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IIC 136: Spiritual Direction and Personal Formation with Fr. Boniface Hicks


What makes good spiritual direction?  What makes good spiritual directors?  And what gets in the way in spiritual direction?  To answers these questions, Fr. Boniface Hicks, joins us as continue our series on the integration of personal formation for Catholics. Fr. Boniface is a Benedictine monk and the Director of Spiritual Formation at St. Vincent Seminary as well as the Director of the Institute for Ministry Formation.  He is an accomplished retreat master, author of four books on the spiritual life, and a seasoned expert in what it takes to accompany others on their spiritual journeys.   We explore the formation that spiritual directors need, how you can recognize when something is lacking in your spiritual direction and the most common human formation challenges and deficits that Catholic spiritual directors are likely to encounter in themselves and in those they serve.


Dr. Peter: [00:00:00] For the last three episodes, we have been discussing models of integrated personal formation, the why and the what of integrating the four dimensions of formation — human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral dimensions. Now the rubber is meeting the road and we are getting to the how of your integrated personal formation as a Catholic. In episodes 133, 134, and 135 of this podcast, Interior Integration for Catholics, we covered the best theory of integrated formation from the church documents and from our five models. Now we are getting into the practice of integrated formation, your personal formation. And let’s do this together. And why? Why are we focusing on how to integrate these four dimensions of formation? Because it is essential for you to flourish. Integration is so essential that I named this podcast Interior Integration. And for who? For Catholics. For you.

[00:01:27] I am Dr. Peter Malinoski, also known as Dr. Peter. I am your host and guide in this Interior Integration for Catholics podcast, and I am so glad to be with you. I am a clinical psychologist, trauma therapist, podcaster, writer, co-founder and president of Souls and Hearts, but most of all, I am a beloved little Son of God, a passionate Catholic who wants to help you taste and see the height and depth and breadth and warmth and the light of the love of God, especially God your father, but also Mary, your mother, your spiritual parents, your primary parents. I am here to help you embrace your identity as a beloved little child of God and Mary. That is what this podcast is all about. That is what this episode is all about. And to bring that about, to live out our mission, I bring you new ways of understanding yourself, fresh conceptualizations informed by the best of human formation resources always grounded in the authoritative teachings of our Catholic Church. And why? Why? To help you flourish in love. That’s why. That’s what this is all about, so that you can live out the three loves and the two great commandments, so that you can better love your God and the three persons of the Trinity with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, and all your strength, so that you can love God with every fiber of your being, with all your parts, with no part of you left out, no part of you left behind. And so that out of your love for God, you love your neighbor as you love yourself in an ordered way. In fact, I want you to embody love. That’s the vision I am inviting you into. And at Souls and Hearts, that’s what we help our members to do. This is episode 136 of the IIC podcast titled Spiritual Direction and Personal Formation with Father Boniface Hicks, and it releases on April 15th, 2024.

[00:03:51] Now, today, today I am so excited to have with us our guest. And when I was considering who could best help us understand how to integrate personal information as Catholics, he was the first one that I considered. Now, first and foremost, Father Boniface Hicks, he is a man. That’s important. I want to stress that. He is well adjusted in his human formation, and I’ve gotten to know him over the last few years. I’ve been with him in a variety of contexts, and I can attest to him being mature on the natural level. Being a man is foundational to the rest of his identity. And in addition to being a man, Father Boniface is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He’s a Catholic priest. He’s the director of spiritual formation at Saint Vincent Seminary. We’ll hear a bit about Father Boniface’s work in the formation of seminarians today. Father Boniface Hicks is also the director of the Institute for Ministry Formation at Saint Vincent’s Seminary. The Institute for Ministry Formation, the IMF, offers a master’s degree in ministry with certificate programs in spiritual direction and Catholic theology, that also provides a wealth of resources for personal growth and spiritual direction and accompaniment. Father Boniface is also a retreat master who is in very high demand. You know, Father Boniface was amazing in our second Resilient Catholics community retreat in August of last year. And on top of all of that, Father Boniface is an author with Father Thomas Ackland — 2020 book, Personal Prayer: A Guide for Receiving the Father’s Love.

[00:05:40] Now that book, I’ve read a lot of books on prayer. I’ve read dozens of them through the years, and if I was in a desert island and could have only one book specifically on prayer, this would be the one. This is the best book on prayer I have found because it not only acknowledges, but it embraces the natural aspects of the human person. It’s a book about prayer and the whole person, not just the spiritual aspects of the person, but the entirety of the messiness of being a human person in a fallen world. I can’t say enough good things about that. Also with Father Auckland, Father Hicks wrote a 2017 book, Spiritual Direction: A Guide for Sharing the Father’s Love. I’ve not read this book yet, but it’s been highly acclaimed. Father Boniface is an expert in spiritual direction and in integrating the different dimensions of formation — human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral, and spiritual direction. Also, Father Boniface has been training spiritual directors for many years. He’s also written a book in 2021 called Through the Heart of Saint Joseph, and I’ve been reading this book for about a month now, and it has totally revitalized my relationship with Saint Joseph. Father Boniface has such great insights into Saint Joseph’s humanity, who he was and who he is as a man. And then Father Boniface has a new book, The Fruit of Her Womb: 33-day Preparation for Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary. It just came out last year in 2023, and eventually I’ll get to that one. And he has so many talents. He has a PhD in computer science and engineering from Penn State in 2007. And of particular interest to our listeners, he’s got a long standing interest in Internal Family Systems, IFS. He’s been doing his own work in IFS for several years.

[00:07:26] But there is one more thing that I have to say about this man. This man, Father Boniface, has opened himself to receive the love of God as a little boy. This man has invited the love of God into his heart, into all his being, and he has allowed that love to transform him into how he is today. This is a man who loves deeply. This is a man who radiates that love, who reflects the love of God back to God. And Father Boniface has this amazing way of sharing God’s love with his neighbor. So, listen to him. Listen to what he has to share with us. And without further ado, here he is, Father Boniface Hicks. Father Boniface. It is a joy, I rejoice in having this time with you. It is so good. It’s so good. It just makes my heart leap to have you with us. Thank you for being here on Interior Integration for Catholics.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:08:25] Dr. Peter, you’re such a gift. I don’t want to say anything after that introduction. It can only go downhill from here. You’re so kind. Now, the the listeners will get to know me and have to form their own opinion. But I want them to all have your opinion. That’s very sweet. Thank you for saying all of that. I really rejoice in the relationship, our friendship. And I can remember vividly the first time I talked with you, which was after hearing you a number of times and sending half of my directees to Souls and Hearts to — and that’s only because I had only gotten to half the directees before we talked directly. But anyway, just a joy to be with you and you bring out the best in me. So grateful for that.

Dr. Peter: [00:09:13] Well, it’s such a pleasure, such an honor to have you and I have just been so impressed with our initial connection. I remember that Dr. Timothy Heck initially tried to put me in contact with you, and I was, you know, I was like, oh, he said you guys have so much in common, you should talk. And I was like, busy with other things and I never got around to it. And then finally one day you called me during conversation hours and that’s where it all, that’s where it all started. It was just kind of like, boom. Like there was a connection right off the bat between us. And I have cherished the time that we could spend together. So thank you for that. And thank you for being here today. And so, you know, you’ve got all of this experience. And I want to kind of get into these questions around integrated formation. You know, originally these were called the four pillars of formation. And sometimes I think of those — I’ve got a part that’s a little snarky sometimes, and I sort of thought of them as sort of like the four silos of formation, right, unfortunately not connected. And so I’m really interested in if you could just start us off with what does good human formation look like in a competent spiritual director? What does good human formation look like, and how does human formation — we’re talking about the human element first — how does that human formation in a spiritual director integrate with the other dimensions of formation?

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:10:48] I want to say upfront, Dr. Peter, I’m feeling a little bit playful, so just for the sake of good discussion, I may push back on a few things here and there. I haven’t had a chance to reflect on a little bit of the previous episodes. I didn’t fully digest them. And then also some of the questions that you put forward, and I’ve thought about those a little bit. But anyway, so I may playfully…

Dr. Peter: [00:11:13] Well, I welcome that. I want to be challenged. Yeah, I do. I mean, really, because this is such a new, this is really, I mean even though it’s been, you know, 30 some odd years since Pope Saint John Paul II published this, we’re still at the very beginning of integrating this stuff. So I want to know exactly where I can improve my thinking on.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:11:33] Well, and I say that because I probably could just take your position on everything because I agree with you so deeply and really appreciate that. But maybe for the sake of mutual discovery, I’ll push back on a few things. But I could almost say, you know, the concept of separating dimensions is already totally artificial. There’s no such thing as a purely spiritual part of me, or a purely human part of me, or a purely intellectual part of me, or a purely pastoral part of me. And that’s actually one of the reasons that I love internal family systems so much is in some of the other models, you know, like a Thomistic anthropology or something, you would have more of that separation. You would say, well, there’s a purely spiritual part of me. There’s a material part of me. And the experience is, well, no, even if you break things into smaller pieces or, you know, whatever, you still end up with little personalities. So I would say that the separation into these dimensions, worst to talk about them as pillars, as you said. At least dimensions. And I know that was a movement, I know a bishop who was in that office that produces the Program for Priestly Formation. And he said, we pushed so hard to not have pillars. And whoever was the author and made the decisions at that time for the fifth edition of the PPF, they ended up with pillars, but they at least moved it to dimensions. So and just like you really never have a purely X dimension or a purely Y dimension or purely Z dimension. That’s a mathematical abstraction, right. You know, you can’t have one-dimensional things.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:13:09] And so with the human person. So I think that’s worth saying. What does that look like? And again, I appreciate IFS’s expressions so much in this regard, that we talk about being self-led, so the eight C’s and the five P’s. And you know those are certainly qualities that we want to see coming through. I like to talk about things in terms of interior freedom as well. I think that’s a helpful concept. I think we have a feeling of what it’s like to be interiorly free, even when we’re under pressure, to feel like I’m not being forced compulsively to act in one way or another way. But I can respond with some level of freedom when I’m attracted, when I’m drawn to something, I still have freedom to move towards the good and not to simply follow one or another attractions, that I’m not getting maybe hijacked by a part. I’m not being blended with a part of me that may be reacting to something. So I like to think of it in terms of of interior freedom as well. And certainly when we’re thinking about… Well, I already moved into priestly formation, I guess, in my mind. But, you know, thinking about the kinds of challenges, pressures, opportunities, responsibilities of a priest, you know, especially in those realms which are going to involve a lot of human interaction, that there can be the kind of freedom to encounter other persons as persons and have relationships that also are freeing for the person that’s being encountered.

Dr. Peter: [00:14:42] Right. And I certainly appreciate that, you know, that there’s not a hard and fast separation among the four dimensions, but yet it’s still useful to discuss them separately. It’s still useful to be able to have it not just be formation in an undifferentiated way, to think about it, but to think about it in terms of these four. And so, yeah, I’m just curious about your experience, especially in forming spiritual directors. One of the things we’re doing in this upcoming series, including this episode, is to bring in sort of the formators of formators, right. And so to kind of think about what is needed so that somebody can accompany, somebody can — maybe the word is passé now — but direct a spiritual director, a spiritual directee. You know, I’m just curious about what goes into that in terms of the actual formation of the human person, not just… I’m not so interested necessarily in the continuing education and the academic preparation, but the heart, I guess, is what I would summarize it as. The heart of the individual.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:15:55] Yeah. Well, one of the requirements for our program in spiritual direction is that the person has been in spiritual direction for certainly for at least a year consistently, although our students have been in spiritual direction for many years, almost, I think, without exception. So I think relationships are the most formative thing and relationships in which there can be real self-disclosure, real vulnerability that can be received with love. What we found is through the teaching, people have been confirmed or sometimes have realized that their spiritual direction has not been all that it ought to be and have changed spiritual directors or, you know, have certainly consulted with Father Tom and and I in particular about that, because sometimes spiritual direction devolves into direction or, you know, sort of minimally. It may be another reason I bristle a little bit even at the separation of different dimensions. I think that I sort of wonder if psychologists without a soul or spiritual directors without a humanity — it’s really the relationship that’s so formative in both dimensions. And even if the content of the relationship is focused on a particular dimension, still it’s integrative of other dimensions at the same time.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:17:17] So we’re certainly interested in spiritual directors who are in good spiritual direction. And then going into some of these dimensions, we certainly teach about elements of internal family systems. And the teaching does shine a light on people’s hearts in a way that a lot of things come up. And we manage that, especially through discussion posts as well as personal conversations, and see how people are growing and integrating the material along the way. But it’s often a little bit of a surprise as we’re forming spiritual directors, how much of the human dimension, how critical the human dimension is, and how much of it they need to be able to pay attention to. And then when doing that, how much they can help that human dimension. So parts that are coming up in spiritual direction to be related to God and to find a place in prayer, a connection in prayer. But that sort of falls out of the relationship, I would say. I’m not answering your questions in a very systematic way.

Dr. Peter: [00:18:20] Let me let me come at this a different way then, perhaps, to kind of illuminate this. Matthew Walz in episode 133 brought up this concept of dimensional trespassing. And so this is when you know somebody that’s involved in the formation of somebody else, moves outside of that particular person’s expertise into a different dimension of formation. So, for example, if I were to, as a psychologist, be talking about how the Holy Spirit seems to be moving a person’s soul, you know, that would be, at least in my mind, an example of dimensional trespassing. So are you saying you’re not that worried about dimensional trespassing? Because, you know, everything is sort of in, you know, you can’t separate these dimensions. And so it’s really kind of all together in a sense. Or do you think there is a concern about areas of expertise? The distinctions of what my role is in the seminary, for example, you know, the different roles that people have in a seminary, for example, or the relationships that you know person has with their therapist, with their spiritual director, you know, with maybe with the academic program that they’re in, if it’s in philosophy or theology. I’m just curious, like, what about that concept of dimensional trespassing, given what you’ve just said?

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:19:39] Well, I was revisiting the PPF in preparation for our conversation. And the Program for Priestly Formation talks about spiritual formation and says “Human formation leads to and finds its completion in spiritual formation. Human formation continues in conjunction with and in coordination with the spiritual, intellectual and pastoral dimensions of formation.” And then under the benchmarks for spiritual formation, it talks about integration of chastity and perfection of chastity, which would seem to be an eminently human formation thing, which is clearly one of the benchmarks that the last three stages — discipleship, configuration and vocational synthesis — as a critical element. So I sort of wonder if the dimensional trespassing is so clearly delineated along human to spiritual. And I wonder if it’s more like if you don’t know what schizophrenia is, then probably you shouldn’t declare yourself as an expert on schizophrenia, you know? So I sort of wonder if those are the right categories to to worry about. So I, for example, am sensitive to this. I have a directee, not a seminarian who, obviously not a seminarian, who was getting some counseling, and her Catholic counselor at a Catholic counseling institute was encouraging her to use birth control and justifying that based on moral theology principles that she clearly knows nothing about. So that’s a different kind of dimensional trespassing that I’m very sensitive to.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:21:09] And I just about called up that counselor and, anyway. And I’ve also dealt with directees who have encountered priests in the confessional who have been insensitive to trauma and wounds that people bear and engaging in spiritual bypassing or otherwise, well, just ignorant of the human dimensions of the person. So I guess I sort of wonder, I think we all need some integrated pictures and then we need to know what we don’t know. So I need to be careful about, you know, people that are starting to devolve in some elements psychologically that are unfamiliar to me. I need to be able to recognize, well, this is something different, and I’m not sure what’s going on here. And I should get some help about this. But I need to do that spiritually too. If somebody is going through something in prayer or is relating with God in ways that are unfamiliar to me, then that’s an area that I need to be careful about, although I’m the spiritual formation guy. So right, I guess I would, I’d be more inclined to categorize it in those directions — people should know what they don’t know and then respect that and get help.

Dr. Peter: [00:22:24] Well, I’ll give you an example that comes up fairly commonly in my practice. And that is, is this a demon? You know, am I experiencing, you know, some sort of demonic phenomena? And so, yeah, I will look at this in terms of, okay, is there anything that I see on the natural level that explains what’s happening inside, you know, and that’s particularly helpful with internal family systems, again, you know, to be able to kind of look at how different parts might be interacting within a person. But yeah, ultimately I don’t have the capacity to tell whether this is a demon, you know, to make a definitive determination. That’s way outside my wheelhouse. So there’s a competency in terms of the profession. And then I also think there’s a competency in terms of just who you are as a person, right? For example, I know that within the field of psychology, there are times where we’re ethically obligated to not go into areas where we might have something that’s going on right now. For example, an example that’s often given is that if a therapist is going through a painful divorce and somebody shows up, you know, that’s going through a similar type of situation, and they can’t hold it together, you know, very well. And it’s not so much a question of continuing education or professional development. It’s just where that person happens to be in that moment. Or the loss of a parent or something like that. So yeah, so I can appreciate that. Although I do have real concerns about the degrees to which therapists will go into spiritual phenomena and make claims that, you know, I guess I find — maybe they have a special charism, maybe they have a special gift.

Dr. Peter: [00:23:57] And it doesn’t necessarily seem like it’s off base, necessarily. It’s just, how would you know? You know, how would you know based on the training, but also based on the the role and the particular charisms, you know, the person has. So I just, I actually — and this again, this is great because we may differ on this — you know I actually like the distinctions, but also appreciate the importance of the integration. I also believe that — and I’m really hesitant for one person to take on too much of the formation because you can wind up with a lack of checks and balances, you can wind up with a concentration of influence in ways that, you know, that can actually open the relationship up to influences that, you know, may be more than warranted, you know, could even turn into something that induces dependency and so forth. So I’ve seen that happening, for example, in monasteries or in convents that have gone off the rails, where there’s a lot of top-down control, things like that. So, so I guess that also is sort of coming from some of my experience. So I like it when people are experiencing formative influences, have formators that are addressing different dimensions, I guess is what I’m saying. I think there’s a measure of safety in that, actually.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:25:13] Well, I agree with that. And I guess I would maybe shape it in a little bit different way because I would, for example, be hesitant and critical of many priests and spiritual directors who are also talking about demonic and supernatural phenomena and don’t know what they’re talking about. So I don’t know that the field of specialization… And likewise, I mean, as you and I, I think can both appreciate, I’m anxious about cognitive behavioral therapists who are trying to take on trauma as if there’s no polyvagal theory, you know. So anyway, so I guess I’m just…

Dr. Peter: [00:25:49] So you’re you’re nuancing it to the person. It’s not just that a certificate or a diploma or a license or something automatically qualifies you. I totally agree with that.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:25:59] And then in terms of the variety, I suppose even perhaps in the human space — not that cognitive behavioral therapists have nothing to offer, and likewise not that trauma therapists have everything to offer or something — but even in that space… I’m in danger of just saying things without thinking through them. Let me focus on the thing that I have thought through. But in terms of having multiple formators, I think different relationships bring out different dimensions and form different dimensions in a person. And again, I don’t know that those lines are necessarily along the spiritual / human lines, but people fit into different, I think, draw out different parts of people for one thing, and then integrate in a different way. So I’ve wrestled for a long time about this question of, well, how is spiritual direction different than counseling? And the temptation is to think of it entirely in terms of the content. But I don’t think that’s the right thing. I think it’s important to think of it in terms of the relationship. As a spiritual director, I’m going to be very closely associated with someone’s relationship with God. And so the things that they experience from me, through me, as they share things with me, are going to flow much more directly into their relationship with God.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:27:12] They may say the same thing to a counselor that they say to me, sharing a part of their life, but it’s going to have a different effect on their interior, perhaps helping to work through something, give some insight, some inner harmony. But when they share it with me, it’s going to flow much more directly into their relationship with God because I’m the spiritual director. So the naming of the role and the role that it plays in someone’s life, I think really makes a difference. And so in the seminary, for example, I have seminarians who meet with me and seminarians who meet with another formator. There is some difference in terms of confidentiality. The formator writes up an evaluation and consults with the rector’s council, they ultimately get to vote on the person’s continuation. So there is a difference in those roles. But in a healthy seminarian, he’s sharing everything with both of us. And in that sharing it plays two different roles in his life — that formator having a little different influence, that relationship having a different effect on him than his relationship with me has on him.

Dr. Peter: [00:28:16] So let me ask you this to make sure I’m understanding. So would you say that there’s not a role then, because it could be interpreted… What you just said could be interpreted as there’s no role for the internal forum then when it comes to gathering information. Okay, well, first of all, could you define internal forum because, you know, you’d do a better job of that than I would and not everybody knows what that is. And then kind of explain how you see the role of that within the seminary.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:28:41] Sure. And the internal forum relates to the spiritual director in particular, and that’s a canon law distinction that protects the manifestation of conscience, so that the spiritual director has no evaluative or voting influence. All that’s said in spiritual direction remains in spiritual direction. So the effect of that is that there is a most secure, a most confidential place for the most sensitive and vulnerable things, the seminarian can trust that what’s said here stays here. But the vision, especially of the new PPF coming from the new Ratio Fundamentalis, the universal formation guidelines for the Catholic Church. The intention is that a seminarian’s whole life comes into the external forum eventually. While it’s protected, that it can come into the internal forum first, you might say, the goal is that the seminarian can really entrust himself into multiple relationships and even those most sensitive things that he might be very afraid to say to everyone, he can say to the spiritual director first, feel loved there, healed there, helped there… That relationship has a particular role in that aspect.

Dr. Peter: [00:30:04] Yeah, that makes sense to me. That makes a lot of sense to me. So thank you for that clarification. Because sometimes people feel — or I would actually go to the level of parts, you know, a part of a person that carries a particular burden or takes on a particular role, has a greater sense of confidence in one formator versus another, right. Because there’s something resonant about that relationship for that part of the person. And so that makes a lot of sense to me. So what do you feel like — and we can keep this for formators generally, we can cut across all of the different dimensions, if you will — but what do you think formators in general struggle with? Where are the weaknesses? Where are they likely to need help or ongoing attention? Kind of generally in your experience, because I know you work with so many spiritual directors and work with people from all walks of life, where is the need right now, do you think? How would you frame it? I’m kind of asking where they’re hurting, you know? Where is the heart, you know, a little too hard or where is it a little too guarded or, you know, I mean, I’m trying to get to that relational aspects that you were talking about too. Like where where are the obstacles?

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:31:23] Yeah, certainly. I guess it’s funny. I don’t think of it in those terms, which is probably why I’m hesitating a little bit.

Dr. Peter: [00:31:32] Well, is there are there other terms that are more familiar or more comfortable for you? Those are my terms. And maybe that may be, I mean, because I originally trained, you know, as a psychodynamic psychotherapist, right. So we’re looking for the the conflict or we’re looking for the deficit or we’re looking for, you know, the abnormality or whatever it is, right.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:31:49] Yeah, I certainly think in terms of what I’m doing with people in general, in my own giving spiritual direction and then communicating this in various degrees for teaching spiritual direction is, you know, and in one sense, just developing a secure attachment with someone, to open up a space in which they can share areas of hurt and shame, which come from a variety of different things. I think just so many family relationships are such a mess, so many broken marriages that people have been raised in. I seem to have a number of people with parents who have more narcissistic traits, and so feeling that someone loves them unconditionally and actually has time and attention for them is really significant. Being in it for the long haul — that I’m not going anywhere and then being able to really rest in and trust in that relationship that’s really going to be there. And I can say, I mean, these are some of the things… I’ve met with Fr. Tom as my spiritual director for 20-some years now. And these are aspects of myself, so aspects of littleness. My favorite part of your introduction is that there is a little boy who has learned to be loved by God, and that is really the gem for me, embracing that littleness, making room for that little boy to experience love. And that’s come through very powerfully in my relationship with Fr. Tom as well as with others.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:33:23] But certainly the the longevity and the consistency of that relationship have been very important. And I think room for littleness, you know, that’s one of the reasons again, I think internal family systems describes so beautifully, the role of exiled little children that need a mom or a dad, and in making room for that, giving people permission to embrace that littleness and see their limitations not just as something to be conquered, but actually as something to be loved and embraced — that’s where I see so much healing and freedom, openness, happening. And then having gone through that, doing that work, really being much more capable of helping others to do that work as well and therefore less likely to do the kinds of, you know, the… The thing I’m always, there’s this idea that spiritual directors are supposed to just talk about prayer. And that’s… anyway, so…

Dr. Peter: [00:34:27] Not just prayer, it’s also prayer and the sacraments. Right? I mean, it’s both, right. Gotta be both. If you leave out the sacraments and you’re just talking about prayer, it’s just going to be not enough, Father Boniface.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:34:40] Right, I know. I think when people are able to do some of their own work and discover the little child who can be loved, you know, and then that just flows so naturally into prayer, you know, that becomes sort of a natural consequence of those things in a spiritual setting. But moving people out of the, I need to be the expert in teaching people about prayer and getting people to do prayer routines and holding them accountable and spiritual bypassing — all of these kinds of things. You know, the interior work of discovering that we are unconditionally loved and the places that we are afraid are most ugly and unlovable is, yeah, it’s where the beautiful things take place.

Dr. Peter: [00:35:20] So for you, you’re really focused on the relationship. You’re really focused on what is the nature — I’ll take it further than that — what’s the nature of the love between, in this case, for example, the spiritual director and the directee?

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:35:40] Absolutely. Yeah. And that is integrating in itself. And then it’s, you know, the aspects of the person are all brought together in that, it’s not sort of, instruction. Anything else can be replaced by, you know, a good AI. If it’s just a matter of information, if it’s just a matter of communicating ideas, if it’s just a matter of accountability, you know, then you can get an artificial intelligence platform, you can get Google to do that. And clearly spiritual direction couldn’t be reduced to that. And that really goes back to the beginning. At first blush, it might seem like what I teach and what I do is more influenced by modern psychology than by the ancient roots of spiritual direction. But the reality is, the sine qua non of spiritual direction is that you reveal every thought to your spiritual father. It’s the total interior self revelation that is the mark of the spiritual director. And then being able to sort of see these things together and discern is the next step. But being a spiritual father who can receive the entire interior, who can be safe enough, trustworthy enough for someone to reveal all of those interior thoughts and feelings as well, you know, that’s really the hallmark of spiritual direction. So that’s very much, it’s very much in the relationship from the foundations of spiritual direction.

Dr. Peter: [00:37:08] So, is it framed that way much? I mean, this way that you’re describing, is it in the general programs that are out there for spiritual direction right now? Is it framed in terms of the heart? Is it framed in terms of the relationship? Is it framed in terms of love? Is it framed in terms of the union between the two? Or are you offering us something that’s really more, you know, sort of avant garde and kind of cutting-edge in actual practice? I’m not talking about like the theoretical underpinnings necessarily, but in actual practice.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:37:42] Well, a lot of programs are using our book now, and it certainly is framed that way in our book. So I will stake a claim there. I think there tends to be — and I think it happens for a couple of different reasons — but there tends to be a focus on, yeah, just maybe the dimension of prayer. We’re only supposed to talk about prayer, something like that. That comes out in some spiritual direction programs. I would say that it’s… So there’s a lot of Ignatian influence, another key book that we also use in our program. I don’t use it extensively, but I do give it to the students because it’s kind of classically appreciated. It’s from Barry and Connolly, on spiritual direction to Jesuits. And Ignatius is really focused on spiritual experience. That’s kind of his primary content of spiritual direction. And spiritual experience involves spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation, which are really distinguished by interior movements. Heart inflamed with love, spiritual joy, lifted up above every creature, moved to tears, interior peace. So these are all matters of the heart and and the context of sharing those things is somewhat implicitly, you know, then dependent on the relationship. But it’s much less explicit in Ignatius and in some of the Ignatian forms than it would be in ours. The monastic foundations of spiritual direction are entirely about the relationship. The relationship with the spiritual father is the heart of of spiritual direction. So I would say that we’re more explicit about that. But it’s, yeah, out there.

Dr. Peter: [00:39:23] Well, I’ve not read your book on spiritual direction. I’ve heard really good things about it. I know that your book on personal prayer is like all about the relationship with the Father. And so it’s not about working exercises or, you know, or other types of things. It’s about actually entering into the intimacy of the relationship. And so if I’m understanding what you’re saying, then the greatest — again, I’m going to frame it in a way that I frame it and we can turn it around or reframe it if needed — but what limits or hinders or compromises spiritual direction? Would we be looking at something amiss in the formation of the the spiritual director, something that gets in the way of loving the directee in some way?

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:40:17] Yeah, yeah, certainly. I mean, there are going to be things on, on both ends. Obviously, the directee needs to be able to get into some of the places and share some of the places. But the director’s comfort with receiving that, being open to that, creating a safe place that the directee can share. You know, sometimes the movement towards giving these things to God is the discomfort on the part of the director of knowing how to receive it. And some of the spiritual bypassing that’s there and there’s enough vocabulary around that or concepts around that, that people will feel free to do that. Yeah. I think the director’s discomfort with the things that are being shared, not knowing how to remain present to somebody who is dysregulated, not knowing how to handle a person being blended with a part that might become a little bit aggressive or might be reclusive. Because the director himself or herself has not dealt with some of that stuff, is certainly an issue.

Dr. Peter: [00:41:15] And that could potentially, I mean, I think on the side of the therapist, I know a lot more about working with therapists. I’ve only just started to work with spiritual directors in their human formation. It’s actually been fascinating. I have 17 spiritual directors that I’m working with in small groups right now, three small groups along with some coaches. But I know for therapists what seems to be, if I were to sum it up in a word on the natural realm, at least, what gets in the way is shame. A sense of shame. So yeah, if that shame gets activated, if that shame gets triggered, if a part bearing that shame, you know, is now, you know, really, really prominent, that can really compromise the capacity for a therapist to attune with the client, to be with them, in a way that’s loving, in a way that fosters, you know, beautiful work. And I don’t know if it’s the same, if you would experience it the same way with spiritual directors, if it’s often a shame sort of centered thing, or if it’s more of these other kinds of things.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:42:23] Yeah, I’ve thought a lot about… It was actually listening to a little bit of Dr. Kevin Majeres that, he said very simply, like, basically shame is associated with every burden. So I’d be curious what your thoughts are about that, but that idea has floated around in my head and I think I can always tie it back when I’m running into something, interior pain being related to shame and that being part of the the burden that keeps a part exiled and thus also protectors moving forward. And if you’re doing spiritual direction and it’s not self-led, then that’s going to run into run into some difficulties

Dr. Peter: [00:43:05] And self-led — just so folks know, that’s an IFS or internal family systems term that, you know, essentially means like this recollection where, you know, the parts are in right relationship with your innermost being. And there’s a harmony and integration there. It’s not sometimes, sometimes people that are kind of new to the podcast might think of — that self-led like, oh my goodness, shouldn’t we be spirit-led or something like that, right, you know, so I just wanted to make that little clarification because it might land oddly, in the ears of some. But yeah, okay, that makes sense to me. That makes sense to me. I think often we have like layers of burdens. And so I think some parts may not be burdened that much by shame. But the derivatives of shame, the anger, the despair, the depression, you know, if you follow sort of the causal chain back, I think at the root of so much of it, you’re going to find the sense of not being enough, of being inadequate, of not being lovable. And so, yeah, I look at shame as being really central, and that is something that is hard to approach from a classroom-based academic model. So tell me a little bit about like the individual work that you do. And I’m certainly interested in the seminarians, but I’m also interested in the ones that are in your spiritual direction, you know, your spiritual direction program. You have a master’s degree in that, or a certificate in that. And so I’m just curious about like, you mentioned, that they have to be in spiritual direction. But I’m curious, what other kinds of ways do you connect with them? Because I know from the spiritual directors that I’ve talked to, they’ve really enjoyed being in your program, and there’s a lot of interest in it. But I haven’t ever really sat down and talked with them about like what the individual experience is like in it.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:45:09] Yeah, you’re making me think about it again too, which I appreciate, what am I doing and what is connecting with people and how do I pay attention to some of these concerns. So we do have… the final year of the program involves mentoring. So as people are actually, after receiving formation in spiritual direction, they’re starting to do that with a couple of directees, and they’re meeting with one of our mentors, myself, Fr. Tom, a couple of others that we’ve trained. And so there is that personal work. And then the interaction, so the classroom model is interactive. So, although it’s online, it’s on Zoom, it’s like this, connecting with faces and interacting also through discussion posts, through writing. And you can see how things are landing, what people are getting. And in terms of dealing with shame — so I think the way that we teach, and Fr. Tom and I do a lot of the teaching, our other professors also follow suit, but certainly in the classes I can vouch for my own, I think my own compassion comes through enough as I’m naming these things and teaching about these dynamics and giving people permission to feel things, to be little, to recognize the internal orientation. I share my parts. I have a little map that I share with them and describe some of my own…

Dr. Peter: [00:46:33] I was so impressed when I saw your map of your parts, and so impressed that you share that with your students. It just totally blew me away. So wow.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:46:46] You gave me a good example. That was one of my introductions to you, episode 71. So I think through the teaching, we do make a lot of room to touch on a lot of those different common struggles. In many cases, students are having individual meetings with me as things come up during the teaching at different times and are also giving evidence of, after I heard this, I talked to my spiritual director and discovered that and shared that. And so I’m really seeing a lot of transformation through the program from the teaching as that teaching is again getting processed in spiritual direction and then also through the mentoring, you can see how things are landing. It’s sort of fascinating, on the good side to see like, oh, you really got this. And you’re actually doing, you know, really listening, you’re paying attention to these inner dynamics. You’re being gentle and sensitive and affirming, and you’re seeing the effect of that or not. Seeing people get focused on, like I was trying to tell him… I just was talking with a student and and she said, somebody was telling me, you know, this directee, it was actually a practice session. So we do some practice sessions also throughout the classes, and then I have them answer questions, to give me feedback, and they give feedback on each other to me. And so I get to see some of that work unfold as well. But she said, you know, she was my directee was just telling me all about her counseling sessions and the things she’s working out there. And I kept wanting to ask her like, well, are you taking this to prayer? Like where’s God in this? And I said, well, how are you receiving her? Like, if she took this to prayer, what would it look like?

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:48:48] How would God listen to her? And how would God receive her and respond to her? Why don’t you do that? And then she’ll have an experience of it. And since that’s, you know, kind of where you fit in in her life, then that’ll help her to do that. And then you can even make it explicit. What do you think would happen if you brought this to God? Or, you know, whatever. But so anyway, you see some of these patterns, although I’ve said this like 500 times. Well, it’s the one on one, you know, actually putting it into practice. And then the light went on for us. Very beautiful. She said, oh, that makes a lot of sense, I see. You know, so sometimes the personal application comes that way as well.

Dr. Peter: [00:49:30] So I’m just thinking about this. I was going to ask you this question about, you know, what are the common mistakes that spiritual directors make with their directees in spiritual direction. But you’ve got me thinking about it in a different way. Because, yeah, this isn’t so much about technical flaws or not staying with the protocol or whatever in the way that we’re talking about it. It’s really about sort of the union. So I’m wondering if we can reframe that in terms of maybe, what’s missing in spiritual directors that you notice, that somehow, I don’t know, gets in the way, or from the perspective, I guess this is the way I want to think about it, from the perspective of a directee who’s got questions about what’s going on in spiritual direction, that may have concerns about what’s happening in spiritual direction. And if we add another dimension to this situation or this scenario, let’s say that they really are seeking, they’re willing to be open, but they’re sensing that maybe there’s something off or something wrong. And I’m not even necessarily talking about the most egregious types of things, you know, that have happened that I’ve heard about in spiritual direction, where there’s clear physical or sexual boundary violations or that kind of stuff. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about just how can they evaluate this sort of stuff, especially when they’re so close in their relationship and so forth. So just anything that you might see commonly, or guidance that you might give to somebody that might have those kind of questions.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:50:58] Well, let me kind of start from this point and then I think end up in there. I think one of the challenges in terms of forming directors is really making this relational shift, which is also creating a space of openness and receptivity. We talk about the vulnerability of listening. So often we think of vulnerability in terms of sharing. But a counselor or spiritual director that’s really making room in their heart, in their life to receive and to be affected by, to attune with the directee is really vulnerable, is trusting the directee to share and lead them and, you know, in ways that they they can really receive. And so teaching directors to be vulnerable in that listening, first of all, is its own challenge, because that requires dismantling a little bit the pressure to have the answers and to have all of the advice and to earn their wage in a certain way. Like I’m supposed to be able to tell somebody something and to shift out of that framework into a framework of receptivity, and then to really trust in these relational dynamics, that in receiving the directee, that the Holy Spirit really works very powerfully in that, that the directee often will have their own, discover their own solutions and pathways and have their own insights, and that is by far more valuable, anyway.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:52:26] The things that they come up with themselves are the things they’re actually going to buy into and move forward with. So actually helping directors to move into a place of not directing, for example, but to really trust in the relationship, the receptivity, with patience and love, attention. I like the word attention because it has the word “tension” and the little particle “ten” is ancient, Indo-European. It means to stretch. And I like that image of stretching to make room for a person. And so I think that’s kind of the challenge. That’s the big shift that I’m constantly working on. And so from a directee’s perspective, I think the feeling is like, my spiritual director won’t let me share or I don’t think my spiritual director can handle what I want to share or need to share. I get cut off, I get advice that I don’t need, or I get advice that just doesn’t work or I don’t really feel received, understood, I don’t really feel loved. I don’t feel that my director is really making room for me. I think those would be some of the most common difficulties that come up.

Dr. Peter: [00:53:44] So in a word, it’s kind of, I mean, what comes to my mind is attunement, you know, is the director attuned to me. And I wonder if sometimes — maybe this is more old school or maybe it’s not — but what about, like, grace making up for the human deficits of the spiritual director? Tell me about, like, kind of… You’re laughing, I love it. So tell me, tell me a little bit about what’s going on inside you right now as I bring up that idea.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:54:15] It’s something we often say to the seminarians, you know, like, all your problems are not going to be fixed when a bishop lays his hands on you, you carry them all through to the other end. No, certainly, I like the definition of grace as a participation in the life of God. And certainly that makes a huge difference. I think the spiritual direction relationship very much should be and can be immersed in our relationship with God and the life of God. And there’s a lot of that that comes through. And I mean, I feel that very deeply, like I have so much love in my heart for my directees. And it feels supernatural. It feels like this is not just my love, although it’s very much my love. And so I do feel the work of grace very powerfully. But if I have no love, I’m not going to suddenly have that love forced on me by God. So he takes the little bit that I offer that I have in my humanity. He takes my, you know, my $0.02, my two pennies as being the poor widow that I am. He takes that and makes something beautiful out of it. But I have to be able to give that. I need to be able to make my humanity available. I need to be able to love through my human capacities and and work through my own stuff well enough that it doesn’t interfere with with his grace that’s very much at work. So the idea that… and I do, you know, on the other hand, I also would say God has a vested interest. I mean, he is going to do things with the directees that are outside of my capacity, outside of my knowledge.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:55:58] You know, there are times… I have a kind of a fun story of this woman I was directing on retreat who is just a really lovely person. I didn’t have a previous relationship with her. She was recommended by somebody, came on retreat for five days, dealing with some very hard things. And like, one day after the next, I mean, there was no progress. I mean, she just was in a terrible place. And I’m using all of my human capacities, my experience and wisdom, trying to do something, help her with some way, connect in some way, you know, and it just was like the last day, she comes in glowing and I’m thinking, what did I do? I mean, was it that suggestion to pray with this? Was it like her connecting with something I had, this kind of thing. Well, we have this huge image of the Pieta in the mausoleum in our cemetery. And not only had I not recommended for her to pray with that, I didn’t even tell her about the mausoleum. I mean, like, I had nothing to do with this. But God does have a vested interest. And God’s grace can make up for my deficiencies or the deficiencies of the relationship in very interesting ways. And thank God, that’s good for my humility to know that it doesn’t all come from me and depend on me, but we don’t want to also make grace seem like a magic wand that gets waved over the wasteland of human deficiency and just sort of magically makes everything go away.

Dr. Peter: [00:57:35] I’m sort of reminded of two things. One is Dr. Matthew Walz, in episode 133, brought in this Aristotelian causal model of the four dimensions of formation, and he connected human formation with the material cause. And one thing that I’ve been coming up with in prayer thinking about is, okay, if I am to be an alter Christus, ipse Christus, another Christ, Christ himself, you know, I’ve been thinking about that material cause. Can I be the matter? You know, that is, you know, certainly not just unthinking, but can I be, like, another embodiment of Christ, you know. And can I provide the matter for that and let God do more of the vitalization of that, right, inspiring me more by grace. Not that I won’t have an individual contribution to make, and not that I’m just being like clay, you know, which doesn’t have a volitional component to it at all. But can I get smaller in the things that get in the way? You know, he must increase, I must decrease. Can I get smaller in the things that would get in the way of Christ loving my neighbor through me, but also in like my particular flavor, right, because of my individuality, you know? And so I’m sort of thinking about it in those lines. And it’s sort of like, what can I do to remove the impediments of that, instead of what do I have to do to make something happen? You know, which feels more agenda-driven to me, which feels more like I’m imposing a particular form, you know, on the relationship.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [00:59:11] I like that. I think that’s a great distinction. Yeah. There certainly are aspects that are unique to my humanity that God does want to work through and that I can make happen in that sense, you know, so there are good elements there, but then they’re also going to be things that are going to be limiting maybe in general it’s an issue with me or just maybe in particular for this person, you know. For some people, the beard — I hope it’s nicely combed enough — and the habit and things like that are precisely what opens people, you know. And in other cases, these are things that are maybe we have to overcome a little bit because it triggers something. It reminds of something.

Dr. Peter: [00:59:54] Well, yeah, there could be transferences. That’s one of the things that I remember learning, you know, when I was being trained psychoanalytically, psychodynamically, was that a beard can evoke a transference just because Uncle Benny had a beard, you know? And when he came to visit, you know, such and such, you know, and so, yeah, I mean, there are things that are — they’re not even necessarily, I mean, there’s nothing intrinsically evil about a beard, right? But the associations, you don’t always know, right, where people are coming from in terms of their experience of it. So either way, it could also be a really positive thing, you know.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:00:33] And then it’s just, you know, I think being able to repair the ruptures that are caused by my inadequacies or by my accidental features or by my failures or whatever it might be, making a safe enough place that a directee can say it, that there was a rupture, that they felt that, experienced that. And then being able to repair that can be very beautiful, not only repairing our relationship, but maybe even healing some of those negative associations, those transferred associations from past relationships as well. And I think that’s another place that I know I’m stretched on the one hand, I think I do it pretty well, on the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of fruit from it is having the humility to be able to acknowledge my own failures and to repair wrongs that are done — again, those being a mixture of things that I’ve really done because I am inadequate and I am limited in my humanity and and in other cases because there was a transference that I triggered accidentally or whatever it was. But being able to work through that can be very powerful.

Dr. Peter: [01:01:42] If someone were considering becoming a spiritual director, if they’re, you know, considering that possibility, maybe that’s something I’m called to — what advice would you have or what would you want that person to, you know, I don’t know, consider, engage in, reflect on, discern. You know, what do you think would be helpful?

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:02:09] Well, I always like to say spiritual direction programs are neither necessary nor sufficient, first of all. What is necessary is that you have a spiritual life, that you have a spiritual director, and that your spiritual director thinks it’s a good idea for you to give spiritual direction. So those are the three necessary elements. But then in terms of discerning a kind of a personal calling, you know, a lot of times, a sign that there’s a charism there, because I think there is, you know, in a couple of levels, I think there’s a natural capacity for listening, a psychological sensitivity to the person, a capacity for relationships, again, at the natural level. And then I think at the work of the Holy Spirit, there is a real charism of discernment and listening, of being able to manifest the Father’s love in various ways. But a lot of times the sign of a charism comes through feelings, fruitfulness, and feedback are the three elements that Sherry Weddell brings out that I really like — the three F’s. I really love listening to people. I love hearing about their heart. I love exploring their interior, and it feels great when they trust me and they’re able to share that. Okay, that’s a good sign. I’m getting that feedback. People are seeking me out. Would you be my spiritual director? I really love talking to you. I find that I’m a magnet for people. When I walk into a space, everybody starts telling me all of their inner secrets or something.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:03:44] And then also the fruitfulness that when I listen to somebody, they say, it’s so great the way that you listen to me, and I feel so free, and this bears good fruit in my spiritual life and my relationship with God. So I think those are three things to pay attention to. And that helps to… What would be the danger? Well, the person that wants to be a spiritual director because they want to like tell people what to do. So that would be bad, you know. Or the person who, like, is really sort of seeking belonging or a role or is trying to get something out of spiritual direction for themselves. Again, it has wonderful fruit that comes from it. I mean, I enjoy spiritual direction tremendously, but it can’t be part of, I can’t use people for my personal needs. So that sort of codependent tendency would be something that you’d want to pay attention to. And then I think, really, in prayer, I mean, if you’re discerning being a spiritual director, then you should have a relationship with God in which you can also ask him and discern, you know, and with some principles of how to hear him and how he speaks in our hearts, that he’s really calling us into that space to be available and even to be trained.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:05:00] So our program has a couple of gates, you might say on entry. As I mentioned, you need to have a spiritual director and demonstrate some facility for the learning that’s necessary. But you can take classes and learn and receive. And we’ve had several people start, receive a lot, and just feel like, yeah, this isn’t for me. Great. Well, no harm done. But then before we admit you to the practicum to start giving spiritual direction, mentored spiritual direction, you know, we have a kind of a check again like, how is this really resonating and are you really getting it, and how is this coming up in your own spiritual direction? But the point being, you could also, if you’re in an in-between place, you know, take a class or two and start to explore, get into it. Our book, I think people find pretty accessible, both as directees as well as directors. So I think there are a lot of things in our spiritual direction book that are useful for a lot of relationships, but might also give a little sense of, yeah, I really think this is something that I would thrive in and is a way I could give back and serve, serve the Lord and the church.

Dr. Peter: [01:06:07] And that book is Spiritual Direction: A Guide for Sharing the Father’s Love with Father Thomas Acklin, that would really help with that discernment. And if they want to get in touch with your program, is that through Saint Vincent’s, or how would they find out more? How would they find out more?

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:06:25] Yeah, that’s housed in the Institute for Ministry Formation, which is a part of Saint Vincent’s Seminary. So that’s where our accreditation comes. But the website is IMF like Institute for Ministry Formation. Dot and then you spell everything out, It’s actually under academics. It’s maybe not the best location for it, but it’s a way that we have segmented these things. But it describes the whole program. You can take individual classes. And then the one class that I would really recommend for everybody is called the Art of Accompaniment SD1. And we really designed that to be a kind of self-standing class that is really going to get you into the inner dynamics of the heart, of the spiritual life, and the dynamics of listening and vulnerability, interiority. So we touch on a lot of these different things in that class, and it’s the kind of class that I think anybody could take and walk away from really enriched. And then that would also be a sense of like, oh, this is the right thing. I want to go forward with the program from here.

Dr. Peter: [01:07:30] Yes, so it’s sort of like tasting and seeing, right. Like let’s get a taste of what this is like experientially. And we don’t have to figure it all out beforehand. You know, like we can take this one step at a time.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:07:42] And we do a little practice during the class too. So you get to practice on the other students, which is really amazing.

Dr. Peter: [01:07:50] Now, is that role play or is that actual working with actual spiritual issues that the classmates have?

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:07:55] Yeah, one of the things that I developed, I would say it’s still in development, but I developed what I call a spiritual inventory, which roughly explores a three by three grid of, I think, growth and discipleship. So experiences, habits and knowledge is one axis in the areas of prayer, community and mission. And the Spiritual Inventory has questions around those. And what we teach people is everybody takes the inventory as part of the class, and then you share your inventory with your practice partner, and then you ask about your experience of God’s love in prayer, for example. And that’s one of the questions in there. That way, it sort of gives a range of potential vulnerability that’s always going to be meaningful. You can practice the things that are being learned in the class, but you can sort of judge how much you really trust and want to share with this person. But it’s real in that sense, not just role played.

Dr. Peter: [01:08:54] So I’m imagining a listener right now who has a sense that they need help, that they need accompaniment, they need somebody to kind of walk with them. How do you recommend that Catholics make a choice between, you know, a therapist, a pastoral counselor, a spiritual director, you know, a mentor, you know, if they’re starting out and they’re just starting to think about these things, what kind of guidance would you give to somebody that’s like, okay, I know I need something, I know I need a relationship. This discussion of the heart and accompaniment and love and and connection, that all makes sense to me. But do I need a therapist? Do I need a spiritual director? Do I need a pastoral counselor? Do I need somebody else?

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:09:43] And don’t rule out like a friend.

Dr. Peter: [01:09:47] A friend? Yeah, like a friend.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:09:51] I think we are in such a funny space because the social matrix is just shredded. I mean, relationships are a train wreck in the modern day. And so this is the way that God provides something better when he’s solving problems. So I think he takes that, and then he’s provided so much specialization and professional development. I think we have more trained, formed professional listeners today than we’ve ever had in history, because the actual mediocre listeners that we used to have, we don’t have anymore. Like the real, the basic foundations of relationships are just a disaster. And so we have all of these professionals that are filling in the gap. So anyway, not everybody is a disaster at listening. And you might actually have friends, spouses, parents who are good listeners and can really receive you, and that can go a long way. So I wouldn’t rule that out by any means. But yeah, I think pastoral counseling, psychotherapy, coaching, spiritual direction, a lot of different realms that these things are emerging in, it seems to me that some of those are a little bit more goal-oriented. A lot of times people are getting into counseling because there’s a particular issue that they’re dealing with. They’re not sort of doing that for a general relationship. Coaching is also goal-oriented, maybe not towards problem solving, but towards some other goal of of developing in particular ways, but again, tends to be a little bit more focused and would be more short term, potentially. Spiritual direction is a longer term relationship. So I prefer the terms spiritual father or spiritual mother, which is kind of the tradition. Spiritual director is probably, I don’t know what the history of that actually is, but it’s probably more Ignatian. So I think that’s a different kind of relationship that can develop a little more organically, but it’s going to be potentially a long-term relationship and obviously it needs to involve the spiritual life. As much as I’ve emphasized the relational dimension of it, you know, if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, then having a Christian spiritual director is going to be missing something, let’s say. So our relationship with God needs to be intimately involved with the spiritual direction relationship. And if our relationship with God is non-existent or, I don’t know, we’re not really committed to prayer or we’re not trying to grow in that, then I would question whether spiritual direction is the right place to go.

Dr. Peter: [01:12:29] Mmhm. I mean, would you say that everyone needs spiritual direction? You know, you sometimes hear statements like that. And I’m wondering like what your take is on that.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:12:40] So as I mentioned, my grid for growth — experience, habits and knowledge in prayer, community and mission — everybody needs community and habits in community. I think everybody needs people with whom they can share their spiritual life and their journey with the Lord. And certainly a particular person who is closely associated with the relationship with God is a great value. Clearly, everybody does not need spiritual direction because there are lots of saints who didn’t have spiritual directors. So it would be ridiculous to make an absolute claim about that. Not to mention the fact that if it were necessary, it would also be a right and there would also be an obligation. So everybody needs the sacraments, let’s say, and so there’s a right to the sacraments, and then there’s an obligation by priests to provide the sacraments. But we don’t have that for spiritual direction. But I do think, you know, having community is absolutely necessary. Having some people with whom we can share intimate places in our hearts is absolutely necessary. And how that looks exactly for different people. I do think in the loss, one of the, you know, certainly spiritual direction has expanded tremendously in the last, I don’t know, 30, 40 years that there’s even a concept, that anyone would even make a claim that everybody needs a spiritual director is only possible in the last few decades.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:14:07] And I think that’s in part a response to the falling apart of Catholic culture. I think there was a lot that was formed in the relationships of community with your parish and with your pastor and just in, you know, kind of culturally, there were some boundaries, some things that held things together there. But this is the way that God provides something beautiful. I think, in the disassembling of Catholic culture and in the loss of of relationships, God has provided spiritual direction, which I think has always been a great gift in the church, but now is kind of abundant and more available. Even — we’re talking about seminary formation — seminarians didn’t have spiritual directors anything like what we’re talking about now, just 50 years ago, 40 years ago. So I think this is all, it’s a real gift in the church, but it’s still developing, we might say. So not for everyone yet, but maybe, maybe in the future.

Dr. Peter: [01:15:08] Well, what kind of closing thoughts or what kind of message or what kind of gift or whatever would you like to offer to our listeners, our viewers, as we kind of draw to a close? Like what would you like them to kind of come away with if there was one point or maybe a point and a half that you would like them to sort of stay with? Two is a big number. We’re trying to hold on to all these points. So, you know, but a point or a point and a half.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:15:42] I would say, you know, again, to bring together the integration of the different dimensions, which was kind of our launching off point. I would just like to notice how beautiful it is to have a spiritually informed and aware psychologist, and how beautiful it is to have a psychologically aware spiritual director. And while there’s an emphasis on one or the other dimension, which is where our specialization might be, even as we said, you know, we don’t master the entire realm, even that we’re specialized in. But, you know, to have the integration in the person who’s walking with us, helping to form us. How beautiful that is. And although I’m very grateful for psychologists who can respect someone else’s beliefs, which is sort of ethically the minimal foundation which is sometimes not even met. But I see, you know, I’ve had lots of good experiences of directors meeting with secular counselors who didn’t understand everything, but knew what they didn’t understand and didn’t interfere with it. But how beautiful it is when the counselor does understand that. So I guess the integration that’s there, in the priest, in the counselor, in the spiritual director, how beautiful that is and what a gift it is in the church. And I constantly point to you, Dr. Peter and Souls and Hearts and several other Catholic therapists who are finding some points of integration and showing how these things do fit together, and really respecting the relationship with God and His role in the areas of human development and the heart. And I think we just live in a really beautiful time, that these things are coming together. And the more that we can learn from each other and respect the expertise and wisdom that each has developed by focusing on one or another aspect, I just think a lot of beautiful things are coming together that I’m really excited about.

Dr. Peter: [01:17:46] It’s really beautiful because one of the things that Matthew Walz emphasized in episode 133 was this idea that the integration happens within the person who’s being formed, and it’s not like you can have an integrated program and then just assume that that integrated program will be received in an integrated way in the person. And what you’re emphasizing, that I think is so critical and so important, is the integration of the formator. You know, that your formators really take this to heart. Because sometimes, I’ve heard this before, I’ve had a little bit of experience of it, seminaries could be sort of places where you put priests that can’t handle parish life, right. So since they’re really good at philosophy, you know, they have trouble relating with people, we’re going to put them in the seminary, right. Fortunately, I think that’s changing. My sense is, from what I’m hearing, it’s a lot different now. But it sort of highlights that contrast, right. You know, where we really want that. So this is a call to you formators to take your own formation really seriously. You already probably do. You already probably do if you’re serious about being a good formator. Whether you’re a therapist or coach, or whether you’re a pastoral counselor or a spiritual director, or if you’re a mentor of some kind, but to really tune your own instrument, right, so that you’re in a better place to resonate across the frequencies of where those you accompany, where their parts are going to be at different points.

Dr. Peter: [01:19:32] So I really love that. I love that message and that very much, you know, aligns with where we are. As you know, you mentioned at Souls and Hearts, we really do, we really do focus primarily on, I would say primarily on human formation, right, with some intellectual formation, to provide that foundation. We’ll talk more a little bit about that in just a little bit. But I just want to extend and express my gratitude to you, Father Boniface, for taking the time to be here with us, to share this with us. There’s just a wealth of wisdom that I would say is really a product of you having been loved, received that love, and loving back. You know, I don’t think it’s the dry academic, you know, I learned this, you know, by memorizing the Summa, kind of a thing. It’s more really who you are. I remember so clearly when we first met in person, and I was struggling with this audio equipment on the retreat, and it was late at night.

Dr. Peter: [01:20:43] And, you know, I was trying to get these interfaces to work, and you show up like an angel, a technological angel, and we solved it, you know, we were able to work together. And what was most significant about that for me was not that we resolved the problem and we were able to record the retreat. It was more that, you know, you were there with me, you know, like we were together in that. And I felt really like this deep sense of being heard and understood and cared for, and that parts of me were really wrapped up and invested in this working out, and you know, and you were okay with that. You know, it wasn’t any of this, no, we don’t need this, just let it go. And also just yeah, being able to work through that. So just a little anecdote about what it was like to meet you on that first day and the first evening when we came together last August. I appreciate that.

Fr. Boniface Hicks: [01:21:41] That was a joy for me. You were very vulnerable in just how evident it was that you were, you know, focused on this and wanted to make this work. And I just was so moved by that and just grateful. You could have also said, no, no, no, I’ll do it myself. No, don’t worry. I don’t want to bother, you know, and you just said, okay great, if you want to jump in, I’d love that. And yeah, I loved being with you in it. That was really a joy.

Dr. Peter: [01:22:08] Yeah, it’s just such a fun memory, yeah. Okay, so as so many of you are learning or finding out, we are now on video as well as audio. We’ve got our own YouTube channel called Interior Integration for Catholics. We’re going to invite you to like and subscribe. Let’s start a conversation. If you leave a comment in the YouTube comments, I will read it and I will probably respond, almost certainly will respond. I’m going to invite you to check out also the previous episodes 133, 134, 135 in this series on integrated formation. And I have big news. Father Boniface is going to be back on Wednesday, May 1st, and you are invited to be in the live audience. We’re going to have a Q and A on today’s topics. We’re going to get into these topics about love, about the heart, about accompaniment, about connection. That’s going to be Wednesday, May 1st, feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, 8:15 a.m. Eastern Time. Registration is free, but it’s required. You go to our landing page at to register or look in the description of this episode on YouTube. You’ll find the link there. That’s Wednesday, May 1st, feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, 8:15 a.m. Eastern Time. That’s 8:15 in the morning.

Dr. Peter: [01:23:38] It’s going to be really early for you all on the West Coast. It’s going to be 5:15 a.m. Pacific time. But let’s talk together. Let’s hash this out. We’ll have an opportunity to really see what’s on your heart, what’s on your mind, what’s on your souls around these questions of formation. Now weekly reflections — I am doing a series on Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell’s book, The Five Love Languages of Children. We’re bringing that down to the level of our parts. We’re learning to love our parts, many of whom are very young, like little children within us. Remember all that inner child work. We’re learning to love our childlike parts, and that’s good in itself, but it’s also so important for loving both children and to love the childlike parts of other adults. It’s part of that attunement. So I’m going to encourage you to join me in that series on Weekly Reflections. You can find it at Or if you sign up for our weekly emails, you can do that at, on the home page, just click on the blue button that says I’d like to receive Doctor Peters weekly emails, weekly email reflections. We also in each one of those, starting last week, we have an experiential exercise to help you really enter in to your own experience of what it was like to be parented, what it was like to be communicated to or not communicated to in love languages across parts.

Dr. Peter: [01:25:11] So it’s all about you better able to love others, through an appropriate way of getting your own parts’ needs met in love. And we focus on human formation here at Souls and Hearts, with some emphasis also on intellectual formation. We do that in community. If you are a Catholic who holds what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches is true, and you’re inspired to work on your own human formation, but not alone, not as a lone wolf, but in a community of other Catholics journeying together on a pilgrimage to flourishing in love, then I’m going to invite you to check out the Resilient Catholics Community at, especially if you resonate with parts thinking, with systems thinking, of understanding the human person as a multiplicity as well as a unity. And with that, I want to wrap this. Again, a huge thank you to you, Father Boniface. And we will end by invoking our patroness and our patrons, Our Lady, our mother, Untier of knots, pray for us. Saint Joseph, pray for us. Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.

Special thanks to the Human Formation Coalition, who provided the support to make this transcript available.

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