Spiritual DirectionRonald D. Witherup PSS

Here the author outlines some principles for spiritual direction for a parish context. Ronald D. Witherup PSS is superior general of the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice.

Recently, a young priest with whom I became acquainted after having preached at a priest retreat contacted me for a consultation. A woman in his parish had approached him and asked if he would be willing to serve as her spiritual director. He was taken aback. He knew the woman to be devout in her faith, but also someone who had numerous challenges in her family life. The priest's concern was not about the woman's circumstances but about his own feelings of inadequacy with regard to her request. He had no formal training in spiritual direction and had never thought of engaging in this ministry. He was also rather puzzled that the woman would think he was capable of offering that kind of pastoral service.

Frankly, the priest's situation is not unique. In my interactions with many priests, it seems the notion of spiritual direction is not uppermost in their minds. Virtually all priests have the experience of working with a spiritual director during seminary formation, but once ordained, many allow the practice to fall by the wayside, whether from lack of interest or lack of available spiritual directors. It is also not unusual for priests to feel inadequate for this rather specialized ministry. Ordination does not itself impart the capacity to be a good spiritual director, though the laity normally expect their priests to be 'holy' men. Moreover, in the crowded seminary curriculum, there is seldom room to add a course on spiritual direction per se. So, little, if any, formal instruction is offered.

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