Seeking Mentors

March 11 2014 | by

DEAR FRIAR RICK: As a devout and practicing Catholic, not only do I go to Mass every Sunday, but I also confess myself once a month. Lately, however, my confessor told me that this monthly confession was not enough, and that I should also seek a spiritual director. He added, however, that he did not have the time to take up that role. Taking up his suggestion, I consulted a number of priests from religious orders nearby, but they all told me to turn to my own parish, not knowing that my parish-priest is already too busy.

At this point I have two questions: First, is it really true that we need this spiritual mentorship? Secondly, where can I find a priest who is both willing and qualified?


Your confessor has suggested you engage the services of a spiritual director. That says a lot about your confessor and about you. First of all it tells me that your confessor is actually listening to you and not just ‘going through the motions’. It’s hard to believe, but some priests respond to some more rote confessions (i.e. confessing a memorized list of generic sins from over 25 years ago that may or may not apply) by giving back an equally rote penance (e.g. say 10 Hail Marys) without really attending to the underlying needs of the penitent.

Your confessor’s suggestion also speaks to what he is noticing happening in your life. It may be that you are a little stuck. In fact, perhaps your confessions have become a little ‘rote’ as I mentioned above, and he sees that you are capable of better reflection. Perhaps it may be that your confessor sees a great degree of spiritual maturity in you that really cannot be developed simply by the monthly Sacrament of Reconciliation. Or perhaps the things you are brining up in the Sacrament really need to be further developed outside the confessional.

It’s important to remember that Confession is an act of worship directed to God. It is not an opportunity for in depth discussion, advice or counselling. Whatever the precise reason for the priest inviting you to try spiritual direction, he is saying to you that he sees the potential for going deeper, for having an ever more profound spiritual life. That says a lot about you. That’s great news!

Your parish priest told you that he doesn’t have the time to take on that role. That’s probably a good thing. Besides being super busy, in truth most parish priests are not trained in the art of spiritual direction. Although most priests are good and holy men, and hopefully have a well developed spiritual life, the work of spiritual direction requires specialised education and training. This is probably why he recommended you consult some priests from religious orders. Traditionally, members of religious orders receive more training in spirituality as they learn the spiritual heritage of their community. However, I would suggest that we can think a little bit bigger.

In fact the term spiritual ‘director’ is a tad problematic. This person is not meant to ‘direct’ your spiritual life. Rather, a spiritual director is someone who has a deep spiritual life of their own, is able to help you recognize the workings of the Holy Spirit in your life, and can in turn help you discern how you need to move as you go forward. The true spiritual director does not make you a clone of him or her self, but rather helps you become the person God has called you to be.

I also think it would be a mistake to look for a spiritual director only among priests. Competent spiritual directors are certainly found among priests, but today they are more and more found among religious sisters, brothers and lay persons. These are people who have received specialized training in this discipline and who have integrated it into their own lives. You will often find them at spirituality centres or retreat centres or institutes specialized in spiritual direction. Sometimes there may even be a spiritual director attached to a local parish.

You may also want to consider another option. Consider availing yourself of the services of a pastoral counsellor. These counsellors are people who are trained in the integration of spirituality and psychology, and assisting people in personal growth. Whichever way you approach it, remember that you will get out of it as much as you put into it. Be open and honest, and watch what the Spirit of God can do in your life.

Updated on October 06 2016