“Rule #3: Spiritual Consolation” by St. Ignatius of Loyola

“Third Rule. The third is of spiritual consolation. I call it consolation when some interior movement is caused in the soul, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and, consequently when it can love no created thing on the face of the earth itself, but only in the Creator of them all. Likewise when it sheds tears that move 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 ordered to His service and praise. Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy that 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” (St. Ignatius).

“Spiritual consolation”

  • Spiritual = Out of the many movements in our hearts, some have special “spiritual” significance.
    • Supernatural” = something our human natural alone can not produce – a gift of God’s grace.
    • As distinct from non-spiritual (“natural”) consolation (click here).
  • Consolation = a happy uplifting movement of the heart.
  • Spiritual consolation = a happy uplifting movement of the heart that directly & immediately impacts my Christian life and pursuit of God’s will.

St. Ignatius does not define spiritual consolation but rather gives a list of its qualities that are extensive but not exhaustive.

1) Christic love = “I call it consolation when… the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and, consequently when it can love no created thing on the face of the earth itself, but only in the Creator of them all.”

  • Inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord” = Spiritual consolation is a work of God’s personal love in the human heart.
  • Only the Creator of them all” = Spiritual consolation gives an ability to love “created thing[s] on the face of the earth” with a new freedom, integrated with love of God. We sense that God is labouring to love us in and through all created things on earth.

2) Holy tears = “I call it consolation when… [the soul] sheds tears that move 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 ordered to His service and praise.”

  • Sheds tears“: Since the whole person experiences spiritual consolation, sometimes the movements of the heart find bodily expression through tears, which can be seen as a grace-filled physical manifestation of God’s consoling work that can bring about deep healing for the heart. Tears may: (1) manifest, (2) accompany, (3) complete the heart’s experience of God’s love.
  • 3 spiritual reasons for tears: (1) “Out of sorrow for one’s sins” = These tears are “not bitter, destructive tears of self-condemnation; they are the healing tears of the woman at the feet of Christ (Luke 7:36–50), tears that express an unburdening of the heart in the presence of infinite mercy and welcome. Such tears give freedom and peace to the human heart” (Gallagher 91): “More delight in weeping over my sins that in committing them” (St. Augustine); (2)”Or for the passion of Christ our Lord” = Tears out of love for our crucified Lord, a desire to share in His suffering; (3)”Or because of other things directly ordered to His service and praise” = anything else that leads us to praise & serve God (examples here).

3) Hope, faith and charity = “I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity.”

  • Increase” = a noticed and felt increase in the habitually present theological virtues (varies in intensity and duration).
  • Hope, faith, and charity = a felt increase in the heart that leads to trust, a sense of God’s presence, a desire to love Him and neighbour more, etc.
    • Ignatius places hope 1st because hope permeates the entire Rules.
  • Practical considerations: (1) If my thoughts, feelings, and actions are not increasing my faith, hope & love, then what good are they? (cf. 1 Cor 13); (2) If confused & disoriented by the false spirit, ask yourself in prayer: What is the most loving thing to do? What is the most hopeful thing to do? What is the most faith-filled thing to do?

4) Great desires + peace = “I call consolation… all interior joy that 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.”

  • All interior joy = a spiritual delight that lifts the heart “upward” to heavenly things & things of salvation.
  • Great desires = holy desires that inflame my heart to do good in the world. When I am in tune with God’s ever-creative love, I too, have that passion to create, that desire to bring forth new life (cf. Genesis 1).
  • The peace of consolation = a divine peace about those difficult, unresolved issues of my life. A sense that deep down God is working through even the most difficult parts of my life.
    • Example: read Acts 4-5. Despite their troubled & uneducated past, threats, beatings, and incarceration, Peter & John display an amazing sense of confidence that God will provide for those who are doing God’s work, regardless of how hard it may seem.
    • “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
  • True perspective = a subcategory. You trust that God will enlighten your mind when the time is right, according to the divine timetable, so it’s okay not to have all the answers… confusion is okay.
  • Transparency = Whereas the false spirit works through secrecy (Rule 13), we know that “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

Summary = I am in spiritual consolation when I have: sense of God’s closeness & faith, hope, and love + some combination of: peace, tranquility, transparency, holy desires.

Some working definitions of spiritual consolation:

  1. “Spiritual consolation is the state of being under the influence of the good spirit” (Fr. Mark Thibodeaux).
  2. “Spiritual consolation is a spike in the ordinary experience of our life of grace. It is a movement of spirit felt at a very deep level of our being, close to the centre, where God kisses and embraces us. In moments of consolation, we perceive that we are in a blessed union with God. We have an awareness of being “in tune” with God and his plan. When tuning a radio, we hear static as we move the dial. When we land on our favourite station, the static gives way to the beautiful music we were looking for; no we are clearly connected. In consolation, we experience the beautiful music of being united with God and doing his will. We also feel at peace and most at home with ourselves in God” (Fr. Gregory Cleveland, Awakening Love, 14). 
  3. “Spiritual consolation is an interior movement to God, toward faith, hope, and love, that is caused by the good spirits” (Dan Burke). 
  4. “Spiritual consolation gives us a palpable experience of God’s loveableness, and that experience acts like a magnet, drawing us to desire greater union with him and putting good order in our affections towards all other merely created realities” (Fr. John Bartunek).

Example #1: A member of St. Therese’s Carmelite community

A younger member of Thérèse’s Carmelite community recounts an experience of prayer one day when she was profoundly discouraged and seriously considering leaving the community:

“I will never have the strength to be a Carmelite,” I said to myself; “it’s too hard a life for me.” I had been kneeling for several minutes in this state of agitation and sad thoughts when, all of a sudden, without having prayed or even yearned for peace, I felt an extraordinary change in my soul. I didn’t recognize myself anymore. My vocation seemed to me beautiful, loveable; I had seen the value of suffering. All the privations and the fatigues of religious life seemed to me infinitely more desirable than mundane satisfactions. I left prayer absolutely transformed.” In the next line of her account she explicitly mentions her newly found joy: “After supper I happily proposed to myself to wash the dishes….” Pierre Descouvement, St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Marie of the Trinity: The Transformative Relationship of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Her Novice, Sister Marie of the Trinity (New York: Alba House, 1997), 88.

Other Notes:

Spiritual consolation will vary in:

  1. Intensity: gentle <—–> strong
  2. Duration: brief <—–> long
  • “All forms of spiritual consolation… lie within the loving providence and wisdom of a God who knows how to give good gifts to his children (Luke 11:13)” (Gallagher, DS, 89).

This is NOT about mystical phenomena…

It is important to note that Ignatius is speaking of the ordinary spiritual experience of any person sincerely seeking God. This is not a description of remote mystical phenomena beyond the comprehension of all but a few. Dedicated followers of the Lord will recognize in their personal experience many and more probably all these forms of spiritual consolation. Ignatius understands this to be the way a loving God ordinarily works in the hearts of his children. (Gallagher, Timothy M. . The Discernment of Spirits (p. 95). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.)

“Ignatius was later in life reported by Pedro de Ribadeneira as having … said that he believed he could not live ‘without consolation, that is, without finding within himself something that neither was nor could be from himself but came purely from God’” (John W. O’Malley, The First Jesuits [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993], 19–20).

“Ordinary” spiritual consolation

Although spiritual consolation is indeed always a great gift from God, we must always strive to become aware and identify God’s “ordinary” presence to us in the spiritual consolations He pours upon us as signs of His love for us throughout the day. This is the way to “find God” during the daily activities of our lives. God is with us! He wants this all-too-often abstract idea to become a personal reality for us.

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