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Catholic Spiritual Direction

How can a woman build an appropriate relationship with a priest?

December 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Challenges, Fr. Bartunek, Spiritual Direction

Dear Father John, I am a woman working hard to deepen my relationship with Christ.  In this process, I have begun to befriend priests.  I wonder how you would suggest molding relationships with clergy to maintain detachment yet create mutually beneficial relationships.

This is a real issue.  We have all read or heard about tragic tales of priests having affairs with married or single women whom they were directing spiritually.  And many times, both the priest and the woman are upstanding members of the parish, honest and fervent Catholics.  None of us wants that to happen.

Two concepts can, I think, help answer your question and shed some light on the situation: realism and respect.

Realism

We have all got to be realistic.  People are people; men are men; women are women.  This doesn’t change when a woman begins to seek holiness.  This doesn’t change when a man becomes a priest.  Neither chastity nor celibacy is maintained and matured by pretending that certain circumstances will remove all temptation.  And temptation can be especially subtle precisely in the midst of a relationship that begins on a deep spiritual level – the level where a priest and a female directee are interacting.

In this relationship, the woman receives affirmation and guidance regarding the living out of her faith.  This can be deeply satisfying.  The emotional release and joy that overflows from spiritual growth can lead her, little by little, often subconsciously, to depend on the priest not only for spiritual support affirmation, but also for emotional support.  Temporarily, in moments of crisis, this can be fine.  But if it becomes habitual, the emotional momentum can easily, and tragically, begin to override the spiritual connection, and the chaste relationship can be compromised.

A similar dynamic can happen from the priest’s perspective.  If he feels a natural attraction towards a particular female directee, he can begin enjoying and looking for the emotional connection that he feels when interacting with her.  He may look for it consciously, or subconsciously.  At this point, his purity of heart is already being threatened, and he is vulnerable to temptation.  If he then enters a period of personal difficulty or spiritual dryness (and this happens periodically – it’s normal), he will feel drawn to look for tangible comfort and understanding, instead of courageously bearing his cross and renewing his faith-commitment until the storm passes.  At that point, going to a female directee with whom he is already emotionally involved will seem like a direct, clear, and satisfying solution.

The most obvious application of this concept is that women need to develop faith-based friendships with women where they receive emotional support.  They should be very clear about what they seek from their relationships with priests: spiritual support and guidance, encouragement and instruction in their faith and in their pursuit of holiness.  Priests need to have faith-based friendships with men, preferably brother priests, wherein they receive their emotional support.  They must take seriously their role as spiritual fathers in relation to the people God gives them to serve.

This doesn’t mean that priests and women can’t be friends.  What it means is that this particular friendship has a specific character and purpose, and that needs to be acknowledged and accepted.

By the way, this complex dynamism is often at work in relationships between lay people too, relationships that can lead to adultery.  We can never pretend that we are immune from temptation, that we have conquered perfectly and forever the beautiful, powerful, and fruitful virtue of chastity.  We need to be realistic.

Respect

As a result, in all interactions between women and priests, each party must have and show respect for the other’s calling in life.  This starts in the heart: being brutally honest with oneself about emotional charges and attachments as soon as they begin to appear.  But it has a lot of practical manifestations too.  A good rule of thumb is to avoid situations where outsiders could infer the appearance of something unhealthy.  Here are some practices that have been common in Church tradition, and that even married Protestant ministers (like Billy Graham) have found helpful:

  • A priest and a woman (who is not a family member) should avoid riding in cars together, just the two of them.
  • A priest should wear his clergy attire when giving direction to a woman.
  • Spiritual direction should take place in a room with windows or an open space where others can see what’s happening.
  • Spiritual direction should take place during normal working hours, not late at night.
  • A priest and a woman (again, a woman who is not a family member) should avoid getting together tête-à-tête casually, or for simply social reasons.

I am sure we could each extend the list.  And, again, similar respect should govern other relationships too – a single man and a married woman, for example.

I want to be explicit about the reason behind this mutual respect.  It is not because the Church considers femininity intrinsically evil.  It is not because the Church considers sex intrinsically evil.  On the contrary, it is precisely because the Church herself respects the reality of gender in God’s plan and the sacredness of sexual intimacy that chastity is valued in the first place.  But the Church is not naïve.  We live in a fallen world and bear a wounded human nature.  Therefore, we must make a conscious effort to be faithful to God’s plan for our lives.  When it comes to relationships between women and priests, that conscious effort must include sincere respect for God’s plan for each person.

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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 www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. 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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  • Becky Ward

    “The Gratitude Syndrome”……..or hero worship.  I found myself in this situation regarding our family doctor when I was a new mom.  I was young and naive and in need of the care and attention he gave me.  Although he was completely professional…….my imagination allowed me to see things much differently.

    Thankfully, I had a strict enough sense of what is, or is not appropriate behavior, that the ideas stayed in my head, and I eventually learned, much to my embarrassment, what was really happening.

    I am so very thankful for what God is doing through my current spiritual director………. I could easily fall into this trap if we both weren’t watching and being careful.  I count it a blessing that I have learned this lesson of attraction and am able to see and acknowledge it, then move past it and keep the focus on God.

    We aren’t thinking of God if we aren’t careful with our behavior.  Yes, people can and will misunderstand things no matter how careful we are, yet we must still, as serious followers of Christ, pay attention to this possibility….for The Greater Glory of God and the Salvation of Souls!

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

      Powerful self-reflection Becky. Thank you

    • Guest

      Thank you, Becky.  Though my advanced age is a “protection” danger signs do flash once in a while!!!!.  

  • http://knowledgehungry.wordpress.com/ Jeanne G.

    I appreciate the guidelines, but one is troublesome to me: “Spiritual direction should take place during normal working hours, not late at night.” It depends on the definition of late at night, of course, but normal working hours are during MY normal working hours. I would like to meet with a priest for direction, but I work full time. If he is available in the evening, is that inappropriate?

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

      Dear Jeanne – It is not a matter of where the sun is with respect to the rotation of the earth or where the arms are on the clock – the key is dealing with fatigue and how it impacts our will. If you must meet later it should be an exception rather than the rule.

      • LizEst

        Excellent post. 
        Re: dealing with fatigue and how it impacts our will.  Would you do a post on this subject, please?

    • NotEnoughFlair

      I meet with my priest early in the morning, after mass and before work. I also make sure to be rested the night before, and have a list of questions to keep a focus on the meeting.

    • Becky Ward

      Is it possible that you could arrange to take time off from work to see your SD?  1/2 a day once a month?  Not all employers make it easy to do something like this, but it’s worth thinking about.  Having some extra time to reflect and prepare  certainly wouldn’t hurt your progress. 

  • Joyce

    Thank you for this excellent response on spiritual direction and spiritual friendships.  All the more reason to have such a website as this available, since so few women have been trained in spiritual direction to be of help to other women.  We are encouraged to get spiritual direction during Confession, but my experience is that its real benefits are only sometimes helpful, because of time constraints and the dangers inherent in adding more time, outside of the Confessional.  Hopefully, people who sense a real need for direction will begin to read books (like those of Fr.Dubay, and the writings of the Doctors of the Church) meditatively.  That has been a great help to me, these great treasures of our Church.    

  • Marlene Schwartzbauer

    What an excellent article on spiritual direction.  I am an elderly widowed lady who relies on the advice I receive from my pastor in the confessional.  I respect the priest and the state of life he has chosen and can see why a too personal relationship for some could lead to temptation and fantasizing. I respect the vocation of priesthood for their purpose in life is to minister the sacraments.  God bless all priests who faithfully dedicate their life to God by serving His people.          

  • jack g.

    I liked the article a lot, too. I will forward it to a few priests I know. Just to add a word, when I am being tempted, I many times start to pray and then it stops or goes away. The idea is to be, I think, transparent and to pray before such a meeting for Divine assistance, just in case. Maybe it would not hurt to have such rules exposed for potential directee and together discussed, too. May God Bless all the priests and directors. Hopefully there will be more courses available for new directors in other dioceses. jack g.

  • Elaine A. thomas

    Good article for reflection on a complex issue.  Thanx for that one.

  • AnnieB

    I can’t help thinking that this is why it can be helpful to pay your spiritual director. Then the gratitude can be less dangerous as they are doing their job. Having said that my SD, who is my Parish priest makes it totally clear that he is just “doing his job”.

  • purnamasidhi

    can’t you have a female spiritual director ?

    • Claire

      Yes, of course.  My spiritual director is a woman.  She’s knowledgeable, devout, with a great deal of common sense and experience of living in the world.  I have worked through some things with her help that I don’t think I could have as open about with a priest.  She was already my friend so she knew me pretty well and I trusted her. I was blessed (and surprised) when she agreed take me on for spiritual direction. I’m grateful to God for bringing this about and to her for the time she has given to me since this is not ‘her job’, although she is trained in it.  It also goes beyond just being a good friend. 

      Since she is a woman I don’t have to deal with gratitude and friendship leading to sexual attraction.  On the other hand, I think it would be an advantage to go to confession to a priest who knows me as well as she does.  

  • Sally

    Thank you for this article on spiritual direction.  Coming from a woman with a priest as her direstor, I believe, 1st of all, that when seeking a spiritual director, it should be done so with the utmost fervent prayer; that God will align the right person.  I also believe that once a director & directee connect (especially when it consists of a priest and a woman); guidelines must be set up from the very start.  This fervent prayer is paramount and must be continuous & consistent for the goals of direction to be achieved.
    All are subject to temptation, of course.  However, if there is mutual respect, devout prayer, and clear direction, the grace of God will help us to keep the relationship within it’s proper boundaries.  I once wrote a brief note to my director after a conversation about one of the toughest of challenges a priest faces; that being the challenge of attachment and the inclination to even love a person once the windows of the soul have been revealed.
    In my letter, I expressed this:
    “that those who have made the choice & the commitment to follow Christ, whether it be through ordination, holy vows, or personal vows, we are also choosing to disconnect from the worldly desires and keep our focus on heavenly things;  abandonment, so-to-speak, from things of the flesh.  Along with this commitment comes sometimes~loneliness~but God IS there and He understands.  Those are the times that we are brought to on-purpose, because of His love for us, in order to have deeper intimacy and a more perfect union with Christ.  I believe God places very special people in our lives for a reason.  We are called to follow the Lord & grow in holiness; each in our own unique way.  I believe that loving or having a great fondness of the ones who, by the very grace of God, build up and edify one another SOLELY to Glorify the name of God, with hearts in the right place, would be permissible in building up His Kingdom.  Think of those great saints; those who were brought together by God, Himself, to do the work of the Lord. 
    I believe with every fiber of my being that this is a reason all the more that our priests today need our unceasing prayers & support.  There is no harm in praying for ourselves as well, that we not come into temptation~but if we do~that we are granted the grace & strength to not fall, because with every temptation that comes, God provides the way out”!
    God Bless you all as you continue your ministry!

    • MJP

      Sally, 
      Thank you for your beautiful letter.  Your words helped me a lot.

  • JoFlemings

    This is a great post! And the comments added here are also very helpful!

  • Elaine A. Thomas

    This is one of the best articles I have read.  I have already posted it to my Facebook page and forwarded to family.  I feel fortunate that as far as spiritual friends I have so much going on within my own family.  I am blessed and it is not easy to find this in our culture.  When I need comfort and love and affirmation I can turn to any one of my 10 grandkids and they let me know that I am the greatest thing since icding on the cake.  What a great article this is.  I will read this over many times.  Every priest in the Universe should read it.

  • Roseo39

    Thank you for this useful information

  • Heather

    What if you do feel attraction to your spiritual director, yet he helps you a lot?  Is it something you need to talk about or just purify in prayer?

    • at

      I would find a different SD, even if he is helping a lot, he is not the only one that can help.  Keep in mind that our SDs are not the ones helping us, is God through them guiding us, so you won’t miss the guiding, and wont be distracted by the attraction either.  I love my female spiritual director, she is older than me and has tons of experience with life, and specially connected with my state in life.  She has been such a blessing for me! Ask your Church, even if is not posted a lot of churches have spiritual guides available for parishioners :)

    • Becky Ward

      I think I would ask myself what it is I’m attracted to.  Once we identify the reason for the attraction…physical, emotional, gratitude, shows me attention, knows me better than anyone else, etc………then you can better discern if you should end the relationship or not.

      Once we ‘name’ something – identify it – we are better able to deal with it objectively.

      There are powerful feelings involved in developing our relationship with God.  Anybody who helps us with that – male or female – can become an object of transference if we don’t understand what’s happening.

      Keeping our focus on the Lord, and remembering that all human beings who help us – while our sisters and brothers and deserving of our love – are HIS instruments, and it is only through God’s grace that they are able to help.

      • Heather

        Yes, you are so right Becky.  There is nothing sexual in the “attraction”… but admiration, grattitude, ability to understand and know what is being said, etc.  The fact that he is a priest means a NO GO to anything further than simply being attracted. 
        My question was simply wondeirng if this is something that should be brought up with the spiritual director directly or purified in prayer.  Wouldn’t want to make things awkward un-necessarily. 

        • Becky Ward

          As I’ve been reflecting on this post I’m reminded of something that I believe Fr. Dubay had in “Fire Within” about St. Teresa of Avila and how she had an ever deeper love for those who were her ‘holy friends’.  It makes sense that we would have special feelings for friends with whom we can share our experiences of God……
           
          I’m sure that if you continue to pray about this the Holy Spirit will show you if that discussion is needed or not.

          • jack g.

            Hi, Becky. I have read that, too and it ocured to me that when my sister was reconverted in March this year I have found someone to talk about God with. I mean with close family ties. She experienced a vision of her own heart surrounded with the love of God the Father. This was her initial conversion experience. Until then we talked occasionally and without depth and now our conversations are on fire. It is such a blessing to have my sister converted, My mothers rosaries and fasting are bringing fruits in Grace of God. Out of 7, two are converted, my other sister practices now, and 4 children to go. But now there are more to pray. So, yes there is a special kind of love for those who we have divine ties with and I believe that with prayers we have nothing to worry about. My situation is with sister, but love is special, we do not need to talk much and we know a lot. As far as woman/priest, I believe that if we keep the intentions in a spirit of clean heart, all will be good.
            We are all one divine family in Jesus and so in the Love of Jesus we will dwell in eternity, so it makes sense that the feelings we share are special and different from other type of feelings or emotions. Just as all emotions we just need to know them, control them and respect them to be able to cherish them. That is my take on this whole issue, but in reality every situation will be different, for we are all unique and God gave us free will that we need to master in order to live our lives fully in Christ.
            With the love of Jesus, jack g.

          • Becky Ward

            God Rocks!!  :)

          • Heather

            Thanks again Becky.  I’ll check that book out… it happens to be on my “tattered titles” list.  It’s a good one.

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

            Approved

  • Mary

    My husband and a woman he works with became very emotionally attached after, with his invitation and our family’s help, she joined the Catholic church and our parish, then divorced. They were not careful about riding alone, meeting alone, and sharing personal feelings because they thought all they did was so spiritual. It was never sexual, but it destroyed so much between my husband and myself. It has been going on for 5 years, she still works with him, we have had many conversations with priests throughout the years who advise they separate emotionally. Perhaps that has happened. But I will say, it has been hard on our marriage and particularly me, who feels abandoned and second rate to her “holiness”. I struggle daily with trusting him at work, and it is particularly challenging with her in our parish involved with my children.
    Thank you for this article. Do be careful. And listen not only to your heart (which may mislead you) but to your spouse.

    • JoFlemings

      Mary, you are in my prayers. 

    • Patti Day

      Mary, Something similar happend in my own family. A woman whose husband had abandoned her and their two boys was welcomed by my wonderful aunt and uncle into their circle of family and friends. To their regret, my aunt and uncle had no children, so the boys were a strong magnet, particularly for my uncle. Their mother called upon him frequently for husbandly chores and fatherly matters that I felt very resentful about. I don’t recall my aunt ever saying anything unkind about the woman, but I noticed her withdrawing, excuing herself whenever this woman was present. I was about 15 at the time, but not too young to sense something was terribly wrong. After a few years, this woman went out of our lives, and I don’t know what lasting affect this may have had on my aunt and uncle’s marriage, but when I read your story, a sadness I felt years ago came strongly to the fore. I said a prayer for my beloved aunt. I understand a little better what she may have felt.

  • bev_d

    I want to warn
    women that a sexual mishap is not the only way a priest/directee relationship
    can go south.  I am proof of that and it
    has been one of, if not the most difficult broken relationships (in my
    adulthood) to recover from.  
     

    Because of my
    own inadequacies and issues, I had transference issues with my SD which
    included God the Father and my own Father. 
    He, my SD knew my need for love, acceptance, affirmation, compassion,
    gentleness from a man and so much more and he satisfied them, (out of love, I’m
    sure) but to my deep and severe detriment. 
      It has taken me over a year to
    recover, which I am not completely there and thousands of dollars in
    therapy.  It opened up old wounds and made
    new ones.  I know that I am far from
    alone, especially with this particular SD, who sincerely cares, but needs to
    learn about boundaries.

    I believe as
    directees, we are vulnerable because they are supposed to be the ‘professional’.  I do realize I had much responsibility
    because of my own brokenness, but I did not know what I did not know.  A priest is not there to meet our needs.  He is there to lead us to God who meets our
    needs.

    • Claire

      Your last sentence says it all.

    • Guest

      Yes, your last Sentence says it all. And it is so easy to overlook that aspect, especially where the SP is emotionally touched by your brokenness and in his efforts to help, he instead ends by hurting you even more

      • bev_d

        Even though this has been the most painful year of my life, God has used it to bring me into His arms where only He could console me and heal the pain that cut to my core.  
        He has also shown me the humanity of our priests. How we, the laity can put men on pedestals and follow them like the pied piper and when their human brokenness, flaws and imperfections come into view, we are scandalized by what we all know to be true.
        Only God is perfect, only God is to be worshiped, praised and adored, only God can heal and that He IS a Jealous God.
        But I have also learned about and experienced His forgiveness, compassion and desire to be that ONE that I worship, adore, praise and am completely dependent on, the One I run to.
        He does bring good out of everything.  I don’t know how, but He does. I guess it’s because He is God!

        • Guest

          bev_d, we mature Spiritually through suffering.  Be assured your painful experience was God’s Instrument to draw you even closer to Him than before.  And God always has be best plans for us in the people He brings into our lives to walk with us on our Journey Home.  I have seen His Hand in my entire life which has been lived among his Consecrated and Ordained Workers “in His Vineyard”. This knowledge of the challenges they encounter in their lives as they strive to live their Vows with fidelity has made it possible for me to be of great help to those He brings into my life. As Beck313 has promised you, I too, shall pray for you.

    • Becky Ward

      Praying for you!

    • LizEst

      My prayers for you as well.

  • Anne B

    This is a useful acronym HALT – Satan attacks when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired

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

      Anne – I like this – very direct, clear, and memorable.

    • Guest

      Anne, I salute you.  What a  beautiful abbreviation to memorize and remember.  Be blessed

    • LizEst

       I just saw this.  This is a wonderful acronym.  What a wonderful gift you have given everyone here.

      God bless you.

    • LizEst

      May I add three more letters to the acronym?  “B” Bored, “E” Excited and “D” depressed!

      So, this acronym could read B-HALTED!  Satan attacks when we are Bored, Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Excited or Depressed!

      • Elaine

        ;-)

        • LizEst

           Thanks Elaine.  :))

  • at

    This is great! and it applies other men (that is not my husband or family member), at work or with friends or with a priest. Very good advice.

  • M.

    Awesome advice. God has blessed me with a wonderful spiritual director to whom I owe so much. He has been instrumental in rekindling my faith and love for Christ. And I think out of gratitude it can be a fine line to start feeling emotionally attached to someone who has brought you back to life, spiritually speaking. I think if we recognize where that emotion is coming from and immediately offer the thought of this person up to God in thanksgiving then that refocuses the whole situation to Love of God. I find that I pray for the guidance and the protection of the Holy Spirit ever time I have my SD appointment, and of course we always start and end with prayer and follow all the guidelines you list about. You can read much about spiritual friendships in the lives of great saints (Fracis and Claire, Jane and Frances, Maurice and Therese and other great figures of the Church). In their case, their friendship was based purely on the love of God, and through this friendship they lead each other to Christ. And that is what has to drive our relationship with priests, specially our spiritual directors. In the words of one of my favorite authors Fr Francis Fernandez, he states that it is a great gift from God to have someone that shephers our souls (“In Conversations with God” series).

  • M.

    And I must add: pray for the virtue of chastity, for both of you! Only by God’s grace can we overcome our sinful nature. I strongly believe that the evil one is going to try to the best of his ability to wiggle his way into a good faith based friendship and relationship between a priest and his directee because he knows that this relationship will get you to heaven, and of course the evil one does not want that. So, be prudent, and be prayerful at all times!!

  • M.

    About common practices:  I just remembered a story someone told me about St Josemaria Escriva …. that even when he was walking in the street with his mother or sister he never walked side by side with them so as to give no one any ideas. His logic being that no one knew that these women were related to him so they could be assuming anything! One of our local priests said this was a struggle for him too, recognizing that when he was walking with his beautiful sister-in-law he would get judging looks, and when he was walking with his young nephews people were giving him looks as well!!! It is so sat that our priests are constantly being judged by what they do and what they do not do as well! Which is why some of them choose not to wear clerics when out and about. But I see that as sad as well because by wearing their clerics they are such witnesses. We just need to pray for our priests!!!

    • JoFlemings

      I will have to pray about this particular post, because when I am with my son in religion, who wears a suit with the collar when he is away from his house of formation, I stand on his right and I take his arm. People cannot always tell at a glance, at a distance, in bright light, that I am his mother. Sadly perhaps, I admit, I am so proud of him and I love him so dearly, I would not mind provoking questions by onlookers so I can do that Catholic mom thing-” Why, actually, this is my son, and he is studying and praying about becoming a Catholic priest, can we pray with you about anything? Do you need a more personal experience of the love of God for you? Is Jesus Christ the Lord of your life? Oh, you used to be Catholic? Well, when was the last time you experienced the joy and healing of a good Confession? I’m sure my child, here, has some word of encouragement for your heart…” At this point my son is now stepping hard with his heel on my toe to try to slow me down and quell my zeal…(I think I need a class on purity of intent, applicable in so many areas…) 
      And yes, we do need to pray fervently for our priests, and our seminarians. Obviously, my son is getting a good course in how to work with ‘flaky’ women (who are, I am sure, fewer and farther between than those devout souls in this community sincerely seeking Christ) with me as his mother; but, all joking aside, in working through how best to navigate the more serious emotional issues that might attend the SD/sd’ee relationship, I am glad this is being addressed for the sake of all involved.

      • Rita OCDS

        Thanks God You understand Your problem.
        It seems You try to keep your son for yourself, but he belongs to God.
        Lets pray for him to be a faithful and good priest under Holy Virgin’s protection.

        • JoFlemings

          Ah, yes, I do hope I come to understand all my problems in the proper measure! And to truly give my son to Jesus and Mary and the Church with all my heart! I do thank everyone who prays for him as a seminarian, and for his father priests, and all priests and seminarians, spiritual directors and directees- and that we can all strive to live holiness in our all interactions and affections!

      • Becky Ward

        Ah, Jo……..you’re a gem!!  :)

        Mothers have a special claim, and by golly, if my son was a priest, I’d be clinging to him and showing him off too!!

        I take this subject seriously……..and I also refuse to eliminate any and all demonstrative acts that could be misinterpreted.  We all need hugs….or a squeeze of a hand……..priests too.  I make sure that there are other people around  – my motives are pure – and I leave the rest to God.

        • Guest

          Becky, I thought I was the only dotting “Mum”.  Do you know, it feels so good when my SD calls me “Mummy” and I know he means it.  As you know, in my 4th Last Quarter Lap of Life, I am permitted to get a hug from my “Baby” too…. and to show him off. And, hey, don’t laugh at me!!!!!!

          • JoFlemings

            Mary42- I very much appreciate this consolation the Lord is blessing you with in the ‘interim’ here on this side of the veil, and that you shared that here- this is so beautiful! Thanks! God bless you and your sons(!), both of them!  

      • Guest

        Wow!! JoFlemings, I have just read you Post.  Sorry I was indisposed for a few days.  Well, am I not as proud as you are.  I love truthfully telling those who wonder that my SD is actually my son.  You see he was born the same month my First-Born Son (an Angel in Heaven now) was born.  And God is wonderful that this is the Priest He chose for me as my SD.  It feels that my Baby – who died in infancy – is right back to life and taking care of his now widowed Mommy!!.I thank him every day

        • JoFlemings

          I am starting to feel guilty that I have taken this conversation somewhat off topic in frivolity talking about my son. 
          I did not mean to. I have alot of ideas and opinions about this post, but I don’t think they would realistically add anything to the guidance Father has already given. The only thing I think might be helpful would be maybe for Sister Carmen to maybe give some counsel for women how to discern for ourselves in an interior way how to keep our affections most rightly ordered. I have met alot of priests and it seems to me that as they wed themselves to the Church as Christ, that they are generally gentle and kindly, disposed to be loving toward all people, but especially toward women who are suffering- and alot of the time when women seek out the singular attention of a priest it is because they are in crisis and need the healing he is equipped to provide. I can guess that it might be easy for people in need to misinterpret the universal charity a priest might offer as something more, or other than it is intended to be, especially when in an emotionally weak or damaged or crisis experience in life.Less often, I would assume, the demands and the heartache attendant in carrying the cross as a priest in our current culture might take their toll- and there are ALOT of really beautiful, profoundly spiritually devout women in the Church- I see them everywhere!, so I am sure this is every now and then a real difficulty for some priests. I think it is fitting to be open about the topic in a neutral setting, especially here where the intimacy of spiritual direction is the focus so people can more readily evaluate their hearts- or at least intentionally lay them bare before the Holy Spirit for discernment in prayer.Love and friendship are such basic better aspects of the human experience between people, that sometimes it is confusing in our current age to discern how best to keep them from becoming self-serving or convoluted while at the same time not reject what is legitimately gratifying in friendship with another person.  I guess I can tie this back to the idea above with my son, I would prefer to have all of the good in what is rightly ordered before the Lord, than part with what has the potential to become misconstrued or  compromised, solely because it can be attacked by the enemy. I am not sure that mine is a sound position to take, though. Dan, if you read this- do you have any further wisdom? 

          • Guest

            I hear you, Mary Jo and you are quite right in your conclusions.  As I have responded to bev_d above, God always has the best plans for us in the people He sends to us to walk with us on our Journey Home.  As a Cradle Catholic, my entire life have been lived among the Consecrated and Ordained “Labourers in God’s Vineyard”. And with the experience of 73 years our friendships, both with Priests, Nuns, Bishops and Archbishops God’s Hand has been with us.  It is also edifying when we interact and exchange our life experiences on the Catholic Websites where we are Subscribers by Spiritually walking together as Children of God

      • LizEst

         I just found this subject because of someone who has posted here today.  I must have missed it when it first came out.  jo, how wonderful for you and for your family that your son is a seminarian.  How blessed!  Congratulations.

    • Estefania Vargas

      Thank you for that comment, very interesting about St.Josemaria Escriva, I think that is just another reason why he was a saint and cared so much about every single thing he did and the consequences it could have on someone else. I agree that priests should wear their clerics as much as possible, it is a beautiful witness and inspiring to me. I know this is an old post =)…. God bless.

      • LizEst

        Don’t worry about it being an old post. These posts are kind of timeless, for the most part, and we can always respond when we see them. We appreciate your thoughtful comment, Estefania. God bless you!

  • Ansel

    Dear Fr. John, It is a wonderful piece of advice to all christians. It is all about respcting each ones vocation with love and care.

  • Patti Day

    This is a very valuable thread that I would recommend for anyone who manages people in the secular world, where issues of misplaced admiration, authority, and proximity are a major source of potential litigation.   

  • abandon56

    This post and all comments have been very helpful.  For those who may have had attractions to their SD, I have the following encouragement:  don’t love creatures.  Also, from St. Therese and St. John of the Cross:
    “Advise us,” we said to her, “how to profit by our spiritual instructions.”  “Go for guidance with great simplicity, not counting too much on help which may fail you at any moment.  You would thane have to say with the Spouse in the Canticles:  “The keepers took away my cloak and wounded me; when I had a little passed by them, I found Him whom my soul loveth.”  “If you ask with humility and with detachment after your Beloved the keepers will tell you.  More often, you will find Jesus only when you have passed by all creatures.  Many times I have repeated this verse of the Spiritual Canticle of John of the Cross:”Messengers I pray, no moreBetween us send, who know not how To tell me what my spirit longs to know.For they Thy charms who read -For ever telling of a thousand more -Make all my wounds to bleed,While deeper than beforeDoth an – I know not what I – my spirit grieveWith stammerings vague, and all life bereave.”

    • LizEst

       Good advice.  Thanks.

    • Mary@42

      Thank you, abandon56….these words are a balm to a very wounded heart : 

      “The keepers took away my cloak and wounded me; when I had a little passed by them, I found Him whom my soul loveth.”

      My “keeper” was so helpful and devoted in the beginning….a truly encouraging, very committed and experienced SD and Confessor.

      Then out of the blue,the “keeper” changed……instead of encouraging me and guiding me as he had been doing before, he now instead embarked on crushing my heart and soul by telling me all my Christian, Spiritual, Sacramental and Devotional life was hypocricy and sheer Pharisaic pretences….I was devastated…..I sought help from the Priests who minister to us at the Divine Mercy Spiritual Centre.who unequivocably assured me that this was the worst attack from Evil One….only with repeated assurances was my very sanity saved and I have been now been embraced by Him whom my soul loveth

      • abandon56

        Dear Mary@42, I am so very sorry to hear of the spiritual abuse you have suffered.  As you probably already know, God is deeply concerned about our wounds.  I am sure you have taken yours to Him and that you are allowing Him to love you in them.  

        • Mary@42

          abandon56, God always has a reason why He brings people into our lives.  This tragic experience was an invitation to me, as an Eucharistic Apostle of the Divine Mercy to carry out Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.  

          When everything settled down, as his “foster” mother (he was born the same month and year as my first-born son in 1956),  I was able to very humbly and with Christ’s Charity, advise my ex-SD that his Divine Duty was to gather Christ’s sheep, bring them back to the Sheepfold and take care of them with Christ’s Charity……his Sacerdotal  Apostolate was to search out, bring “Home” and minister, through the Sacraments and Holy Spirit-inspired Advice, Christ’s needy, wounded, doubtful, insecure, anxious and worried Sheep for Him, but not to scatter them by throwing them into despondency and despair.  He understood that, had I not been a mature Cradle Catholic with my Faith well grounded from childhood, his harsh condemnation would have made me walk out of the Catholic Church, never, ever to come back.  And that would have been tragic.

          As Mother Mary exhorts us the Faithful to do, I  encouraged him, henceforth to guide, advise and give us hope that God loves us in all our wretchedness and brokenness and was using him to guide us in the right way He has charted for each one of us. He came to realize his harsh judgement was also an attack on him from the Evil One

          • LizEst

            Wonderful and beautiful response, Mary…and a great model for others to follow.  You are blessed your ex-SD took your advice to heart.  Not all are humble enough to admit it.

          • Mary@42

            New Name,  it is solely the Holy Spirit who was at work here…..I was just an earthen, broken vessel for Him to use in order to come to the aid of Christ’s Shepherd who was in difficulties and needed his Faith strengthened through a caring motherly advice and encouragement, at a time of great trial and tribulation….at the end of it, I felt really very humbled that Jesus found me less unworthy to carry out this Spiritual and Corporal Work of Mercy to Him Himself, in the person of His Shepherd.

          • abandon56

            Mary, this is truly wonderful to hear.  I am amazed that this former SD had the ears to hear.  Of course, this is what God’s merciful love does, yes?
              I can’t help but think of what brokenness caused this harsh judgement in the first place.  He was graced to have someone like you to help him.  

          • LizEst

            You are so right.  I hope this former SD has a SD himself.  Not all do, you know.

          • abandon56

            I dread the thought of it!

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

            It really should never be.

          • LizEst

            You are absolutely right, Dan.

          • Becky Ward

            Yet another great reason to buy Dan’s book.  I have it on good authority that there is a wonderful checklist included for finding a good director.  Obviously this issue is covered.

            This is kind of fun…..it reminds me of when I was young and we wrote letters on adding machine tape or around in circles on a paper plate.

            :)  :).

          • Mary@42

            abandon56, I tell you the Holy Spirit is always at work. God in the first place brought him to me as a SD because Jesus knew soon His Shepherd would have a crisis with his Congregation and he  would need help……God was not sending me a SD but He had work cut out for me to do for Him……so  when the problems arose, help was at hand to give His Shepherd the motherly caring advice, moral support, and compassion he sorely needed to handle that difficult situation from a person who has lived her entire life among the Clergy, and men and women Religious.  (My final 10 years of 46 years of working career, was at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa).  

            And it was precisely when the crisis arose and my ex-SD was in problems that the Evil One struck. Previously, he had been a wonderful Director and we were progressing very well…… but you know, abandon56, all of us, when faced with sudden difficult and unsettling situations are not at our very best…..we tend to project our worries and frustrations to others or those around us.

            When I understood the cause of the sudden outbursts and  what was happening, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I was able to fulfill what He had all along planned……I was there for him, encouraging  him and giving him the vital advice –  and prayers – which he needed to carry his cross as Christ advises us to do. 

            And, yes, abandon56, when calm returned, he listened to me and was very grateful……my advice gave him the strength to deal with the situation rationally.  This is how our Loving God cares for us……He never sends us a Cross without the necessary means to enable us to carry it with fidelity to Him.

          • abandon56

            Thank you for posting more, Mary.  It’s very encouraging to know that any of us may at any time be called upon to support another in crisis.  Prayer and sacrifice for our priests!

          • Becky Ward

            God Bless you Mary!  You know how important it is to pray for our priests.  It’s very easy for us to sit back and be critical of their behaviors – I’m not excusing bad behavior -yet we will never know how badly priests are attacked. We must simply give them to God and pray, pray, pray.

          • abandon56

            AMEN!

          • judeen

            becky.. amen to that.. we need to cover them with the precious blood of Jesus.. bless them break all curses on the 3xs. bless our churches.. with Holy Water too.. we are the army.. of God.. we need to protect our selves and others with our faith in “God”

          • Mary@42

            Becky,you are right…..we should never condemn our Priests but, if we cannot talk to the one who needs help, Our Holy Mother has exhorted us to pray for them and never scandalize them…..and this is the Prayer Jesus Christ Himself gave to Saint Faustina Kowalska for Priests which we all  need to pray every day (the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy pray it daily at 3.00 O’Clock Holy Hour of Great Mercy) : “Oh my Jesus, I beg You on behalf of the whole Church: Grant it love and the light of Your Spirit, and give power to the words of Priests so that hardened hearts might be brought to repentance and return to You,O Lord.

            Lord – give us holy Priests; You Yourself maintain them in holiness.  O Divine and Great High Priest, may the power of Your mercy accompany them everywhere and protect them from the devil’s traps and snares which are continually being set for the souls of Priests.  May the power of Your mercy, O Lord, shatter and bring to naught all that might tarnish the sanctity of Priests, for You can do all things. Amen.” (Divine Mercy in My Soul Diary No.1052).Saint Faustina composed her own wonderful Prayer : “I ask You for special blessings and for light, O Jesus for the Priests before whom I will make my confessions throughout my lifetime. Amen (Diary No.240)

          • judeen

            did you ever thing Mary@42, that God sent you to him to help Him.. you might of gone to him for guideness , but were you the one who gave Him a turn around in faith? brang him back.. to what was right..? also , you proved to your self how strong your faith is..!! tempeted and tried , you suffered the cross, and maybe saved His soul… plus others… God used you to help Him… and you did not even know it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FDQ4YKZT3BRROGWQUGDKQJHUAI irishlass

    As a newbie to this site, I really find and appreciate these comments.  It took me years to find someone, someone who was able to go deep enough for me so I could put my life’s experiences into the proper perspective.  I found a priest and I so truly appreciate and treasure our spiritual relationship – but always remembering that the devil will do everything to destroy anything  he feels will bring us all closer to Christ. Saint Faustina had a great relationship with her spiritual director and I believe she is a good model for us. 

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

      Dear Friend – glad you have joined us! Feel free to comment any time. Check out the FAQ for more information on how to effectively engage! Pax Christi

    • LizEst

      Welcome irishlass!  Glad you found us.

  • judeen

     in retreats, and sharing on wounds and self.. people become bonded together like a family deeper than their own families and spouce. for the share deep things.. ( something married people need to do .. their faults fears, falings.. ) the family of God …. but to , the devil wants to steal purity.. respect.. and chasity… so when working spiritually.. the devil will always try to bring in evil… and break what good is being made. …
         my husband and I were in a prayer room at a big confrence.. and a lady came to us… for us to pray for… there was something wronge… she liked to get intement with pasters and preist. .. feeling sorry for them for they were so alone.. and get them in bed….. evil … possessed… seeking purity and chasity to ruin them steal it and leave sin….
          again . I went to a church who had a bad preist.. taken away by a preist.. , after that all the preists seemed to had trouble there… every time I went to mass I could hear spiritually. words of lust , impurity .. from the choir to the alter..always from the same spot to the alter.,, I told the preist.. to take the Holy Euchrist in the mansterous.. in all parts of the chuch and esspicially the choir loft… and the parish house where he was staying… . … the voice of lust stopped.. never heard it again… but the preist who was the best preist I ever knew.( who would come up to you if you were sitting alone and ask if everything was ok. and if he could pray for you….. )He left and got married.. still think it was from this voice… in the choir loft..

    • LizEst

      judeen–distressing and sad stories. 

      For anyone in those situations, one could meditate on this:  “Stay sober and alert.  Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, solid in your faith.” 1 Peter 5:8-9a

      • judeen

        this is so true… but we forget it is spiritual.. and think it is attraction… we forget , when we give our selves to God , we must look beyond the physical.. our weakness we need to give to God and be alert… and stand firm in what is good.. love is not physical.. it is the suffering of the cross… the giving of ones life…  the physical is for marraige alone…. for reasons. God knows… lonelyness is hard.. we must fill it by helping others. knowing our selves. and finding our gifts… and using them

      • patricia

        That scripture passage always keeps me alarmed and alert

        • LizEst

          Ah yes!

  • judeen

    st clair and st fransis of assis….at. treasa of avlia and st john of the cross….  and so on.. freindship in God.. would talk to each other , and seek to seek God together…  great love and respect for each other … sharing in HOly Wisdom …

  • liftourhearts

    Hello, I am new to the site and found these words very helpful. Many of the comments were valuable as well.

    In my experience, the relationship I have with my priest is to focus on the sacraments and building the kingdom. Not building my friendship with him. He feels the same way. We spend a lot of time together in doing this, and it brings me closer to my husband. I focus on my sacrament of matrimony, not my priest’s sacrament to the Holy Orders. He is not a good priest, he is a great priest.
    The Apostles weren’t sent out to grow the Church. My priest is doing exactly that and part of that ministry is his efforts in the lives of my family and me.

    Becareful if you think and professional relationship can become personal. I have lots of friends. Only one priest, who is a great gift.

    • sr.rose.muchiri

      Dear friend this is very true priest work is to bring people closer to their beloved ones and to those whom we find difficult to relate with. our approach is what matters and this is what can lead them astray.otherwise priest are the right people who can help you to came out of difficult situation as long as we don’t have ill intention when going for spiritual direction

  • D P

    In the past, I’ve had spiritual direction having lunch with my spiritual director.  It is always in a bustling restaurant and across the table in full view of everyone.  If I know the owner, I usually introduce them.  I was chastised by Protestants and others for this.  Is this inappropriate?  Should I just not invite my priest friends to lunch or a meal without someone else with me?

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

      Dear Friend, this is a great question. Personally, I have no issue with a priest and a woman eating lunch in a public place for spiritual direction. My wife and I once shared the same spiritual director (a priest) and this was a norm for her. It is true that we must be careful with these relationships and the meetings should be infrequent (once a month or less is a good norm). Even so, if because of local customs or issues this approach causes perceived scandal, you might review Romans chapter 14 and pray about a different approach.

  • Brej

    I did live many years outside the catholic church before I receieved the grace to come to Her. 

    I love the Church though She but because of have been living outside Her before I can see some difficulties inside Her. One thing is that She sometimes create Her own problems. I have experienced that men and woman can have deep and beautiful friendships without being unchaste. This was a reality outside church. I can see less of this inside. I experience sometimes that all the rules and warnings in the church makes the thing a little unrelaxed and created danger can create more problems. I don´t want to say that it should be in the church as outside, but I wonder if it not would be good to be more relaxed about relationships between men and woman? Priest and laymen included. 

    Why not, without being naive, try to discover the beauty of chaste friendships? And what is friendship withouth some emotional support? I am thinking about this withouth saying that this is not a hard subject. Of course you have to be careful and very very wise.

     

  • Carol V.

    Old post, I know, but just thought I would comment. A couple of years ago I did the Spiritual Exercises with an elderly Jesuit from a parish where I attend daily Mass during the week (it is near my worksite.) Initially, we met at the rectory office, but he was suffering from chronic illness and was transferred to the province’s health care facility, at the other end of the state. At that point I was in week two of the Exercises. Father J. was a computer whiz, however, and we completed the rest of the Exercises via Skype. We conferred weekly, at a set time, and I always had specific assignments, readings, and kept a journal.

    Naturally, I had to do the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a local priest, as one cannot validly confess electronically. I did, however, keep a notebook in which I noted trends of sins, and discussed those with my director, even though those sins had been absolved. We decided it would be a sensible way of identifying patterns, doing root cause analysis (as we would say in my profession,) and nipping future sin in the bud, so to speak.

    My own personal boundaries were this: Because this was a video conference call, I dressed as I would for my job (in other words, modestly and professionally.) I recognized that what I was doing was learning a technique of prayer, and only once in crisis (when my mother took ill and was living with me after serious surgery,) brought emotional issues to the conference.

    Since my own spirituality tended to be fairly Ignatian in the first place (active but contemplative in noticing God in everyday life,) this seemed to work well for me.

    I never noticed any inappropriate feelings or tendencies in myself, and Father J kept the interactions friendly but appropriate.

    The Exercises turned into a way of life that I was able to put into action when I was assaulted by a psychiatric patient and had to undergo back surgery. I was able to make the transition from a very active life to the life of someone recovering from a serious injury without significant emotional, mental, or spiritual distress, and even dealing with the vagaries of workers’ compensation was fairly simple and easy as I practiced Ignatian detachment. As I emerge from that entire experience, I doubt I would have kept my sanity, let alone achieve any measure of serenity, if I had not done the Exercises. Other people have noticed the change in my way of interacting with the world at large: I have changed from a driven, type A personality to a personality which is still energetic but does not spin its wheels in frustration and wasted effort. I’m able to stand back a couple of times a day (the Examen) and notice God at work in my life. I don’t even think I would have made this much physical progress without the Exercises as a tool; knowing me, I would not have followed doctor’s orders, attended strictly to physical therapy, and would have spent my days bemoaning my fate instead of noticing the hand of God in the entire process. A few people have noticed and commented on what they see as my improved outlook on life.

    Father J’s physical condition deteriorated severely once he was in the health care facility, and he passed on to his reward about a month after my surgery. Initially I was saddened, but realized he had achieved the goal of his life. Watching his deterioration week to week taught me a lesson in how to die well.

    Skype seemed to work well for us. Just my two cents’ worth on the matter.

  • marygannon

    When a person, either a woman or a priest has God as their primary goal, both marriage and spiritual friendships find their ultimate meaning, albeit differently and distinctly, in the persons primary relationship with God who is their all. With these parameters, as humans, we are capable of beautiful and enriching relationships of all sorts!

  • Jaxster99

    Thank you for this article – very helpful! I now realize that I may be seeking more of an emotional attachment with my SD & Pastor. Thankfully, my SD is an extraordinarily holy Priest. I have prayed a lot about my attachment to him and asked for the Lord’s help with maintaining healthy boundaries but also to learn how to have a holy and chaste friendship with a man. I was lead to read CS Lewis’ “The Four Loves” and also to contemplate Jesus’ friendship with Lazarus, Mary and Martha. The Four Loves was so helpful — especially the guidance to remain humble in the friendship form of love and resist sharing prideful attitudes which can lead the friendship love down the Eros path. Remarkably, this struggle to keep my own intentions pure and holy has caused tremendous growth in me as a woman. I truly cherish this friendship that has developed with my SD and so appreciate the holy-ness it has encouraged within me. Relating to the opposite sex in a holy and chaste way has been so wonderful (for us both, I think). However, I think I’m starting to understand the need to keep things focused on The Lord (and not turn to my SD for emotional support). Another interesting observation – I realized that I am falling in love with Jesus thru this friendship with my SD. Again, I am so thankful that my SD is such a holy Priest. The CS Lewis quote that sums it all up for me: “the only place we are free of all the perturbations of love is hell”.

    • LizEst

      Yes, you need to be very careful here. It seems you still have an attachment. What betrays it? The sentence that begins “Relating to the opposite sex…” where, at the end, you put in parenthesis “for us both, I think.” There is a projection there on your part that he is also thinking this relationship has been so wonderful. It’s very dangerous speculation.

      Have you ever thought about going to the sacrament of confession to another priest and confessing these thoughts of emotional attachment and “perceived mutual wonderfulness of relationship”? (ps. Where many people may describe a priest as wonderful, they don’t often describe their RELATIONSHIP as wonderful; they oftentimes describe their relationship as good or great or couldn’t be better) You don’t have to answer here. But, if you haven’t done so, you ought to do so…difficult as it may be. The Lord has great helps available for you in this sacrament of great mercy, if you will allow him to assist you. Put the devil on notice that you are serious about this and the demon will flee.

      • Jaxster99

        LizEst – I’m not sure how you got this perspective from reading my post. The friendship with my Priest/SD has taken me by surprise – it is definitely not of my own making or anything I sought out. And, regarding confession – this is a Sacrament that I frequent — very often weekly. Here is an excerpt from CS Lewis’ “The Four Loves” that should help clarify —
        “But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing. At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.”

        • LizEst

          There is nothing wrong with a good and holy friendship…and a chaste love for someone. I’m not saying that the friendship with your SD/pastor is of your own making. What you wrote, and what got my attention was, and I quote, “I now realize that I may be seeking more of an emotional attachment with my SD & Pastor… Remarkably, this struggle to keep my own intentions pure and holy has caused tremendous growth in me as a woman.”

          So, as you said, it’s a struggle for you. It’s difficult. In prayer, you have asked for help with this. What I’m saying is that, if you are struggling with this, you ought to bring it to the sacrament of confession, if you have not done so already. But, be sure you are NOT confessing this to the same priest who is both your spiritual director and pastor, the person against whom you are struggling not to have more of an emotional attachment to. Go to someone else and confess, or talk about, these things, if you have not done so already. Temptations and struggles are not sins. It IS OK to mention temptations and struggles after you have confessed your sins in order to avail yourself of the grace available in the sacrament. There is no quicker, surer spiritual help for something like this than through the great tribunal of mercy, which is the sacrament of penance.

          Beware! If you have not mentioned these things in confession…and you are thinking you shouldn’t, you are right where the powers of darkness want you to be: relying on your own self to combat this, relying on your own self to see the blind spots you can’t see. The devil likes nothing better than to separate us from people or counsel that would get us to see the light. Or, could it be that you are afraid the priest confessor will tell you to find another spiritual director? Are you afraid to face this?

          Have you mentioned these struggles and temptations to your spiritual director? If the answer is no, then you are not being completely open with him and that’s not good for spiritual direction. If the answer is yes, what does he say? If he is as holy as you say he is, and you told him all about these struggles, then I’m surprised he has not asked you to see someone else for direction, or to see someone else for a time, in order to give both of you some space and perspective.

          Have you mentioned these things to your best friend? If you are married, have you mentioned these things to your husband? If the answer to these questions is no, then I wonder why not? If the answer is no, then it’s a sign that you are more attached to this SD/pastor than you realize.

          I’m not getting this perspective from something I dreamed up. I’m getting it from your words.

          God bless you Jaxster99. I will pray for you.

          • Jaxster99

            Wow – I think it is us who should pray for you. I am very surprised the tone of your comments made it thru the moderation filter. I am praying for you, but can’t engage in the negative turn this dialogue has taken. I encourage you to try to think well of people – it is one of the most Christian things you can do. Love is patient, love is kind …

          • LizEst

            Jaxster99–Thank you for praying for me. I can always use the prayers. Have you told your husband, your kids, your closest friends, your brothers, your sisters everything you have written here in these posts of yours? If not, ask yourself why not?

          • LizEst

            ps. This is not a condemnation of you personally. I’m sure you are a good and decent human being. Because of what you yourself wrote above, it’s important that you ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly.

            May God bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you and grant you peace.

          • jack g.

            Sorry to bulge in unannounced, but I have another perspective at this issue. I am a man and being one I can most definitely relate to a priest a man.

            It seems that vocation of a priest requires to lead a life of solitude and too much friendships might be of a conflict of interest here. I don’t mean the every day friendships, but the kind you are talking here about, meaning one with lots of emotional attachment.

            I believe that if I was a priest I would like to work on friendship with my Lord an look for solace and emotional fill there and not in people. Just check out what St. Faustina’s and Jesus friendship was. God is jealous for love and wants it to be pure and believe me, there is no room for a mistake when it comes to man and woman relationship. It is very dangerous to think that it could be safe and harmless but at the same time emotional and deep.

            I think that the friendship you are talking about here is kind of riding on a thin line, or on the line connecting two rooftops. One mistake, lots of damage.

            In spiritual life there is no room for taking such risks, it like flirting with a mortal sin, who wants to do that seriously on a regular basis?

            SD are great, needed and as holy as they can be, emotional distance must be kept.

            With love of Jesus in my heart, jack g.

          • LizEst

            Jack – Thanks for your comment. It’s good to get another perspective here, especially from the male point of view. As Dan Burke indicated in his book on spiritual direction “Navigating the Interior Life,” a spiritual director helps us see blind spots that we can’t see ourselves. When there is a blind spot in assessing the relationship with one’s spiritual director, another director/confessor/close confidant needs to have a look at it, in order to safeguard both directee and director alike, spiritually…and sometimes emotionally and physically, too, by means of prudent advice and counsel.

            Thank you so much, Jack…and may God bless you and keep you.

  • jenny

    …it looks like men are at advantage while talking to a man-priest, while women have to refrain from many things….is it fair?
    How would a man feel to go to confession to a woman ?

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

      Dear Jenny – it is not about fairness but about dealing with the realities and dangers of inappropriate intimacy – about honoring God and the dignity of both the woman and the priest.

      • jenny

        Do men deal with the realities and dangers of inappropriate intimacy while dealing with priests? Why not? Why would men have an easier life than women while dealing with a priest?
        Aren’t those realities for both men and women? Or God wants women to suffer more than men…..

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

          It is not the norm. It is normal for men and women to experience attraction between them. The realities might be switched say with a female counselor and a male client. What is it about this situation that bothers you on a personal level? It really is just about mitigating the challenges of attraction.

  • patricia

    A spiritual direction and confession in which is my experience is with the same priest. I also have attended classes. Just the other day I arrived early for class, but I did not seek to socialize but rather give him space to prepare for his lesson and I sat at a difference. It is important women dress appropriately when recieving spiritual direction or going to confession face to face to a priest. Temptation is a reality and it can happen to the most holiest people. What I do because I have so much going on in my life is that I divide spiritual stuff up for confession and spiritual direction and class is class. Theological questions I ask the community of Avila Institute and for emotional support I have a personal counselor and my Cursillo community of women. In a crisis sometimes the lines and boundaries are extended but that should only be temporary. Being respectful of each others space shows you want to keep the relationship pure that you are aware of the other need to keep chaste in this relationship. It is important to have more than one emotional support in order to not fall into such possiable temptations against purity and chasity in a spiritual direction directee relationship and during the sacrament of confession. Another thing I keep my emotions in check for the most part I don’t cry in front of the priest that is for God alone I treasure my tears my sorrow to God alone. I usually don’t even cry around my husband or family this is for God alone. For then it’s not attention seeking that if I need to be corrected or admonished about something in confession or in spiritual direction the priest does not have to worry if I am going to get emotional. I have had a lot of training in this. My tears my sorrow my contrition is for the Lord only him. When I see myself in an emotional state I let my spiritual director know but I tell him to always point me to the truth and I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I also email him ahead of time what I want to bring up so he knows and I know nothing is of surprise. I am married but I feel we have to as women be like the virgins in the bible with thier lamps well lit and with plenty of oil. We can’t live by our emotions but by our faith and I have learned this the hard way!

    • http://www.marythedefender.wordpress.com MariaGo

      What you wrote here about not being emotional really struck me. I hope I can learn to be like that. I often get very emotional, too emotional even. Not always during Spiritual direction but at other times and with other people as well. Its can be hard for me to reign in my emotions. But St Therese has helped me a lot with this. So have Jesus and Mama Mary. Thank You Lord for the graces You have given me! But its still a struggle at times.

      I don’t think I have any of the other problems listed in the article here. My Spiritual Director and confessor in school are both almost old enough to be my grandfather! But its still good to know for the future. I know I’ll have to change my director someday. Its a sad thought, but certainly in a decade’s time or so, since my director is in his 70s I think. I am very grateful for him now. He is so patient, understanding and wise. Definitely the perfect fit for my excitability!

      • patricia

        my spiritual director and confessor challenges me constantly and reaches to bring me to truth. I was blessed because he offered to be my spiritual director and he has Jesuit education and spirituality which is new for me for I am Franciscan and Carmelite. It is a unique relationship that should never be taken advantage of but respected knowing God through this person is speaking to you to your soul. being realistic and having realistic expectations help to keep the balance. As my spiritual director says all things we do should bring us a little closer to God to heaven and bring others closer to heaven to God.

  • MarcAlcan

    Great article.
    This is what I always hint at in conversations with priests – never have close female friends. I have found that priests who do so end up leaving the priesthood and marrying the woman whose shoulders they have used to cry on (or vice-versa). And I advise women to be not so friendly with a priest to the point that they have heart to hearts.
    Same thing I advise married women and men – never have close friendships with the opposite sex. Your best friend should be your husband or wife or someone of the same gender.

  • aimer

    Thank you for this. I’m new to Catholicism so priests are confusing to me, i don’t want to appear disrespectful by being casual around them, but i also don’t want to be all awkward and come across unfriendly. My two current priest was friendly and warm to be when i first came to the church, hugging me (quick and appropriate, along with my husband and other parishioners), joking, etc. I have ALWAYS been respectful and receptive. But now he goes out of his way to ignore me or will be very formal with me. No weird incidents stand out and I’m sure I’ve never said or done anything wrong. He’s friendly and jovial with my husband and other people, including women, but with me…..,.awkward. It hurts my feelings because I can’t figure out what I’ve done. I’ve been around Protestant clegy all of my life and this never happened and it feels too awkward to talk to him about it.

    • Jajee

      Don’t think about him too much. Let him be.

    • Deacon Joseph Pasaquella

      We clergy are men too. It could be he might be attracted to you and has to distance himself for his own spiritual life. Also, it might be partially just your perception being you are a sensitive person.

      • aimer

        Thank you Deacon. We seemed to have worked it out, whatever it was because now he treats me like everyone else and any joking around feels very “mother/son” since I’m a mom and he’s younger than I. I guess we just needed to get to know each other better :-)

  • Trish

    eHere’s my take on the question: Fr. John was absolutely right. Women must be very careful in their interactions with a priest. He cannot be a friend in the usual sense of the word “friend.” He is busy, and his time is precious.
    A friend of mine had a crush on her priest and would call me about it all the time, trying to convince me that they were doing nothing wrong. I tried to convince her that he was not “available.” I kept repeating it until she started listening. Later on, she married a guy who was available. Good for her!
    Another friend of mine told me about the time she was driving in a car alone with her priest, on a road trip (a mutual decision), that involved some alcohol and an overnight stay at a hotel. I asked another friend (a fellow Catholic) what he thought about that. He said, That was NOT a good situation (violation of Safe Environment and Boundaries). He said, “Who knows what that woman was thinking when she related the indiscretion to you.”
    It’s more dangerous for the woman than for the priest. If someone sees them alone together in a car, a restaurant, a movie theater—tongues will wag. Parishioners will most likely give the priest a benefit of a doubt, but not the woman whom they might brand as “the bad one.” Not a pretty picture.

  • StTeresaSoulSister

    Lord, lead us not into temptation. If our faith is the most precious thing in our life, anything that has the potential to corrupt is deadly. Satan knows this.
    I so FULLY understand the need for spiritual direction, and am so thankful for Father Bartunek’s gentle and full guidance given above. Needing spiritual direction is the primary reason I came to this website.
    Please don’t misunderstand me: Every priest is a hero to me, and we need to hold them close in prayer. But the last things I want is a relationship with a priest outside of the confessional and Mass. I pray that these men who sacrifice their very lives will be strengthened.
    I’m looking into connection with the 3rd Order Discalced Carmelites, Lord willing that will happen. I wear the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Teresa of Avila is my SOUL SISTER!!, and now I have this website.
    God is ever faithful and providing me spiritual nourishment.
    In humble gratitude for all of you here.