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Catholic Spiritual Direction

CSD Book Club – Navigating the Interior Life (Week 2 of 6)

March 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Without exception, the teachings of the saints and spiritual doctors of the Church agree: spiritual direction is among the most powerful tools to help us in the battle. Do you know any wise doctors who treat themselves when they face serious health challenges? Have you heard of any top athletes who don’t have the-good-portion-picturepersonal trainers and coaches? Spiritual direction is the means through which the Holy Spirit guides us and provides coaching for our souls. No doubt that this remedy is in itself a challenge (as most remedies are), but history books are replete with those who have chosen it and found the difficulties to be nothing when compared to the benefits. – Navigating the Interior Life, p. 2 (last paragraph of Introduction)

As you can see from the above passage, spiritual direction is a no-brainer. In our quest to persevere in running the race that lies before us (Hebrews 12:1), spiritual directors are to the soul as doctors and coaches are to the body.

So why do most of us flail around on our own, desperately seeking holiness without one?

In my case, there are two reasons:

1. Spiritual direction is as mysterious as the bermuda triangle.

2. “Bothering” a priest excites me about as much as having a root canal.

Spiritual Direction Is a Mystery

As a virtual infant in the faith (read “convert”), I’ve long had my eyes wide open, garnering as much information as possible from fellow Catholics, as well as every book, CD and website I can find on Catholic theology and spirituality.

Over the years, I’ve compiled quite a wealth of Catholic wisdom and tradition on my shelves. And I’ve even read some of it! Regardless, reading about the Faith is kind of like reading about how to ride a bike. Until you actually go through the motions, not much will stick.

For many years, nothing in my faith life was easy. I stumbled my way through various traditions until I figured them out. For eons I asked confessors to walk me through confession because I was a convert. (This, despite the fact that we went to confession monthly.) And prayer? Well, after 18 years, that’s only beginning to feel like second nature. For many years I prayed, but felt as if I were speaking a foreign language.

Thankfully, by God’s grace I persevered through the “darkness” due to a love of the Eucharist and a desire to be part of this amazing family Christ left to live in His name.

But Spiritual direction is a different animal altogether. It’s difficult to stumble through the motions of something you’ve never seen. And my experience reading about spiritual direction has been limited to saints who were often priests or religious that spoke of confessors and spiritual directors interchangeably.

I have had enough experience to know that lay people receive spiritual direction. When I began homeschooling, I heard other moms mention their appointments with “spiritual directors.” “Ooooo!” I thought (eyes wide open – see above), “I need a spiritual director!” Unfortunately, I hadn’t the first clue how to find one.

Once I asked an acquaintance how she found her spiritual director. Apparently, she’d developed a good relationship with her confessor and at some point asked him to take on the role of spiritual director as well. At the time I wasn’t crazy about my confessor, so that didn’t seem like an option for me. Another friend was part of a lay apostolate, and received her spiritual direction through that organization. At the time, joining an apostolate sounded as complicated as finding a spiritual director, so that wasn’t much help either.

By its very nature, spiritual direction is difficult, if not down-right impossible to emulate, and (until now…) there has not been a “how-to” manual available on the subject. Thankfully, this book gives me hope.

Why “bother” my priest?

Despite the mystery of spiritual direction, I’ve long wanted to pursue it, and might have obtained direction by now, were it not for my greatest stumbling block in this arena. I would feel like I were “bothering” him if I approached a priest about providing me with direction.

It’s well-known that our priests are over-worked and that their obligations stretch them to the limit. My feeble efforts at approaching them have verified this truth in my mind. Last July I finally bit the bullet and asked my parish priest/confessor for some suggestions regarding spiritual direction. He provided a short list of names. But although I was almost there, I couldn’t quite bring myself to take the final plunge. Who was I to take time from a priest’s other more pressing obligations? It was several months before I actually called the first name on the list. Unfortunately, Father So and So never called me back. Too busy.

Were spiritual direction something I could set up by dropping it into my shopping cart on Amazon, I’d have been ‘hooked up’ years ago. Unfortunately, this quest requires stepping out of my comfort zone and actually asking someone else for help. I have long believed my hesitation was the result of humility; but I’m having second thoughts after reading our first assignment. More likely, what keeps me from pursuing something so valuable for my soul is a form of pride. Pride that fears being rejected by the holy men whom I must address if I desire this tool for my sanctification. Am I really worried that I’ll take time away from their more valuable acts of service, or am I more worried that they will think meeting with me is a waste of their time? The latter sounds more likely.

I’ve drawn a couple of conclusions from our reading this week. First, while these issues may be a stumbling block along the road to spiritual direction, they should not be a deterrent. I can already tell that this book is the long-awaited answer to my first concern. As for the second, if spiritual direction is so critical to my quest for holiness, I must be willing to take whatever steps are necessary to find a suitable director. The possibility of rejection is minor compared with the undeniable spiritual benefits to be gained in the long run.

For Discussion:

1. Do you have a spiritual director?  If not, what has kept you from getting one?  Has the first assignment caused you to reevaluate?  If you have a spiritual director, how did you first initiate the relationship?

2. Open discussion: Feel free to comment on any topic from this past week’s reading.

Reading Assignment:

Week 2 – 3/19  p. 23-52 (How do I Find and Select a Spiritual Director? through the end of My Responsibilities in Spiritual Direction)

Webinar Discussion 3/23 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM Central   
NOTE: For more information on this reading and the corresponding free webinars you can sign up for CLICK HERE. There are still a few seats left so don’t delay if you want to have an online conversation with me, our fellow readers, Dan, and Fr. Vince Huber.

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts
For More Information on the Book Club: http://spiritualdirection.com/blog/csd-book-club

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages three to fifteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the CSD book club so she could embark with likeminded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. In addition to moderating the book club and managing family activities, Vicki also cooks, does laundry, cleans, does laundry, and, every once in a while, finds time to write and speak on topics such as marriage and spiritual reading - of course, these endeavors take place only between her many loads of laundry.

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  • Robert Kraus

    I actually just started spiritual direction with my parish priest last month, with my next appt coming up. I think primarily it’s about “reining myself in” in terms of how much spiritual knowledge I’m taking in right now (podcasts, blogs, books, etc.). He set me a limit of 90-minutes a day so far.

    I think the biggest reason I wanted spiritual direction right now was self-discipline, putting myself under someone else’s experienced guidance. It’s still a struggle to limit my spiritual “intake”, but it reduces the hectic chaos in my head a little :)

    • Vicki

      Good for you, Robert! Hopefully I’ll be joining you and others soon. I’ve been looking forward to this book as my impetus to make it happen.

    • KAACD

      I just started see a spiritual director and I feel like I’m on a straight path now. I have some self-discipline and direction. I was floundering – too much chaos in my head also. I was a little nervous about finding someone but I called my diocese and they gave me a couple of names. Best to you on your guided journey to a deeper relationship with God.

    • Ann Mechler

      Robert,
      My spiritual director limited my “intake” to just Scripture for over a year. I had a similar problem and she was very helpful.

  • Scott Kallal

    Hey Vicki,

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I am blessed to have a spiritual director here in Rome, though I’ll admit it wasn’t easy finding a priest I could trust to be both competent and compassionate who wasn’t already a friend, but I pulled it off. While I totally understand that priests are busy, I’m not sure what they could be doing that is more important than spiritual direction. I mean, in the end, isn’t it all about helping people become saints, and as Dan said, isn’t spiritual direction one of the most powerful means for getting there? Please keep up the search. I for one pray that you soon find what you’re looking for.

    God bless,

    Fr. Scott, AVI
    Apostles of the Interior Life

    • abandon56

      Fr. Scott,
      Thank you for the comment re: not sure what they could be doing that is more important than SD. I have had the same thought often.

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

    I met my spiritual director 2 years ago. He was my director for the 8-days Ignatian retreat senior students at my college.
    It was pretty cool actually cause the campus ministry assigns who will be under which spiritual director. And my director just so happened to also be the director of my childhood best friend, new spiritual friend and a law school classmate. And this was before law school entrance results were even released! :)
    He is a really a wise and calm director. Which is good cause I can get too excitable!

  • Don Schwab

    No Spiritual Director yet, though I have been looking for about 2 years. I must confess I have been reluctant to approach a lay SD, though I am considering it. I am a Secular Franciscan (Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis (OFS)) and my Fraternity is having a member of the Third Order Regular (TOR) at our May meeting and I will ask him for his suggestions. I hope to have a Director by at least the end of 2013, I believe I am ready.

    • LizEst

      Don – Dan’s book has a whole chapter on finding and selecting a spiritual director. Go to page 23. On page 32, in that same chapter, he talks about a potential shortcut(s), specifically third orders and the like. So, you probably have built in spiritual directors available to you through your Secular Franciscan Order. You are definitely on the right track there. Perhaps you don’t have to wait for May. Perhaps your group already has a list of directors that can be interviewed. Best wishes to you on your quest…and God bless you and all your efforts, Don.

  • klgillmore

    I had no idea how important and helpful spiritual direction was to the deepening of one’s faith. I’ve been wanting to make a more serious commitment and can see, now, how I’ve been somewhat floundering these past several months. There is no doubt that I can not hold my feet to the fire the way someone else and someone with greater spiritual knowledge would be able to. Lord, grant me the strength, courage and perseverance to move toward this very necessary goal. I trust in you.

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    Oh, Vicki, reading your struggles brings me to believe there is a lot of determination here. If you are still struggling to surmount what is holding you back, surely the Holy Spirit is pursuing you relentlessly. His choice of the SD for you is around the corner…….this old gal is still praying to Him to bring along another SD…….she needs one like yesterday.

    And may I just mention that you need not feel disadvantaged because you joined Christ’s Family late……remember the last employee was paid the same wages as the first one!!!!!!!!. Even this one, who was born in it eons ago, still struggles with her Spiritual and Sacramental Life to remain committed and perservere even when, at times, she feels like she is getting nowhere.

    • Vicki

      Mary – You make me smile:). Thanks for the encouragement. I’m thankful for this book because I think it will cause me to make SD a priority.

      • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

        Precisely, Vicki, that exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted when He dictated this Book to Dan……that we realize He is calling us to deepen our Faith and closeness to Christ through His Instruments, the SDs

  • Ann Mechler

    I have had my wonderful spiritual director for eight years. She was a fairly recent graduate of the School of Spirituality in Clearwater, FL when we first met. God led me to her when I asked the adult formation director at my parish if I could start an adult Bible study in my home. I told her I desperately needed some faith companions. She said, “You need a spiritual director!” We are fortunate to have several well-trained directors in our parish in Houston, and now our pastor is in formation through the same School of Spirituality as well. Although I wish I had Dan’s book before that first meeting, my director was clear about the process and taught me as we went.

  • CLudwick

    I have “gone through” several spiritual directors. As I write that I once again wonder what’s goi gon with me? However, each time God has led me to one that fits. The first man was a priest at our spiritual life retreat center. The order had to make changes and leave the diocese. My second one was also the director of the same center. He was made Bishop then Archbishop in two diocese – I still miss his gentleness. Next I began meeting with a trained woman (again through the same center). Our schedules just were having trouble melding. Finally, I am now seeing a parish priest who is my confessor and someone I’ve known for years.
    Vicki, I too hestitated for a very long time in asking. But God kept nudging me to ask this priest and now that I have it is, as God knows, where I should be. I pray we can continue but God is obviously in control.

  • LucySate16

    I have been wanting a spiritual director for many years now, but living in a country setting makes it very hard. There is only two priests in the parish, which has at least three thousand parishioners or more. Of course I too see it as “bothering” the priest because of this situation. I guess I can ask for your prayers that I will find one some day. Thank you.

  • http://www.musingsofacatholic.com/ Frank Patton

    Vicki; could you please provide those of us that are reading on Kindle some indication of the assignment other than page numbers. Thanks.
    I have been thinking about spiritual direction for several years, but have not taken any action. I hope this book and others comments will get me moving.

    • Vicki

      Frank –
      I’ve copied the assignment below. It lists page numbers, followed by chapter titles in parentheses for Kindle users. For future reference, you’ll find the assignment below the discussion questions. Hope that helps!

      Week 2 – 3/19 p. 23-52 (How do I Find and Select a Spiritual Director? through the end of My Responsibilities in Spiritual Direction)

  • Jeanette

    I’ve had my spiritual director for two years. When I first felt, after prayer, that I needed one, I prayed about a certain priest that I had in mind. Not receiving any objections spiritually, I still hesitated for two weeks before I got up the nerve to call him but the only reason I did that was because I was given a definite nudge by the Holy Spirit. My reason for my hesitation was possible embarassment and rejection. If any of you are going through hesitation, just forge ahead and do it! Spiritual direction has been wonderful for me as it’s kept me from making many mistakes and also has been a means of encouragement when I am told, “Keep on doing what you’re doing. You are on the right track.” May I suggest a retired priest as a source for a spiritual director? They have so much knowledge and experience and aren’t as busy anymore. May God bless you!

    • LizEst

      A retired priest is a great idea. Not only are they not as busy as they used to be, they themselves have also had more time to pray and meditate and grow in their own spiritual life.

  • woolymomof9

    This book club selection is so timely for me! I actually purchased it as a Christmas gift for myself and have already read through most of it. (Actually I inhaled the book and need to re-read it more thoughtfully, so am grateful for the impetus to do so through the book club reminders.) I have belonged to a lay movement for almost 20 years and began to hunger for the deeper spirituality that a spiritual director would lead me to about 15 years ago. I thought I had a SD in one of the sisters from the movement for years, but it was never quite right and I didn’t understand why until reading this book. God removed that wonderful sister and friend (but not right SD) from my life about 7 years ago through a traumatic emotional upheaval in the movement and I was very lost for a few years. About 4 years ago, I began praying in earnest for a spiritual director. I called our diocesan office and they were no help. I called a local Jesuit retreat house and they offer spiritual direction to those that attend their retreats, but I couldn’t afford to go to the retreats. Our good God granted me consolation through the Magnificat! I kept relating to the same author’s reflections in the Magnificat and finally bought his books and felt as if I had a spiritual director through his writings. Now I am ready for the next step and Dan’s book has helped me to prepare and to know what to look for and what to do this time. Hopefully my last years of prayers are about to be answered. Just this last Saturday, a priest from our movement mentioned that he was offering spiritual direction to our members when he visits once a month. So, I am happy to have Dan’s book to help me prepare for our first meeting next month. I am nervous as well. I am most looking forward to making sense of the chaos as some other people have mentioned. I often feel as if there is chaos in my mind when it comes to the “next step” spiritually. And now the hunger for direction is greater than my fear of embarrassment…so off I go to spiritual direction with a happy heart!

  • CatholicMarine

    I had a spiritual director for several years but have relocated and am currently in search of one. I am a student at the SD course at the House of Prayer, Clearwater, FL and know the value of one.

    • LizEst

      We are honored to have you among us! God bless you.
      I am intrigued by your name. Are you a Marine?

  • Maureen Decaire

    I have been blessed to have a Spiritual Father for 4 years now.

    I am Eastern Orthodox and while some do have those who are not priests
    as their guide my Spiritual Father( a monk) was my confessor for about 3 years before I asked him to be my Spiritual Father – he nodded and smiled as if to say, “What took you so long?” Combining the 2 has been spiritually life-giving in ways I cannot articulate. The consistency, I think, of the same person is very important.

    Confession is done somewhat differently in the Orthodox Church.

    For starters, one goes to confession usually at the front of the Church in front of an icon of Christ or the Gospel book and a Cross. It doesn’t matter if there are others in the Church or not and often there are.

    If it is very quiet and there are others waiting to go to Confession – a reader will read out loud from the Book of Psalms- to give some privacy.

    At the end, the priest puts his end of his Epitrachalion ( stole) over the penitent’s head and says the words of Absolution ending with firmly ( in my experience) tracing the Sign of the Cross on the head.

    I have certainly left with tear marks on my face – but so do many others – what can I say? – you get used to it.

    If I know I will need more time, I arrange to go at a time when that is doable – but for me that has always been in the context of Confession.

    I know that this is probably the most helpful, fruitful and sacred part of my life,
    except for receiving the Eucharist of course.

    • abandon56

      This is really beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    • LizEst

      Beautiful. And, thanks for sharing this…and also instructing the rest of us how the Eastern Orthodox do it. May God continue to bless you.

  • Phil Morgan

    One of the things I’m running into in the Denver area is the cost of spiritual direction. I’ve tried the local Jesuit retreat house and they want more then I can afford. There is also the Oblate of Virgin Mary here in town and they too want more than I can afford. I’m a single dad raising two teenagers.

    Does spiritual direction always come with a price tag?

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

      Phil – How much are they charging? Does either allow for a “suggested donation”?

      • Phil Morgan

        Yes, the Lantari Center, Oblates of the Vigin Mary, calls theirs a suggested donation, it is $50 each time.
        The Jesuit Retreat House, Sacred Heart, I offered $25 a week and the priest said he could not help me for that amount. That was in 2007.
        After those two experiences I kind of stopped looking.

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

          What could you afford for each session?

          • Phil Morgan

            For me, now, nothing. I am a single parent with a 16 yr old and a 14 yr old. I have started reading more things on how to use confession as spiritual direction.
            Also, I just started your book, with this group. Hoping you’ll give me some ideas.

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

            How about $10.00 for each session once a month? Could you afford that?

          • Phil Morgan

            Oh of course I could do that. I just know I could not do the $50 or so that I’ve heard in the past.
            Where could I go and get spiritual direction for $10 a session?

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

            How about if we made up the difference for four months?

          • Phil Morgan

            That would be awesome, but I can’t expect you to do that!

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

            Of course – but we will anyway. You just need to make the commitment to work hard and make it happen. Also, you can ask them to reduce their “suggested donation.” Set it up and send me the address to send the check.

          • Phil Morgan

            How about the Lanteri Center? Thank you Dan! I really appreciate this.

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

            Actually, that would be the only place I would be willing to write a check to. They are trustworthy.

          • Phil Morgan

            I went to the Laneri web site. In bold black letters it said “no one will be refused spiritual direction due to not being able to pay.” Guess I missed that back in 2007. Maybe the Holy Spirit didn’t think I was ready.
            Thank you so much for the gentle push in the right direction today.
            Peace Bw/U.

          • LizEst

            This is great news, Phil. Thanks for posting that information which underscores what Dan says in his book. God bless you.

          • CLudwick

            Dan, what a blessing and honor to share in this ministry and your generous offer to help someone with SD. I am truly humbled and blessed to share in this. BTW, I am also blessed because my SD (a parish priest) adamently refused money from me. I send a donation to his parish (our local Cathedral).

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

            Thank you for your kind words. God is good. We just want to help however we can. With respect to your priests response – this is great. Your response was appropriate – give anyway. I had a priest do that once and I just insisted…

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

          How much can you afford on a monthly basis?

    • LizEst

      Phil – Two things:
      1. Page 27 of Dan’s book has a list of various ways to find a spiritual director. Try those.
      2. Page 51 of Dan’s book talks about financial matters. In the last paragraph of that section, in page 52, it goes on to say, “financial matters should never, never, never be a barrier to your spiritual growth. There are creative ways to generously respond to the provision and needs of your spiritual director.” Then, he goes on to give some suggestions. Read those and be creative and you will come to understand how you can still have a generous and grateful heart when it comes to this matter…even if you do not have the financial means.
      3. God bless you, Phil. This is a good question.

      • Phil Morgan

        Thank you LizEst I had not gotten that far in the book yet. Great suggestions by Dan.

  • Sylvia_DeJesus

    I don’t have a spiritual director and am a little nervous, scared to begin the process of finding one. I know it is the next step, especially after reading these first few chapters but it seems like such a huge step that I’m not sure I’m ready for. I know if I wait til I’m ready it’ll never happen :) God leads me and I follow. I trust that this is where he is leading me so now all I have to do is pray, be patient, and await the next step that will lead me closer to Him.

  • Victoria Campbell

    No, I do not have a spiritual director. I became aware of the role of spiritual directors however years ago when living in Orlando and participating in Ministry of Mother’s Sharing. It sounded intriguing then but it sounds like another reoccurring expense that I didn’t pursue. It has been on my mind since my move to Georgia and especially after Cursillio it is a longing for a better more disciplined connection.

    As I am in the midst of the cancer chemo trial right now and I feel very strongly that this cross is God’s way of prompting me to be more purposeful in life and draw closer to him this is something I will put toward the top of my list. I expect it will be a challenge as our parish has one priest and the diocese of Savannah is quite some distance from where I live and the other option Atlanta is 90 miles but the message from this reading tells me this is worth pursuing so once I am clear healthwise I will look to pursue this valuable direction armed with new information.

    • LizEst

      Still praying for you, Victoria. Keep your eyes on the Lord. God bless you.

  • jewls9404

    I just started spiritual direction this past month. It is something that I had been wanting to do, but was just never sure on how to do it. This book came at a perfect time for me. I got it right after Christmas and read it right away. Now I am just reading it in a more prayerful way.

  • Karla Salp

    I identify a lot with what you shared. I have ventured to ask a couple of priests about spiritual direction, but they are always too busy. I haven’t, however, put forth the effort to really go out and find someone. Partly I feel like I need to get to a certain state of regular spiritual practice before getting into spiritual direction. So if I’m not saying a Rosary everyday and really doing what I could be doing even on my own, then I feel like I am wasting a spiritual director’s time. Kind of like going to the doctor to lose weight when you are fully aware that you overeat and don’t exercise. I don’t know if the situation parallel or not, but that has been my line of thinking thus far. I hope through reading this book to either get to “eating and exercising properly” or to move beyond that and start looking for spiritual direction even though I’m not “healthy.”

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

      Karla – be sure to ask about this tomorrow if you are joining us for the webinar.

      • Karla Salp

        I tried to ask in succinct way on the webinar but didn’t give enough info, I think. :) Being that we were already past time, I didn’t follow up. Thanks a great webinar!

  • Joseph Towey

    I do not currently have a spiritual director although I have recognized the need for such direction; however, after reading this assignment, I have come to realize that I must make this a priority.

    This week, I began to search for options in my area:
    The most obvious is the Lanteri Center for Ignatian Spirituality (mentioned in Dan’s book); I also know that Opus Dei has a group that meets in Denver, although I have been unable to find contact information for that group; there is also the Lay Dominicans-Central Province with whom I have already been in contact.

    Further, I plan to call the Archdiocesan office this coming week and ask their recommendation; and, I plan to speak with my parish priest to get his input.

    Another resource that I am considering is the faculty of the Augustine Institute, where I have taken a few classes. I’m sure that they would be able to point me in the right direction.

    So, while my search for spiritual direction is only beginning, I feel confident that I am off to a good start.

    • LizEst

      Sounds like you are doing the right research. God bless you, Joseph.

  • AHD

    I have met with a spiritual director every month now for a year now. He is a very old and wise Jesuit priest who makes it a priority to meet with wounded people.
    Spiritual direction to me is best describes as “caring for the soul”.
    Ann