By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist &
Aspirant to the Priesthood
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about the art of spiritual direction.
Prayer is critical for the Christian life. But how do you know whether you’re praying well or whether you’re really communicating with God or just hearing your own voice in your head. Since God is neither visible nor comprehendible to us, it can be difficult to know how and when God is speaking to us. Fortunately, we don’t have to make the spiritual journey alone. A group of specially trained individuals, called “spiritual directors,” can help you answer these questions.
“Spiritual direction is help given by one believer to another,” writes William A. Barry in his book, The Practice of Spiritual Direction, “which enables the latter to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.”
The goal is to help others discover the importance and meaning of their spiritual experiences. Spiritual directors work patiently and empathetically with their clients to help them come to (i) a fuller realization that God desires a loving, relationship with them and (ii) a greater understanding of what the Lord is asking them to do at particular times in their lives.
According to Sr. Mary Ann Scofield in her book, Sacred is the Call (Crossroad Publ’g Co. 2005), the “director ‘tunes in’ like a person fiddling carefully with a radio dial, spinning from one music clip to another, one fragment of speech to the next, until ‘Aha, this is it!’: the director recognizes the presence of God in the conversation, and then helps the directee to explore further what has occurred or is occurring.” The most common format of spiritual direction is inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit religious order. But there are others.
While priests, religious, and seminarians often have their own spiritual directors, the practice of spiritual direction is not just for clergy and religious. Everyone needs someone to talk to about their spiritual life. If you think you would like a spiritual director, try looking for someone who exhibits the fruits of the Holy Spirit, such as joy, peace, and self-control.
Spiritual directors do not have to be priests. Trained lay people also are good candidates. Mercy Center Burlingame is one of the major centers for the teaching of spiritual direction in the United States and can connect you with the right spiritual director. Call (650) 340-7416 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Or, consider joining one of Saint Brendan’s twelve small group experiences. The leaders are not necessarily trained in spiritual direction, but you will be able to talk about important issues, pray, and just do life together with other people, all in a relaxed, informal, and safe environment. To learn more, visit our website at www.stbrendanparish.org/small-groups.html.