In addition to this week’s prayer materials, there are new Encouragements and Wisdom for Week 36 (PDF).
1 I resolve to spend no more than 15-minutes in each formal prayer session and to visualize my week ahead for where these will be. I will choose a place apart.
2 I continue praying meditations one through five in the Sacred Story prayer in this thirty-sixth week. I enter my prayer at least once daily as St. Ignatius suggested. If I have not been faithful to my journal exercises, I will recommit to this very important discipline.
3 I ask God’s grace to deepen my understanding of spiritual discernment as I consider two of the three strategies the enemy of human nature employs to stall my spiritual growth.
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
Take some time this week to read and reflect on this ninth lesson in discernment. Last week, we examined the three principal reasons we experience counter inspiration’s spiritual desolation. This week we look at two of the three attack strategies used by the enemy of human nature to obstruct our spiritual progress.
All three strategies use elements of our life story as weapons against us: our unconscious fears; our psychological and spiritual vulnerabilities; and our long-standing addictive, compulsive and/or sinful habits. These sinful habits do not make us happy. But they are familiar behaviors and the pain of the familiar is often preferred to the fear of the unknown.
Ignatius learned these three attack strategies from his own experience of being deceived during his conversion process. Learn from his hard-earned wisdom. You might be at a place in your life where you have not yet encountered any of these tactics. If that is the case, the explanations may not make sense now, but they will in time. Notice again that fear is the common basis for all lines of attack.
Three Strategies of the Enemy of Human Nature: To Confound, Frighten, and Deceive Individuals Committed to Spiritual Growth
When you engage your faith practice daily, the enemy of human nature can employ three subtle and malicious lines of attack to discourage you.Be Not Afraid!
The enemy of our human nature likes to conceal himself and manipulate us with our conscious and unconscious fears. It is a carefully planned strategy. The strategy of the enemy is to “play” on our greatest vulnerabilities, even menace us and taunt us with them.
A part of the carefully designed strategy is to keep us bending to our fears. The more we bend to them, the stronger the fears become the next time we consider opposing them. This is why it is imperative to call fear’s bluff and confront the fear—whatever fear it may be. “Be not afraid” is one of the most common phrases in Old and New Testament. God uses hope. The enemy uses fear. Discern the difference in their “voices.” He will use the weaknesses associated with your vices, your extravagant appetites, your compulsive drives, your spiritual/psychological wounds, and your broken heart. This week we will consider the first two of the three strategies:
1) Fear and panic attacks are strategically employed to block growth.
If you stay committed to the process of uprooting vices, sins, addictions and destructive habits from your life and heart, you may be attacked with waves of fear and panic to turn you away from the healing process. If you waver in your commitment to the healing process, the fear and panic can intensify exponentially. In the extreme, you can be paralyzed by unrelenting terror and withering dread.1
Directly confront the menacing fear. If you hold steadfast to the commitments associated with your spiritual and psychological growth, the panic and fear will eventually abate. If you consistently confront the fears and hold fast to the healing process, you will notice that the strategy of “fear and dread” is just that: a strategy. As a ploy, the fear and the dread is never realized. Nonetheless, it is maliciously effective if and when you surrender to it.2
2) Narcissism and false values masquerade as true love and authentic values.
Those committed to allowing vices, addictions, sins and destructive habits to be uprooted from their life and heart will also confront other tricks. The enemy can also portray narcissism as authentic love and vices as positive values. These are tactics of the father of lies to deceive you. The enemy of human nature knows that every heart searches for true love. But every heart is also divided and broken by the effects of its multiple spiritual and psychological wounds. The counter-inspiration of desolation blinds your heart’s perception of what is spiritually and humanly authentic, and what leads to eternal life. Your heart can be easily fooled and tempted by false promises of love. All false loves are illicit because they are lusts masquerading as love. False loves are like mirages for parched and anxious hearts hoping to quench their thirst and find comfort. Instead of providing lasting peace, these illicit loves—illusions really—merely intensify longings, self-deception, self-preoccupation, and narcissism, ultimately leading to spiritual and psychological death.
It is easy to observe the corrosive effects of sins and addictions in other individuals and other groups. But when you are in their grip, it is difficult to imagine these sins and addictions as anything other than a precious lifeline. God clearly sees the corrosive and poisonous effects of false loves on persons, families, societies and nature. But those in their grip are seduced into believing in false love’s comforts, because all false loves can appear as good, life-giving, and natural. The deception to believe false loves as good, life-giving and natural is complicated by evil’s evolution: in political and financial collectives; in educational systems and philosophies; in family structures and social networks; in culture and entertainment. Evil’s evolution in all of these can support and reward those trapped in the deception.
The varieties of deception and seduction are as numerous as the ways a heart can be broken. God will not sanction these lusts because they issue from a violated heart and lead to your heart’s further violation. Once acted upon, you will most assuredly violate the hearts of others. God is Love: the origin, the end, and the defender of the human heart. While God is infinitely merciful with our struggles, God cannot sanction anything that breaks your heart, destroys your authentic human nature, or leads to your spiritual death.
Bring all false loves to full consciousness. Examine them in light of the writings of saints, doctors of the Church, and the mystical Christian traditions of West and East. Identify and name your sins, addictions, and habits truthfully as false lovers. Speak about these false loves with a spiritual guide who holds sacred the Tradition and the Gospels.
You will not be convinced of these false loves’ unholy origin until you are honest about them. Examine your false lovers in the light of day, not by the cover of night. Here, in the light of grace, they will be revealed as neither true servants of the heart nor pathways to the Divine. By exposing them, you will not lose love and life as you fear. You will find, eventually, the path to Love itself: the Christ who is worthy of your total devotion and self-surrender.
When you are in the grip of false loves, activate Ignatius’ Truth Paradigm (as we first learned in Week 16). With Christ at your side consciously take these steps:
Declare to Christ the specific sin, addiction, or destructive compulsion and name it as a false lover.
Describe to Christ the specific sin, addiction or destructive compulsion as coming from the enemy of your human nature.
Descend with Christ into your memory to see and feel your first experience of this specific sin, addiction or compulsion. Ask Christ to compassionately reveal the stress fractures, loneliness and wounds in your heart it promised to satisfy.
Denounce with Christ as your witness, the sin, addiction or destructive compulsion for the ruinous effect in your life, others’ lives and society.
Decide for Christ to heal this wound, diffuse the stress, anxiety and fear feeding it, and transform its damaging effects on your life into Sacred Story.
Love Can Miss the Mark
The most common word in Greek for sin is hamartia, meaning to miss the mark. If we define sin primarily by what it does—destroy relationships—then sin means missing the mark in both our understanding and practice of “right relationship.” Let’s take a recurrent song lyric theme: “How can something that feels so right, be so wrong?” If the love this lyric expresses stands outside Gospel values, then “what feels so right” can be an experience of love that feels better than the lovelessness one had previously experienced. Or a variation on this lyric: “Feels so good to be loved so bad.” This expression demonstrates the “false love” of lust that has become an addiction. Both types of love might feel better than what one had previously experienced. But both loves miss the mark on the true love God wants for us. They will not ultimately bring us to the fullness of our authentic human nature. This is why they are “wrong” in God’s eyes and why Jesus does not bless them. Jesus wants much more for the Father’s beloved children.
(Jer 29: 11-13)
1 Such panic attacks and terrors are similar to aspects of what psychologists refer to as “catastrophic thinking,” often suffered by those with serious anxiety disorders. The “racing thoughts” of catastrophic thinking may lead to ideas of self-wounding or other types of bodily harm, similar to what Ignatius experienced at Manresa when, in the grip of severe scruples, he had an urge to throw himself off a cliff.
2 Those suffering from bio-chemical addictions would be wise to seek professional guidance on extracting oneself from their grip. It is notable however that because of our mind-body connection, people who are withdrawing from spiritual darkness and spiritual addictions often “feel” a dread that is similar to the feelings experienced during bio-chemical withdrawals. It is obvious that eliminating physical addictions will be a tremendous benefit to one’s overall health, but despite this knowledge, the bio-chemical addict still “feels” afraid of letting go of the addiction. It is clear that the fear and dread we experience when withdrawing from sinful addictions is very similar. Despite the painful emotions, we know that withdrawal from spiritual and physical addiction only leads to life.