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Spiritual Direction and Confession

September 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Penance/Confession, Spiritual Direction

Spiritual Direction and Confession


Dear Father John, While I agree in consistency in spiritual direction, I would like to hear your “take” on spiritual direction and its connections to Confession. I do have a spiritual director I see once a month, but a confessor I see weekly. There are aspects of reconciliation that are spiritual direction, and I've shared some of those with my SD, who is also a priest, but since I strongly desire Reconciliation weekly and my confessor is diocesan, local, and extremely busy, I do not feel comfortable asking for more than 10 min. of his time per week, while my SD can usually give me an hour, but is too far away to meet weekly. Your thoughts?


What you describe sounds like an excellent combination: A short confession weekly, and a long spiritual direction monthly. As you mention, the exchange between priest and penitent that happens during lourdessignforconfessionconfession can sometimes overlap, as regards specific spiritual issues/questions, with the content of the conversation that occurs in spiritual direction. This depends on the confessor, and how much spiritual advice he feels comfortable giving during confession. In fact, in past centuries it was common practice, especially for members of religious congregations, to have one priest to go to for confession on a regular basis. This person was your “confessor.” And this relationship, though it unfolded within the sacrament, took on many characteristics of what we now describe as spiritual direction. In some places and contexts, I am sure this is still the case.

On the other hand, the nature of the exchange that happens in confession is not intrinsically the same as what happens in spiritual direction. Confession is primarily about our sins, faults, and imperfections. confession2bernardinecathedralinlvivchurchofsaintandrewartistvodnik for post on spiritual direction and confessionWe bring those to the Lord in a spirit of contrition and repentance, in order to receive his forgiveness and renewed spiritual strength to continue our journey of faith. Confession has a sacramental grace (the forgiveness and the strength) that spiritual direction doesn’t have. Spiritual direction, in contrast, is primarily a conversation about what God is doing in my life – what he is asking of me, what he is giving me – and how I am responding. Much of the conversation that occurs in spiritual direction is focused around discerning God’s will, as well as discerning what factors are affecting my response to God’s will. A wise confessor can often detect and comment on those types of issues in the context of a confession. And when that happens, it can be very useful to do what you describe: mention in your next spiritual direction the advice or comments from confession that really resonated with you.

So, to sum up, the nature of confession differs from the nature of spiritual direction in their essential characteristics, but they can and often do overlap. In fact, sometimes finding a good confessor can be a way to identify a good spiritual director. I hope this helps.

God bless you! Fr. John


Art for this post on Spiritual Direction and Confession: Signaletics for Confession [Lourdes Sign for Confession], photographer Jean-noël Lafargue, August 9th, 2005, Free Art License; Confession of Bern Cathedral, Bernardine Cathedral In Lviv Church Of Saint Andrew, Vodnik, January 2007, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported; both 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 RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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