Mary’s School of Sanctity
In our last lesson in Mary’s School, we discussed the Spiritual Exercises in general and began to explain the purpose of the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits.
In this lesson we will begin our examination of the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits that pertain especially more to the first week of the Exercises, although these Rules apply to the spiritual life in general. These Rules are invaluable for everyone engaged in the test of this life and fighting in the Church Militant. Saints and spiritual writers highly recommend that we Catholics become familiar with these Rules as much as possible and review them often. By doing so we can see the tactics of the evil one and cooperate with the helps God gives us through His Holy Angels.
St. Ignatius’s Rule #1. In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons, the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.
St. Ignatius’s Rule #2. In the persons who are going on intensely cleansing themselves from their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord, each spirit uses a method contrary to the one he used in the first Rule, for then it is the way of the evil spirit to bite, sadden and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, that one may not go on; and it is proper to the good [spirit] to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.
These first two Rules are very crucial in seeing the general ways in which the good spirits act and the way the evil spirits act. One basic fact to remember is that the good spirit always acts in an opposite way than the evil one. Of course, the devil hates God and is always opposed to God’s Will and will always try to undo God’s Plan.
Another basic difference between the good spirit and the evil spirit is the fact that the good spirit always fosters sound reasoning and the evil spirit tries to drag the soul away from sound reasoning. St. Thomas explains in the Summa that in order for man to have moral behavior, that is, moral actions, man must act according to reason. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the devil’s main tactic is to get men to not use their reason properly.
So, in the first Rule, the devil wants the mortal sinner to become complacent in his sin, and therefore, the devil will endeavor to keep the sinner in sin. Whereas the good spirit will try to wake up the sinner to the gravity of his situation in order to draw him to conversion.
In the second Rule, the devil will try to get the person, who is striving to serve God, to fall into discouragement and to not use his reason. The devil will basically try to get the faithful soul to the point of despair. On the other hand, the good spirit will encourage the faithful soul to persevere.
St. Ignatius’s Rule # 3. 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, I call it consolation when the soul sheds tears that move it 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.
In the third Rule, St. Ignatius explains what he means by consolation. He wants the soul to understand what consolation is so the soul better understands when consolation is happening and know how to recognize consolation as compared to desolation. Because one must act well, whether in consolation or desolation, he must see the difference between these two movements in order to determine how to act. Later, St. Ignatius will discuss how to act when one is in consolation.
St. Ignatius’s Rule # 4. Of Spiritual Desolation. I call desolation everything contrary to the consolation explained in 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 lack 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 the fourth Rule, St. Ignatius explains what he means by desolation. Again, St. Ignatius wants the reader to have a clear distinction between the two movements of the soul so one can more easily act appropriately in these two circumstances.
In the fifth and sixth Rules, St. Ignatius explains how to act during desolation.
St. Ignatius’s Rule # 5. In time of desolation never make a change; but be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination that you had on the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination which you had in the preceding consolation. Because, as in consolation it is rather the good spirit who guides and counsels us, so in desolation it is the bad [spirit], who tries to trick us into making a bad decision.
In the fifth Rule, St. Ignatius clearly is giving a very strict warning to make no change when one is in desolation. He means that one should continue carrying out the resolutions that one had made when he was in consolation. As we have explained above, because the devil tries to drive man off the course of sound reasoning, the devil will especially pull on the soul when one is in desolation. The devil will try to get the poor desolate soul to make a bad choice.
The devil knows when a soul is in desolation – the devil’s tactic goes something like this: he plays with the soul and tires it out. The devil wants the soul to feel so overwhelmed that the person feels desperate. When a person feels desperate enough, he will often end up doing something without thinking of the long-term consequences. Thus, it is very likely that the desolate soul will make a bad choice. Then, of course, the devil will tempt the soul to think that since the decision has already been made, it is too late to change the decision or “fix” the mistake. The devil preys on fallen human nature and the fact that we humans have a difficult time admitting that we were wrong.
In short, St. Ignatius is telling us that being in desolation is very dangerous for the soul because the soul is especially vulnerable – precisely because the devil will lure the soul into some form of pride. Of course, the remedy that St. Ignatius gives to counteract the pride is to foster humility with additional prayer, penance, and examinations of conscience. See below:
St. Ignatius’s Rule # 6. Although in desolation we ought not to change our first resolutions, it is very helpful to intensify our good efforts against the temptations that come during desolation, by insisting more on prayer, meditation, on much examination, and more penance.
Thus, knowing that the time of desolation is especially dangerous for souls, St. Ignatius tells us to intensify our strictness against fallen human nature in order to bolster the strength to overcome the evil one’s temptations.
In Rules seven and eight, St. Ignatius gives further considerations which show God’s Mercy and that it is God’s Will that the soul recognizes its weakness. Not only does one need to see his weakness but also the soul needs to see clearly that one must depend on God.
St. Ignatius’s Rule # 7. One who is in desolation should consider that our Lord, in order to try him, has left him to his own natural powers to resist the different agitation and temptations of the enemy. He can resist with Divine help, which is always available to him even though he may not clearly perceive it. Although the Lord has withdrawn from him His great fervor, ardent love, and intense grace, He has nevertheless left him sufficient grace for eternal salvation.
St. Ignatius’s Rule # 8. One who is in desolation must strive to persevere in patience, which is contrary to the vexations that have come upon him. He should consider, also, that consolation will soon return, and strive diligently against the desolation in the manner explained in the sixth rule.
So, in Rule eight in particular, one must practice trust in God and remind himself that God will not abandon him. Therefore, St. Ignatius shows the necessity of a person humbling himself in order to persevere in times of desolation.
In our next lesson, we will discuss St. Ignatius’ explanation of why God allows us to be in desolation. In addition to this, we will look into St. Ignatius’s clear instructions of how to conduct oneself in consolations as well as his three other powerful Rules which help us to know the tactics of the evil one so we can combat him forcefully and conquer.
In conclusion, we must remember that God wants us to defeat our foes and persevere. How loving and tender God is to give us the means to cooperate with Him in our salvation!
 Summa, Ia IIae, Q.75, a.2.
 Bracketed words added for clarity.