Spiritual Direction Questions, Part 1: Why is Spiritual Direction Needed?


One of the things that scared me when I was a little boy was being caught down in the basement with no light. Sometimes my brother, my sister, and I would occasionally tease each other and shut off the basement lights when we were down there playing. What frightened me the most about this action when I was little was the darkness, the inability to see where I was going and the fear of being overcome by unknown obstacles and dangers that I was blinded from seeing.

Not being able to see what is around me or where I am going or being blinded by my perceptions and experience is a danger that is constant to both human existence and the way of faith with Jesus. Within the history and tradition of the Church this struggle has been met through accompaniment and formation through spiritual direction. Whether it was with the monks of the desert or the great spiritual directors who guided great saints such as Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, Saint John of the Cross, and Saint John Paul II and countless souls known or unknown, spiritual direction is a particular pastoral need in everyone’s walk with Jesus in their lives. Authentic accompaniment in spiritual direction helps a person find Jesus not only working in the events and circumstances in their lives but in the very depths of their heart.

Every disciple of Jesus is thereby called to spiritual direction in some way, shape, or form in order for them to become who God made them to be. Pope Benedict XVI reiterates this point:

“Today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction not only to those who desire to follow the Lord closely but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his or her Baptism, that is, new life in Christ.” (Address To The Community of the Pontifical Theological Faculty “Teresianum” of Rome, May 19, 2011)

Pope Francis also reiterates this point:

“Spiritual direction is not an exclusive charism of the priesthood: it’s a charism of the laity! In early monasticism lay people were the great directors…When the superiors see that a man or woman in that congregation or that province has that charism of a spiritual father, they must try to help them to be formed, to perform this service. It is not easy. A spiritual director is one thing and a confessor is another thing. I go to the confessor, I tell my sins, I feel the flogging; then he forgives me of everything and I go ahead. But I must tell the spiritual director what is happening in my heart. The examination of conscience is not the same for confession and for spiritual direction. For confession, you must search where you have fallen short, whether you have lost patience; if you have been greedy: these things, concrete things, which are sinful. But for spiritual direction, you must examine what has happened in the heart; such as the movement of the spirit, whether I have been desolate, if I have been consoled, if I am tired, why I am sad: these are the things to speak about with a spiritual director.” (Address to the Consecrated Men and Women of the Diocese of Rome, May 16, 2015; See also Gaudete et Exultate: Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World, March 19, 2018, n. 25-34, 169-175)

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