“Rule #1: When a Person Moves Away From God” by St. Ignatius of Loyola

“The first rule: in persons who are going from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose apparent pleasures to them, leading them to 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 a contrary method, stinging and biting their consciences through their rational power of moral judgment” (St. Ignatius). 

In persons who are going from mortal sin to mortal sin.” 

  • Mortal sin: The 1st rule applies to someone in a state of habitual mortal sin (click here for more). 
  • Going: A continual direction away from God.
  • Therefore, it is absolutely essential that you are able to be aware of the fundamental direction that this person’s life is “going”.
  • If you are not aware of this direction, you cannot accurately discern the spiritual movements the person is undergoing.

“the enemy”

  • Identity = “the enemy”, “the enemy of our human nature”, “all our enemies”, “the evil spirit”.
    • A comprehensive meaning for any person and/or force – natural or supernatural – working against God (click here for more).
  • Action = “propose apparent pleasures to them, leading them to imagine sensual delights and pleasure.”
    • Imagination: The enemy ordinarily works on the imagination of the person entrenched in serious sin, filling them with “sensual delights and pleasure” to lead them further into mortal sin.
    • Why “sensual delights and pleasures”? (click here)
      • How true this is in our “culture of the image” today!
      • The enemy gives them a false peace and comfort in this action too.
  • Goal = “in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins.”
    • To conserve the person’s present spiritual state.

“the good spirit”

  • Identity = “the good spirit”, “the true spirit.” 
    • A comprehensive meaning for any person and/or force – natural or supernatural – working with God (click here for more).
  • Action = “Stinging and biting their consciences through their rational power of moral judgment.”
    • “Conscience”: The good spirit works on the conscience of the person entrenched in serious sin, provoking them through their “rational power of moral judgment” or more literally “synderesis of reason” (click here for more).
      • The good spirit will rob them of peace, create mental or emotional discomfort, a sense of inner trouble, awaken them of their unhappy condition, and convict them of sin. 
      • Click here for some questions the good spirit will ask.
  • Goal = To help them repent, embrace a cleansing sorrow, and break the pattern of sin.
    • To change the person’s present spiritual state.
    • To arouse a “godly sorrow” that “produces a salutary repentance without regret” (2 Cor 7:10).

Example #1: St. Augustine’s conversion story (click here for more)

  • The bad spirit: “In my youth, I burned to fill myself with evil things…. I dared to run wild in different and dark ways of passion” (II.1).
  • The good spirit: “In your stern mercy you lashed me with the twin scourge of fear and shame…” (VIII.11).
    • Augustine’s life of “fruitless seedings of grief” and “restless weariness” (II.2) begins to awaken within him a desire for a spiritual change.

Example #2: A man and woman living together in habitual mortal sin outside of marriage.

  • The bad spirit reminds the couple of how good they feel together and their love for each other: “You both love one another… how could this possibly be wrong?”
  • The good spirit convicts the couple of the sinfulness of the act: “She is a child of God and you are robbing her of her innocence. Break this relationship now…”

Example #3: “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson

  • “Perhaps the richest literary representation of this working of the good spirit is found in Francis Thompson’s lovely poem “The Hound of Heaven.” The entire poem is a telling description of precisely this relentlessly troubling action of the good spirit, pursuing the human heart until that heart surrenders and is healed: “Is my gloom, after all, / Shade of His hand, / outstretched caressingly?” When people who have lived at length without God begin to see that their “gloom,” their anguished sense of emptiness and failure in life, far from indicating that God has rejected them, is, rather, itself the surest sign that God has never ceased to love them and to call them to himself, something profoundly happy occurs within them. They begin to see that their “gloom” never was anything other than the “shade of His hand outstretched caressingly.” To perceive this love at work in oneself or to assist another immersed in that “gloom” to perceive this love, is to discover a God who loves his children with unfailing fidelity” (Gallagher, DS, 69).

Example 4:

  • Don’t you feel Him in your heart, weighing you down, worrying you, never letting you be, and drawing you on at the same time, enticing you with a hope of tranquility and joy? —Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed

Other Notes:

God is above all a God of love.

  • Considering God to be merely a God of peace does not capture the full vision of who God is. He is above all a God of love. He loves us too much to leave us in a habitual state of separation from Him (Mt 18:12-14) and will trouble our hearts in hope of leading us back to Him, the only true source of peace and joy.
  • “The very pain they experience is a sign that God loves them so deeply that he never abandons them, even in their sinfulness, but rather with great love he is continuing to call them back to him” (Gallagher, DS-RG, 6).

For those in a habitual state of mortal sin, the advice to “follow your heart” is bad avice!

  • Why? Because your heart is under the influence of the bad spirit. 

“St. Ignatius not only wrote rules of discernment; he also wrote rules for thinking with the Church.

  • “Suffice it to say that if we ever have “peace” about something that leads us away from the Church or to some belief or action that is contrary to the magisterium and Tradition, this “peace” is a false peace from the bad spirit and contrary to the will of God” (Dan Burke, 37). 
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