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Catholic Spiritual Direction

What reading and spiritual discipline might you recommend specifically for the nourishment of a priest?

July 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Spiritual Development

recommend specifically for the nourishmentDear Father John, I am a newly ordained priest. Before and during my seminary years I enjoyed very much having a spiritual director. Since graduation I haven’t been able to find a spiritual director. I was wondering what books would you recommend for spiritual reading to a diocesan priest. I also would like to know what spiritual practices would you recommend any diocesan priest to incorporate as part of his daily plan of life. I would appreciate very much your input.Yours in Christ,

It’s great to hear from you, Father, and I am sure our Lord is delighted with your eagerness to continue following him closely and deepening your friendship with him. God will certainly provide you with a spiritual director, if you keep asking him and searching for one. In the meantime, maybe the following ideas will help.

Your questions are right on target, because the priest who neglects his own spiritual nourishment and growth will very soon be very useless (if not harmful) in the Lord’s vineyard. “Nemo dat quod non habet,” as the old saying goes (“no one gives what they do not have”), so if we priests don’t have a vibrant friendship with Christ, we won’t be able to help others find one.

Spiritual Reading

First, as regards spiritual reading, keep three things in mind. On the one hand, you need to keep going back to the classics of Catholic spirituality, the meaty works that will never go out of style. I am thinking of books like Blessed Abbot Marmion’s (e.g. Christ the Ideal of the Priest, Christ in His Mysteries) or St Francis de Sales (Introduction to the Devout Life) or Thomas a Kempis (The Imitation of Christ). Every few months, you will want to go back to a classic. This helps you keep an eye on your blind spots; it balances out the skewed exaggerations of our present cultural moment.

Then, you will also want to dip in every year to some solid commentaries on the Bible and on the lives of the saints. Set yourself the goal of becoming a connoisseur on a saint and book of the Bible every year. Read two or three solid books on those topics. If you have a favorite period of Church history, choose saints from that period – or perhaps the patron of your parish or of your city. For these types of books, Ignatius Press is an excellent source.

Finally, discover some spiritual writers whose works resonate with you personally, and follow them. Ralph Martin has written some excellent works recently (e.g. The Fulfillment of All Desire), Fr Benedict Groeschel has written an entire library! A personal favorite of mine, especially relevant for priests, is Fr Eugene Boylan (Difficulties in Mental Prayer, This Tremendous Lover, The Spiritual Life of the Priest, etc.). At the same time, keep an eye on what’s getting put out by the good Catholic publishers – ask around to get opinions of other priests whom your respect, you should be able to keep your bookshelf (or Kindle) full.

As a final suggestion – try to read at least one book every year dedicated specifically to prayer or the spiritual life. It will help keep you from falling into routine.

Daily Plan

Second, as regards a daily plan of life, I can wholeheartedly recommend what our recent popes have done (if their schedule has allowed it, yours can too! Here is a “day in the life of Pope Benedict” and you can find a description of Pope John Paul II’s daily schedule in George Weigel’s book, Witness to Hope, Chapter 9, “Be Not Afraid!”).

  • Do your best to get up at the same time each morning, and begin the day with a morning offering and 30 minutes of mental prayer. Even if you are not a “morning person,” you need to keep the first chunk of time each day for God. He needs to prepare you for what’s coming, and you need to get in tune with his Word. Try to get your mental prayer in before your daily Mass.- Try to do the offices of the Liturgy of the Hours at the same time each day, as close as possible to the time recommended by the liturgy itself (e.g. evening prayer during sun-down). Put everything on pause while you pray your office. Your parishioners will appreciate this, and you need it. In order to combat routine, try to pray at least one of the hours out loud, slowly, with real feeling. It is also a good idea to pray at least one of the hours in the presence of the Eucharist.
  • Pray five decades of the Rosary every single day. You may want to begin or the Rosary in front of an image of Our Lady. Bring your most pressing prayer intentions to her during this sacred time with your Mother (I like to do it walking outside, as Bl John Paul II used to – it’s like taking a walk with mom).
  • Pray the Angelus or the Regina Coeli each day, three times, as the tradition goes – morning, noon, night. If you can do this together with your staff or other members of your parish community, all the better. Take advantage of this prayer to renew your heart’s intention (to glorify God and serve his people) and to renew your confidence in Him (he is the protagonist of salvation history, not us).
  • In the evening or before you go to bed, take ten minutes to make an examination of conscience. Here is the first of a two-part post on how to do that. Don’t let a day go by without it. The devil makes inroads when we stop reflecting on our lives from God’s perspective.
  • Try to spend at least 15 minutes a day with your spiritual reading.-
  • Don’t carelessly delay your bedtime – by watching TV or surfing the Internet, for example. That’s the easiest way to exhaust your body and disturb your interior recollection. Go to bed with God on your mind.
  • I would also recommend a weekly hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, in reparation for your sins and those of the souls entrusted to your care.
  • In addition, making a monthly mini-retreat (perhaps going to a shrine for a morning of quiet prayer, reading, and reflection).
  • Plan your yearly retreat ahead of time, preferring preached retreats that give priority to silence – retreat is not vacation, after all.

I hope some of these thoughts are helpful, and I will join my prayers to yours that God provides you with a good spiritual direction. In the meantime, you may want to take James 4:8 for your motto: “Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.”


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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". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at and questions and answers on the spiritual life at FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

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  • Without doubt

    The ministerial priesthood is certainly not for the weak; that is for sure. On call 24/7 and having to listen and discern the ‘truths’ that ‘the flock’ brings to you.
    (not all say it just right) On top of that; because of the state of society; a priest must be vigilant not to put himself in a position that others can use in wrong way.A priest cannot be ‘too friendly’ yet must be open enough that he is approachable by ‘the flock.’   On top of that; many need to care about parish
    financial matters. 

    I don’t think a CEO of any top business organizations could be stronger than the parish priest when dealing with so many personalities.

    Amazing what real love can do. (business world take notice; at your next
    seminar on how to be productive… call a priest!)

  • Elaine Thomas

    Reading The Life of St. Gemma galgani by her spiritual director Venerable Fr. Germanus, CP and also The Cure D’Ars by Abbe Francois Trocu.  This would inspire anyone religious or laity. 

  • Hsshall

    In addition to the books recommended, especially the “Imitaion of Christ” a gem that could be used daily for the rest of one’s life as a stand alone guide, “Love of Eternal Wisdom” and “Friends of the Cross” by St. Louis de Montfort are true masterpieces that are lost sometimes beside his “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin.” I implore you to check these out.

  • LizEst

    How gratifying to read this post, how refreshing!  God bless you, Father “anonymous” for the humility to ask publicly for these recommendations.  May the Lord complete the work he has begun in you.

  • Kstarkwa

    I would like to comment that I never see a priest praying anymore, except for the Mass, of course.  Once I did and I was amazed at the good example it was for me.  I know the staff here would faint on the spot if a priest were to suggest they all stop and pray for a few minutes.  Doesn’t seem to be much of that anymore.  “My Daily Bread” is a great small book easily tucked away in a pocket.

    • Dan Burke

      Though I am aware of a few priests who have abandoned even basic prayer practices, I have experience with a good number of both diocesan and religious priests who expend significant time in prayer on a daily basis. Many diocesan priests have chapels in their homes and those with healthy prayer lives would tend to spend their times in prayer there, rather than in a sanctuary of a busy parish where they would likely be interrupted.

  • Jesusbpraised

    God bless you and ALL priests who strive to follow close to Jesus and Mary! You will lead many souls to heaven and they will be your crown!
    A wonderful post with good sound advice for all newly and “oldly” ordained priests. It’s never too late to regain spiritual direction and practices after laxity.

  • Rev. Archie kirwan

    Archbishop Tmothy Dolan”s book: Priests for the third millennium” is excellent.. Published by Our Sunday Visitor
    Anything by Fr. Roland Rolheiser: Crossswod Publishing Co.

  • Kstarkwa

    Oops.  Dan, I didn’t mean to imply our priests don’t pray – I have seen a couple of the private chapels.  It’s just that it would be great to see them pray.  When I was a kid, I remember priests in their cassocks walking around saying a rosary.  It was a great inspiration to me.

    • Dan Burke

      My apologies for misinterpreting your thoughts! I agree with your desire to see them more – it is a great witness to us when they do practice private devotion publically..

  • Richard

    St. Teresa of Avila – The Way of Perfection. It’s a wonderful book that I turn to frequently when I have a few minutes here-and-there to read something.

    I also really enjoyed Archbishop Dolan’s “Priests for the Third Millenium.”

  • C J Sebastian333

    I couldn’t agree more with the references provided, but one stands out among them all to me: The Imitation of Chris (Kempis). However, I will always recommend the “Dialog of St. Catherine of Siena.” 25 years since I read this book, and still I remember one speicific statement as both Catherine and God (the Father) are having a conversation about sin… God responds to one of her inquiries saying: “The tragedy of Judas is that he considered his sin to be greater than My Mercy.” You can’t get much more profound than than, and doesn’t it about say it all? Thank you Father, for saying yes. God Bless you.