“Rule #14: How to Strengthen Yourself Against Spiritual Attack” by St. Ignatius of Loyola

  • “The fourteenth: likewise he conducts himself as a leader, intent upon conquering and robbing what he desires. For, just as a captain and leader of an army in the field, pitching his camp and exploring the fortifications and defenses of a stronghold, attacks it at the weakest point, in the same way the enemy of human nature, roving about, looks in turn at all our theological, cardinal and moral virtues; and where he finds us weakest and most in need for our eternal salvation, there he attacks us and attempts to take us” (St. Ignatius). 

“a leader, intent upon conquering and robbing what he desires”
  • A leader must honestly labour for the good of those he serves, not destroy and plunder for selfish reasons.
  • Un-natural anti-human quality.
  • This leader is not an honourable figure who serves for a noble cause but rather a shrewd head of a group of plunderers and thieves, bent only “upon conquering and robbing what he desires.” An astute and grasping thief, seeking only to sack and pillage.
  • The enemy is harsh but still fundamentally weak.
“the enemy of human nature, roving about, looks in turn at all our theological, cardinal and moral virtues”

Spiritual desolation is a purposeful, planned, and executed task. The enemy, after learning about your sins, your weaknesses, your proclivities, and your inclinations, attacks at your dominant fault or root sin. 

We need a God-ward self-knowledge to be aware of our sinful tendencies. Or else we are doubly vulnerable. 

The more you know yourself, truly know yourself, the less vulnerable you will be to the enemy’s attacks.

Develop a rule of life to help you fight this sin. 

Click here for the article: “How can I identify my root sin?” by Fr. John Bartunek

  • This Rule shows the enemy’s keen sense of our weakest point in his attacks.
  • The enemy studies our entire spiritual life (“all our theological, cardinal and moral virtues”) – he sees the whole picture of it – and attacks us at our weakest point.

He examines the strength of our faith, our hope and trust in God, and our love for God and for others in God (theological virtues); he explores our practical wisdom in choosing good means toward good ends, our uprightness in our dealings with others, our courage in difficult situations, and our wise moderation in the enjoyment of the blessings of this world (prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance: the cardinal virtues); he reviews our worship of God, our life of prayer and devotion, our adherence to God’s will, our purity of heart, our gentleness toward others, our humble recognition of who we are in relation to God, and the like (virtues of religion, devotion, obedience, chastity, gentleness, humility, and the other moral virtues). In Ignatius’s language, this indicates that the enemy examines the whole of our spiritual lives—what gives us strength in God and what weakens us, what gives us courage and what makes us afraid, what gives us confidence in God’s love and what causes us to doubt that love, what helps us grow spiritually and what inclines us to regress— Gallagher, SCF, 242

  • attacks at our weakest point – “The metaphor of this rule focuses not on the strength of the leader and his band of thieves but rather on the weak point in the defenses of the stronghold. Nothing is said in the metaphor to suggest that the leader and his would-be plunderers possess any particular strength. In fact, once the inhabitants of the stronghold have fortified the weakest point in their defenses, the enemy is helpless and must desist in this attack” (Gallagher, DS, 183).
  • Are you aware of where you are weakest and most in need? And how are you strengthening this area?

Becoming aware of your weak point is ultimately a way to use the enemy against himself. You become aware of the specific place where you may most fruitfully focus your spiritual energies. Like St. John Vianney, who used the enemies attacks as signs that “big fish” were on the way.

Our weak point

This next point is key, and I emphasize it when I present rule 14: There is no shame in having a weakest point. We all do. From our upbringing, temperament, and the varied experiences of our lives, all of us are somewhere most vulnerable to the enemy’s burdens. This is simply what it means to live in a fallen, redeemed, and loved world. There is no shame in this. What does matter is to know that weakest point and to strengthen it. Such is the invitation of rule 14, and such is the path to freedom right there.

Gallagher, Timothy M.. Setting Captives Free (p. 243). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

Why we need to strengthen our weak point
  • We must work hard to strengthen our weak point right now, especially before the enemy attacks. This is not optional work if you want to grow in holiness and live a life of deep joy and purpose.
  • Remember: Our defense is only as strong as our weakest point.
The blessings of strengthening our weak point
  • Don’t feel overwhelmed by what this Rule reveals. Right where you feel most helpless and hopeless in our journey, Ignatius is telling you that captives can be set free.
  • Clarity, hope, freedom.
  • In other words, this Rule goes to the deepest places in our hearts, precisely to set us free.
  • Rule 14 teaches us that discerning persons can become capable of defeating the enemy’s personalized attacks even before he begins his attack.
  • “Know thyself” – St. Catherine of Siena begins her Dialogue by saying how “dwelling in the cell of self-knowledge” is an essential first step in order to rise up with rich spiritual energy to love and serve God.
  • “Just as there is NO shame in experiencing spiritual desolation, there is NO shame in experiencing a weak point – it’s simply living the spiritual life in a fallen & redeemed world.” – Fr. Gallagher
  • If we can live the wisdom of Rule 14, the weakest point will be transformed into the cutting edge of our growth.
  • Everything else will grow.

    “When we grow in one virtue, we grow in all of them.” – St John of the Cross

  • Venerable Matt Talbot is a great example of a saint who built his entire life off strengthening his weak point. He was an alcoholic who eventually took the Pledge and would spend long hours in the church begging God for the gift of prayer in order to fight off his addiction to alcohol: “Lord in your mercy give me the gift of prayer.” 
GAME PLAN = “Strengthen the weak point”

#1: Discover the weak point (questions & commentary by Fr. Gallagher, SCF, 245-247).

  1. Is there some situation that frequently discourages me? That frequently strips me of spiritual energy? Comment: The key word here is frequently, that is, this same pattern repeats over and over, and always leads you to discouragement, to the stripping of your spiritual energy. You are happy in your relationship with God, and then this happens again . . .
  2. Is there one recurring way in which I often become afraid? worn out? spiritually helpless or weakened? Comment: When this pattern or these circumstances repeat, you find yourself anxious, worried, afraid in your relationship with God, or tired, worn down, helpless, as though you cannot avoid this, that you will keep failing in this, that it will always weigh on your freedom to receive and return God’s love. And this has happened over and over . . .
  3. What one thing most diminishes my energy to love and serve others? Comment: You are praying, growing in the life of the sacraments, serving God and others with more generosity . . . and then this happens again. You sit in your room feeling that you cannot go on with these efforts . . .
  4. Is there something that habitually disheartens me in prayer? that causes me to doubt God’s love for me? Comment: You try to live your spiritual life faithfully, but always, because of this one thing, you find yourself doubting that God can really love you and you grow uneasy to speak to God about this thing.
  5. Is there a repeating pattern of these experiences? Comment: If you experience burdens like these just mentioned, and if you find that this one pattern especially keeps repeating, that it more than anything else leads you to discouragement, then you have found the point of vulnerability. This is the first step toward freedom.

#2: Name the weak point

  • Once you name your weak point, then you can decide a proper course of action to defend yourself against the enemy.
  • Write it down in a journal if that helps you make it concrete.

#3: Strengthening our weak point

  1. Prayer – prayer is the first and most powerful way to strengthen the vulnerable point because it disposes our hearts to receive the love and grace of God right there where we most need that love. Bring this vulnerable point into your lectio divina, adoration, Confession, Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, daily holy hour (ARRR: Acknowledge weakness. Relate it to Jesus. Receive His Word. Respond with gratitude), daily examen – what has been my experience today in regards to this weak point?
  2. Spiritual direction
  3. If non-spiritual wounds underlie the spiritually vulnerable point, conversation with a counsellor may also help (grace builds on nature; nonspiritual healing).
  4. Learning – Identify how this vulnerability arose, how it developed, and the best means to strengthen it.
  5. Spiritual reading – learn more about what is resolved in this weak point.

The “enemy of human nature” is fundamentally weak

  • “The metaphor of this rule focuses not on the strength of the leader and his band of thieves but rather on the weak point in the defenses of the stronghold. Nothing is said in the metaphor to suggest that the leader and his would-be plunderers possess any particular strength. In fact, once the inhabitants of the stronghold have fortified the weakest point in their defenses, the enemy is helpless and must desist in this attack” (Gallagher, DS, 183).
%d bloggers like this: