Is Group Spiritual Direction a Good Thing?

Reader’s Question: What do you think about group spiritual direction which is in vogue in some circles today? Is that a good way to get spiritual direction? Thank you for your time in answering my question.

group spiritual directionThe essence of spiritual direction is the relationship between the spiritual director and the directee. The interaction and dialogue that happens in that relationship is deeply personal and personalized. Discerning God’s action and invitations in one’s life requires that kind of intensely personal and personalized dialogue. A group setting, with one spiritual director and a bunch of directees, would significantly change that essential dynamic. In my opinion, therefore, group spiritual direction – strictly speaking – would not be able to fully substitute one-on-one spiritual direction.

Fellowship Matters

A group setting can, however, provide many benefits for those who are seeking to grow spiritually. Most of our readers will be familiar with various forms of group faith-sharing and mutual encouragement. As Christians, we are called to live as members of Christ’s Mystical Body; we are not Lone Rangers; we journey together through our earthly pilgrimage, and God loves to work in and through that kind of fellowship. As Jesus himself put it: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Sharing deeply with fellow Christians about the struggles and triumphs of our faith-journey is enriching, affirming, and necessary for growth and perseverance.

Spiritual Direction by Analogy

What some people may call “group spiritual direction” could be one form of doing that. I can picture a group of friends gathering with an experienced spiritual director to talk about particular themes in the spiritual life, to have a question-and-answer session, to pray together… I can also picture a similar group gathering to listen to talks or lectures about spiritual growth, and having time after the talk to ask personal questions and receive personalized advice. This type of dynamic could be extremely fruitful, spiritually. But I think you can see how different it is from the one-on-one dialogue and ongoing relationship that forms the essence of traditional spiritual direction.

A Lesson from History

Perhaps a comparison may help. Originally the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius were designed for a one-on-one style of retreat. Later, the Jesuits adjusted the original formula so that groups – groups of seminarians, religious, or priests, for example – could have a Spiritual Exercises retreat together. In this adjusted formula, one retreat director preaches and guides the whole group as a group, instead of just meeting one-on-one with a single retreatant. This adjusted method is still widely used in the Church and has born wonderful fruit, but it hasn’t supplanted the original method. The two methods have different advantages and disadvantages.

God bless you!  In Him, Fr John Bartunek, LC


Art for this post on group spiritual direction: Christ and Saint Mina [or Menas], iconographer unknown, 6th-century icon from Bawit, Egypt, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less; Mirror of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Peter Paul Rubens, 1600s, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; both Wikimedia Commons.

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