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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Is spiritual direction for all? I really don’t feel the need

Dear Dan, I noticed on your poll that there are a few people (apparently out of thousands) who don't think they need a spiritual director. I have wondered if I am also in this category. I feel strong in my faith (I love my faith) and feel like I have clear direction in my life at the moment. I am not struggling with mortal sin or habitual venial sins (that I am aware of). Am I missing something? Shouldn't regular confession and the advice I get in confession be enough for me?

Maybe. It might be that your instincts are right and that at this time your task is to stay on task and keep moving forward. That said, all people of good-will are still subject to the effects of the fall of Adam and suffer from spiritual blind spots. “Blind spots” are so called because we don't see them. These are “spots” on our souls that block our spiritual vision and that hinder us from developing a deeper relationship with God and others.

A business partner once thanked me for pointing out a problem with his services. He said, “I can't know my brake light is out unless someone tells me.” In similar fashion, how can we tell if our spiritual brake lights are all working as they should be? How can we see our blind spots without the help of others?

Now, with respect to your situation in specific, the fact that you go to confession regularly speaks to your active cooperation with the Holy Spirit and your faithful participation in the sacraments. You are on the right track. You are obviously striving for holiness and have a desire for a right relationship with God. Why not take the next step and take your spiritual life to the next level? Why not stretch yourself? Why not open yourself up to even more grace in your life?

For a bit more encouragement, Pope John Paul the Great shared these relevant thoughts (emphasis mine) in Christifidelis Laici (#58),

To be able to discover the actual will of the Lord in our lives always involves the following: a receptive listening to the Word of God and the Church, fervent and constant prayer, recourse to a wise and loving spiritual guide,and a faithful discernment of the gifts and talents given by God…

The saints and wise spiritual masters of the Church constantly reveal that spiritual direction is a gift that the serious spiritual pilgrim can rarely do without. At the risk of being offensive, here are a few thought provoking and hard hitting quotes on the topic:

He who constitutes himself his own director becomes the disciple of a fool. – Saint Bernard –

Our Lord Jesus Christ, without whom we can do nothing, will not give his grace to him who, though he has access to an expert guide, rejects this precious means of sanctification, thinking that he can look on after his own everything that touches on his salvation. He who has a director… will reach his goal more easily and more quickly than if he acted as his own guide, even if he be very intelligent and have the very best of spiritual books.” – Saint Vincent Ferrer – (Treatise on the Spiritual Life, 2,1)

My advice? Go deeper. Find a faithful director and make the appointment. The worst thing that can happen is that in your self-evaluation and openness to God's leading, you might just gain confirmation that you are on the right tack.

For an opportunity to learn more about spiritual direction and the interior life, click here.

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Art for this post on spiritual direction for everyone: Christ and Saint Mina [or Menas], iconographer unknown, 6th-century icon from Bawit, Egypt, PD-US author's life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.  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 Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, 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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  • $1650412

    HA! Well, you have to just love the saints- Saint Bernard 🙂 !- for some of these oh-so-delicate-with-your-ego tidbits of wisdom!

  • Guest

    Amen to that, Joe Flemings!!!! Some time ago, I was advised to get myself a good Spiritual Director, and being the wonderful procrastinator 72 year-old grandmother, I ended by getting a good kick where it matters and got going pronto. The experience and the benefits I have gained from my Spiritual Director, since then, has opened my eyes to see some sides of me I never thought they existed. Dan is right. Anyone who is serious is progressing on the Spiritual Journey, needs a reliable Spiritual Director. Even if he/she will be confirming to you at the end of each Session that you are on the right path. That encouraging endorsement alone, makes all the difference and it elicits a humble Thanksgiving to our Loving, Merciful Saviour the next time He reposes in one’s soul during Holy Communion.

  • Sally

    How does one go abt. finding a spiritual director? I asked a priest who did not have time. Thanks.

  • Dan, the Divine-guided advice of Blessed John Paul II the Great gave us is my Rule of Life :

    “To be able to discover the actual will of the Lord in our lives always involves the following: a receptive listening to the Word of God and the Church, fervent and constant prayer, recourse to a wise and loving spiritual guide, and a faithful discernment of the gifts and talents given by God…”

    I am ever aware that there are Three of us in Me: The Me I believe I am; the Me others know or think I am; and the Me whom God knows. The Third Me is the Real Me whom I need to seek to know (self-knowledge) and understand. It is through this Real Me, whom the Holy Spirit talks to through inspirations during Prayer, after Holy Communion, during Eucharistic Adoration, during the Holy Mass, during other Devotions and in Christ’s Tribunal of Mercy.

    Therefore to me, a Spiritual Director/Confessor is a MUST. Through him, the Holy Spirit will be my Spiritual Director. As a Confessor, Jesus, who sees the Real Me in my heart and soul when I encounter Him in His Tribunal of Mercy, confess my sins to, He it is Who will advise me, console me, encourage or gently and lovingly caution me, show me where I need healing, tell me whether I am following His Will or my “puny ego” is trying to take His Seat in my Heart, and where I need His special Grace for healing. He it is Who will forgive my sins, give me Absolution and bless me biding me to go in peace.

    We are all prone to see the good side of ourselves, rationalize about our negative traits, justify ourselves when our blind spots are pointed out to us…..this is purely normal human reactions. But when it comes to our Spiritual Life we need a good Spiritual Director who will show us where we need to pray for God’s Grace to overcome that which leads us to fall…that which stunts our Spiritual Growth and advise us on what steps to take to help us stay on the right path; be ready to accept his advice and act upon it. He is absolutely essential for anyone who is serious with their Spiritual Growth.

    For the period I had a Spiritual Director, I benefited immensely. Now that I have lost him, I ask you all on this Website to pray for me to find another one soon. Time is not on my side……the “shadows of the oncoming night” are gathering on the Western sky…….I need Jesus to stay with me every moment of my life……like the Disciples of Emmaus, I daily tell Him…”my Jesus, stay with me…..the day is far gone, and nightfall is nigh”

  • Gina

    I am with Sally, I have been looking for a spiritual director literally for years. Keep praying and looking I suppose. The Good Lord will bring me to one when He thinks the time is appropriate. In the meantime…. (sigh)

  • Jeanette

    Those looking for a spiritual director might want to try contacting retired priests in their area. They may find someone happy to help out in this way. They have a lot of expertise and time to spend with their directee.

  • Jennifer Lee

    I did St. Ignatius 36 silent retreat followed by 19th annotation. I realised what Carl Jung said is so correct. A person could only bring you to the level where they are. Now, I have a coach and the priests I respect and that is enough for me. I see people doing just the prayer ONLY. My feeling is that if you have reached that level (like St. Mary Magdalene), then you don’t need to eat or a boat to get you across. In my case, I find outside modalities developed by ‘new age’ or psychologists, etc to be helpful in addition to my 3 hours of prayer time. I choose the people I surround myself with very carefully. I interviewed priests when I decided to come back to Catholic church on top of listening to their homilies. I love reading about Saints and that also becomes my spiritual director as well as paying attention to feedback from other people about what I do and say.

    • $1650412

      Hey Jennifer! What is the St. Ignatius 36 and 19th annotation? Can you give me a link to look it up, so I can better understand what you are saying here? May I also ask, what did Carl Jung say that you are talking about here? (I don’t know much about modern philosophy or psychology.)
      Red flags go off like crazy in my mind (‘Danger Will Robinson, danger!’) when you type that part about outside modalities by “‘new age'” being helpful for your spiritual life- the reason I have that reaction is because so many new age ideas are in flagrant opposition to Church teaching. That is why I am asking if you would be willing to clarify some of this, here.
      It sounds to me like you take your spiritual life very seriously and are conscientious about the influences you allow into your life, and make a great effort at prayer- so I really want to understand what you are saying here.

    • Becky Ward

      Jennifer,
      If we are relying on people alone, then what Carl Jung says is absolutely correct.
      However, in the spiritual life, if we are seeking TRUTH, there is a journey to union with God that the soul takes. This is the narrow path and it is well known and written about by the doctor’s of the chuch.
      In all kindness, it is GOD ALONE who can bring us to the fullness of union with Him…….we need other souls who are familiar with the journey…what that three stages are, how to tell where a soul is on the journey, what the traps and pitfalls are in order to avoid them.
      Jesus left us the Church…and the Holy Spirit still guides us through the Church………there are many ‘other’ spirits that can influence us as well…and it takes much time, discernment, humility, to learn if spirits are of the good or bad kind.

      I would strongly urge you to read this document from the Vatican -http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20030203_new-age_en.html
      We can surround ourselves with people who support our views and tell us what we want to her……but is it the Truth? Jesus wasn’t subtle and He loves us enough to tell us the hard truths about ourselves if we give Him the chance…..because He knows far more than we ever could….what it truly best for our soul.

      We miss out on knowing God Himself when we ‘settle’ for anthing less than that which ‘eye has not seen, ear has not hear.”

  • GHM_52

    The phrase “I am not struggling with mortal sin or habitual venial sins (that I am aware of) is, I think the clue as to why proper spiritual direction is necessary. There is so much we don’t know about ourselves! There is so much we don’t know about God’s sensitivity to imperfection! We are supremely imperfect and therefore, not quite able to assess with perfect exactitude all that we do that offends God. Although spiritual directors are supremely imperfect as well, at least, two, one of which is theologically advanced and outside of the “self” which is seeking direction, can see better than one.

  • Cara

    People who say they don’t need a spiritual director remind me of other people I know who say, “I don’t need to get a yearly physical. I feel fine!”. You don’t wait until you feel sick (spiritually or physically) before you seek help. Spiritual direction is preventive medicine for the soul.

  • Elizabeth Mahlou

    I totally agree. I, too, felt that I was close to God and sort of knew where God was leading me — and I had the great fortune that an elderly priest took me under his wing and acted as a de facto spiritual advisor to me. Then, he was transferred. Although he told me I could always call him, and I sometimes do (and sometimes drive the 90 minutes to see him), I looked for a local spiritual director and found that our diocese actually has spiritual directors and will help parishioners hook up with one that can meet their needs. I am very glad I did this. I look forward to my meetings with my spiritual director; she helps interpret mystic experiences, which I get rather frequently, makes me look beyond the spiritual to the physical (sometimes we forget that they are interwoven), confirms (as you say) whether or not I am on the right path, recommends reading (since I am familiar with the classics, she often points out contemporary works of import that I have missed), and shares in showers of grace that happen nearly every time we meet — a giant embrace by God that transports us beyond the moment and the place. Yes, perhaps one can manage one’s spiritual life alone, but we are given so many examples of being one body in Christ that I don’t believe God means us to walk the path with Him alone (sometimes, of course, we need the intimacy of being one-on-one with God, but other times we need others, among them someone wiser, more experienced, trained in understanding and interpreting the spiritual graces that God wants to give us but we don’t always see Him holding out to us).

    • Good to see you pop up again Elizabeth. It has been a while.

  • Dan, thanks. I work with teens and I have tried to give them something like Spiritual Direction but it seems to be something rather different from what my spiritual direction is like, what it seems like for other adults I know, and how you describe it on this site. Obviously 5 year olds don’t need it, but from about 11 to 18, we have kind of a fuzzy area.
    What would you say about Spiritual Direction with teens?

    • Looking back, when I was a teenager, I needed spiritual direction. But I had no idea that spiritual direction even existed. All I had to rely on was EWTN’s Q&A and annual confession. I was confused, and too scared to tell anyone what I was going through. Like some of the things St. Teresa of Avila describes in the 2nd dwelling.
      It’s only now after my 2nd conversion, that I better understand what I was going through back then. Looking at an old prayer diary, by God’s mercy, I see that the Holy Spirit did guide me. I am awed by this realization. And so grateful to Him for what He has done for me!
      Unfortunately, without human guidance, I eventually lost my prayer life. Had someone told me then what I know now, I’m sure I would’ve persevered.
      By 13 or 14 years old I’m sure adolescents could understand the concepts here if explained in a simple manner. Basic advice like trust, perseverance, the concept of spiritual warfare etc.

    • Becky Ward

      I’m not Dan but as a mother who didn’t know what to teach my own kids…..but has learned…..and who has helped with the confirmation class just this past year – we need to teach them about SIN, especially all the various chasitity issues that constitute grave or serious matter….they need to hear the words “Mortal Sin” and know what falls into this category….it’s much more than murder and adultry! They also need to learn the faith via the Catechism….the YCAT is great!! And that there is freedom in obedience to God’s law….gien to us by and through Holy Mother Church. It would also be good for them to read about some of the saints…just to get started.
      Thank you for asking, and God Bless you!

    • MPSchneiderLC, as Becky says, I am not Dan, but I could try to answer your query.

      You may be aware that the Holy Father has instituted an Apostolate called the Pontifical Missionary for Children. It divides them into year 0 to 10, 11 to 15, 16 to 21. We also have the Young Adults Catholic Association of the over 21s and the young Parents under 40. In our Parishes these two Movements are very strong. The youth, especially in the category of 16 to 21 who had been lured out of the Church into the Evangelicals and Pentecostal Denominations are coming back to the Church in droves. They have weekly comprehensive teaching about the Catholic Faith in their particular Parishes. They study the Scriptures, the Church Tradition and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Experienced Priest Formators have been appointed by the Local Ordinary to teach them. Giving them prominent roles to play in the Church, especially being the Animators during the Holy Mass has seen active participation in the Liturgy and tremendous growth in attendance to the Holy Mass and reception of the Sacraments.

      True, it would be problematic to have the kind of Spiritual Direction which is needed by the adults, but the Formators of the PMC Apostolate and the YACA have gone a long way in teaching our youth about our Catholic Church Doctrine, especially in Faith and Morals. Their weekly Meetings in their Parishes are lively. The Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy and the Vincentian Apostolate organize regular Special Retreats for them four times a Year which are very popular and well attended.

  • Yve

    Why can’t we have our guidance directly from the spiritual realm, that is, from our Guardian Angel, from Mother Mary, the Holy Trinity, and from the Saints, through deep introspection and prayer? I don’t have the confidence to ask anyone to give up their time to be my spiritual director, because everyone seems to be so self-absorbed – so why can’t I go directly to the Source?

    • Well, I think the post covered it pretty well. God has designed us so that we are dependent on one another. When we deny this design we can easily find ourselves self-deceived and spiritually isolated. The enemy is very pleased with the idea that we can somehow progress without the assistance of others.

      • Becky Ward

        Amen!

  • MelissaStacy

    I have a question regarding Spiritual Direction. I see a consecrated sister for spiritual advise. I know that she has taken a vow of poverty, and when we first started meeting (at the advise of my parish priest) we did talk about me making a free will offering for my time with her. Of course, I don’t have to pay if I am truly unable, but I realize that leading retreats and seminars and being spiritual advisors is how the sisters earn money to live. So I make it a priority to give her something every time I see her. I tend to see her once or twice a month. Sometimes I wish it were more, but then it would be difficult for me to pay. So my questions are: how often do people on average see a spiritual advisor – once a week, once a month? What do people generally offer their spiritual advisors in terms of money for their time and gifts? Also, my advisor is extremely busy. Sometimes I find it very helpful to talk to my Parish Priest (who cannot be my regular spiritual advisor). I feel grateful for his time and give him a monetary gift, too. Are you supposed to offer a priest a gift of money for time they spend with you on spiritual advise?

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