Mary’s School of Sanctity
In our last lesson in Mary’s School, we finished discussing the Rules for the Discernment of the Spirits for the first week of the Spiritual Exercises. Now we turn our attention to the Rules for the second week of the Spiritual Exercises. These Rules help with a greater discernment of the spirits. The more one advances in the spiritual life and the more effort one is making to work out his salvation in fear and trembling, the more complex are the subtle attacks of our common enemy, the devil. Therefore, St. Ignatius explains how to be on extra high alert for the sneaky tactics that the devil uses. He says that these Rules are more applicable to the Second Week because the Spiritual Exercises for this week are designed to help a person to dig harder and deeper to get to know himself even better. Thus, the soul can get to recognize the movements of the spirits in greater detail.
Yet, as we have been repeating as we go along, these Rules are applicable to our daily lives. Therefore, it is a good idea to become more and more familiar with them so that when we need to recall them to discern a situation, they are readily available to us.
St. Ignatius’s Rule #1. It belongs to God and his angels to bring true happiness and spiritual joy to the soul and to free it from the sadness and disturbance which the enemy causes. It is the nature of the enemy to fight against such joy and spiritual consolation by proposing [seemingly] serious reasons, subtleties, and continual deceptions.
This is a general rule for us Catholics to keep in mind. One basic fact we must remember is that the enemy always acts opposite to the good angel.
Because the enemy is seeking whom he can devour and he is out to destroy us, he does not want us to have spiritual joys. This Rule reminds us somewhat of the second Rule for the First Week. In that Rule #2 we saw that when the soul is making spiritual progress, the devil tries to disrupt the progress by throwing wrenches in, as it were. He presents false reasoning. For example, he may tempt a soul with scruples so one constantly thinks that he is doing something sinful when the truth is quite the contrary.
Thus, St. Ignatius is warning us that it is important that we be alert to the devil’s subtle deceptions. We must keep in mind that one powerful tactic against the devil is simply to use our reason and, with God’s help, the devil will not be able to fool us. Furthermore, remaining objective and matter of fact in our thinking will help us foster humility which always keeps the devil at bay. The following Rules get into deeper details of the wiles of the devil.
St. Ignatius’s Rule #2. It belongs to God alone to give consolation to the soul without previous cause, for it belongs to the Creator to enter into the soul, to leave it, and to act upon it, drawing it wholly to the love of His Divine Majesty. I say without previous cause, that is, without any previous perception or knowledge of any object from which such consolation might come to the soul through its own acts of intellect and will.
One possible previous cause of consolation could be reading an inspiring spiritual book. So, for example, one could have just read about King St. Ferdinand III of Spain spending the night in prayer and going out to conquer the Moors the next day and about the fact that he was never wounded in any battle. This would make one glad to be a Catholic and be very edified by such a holy king. Reading such things could naturally fill one with spiritual joy and an increased love of God. One could easily see himself praying and thanking God for electing such a wonderful saint. But St. Ignatius is speaking here of a consolation that God sends to us without anything we did in particular that could have been the cause of a consolation. In other words, we sense the consolation and we can think of nothing that we thought, did, or said that might have brought on a consolation.
St. Ignatius’s Rule #3. When a cause has preceded, both the good angel and the evil one may console the soul but for different purposes. The good angel works for the advancement of the soul, that it may grow and rise to what is more perfect, the evil one consoles for the opposite purpose, that he may draw the soul on to his own evil designs and wickedness.
St. Ignatius warns us to be careful when we have consolations because we can be drawn by the evil one into sin. Especially when there has been a previous cause for our consolation, for example, having just got done reading a very beautiful inspirational spiritual book, we still do not know for certain if the consolation we are experiencing has not been inspired by the evil spirit. We must be on our guard. The good angel is going to always lead us to holiness, yet we know that the evil spirit wants the opposite and he can lure us away so easily. The next three Rules explain the tactics of the evil one in more detail.
St. Ignatius’s Rule #4. It is characteristic of the evil one to transform himself into an angel of light, to work with the soul in the beginning, but in the end to work for himself. At first, he will suggest good and holy thoughts that are in conformity with the disposition of a just soul; then, little by little he strives to gain his own ends by drawing the soul into his hidden deceits and perverse designs.
Rule #4 concerns temptation under the appearance of good. Such temptations are a very common trick of the devil because with them, he succeeds so often. Some examples of this are the following:
· The priests and laity going along with the Novus Ordo Missae. People went along with the “changes” because they were told it was obedient to do so. Thus, under the “appearance of good,” people accepted a sacrilegious mass.
· Women in the work force during World War II because the U.S. said it needed their help to keep up with the manufacturing needed for the war effort. The women were told to wear pants for “safety” sake. Safety is a good thing, so the pushing of pants for women was accepted. Yet, unfortunately, this fashion was pushed more and more even after the War so that it came to be viewed as the “norm.” Consequently, what Our Lady of Fatima predicted came true, namely, that fashions would come that would displease her Son very much. A further harm is the destruction of the nature of women by such abominable attire. [As Deuteronomy and St. Paul call it.]
Another example of this tactic of the devil is found in the marriage of Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux. The Martins wanted to live a celibate marriage. They had both thought they had a religious vocation before they married. Zelie had been turned away by the Visitation nuns telling her that she didn’t have a vocation to the religious life. Louis Martin had tried to learn Latin because he wanted to be a priest and finally after spending lots of time and money, he finally gave up the idea. When Louis and Zelie married, they decided to live as brother and sister. After nine months of marriage their confessor told them that this was not God’s will and that God wanted them to have children. They ended up having nine children: three of which died in infancy, one died at the age of five, and five daughters who became nuns. Thus, under the “appearance of good” this couple, at first, was not doing what God wanted for them.
St. Ignatius’s Rule #5. We must pay close attention to the course of our thoughts, and if the beginning, middle, and end are all good and directed to what is entirely right, it is a sign that they are inspired by the good angel. If the course of the thoughts suggested to us ends in something evil, or distracting, or less good than the soul had previously proposed to do; or if these thoughts weaken, disquiet, or disturb the soul by destroying the peace, tranquility, and quiet which it had before, this is a clear sign that they proceed from the evil spirit, the enemy of our progress, and eternal salvation.
St. Ignatius’s warning from Rule #4 continues in Rule #5. Not only must we be on our guard during consolations with a previous cause, but we must think carefully about any inspirations or resolutions which come to us during this time. We must ponder where our thoughts are heading. If we make resolutions or plans during a consolation, we must think through our thoughts carefully in order to discover if they are leading to something good and positive for our salvation. As St. Ignatius explains, if the thoughts end up being something evil, then of course we would not want to follow those inspirations knowing that they come from the evil one. Getting advice about any resolutions inspired during consolations of this nature would also be a good idea as a means to prevent doing anything imprudent.
This fits well with our example of the Martins given above. If the Martins had thought about the fact that they could show God their love by raising up saints for His greater honor and glory, then surely they would have wanted to live a regular Catholic marriage. The devil wanted to frustrate God’s plan for this holy couple so he most likely hatched this apparently “good” plan for their marriage. Their confessor saw through this deceit and told the Martins to have children to please God.
During consolations of this type, we must watch our thoughts and the movements of our souls because it so easy to be drawn off course. The devil will tempt us to do things which would puff us up and lead to other forms of pride. He can use one’s virtues to deceive the soul. He can drive the soul to want to climb too high and too fast in order to set the soul up for a fall so one will get discouraged if spiritual progress does not happen as fast as the person expects.
Also, the devil can use the consolations to foster pride by letting us think we are so wonderful because we have these spiritual consolations. Thus, as we have mentioned already, we must take every opportunity to humble ourselves when we have consolations and desolations.
St. Ignatius’s Rule #6. When the enemy of our human nature has been detected and recognized by his deceptions and by the bad end to which he leads, it is well for the person who has been tempted to examine afterward the course of the good thoughts that were suggested to him. Let him consider their beginning and how the enemy contrived little by little to make him fall from the state of sweetness and spiritual delight that he was enjoying, until the devil finally brought him to the devil’s perverse designs. With the experience and knowledge thus acquired and noted, one may better guard himself in the future against the customary deceits of the enemy.
This Rule discusses a great strategy for the spiritual life. When we sense that we have been fooled by the tricks of the evil one, we must retrace our steps, as it were, and find out how the devil fooled us. On a natural level, we do not want to be deceived by others. How much more should we want to avoid being trapped by the devil, who is the father of lies! If we examine the situation and circumstances of our going off course, then we can know ourselves better and know our weakness, which is itself humbling. Then we can be better prepared in order to avoid getting fooled the next time.
In our next lesson, we will examine the last two Rules for the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises. These last two Rules consider the strategies with which the devil attacks souls based on their dispositions, and give further explanations about desolation and consolation. Yet, even with the Rules we have considered so far, we can see plainly that with these heavenly aids Our Good Lord trains us to be His soldiers. Because we battle, as St. Paul says, “with the principalities and powers of darkness,” we need clear and concrete rules to avoid being fooled by the evil one. Let us thank God abundantly for these powerful aids to our eternal salvation!