SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Is Group Spiritual Direction a Good Thing?

June 7, 2018 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Spiritual Direction

What do you think about group spiritual direction which is in vogue in some circles today? Is that a good way to get spiritual direction? Thank you for your time in answering my question.

group spiritual directionThe essence of spiritual direction is the relationship between the spiritual director and the directee. The interaction and dialogue that happens in that relationship is deeply personal and personalized. Discerning God’s action and invitations in one’s life requires that kind of intensely personal and personalized dialogue. A group setting, with one spiritual director and a bunch of directees, would significantly change that essential dynamic. In my opinion, therefore, group spiritual direction – strictly speaking – would not be able to fully substitute one-on-one spiritual direction.

Fellowship Matters

A group setting can, however, provide many benefits for those who are seeking to grow spiritually. Most of our readers will be familiar with various forms of group faith-sharing and mutual encouragement. As Christians, we are called to live as members of Christ’s Mystical Body; we are not Lone Rangers; we journey together through our earthly pilgrimage, and God loves to work in and through that kind of fellowship. As Jesus himself put it: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Sharing deeply with fellow Christians about the struggles and triumphs of our faith-journey is enriching, affirming, and necessary for growth and perseverance.

Spiritual Direction by Analogy

What some people may call “group spiritual direction” could be one form of doing that. I can picture a group of friends gathering with an experienced spiritual director to talk about particular themes in the spiritual life, to have a question-and-answer session, to pray together… I can also picture a similar group gathering to listen to talks or lectures about spiritual growth, and having time after the talk to ask personal questions and receive personalized advice. This type of dynamic could be extremely fruitful, spiritually. But I think you can see how different it is from the one-on-one dialogue and ongoing relationship that forms the essence of traditional spiritual direction.

A Lesson from History

Perhaps a comparison may help. Originally the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius were designed for a one-on-one style of retreat. Later, the Jesuits adjusted the original formula so that groups – groups of seminarians, religious, or priests, for example – could have a Spiritual Exercises retreat together. In this adjusted formula, one retreat director preaches and guides the whole group as a group, instead of just meeting one-on-one with a single retreatant. This adjusted method is still widely used in the Church and has born wonderful fruit, but it hasn’t supplanted the original method. The two methods have different advantages and disadvantages.

I am sure our readers will have some thoughts about this issue, so I invite them to comment. Thank you for your question, and I hope my answer has been helpful.

God bless you!  In Him, Fr John Bartunek, LC


“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” – James 4:8


Art for this post on group spiritual direction: Christ and Saint Mina [or Menas], iconographer unknown, 6th-century icon from Bawit, Egypt, PD-US author's life plus 70 years or less; Mirror of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Peter Paul Rubens, 1600s, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less; 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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