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Should I pay my spiritual director? A lay spiritual director responds

Dear Friends, after I posted “Should I pay my spiritual director?” a reader sent me a note that I though would provide some important perspective on this matter. This came in response to negative comments regarding the idea of spiritual directors receiving payments for their services. Here's her note:

for post on shoudl i pay my spiritual directorI find myself called to be a lay spiritual director, yet my husband and I struggle on one income to make ends meet for our family. Hopefully, I do not have to choose between ministering or not ministering to souls because of money. If it is a choice between working at local department store or requesting a suggested donation, the answer is obvious in terms of the spiritual fruits. While spiritual direction is a not a “flashy” ministry, it is a “sure” ministry that helps many souls to persevere and grow. Over the last few years, I have wrestled with this topic of asking for a stipend and come to the following conclusions after a lot of prayer, discernment, research, and discussion regarding this controversial issue.

As a lay spiritual director, the most disconcerting comments sounded something like, “but lay people are only called to contribute to the temporal order,” “only a priest or nun should request donations,” or even “if you accept money, you will might only give the advice your directee wants to hear.” These comments  amount to  ignorance and “clericalism”(a pre-Vatican II concept that religious are holier and more equipped to be a channel for God so lay people need not apply).  The key to any good spiritual direction is not the directors’ state in life… but the director’s life of holiness, certification (note that not all priests and religious are trained as spiritual directors), the call and charism for this ministry, and life experience.

Financial reimbursement makes sense if a spiritual director regularly dedicates 2, 5, 10, or 20 hours a week to this ministry. All spiritual directors need to eat, wear cloths, use the internet, fuel their cars, pay mortgages, and relax, just like you do. They give countless hours, energy, and money to serve souls. There is the cost of initial and ongoing training in various topics as well as regular personal retreats so the spiritual director can be a true conduit for the Lord. Most spiritual directors make many hidden sacrifices for their souls. Dan is correct that some diocesan and congregational priests, religious, and lay consecrated folks live real poverty, as do many lay ministers. Finding some way to compensate directors, even if they say they don’t accept or need money, shows respect for the director as a real person and for the ministry. Unfortunately, many evangelization efforts fizzle because of a lack of funds.

And isn’t it true that people often value something to the extent that they sacrifice for it? Most do not blow off a visit to the doctor, his advice or forget to take their prescriptions.  Same with a counselor. Most do not bat an eye about highlights for their hair or a bowling league fee. They plan ahead and invest in an academic education. Or how about that $100 to $1,000 weekend of fun or a shopping spree? Sometimes, requesting a donation “weeds out” those who are not, yet, serious about their spiritual journey.

That said, if at all possible, no one should be refused spiritual direction because of an inability to give a stipend.   There are people who simply can’t afford a donation: college students and young adults are striving to eat more than Ramen noodles for dinner; young families on single incomes, large families, or small double income families struggle just to provide a healthy lifestyle for their children; the elderly on fixed incomes watch the inflation rate; those with medical issues and inadequate insurance have enough stress. For these, $20 can break the budget! Most of us have been there at one time or another, and it is quickly apparent to the spiritual director who can and can’t honestly contribute.

Mt 10:8 states, “freely you have received, so give freely.” However, Mt 10:10 states that “the worker is worth his keep.” Spiritual directors or even certification programs may have different preferences or opinions regarding the justice of stipends: some require while others refuse. Perhaps the ideal situation is when the local Church compensates spiritual directors as it does priests. Unfortunately, most local churches are struggling financially or may not yet see how spiritual direction contributes to a vibrant Catholic Christian community. In this scenario, it is also crucial that directees have a choice in directors so they can go to someone they like and trust.

In any case, the Church should not suffer because of this issue: spiritual directors will need to sacrifice personally as well as lean on the generosity of those who can afford the suggested stipend.

Just my “two cents” J. God bless you all, and thanks for keeping up the posts, Dan. I look forward to reading your book.

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

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Art for this post: 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.

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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, the High Calling Seminary Preparation Program, 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, speaker and pilgrimage director 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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