In addition to this week’s prayer materials, there are new Encouragements and Wisdom for Week 35 (PDF).
1 I resolve to spend no more and no less than 15-minutes in each formal prayer period. At the beginning of the week, I will visualize where each will be, in some place apart: a technology-free zone.
2 For this thirty-fifth week, I resolve by God’s grace, to commit for life to praying meditations one through five in the Sacred Story prayer. As St. Ignatius suggested, I will enter my prayer at least once daily. Also, I may find it necessary to recommit to the simple, daily journal exercises explained in Week 16.
3 I ask God’s grace to deepen my knowledge of spiritual discernment as this week I consider the three sources of desolation identified by St. Ignatius.
I will awaken to the present moment.
I will awaken to my spiritual nature.
I will not make any decisions based on fear.
I will practice Sacramental Reconciliation monthly.
I will ask Jesus for help when I am troubled.
I will thank Jesus daily for life’s gifts.
I will say this affirmation aloud once daily:
Awakening to Sacred Story Discernment Guidelines
Guidelines for Fundamental Healing and Spiritual Growth
A Review of the Journal Exercises
Before proceeding, it is important to revisit the indispensable practice of the daily, weekly and monthly journal or logbook exercises. Early in the Sacred Story prayer journey, you wrote two things that surfaced in your life each day: something that brought encouragement and something that upset you or generated fear, anger or grief. By briefly focusing every day on these two categories, you will be recording the necessary data that will help you to understand Ignatius’ spiritual discernment Rules in your own story and life history. Every day, write one experience that increases faith, hope and love. Write a second experience that decreases your faith, hope and love.
Make sure you write a complete sentence. For example: “The Sunday homily about forgiveness helped me understand God’s mercy and brought me hope.” Or: “The Sunday homily about forgiveness upset me and made me wonder if God can ever forgive some of the things I have done.” The first experience increases faith, hope and love; the second diminishes faith, hope and love.
These short statements are different than a diary or a regular journal. The statements help to track trends in your spiritual life. Done faithfully, you will begin to identify the signature of God’s grace in your particular joys and encouragements, and the signature of the enemy of human nature’s presence in your particular temptations and discouragements. For this week, every day, write two experiences you noticed from each source (instead of the usual one experience from each source). This exercise ought to be no more than one minute in length, as explained in the lesson from Week 16.
At the end of each week, identify the most significant consolations and desolations. Write two short sentences at week’s end that capture what you observe to be the most significant statement on each side of the spiritual divide: spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation.
At month’s end, review your weekly summaries of consolations and desolations. Sort through those eight statements (four consolations and four desolations), and identify the two that you consider have most increased and most decreased your faith, hope and love. These monthly summary statements, for both consolation and desolation, might be a new statement that is a composite of the four you wrote. Or it may be one of the four you wrote that stands out as the most important in each category (consolation or desolation).
An analogy from the medical world might help. Imagine I am diabetic. Daily (or perhaps hourly) I have to monitor my blood sugar. I will become quite attentive to foods and drink that increase or decrease my blood sugar.
In like fashion, this simple writing exercise, done faithfully—daily, weekly and monthly—will provide spiritual illumination on what increases and decreases your faith, hope and love. Graced insights will reveal how God and the enemy of your human nature work in your life history. Grace will attract you toward peace and hope, while the enemy’s influence will manifest in discouragement and despair.
Three Reasons for Spiritual Desolation
Take some time this week to read and reflect on this eighth lesson in discernment. Last week we examined four important ways to respond during a time of counter-inspiration’s spiritual desolation. This week we consider three reasons Ignatius gives for why we experience spiritual desolation.
Personal sin, addictions, and your emotional/psychological wounds make you vulnerable to spiritual desolation. When gripped by spiritual desolation, faith, hope and love diminish. Ignatius offers indispensable guidance to assist you through the temptations of these counter-inspirations.
Recall that when you are spiritually desolate, you will experience discouragement, hopelessness and frustration. By close attention to these guidelines, and applying them daily, you will avoid much pain and grief in your life. Do not despair or get frustrated if you do not understand the guidelines now. There will come a time when this wisdom will be crystal-clear.
God allows us to experience desolation to orient our hearts toward genuine love and our true human nature. We experience counter-inspiration’s desolation for one of three reasons:
1) Desolation is directly related to wrong choices in thoughts, words, and deeds made under the influence of the false logic of the counter-inspirations.
God removes the divine inspiration of consolation as a holy warning that you are straying from your authentic human nature. God acts this way to stir your conscience to remind you to return to authenticity. God allows the loss of consolation so you can feel the consequences of your thoughts, words, and deeds associated with counter-inspirational choices. Such false choices will, in due course, destroy relationships, creation, human life, faith, hope and love.
Essentially, your false choices erode and destroy the very things that God provides so you can find fulfillment, communion, and peace in this life, and eternal joy in the next. Our own choices and the consequences of those choices lead us to experience the reality of counter-inspiration’s desolation.
2) God allows desolation, which is directly linked with your human growth and spiritual progress, to awaken your whole being—spirit, mind and body—to its spiritual, emotional and psychological wounds.
Desolation reveals the ways in which your destructive desires and habits have taken root in your spirit, mind and body. Desolation is evidence of how your wounds contribute to the division of your being. Spiritual progress and forward movement in your life story is only possible when you awaken and confront this damaging pattern.
We need to be courageous. Identifying and uprooting these appetites and habits can be likened to spiritual surgery. Because this awakening, and the spiritual renewal and healing it initiates can, at times, be painful and intense, resulting in one feeling hopeless and/or abandoned. But recall that your spiritual maturity cannot be evaluated by unpleasant feelings. Take courage and walk forward, trusting in God.
It is essential that you allow these deeply rooted destructive tendencies to surface, so that a new consciousness and freedom can be born. Giving God permission to move forward with your spiritual growth is the only way these habits, grounded in counter-inspirations, can be uprooted, diffused and healed.
Ignatius taught that God supports us most especially during these times when we can feel lost. At times, we might feel condemned by the darkness in our being: heart, mind and body. These can be present events, or ones we experience through memories. St. Ignatius advised, based on his own experiences of these intense moments, that God’s grace is enough to support one.
You can have feelings of desolation associated with the awareness of your disordered appetites and a human nature wounded by sin. The feelings do not indicate how God views and feels about you. Since these feelings offer a false reading of your authentic human nature, do not be fooled into believing that God does not love and cherish you because you feel and experience these periods of darkness.
You are completely distinct from the darkness or the disordered, shameful appetites that you experience. God loves you and supports your most authentic self as you suffer the stripping away of the pain, sin, narcissism and wounds that hide your authentic human nature.
Feelings of darkness are associated with your false self: the false loves; the broken heart and dreams; the narcissism and pride; the extravagant appetites and the destructive drives associated with your spiritual and psychological wounds. With your cooperation, God is gradually uprooting these from your heart.1
3) Third, counter inspirations of desolation may appear during times of spiritual advancement.
After a period of purification marked by desolation, your heart finds peace in the Divine inspiration of consolation. During these graced rests, you may be tempted to believe the illusion that you have arrived and/or reached the end of your spiritual journey. You experience this state of calm and peace as definitive, and feel that you have achieved sanctity, completion, and holiness.
During these times, and almost imperceptibly, a spirit of pride and self-sufficiency takes hold in your heart. When this happens (when, not if!) the counter inspirations of desolation return as a warning. This happened to St. Ignatius once. He felt that he was among the just, and that his spiritual growth was complete, but having experienced desolation, he realized that he was actually only beginning on the road to salvation.
Everything achieved up to this point has occurred through God’s grace, and through your cooperation with that grace. Grace has reunited you with God, and as a result the virtues of humility, trust, and dependence are beginning to develop.
God allows desolations as a warning to remind you that although you have grown in authenticity and holiness, you are still susceptible to the narcissism and destructive pride that will halt all your progress towards further union with God. Be watchful for the first signs of narcissism and pride. They usually manifest when you start to fall away from your spiritual disciplines and other practices of your Faith. You might say to yourself: “I am healed;” or, “I don’t need those practices anymore;” or “at least I don’t heed them as much as I used to!” You are deceiving yourself, and being deceived, to believe such things.
Therefore, cultivate humility during the consoling times of the Divine inspiration. Use your periods of consolation as a preparation for the times of desolation. Be aware and awake, always anticipating the return of desolation.
Plan ahead for when desolation makes its return. During your time of consolation, remember how helpless you felt during your time of desolation. This serves as a reminder that God is the only one who stabilizes your heart with the Divine inspiration of consolation.
When the counter inspiration of desolation returns, pray to understand which of Ignatius’ three reasons might be its origin. When under the influence of desolation, hold steady! Nurture humility and patience, doing everything possible to orient your thoughts, words, and deeds towards an awareness of God’s presence in your life. Recall Creation, Presence, Memory, Mercy and Eternity.
Remember that God holds you fast during the Divine inspirations of consolation, and holds you even closer during the cleansing times of desolation. Affirm your faith in God. Hold fast to the spiritual disciplines offered here as well as the other practices of your Faith. Seek stability and fidelity in times of peace and calm as well as in times of turbulence and struggle.
(Ps 33: 18-22)
1 Ignatius provides wise counsel for those tempted by evil thoughts and feelings and how to conduct oneself during such times. He writes this advice to Sister Theresa Rejadell: “I insist that you think of God as loving you, as I have no doubt He does, and that you correspond with this love and pay no attention whatever to the evil thoughts, even if they are obscene or sensual (when they are not deliberate), nor of your cowardice or tepidity. For even St. Peter and St. Paul did not succeed in escaping all or some of these thoughts. Even when we do not succeed fully, we gain much by paying no attention to them. I am not going to save myself by the good works of the good angels, and I am not going to be condemned because of the evil thoughts and weaknesses which bad angels, the flesh, and the world bring before my mind. God asks only one thing of me, that my soul seek to be conformed with His Divine Majesty. And the soul so conformed makes the body conformed, whether it wish it or not, to the divine will. In this is our greatest battle, and here the good pleasure of the eternal and sovereign Goodness. May our Lord by His infinite kindness and grace hold us always in His hand.” Ignatius of Loyola: Letters and Instructions (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2006), 25.