With a shortage of trained people to provide spiritual direction, the Diocese of Little Rock is opening its own School of Spiritual Direction.
"There has always been a need for trained spiritual directors and there is a lack of having them in the diocese," vicar general Msgr. Scott Friend said, who has his master's degree in spirituality and a certificate in spiritual direction and directed retreats from Creighton University. "A lot of people request to have spiritual direction for the growth in the spiritual life. I certainly get a lot of requests for it."
"Priests can't give spiritual direction to everyone who comes to them," he added.
Msgr. Friend is working with Chuck Ashburn, director of the Office of Religious Education and Christian Initiation, to organize the school, which will open in September 2013.
Msgr. Friend and Ashburn said the need for spiritual directors became more visible in 2008 when the diocese began a diaconate formation program with about 50 candidates. All seminarians, diaconate candidates, priests and deacons are required to regularly meet with a spiritual director.
Those who feel they have a calling to become spiritual directors are invited to attend an informational meeting in June or July. Applications will be accepted starting in January. In 2013 a committee will select about 20 to 25 students to join the program.
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The program is open to Catholic clergy and laity.
Instructors for the three-year program will include trained spiritual directors in the state and teachers from the Little Rock Theology Institute and area Catholic colleges.
Assisting with the formation of the program are five priests who are trained spiritual directors: Fathers Mark Wood and Ruben Quinteros, both of Little Rock, John Marconi of Conway, Kevin Atunzu of Fort Smith and Tom Elliott of North Little Rock. Deacon Chuck and Anita Marino of Springdale and Cindy Shaw of Fort Smith are also assisting on the team.
Classes will be held in English and Spanish once a month from September to June on a Friday night and all day Saturday at St. John Center in Little Rock. The first two years will focus on academic classes on spirituality. The final year will be a practicum where the students will be supervised while they meet regularly with their own spiritual "directees."
The exact costs for the program have not been set, Ashburn said.
The_contemplative/evocative method of spiritual direction will be taught, Msgr. Friend.
"God takes an active role in the direction session," he said. "In the session you are not talking about God; you are talking with God. The role of the spiritual director is to help to be a bridge between the directee and the Lord who is present in the room. It is really spiritual listening. You are listening to the directee but at the same time you are listening to the Lord and you are helping to facilitate that relationship between the directee and God. ... It is really to help them in their prayer life and spiritual living."
Ashburn, who has had a spiritual director for seven years, said, "It is a chance for someone else to help develop the relationship between myself and God. Someone to be there to help me sort through things that go on during the month. Oftentimes you can get in the middle of something that is difficult or trying or even very joyous and not recognize where God was in that."
Msgr. Friend said typically someone who has a spiritual director meets with him or her for one hour a month in person or by telephone. While priests usually provide the service for free, others might charge a fee.
"It helps me to pay attention to the presence of God in everything. ... Sometimes it is easy to get in desolation where you are moving away from God. It is very important to have a companion. It makes you accountable. It acknowledges that my relationship with God is of such importance that I need to have direction. ... It is a powerful experience. It is amazing to me the intimacy that God really wants with us. ... To see how much God wants to be in a person's life."
For more information, call Ashburn at (501) 664-0340 or visit http://bit.ly/dolrspiritualdirection.
June and July 2012: Attend an informational meeting
September 2012: Begin theology classes and meeting with spiritual director if not already
January 2013: After discernment, apply for program
September 2013: School of Spiritual Direction opens for first class
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Six informational meetings will be held to introduce the School of Spiritual Direction. Meetings run from 6:30-8 p.m. unless otherwise noted.
To register for a meeting, contact Chuck Ashburn at (501) 664-0340.
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