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Attachment – Navigating the Interior Life Spiritual Dictionary

October 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Attachments, Dan Burke, Spiritual Dictionary

ATTACHMENT: An emotional dependence, either of one person on another, or of a person on some real or illusory object.  Attachments play an important role in spiritual development, since the first condition for progress in sanctity is some mastery over one’s inordinate attachments.

This Spiritual Dictionary Term is an excerpt from the Glossary of Dan's book Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. To learn more, click here.



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What is spiritual direction and my spiritual direction? What are my “blind spots” and how can I uncover them? What keeps me from all the spiritual riches Christ has for me? How can I better understand where I am in my spiritual progress?

Daniel Burke’s Navigating the Interior Life will give you the tools you need to understand how and why we grow and die in the spiritual life and what we can do about it.

Most of us have questions about spiritual direction. What is it? Is it for me? What if I can’t find a spiritual director? These questions and more are well answered in Dan Burke’s book. The Lord is clearly calling all Catholics into a deeper union with him. This book, in a style which is both inspiring and practical, provides some of the Church’s most important wisdom about how to respond to this call.

Ralph Martin, PhD, president, Renewal Ministries
and author of ‘The Fulfillment of All Desire'
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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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  • J

    Is “Attachment” just a Spiritual Dictionary Term in Dan’s book, or is it treated in more detail? I wonder how common it is to become emotionally attached to one’s spiritual director. Is it like transference in therapy? I realize SD is not therapy, but the relationship of director to directee has that aspect when the directee puts the director on a pedestal.

    • Dear J – it is an item in the glossary of terms. It is not covered in-depth (as with many of these terms) but simply mentioned in the context. It is very common to become emotionally attached to a director. Those directors that have formal training are usually ready for this and handle it appropriately. Both should be aware and careful regarding any emotional attachments in this kind of relationship – very dangerous.

      • abandon56

        So, do you have any advice for the person (me) who would like to avoid this in the future should God again provide a SD?

        • Hmm, well, I think the best preparation is knowing that you will naturally be drawn to appreciation of your SD. Beyond that, keep your meetings tightly managed. Follow the outlines of how to approach these meetings and don’t seek to build a friendship with your SD. Your goal is to have them help you to heaven, not to find a friend.

          • abandon56

            Yes. Certainly. No friendship was sought. I have a healthy distrust of myself. And I am very cautious of anyone who would eagerly offer themselves as SD.
            Another question: what does it mean to “test the spirit” of a thing/situation? I have had recommendations regarding courses of action/service opportunities and this was a comment someone made. I also have a healthy distrust of others’ spiritual advice based on many years in an abusive spiritual “community”.

          • Hmm. Well, this is something I am writing about now and hope to provide posts about in the future. In the mean time, I think the best modern work on the topic is Fr. Timothy Gallagher called the Discernment of Spirits which is solidly based on St. Ignatius spiritual teaching on the topic. This should give you what you need.

          • MelissaStacy

            I am currently reading this book, and find it incredibly helpful and enlightening. It teaches about St. Ignatius’ discernment of spirits (both the good and the bad spirits!)and how to use that discernment in our everyday lives to recognize and act on the good spirits and God’s will and direction for us. This is the type of book one can go back to many times.

          • I agree – it is timeless wisdom and beneficial for any stage of spiritual growth.

          • abandon56

            Thanks. Yes, I’ve read it. Will keep it upper most in mind.

          • LizEst

            I’ve heard much good about Fr. Gallagher. Thanks for posting this.

  • ThirstforTruth

    How does one determine when and if one’s attachments are inordinate? Is being attached to family, for example, inordinate?
    A mother has by nature an emotional, as well as physical attachment to her husband and child(ren). If she works at
    detaching from them she can cause great emotional harm
    to their relationship. Of course the other extreme can happen where the attachment is overly, so that children never learn
    to fly under their own power. It seems we should be striving for balance. Of course, for the religious, many give up any and all human attachments for the greater good and glory of God. It
    is part and parcel of that sort of vocation. Does this rule
    of detachment mean different things depending upon one’s vocation? Of course all must work at being detached from materiial possessions, the things of the world! I quess, to answer my own question, detachments are inordinate when they interfere with our relationship with God, failure to be obedient to His Will. Giving God “second place'” or even
    worse in our lives.

    • Yes – it does depend on your state. For example, if a husband loves his wife but, for instance, she is an athiest. She doesn’t like it when he goes to mass. In order to please her, he stays home. This would be disordered.

    • Becky Ward

      Even as married laity (and parents) we are called to put God first. The ‘pruning’ can indeed be painful, yet the fruit is beyond compare! He leads each of us according to His will and our abilities, never giving us more than we can handle.

  • Abandon56

    I assume detachment comes with abandonment. In the meantime, when one discovers an emotional attachment and does what is necessary to despise (look away from) that person, it seems a great struggle to continue to love (in general) because all life appears as such vanity. Perhaps I am confusing the true meaning of love. I have no desire.

  • Diane

    What would be ‘ordinate’ attachments?

    • Becky Ward

      My grandmother’s dictionary defines “ordinate” as:
      “Characterized by order; regular.”

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