Rules for Consolation

January 9, 2010

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.

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Characters and Tactics of the Devil

October 13, 2009

We have said that in desolation, it is the evil spirit who guided us. And we don’t want that right? So what we should do during desolation is to fight against it, do the opposite thing that desolation inspire us to do, and increase our faith and trust in the Lord. Now, St. Ignatius unmask some of the characters and tactics of the Devil. And it is very useful for us to know it. If you reflect on it, you might see some of the devil traces in your life.

The enemy conducts himself as a woman… Our enemy may also be compared in his manner of acting to a false lover…The conduct of our enemy may also be compared to the tactics of a military leader

What does it mean that the enemy conducts himself as a woman. Basically we look at woman, or any man, who are physically weaker, they cannot rely on their physical strength, but rather on their wits- by nagging, screaming, sobbing, threatening, and in general psychological warfare. Similarly, Satan cannot overcome those who belong to Jesus Christ by brute force. He has to depend on threats and subtle pressures.

The enemy becomes weak, loses courage, and turns to flight with his seductions as soon as one leading a spiritual life faces his temptations boldly, and does exactly the opposite of what he suggests. However, if one begins to be afraid and to lose courage in temptations, no wild animal on earth can be more fierce than the enemy of our human nature.

Basically the analogy that the enemy is like a woman says that when we are weak, the enemy will even get stronger and tear us apart, but the enemy is actually the weaker one. So what we should do is to be strong in times of temptations and fight it. In this sense we will see that the enemy is actually weak and does not have any power to those who belong to Jesus Christ. I personally see how Jesus faces the temptation of Satan in the desert to be like this. He is strong against the Satan. The Satan really know the scripture and really fight using psychological  effort, using hunger, fame, power. And yet in every temptation, Jesus said no with a firm heart. We should imitate Jesus. Say no!

Now what does it mean when St. Ignatius says the enemy is like a false lover?

he wants his words and solicitations kept secret

The false lover will persuade the girl not to tell her father and mother, or brothers. Similarly the devil will urge the soul not to tell anyone, not to a confessor, nor to those who are more mature in spiritual life. They will urge that no one can help except himself. And so the soul is left alone.

How many of us see this happening? When someone is in desolation, sometimes their tendency is not to tell to the community and ask for prayer, but he or she will run away from community. He will stop coming, and he might never come again. The devil has succeeded in being a false lover, to keep the problem secret so that no one is able to help.

The last one is that the enemy is like a military commander. A good military leader plans and attacks at the weakest point. So is the devel, he attacks us at our weakest point. If our weakest point is our sexuality, he will attack us on that, if our weakest point is on our commitment, he will attack us on that. He will probe and once he find the weakest point, he will say “Aha!” and he will bring all his power to attack that weakest point.

In this case, it is necessary for us to do a daily examination of conscience. Otherwise we are not aware of our weaknesses. We all have this self-defense mechanism. We will project fault to other person so that we don’t have to face our own weaknesses. But denying our weakness is like letting the enemy attack our weakness point. We should be aware and acknowledge it, and ask for God’s grace to help us. We should build our defenses in our weaknesses. And we can do that by going for a regular sacrament of reconciliation.

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Rules for Desolation

October 13, 2009

We have discussed about how God would reveal His will to us. St. Ignatius speaks of three times that is suitable in making a good decision. The first one is a very intense and obvious revelation from the Lord where one cannot doubt it is the Lord and His will. The third time, is a time of tranquility where our soul is not moved by anything and as if the Lord leave us to our natural power to decide. In this third time, St. Ignatius suggested to use our intellect and ask the Lord to confirm it. How would the Lord confirm it? By the second time where much light is received through discernment of spirits when one experiencing consolation and desolation.

I found it necessary to put here again what St. Ignatius say about consolation and desolation:

The third: Of Spiritual Consolation. I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all.

Likewise, when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise.

Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.

The fourth: Of Spiritual Desolation. I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. Because, as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts which come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts which come from desolation.

In this part of the article, however, we will deal mostly on desolation. Why is that so? Well, we simply follow St. Ignatius spiritual exercises. In His first week, St. Ignatius deals mostly on desolation. He believed that desolation occur most often for the beginners or those who are in the beginning state.

Anyway, let me share what kind of desolation I might experience. Well, most of the time for me it is anxiety, restlessness. I felt like I have to do it, otherwise things will go wrong. In other words, you notice, it is a lack of trust in the Lord.  Sometimes also, I experience lack of hope, everything so dark, my future is so gloomy. I was so afraid to choose, because in either choices (or one of them), I cannot simply see my bright future. And my future seems to depend all on me. I forgot about God. Not that I didn’t think about God, no no. I prayed, and cried to God, it is just that I forgot that God is in control of my life. He holds my past, present, and future. But in times of desolation, I couldn’t see all this.

Another form of desolation that I also experience is this dryness, laziness to pray. I felt like prayer can be postpone, and I need more rest than praying. If I remember the times when I was so excited to pray, I was amazed how this laziness could come from. But all these are forms of desolation.

Now, the first thing for us to remember is that

desolation never comes from God

This is one thing we all seem to know, but when desolation comes, we tend to forget. Why do I say this? The reason is that when I experience desolation, I tend to think, “ah, maybe God is saying something to me”. For example, when I experiencing desolation in my working place, I felt lazy, no hope, everything is so gloomy, then we tend to think “Maybe God want me to change my job.” This is so not true. Desolation never comes from God. Desolation comes from the evil spirit.

St. Ignatius reminds us that just as in consolation the soul is guided by the good spirit, in desolation, the soul is guided by the evil spirit. So if you want to be guided by the evil spirit in your life, you may follow your instinct during desolation. But if you don’t want, then don’t follow any inspiration you get during desolation.

St. Ignatius gave this rule:

In times of desolation we should never make any change but remain firm and constant in the resolution which guided us the day before the desolation, or in the decision to which we adhered in the preceding consolation.

This simply says, if you are in desolation, don’t make any decision! How often that when we are in desolation either in school or in work, then we decided to look for another job? How often people when they are in desolation in their marriage life, decided to divorce or to be unfaithful? Desolation never comes from God, and we should not make any changes in our commitment.

In ministry also, many of us will experience desolation. And it is always good to remember that we should not change our commitment when we are experiencing desolation.

So what should we do?

Though in desolation we must never change our former resolutions, it will be very advantageous to intensify our activity against the desolation. We can insist more on prayer, upon meditation, and on much examination of ourselves. We can make an effort in a suitable way to do some penance.

This is what St. Ignatius suggested. In short, fight against it. Do the opposite! If in desolation you are so lazy to pray, than pray longer and pray more! If in desolation you are so lazy to serve God, then serve God more, do some penance, examine your conscience, etc.

I know that many of us find it rather impossible. In times when we are lazy to pray, you ask me to pray even more? How could that be? Fr. Thomas Green really gave a reasonable practical advice. If you are used to pray for 30 mins, in desolation, try to pray for 31 minutes. Hold on to it, don’t give up, pray and ask God’s grace.

Besides doing the opposites or fight against desolation, we should also increase our faith and trust in the Lord who seems to abandon us. This can be done in many ways, maybe one of the best way is to meditate on the scriptures or the lives of the saints. We can learn to say a little prayer. I recall watching a video of mother Teresa who taught one of the nuns this prayer using your five finger:

  1. Jesus
  2. I
  3. trust
  4. in Your tender love
  5. for me

Maybe we can do the same 🙂

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Our fundamental options and how the spirits work

September 27, 2009

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.

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Discernment and Our Image of God

September 19, 2009

Continuing our discussion about discernment, in some of our last post we recognize that discernment is to seek the will of God. And yet, sometimes we discern not because we are interested to follow Him more closely or be drawn more closer to Him. Sometimes we discern because we are afraid we make a wrong decision that will ruin our lives. We are afraid we are not happy if we make a wrong decision.

It is important in discernment that we have a correct image of God. Fr. Thomas Green SJ speaks about these images of God in relation to discernment and our lives. There are three basic images of God that most of us have: 1) A watchmaker 2) A puppetter 3) A Father of an adult child. What do they mean?

Some of us have this idea that God is like a watchmaker who created his creation (a watch) in care and perfection, but then after he finishes his work, he is no longer involved in that creation. The watch can work by itself and the watchmaker is no longer in the picture. Some of us tend to have this image. In the sense that we thought that God is no longer involves His creation. He does not bother with our lives. When we have this image of God, it is simply impossible to discern.  The reason is that if we see God is no longer interested in us, or He has a will in our lives, how would we ever seek His will?

The second image is that of a puppetter. We are like the puppet, and God is the puppetter. We think that everything has been preordained, and we actually do not have any freedom. In fact sometimes this image implies that we do not have will in itself since we simply follow the God who directs us.

But there is a third image of God, and that is of a Father. It is more appropriate to say a Father who has an adult child.  This image says that we are that adult child. We have our freedom, and yet we love our Father. We wish to make Him happy. We wish to seek His will and desire. We love him that much. And our Father loves us as well. And that freedom is one of the sign of His love to us. And yet He wants us to be happy, He communicates to us, and yet He does not force us. He shows the better way but allow us to choose. He opens His heart to us and allow us to know Him more. He called us into a relationship with Him. This is, basically, a healthy image of God.

In this image, God allows mistake to happen. But along with mistake, we grow in our knowledge of God and His will. This I believe is one of the most difficult thing for many us. We don’t want mistake to happen. But for the Lord, he can use everything to create a better end. And if we put our trust in His love, we will not be afraid in this life. We will not be afraid to discern. We will not be afraid to choose the path of love.

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What is discernment?

September 19, 2009

I used to think that discernment is trying hard to listen to the voice of God which is rather difficult to hear. But as I grow in my relationship with the Lord, I realized that it is not discernment in its proper meaning. Why is that so? It is simply because we have been listening to the voice of God. But what makes discernment is essential in every Christian lives is that, we not only hear the voice of God, but also our own voices, or even worse, the voice of evil spirits. Yes, evil spirits do exist, even though many of us thought they don’t. I guess they are pretty successful in their effort.

Anyway, discernment is about “judging”. What do we judge? It is the voices that we hear. We are like a person in a market place with so many voices telling us to buy this and that. But discernment help us to listen to the voice of the one we love. It is an effort to recognize the voice of the beloved.

And so when we do discernment, it is not enough simply to try hard to “listen”. But it is more about judging whether the voice that we listen is from God or not. This is what matters. We want to know whether the thoughts, the inspiration, the desire that we experience are from the Good Lord or simply from ourselves or the evil one. In short, discernment is judging that whether this “voices” are from the Lord or not.

But before we judge, we need to first to recognize that we do hear God’s voice. Many of us today no longer believe that. If we don’t believe that we hear God’s voice, it is simply impossible for us to know whether this “voices” are from God or not.

The second thing is that, not only we need to believe God is still speaking to us, but more important, we hear Him speaking. This means recognizing that the certain thoughts could be from the Lord, or certain desire, certain joy, hope, and inspiration, can truly be from the Lord, and this is how God communicates to us (besides through the scriptures and the Church).

But this alone is not enough. We also need to recognize, that not every “voices” we hear comes from the Lord. Not every thoughts are from the Lord. Not every desire are from the Lord. Not every dream are from the Lord. As we mentioned before, we are like someone who is in the market place.  And we hear many voices.

The voice from the Lord draws us closer to Him and to our end which is union with Him. The other voices only draw us to our selfish desires and far away from the Lord.

Now not everything must be discerned. We discern or judge only that which are good. This means we don’t need to discern between good and bad, we simply need to choose the good. So, when we know that the other option is not good, we don’t need to discern. God does not do evil.

Let me give an example. We don’t discern whether we should forgive someone who hurt us or not. We know what is good! We know we are called to forgive. There is no need for discernment in this case.

But consider about the question of vocation. Should I become a religous or commit myself to marriage life? These two options are good in themselves. And hence, it is a proper matter for discernment.

We have to be clear of this since the Lord only draws us to something good and He is the ultimate Good. He cannot do evil and cannot draw us to evil.

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Presuppositions of discernment

September 14, 2009

Continuing from the last post, Fr. Thomas Green SJ said that the “how” of discernment is not difficult. What makes thing difficult for people to find God’s will in their lives is that most people do not have the presuppositions of discernment. Let’s list them down:

  1. A desire to do God’s will. Most of us do have a desire to do God’s will, but sometimes it is for the wrong reasons. We want to do God’s will so that “everything is alright”. Actually we are hoping that we are not making mistakes in life, etc. What interest us more is actually ourselves. But discernment will involve mistakes. What we should desire is God’s will anyway. And this desire is a “committed” one. We need to be committed believer. Pope John Paul II said it is not enough for us to know God’s will, we have to do them!
  2. Openness to God. This is rather difficult. Especially when we have so many attachments in lives. We have so many desires which we call our “needs”. We can’t differentiate our desire and God’s desire. Most of the times we don’t really open to God, but rather we tell God what we want to do for Him. And we tried to discern to get that approval or confirmation from God.  And that’s why maybe sometimes we are afraid to discern. We are afraid that the answer is not what we want to hear.
  3. A knowledge of God. This is not just in the head. But rather a biblical sense of knowledge. It is an “encounter”, a knowledge born out of experience. In my RSV bible translation, Genesis chapter 2 speaks about “Adam knew Eve, and she conceived a son”. What an experience that gives new life! Not only that, sometimes we have a distorted image of God. And more than that, we don’t really know his voice. I recall one day I asked Fr. Jivan OFM how we should discern. He is a fransiscan, and his answer is plain simple. Get to know Him. As we get to know the Lord, we will recognize His voice.

Now there is another Three things which we should have in discernment, and this is more of a quality of the person:

  1. humble. We need to realize that we are still growing in our knowledge of the Lord. We are still learning to listen to Him. In fact St. Ignatius, one of the master of discernment, speaks that in discernment we can only know to “some extent”. St. John of the Cross said that one of the surest signs of spiritual growth is our growing awareness of our sinfulness.
  2. charitable. Since as we grow in discernment and knowledge of the Lord,  we are more aware of our own weaknesses and sinfulness. We will become slow to judge others, and be able in them our own weaknesses. Charity is the essence of God since God is love.
  3. courageous.  I guess this is the difficult part for me, since I tend to seek the “safe” way. But the Lord ask us to risk even when sometimes our reason cannot comprehend “yet”. It is a certitude of faith and not of reason. It is a practical certitude and not theoretical.  This means we must do and put into actions what we know God wants from us. Fr. Thomas Green SJ speaks that discernment is “where prayer and action meets”.

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