Dear Dan, how does one become a spiritual director? Are there any courses or programs or certifications required? I really believe I am supposed to help people in their faith but how can I make sure that I am really called to do something like this?
When thinking about spiritual direction my mind is drawn to the incredible responsibility it is to have another soul placed in my care. No one in their right mind would want to have this responsibility – unless God has specifically called them to it. The only thing I can compare it to is when someone hands me their newborn baby. When that happens I am instantly attuned to the fragility and precious nature of the gift I take into my hands. Immediately a sense of heightened responsibility comes over me and I am extremely careful about every move. I want to delight in God’s creation, but I am also profoundly aware that I am being cautiously and joyfully observed and could easily cause the infant harm if I am not careful. So it is with a human soul. If we are not profoundly humbled and properly fearful about handling that soul, then we are not likely called into this sacred relationship.
The next idea that comes to mind is regarding your relationship to Christ. Do you have a deep and meaningful prayer life? Are you regularly and specifically pursuing Christ and a life of virtue that reflects His virtues? If your answers to these questions are a whole-hearted “yes” then you are probably on the right track. If you spend very little time in prayer (especially mental prayer) and spiritual reading, are not very specific and active in living a life of virtue, and don’t have your own rule of life in place, you may not be ready to lead others yet.
Spiritual Direction is something like being a mountain climbing guide. A guide knows the many different ways to climb. He or she knows what to do when an unexpected storm rolls over the horizon, or when a less experienced climber gets stuck or injured. They are able to guide people because they have already explored the mountain that someone else desires to climb. This doesn’t mean that they are perfect in their technique or all knowing in every aspect of spirituality, but they do need to have a strong sense of direction in the spiritual life. They need to know the paths that lies ahead of the directee and then have the ability to be very sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s unique leading for each person.
With respect to programs and certifications, I only don’t have much good news for you. Universal standards and certifications approved by the Church don’t exist. The only faithful school of spiritual direction that I am aware of is offered by The Marian Servants of Divine Providence in Clearwater Florida. Every school I have researched is infested by New Age or other non-Catholic spiritualities. This doesn’t mean there are not others out there, but this is the only faithful one that I have discovered thus far. If you are seriously considering a call to spiritual direction, this would be an excellent way to go. That said, the most important requirement you need to have in place is a vibrant, active, and personal relationship with Christ and His Church. If this is a good description of your faith, then you may be on the right path.
The final factor is whether or not you have been in spiritual direction yourself. Anyone who is offering direction should be in direction themselves. If you value spiritual direction enough to fight through all the challenges of finding and maintaining a relationship, you are on the right track.
If you are not discouraged by all of these lofty recommendations then you are at least on your way to a legitimate exploration of your calling in this area. To help you a bit more on your way you can find a recommended reading list for current and would-be spiritual directors here.
Art for this post on how to become a spiritual director: Christ and Saint Mina [or Menas], iconographer unknown, 6th-century icon from Bawit, Egypt, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.