In the previous article we discuss a lot about the rules of desolation and some of the tactics of the devil to lead us to the wrong direction. The main rule for desolation is that we should not make any changes with our decision when we are in desolation. On the other hand,consolation is a proper time to make a good decision. And yet we would like to identify whether the consolation comes from the Lord or not. If you recall, we mentioned that desolation never comes from the Lord. Unfortunately, the same rule does not apply with consolation. Consolation can come from either the Lord or the bad spirit. The reason for this is that, The Good Lord cannot deny Himself, so he cannot give desolation. On the other hand, the evil one is the father of lies, he is willing to pretend as an angel of light to make us fall and to lead us to the wrong direction. And so he is willing to give us consolation as long as it will fulfil his purpose. So how then do we know whether the consolation we experiencing is from the Lord or not?
St. Ignatius speaks about consolation without preceding cause. And he said that consolation without preceding cause can only come from the Lord. What does it mean that a consolation is without a preceding cause? What can be a preceding cause? To give a simple example, when you experience consolation after meditating a scripture, or looking at a beautiful creation of God, or even a spiritual song, these are consolation with a preceding cause. If you meditate on something, and then you experience consolation, this is too a preceding cause. In fact almost all of our consolation experiences are with a preceding cause. But what St. Ignatius tells is that there are some consolation without preceding cause. This happens even without our meditation or any cause previously. And this can only be from God. An example that is given by Fr. Green in his book is someone who is under desolation and depresion, and suddenly she hear a voice that really consoles her. The voice does not come from herself since she is in desolation. She did not try console herself. This consolation seems to be a consolation without preceding cause. There is such instances, and St. Ignatius tells that this consolation can only be from God.
On the other hand, consolation with preceding cause can be from God or from the bad spirit. This means almost all of our consolation experiences must be judged carefully since most of them are consolation with preceding cause as mentioned in the previous paragraph. This does not mean that these consolation experiences are bad and not from God. It simply means we have to judge them carefully and cannot take for granted that it is from the Lord. So then, how do we know whether these consolations with preceding cause are from the Lord or not. St. Ignatius tells us by observing the “tail of the snake”.
St. Ignatius mentioned in His spiritual exercises that we need to observe the beginning, middle, and end of our consolation experiences. If we observe the tail of the snake in either stages, then we know that they are not from the Lord. What is meant by the beginning? Fr. Green explains that it will most probably the time when we start to experience consolation or the time before we experience the consolation. He gave an example when we experience the desire to serve God or spend ours in adoration room while actually we are supposed to be spending time with our family members, this could be the tail of the snake.Though it sounds good at the beginning, but we might have the tendency to neglect our priority with our families and replace it with other things such as ministries, etc. The other example, when someone has an urge to serve, and yet the motivation was because of his pride or so that he can show something great for what he can do. This pride, this ambition, could be the tail of the snakes.
What then is the middle? Fr. Green explains it as the moment when we experiencing consolation it self. He gave an example when we pray and began to have desire to love God, and yet during this time of consolation we started to think of our motto to be canonized, this pride could be the tail of the snake. Another example is the peace in our heart that is easily disturbed. Fr. Green mentioned that if we are in the middle of praying or consolation, and yet when someone disturb us, how do we respond? If we seems to be upset and disturbed easily, it could be that the peace or consolation we experience during prayer might not be from the Lord.
How about the end? It is the moment after consolation. It can be fruits of the decision we do. For example, after we experience consolation and decided to do this and that for the Lord, and yet because of all that we neglect our families or maybe our prayer time, this could be the tail of the snakes.
It all sounds so difficult. In fact, I haven’t shared about the danger of “afterglow” which was discussed in the book. But I decided to stop here. I realize we really need a spiritual director when we really serious about recognizing God’s voice in our lives. Indeed, when I first presented this to my core team members, I think the impression is that it is just so difficult to know the voice of the Lord. Well, maybe the more proper word is that the evil spirit is very cunning. And the evil spirit makes things difficult. And yet for God nothing is impossible. In the next article, I will try to share several things that can help us start in our growth to recognize the voice of the Lord slowly and little by little. It’s from my own experiences as well as the articles written in the Word Among Us January 2010. I put the link also at the bottom of the table of content.