What is the aim of spiritual direction?

The short answer is "to facilitate a person's spiritual growth." Often this may happen following an experience of conversion or spiritual or religious renewal. Conversion does not necessarily mean joining a church or religion (although that might be involved) as many experience conversions in 12 step programs or while coming through a particularly difficult or trying event. This often gives a whole new basis to a person's relationship with God.

I Think I might have had a mystical or spiritual experience. Should I seek spiritual direction?

When something like that happens a person often goes through a "honeymoon" period during which the interior graces given by God are received thankfully and rejoiced in for their own sake. Such "cloud 9" experiences may last a few weeks or many months, but sooner or later the person will come down to earth. Then the everyday, concrete problems of living out one's renewal will have to be dealt with. That is the time when spiritual direction can be most helpful.
Once the honeymoon is over, one often runs into a whole series of obstacles that can make it difficult to live out the conversion, such as the return of old habits that were part of the pre-conversion style of existence. It is a time for struggle and perseverance and for making headway. One has to face temptations of various sorts - it's normal to have them. And one needs to discover the hidden blocks to one's forward movement in union with God.

How does a spiritual director help?

The spiritual director is someone who is acquainted with conversions and other spiritual experiences in people and should be able to mediate what has been learned and accumulated by holy people over thousands of years. But more than that, the director provides an understanding and a compassionate ear for the person's experiences. When someone has gone through a religious renewal or conversion, he or she needs to speak about it to someone who can grasp what it means. Without expression to another, without reception of such communications and response to them by the other person, the conversion itself could be lost: it could seem doubtful, or unimportant, unreal - even insane.

As time goes on, decisions will have to be made on the basis of what the Spirit has been doing and urging within the individual. Making good decisions in life involves discernment, not only of outer circumstances but of inner experiences as well. These bring up questions of validity and the direction they seem to indicate. Having a compassionate and non-judgmental spiritual director can be of considerable assistance.

Are there different kinds of spiritual direction?

Yes. These are not limited to distinct faith traditions. For example, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim each may have several methods of spiritual discernment and direction. For example, within the Roman Catholic church there are different schools such as Benedictine, Augustinian, Carmelite, Dominican/Franciscan, Ignatian, Sulpician, and so on. There are many different ways in which individuals are called by God and moved by the Spirit.

No locality can be directly in touch with vast range of traditions, but it is a great advantage to have available a choice, and especially individuals trained and experienced in different kinds of spirituality.

What do you mean by "Lay" spirituality?

A lay person is someone who is not a member of the clergy, a religious order or congregation, such as a priest, nun or monk. Lay spirituality is simply a way to develop one's spirituality without having to choose a religious vocation or joining a religious community. In former times, it was mainly members of these groups, as well as seminary students, who received the benefit of spiritual direction. Only the occasional or exceptional lay person would seek out or receive direction. The "rule" for the laity was normally thought of as just keeping the commandments of God and the Church and receiving the sacraments. Nowadays there has been a widespread interest in participating in a deeper relationship with God without having a professional "calling."

Is the Ignatian Centre considered a lay organization?

The Ignatian Centre, while founded by the Montreal Jesuit community in 1976, is independent of the Roman Catholic diocesan hierarchy and run by lay people. This is not to mean that the centre is exclusively for the laity - many spiritual directors and directees also happen to have a religious vocation.

How is spiritual direction different from other kinds of counseling?

There is often overlap between different kinds of counseling. After all, they all deal with people that can't keep all aspects of their lives in total isolation. Spiritual direction does not try and deal with marriage problems, compulsive behaviors such as substance abuse, or other problems that are psychological or in need of medical attention. These issues are best left to professionals who are trained in these areas.

In other words, spiritual direction does not try to deal with problem solving, but rather with the needs of spiritual growth in union with God. If social, psychological or medical problems do come into play, spiritual direction in the background might be appropriate, but only if it does not interfere with the help received from a professional.

Do I have to be Catholic or Christian to receive direction from the Ignatian Centre? Will I have to join the Catholic church?

No and no. Our services are available to anyone regardless of religious affiliation (or non-affiliation). In fact we have had people receiving direction coming from many traditions, even atheists! While the Centre, its basis in Ignatian spirituality and the Society of Jesus are part of the Roman Catholic tradition, no demands are imposed on directees. We strongly believe that the message of Jesus Christ is universal and should come freely without any commitment to join a religion or Church. Of course Christians of any stripe, practicing or not, are most welcome to enhance their understanding of Christ through Ignatian spirituality.

How do I find and choose a spiritual director?

In the past, this has usually been through word-of-mouth referrals. A priest or minister during counseling might recommend spiritual direction and even a director. Today, the Centre provides direct referrals. After a brief confidential interview, the Centre will make one or more matches with potential directors based on a number of factors (age, gender, language/culture, religious background, etc.). While not required, it is usually a good idea to meet a few times before deciding if the "chemistry" is right with an assigned director. If at any time you do not feel comfortable or otherwise think your assigned director is not a good "fit", the centre will find you another. You may, at your discretion, select a director based on someone else's recommendation.

Do the Centre's spiritual directors receive training? Are they certified?

Yes. Formation and certification can take up to two years or longer to complete. In addition all directors registered with the Centre must maintain their certification by continuing education and formation.

Is there a code of ethics?

The Centre's spiritual directors are required to follow guidelines that can be read here. This includes the confidentiality of every and all sessions.

What kind of commitment is required to receive spiritual direction?

It used to be insisted that that complete and entire obedience should be given to the spiritual director as long as one was under his (rarely her) direction. Thankfully, this is no longer the case! The freedom of conscience and autonomy of persons is carefully respected in all cases. In no case will a director give an order. While it may be necessary to ask very pointed questions in order to get to the root of the issue at hand, a spiritual director will never "tell you what to do."

From a time perspective, you should be prepared to meet with your director once a week for about an hour. It is rarely productive to meet more frequently or for longer than 90 minutes per session. You should also make time for daily prayer and reflection. Of course these guidelines are merely suggested, as you will determine what works best for you with your director. Typically, spiritual direction lasts for a year or longer, depending on your needs.

This FAQ is based on an article by John Wickham, SJ that appeared in The Catholic Times, Montreal May 1981.