Spiritual Direction: What Is It?

In the past two years as a seminarian, I’ve talked with an amazingly high number of people who have asked (mostly indirectly) about spiritual direction. I have come to realize that people just have this insatiable desire to know what to do when it comes to their relationship with God. It’s pretty much that simple. And just as simple: people don’t know where to go to find such an aide. Enter… spiritual direction.

Although most people think of it – even just because of its name – as one of those ‘antiquated, obsolete’ practices that the modern Church has swept under the rug of Vatican II, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, a solid model for spiritual direction is something still being formulated even today. But, what is it? The terse answer would be, “Spiritual direction is when you go to a priest, tell him about your daily life, prayer, etc., so that he can help you to interpret where it is the Lord is leading you.” This is fine. Nothing wrong with that.

I, however, being a ‘guy,’ am of a slightly different school of thought when it comes to spiritual direction. I’d say that spiritual direction is the counsel we receive in order to prepare us for the spiritual combat we face day in and day out: the barrage of assaults from the Devil, the consolations we are given from Almighty God, and the work-a-day life that we all find ourselves, more often than not, trudging through. Spiritual direction provides the battle plan for the war between good and evil that we are caught up in, and in which we must be victorious if we are to inherit Eternal Life.

Needless to say, since we all struggle with living a holy life, we are all in need of spiritual direction in some form or another. As I mentioned, the usual and recommended form is that of going to a priest once every couple of weeks – in other words ‘regularly’ – and talking for at least an hour or so about experiences in prayer and day-to-day life. Ultimately, the directee knows himself or herself best, and the priest simply helps solidify the realities that they present to him by drawing on his depth of spiritual knowledge attained through years of personal prayer and theological formation. Spiritual direction is not confession, although sometimes a director will accept the role of regular confessor, also. But, it’s important to note, they are separate things.

The next post on this topic will talk more about what spiritual direction offers, in terms of struggles with prayer and growth in virtue, and why each of us should seriously consider spiritual direction in our own life.