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Catholic Spiritual Direction

Where can I find a spiritual director?

September 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Finding a Director, Fr. Bartunek, Spiritual Direction

Dear Father John, I remember reading long ago St. Vincent Ferrer’s “Treatise on the Spiritual Life”, which near the end says that those who cannot find a director will, if sincere, be guided by God/the Holy Spirit himself. He does Not say how God will do this (audibly, by supernatural phenomena, by circumstances one lives in or encounters, by books, or some other ways)?

I would very Much like to receive your Valued thoughts on this. St. Vincent says also that near the end of the age/approach of Antichrist, there will be a very big shortage of spiritual directors, and that the God-direct approach will in most cases be the only option.

I am not very advanced in the spiritual life and have been a sinner.

Only a precious few are advanced in the spiritual life, and all of us are sinners, so you are right at home here.

The Persistent Challenge

Your first question begins with a concern that comes up over and over again here on this website, and also in real life: Where can I find a spiritual director? It is hard, and you are not alone in having experienced the difficulty. But St. Vincent’s advice involves two points. The first is a condition, and the second is a result. If the condition is met, the result will follow. The condition is that someone is unable to find a spiritual director. This implies that the person has made a concerted effort to do so. And there is actually a lot we can do in this field. We have had a chance to examine this question from various angles, and I am sure that you will find some good advice, comfort, and practical tips from re-reading the following posts: How Do I Find and Select a Spiritual Director?; Faithful Priests Are Too Busy! Where Can I Look?; How Can I Determine if a Spiritual Director is Faithful to the Church?; Should My Confessor and Spiritual Director Be the Same Person?

God Won’t Be Stymied

Now, if someone has made a concerted effort – doing everything within their power over an extended period of time, and asking God consistently and humbly in prayer – and God has still not given a director, then, certainly, we can count on God to guide this person directly. And he will do so through all the normal means that he gives us to grow spiritually: the sacraments, prayer, spiritual reading, faith-based friendships, and study of the faith. He will also do so through shaping circumstances in one’s life, and providing insights here and there from surprising sources – a comment of a stranger in a bookstore, a sudden inspiration to pick up a book or make a visit to the Eucharist, a line or scene from a movie, a beautiful sunset… The Catechism (#s 1 & 27) reminds us that “at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength… God never ceases to draw man to himself.” God works from within our hearts, and he also works from the outside, passionately seeking every possible way to draw us closer to him.

Deeper Troubles?

More than a few saints experienced long periods of suffering and confusion before they were able to find good spiritual directors or confessors – St. Margaret Mary, St. Faustina Kowalska, even St. Teresa of Jesus followed this path. But God guided them throughout, and he even used their suffering to help them grow in wisdom and docility. Nevertheless, we should beware of presuming on God’s goodness. We should be careful to ask ourselves if maybe our difficulty in finding a director is linked to some vanity or pride. Maybe we are looking for the perfect director, the one who has experienced all four levels of infused contemplation, the one who glows with a holy aura, the one who will have an answer for everything, the one we just really like… That over-exalted standard is a distraction, and it can unnecessarily delay our taking advantage of this means for spiritual growth.

God works through ordinary instruments as easily as he works through extraordinary instruments. An ordinary priest or religious who is faithful and well-instructed in Catholic doctrine can be an excellent spiritual director, even if God has not graced him or her with infused contemplation, the gift of reading souls, or an outwardly attractive spiritual mien. Again, the experience of the saints instructs us. St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s confessor was imprudent and temperamental. Blessed John Paul II, as a young man, had a layman, a humble tailor, as his spiritual guide.

A good spiritual director doesn’t have to be a perfect spiritual director. The spiritual director is not the one who is responsible for the holiness of the person receiving direction – the directee is still the one journeying into the Heart of Jesus. To forego the many, many benefits of spiritual direction because we are waiting for the perfect spiritual director, when a good one is available, is surely not an inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

End Times’ Shortage?

Now we are ready to go on to the second part of your question, regarding the End Times and the scarcity of good spiritual directors.

I was unable to find the exact passage in St. Vincent’s book that you are referring to. But he does write much in that Treatise about a problem common among Catholic circles during his lifetime (late 1300s and early 1400s): an obsession with visions, locutions, private revelations, and other supernatural phenomenon. In his Treatise, he warns the sincere Christian against following any spiritual leader whose obsession for such phenomena leads them to contradict or question the tenets of the Catholic faith. And he laments that, unfortunately, such persons and the spiritual temptations they engender “are very common in these times, and which God permits for the purpose of purifying and testing his elect” (p180).

In this sense, his warnings appear to echo the New Testament, where St. Paul, St. John, St. Jude, and others, issue vehement and frequent warnings against false teachers. St. John even writes, towards the end of the first century, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). So, in a broad sense, we already live in the End Times, the times of the Antichrist – this last age of history, the age of the Church, in which the Gospel is to be preached to all peoples and believers are to suffer great persecution.

When the Catechism discusses the Church’s final trial, however, which will immediately precede Jesus’ Second Coming (see Catechism #s 675-679), it makes no mention of any specific signs or indicators – as, for example, what you write about there being a shortage of good spiritual directors. In fact, when we read Church history, we find many periods when that has been the case.

I hope this answer has given you some encouragement. You can rest assured that if you are doing your part to use whatever means are available to you to deepen your friendship with Christ, he will certainly also do his part, and you have nothing to fear.

God bless 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 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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  • LizEst

    This is an excellent post, Fr. John. A certain amount of people who visit this site are searching for a good spiritual director. Your words will give them hope to stay the course…and not to worry in the meantime. Thank you so much.

  • tz

    There is also the opposite problem. The spiritual director as “friend” who makes things easy or won’t criticize or develop. A parallel would be a health consultant who says you don’t have to exercize or avoid sweets because he knows you are fond of them. Or worse, works hard to make you “nice” instead of saintly. What is needed is a spiritual boot camp drill instructor.

    While our Lord can keep pushing and give neon flashing signs that someone needs his or her anger, fear, trust, lust or something else fixed, the nice spiritual director will tell them to ignore such.

    Bad spiritual direction is worse than none at all as drinking salt water is worse for dehydration.

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

      Well said TZ

  • http://www.facebook.com/glenna.bradshaw.5 Glenna Bradshaw

    I’d just add maybe two obvious points:
    Sitting quietly in the Presence of Christ in the tabernacle or in Eucharistic Adoration, on a consistent basis, often yields excellent spiritual fruit and, therefore, is a good source of spiritual direction.
    Also, the directee has a responsibility of response-ability. I.e., humbly listening to what the director is saying & implementing, again with some consistency, what’s been recommended.
    I’ve seen situations end up detracting from the directee’s relationship with God because it seems like she’s just going thru the motions & not really wanting to change or be open to God. John of the Cross & Paul of the Cross & faustina & many others have detailed the problems that result from inadequacies on the part of the director, of course., so it’s obviously a two way street!

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  • HFP

    People are people, St. Pio with all his knowledge holiness and powers illustrates a lovable person, borne out from his followers, who probably would be a very tough advisor indeed let alone he would know what your sins were before you spoke and would not suffer your weakness patiently, not all together unlike a tough Italian relative or two I had growing up. Perfection remains with God alone, but we need not stand idle to avoid sin or failures since to live this life is to live as a sinner awaiting albeit the mercy and joy springing to us in Christ, if so judged and extended us of course….I pray for you, you pray for me, Thanks be to God ! Sadly, personal note, two serious efforts for such advisor failed years past leaving me completely reliant on my Father, bountiful in love and support, though a third attempt timely?

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

    Dear Friend, though Eucharistic Adoration is always a good practice and the Holy Spirit does guide us in these times of communion with the Lord, they are not in the proper sense Spiritual Direction as we are speaking of here. In the sense we use the term and the sense that the Church has used it, it always involves three persons, the directee, the director, and the Holy Spirit. All that said, in a general sense, I would agree with all of your comments. My reason for pressing the point is that many use the term as synonymous with many other activities like spiritual reading etc. This leads the reader to be mislead regarding the true and fruitful practice…

    • http://profiles.google.com/gtbradshaw G Bradshaw

      I guess I’ll press the point too, Dan. I’ve had the blessing of having 3 above-average priest-spiritual directors for the last 27 years. I have no idea where I’d be today without their love/advice & prayer support so i’m in no way denigrating their role. My point was that, without “face time” with Jesus in the Eucharist, I wouldn’t be able to accept or process or incorporate or whatever word you want to use, the direction that I receive.
      As with everything in the Catholic Church, this is not a case of ‘either or ‘ but ‘both and.’ It also seems very important to me that every Catholic (or every person) be well aware that Jesus is waiting day & night to ‘direct’ anyone who comes to Him. Direction is not for a lucky few. Ever.

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

        Very well said

  • DebraBrunsberg

    I was confirmed four years ago. I could not find a Spriitual Director so I relied on people close to me who had also experienced a powerful conversion. I have prayed every day that the Lord would send me a holy and spiritual priest for a director. Nothing. Then I realized that what the Lord did for me was to enable my work schedule to change to allow me to go to daily Mass and to have a Holy Hour. Between daily homilies, frequent confession, adoration and much spiritual reading, the Lord was directing me every moment of every day.
    When the Lord wants to make a very clear point, He utilizes everything and everyone around me. It is ever new and amazing to me how the Lord will put things into our hearts.
    I strongly recommend that everyone have one or two people in their lives that are madly in love with the Lord that they can talk to on a regular basis. Spiritual friends are of great assistance.

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

      Great advice!

    • Midget01

      While I know what you are saying sounds true but I find myself in a different rhealm than most of my friends.  They turn to me to find workshops, talks, and spiritual things to do for them.  Don’t get me wrong they are wonderful spiritfilled people.  But I get drained and find my self empty and need to be refueled.  At some point I need more than just a friend to share my faith with because most of the time they are not at the point I find myself willing to committ.  Perhaps being retired puts me in a different category because I am a person with much time and thought in my soul.  I just feel frustrated and my souls almost cried to move deeper and I know my friends are not ready to go there yet.  When I was younger or farther back in my faith that would have worked.  I know they mean well and they listen but I get not definite sense of direction.  Is the dry spell then created by my choice of friends and their limited faith or am I trying to force myself beyond what God is calling me too.  This is perhaps why I feel a need for a deeper type of direction.  Since I am not a director; these might be questions you might have to face after awhile.  Perhaps someone out there could give both of us some guidance on this issue.  Thank you for Sharing.Midget01

  • Midget01

    Apparently I had a wrong spiritual Director and it ended badly.  I remained off to myself trying to get back on track through religious courses to rediscover my spirituality, then went to reading books, and CD’s and talking with friends of different faith about my path with God.  They have been amazed and very intent on telling me I that I should get back into my faith because they see God working in me.  I smile and say thank you yet I know why I keep myself on the outside of what I need to do.  I test different priests through confession not looking for the perfect one but rather trying to seek a person that if I need to discuss the issues of what happened I will know I not only can trust them but not put them a position of having to avoid certain people because of what happened.  My question is how does one open up to a spiritual director when you find one and not be totally open and honest?  I believe it is me holding back because of not wishing to bring things out in the open after I felt I had forgiven and let go; yet for whatever reason I see in movies, actions of other people etc some of the things I struggle with are still hovering around me even though I have changed Diocese.  Can Spiritual Direction be done by the internet and what if a person listens on the internet ( perhaps an Actual Priest and gives a little guidance but never accepts openly the position of Spiritual Director)  This last priest has been there to share in the joys of God’s working in my life; but not really answered the call of spiritual direction in the Desolation Part of Life.    How does one know where to go.  Lay Spiritual Directors in my area have much less theological training than I have had and I would not want to put them in the area of frustration that is why I feel I need to speak with a Priest or Nun.  We have extremely few Nuns in the part of the country.  Without being very outspoken on line it is hard to go into detail as to why I can’t spell it out.  Where does a very unholy person who struggles to regain her deeper faith go for better direction.  My Pastor who without realizing it has set up boundaries and when asked how to locate a Spiritual Director in the Diocese; has said that I should pray about it.  I looked at him and said I have for 16-19 years.  He said pray some more.  That the priests in this diocese are busy.  He really has no idea what I am going through or trying to seek or is it he is just not the one to help.  Peace/Shalom/Salaam Midget 01(  Ideas and words of wisdom for a better sense of direction would be welcomed.) 

  • DebraBrunsberg

    I too feel a need for a deeper type of direction, but do not really know where to find it. What I have been blessed with is that about every six months or so, I start to feel confused and lost in my journey and my pastor will make some time for me, to just talk about where I am at and what I need help with.  That half hour or hour now and then does wonders for pointing me in the right direction.  Maybe you could ask your paster for a bit of time to listen to you and give you some advice or to even just pray over you or bless you. The priest is a powerful intercessor.
    I have found that going to a healing Mass every month or every other month  brings me great peace and insight.  Do you have the opportunity to take part in that?
    It is hard to follow Christ. That is the truth. It is difficult to know if we are trying to get holier than we are supposed to or faster than we are supposed to or if we are too wrapped up in ourselves.  My last meeting with my pastor he told me I had pretty much everything in place for growth, but I was missing the service aspect. I need to start going out of myself for others.  I guess I am still in the Jesus and Me and forget about Thee stage.  That cannot go on forever though.  I don’t know if you are involved in any ministries or volunteer things, but that might be a way to grow spiritually.  I will pray for you, that the Lord will bring you someone to keep you on the right path.  God Bless.

  • Becky Ward

    One of the devil’s greatest weapons is to get us to keep things secret.  

    I agree with what Debra has said about going to daily Mass, making frequent confessions, and spending a good amount of time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

    Pray!  If you truly want a director, and are ready for one, God will send you the right one for your soul…and that may be a lay person.  Do not underestimate the ability of the Holy Spirit to work through humble souls….even if they are not highly educated in theology.
    You might also check out Dan’s book…it is chock full of good help on this subject.

    God Bless!!

    • Midget01

      The problem for the Lay People is not a religioius nature but rather the human nature that would throw them off balance.  I realize over the last 16 years because of my pains I have opened up to a few lay people and all I have done was to spread my pain about what I need to get help on.  I attend adoration, I do Liturgy of hours, I watch religious tv; yet I also am not trying to be overly religious ( I guess this area is hard to explain since God has always been with me and no one has ever accused me of appearing a Holy roller.  They just know they can ask me for prayer and trust me.  Yet I am not Holy.  I sin like everyone else.)  I try to be patient but my signature theme is Activator.  When I get full of the Spirit I feel compelled to act.  I get frustrated when others don’t practice their faith; yet I don’t push them into it.  I pray for them instead.  The hard part is God appeared to be always there before and now I struggle to have his work as strongly in my life.  I get bits and glimpses kind of a reminder; yet not the full force I once received.  Part of me is seeking guidance and affirmation for fear of falling off the cliff that I did in 1987.  I did not get psyhico or anything like that.  My soul fell apart and I temporarily walked away from the pain and I believed I left God in the middle of it and I have struggled ever since then to come back to him. 

      Please do not misunderstand me I don’t think what you have said is wrong but after many years one grow weiry of how this works because of how wonderful it use to be and although I know I am not the one is controll it feels like it has changed and at times I wonder what I have done or could do to fix this seperation not so much between me and God but rather me and God’s people.  I never questioned my place when God worked through me.  Now that I don’t feel or see it, it bothers me.  This is why I feel a need for a spiritual director.  Some one who helps me understand and perhaps point me in a new direction of understanding.  Midget01  People close to me a lot of times tell me what I want to hear rather than serve as a guide because this brings them into unfamiliar waters.  I love them and their opinions. 

  • patricia

    I did have a spiritual director but then I was told I had to be in touch with my emotions. and right now with school and recent deaths in my family and dealing with past traumatic events, I was told spiritual direction right now is not good for me and i should concentrate on the stuff just mention and finish with school. I was told I always had too much on my plate. I however feel even more than ever I need spiritual direction. I am very concerned that I will become luke warm in loving and serving God. Does anyone have any suggestions. I spoke to my confessor about this and he had no comment. What should I do?

    • LizEst

      Patricia – Do you have, and have you read, Dan’s book “Navigating the Spiritual Life? On page 23, there is a whole chapter on how to find a spiritual director. And, on page 53, a short one page chapter on what do you if you can’t find one. If your confessor didn’t comment when you spoke to him about having a spiritual director, perhaps he was giving you an opportunity to ask him to direct you. Good confessors are one of the sources of spiritual directors. They don’t necessarily just jump up and volunteer to do that. Why don’t you get Dan’s book and read all the questions he recommends you ask of a potential director…and then ask your confessor?

      • Patricia Budd

        I have Dan’s book and I will re read that chapter I will ask my confessor next time. I was not sure if I would be putting him on the spot. I will ask him what he thinks about that. Thank you!

        • LizEst

          You’re welcome. When you read the chapter, pay attention to how Dan says to ask this question of him. There is a specific question (p. 28) that will open this up for you. Prepare properly for your meeting and follow up. Dan also gives very specific questions later on in the book and preparations you need to do. You need to be careful and specific about how you approach this meeting…and Dan lays it all out for you. Just follow the directions as you would follow a doctor’s instructions.

          • Patricia Budd

            I will thank you

  • Jeff Pascua

    I feel the need of Spiritual Director in our spiritual life, growing in Holiness and to better know the will of God.
    In my case, I don’t have Spiritual guide and just waiting for God’s inspiration daily from different spiritual book, holy sacraments, holy rosary, pious community and the like.. Is it possible for me and appropriate to have Spiritual director in this community? Since, I really find difficulty to find one due to various reasons.

    I feel that I’m growing somehow in spirituality and can describe my soul to the second mansion of ” Interior Castle” by St. Theresa of Avila.
    I’m just afraid that I would stack up and pulled back again to the first due to lack of spiritual guidance?

    May God bless us all, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary…

    Jeff

    • LizEst

      Jeff – You asked if it was possible for you and appropriate to have a spiritual director in “this community.” What community are you referring to?

      Apart from your answer to that question, if you don’t have Dan Burke’s book “Navigating the Spiritual Life,” I highly recommend that you get it. It is a step-by-step guide to spiritual direction. In it Dan walks the reader through different ways to find a spiritual director. He has an entire chapter of about ten pages dedicated to this. One way is through the sacrament of confession. If you have a confessor from whom you have received good spiritual advice, you could ask him if you could follow up later, outside confession, about a particular question. The book gives you goes through questions that you could ask a prospective spiritual director to determine whether he or she (yes, a director can even be a religious sister or a lay man or woman) would be the right director for you.

      • Jeff Pascua

        Im referring to this Web/ blog. Sort of like this one. You give advise and I’m very thankful to GOD since I land to RCSD.. And especially to you Lizest, Thank you so much,.

        Been visiting this site for quite some time and It really helps me even just reading post. I believe the Holy Spirit guided me here,
        I guess I have to purchase Dan’s Book for some enlightenment.

        Thank you again, May God continually bless you and the Blessed Virgin, Mary protect you..

        Jeff

        • LizEst

          If you would like, you may send me an email at: totus2us@verizon.net After I receive your note, I will remove my address from this post. God bless you, Jeff.

          • Jeff Pascua

            Ok, Thanks Much!..

            Im a member of “Legion of Mary” but only an auxiliary , because of busy schedule, Work and Family.. I just shared this since your email ad is “totus2us”..

            God Bless you Liz..

  • Alexandra Arias

    Why are only a precious few advanced in the spiritual life? Who are they that are advanced in the spiritual life? What are the four levels of infused contemplation?

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

    Because there are a precious few who want it and those few rarely have people to help show them the way. As for levels of contemplation, read Jordan Aumann’s Spiritual Theology…

    • Alexandra Arias

      Thanks for replying Dan – I’m very blessed to have an extra-ordinary gifted spiritual director who is showing me the way. This web site is also very helpful with posts like this one – thanks for your “yes” to the Lord Dan, may God bless you!

  • LizEst

    Midget01 – I just read this now. If you have had a strong sense of God in the past, consolations and such, and no longer have that. If you keep praying and doing all the right things and don’t “feel” God like you used to, you may be entering into the dark night of the soul. During this period, God weans us off of His consolations in order to make our faith stronger. He doesn’t want us to love Him and have faith in Him only at those times when we “feel” His presence and consolations. He wants us to be faithful and to love Him no matter what. There is no way to know how long the dark night will last. But, if this is what you are going through, your faith and love for God will be much stronger when you come out of it.

    …and, a lay person can be an excellent spiritual director, but you have to select carefully. As Becky wrote, read Dan’s book and you will learn, step-by-step, how to select one that will be a good guide and director for you. God bless you, Midget01!