When considering a spiritual director, we may find ourselves picturing an individual or individuals of tremendous greatness. We may find ourselves thinking of a fearless leader guiding us through lethal terrain, or a warrior striking down our enemies before us. We may picture a great analyst and teacher of the spirit or a drill sergeant of the soul.
The truth, though, is that spiritual directors are as human and vulnerable as you. They are humble, prayerful individuals who walk with us on the path to deepening our spiritual life and becoming even more faithful disciples of Jesus. They are there to walk alongside us in our journey, offering their presence, an attentive ear, and realistic wisdom to help in our spiritual formation.
These are all great qualities to look for in a spiritual director, but what you probably didn’t consider is that the spiritual director you connect with should also be following your example of being guided in the spiritual life.
Here are 4 great qualities of a spiritual director that you didn’t expect:
1. A good spiritual director has their own spiritual director.
In order to guide someone along the spiritual pathway, a good spiritual director needs to have his own guide as well. The point of seeking spiritual direction is to provide oneself with an objective point of view.
As the old proverb puts it: no one is a good judge in their own case.
2. A good spiritual director will be known by his pastor.
You may have thought that, strictly based on his vocation, your parish priest would be your best candidate as a spiritual director. While most priests and even religious have some training in giving spiritual counsel, further formational training may be needed in order to become a well-trained spiritual director.
It is a best practice for a spiritual director to receive the go-ahead from his pastor before he begins guiding others. That gives the pastor a chance to vouch for the spiritual director’s training, as well as providing the parish with a resource for parishioners who may be seeking spiritual direction.
3. A good spiritual director is not there to make decisions for you.
A good spiritual director is not your own personal great decider. Look for someone who doesn't impose, but can guide so you can make a decision. The spiritual director’s role is not to dictate what should be done, but to help you discern the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and to hear God’s voice. The relationship is ultimately between you and God.
4. A good spiritual director has suffered.
It is quite helpful and almost imperative to find someone who is familiar with suffering, as suffering is inescapable in the life of a Christian who wants to follow in Christ’s footsteps. A good spiritual director is someone who has been transformed by suffering into Christ’s image.
Someone fit to be a good spiritual director is someone who has experienced suffering; a person who has been forged by the suffering God has permitted in life. A person who has come to see that suffering does not mean being rejected by God, but instead is a grace and a sign of Christ’s confidence in them.
5. A good spiritual director is a person of prayer Ultimately, make sure your spiritual director is a person of prayer with a deep spiritual life. No one can share what they themselves don't have. What might a deep spiritual life look like? Visiting Jesus in adoration, attending mass frequently (perhaps even daily). The right spiritual director reserves time daily for personal prayer or meditation. They have read some of the masters of the spiritual life like Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, or John of the Cross. They also have a relationship with the Blessed Mother--our best intercessor--and may frequently pray the rosary or other Marian devotions. Feel free to ask a potential spiritual director what their spirituality consists of.
Have noticed any unexpected positive traits in great spiritual directors?