Spiritual Direction and the Moral Life
Can spiritual direction develop character virtue and foster moral growth?
Alphonsian priest Fr. Dennis Billy set out to develop and evaluate a virtue-based spiritual intervention. His project sought to understand the effectiveness of this intervention and gauge the potential to scale up the intervention to the broader Christian community and other faith traditions.
The moral life has both internal and external dimensions: the virtues that shape the person, and the actions flowing from these virtues. By using spiritual direction practices, this project developed a new model for moral growth. Its design helps directees anticipate a broader range of ethical choices and make more informed virtue-based moral decisions.
This new spiritual direction model is simple and easy to learn. It presupposes a backdrop of silence and requires active listening on the part of both the director and directee. They engage in a four-fold movement of reflection, affective sharing, identifying needs, and resolute action. The project’s theoretical basis is rooted in the Catholic tradition, which draws on an understanding of an intimate connection between the spiritual and the moral life. Although it draws on Catholic spiritual practices, the project took an ecumenical approach that reaches across faith traditions.
“Spiritual Direction and the Moral Life” created a mix of print, video, and internet-based materials for spiritual directors. The approach employed an adaptation of the model of meditation to the dynamics of the spiritual direction process found in Fr. Billy’s book With Open Heart: Spiritual Direction in the Alphonsian Tradition.
The character virtue intervention has two parts: 1) A group of experienced spiritual directors were trained in a new form of spiritual direction. 2) These trained directors then guided a group of directees in a retreat forum.
To test the effectiveness of this intervention, Fr. Billy measured changes in the understanding of the connections between the cultivation of character virtues and the moral actions that flow from these virtues. It evaluated both the training program for spiritual directors and the impact these directors have on their directees.