The following post is contributed by Beverly O'Grady of the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Formation for Discipleship. Beverly is also a qualified spiritual director.
We all need someone who will listen to our heart's desire, our discernment and our dreams. We need someone who will listen with the ear of compassion and not slip into problem-solving mode. However, finding the right person to help you listen to the answers is where things get interesting. Perhaps it is time you find a spiritual director.
Thomas Merton once wrote: "Spiritual direction is, in reality, nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey the real Director – the Holy Spirit hidden in the depths of our soul."
In April of this year, I attended "Emerging Wisdom," the Spiritual Directors International conference in Louisville, Kentucky. This was an amazing gathering of more than 500 professionally trained spiritual directors from around the world. We spent three days immersed in the teachings of Merton, a spiritual guide who has been growing in popularity with young adults of faith. He was a Catholic writer and mystic, a renowned peace activist who worked in ecumenical settings around the world. The contradiction was that he lived in a cloistered community of Trappist Monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Only God could envision how these contradictory aspects of Merton's life would be fulfilled – and he lived each part of his life in an authentic way. Merton undoubtedly had an amazing spiritual director.
We are all capable of extraordinary things. God is calling each one of us into a life of devotion and fulfillment that is much bigger than our human imagination. And sometimes, to hear what is being asked of us, we need a spiritual director who will listen to our sacred stories – listening for God at work in our lives.
Spiritual Directors International celebrated its 25th year as a professional association. We marvelled at how the demand for spiritual direction from the laity has grown. This is no longer an activity strictly reserved for the clergy or those in religious life. We all have a vocation to fulfill. It's just going to look and feel different for everyone.
When I first met with individuals to offer them spiritual direction, I was amazed that they would begin speaking the moment my door closed. It was as if they had been waiting their entire life for someone to listen to their story. It is my task to reflect back to the directee how I hear God at work in their life. Receiving someone's sacred story is always a privilege, always confidential, always a moment of grace. It is the Holy Spirit who is the real spiritual director – I am along on the journey, marvelling at how God is at work in this remarkable ministry.
While priests and religious may offer spiritual direction, the majority of qualified directors are lay women and men who have answered God's call to this vocation. Before entrusting your spiritual life to someone, you will need to find a qualified person. Look for someone who has completed a lengthy training through a theological school or religious institute. This formation includes theological studies, practical skills training and an internship under the guidance of a qualified supervisor. Regis College (University of Toronto), Loyola House in Guelph, the Hayden Institute in Niagara Falls and the Jubilee program in Paris, ON are a few of the programs in our region. Spiritual Directors International's website has a Seek and Find Guide that can help you find spiritual directors using a map of your region. The religious affiliation of the spiritual director is listed below their contact information, as not all spiritual directors are Catholic or Christian.
To actively commit to spiritual direction, you will devote one hour a month to visit your spiritual director. Sometimes there is a cost involved for this professional service – your director may have a set fee or perhaps a sliding scale. The directee is responsible for deciding what they want to bring to the discussion, with the understanding that all sharing is held in strict confidence by both parties. If you are serious about your faith life, these guidelines will make sense. Sometimes you need to interview more than one of spiritual directors to find the right fit, as it's a process of discernment for both parties. After the initial meeting, taking the decision to prayer is the next right step. Then let the Holy Spirit show you how to proceed. After all, the Holy Spirit is the real Director.