My recent post encouraging directees to respond in gratitude to their directors met with a firm rebuke in the com box that I have decided to address. The post was, “Should I pay my spiritual director?” Here is what one reader had to say, “You are wrong, wrong, wrong Dan Burke. Paying for spiritual direction is simony and it is priests along who have the charism for spiritual direction. What you are suggesting is like going to the supermarket for surgery.”
Well, as disagreements go, this one is pretty tame. The problem is that the person argues against a position that I have not posed. The post was not arguing that directors should formally charge a specific fee to a directee. I merely echoed what St. Paul encourages in scripture – we should respond generously and materially to those who bless us spiritually. Now, I did state what I have seen as the norm out there for those who do propose a fee. However, stating a norm is not the same as advocating for a norm.
So, all this begs the question, “Should spiritual directors charge for their services?”
Well, to be frank, it doesn’t really matter to me. I would never base my decision on whether or not to seek direction from a particular individual because they did or did not charge a fee. The argument that it is “simony” is specious on its face and I can’t make out the rest of the argument. Simon (from whom the term “simony” is derived) was a man in the book of Acts (chapter eight) who was rebuked by Peter for trying to purchase the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism refers to simony as an issue where the sacraments are withheld to the poor because they are unable to pay for them.
2121 Simony is defined as the buying or selling of spiritual things. To Simon the magician, who wanted to buy the spiritual power he saw at work in the apostles, St. Peter responded: “Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!” Peter thus held to the words of Jesus: “You received without pay, give without pay.” It is impossible to appropriate to oneself spiritual goods and behave toward them as their owner or master, for they have their source in God. One can receive them only from him, without payment.
2122 The minister should ask nothing for the administration of the sacraments beyond the offerings defined by the competent authority, always being careful that the needy are not deprived of the help of the sacraments because of their poverty.” The competent authority determines these “offerings” in accordance with the principle that the Christian people ought to contribute to the support of the Church’s ministers. “The laborer deserves his food.”
In my mind, there is nothing like that going on in spiritual direction, fee or no fee. In fact, I am aware that those who charge a fee often propose it merely as a suggestion and would not charge a fervent soul who could not pay but still needed the help. There may be good arguments against directors who charge for their services but the charge of simony doesn’t seem to me to be one of them (though I am open to argument).
That said, I have spoken with a number of prominent voices on the topic who hold that directors should not have a fee associated with what they do (including the director of a faithful school for spiritual direction). I have also talked with religious who are directed to never ask for or accept anything like a fee for their services. I have no issues with these positions. On the other hand, I know of faithful Catholic spiritual directors who do charge a fee. So, what is the true blue Catholic answer?
One of the things that I love about being Catholic is the absolute clarity on issues that are most important. To me, this doesn’t seem to be one of them. There is no magisterium faithful position on this one. So, it’s up to your better judgement. Still, since the number of responses was so high on the original post I thought it might be interesting to get your take on it. What do you think? What are the best arguments on both sides? Should directors charge a fee or not, and why?