“Rule #6: Spiritual Desolation: A Time for Initiative” by St. Ignatius of Loyola

  • “The sixth: although in desolation we should not change our first proposals, it is very advantageous to change ourselves intensely against the desolation itself, as by insisting more upon prayer, meditation, upon much examination, and upon extending ourselves in some suitable way of doing penance” (St. Ignatius).

“although in desolation we should not change our first proposals”
  • In spiritual desolation, we must show fidelity to our spiritual past & redouble our efforts to do what we committed to do when in spiritual consolation.
  • Don’t change proposals.
  • Ignatius pairs Rule 6 with Rule 5. We can see this intentional decision by beginning Rule 6 with a summary of Rule 5. The repetition of the verb “change” also emphasizes this.
  • Rule 5 = defence.
  • Rule 6 = offence.
“it is very advantageous to change ourselves intensely against the desolation itself”
  • In spiritual desolation, we must also show great spiritual initiative in the present.
  • Change yourself precisely against the desolation.
  • Never resign to passively endure spiritual desolation. Desolation tempts me to remain interiorly passive and let disquietude, confusion, anger, and fear get the best of me.
  • Carrying our crosses with Jesus is a part of our life that must be embraced in faith. The cross is far different from the lies and deceptions of the enemy in spiritual desolation. We must never passively accept spiritual desolation but always actively reject it.
  • With hope-filled confidence in God’s grace and zeal to employ the spiritual means at our disposal, Ignatius tells us that it is very advantageous to change ourselves against the desolation – that is, much sorrow will be avoided and much good will result from this active effort.
  • Simply to know that this is the call – to change ourselves, actively and intensively, with courage and trust in the Lord, against the desolation by using spiritual aids at our disposal – awakens enormous hope and releases spiritual energy” (Gallagher, SCF, 120).
  • Invite the Lord into your experience of desolation and remember His words of love.
1) “Prayer”

Prayer of petition = by which we ask for God’s help to overcome the trial.

  • Prayer of petition goes intensely against (1) the sense of helplessness & (2) the feeling “as if separated from one’s Creator and Lord” (Rule 4).
    • Prayer of petition examples: (1) Father, help me! (2) Jesus, be my saviour right now. Help me to resist and overcome this desolation! You promised that if we ask of this in your name, we will receive it! (3) Come Holy Spirit, fill me with the gift of fortitude and fill me with your infinite strength to overcome this difficulty. (4) Mary, crush the head of the serpent. Be a mother to me now. (5) St. Michael the Archangel, defend me in battle! (6) Let’s go do some Rule 6 right now!
  • General prayer = Mass, lectio divina, meditation, reading of Scripture, Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, vocal prayers… they all help! These are all forms of turning to God and asking for help.

Be bold in this prayer of petition!

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:15–16

“In arid times, when duty seems difficult and daily responsibilities have no attraction, when all spiritual consolation is denied us and the beautiful light that illumines life is veiled, in these times humble prayer alone can steady us and give us hour by hour and day by day the determination to act ‘against our will'” (Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur).

“I keep learning that fleeing desolation into some form of diversion does not help, and that turning to prayer does. The first is solitary; the second is relational, and that makes all the difference” (Fr. Gallagher, SCF, 126).

2) “Meditation”

Meditation on the truths of faith = that directly counters the discouraging lies of what the desolation is telling.

  1. Truths of faith – Lord you are faithful, your providence is at work even with what I am going through right now.
    • Tip: Proclaim these truths out loud multiple times.
    • Tip: Write down a list right now of truths of the faith.
  2. Verses of scripture – Have your quiver filled with arrow prayers from the Bible.
    • Tip: Just open up your Bible and start reading with your in spiritual desolation.
    • Examples of good Bible verses: 1 Cor 10:13
  3. Memories of God’s fidelity in the past – I have been here before and I know Lord you have been faithful to me. You have gotten me through safely any desolation of my past.
    • Tip: Find some “anti-desolation songs” that recall God’s faithful love for you.
    • Tip: Recall and proclaim specific events of God’s fidelity in your past.
    • Tip: Use all 3 of these above meditation points interchangeably.
3) “Much Examination”

Careful examination of how the desolation began & subsequently unfolded so that we will see how to combat it effectively.

Stop and look at what is going on, engage in the process of discernment and see if you can pinpoint the moment desolation happened and then name it.

  • Ask the following questions: (1) What is going on here? What is happening in my heart? What am I feeling? Am I in spiritual desolation? (2) How did this get started? How has this developed?
    • Tip: Write these questions down, look at them when you’re “aware” of spiritual desolation, and journal out your answers.
    • Tip: Take it to spiritual direction or a trusted spiritual friend – you are never meant to be alone in the spiritual life. Remember, in desolation, we cannot see clearly. We need help from others.
    • Tip: Stop for 1 minute. Ask the Lord to help me see what is going on.
    • Rule 9: Are one of God’s 3 principal reasons for allowing desolation at work here? (1) Have I become lukewarm? If not, then explore the nature of this being (2) a trial & (3) consolation is a gift.
  • “Much examination” leads to an essential shift: “myself-in-desolation” VS. “myself-reflecting-on-myself-in-desolation” (Toner).
    • The ability to realize that you’re in desolation and name it as such changes a feeling of an overwhelming burden (something we cannot deal with) to a specific spiritual experience (something we can address).
  • Remember: Don’t escape in diversion and remain “without”. Engage and courageously go “within”.
  • Tip = pray the daily examen at least once a day (midday & end of day is standard).
4) “Suitable way of doing penance”

Suitable penance as a refusal to flee helplessly from the desolation into some form of empty diversion.

Suitable = an act precisely against the temptation we feel in spiritual desolation.

  • Fr. Gallagher calls these “suitable gestures of penitential courage.”
  • Suitable also means to avoid some drastic change, like doubling your time of prayer (this could be the enemy).

Whereas the undiscerning move is to capitulate and go towards low & earthly things, we are called to go intensely against the desolation itself –> to stand your ground and make suitable acts of penance.

  • This is the “agere contra” method – literally, to “act against,” the choice to do the opposite of what I am tempted to do in desolation.
  • Tip: Keep it simple & keep it small. Even 1 small step with the good spirit can open up a new path for us.
Remember, each act of resistance engenders further courage.
  • Examples: Just wait an extra couple minutes before you head to the refrigerator that 2nd time. Call a spiritual friend when you feel prone to secrecy. Do a small service for someone else when you want to hide in your room. Smile at the next person you see. Stay for 1 extra minute in prayer.
  • Tip = make a list right now of what you will do in times of desolation.

“Whenever I find myself faced with the prospect of an attack by my enemy, I am most courageous; I turn my back on him, without so much as looking at him, and run to Jesus” (St. Therese of Lisieux).

Thirteenth Annotation. The thirteenth: It is likewise to be remarked that, as, in the time of consolation, it is easy and not irksome to be in contemplation the full hour, so it is very hard in the time of desolation to fill it out. For this reason, the person who is exercising himself, in order to act against the desolation and conquer the temptations, ought always to stay somewhat more than the full hour; so as to accustom himself not only to resist the adversary, but even to overthrow him.

Remember, flight into diversion does not resolve desolation.
  • “When we close the refrigerator for the final time, when we turn off the tablet or smartphone, when the movie finishes – the “aspirin” has worn off but the symptoms are still there, perhaps even a little heavier because we know that we have succumbed to the desolation” (Gallagher, SCF, 132).
The fruit of turning against desolation = intimacy.

We can trust in God’s promise that if we resist the enemy, he will flee from us.

  • “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8).
Here’s a powerful witness of living the discerning life from St. Faustina:

“Before each important action, I will stop to consider for a moment what relationship it has to eternal life and what may be the main reason for my undertaking it: is it for the glory of God, or for the good of my own soul, or for the good of the souls of others? If my heart says yes, then I will not swerve from carrying out the given action, unmindful of either obstacles or sacrifices. I will not be frightened into abandoning my intention. It is enough for me to know that it is pleasing to God. On the other hand, if I learn that the action has nothing in common with what I have just mentioned, I will try to elevate it to a loftier sphere by means of a good intention. And if I learn that something flows from my self-love, I will cancel it out right from the start” (St. Faustina, 1549).

Fr. Robert Spitzer wrote a great article on resisting desolation through the use of affirmations (click here for more).

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