Dear Dan, I am hesitant to go to a local priest for spiritual direction because I am worried about his submission, or lack of submission to the Church. He is a good priest but he has made some confusing comments about abortion and a few political topics etc. Are there simple questions I can ask and a way to ask (that would not be offensive) to help me determine if a particular priest or lay person (a potential spiritual director) is faithful to the teachings of the Church? I don’t want to end up with spiritual mis-direction. This is all far too important to me.
Dear Friend, your question is a happy one because it shows the interest that you have in wanting to grow in your relationship with Christ. You are not satisfied with your present level and you are searching for a guide to help you to grow. I am sure that this desire comes from the Holy Spirit and will not go unrewarded.
The best recommendation that I can give you is from the wisdom of St. John of the Cross as quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in number 2690:
The person wishing to advance toward perfection should ‘take care into whose hands he entrusts himself, for as the master is, so will the disciple be, and as the father is so will be the son.’
In other words, look to put yourself into the hands of someone whom you admire for their personal sanctity and life of prayer.
In the formulation of your question, you hint at the fact that your priest may not be this person for you; you are hesitant and unsure about his doctrinal formation and preparation. It is not wise to begin a spiritual direction relationship from a position of mistrust.
Still, this instinct may or may not be accurate. Perhaps the first thing you should do is get to know your priest better. Ask for an appointment to speak with him, or participate in a parish activity that allows you more contact with him. When you engage in this way, you will get to know another side of your priest that you may not be able to see during a homily and that may dispel some of your worries (and hopefully not add to them).
When you finally do have that one on one meeting (that can be in or outside of confession), ask him about your challenges. Are his answers prayerful ones? Do they bring peace? Is there anything that doesn’t seem to ring true with respect Catholic morals and doctrine? Does he recommend prayer and greater self discipline or self denial? Does he push you towards holiness? When you leave, do you feel challenged towards being more generous with Christ? I think that these are the types of questions you should have in mind regarding the holiness and preparation of that person that you have chosen as spiritual guide.
Lastly, in your question you mention that your priest has made some confusing comments regarding abortion and politics. St John of the Cross in the same aforementioned Catechism number also refers to learning, discretion and experience. Again, it would appear that you do not find these qualities in your priest. If you still think these are lacking after coming to know him better, it would be best to look for someone who corresponds more to your needs. Regardless, your instinct to seek a director that is faithful to the Church is a good one. We really cannot be well directed by someone who is not following Christ closely in their own spiritual life.
If, after all this effort, you find yourself unable to find a local priest who can help you, then a devout layperson might be a good alternative for you.
Be encouraged. Your zeal for the Lord will be rewarded if you remain steadfast in your pursuit of Him!
Art: currently unidentified saint, provenance unknown. Feature image art: Ein ernstes Gespräch (A Serious Conversation), Ludwig Johann Passini, by 1903, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.