As soon as I began offering virtual spiritual direction, I received a wave of interest from women of all ages around North America. Missionaries in their 20s, single and married mothers, even grandmothers — all looking for direction on how to grow deeper in their relationship with God. Inspiring, right? Very!
So, when I have my initial meeting over Zoom or telephone with each woman, I make a point to tell her how moved and inspired I am that she is taking the initiative to seek deeper intimacy with the Lord. Because when you think about how countercultural this really is in our day in age, it is inspiring to see others seek the Lord above earthly offerings.
About 15 years ago, when I was getting really serious about my own personal spiritual journey, spiritual direction was almost a fad for Catholics. It seemed to give a person street cred, or people took you more seriously as a practicing Catholic when you dropped lines like, “Well, my spiritual director said … ,” “I can’t hang out tonight, I am meeting with my spiritual director,” or “My spiritual director has encouraged me to pray a Holy Hour every day.” It makes me chuckle, but having a spiritual director does in some sense show you are taking the spiritual life seriously.
Spiritual direction is a practice the Church has always encouraged. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains it’s an important practice, “not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord up close, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ.” Spiritual direction started to be on the “average” Catholics radar after Vatican II when the universal call to holiness began being articulated more clearly for all vocations. It didn’t matter if you were called to the priesthood, religious life, married or single life; we are all called to live a life of holiness, to align our will with God’s will even though it will look different in each vocation.
We all need direction and guidance in every season, even though we may feel that need more in times of transition, crises, heartaches and serious decision making. In my experience, women reach out for guidance for all different reasons. One young woman recently reached out to me and said she would like to learn how to find joy in her day-to-day living while pursuing God’s plan for her life, figure out if she’s where she can best serve God, deepen her trust in God as a loving Father, and learn how to deal fruitfully with times of desolation.
Spiritual direction isn’t a problem-solving mechanism (even though that is certainly a fruit of direction). It is an opportunity to invite an active listener into your story, to particularly listen for God, and point you back to God and his designs. Spiritual direction can really be summed up with one purpose, as Father Henri Nouwen explained: “making space for God.”
I use our time of prayer and conversation to offer informal catechesis and formation, always pointing to the teachings and wisdom of the Church, especially leaning into St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” and the writings and spirituality of St. Ignatius. We begin with prayer, and I invite the directee to share what’s been happening in her day to day prayer. I then respond with teachings of the Church, where I hear God and where the lies of the evil one may be present, and we discuss how she can continue forward in her prayer life.
I always provide “homework,” or what’s known as spiritual reading, and we discuss what’s possible for a prayer routine. If you are receiving spiritual direction, your prayer life is of utmost importance. I don’t want to say spiritual direction doesn’t have any benefit without a prayer life, but it really is very important. That’s where God speaks to you and you can share and give him your heart. Prayer routines look different for every vocation: think student, mother, grandma. Very different! So, for one directee, she may be entering into 15 minutes of prayer a day and another directee an hour. Whatever the amount of time, I provide questions and topics to be bringing to the Lord based on their situation and what they are navigating. It’s incredible what they bring back to our next sessions.
Accompaniment and companionship is an incredible gift. Especially in the present day, it’s something we are starving for, and we’re not meant to make the spiritual journey alone.