Before St. Ignatius explains more about consolation and desolation, and how we can discern the movement of the various spirits acting in our lives, he speaks about some very basic rule. I find this more useful for spiritual directors though, but maybe we can learn something about it.
St. Ignatius speaks about two basic states. Two fundamental options of one’s life, and how the spirit generally work for this people. The first is that of a soul who goes from one mortal sin to another. This is simply means someone whose fundamental option is against God. The second is the other way around, that is of a soul who go on earnestly striving to cleanse their souls from sin and who seek to rise in the service of God our Lord to greater perfection.
For these two souls, the work of the good spirit and the bad spirits are in contrast. To the first soul, which is against God, the enemy or the bad spirits find the soul like a home. The bad spirit gives apparent pleasures, and consolation, and try to make the person to continue in their states of sins. On the other hand, the action of the good spirit will do the opposite. The good spirit will use the light of reason, he will rouse the sting of conscience and fill them with remorse (which looks like an apparent desolation). The reason is that God tries to bring the person back to himself. He will make the person feel uncomfortable with their sin, feel that something is wrong, something is not right. God will disturb the soil from keep on sinning.
For the second soul, which lives for God, the characteristic of the evil spirit is to harass with anxiety, to afflict with with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by wrong reasonings that disturb the soul. The evil spirits will try to discourage these people from praying, by telling them that they keep on falling, they are so distracted, they don’t feel anything during prayer, God has left them. For many of us who strives for holiness, the evil spirit will speak the common sentence, “you keep on falling to sin, why confess? why struggle so hard? maybe it is not wrong at all, maybe it is human to sin like this.” I don’t know whether you have heard these voices or not? But I can assure you that more than one people have shared about these voices in their lives. On the other hand, the characteristic of the good spirit is to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and peace. The good spirit does this by making all easy, removing all obstacles so that the soul goes forward in doing good.
Looking back at your life, have you recalled such experiences? Have you heard these voices acting in your soul? For many of us who try to live for God, which is most probably otherwise you won’t be reading all these articles anyway, the evil spirit will try to discourage us from getting closer to God, from being holy, from growing in our prayer lives, from being faithful in our service to God. The evil spirit will speak a lot of reasoning telling us to back off, we are not good, we do not have any gifts, we are such a proud person, etc, etc. But the Good spirit will always help us. The good spirit gives us strength, consolation, help us to persevere when we feel dryness in prayer, when our ministry is difficult, when we don’t see success. The Good spirit help us to see beyond what the world see. The Good spirit teach us about humility when we fall, but it also helps to lift us up and to rise again.
St. Ignatius gives an analogy. He said that the action of the various spirits is like water falling on a sponge and on a stone.
When the disposition of the soul is contrary to that of the spirits, they enter with noise and commotion that are easily percieved, like water falling on a rock. But when the disposition is similar to that of the spirits, they enter silently, as one coming into his own house when the doors are open, or like water penetrating a sponge.
I found this rule is very true and really helps me. As I recall my life I experience moments when my soul is so disturbed, even for doing something that looks like a good thing. I got so excited, can’t think of anything else, wanted to change what I was doing then immediately. But in all those I felt anxiety and not peace. And I realized now, that those were not the voice of my Good Lord. My Good Lord speaks in peace. His voice is gentle to me. Yes he inspired me, but he didn’t force me (sometimes I felt like … arghh, I have to do it now now now 🙂 I now realized it is not from the Lord).
I felt like the voice of the Lord is very soft, very gentle. And when he speaks I felt peace and not anxiety. I also realized that God is patience. He does not force us, he prompts and urges, and yet he gives us the freedom. And throughout as we try to listen or simply as we try to obey, we would experience peace and not anxiety.
In ministry or even in daily life, sometimes we felt a lot of thing is from God, whereas actually it comes from ourselves or from the evil spirit. I believe one of the most significant sign is the sense of peace. Many of us felt the urge to do this and that, but then we become anxious, easily irritated, got angry or upset when it didn’t happen. Well, maybe even from the beginning it is not from the Lord. When it comes from the Lord, he gives us peace and assurance, even when it fails according to our earthly eyes, we have a full trust that the Lord wants it to happen that way, and all this are within his hands. The fact that we are upset, maybe because it is simply what we want and not the Lord.
Have you experience these? I am sure you have 🙂 well, I do.