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Catholic Spiritual Direction

Concern about seeking out and approaching a spiritual director – Part I – Facing the challenge

December 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Challenges, Dan Burke, Spiritual Direction, The Process

Based on a good number of comments and poll responses over the past year, apprehension is a recurring obstacle to seeking spiritual direction. More than 500 of you have indicated that you desire, but are not yet in a spiritual direction relationship. All those who desire but do not yet have a spiritual director are in the same position – one of vulnerability. The following is an overview of common struggles and insights that you might find helpful in your quest:

  • The area of our lives that is most important to us (our faith) is at a place where we obviously need help in order to grow. This can be a difficult and sensitive admission – especially for men.
  • As committed Catholics, we typically hold priests in high esteem and struggle with the idea of encroaching on their already busy schedule.
  • We are concerned that the relationship with the potential spiritual director remain positive and healthy (particularly if he is our parish priest).
  • The process and nature of spiritual growth is an unknown. It is similar to heading into a fog – we are compelled to keep moving – but we don’t know what will come of our decision to continue forward.
  • Some of us are worried about the orthodoxy of those who might be available to help us. We want competent guides and are worried that we might be led astray by those who are not faithful to the Church’s teachings and/or who are influenced by new-age or eastern spirituality.

Facing the Challenge

All of these, and many other factors make us hesitant to pursue spiritual direction. As well, St. Teresa of Avila clearly warns us that those seeking to deepen their spiritual lives will find a great many obstacles in their way. The enemy of our souls dreads nothing more than one who is fully immersed in Christ. We must be clear and resolute about our need for Christ and the critical assistance that spiritual direction provides us in knowing and following Him.

So, the first question is one of motivation. Are you ready to suffer whatever discomfort you may feel for the greater end of finding peace of soul and living life according to your ultimate purpose? If your answer to this question is, “yes,” then half the battle is already over. Be encouraged – you are unique in this world. God is calling you to Him, and you are listening. The rest is mere practicality and perspective. Here are a few basic ways to overcome these inhibiting emotions and issues:

Basic Steps in the Right Direction

1) Increase your knowledge and understanding of the spiritual direction process. Read the spiritual direction posts on this site and/or Father Dubay’s book and gain the vocabulary and perspective necessary to converse comfortably on the topic.

2) If you are concerned about the faithfulness or perspective of a particular priest, review the posts on this topic to better prepare you to deal with this difficulty.

3) Recognize that the care of souls, as with spiritual direction, is central to the call of a priest. Any good priest will be encouraged to discover and work with a soul committed to follow Christ.

4) Approach the spiritual director’s busy schedule with a practical respect.

In our next post we will talk specifically about how to approach getting the first meeting setup.

By the way, if I have missed any of the big items of concern or struggle on your list, or if there are others you would like to share, please do so in your comments on this post.

Seek Him – Find Him – Follow Him


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About Dan Burke

Dan is the founder of Catholic Spiritual Direction, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and author of the award winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. 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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  • Guest

    Fr. Dan, I have been following your very helpful and inspiring articles on Spiritual Direction because at my stage in the journey of Faith, I feel I need a Director badly. In our Archdiocese, Priests get transferred frequently and no sooner have you established a good rapport with one, he gets transferred to a far off Parish. However, there is one young Priest who came to see me in Hospital 2 years ago when I had suffered a serious nervous breakdown and I have kept in touch with him even after his transfer. Though he is young, (I am a widow of 71 years) I feel comfortable talking to him because he was there for me during that very traumatic period, when I needed a sympathetic, and understanding Priest. I kept regular contact with and I call upon him especially when I need spiritutal help in prayers for various family and persona needs to celebrate the Holy Mass for the issue at hand. I am now considering requesting him to become my Spiritual Director and see how we can work out how to proceed because he is no longer in my Parish. Do you think this is a good idea or should I look for someone else within our Parish? All the Priests we have now are all new and I am not close to any of them

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Mary in Christ,

      Pursue the one you are most comfortable with. Don’t delay.

      Pax Christi,


  • Marcy K.

    I have found that Fr. Thomas Dubay’s “Seeking Spiritual Direction” is a good book about this topic, not just what to look for in a SD, but it also has many very deep spiritual topics that you can meditate on while you are looking for a SD. Fr Dubay’s “Prayer Primer” and “Fire Within” are very helpful. Also, if you go to EWTN’s audio library there is an excellent 13 part series on Contemplation that you can listen to on your computer or download it to use it with your iPod/mp3 player, if you are interested in learning about deep prayer.

    • Dan Burke

      I couldn’t agree more. Father Dubay’s books and lectures are excellent resources for prayer and the spiritual life.

  • Marie

    Since I have found this site Sept/Oct 2009, your writings and topics have been Providential. Thanks be to God. If you recall, my spiritual director and I took a 4 month break as he moved to a new parish. In your posting today where you write…”are you ready to suffer whatever discomfort you may feel…”, this has been so true and for how upsetting some of the direction is, it has still been a blessing. This thought I then shared with my primary confessor…be careful for what you prayer for…I prayed to begin and to find a spiritual director and WOW after beginning it has been at times a very vulnerable experience. It has also been very helpful to use the recommended book resources. I had read Open Heart…Open by Keating, then read Deep Prayer/Deep by Fr. T. Dubay, then read Spritual Progress by Fr. Tom Williams and then ordered the Better Part which has helped with prayer & meditations. Thank you Fr. John!! It seems too that lately the posting from Better Part are just what the Holy Spirit is wanting me to read next which is very comforting since my director is “very charismatic and on fire by the Holy Spirit”. I know I am very blessed with my director and he is very patient with my slow progress but as I told him, my director can rip up the soil of my soul and leave me a mess that after a few days I can see that it is what I needed in order to move on. Anyway, thanks for all your work, and efforts in helping all of us.

  • Angela

    Thanks Dan! I was one of the people in the poll who felt they needed a spiritual director but now I have found one! The direction I received on this site is one of the reasons I was motivated to make this new arrangement. I feel God is working something in me and I want to cooperate. I was very worried about taking Father’s time but also we also enjoy having intellectual and personal conversations with each other and I don’t want the spiritual direction relationship to taint that. But we both think that it will work out fine. I concluded that I’d just have to be humble. If I am ok with seeing him for confession, why not spiritual direction.

    The first book this priest recommends for his directees is Spiritual Direction by Fr Dubay.

    Thanks for your continued insights!

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Angela in Christ. I am overjoyed to hear of your success in finding a spiritual director. Based on his first book recommendation, I suspect you will find it a very fruitful relationship. Be assured you are in my prayers.

      Venite Adoremus!