What characteristics should a spiritual director have?

Spiritual direction is a very important and delicate thing. Nobody can dedicate themselves to it without being adequately prepared, nor should anyone place their soul in the hands of someone who isn't capable.

"The soul that wants advance and not to go backwards, looks at the hands in which he places himself, because according to how the teacher is, that's how the student will be" (St. John of the Cross). Therefore, those who dedicate themselves to the direction or guidance of souls have the huge responsibility of educating themselves for this work. Likewise, those who are planning on choosing a spiritual director, should look for the person who can best guide them.

The director should have all the necessary qualities and try to become expert in them. Obviously, no human director is perfect in all of these qualities, but the idea is that he should cultivate them. However, every directed person should seek to have a director who best meets these qualities, and every director should strive to acquire them.

- By Fr. Angel María Rojas, S.J.


1) Priest?
It's ideal that the director be a priest, because of his theological preparation, the opportunity to go to confession with him, etc. Nevertheless, it's not absolutely necessary, nor is it always possible. In fact, there are also lay people who can do this task very well. The important thing is to find the most suitable person and the one who can help me the most to adavance in the spiritual life.

2) Holiness
The director should have a profound interior life, because nobody can give what they don't have, nor can anyone be guided by someone who has not already walked the path. The director is a "teacher," because he shouldn't just give facts, but rather wisdom. The best conversation is the interior wealth which is made visible in the director. Spiritual direction is about introducing the directed person, in a living way, into Christ's love. The spiritual director should teach more by his example than by his words. The director himself should have a familiarity with God and docility to grace in order to be able to transmit this to the person he directs.  


3) Theological and Moral Preparation
A certain control of theology, sacred scriptures and morality obtained through study and prayer is fundamental. And, of course, fidelity to the Church's doctrine, especially to the Magisterium, is absolutely necessary.

4) Psychological preparation
Science is discovering more and more that man is neither simply material nor pure spirit, but rather both things at the same time. Neither is the soul a being independent of the body. It's influenced by psychological and corporal conditions. Because of this, he who directs souls should know at least the basics of psychology. In many cases, a good spiritual director can do much more than a psychologist, because he or she can heal on very deep level of the personality. However, a prudent director knows that he or she should not act as a psychologist or a psychiatrist. "Any attempt on their part to act as if they were, can do nothing but harm" (Bellet). In certain circumstances, the spiritual director will have to know how to entrust the solution of certain problems to qualified specialists, without getting into problems outside their fields. 


5) Tact and prudence
Utmost discretion and confidentiality. They have no right to demand information in matters of conscience: this is intimate ground between God and that person. One must have the greatest respect in this.

6) Patience
Spiritual direction is a monotonous and thankless occupation…There are plants that only give fruit many years later.

 


7) Demanding
Incorruptible and clear. The director should be persistent when the person directed recognizes that they have disordered affections and that God demands that they overcome them. Severity is rarely appropriate, but they should be firm with delicacy and charity.  He who is incapable of displeasing someone and always gives in, will not be a good spiritual director. He should help the person directed to see the demands of grace and to insist on the necessary sacrifices, bringing together Christian compassion and evangelical demands. Sometimes he will have to say things that he knows the other won't like to hear, running the risk of loosing him if he isn't humble and doesn't accept it.  Also, the director should know how to let them leave, not worrying about how many people he directs. But, in any case, to be demanding is not incompatible with being polite.


8) Cordial
This is how Jesus acted: "Fixing his gaze on him, he loved him." It's Christ himself who receives through the person of the spiritual director. The reception and the thoughtfulness with which the director receives the directed is in Christ's name. The one being directed should realize that he’s not before a judge or a psychologist, but rather before somebody who is attentive, open and compassionate. He should feel comfortable, natural, as if before himself, but someone who is good-natured, generous, balanced, enlightening and capable of enriching the other with qualities that he himself lacks. That he might feel judged with a serenity that does not possess, with a divine judgment that enlarges his heart. The direction will be more fruitful if the one directed feels respected by the director. Maternal affection is also necessary in the spiritual realm. There are who’s growth was stunted in the spiritual life because nobody showed them how to take their first steps in love.
Although it's necessary that those directed feel respected, it's not good to lavish them with praises concerning their qualities, because sometimes underneath brilliant exterior successes, they're hiding humiliating spiritual wounds. Many believe themselves to be useless. They believe that they can't avoid determined falls or faults and they continually need to be told that they deserve to be respected and that they are capable of doing many things. It's fundamental to know how to encourage, impart optimism, excitement, enthusiasm, etc.


9) Docility to the Holy Spirit
Nobody can lead another person on a path invented by themselves, everybody has their own particular journey prepared by God.  It's about the precious work of discovering God's plan for that person, and that he discover it for himself. Even if the director sees it before the one being directed, he can't impose it on the one directed.
The mission of the Spiritual director is to help the one directed correctly make his own decisions virtuously, not to give them to him already made.
The director should avoid a mistake which causes much anxiety, that of saying “I see that you have the vocation of…” This may be as a joke or with the desire to gain vocations or for whatever reason, but it is always imprudent. If God wants to call that person, He will make it known to them. No one should go to a convent because somebody else told them that they have a vocation.


10) A prayer for the one being directed
It’s good to ask God for help before having the meeting, praying for the one who is being directed. It's also good to say a prayer with him beforehand. After the meeting, the director should think over and entrust to the Lord all that they talked about. The director must have “Come, Holy Spirit" constantly on his lips, for himself, and for those he directs.