By Fr. Corey Close
As we continue our examination through St. Ignatius’ 14 rules for the discernment of spirits, this month we examine rules 7, 8 and 9, which give us further information about how to deal with desolation.
St. Ignatius’ seventh rule teaches us the hope-giving fact that, while in desolation, we can resist! One of the tactics of the enemy is that during desolation he taunts us, telling us how hopeless our situation is and how useless our suffering is. But Christ, who suffered to redeem the world, teaches us that our suffering, when done for him, has a value we won’t know until we are in heaven. But Satan tempts us into believing that, one way or another, we will fall into sin when tempted. This lie is so powerful because, in desolation, it feels as though God has left us and, if God has left us, the Evil Spirit would be right; resistance would be futile. St. Ignatius teaches us that we can resist! God never leaves us, no matter how we may feel at the present moment. This cannot be understated. “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor 10:13)
St. Ignatius’ eighth rule goes hand in hand with the seventh; he tells us to be patient in desolation. Because God’s grace hasn’t left us, we need to persevere through whatever trial God has allowed for our spiritual benefit. We need to trust that, through the pain, suffering and mental/spiritual anguish, the Lord is quietly working in the background to make something new and wonderful in our life. As St. Teresa of Avila says, “Patience conquers all!”
The ninth rule teaches us that there is a reason for desolation. The Evil Spirit tries to cause dejection, making us feel that our desolation has no purpose or, perhaps worse, because we screwed up, that God has lost patience with us and is punishing us. These are lies, and bespeak a deeper lie about the spiritual life: if we did everything right, we would never be in desolation. We must reject this lie! St. Peter tells us that our faith is more precious than fire-tried gold (1 Peter 1:7), but to purify gold, you have to put it into the fire! The Lord, out of love for us, allows us to be tried by desolation in order to grow. St. Ignatius says there are many reasons why God may allow it, but the Jesuit gives us his top three: The first, he says, is that our own faults or sins are the reason for the desolation. This is not God punishing us, but rather purifying us in the struggle to grow from our pettiness, selfishness and sinfulness, to be more fully alive and transformed!
The second reason God allows desolation is to teach us to resist the lies of the Evil Spirit so that they no longer have control over us. We often hope that we will never fall in sin again because we hope we will never be tempted again, but that is neither possible nor desirable. True freedom lies in being able to say to Satan, when he lies and attacks us, “This lie/temptation is not who I am, and I reject it.” The Lord wants us to experience this freedom and allows times of desolation in order to grow in that freedom.
The final reason St. Ignatius gives is that we need to be humbled. All sin is rooted in pride, and all virtue is rooted in humility. Ignatius teaches us that the Lord does not wish us to “make a nest in what is not ours.” And what is not ours? Well, everything. “What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor 4:7) Our desires, our virtues, even our love for our spouse and our children are given from God, and sometimes we need to be reminded of this! The Lord allows us to enter into desolation in order to gently remind us of how dependent we are on him, and that even our deepest held joys and convictions are but gifts of his Divine Providence!
God bless, and keep discerning!
(Fr. Corey Close is parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish and campus minister at the Newman Catholic Student Center, both in Iowa City.)