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Catholic Spiritual Direction

Faithful priests are too busy… What do I do? How can I find a spiritual director?

May 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Finding a Director, Spiritual Direction

Dear Dan, My director is a wonderful, caring person but is also quite a bit less inclined to follow the magisterium than I am. I wish I had the opportunity to see a faithful priest from time to time. I have tried hard to find a priest willing to provide me with spiritual direction (especially now, as I am going through some severe moral crises and sufferings); however, I have been turned down repeatedly because they are too busy to meet with any individuals, especially if it would be for more than one brief meeting. This appears to be a serious problem: if a priest is too busy to give spiritual and moral guidance to a faithful follower who is facing grave hardship, then that priest is TOO busy. Why do priests seem to regard spiritual direction as an unreasonable burden?

I would begin by saying that not all priests regard spiritual direction as a burden. Many priests that I know consider it one of their main priorities. In fact, after celebrating the sacraments and preaching the Word, it is one of the best ways that a priest has to help others. And perhaps herein we find one possible reason for your experience that priests just don’t have time: they may have many Masses to celebrate (especially on Sundays) and multiple confessions to hear, especially if we reflect on the fact that most priests help out in at least one other parish than their own on a regular basis. When you throw in the preaching that must be prepared, the time begins to add up. The biggest burden for the priest, however, is usually parish administration. Before being ordained, he probably does not realize the amount of time this will pilfer from his apostolate and, in many cases, how much worry it will cause. All of this may leave him wary about taking on more and more stable commitments. But enough about reasons or excuses; there are many more than I mention here – objective as well as subjective ones.

The fact remains that spiritual direction is a vital help and you have not been able to  find a priest director. This must be very frustrating. You are not alone in this challenge.

Aside from giving you insight into the burden most priests carry,  another way I can think to assist you is to point out a few options for finding a director that you may not have considered. Here are a few ideas:

  • Your Diocesan Office: There are several types of leads you can find by calling your diocese. First, they can point you to those known for spiritual direction in your area. Second, they can also point you to religious orders or retreat centers in your area. Also, don’t hesitate to venture beyond your own diocesan boundaries if the list of options runs too short. Don’t hesitate to consider a well-trained and experienced lay person as an option as well.
  • Priests/Confessors in Your Parish or Surrounding Parishes: If you have found a good confessor, someone who has been particularly helpful to you with advice or dialogue during or after confession, don’t hesitate to ask them one simple question: “I would be grateful if I could follow up with you on this matter in the near future; can I call you for an appointment?”
  • Faithful Catholic Affiliation Groups: If you have groups in your diocese like Catholic Scripture Study, Catholics United for the Faith, ENDOW, Walking with Purpose, or other solid groups, begin attending their meetings and connecting with people who take their faith seriously.

An important thing to remember is that this might be a long process and if you are called to it, you need to maintain your commitment for as long as it takes. Our God knows your needs and desires to bring you closer to himself, and he will do so as long as you keep striving and stumbling towards him. Sometimes the painstaking search for an orthodox director is just as important to the process as spiritual direction itself.

A semi-shortcut through this maze can be found in the many faithful movements and orders within the Church. Those that have maintained a solid grip on magisterial faithful Catholicism often provide means for their members to deepen their faith in many helpful ways, including spiritual direction. Essentially, when approaching these organizations we are looking to adopt a rule of life. That is, we are looking for a specific spiritual path that can help to focus our spiritual disciplines and practice of virtue. Often these organizations follow the fruitful paths of the saints who founded them (like Saint Francis and the Franciscans) or those who played significant roles within them (like Saint John of the Cross in the Carmelite order). Obviously, becoming a third-order or lay Carmelite or Franciscan is a serious commitment. However, for those who take their faith seriously, these commitments have benefits that far outweigh any related challenges.

To be clear, it is not necessary to become a cloistered nun or a hermit to reap the benefits of these beautiful gifts to the Church. Most of them have lay organizations for people just like you. A few good examples of more recent spiritualities that have emerged in the Church are  Apostles of the Interior Life (www.apostlesofil.org), Opus Dei (www.opusdei.org), and Regnum Christi (www.regnumchristi.org). The constitutions or canonical provisions of these and many more are approved either by the Holy See or local bishops, and the direction they provide for the spiritual life can be of enormous spiritual value. You can contact these organizations via their Web sites to find information about activities in your area.

Spiritual direction is making a comeback in the Church, and seminary formation programs are rediscovering its tremendous value. Hopefully, little by little the challenges that we are facing in this area will be a thing of the past. Don’t get discouraged. The obstacles you are facing might be the very thing you need right now to deepen your faith. Christ is at work in you. Yield to that work and continue to strive to know 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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  • http://pinetreesandorangeblossoms.blogspot.com/ doanli

    Thank you, thank you so very much, Father, for posting this. I posted my need for one on my blog not too long ago.

    I am in need of a Spiritual Director and our priests in parishes that are close to mine are the only priests of HUGE parishes and I just thought they would be too busy. I might ask anyway. :)

    I will check out your links as well.

  • cathy

    This is very hard, and unfortunately not uncommon. I found fantastic spiritual director, but not at a parish that I regularly attend. Pray to Jesus and His Blessed Mother Mary, that they help you find someone. The important thing is that you don’t give up, as this is very important. Know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. Another thought would be this, try maybe a deacon. I say this because the deacons have more time available, and are also very much so spiritual.

  • larrybets

    It’s a shame really. I am in a similar situation in finding the right spiritual director. One that faithfully follows the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. I haven’t called my Diocese yet, I will try that. I have emailed priests in my Parish and other Parishes and I don’t even get a response. Well, God willing he will find me the right guide. This is a cross I will bear with great joy for now. Good luck all of you and let me know what worked best for you in finding one because I am not.

  • Karen Kamphaus

    Prayer is the most important thing we can do. The Lord has a special director for us, in His time not ours. The things learned in our searching for one will help us to grow.

    The trials, and patience in seeking the right director is well worth it. The Lord will lead you to the director that will fit like a glove.

    It is easy to become discouraged,especially when your leads take you to dead ends, and many miles. Or thinking that you have found the right one only to be rejected because they do not understand your Spirituality, and know nothing about Mystical Theology.

    After having a Spiritual Director for three years that hindered my growth. Learning that the wrong spiritual director can cause your soul unnecessary pain, fear, and struggles.

    When the Lord leads you to the one that is right for you, you will experience much joy, and peace.

    The Lord knows when the time is right for our souls to finally meet with the one He has chosen for us.

    Our Lord Jesus always knows what is best for us!

    • Marina

      It is true, I completely agree with all that is said here.

  • Kaylan

    This is a huge problem in my opinion! I converted to the Catholic Faith in 1987 and since then I have not met a priest I felt could truly be a spiritual director given their lack of time. Or sometimes, the priest seems unapproachable on more personal topics, as if he is entirely disinterested. I can see the problem due to shortage of priests in certain areas. In my current location, we have one priest serving the needs of four parishes. Since this has occurred, we’ve also lost many priests in a short period of time (several transferred out, two died).. most likely due to the stress and too many obligations. Because of this, I think many parish members don’t even bother asking the priest for spiritual assistance anymore because they’ve been told “no” too many times. As a result, lay people feel we are on our own and basically just go to Mass, see the priest there, and don’t attend to the priest’s needs either. Then the priest feels alone and unwanted in his own parish. It is a cycle, I feel, which has developed due to many problems.

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  • Orthsending

    It’s good to read this. I would like to convert to Catholicism – i went through an RCIA course a few years ago but just as an education as I was in a country in which I wasn’t a citizen and was told to enter the Church when I returned home country. When I started attending my local parish it took weeks and numerous contact local priest before I got any reply. 8 months later and I’m still waiting for word about catechumn’s program. It’s diificult to maintain in oneself a sense of the necessity of conversion with zero encouragement.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Dear Friend – I know how you feel. I too am a convert and sometimes there are people in the process who shouldn’t be. Sometimes they are just overwhelmed. Don’t be discouraged. Get an appointment with the priest in your parish. Be persistent.

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