Dear Father John, I have loved reading your blog and have gained many insights from it that I will put into practice! I have been wondering about a spiritual direction question: I live quite a distance from the priest I would prefer to seek direction from and it is difficult for us to connect. I was wondering if it was possible to do spiritual direction remotely using a phone, email or video messaging (eg: Skype). I understand sacramental confession cannot be done via such methods but I was wondering if using these technologies for remote spiritual direction might be permitted if both parties agreed.
Thank you for the encouragement and for the excellent question. Remote spiritual direction is certainly permitted, if both parties agree. In fact, throughout the history of the Church, spiritual direction through letters has been a fairly common, though not normal, practice. Usually, however, it is a practice used by directors and directees who have already established a person-to-person relationship, or who are already fairly advanced in the spiritual life. The practice has also usually occurred in situations where there really was no other choice. St Francis Xavier, for example, received his spiritual and apostolate guidance from St Ignatius Loyola solely through letters, once he began his missionary work.
That said, in general, remote direction is not encouraged, especially if you are just starting to receive spiritual direction. I think you can figure out why. Much of spiritual direction involves the two people getting to know and trust each other. And that takes so much longer when it has to happen remotely. We communicate more than we realize through our postures, expressions, and other intangible signals at work in same-space, face-to-face situations. When we substitute remote connections, even video connections, all of that is truncated. In such a situation, it is hard to make steady progress.
If you really see no alternative (have you read the post about looking for a spiritual director?), and your director agrees, the challenge will be to keep your interaction clear and objective. Your biggest ally in that effort will be drawing up a program of life, and structuring your directions around that. I would also recommend making a special effort to meet same-space, face-to-face, at least once in a while (every fourth month, for example) if at all possible.
I hope these thoughts are helpful. I will say a prayer that you find a good spiritual director.