The Benefits of Spiritual Direction

May Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.  Rule of Benedict

Joan (not her real name) was struggling to help her family through a crisis when she first met Benedictine Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB at Benet House Retreat Center 4 years ago. A private person, Joan didn't plan to share her troubles with Sr. Catherine. She was there, rather, to complete a reporting assignment on retreats for a local newspaper. But Joan felt close to Sr. Catherine almost immediately and asked for her prayers. Sr. Catherine provided guidance as well.

"Sr. Catherine helped me feel a stronger presence of God through quieting myself," Joan remembers. "She also helped me see how depression was coloring my world and actually adding more pain to an already painful situation. Understanding that gave me hope, and, eventually, peace."

Although Joan's experience is shared by others who seek spiritual direction, people seek such guidance for many different reasons.

Help in praying, discerning

"People come to deepen their prayer lives," Sr. Catherine says. "They may feel God is nudging them toward a life of service or a new commitment, or that they are at a place in their lives where they can be more intentional about their spiritual life. Sometimes people want help in learning to pray or in exploring a crisis in their lives. I've had people wanting to explore the meaning of an event or dream."

As a spiritual director, Sr. Catherine says her job is to help the directee discern God's presence in and plan for her or his life.

"We discuss the present and future, looking for ways that God is creating possibility in a person's life at this moment," Sr. Catherine explains. "Spiritual direction emphasizes the great love God has for the directee. We help people explore their spirituality and claim their stories as their sacred history. We help them discern their path."

In fact, certified spiritual directors are educated – and chosen - to do so.

"A degree in Scripture, Theology, Liturgy, Moral Theology or Spirituality is helpful," Sr. Catherine says. "And certification is required. But I think the thing that qualifies a person to be a spiritual guide is their capacity to listen to another's story, to be compassionate, to ask the right questions, to accept the other's point of view and position.

"There is a quiet awareness of the Spirit speaking," Sr. Catherine says. "My experience is that most spiritual directors had others coming to them for advice about their spiritual life long before they ever thought of becoming spiritual directors. In a sense, the Holy Spirit chose them to listen to others long before they ever thought about being a spiritual guide for others."

God calls

Even the impulse to seek direction is motivated by the Holy Spirit. "Sr. Catherine helped me see that my desire for spiritual direction is a sort of calling," Mary Colwell, Davenport, Iowa, says. "My motivation was a desire for more depth in my spiritual life. I felt like sometimes I was tending to my spiritual life on the run. I felt a need to be more mindful and deliberate with prayer."

A hospital chaplain who prays with others during life-challenging moments of personal and family crisis, Mary says it has been helpful to be able to share her experiences and feelings about prayer and spiritual issues with a trained director.

"Sr. Catherine has introduced me to more mindful ways of prayer that have been very helpful," Mary says. "Spiritual direction brings some pretty heavy questions to the table. What is my relationship with God? Who is God for me? It's not exactly somber, but there's lots of deep thinking and reflecting going on. Afterwards I usually am pretty quiet and reflective. One thing I notice is that I don't turn on the radio or CD player in the car on my drive home. Usually I am thinking about the session."

The benefits of spiritual direction are unique to each individual, Sr. Catherine points out. "Each person seeks direction because of a unique situation, and that creates a unique outcome," she says. "Your need might be to break free of past experiences, or feelings, which block your relationship with God. Or you might need guidance to grow and live with the questions of life and the unfinished relationship with God. Spiritual direction meets you where you are now and explores where you are being called."

For more information about spiritual direction, or for help in finding a spiritual director near you, contact