“Rule #7: Spiritual Desolation: A Time for Resistance” by St. Ignatius of Loyola

  • “The seventh: let one who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, so that he may resist the various agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can resist with divine help, which always remains with him, though he does not clearly feel it; for the Lord has taken away from him His great fervor, abundant love and intense grace, leaving him, however sufficient grace for eternal salvation” (St. Ignatius).

“let one who is in desolation consider how the Lord
  • Consider = Ignatius now moves the focus from what we choose to do during desolation (Rule 6: prayer, meditation, examination, suitable penance) to what we choose to think (“consider“) during desolation.
    • Forget vs. Consider: The enemy wants us to forget all of this. Our task is to consider these truths.
  • the Lord = this consideration is focused on God’s perspective & on what God is doing in us by allowing this time of desolation.

“The decision to think about spiritual desolation during the time itself from the perspective of God whose mysterious and loving providence allows us to undergo this struggle, can awaken a faith-based understanding capable of fortifying our determination to resist the desolation itself” (Gallagher, DS, 94).

Ignatius wants us to consider 3 interrelated truths:

(1) that this is a spiritual trial permitted by the Lord

When you understand that this desolating experience is a trial permitted by God, you can transform this difficult time from empty meaningless pain (the experience when desolation is left unconsidered) to great spiritual meaning on the level of faith (when desolation is considered).

There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22).

“Many are the trials of the just man but from them all the Lord will rescue him” (Psalm 34).

“Desolation is a normal part of our spiritual lives here on earth like rainy days” (Fr. Gallagher).

Arrow Prayer: “I trust, Lord, that there is great meaning in this time of trial and that you are powerfully at work in this difficult time.”

(2) “so that he may resist” = God’s purpose in permitting the trial is to provide us with an opportunity to resist desolation and so grow in the ability to resist

God leaves us in this trial, feeling as though we have no divine help and with only our human powers to sustain us, so that we may “resist the various agitations and temptations of the enemy” that arise during the desolating experience.

  • How do we grow in the ability to resist and reject desolation? By being in situations that require us to do it. In God’s providence, He gives us the opportunity to grow in the ability to reject desolation. In doing so, we develop a stronger ability to resist and overcome the trials of spiritual desolation more quickly.
  • The normal path: “Repeated experience of and repeated resistance to the trial of spiritual desolation is the normal path, in God’s design for the human person, toward freedom from subjugation to such desolation” (Gallagher, DS, 99).
  • This is the way to become spiritually mature: “Without desolation, we would remain spiritual infants” (Fr. Gallagher).
  • Develop this holy habit of resisting spiritual desolation. Just as we grow in good physical habits by repeatedly exercising the act of those good habits (healthy eating, exercise, etc), the same holds true in the spiritual life – in this case, the ability to reject spiritual desolation.
(3) “since he can resist with the divine help, which always remains with him… leaving him, however, sufficient grace” = we can resist because, though we do not feel it, God is giving us all the grace we need to resist the desolation.
  • Spiritual reality much different than felt experience: Although we feel that God has left us in times of desolation, the reality is that his “divine help always remains with us.” We need to consider this.
  • Sufficient grace: God, in His loving providence, gives you all the grace you need in this time of trial. He will never send you any challenge that you cannot handle with His assistance.
    • Consider Jesus’ words to Paul in his struggle: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9).
    • Consider Jesus’ words: “I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (Jn 16:32).
  • Tip: When the enemy presents you a litany of spiritual desolation (“I can’t… I can’t…”), state your own litany of spiritual truths (“I can resist this trial with the abundance of grace that the Lord is offering me, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me…”).
“though he does not clearly feel it; for the Lord has taken away from him His great fervour, abundant love and intense grace”
  • though he does not clearly feel it = the person in desolation feels no assistance or presence of the Lord.
    • “All that they do feel is their ability to use their “natural powers”: their ability to think (mind), to choose (will), to call certain truths to mind (memory), to envisage spiritual realities (imagination), and all the human “powers” given to them by the Creator” (Gallagher, DS, 98).
  • The Lord has taken away = the spiritual consolation he once enjoyed (great fervour, abundant love and intense grace).
  • intense grace vs. sufficient grace = the intense grace of spiritual consolation (perceptible, felt, uplifting) is absent but God is still giving sufficient grace (largely unfelt but very real and specifically given to resist the desolation).

St. Ignatius beckons us, in the entirety of the discipline and practice of discernment, to lift our hearts and minds to what God is actually doing in the moment. He invites us to explore how God is using the circumstances and internal realities of desolation in order that we might strengthen our will against the forces within and outside of us that draw us away from the will and presence of God. In this case, St. Ignatius is asking us to explore what it means to be left alone in our natural powers. Why? The passage from St. James reveals the answer: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” As we experience our weakness when God is not empowering us through consolation, we are brought to a place where everything within us that opposes God through pride is militated against, and as our great need is exposed to us, we reach out to Him in humility.

Rule 7 in one word = trust.

Examples:

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

  • Only those in the camp who found meaning in what they were going through survived.
  • “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning” (Viktor Frankl)

General Stockdale, Stockdale Paradox:

  • “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be… Being in the camp will be the defining moment in my life that I will not trade” (General Stockdale).
  • Paradox = (1) Confidence in inevitable success + (2) Humble embrace of reality.
Other Notes:
God is always active in our lives!
  • When we realize that God permits us to experience spiritual desolation so that we may resist and grow spiritually mature, we realize that God is always active in our lives, both in the unique graces that are presented in times of spiritual consolation (when we embrace it) and in times of spiritual desolation (when we resist it). Through both, we come to “the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13).
  • Far too often we think that the fruitful times in our spiritual journey were during spiritual consolation only. This Rule reminds us of the great benefit that we can receive through resisting times of spiritual desolation as well.
  • God is always with us. His providence is always at work in our lives.
Three blessings of resisting spiritual desolation
  1. We are set free from the discouraging lies of that desolation
  2. We grow in the ability to resist future desolation
  3. We deepen our intimate relationship with the Lord.
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