by Catherine Doherty.
What is a spiritual director?
A spiritual director is a priest who, with the grace of his priesthood, has also received the grace of guiding souls to the Father, through Jesus Christ, our Brother.
A spiritual director guides through the Holy Spirit.
A spiritual director is not a psychiatrist [or counselor].….
A spiritual director, humanly speaking, might not guide anybody anywhere.
A spiritual director is a man, a priest, who must be utterly open to the work of the Holy Spirit in the person whom he has accepted for direction.
A spiritual director must literally efface himself, so as to allow the Holy Spirit to guide him to see the works of that same Holy Spirit in his directees.
A spiritual director is a priest who has only one aim in view: namely, to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit in himself with grave humility, and to pass those promptings of the Spirit on to his directees, no matter what the cost is for them both.
Having tried to express briefly what a spiritual director is, I’m going to try, just as briefly, to express what a spiritual "directee" should be. There are three key points:
Point 1: When you seek spiritual direction, you must pray much to God and ask him to direct your choice.
Sometimes this most important part of obtaining a director is omitted. This is tragic, for you must not choose a spiritual director because he has an attractive personality, because he seems to have a similar view of life as you do, or for any of those superficial reasons.
You should pray to God to get a priest who will lead you to God firmly and constantly.
Point 2: When you find, after prayer, the priest that God wants you to have—God seldom (to my mind, never!) refuses that prayer—you must put yourself totally into the hands of this priest and give him your love, trust, and obedience.
Once this spiritual director has accepted you as a directee, you should never question his actions with regard to you. Every action of this priest is presumed to be for the good of your soul; here is where the aspect of trust must come in.
Point 3: When you receive spiritual direction from the priest, do not expect "understanding" from him as well (in the natural sense of the word).
He understands you much better than you may suspect, but, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, he may not act toward you as you may wish that he would do. Let him work with you according to the lights of the Holy Spirit.
Love, trust, and obedience—these are the three keys to fruitful spiritual direction.
Because people under spiritual direction are dealing with a mystery that is exceedingly profound, it demands complete faith, complete trust, complete obedience—not to the man but to the priest who, because of his priesthood, is illuminated from Above.
Therefore, you must leave yourself completely in the hands of your spiritual director….
Your spiritual director is not there as a psychiatrist or as a doctor of any kind. He is there, watching the work of the Holy Spirit in you and opening himself to that Work of the Spirit within you. Unless you understand this, and cooperate with it, it might be better not to have a spiritual director.
Note: Catherine was not against lay people, including women, being spiritual directors. However, she knew that the priest, as priest, has a special gift of discernment. Moreover this article was originally a letter to members of MH whose directors are priests.
—Excerpted from Dearly Beloved, Vol. 2, Sept. 16, 1967, pp. 202-203, (1990), available from MH Publications.
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