Please comment on what has helped and hindered you in seeking to resolve it.

Priests as Spiritual Directors?

I would like to offer three suggestions. But first, a word about parish priests and spiritual direction. No ecclesiastical rule exists on this point. Each parish priest will offer or not offer spiritual direction as he sees fit, in accordance with his possibilities, training, and pastoral priorities. Quite often, parish priests decide not to offer ongoing spiritual direction. And this is very understandable. If a priest’s parish has 2,000 families, and 10 percent of those families asked for regular spiritual direction, the priest would have to spend 100 hours a month in this ministry alone! Parish priests juggle a mind-boggling amount of demands on their time. It helps to keep this in mind. Sometimes we can feel that we are being personally rejected when someone denies our request for spiritual direction, but we shouldn’t. So many other factors can be at work.


My first suggestion is to continue your prayer of petition. Keep asking God each day to grant you the guidance you need, and to give you a spiritual director, if it be his will. And trust that God will continue to guide you as you continue your search. He cares even more than you do about your growth in spiritual maturity, about your true, lasting happiness. If you continue to place your life in his hands, day after day, you will give his grace more and more space to work wonders in your soul.


Secondly, I would encourage you to read this earlier post, which gives a whole list of possible places and organizations where you may be able to find a spiritual director. This post may be useful too. So, as you continue to ask God to do his part, you should keep on doing your part – searching. Jesus affirmed, “Ask, and you shall receive!” But he also exhorted, “Seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). So keep asking, but also keep seeking and knocking. While you look, don’t be afraid to ask a priest for individual appointments when you feel that you really need some spiritual guidance. Even though many priests can’t commit to ongoing spiritual direction, most make themselves available to meet with people who have questions or particular struggles they need to speak about.

Keep Growing

Thirdly, what should you do in the meantime? Continue to grow in your prayer life, continue to frequent the sacraments, continue to seek to know, love, and imitate Christ in your daily life (above all, seeking his will), continue to form virtue and overcome vice, and continue to nourish your mind with good Catholic literature. You are doing all of those things already; keep doing them! Keep seeking to “draw closer to God” and “he will draw closer to you” (James 4:8). And while you do, remember the spiritual principle that frustration and discouragement never come from the Holy Spirit. If you are making a decent effort to do what you can to find solid and stable spiritual guidance and to follow Christ each day, God will guide you. Take confidence in that. Trust in him. This earlier post also has some insights regarding what to do “in the meantime.”

Help in Other Places

As a final thought, it may help you to keep your eyes open also for a spiritual mentor. A mentor is someone you can meet with to talk about your spiritual life, even if this person doesn’t have specific training as a spiritual director. If there is an older woman of faith in your parish, someone you respect, someone you can see that has achieved an attractive degree of spiritual maturity, feel free to invite her out to a cup of coffee, simply saying that you would like to get to know her better and talk to her about the faith. This kind of mentoring isn’t as formal or regular as spiritual direction, but it can do wonders. You may also find support and stimulation to spiritual growth by joining a women’s Bible study or faith-sharing group, or an adult faith-formation program. These kinds of activities allow you to surround yourself with people who share your desire to go deeper spiritually, and the leaders of these groups are often excellent mentors. Such fellowship and friendships can provide key support in dark times. RCIA shouldn’t be the end of your faith-journey, but only the beginning!


Art: Unknown statue, provenance unknown. Feature Image Art: Ein ernstes Gespräch (A Serious Conversation), Ludwig Johann Passini, by 1903, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Deb

    I was confirmed four years ago. I had a very powerful conversion and the first thing I tried to do was find a priest for a spiritual director. No luck. I did discover that not all priests are trained in spiritual direction. Every seminarian needs a director also and they would come first. The ratio of priests to parishioners makes it impossible to get personal direction unless you are discerning a vocation as a priest or religious. I prayed every day for a director. What I realized, after about two years, was that by going to daily Mass, listening to the homilies, frequent confession and the bible and spiritual reading, I was being directed. My pastors homilies many times seem directed solely to me and I listen to every word he says. My pastor has met with me now and then when I have been particularly lost or troubled and those few times have resolved so many things for me.
    A bad director would be worse than none at all. I would recommend a Holy Hour of Adoration weekly and daily Mass. The Lord will guide us, we just need to be with him as much as we can so we can learn to discern his will.  God bless!

  • Kantoi09

    Trust in the Lord. I have been searching for a spiritual director for awhile now. I finally gaveup and decided to wait on the Lord and His perfect timing. For some reason, He may have sent someone now.But I will wait and see how it pans out. God Bless on your journey

  • Versinginhim

    God’s blessings on us all in His mysterious ways of bringing us home to Him. I share your difficulties and concern and Fr John, what beautiful, enlightening guidance in all you advice.
    May I add a little of what I experience.
    1  Fr John is right about priests, God bless them. They have given their whole lives to Christ but they are individuals whose duties are too numerous and enormous to allow them the privilege of one-to-one care. So while we need to pray for more workers in God’s vineyard, I’ve decided it’d be more realistic to compromise. So I’d follow Fr John’s advice to the letter, especially on making specific appointments to discuss specific problems with (even) different priests as and when available. This means I have to tell myself that the buck ends here with me and I have to sort out and prioritize my needs before meeting the priest.
    A mentor is also a good idea, but one has to search carefully for someone who’s compatible, it’s like searching for a (spiritual) life partner.
    the bottom line for me is what Fr John says in his paragraph entitled TRUST IN GOD. In baptism we were given the Holy Spirit who DWELLS IN us. It’s useful to remember what St Teresa says about the difficulties of praying being because we assume that God is ABSENT. I pray for the grace to increase my awareness of His Presence and the teaching of the Counselor, the Holy Spirit. And in matters of difficulties with my spiritual life, I’ve found it useful to ‘reframe’ or ‘look at a problem from the opposite angle’. It’s like saying the glass is half full and not half empty. It’s more useful to see the half that’s in there than to focus on the empty ‘non-water’. In this case, one could look at your problem as an opportunity to become more helpless-and-dependent on God and His immeasurable mercy and His abundant love. this means one has just to throw oneself at His feet and leave Him to decide what He wants to do with us. It is also a way of asking Him to increase our faith.
    Unlike priests who are human, God is everywhere taking care of the WHOLE of creation. Please let me share the following piece (note the last line requires us to open our hearts and souls to what He is doing to us and in us, to ‘stay awake’ and ‘alert’. He will sure keep you as His special, favorite child):
    are You doing this morning,


    What are You doing this morning,

    what are You doing, Lord?

    All day, all night,

    taking care of a gazillion things,

    in all their gazillion places,

    sustaining, renewing all creation

    from angels to space dust

    and everything in between.


    And yet, and yet,

    even now You’re stopping by,

    to give me all Your attention,

    to give all Your infinite love –

    to me alone.


    (And what are You doing this morning,

    are You doing to me now?)

    His blessing on us all

  • Peggy

    Try joining a small faith sharing group. I belong to one and it is great. We share problems in our lives and use scripture and a lectionary commmentary which I fined very helpful. Our group consist of 6-7 ladies, meeting on Tuesday’s every week. We read the up coming gospel for Sunday and reflect on it. Look to your parish community if not there try the next closest parish. Best of luck….seek and you shall find.

  • LizEst

    In some dioceses, only priests may be spiritual directors–Lincoln, Nebraska comes to mind. Here they allow some extensively-trained lay people to serve as spiritual companions. These are regulated by the diocese and provide very comparable direction to what a priest would give. They are just not called such.

  • Marie

    I have been trying to follow the links for “possible places and organizations where you might be able to find a spiritual director” and the post after that, but the links are broken and go nowhere. I’d really like to look at those pages if someone could provide a link. Thanks.

  • Dear friends – sorry about all the broken links on this post – they are repaired. No clue why it happened.

  • Panicked Petitioner

    Hi. I just wanted to say thanks to Father John and everyone here. I struggle with anxiety quite a lot about this issue, but I’m using this time to work on trusting God and myself. For the moment, that’s going well. Since spiritual direction is a neccesity and not a “would be nice if I can get it,” the fear is harder. This challenge is to help me grow in faith. I’m going to become a secular carmelite, so I am hoping their spiritual director (who can not usually and reliably see them all monthly) might have an idea. God won’t abandon me. I abandon myself to God. Thanks for all the caring and reassuring things you wrote (oh and please, I do need the links that are broken).

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