Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Spiritual Direction in the Roman Catholic Tradition

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Spiritual Direction in the Roman Catholic Tradition

Article excerpt

This article presents the practice of spiritual direction in the Roman Catholic tradition. Specific attention is given to: definition and description of spiritual direction, scriptural roots, Roman Catholic specificity, practice in the early Church and association with the beginning of Monasticism, and the impact of Vatican II. The development of different forms of spiritual direction is presented within the context of the variety of theological, philosophical, cultural, and historical biases evident throughout church history. The process of authentic spiritual transformation and the role of the spiritual director plays are described--both as it was understood historically and in terms of the present practice. Contrasts between spiritual direction and traditional psychotherapy are proposed.


To trace "spiritual direction" in the Roman Catholic Tradition is to try to harvest fields rich with produce almost beyond counting, teeming with a bounty sprung from charisms of the Holy Spirit seeded over centuries. It is a daunting task, but one that can leave us rejoicing and praising the Lord for variety, as well as for staple, and at times, exotic fruit. Blessed the one who fears not the diversity or surprises. Blessed the one who is willing and able to plunge into the harvest and revel in its feeding places. These pages are an attempt to bundle and share some of the traditions of Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.


Christian spiritual direction may be defined as the help or guidance that a person (directee) seeks and another (director) gives over a period of rime in the process of growing in a loving relationship with God. This process unfolds under the continual impulse, inspiration, and action of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual direction, therefore, involves three persons: the directee, the director, and the Holy Spirit.

Effective Christian spiritual direction helps a person: (a) to understand and live out their unique relationship with God who calls and continues to interact with each of us; (b) to live this relationship as a disciple of Jesus Christ, putting on the mind and heart of Christ; (c) to know and utilize the means of nurturing and strengthening this relationship, such as methods of prayer, meditation, and asceticism; (d) to recognize, disarm, and eliminate whatever internal or external forces or sinful attitudes and behavior that diminish or destroy this relationship; and (e) to experience and live the power and fruits of this relationship by responding to Jesus' gospel imperative of witness and mission in the Kingdom of God, present in every day life. Spiritual guidance or direction is the human/divine assistance, helping translate discipleship into a life journey of transformation. Called to be a disciple, sent to be an apostle, this is the fundamental vocation of all baptized Christians. This process of change has always benefited from the guidance of others.

Christian spiritual direction becomes specifically Roman Catholic when done within the context of the Catholic Church's understanding of Scripture, is connected to its sacraments, and is aware of the teaching and guidelines that have protected and fostered a variety of spiritualities over the centuries of the Church's history.

Spiritual direction is a relational process in which the director and directee develop attentiveness to the actions of the Holy Spirit in the person seeking direction. It is not a program or activity aimed at mastering mystical/ascetical theology, nor the exploration of theories about spirituality or spiritual growth, nor training in the practice of virtues or moral discipline.

Spiritual direction focuses on discovering what hinders and what promotes attentiveness and response to the Spirit's action in this particular directee. It is not simply the skilled application of techniques and strategies mapped out for the achievement of holiness or a deeper spiritual life, although one could easily assume this by reading some of the guides or textbooks on spiritual direction. …

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