I am asked, as are many priests both secular and religious, to be a spiritual director. This comes from an honest need of a penitent who would like to see spiritual progress in their lives. Priests are happy to see this and should appreciate the deep movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people around him.
For the penitent, they have come to a place where they wish to go deeper in their faith and spiritual lives. This movement of the Holy Spirit has prompted them to seek out someone who could be their guide to the place they seek spiritually.
For the priest, this should be a moment of discernment and not of vanity. It should be that he reflects on his time constraints but also on a bit more giving – even at the expense of his “down time”. Nearly all priests are tired. Most have multiple parishes today and work these alone. Gone are the days of “Bless Me Father” types of priests and parishes we saw in that programme with two priests and a housekeeper. My own last assignment in my diocese was three parishes in a large territory, visiting the hospital and prison and with no secretary or housekeeper/cook. Free time was spent cooking and cleaning with a little time for reading for work.
The Church has changed. Fewer vocations means those “in the field” have more to do. Expectations are still there though from parishioners as if it were 1950. So, already spread thin, the priest is asked to provide spiritual direction on top of his work load.
What I have seen is that the religious orders are still able to offer direction. But secular priests have a struggle to do this. Frequently this is also not part of the seminary training. A priest who wishes to take this on may have developed an ability or spent time in training for this. For the rest of us – “the poor secular priests” as St Therese de Lisieux called us, there is a fear of taking on too much, or taking on the needs of the penitent. Or even a fear of inadequacy to lead an individual soul. If your nearest priest is really occupied or doesn’t feel he should be a spiritual director then perhaps seek him out only for specific issues and concerns rather than a regular meeting.
In my own case, I have rarely had a spiritual director. And two that I relied on both died this year, one very suddenly. And usually where I have been assigned this was not available to me.
How can one give direction when it is needed for oneself? Tanquerrey (Précis de théologie ascétique et mystique) is very clear in his book on the “mechanism” of the spiritual life as a director. The director must remain as such and not be drawn into taking direction from those he is directing. This is a real danger since for the parish the priest he is alone, busy and often overworked and has no one to speak with about the problems he faces in the parishes. If he doesn’t have a spiritual director of his own he might find it then difficult to offer help at that deeper level to others.
But don’t give up searching for one if you feel the need to have one. Perhaps the priest you meet really is too busy for this very demanding work or too occupied with the myriad of of issues in his multiple parish assignment. Keep praying, and going to Mass, especially daily if possible, read Scripture and the works of the saints and Church Fathers and Doctors. Spend time with the Blessed Sacrament before Mass and after. Lengthen the time there if you can.
There are classic books that can be a wonderful source of inspiration and will help in very real means of changing ones life like The Imitation of Christ, and praying the Liturgy of the Hours in your own language (or the Breviarium Romanum in Latin). Just don’t give up the desire for more spiritually. It is the right road, but may be lonely. The reward at the end can be truly lasting and eternal.