Dan Burke is an award-winning author, writer, and speaker on Catholic spirituality. He has written and/or edited nine books on faithful Catholic spirituality and is the Executive Director and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register. Dan is the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
I recently had the opportunity to interview with his Excellency Archbishop Naumann of the archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas for Register Radio on an important work going on in his archdiocese to train spiritual mentors. Because of the time constraints of the show we had to cut it down quite a bit. Below you will find the content of the longer interview.
Archbishop Naumann has a deep commitment to the spiritual welfare of those under his care and has demonstrated that commitment through tangible and significant means of catechesis and formation that I hope inspires other diocese and laypeople to pursue the same. I have had the opportunity to review the content of a number of the courses provided by the School of Faith and I highly recommend them, particularly to those who believe they are called to provide spiritual direction. Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Archbishop Naumann, welcome to the program.
Thanks Dan, it is good to be with you.
Archbishop, Pope Benedict has consistently encouraged the faithful to pursue spiritual direction during his pontificate. On his recent visit to the Teresianum he went as far as to recommend it “not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord up close, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ.” I have two questions related to the Pope’s comments. First, what exactly is spiritual direction, and second, why do you think the pope is so strongly recommending it to all Christians?
Spiritual direction is accessing a spiritual guide who can help you grow more rapidly in your spiritual life than you could on your own. It is going to someone who has training and expertise in guiding a person through the spiritual life, helping them see the opportunities for growth and holiness and then charting with them a plan to do that. It is really somebody that accompanies you on your spiritual journey and serves as a guide. Just like a personal trainer for your physical well-being can help you get in shape more quickly, so too a spiritual director is a trainer in the spiritual life.
Regarding the Pope’s recommendation of spiritual direction to all, I think the Holy Father has a pastors heart and he realizes that the aim of, the goal of the Church, is to help people draw close to Jesus and to grow in relationship to the Lord in holiness. And, for all of us, not just for priests, consecrated, or religious, spiritual direction can be a great help to anyone that is serious about really growing closer to the Lord and learning how to better pray and build a spiritual life.
It is interesting that the Pope says “not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord up close” which seems to be a reference to priests, consecrated, and religious, but really, this should be the desire of every Catholic – to follow the Lord up close. I think he is encouraging all Catholics to do what is prudent, what can help all Catholics get closer to Christ more quickly; and that would be to have a spiritual director, spiritual mentor, or guide in the spiritual life.
Around the time the Pope was speaking these words, a new school opened in your diocese for spiritual mentors – can you tell us about that? What was the impetus behind this effort?
I hope the impetus was the Holy Spirit, not necessarily a brain child of mine. But it developed because of the unique ways we have been blessed in the Archdiocese. We have a group that has really helped us with adult catechesis called the School of Faith. They originally began their efforts at the University of Kansas at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center. At that same center, some years ago, we were able to attract a new religious community called the Apostles of the Interior Life. They were a complement to this catechetical program because the program was opening people to the beauty of the truths of our faith and creating a desire for them to want to know the Lord more. The charism of the Apostles of the Interior Life is spiritual direction so we had these young people who were primed to pursue their spiritual development and then we were able to support them with spiritual directors.
Then, the School of Faith wanted to broaden their offerings beyond the St. Lawrence Center to reach more adults and I specifically asked them if they could help with the formation of our Catholic school teachers. As they did this, then we had a greater number of people looking for spiritual direction. Because we only had six of the members of the Apostles of the Interior Life, we were limited as to how many people we could support in spiritual direction.
I asked the Apostles if they would consider helping to train more spiritual directors in order to increase the availability of spiritual direction to meet the demand.
Their school opened in May?
Yes, they had their first gathering in May to start a two and half year process. Individuals come for an entire week for catechetical training, personal spiritual development, and the training in how they can help others that they would accompany in the spiritual life. Four times during the course of the year they will come together for a full week, in between these times there are online materials that they work through. The school doesn’t provide the full training that the Apostles of the Interior Life has for spiritual direction (they have graduate degrees from universities in Rome). Still we believe it will be enough to be able to provide sound mentoring to those who are trying to be able to grow in their spiritual lives.
I hear that the response has been great. How have people responded to the spiritual mentoring course offerings? Did the courses generate a lot of interest?
We were hoping we could get at least thirty people to launch the effort in order to make the economics of the school work. We were thrilled when we had over sixty come and we had to put a cap on the number of attendees.
Archbishop, in some informal research that I have done on the topic of spiritual direction and the interest out there I have had 6,000 people respond to a simple question, about their perspective on spiritual direction. Almost 2,000 responded that they are in a spiritual direction relationship. Over 4,000 indicated that they wished they were in a relationship or that they were yearning for a deeper relationship with Christ and wanted and understood that a director might help them to achieve that. Do you have any ideas or encouragement for people about how to find a spiritual director or mentor in other diocese?
That is a great question. The numbers don’t surprise me. As a pastor you hope that you can create a hunger in people to want this fullness, this abundant life that Jesus talks about that is really the fruit of a strong rich relationship with the Lord in prayer. For finding a spiritual director, I would encourage people first of all to start with their pastor to determine if he himself is willing and able to help depending on the size of their parish and his workload. Your pastor may also be aware of other resources. If there is a monastery in your area often times the monks or in the case of sisters, they may be equipped to do that. If there is a retreat center near you often times they will provide directed retreats and they might have a list of potential spiritual directors as well. These are some of the ways that I would encourage people begin looking. They could go to your website as well probably.
Thank you, that’s a good plug. I’ll have to add the information that they can find out more tips on how to do that [I created an index you can find here]. It is a challenge sometimes to find a director. But we do understand that our priests are overloaded. Sometimes, is it not true that in confession we can ask our priests for practical advice can’t we?
Absolutely, I think that in most cases priests would welcome that. It is an advantage if you can have a spiritual director who also can be your confessor. This is a great blessing. Regular use of the sacrament of penance or reconciliation is one way that you can find a lot of good help and guidance.
Archbishop, thank you so much for joining us here on Register Radio. Thank you for what you are doing in the Archdiocese. It is a great encouragement to hear of the resources you are providing to train spiritual mentors. From what I hear as well, people can come to your school from outside of the state to get training?
Yes, about two-thirds of the participants are from our area and a third are from all over the country. We hope we can assist other dioceses in this way as well.
Archbishop as we close can you give us your priestly blessing?
May the blessing of God descend upon all of our listeners and remain with them forever. Amen