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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Should I pay my spiritual director? (Updated)

June 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Perspective, Spiritual Direction

I have found a spiritual director who is a Priest. I am so thankful for his direction and his time. However, I don't know how to repay him for the time he freely gives me each month. It is awkward to offer him cash, so I haven't. I don't want to insult him but I don't want to leave him feeling unappreciated either. I offer my prayers each day but I need to do more. Do Priests that are spiritual directors usually get paid by each person or is this part of their ministry that they are paid for by their diocese? It would be very uncomfortable but do I need to have this conversation with him? Would a monetary gift every few months or yearly be acceptable? What's the norm or is there one?

This is great news! As well, your instinct is clearly reflective of God’s work in you. The normal response to the grace of God is the gratitude. Further good news is that at least part of the answer to your question is laid out very clearly for us in scripture.

St. Paul in chapter five of his first letter to Timothy indicates that those who lead well, with respect to the souls in their care, are worthy of “double honor.”  This “honor” Paul speaks of is no less than material honor.  Yes, our priests and religious are often called to vows of poverty (diocesan priests are not required to take this vow).  However, this does not mean that they always have all that they need to live and carry out their work.  Lay people as well, who give of their time, often do so at the expense of career growth or other pursuits they might enjoy rather than spending their time serving us.  Regardless of where the money goes, our generosity is a reflection of the health of our souls and, for the health of our souls we should be particularly generous with anyone willing to invest their time in our spiritual well-being. With this foundation in place let’s break your question down into bite size pieces:

Should I pray for my spiritual director? Absolutely. In fact, since you have placed your soul in his care, it would be wise to make a significant commitment of prayer for him (or her as the case may be)! A decade of the rosary for his intentions might be a great place to start.

It seems awkward to give him cash, how should I handle this? Write a check or put the cash in a sealed envelope. As you conclude your meeting and you are about to exit, simply hand him the envelope and say, “this is for you.” If the priest is a religious and you are worried about temptation regarding money and their vow of poverty, simply write the check out his congregation and deliver it to him in the same manner as described above.

Are priests paid by their diocese to give spiritual direction? I am not aware of any priest, religious, or layperson that gets paid by their diocese to provide spiritual direction. Now, diocesan priests do get paid by their diocese or parish to administer the sacraments and perform the duties of a pastor which certainly includes spiritual direction. However, in my opinion this is as much an issue of the soul of the directee as it is the need of director. You would be hard pressed to find a priest or religious who is becoming wealthy from the work they do.

How much and how often should I give to my spiritual director? This depends on your means and the value of the service to you. Generosity can be reflected in giving very little if you have very little and giving a good deal if you have a great deal. I know of one instance where a woman received spiritual direction from a religious and decided to give a very large donation to her order. In the ordinary day to day world of spiritual direction something in the realm of $25 to $75 per meeting is normal. If your means would have you on the lower end of the scale and you feel bad about it, simply write a note of appreciation and indicate that you are giving what you can and that you have committed a specific prayer offering each week for your director. If you have any particular training or capability you can offer in appreciation (like bookkeeping, or produce from farming etc.) then you can offer that instead of or on top of any small cash gift.

Finally, the greatest gift you can give your director is to give yourself to God in this process. Be attentive, write down what he asks you to do, follow up specifically, be on time, respect his time, listen, pray, and be holy.

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

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Art for this updated post on whether one should pay theior spiritual director: unidentified graphic, 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 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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  • Sue

    Well said. Thank you for these comments! Blessings to all this Friday!

  • LindaZ

    There have been times in the past year that my pastor has spent significant time talking me through a very difficult situation.  He is a Franciscan and they do take a vow of poverty.  I handed him cash in an thank you card one time and told him to use it for whatever need would make him happy, his own or anyone else’s.  The next time I saw him he was very happy to tell me he had deposited it into Samaritan’s Purse.  He was very grateful and I was glad I’d done it.  I also know that he loves to read, so every now and then I give him a Barnes and Noble or Amazon gift card.  I do like to include a note of gratitude every time I give him anything.

  • Cheryl

    Thank you for this important question…some take for granted the time and efforts the priest provide for any spiritual direction…their schedule is so busy and their financial reimbursement is so small…I am very appreciative of the time he sets aside and the spiritual direction I receive and try to be as generous as possible on a regular basis.To me he is like having a spiritual therapist and his wisdom is twice as special as he shepherds my soul for salvation.

  • Guest

    We are, indeed, required to pay a Stipend to our Spiritual Directors. The size of our Stipend is dictated by our financial means and this is clearly understood and appreciated by the Director. Just as we pay a Stipend to the Parish when we request Holy Mass to be celebrated for our various Spiritual needs, one should be pleased to offer a Stipend to one’s Spiritual Director, bearing in mind the immense Spiritual benefit we derive from them as we journey together towards our Heavenly Home. I do recall Fr. John confirmed this for me when he advised me to get myself a Spiritual Director.

  • stefano

    I respectfully disagree.  Freely we have received and freely we must give.  St. Paul provided the example of working to support himself.  The early Church lived on alms, but the modern Church has a compensation program.  Priests and religious under the current structure of the Church receive compensation and sufficient support from the Church to meet all of their needs. They receive housing, meals, healthcare, retirement, etc. and in many ways have none of the worries of job loss, financial insecurity that laity do.  Although not “wealthy” they are not supposed to be wealthy, but to live in simplicity, poverty and detached lives.  Many live very good lives taking elaborate pilgrimages, fancy rectories or religious houses, etc.  Certainly the occasional gift to reflect kindness or holiday season is appropriate. Lastly, your forgot deacons, the third tier of the ordained hierarchy, in your mention of Church ministers.  Even though ordained, they work to support themselves and their families while serving the Church w/out compensation.  Some take paid positions in the Church as DRE’s, business managers, but this is separate from their diaconal service to the Church. Spiritual Direction should NOT be paid for and given freely.  

    • Hmm – well, I have lived in a Religious seminary where in the winter the temperature never rose above 50 degrees, I have taken cold showers because of the lack of $$ to pay the heating bill, and I have become sick because of the food (past the sell by date). I experienced a feast of hot dogs as a special meal… I also personally know many priests who live in absolute poverty and own nothing but a crucifix and a bible. Some work with the poor in tattered robes. You may be right about about some but from personal experience there are many who need and deserve our alms. As well, those who live in true poverty are going to generally be the best spiritual directors. I think you might be arguing that they shouldn’t charge – with this I agree. However, we should be generous.

      • stefano

        Dan, then you need to call their bishop, who MUST provide for their needs. Not to be flip or disrespectful but I seriously doubt any priest receives ONLY has his crucifix and bible and no salary. Either the diocese or the order provides for their needs (food, housing, clothing). Let me know who this priest is and I will send him money today AND will contact his bishop AND I will retain a canon lawyer for him.

        • Actually – this is the norm for more historically rooted orders of religious.

    • BTW – I have also known priests who drive expensive cars and live in ways that reflect a great deal of spiritual poverty (meaning their spiritual lives were very shallow and they suffered from significant attachment to the things of this world). These I wouldn’t seek out for spiritual direction… For these, I pray, not pay.

    • Cheryl

      My Spiritual Director who is a Diocesan Priest has been kind enough to share w/ me that he does not receive stipends for his services at our church such as Baptisms, Funerals,Weddings…The Parish requests a fee for its coffers to maintain the Parish but he does not directly receive anything personally unless one thinks to generously offers a monetary gift etc. He also must pay for his housing/rent out of the monthly minimal wage he is compensated which doesn’t leave much left….The Parish may pay for food, health insurance etc, but I don’t know how he manages to sustain all of his duties and pay for car maintenance,car insurance, cell phone, gas,etc for all emergencies and the hospital and nursing home visits he must do…and he also tries to help his own parent and siblings financially out as well. He is not ashamed to share w/ parishioners that he buys his clothes at a thrift shop (and delights in finding great bargains). He has appreciated any home cooking parishioners bring over for him and the staff at the rectory and I know whatever financial gifts of any form he receives is appreciated by him and goes to what he feels is most needed..from cash to gift cards to gas cards.. Many times he has turned around and given that money to another poor parishioner in financial crisis. He does a tremendous amount of work and doesn’t stop.. My point is.. when he squeezes in extra time to provide that very special gift of spiritual guidance on a 1:1 on the way to never refusing a single soul any compassionate time to stop and listen or give special blessings on request, any small financial compensation in this temporal world we exist in is the very least one can offer. Yes that should go for Deacons, etc who offer any spiritual guidance as well. But most priests can’t go out and ‘get a second job’ or another career..They sustain on what they have based on their vows. You know when you have found a kind, deserving and compassionate priest who lives his Faith out by the Book and is a walking saint. I am so grateful to have found one in my Parish community.

      • Cheryl – thanks for sharing this – it really emphasizes the need to be as generous as we can be with those who give their lives to help us to heaven!

  • Carlita

    This has been truly helpful to me. Thank you for the question, the clear and informative response, and some of the wonderful comments/suggestions!

    • We have great people who read and comment on these posts!

  • Cindy

    The time I spend with my Spiritual Director is a priceless gift. Since he declined receiving payment for his gift to me, I’ve used my gift of cooking to prepare meals for all the members in their house. When he agreed to direct me on retreat several hours from his home, I gave him a gas card with a note of thanks for going the extra mile. He is a terrific companion on the journey.

  • Claire

    My spiritual director was my friend before she agreed to be my SD. There is no amount of money that could pay for the help she gives me, which goes far beyond friendship. If I can help her in any way I do and consider it a privilege, not payment.

    I like the creative ways in which others have expressed their appreciation.

  • Iowafarmwife

    When I had a spiritual director, I asked about payment, and he declined any. However, at Christmas time, I did send him a Christmas card and put some money in the card.

  • Elaine

    I had a spiritual director for years and never heard of paying for spiritual direction and the priest declined gifts. That was long ago. Guess i am out of the loop. i was very poor at the time and would have been overwhelmed if I had to pay that priest and indeed I could never have paid him enough.

  • pkelly

    As of yet, I do not have a spiritual director but am happy to know that they should be given some payment for their time.  They are free to do with it what they wish and I would imagine much of the money given to these directors finds its way back to the people they serve.

    • I know of directors who don’t keep the money but as someone else experienced, they give to the poor or others in need.

  • Graciela

    Thank you for the article that points out very clearly the position we must have: First thanking God for the privilege of having a spiritual director, then, concrete our love in actions, first of all: prayers for our director, then, the part that may hurt (because it implies a sacrifice) but that is important, according to the individual economical situation, help the Church and our spiritual director in the best way we can, remembering that we live in a material world and that there are many needs that should be covered.

  • little

    Thank you for this post. I have wanted to pay for my SD for a while now, his time is priceless to me. I leave our sessions with such a feeling of gratitude, praise and yearning to pay him back. I have offered to pay, but he didn’t accept it. After reading this post I have decided to do it. It is fair. It really is only a small material token for what he does for my everlasting soul, but it is a way to show appreciation indeed.

  • Bridget

    Oh dear.  What to do if I have been with a spiritual director (a diocesan priest)  3+ years, and have not offered payment, nor ever paid him?  I do give him a monetary and/or edible gift at Christmas, once at Easter, and once just because I felt led to.  But oh dear, after 3+ years, I would feel horribly awkward saying something at this point (he never has; then again, I can see that it might be awkward for him to say something).  Any suggestions?

    • I would just let him know how much of a blessing to you he is and that you read this post and thought that you should offer to, in some small way, return the blessing to him…

  • Cathy

    My director is a parish priest. Often times I bake for him and whenever I can I gift him with books. I also keep track of the needs in his parish. When they were in need of a new Sacramentry for daily masses I purchased that for his parish. I gift him with money and spiritual boquets on Christmas, Easter and his birthday.

    • Fantastic – It doesn’t matter what we give but that it comes from the heart to express our appreciation.

  • Diane. E.

    I have a priest for a spiritual director. Although he considers direction a part of his vocation and using the gifts God has given him, I write a check monthly to his parish, with the notation that it should go to the pastor’s discretionary account. This avoids any uneasiness about cash gifts, and allows him the funds to cover other types of needs his ministry meets.

  • Cris E.

    Giving for your spiritual Director will help his ministry, but if you don’t have something to give because of your financial status, don’t be hesitated to have a spiritual direction to a Priest. Let’s not deprive of what capabilities we have in terms of financial attributes, just give what you can Give. If you can only give bellow $25 then give, but if you can’t give money at all because financially you are struggling then so be it. Just say a “Thank you” with a gratitude from your Heart… Amen!

  • LizEst

    My director and I have never had this discussion.

    1. However, I’ve always heard his words “put it in the collection.”
    Other have tried to give him something for his time; he always turns
    them down. So, when I receive direction, I bump up my normal offering. 

    2. In addition, I try to bring something I bake myself whenever I go
    (cookies, etc) …except during Lent…and try to give some special
    treat for Christmas/Easter, such as a good bottle of spirits.

    3. Gas cards are great. Also, you can purchase commercial car washes
    in booklets. These are great if you live in an area where snow and ice
    and road salt are a problem (the diocesan priests I know do get an
    allowance for vehicle use).

    4. Priests are also required to get in a certain amount of spiritual
    reading. So, a gift certificate to their local Catholic bookstore
    can also be welcome (let them pick out the stuff themselves). And, if
    they can use it on-line or over the phone, it’s especially helpful for
    someone with a busy schedule who might not have so much time to go to
    the bookstore.

    5. Another idea is an additional copy of the Liturgy of the Hours (the
    four volume set) for the priest who is a little forgetful! That way,
    they can keep a copy in their car and the other at their house.

    6. A friend of mine, who is a “spiritual companion” once asked this
    question about whether or not she should charge. A different
    acquaintance said she asks her directees what they make in an hour. That is
    what she charges them (and she charges because that’s what she does for
    a living). So, based on that, I recommend basing my “offering”
    commensurate with what you would be paid for an hour’s work. That’s
    fair for an hour’s worth of direction and doesn’t get into being too
    little or too much.

    7. I guess the bottom line is that it’s helpful if you get the measure
    of the man, or woman, and what they would welcome. Sometimes, you have
    to be a little bit of a detective! If your director is in a parish,
    enlist the help of the parish secretary to figure out what he/she
    likes. I would stay away from music unless you know his/her taste.

    8. Always, but always, keep them in prayer.

  • Woodycos

    My Spiritual Director is a retired, elderly, yet still active, Diocesan Priest. He made it very clear from the beginning that he does not charge as a priest provides direction as part of his vocation. I have learned where he likes to eat and every so often provide a note of gratitude and give him a gift card, enough for him and a friend, to one of the places he likes to eat.

    • Great idea. This response is common. I have really enjoyed all the ways that folks use to get around it in order to bless our directors for the great blessings they give to us in our journey to Christ!

  • Elaine

    You are wrong, wrong, wrong Dan Burke. Paying for spiritual direction is simony and it is priests along who have the charism for spiritual direction. What you are suggesting is like going to the supermarket for surgery.

  • Cara

    I am of the opinion that the laborer is worth his wages. St Paul, who did not accept cash for his services, nevertheless appreciated the hospitality of his fellow Christians as he travelled from city to city. Somewhere in the Old Testament it says that the farmer should not muzzle the ox that helps him bring in the harvest. I cannot pay my SD, but I share my harvest of graces with him. For every hour of spiritual direction, I offer him an hour of volunteer work in the parish or an hour of Eucharistic Adoration for his intentions, whichever he prefers that month. (Lately, he’s opted for the EA, so it must be working!). Even priests who don’t accept money would probably accept one of these options.

  • MelissaStacy

    Thank you for this very helpful information, and reminding us of what St. Paul says about those who care for our spiritual health. I know in my case I am blessed to know religious people who certainly deserve ” double honor.”

  • Sr. Judy Nielsen, OSF

    Very interesting thoughts here. It is thought provoking that we would never have this debate about paying or donating to those who have trained and are experienced at trimming our hair, taking care of our health, teaching us exercise or hobbies. Yet here we are struggling with why our spiritual journey and health is something of enough value to us to want to donate tpears the expense of those offering us help & companionship the world cannot provide. We might want to stop a moment & reflect when we find ourselves quoting Holy Scripture to justify the things we value and the generosity of our hearts. Where else in God’s kingdom would we find a debate on “should I help those who may be struggling to help me, is it right or of value enough for my funds?”. It’s a wonderful picture of God’s generosity and patience as it appears among us in His Church. When the heart is ready the debate will cease and the donation will be a gift of appreciation.

    • Well said

    • Becky Ward

      With the utmost respect Sister, I don’t think that the questioner had any difficulty placing ‘high value’ on the time given by their director….but was struggling to learn what is normal and customary in regard to recompense.
      Some directors do not accept payment for their services.
      I like this last part of your comment: “…the donation will be a gift of appreciation.”
      Appreciation is shown in many ways and I think our commenter’s have shown great creativity in demonstrating that they DO value and appreciate their director’s time and service in the ways that they repay them.

  • Caroline

    I have been anonymously sending my spiritual director (who is my parish priest) some money every few months because I am so very, very grateful for his help. However, after reading this, I am wondering if I should start giving him the money in person after each session, and, if so, should I tell him of my previous “donations”?

    • LizEst

      Caroline,

      From all that’s been said in this post, my sense is most priests would feel uncomfortable receiving the money in exchange for directing someone spiritually but might not be against having someone add to the collection basket or some parish project. He may already believe it comes from someone grateful for what he/the Church does, or from someone trying to help the parish or someone paying a debt. He may even be putting the cash into the collection plate himself. I don’t know that I would change this. I certainly wouldn’t “confess” my previous donations. It might be nice to also bring him some treat from time to time as well. My sd has never turned down baked goods and such. To that, I boost my usual offering when I’ve received direction. If he hasn’t caught on, that’s fine with me.

    • Becky Ward

      I would keep doing what you’re doing….and make sure to also tell him how much you value his time and direction……if you’re not already doing so.
      Somewhere in the bible it mentions giving alms in secret (I’d bet Liz can provide the correct verse 🙂 ), and personally I would keep it like it is….God knows what you’re doing!!

      • Good advice

      • LizEst

        OK Becky, I’ll bite!

        Matthew 6:1-4: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And, your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

        • Becky Ward

          Thanks! 🙂 I don’t know how you do it!!

          • LizEst

            You’re welcome. To God be the glory!

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