“Rule #9: Spiritual Desolation: A Time to Understand” by St. Ignatius of Loyola

  • “The ninth: there are three principal causes for which we find ourselves desolate. The first is because we are tepid, slothful or negligent in our spiritual exercises, and so through our faults spiritual consolation withdraws from us. The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we extend ourselves in His service and praise without so much payment of consolation and increased graces. The third, to give us true recognition and understanding so that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to attain or maintain increased devotion, intense love, tears or any spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and so that we may not build a nest in something belonging to another, raising our mind in some pride or vainglory, attributing to ourselves the devotion or the other parts of the spiritual consolation” (St. Ignatius).

“there are three principal causes for which we find ourselves desolate”
  • The 9th Rule is an explicit and detailed answer to a fundamental question that arises in the hearts of dedicated people undergoing spiritual desolation: Why does a God who loves me permit me to experience the pain and darkness of spiritual desolation?
  • “The purpose of Ignatius’s ninth rule is to assist us, in time of spiritual desolation, to achieve this change of interior focus: away from immersion in sorrow and toward understanding of the redemptive reason for the sorrow” (Gallagher, DS, 114).
  • principal” = this adjective indicates that this list is not exhaustive but these 3 merit special attention as being “principal” reasons. God may have other redemptive reasons for allowing us to go through spiritual desolation.
  • causes” = Ignatius uses the word cause here to indicate God’s motive – finality (purpose) rather than causality (origin).
    • Remember… God really wants His “cause” in permitting the desolation to be fulfilled.
“The first is because we are tepid, slothful, or negligent in our spiritual exercises, and so through our faults spiritual consolation withdraws from us.”
  • God’s reason = our faults.
  • God’s goal (our fruit) = conversion.

1st reason: To help us see that we are in spiritual danger.

  • we are” = Ignatius describes an actual state of lukewarmness that precedes spiritual desolation, in which God seeks to heal by permitting desolation to follow.
    • Our Lord, out of love for us, wants to give us a “spiritual wake-up call” and help us to recognize when we have become “lukewarm” in our faith or spiritual disciplines (see Revelation 3:15-22). Responding to the Lord’s warning always leads to deeper intimacy. 
    • This lukewarmness may just be in 1 particular area of our spiritual lives.
    • We can still be progressing towards God in general.
  • “God our Lord orders this (who loves me more than I love myself)” (St. Ignatius).
    • In this “more“, discover the “cause” for which the God of love has removed spiritual consolation and permitted spiritual desolation.
    • Prayer: Jesus, I trust that You love me more than I love myself and this is why You are permitting this spiritual desolation to happen.
“The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we extend ourselves in his service and praise without so much payment of consolations and increased graces.”
  • God’s reason = a trial.
  • God’s goal (our fruit) = learning.

2nd reason: To understand the true state of our love of God.”

  • Since we have an infinite capacity for self-deception due to concupiscence and the scars left from our sin, God allows desolation to reveal how much of our love for Him is immature, narcissistic, and purely based on the gifts of consolation. 
  • to try us” (cf. Rule 7 = “trial”). Trials are key in the development of spiritual maturity.
  • Illustration: When this occurs, “we encounter a situation like that of a soldier who is not given his pay: the mercenary gives up the battle, the patriot continues to fight” (Daniel Gil, Discerniemineto, 202). The mercenary fights for pay. The patriot fights to defend the country he loves. –> Our spiritual identity emerges in the trial.
  • “Try us, O Lord, you who know the truth, in order that we may know ourselves” (St. Teresa of Avila).
  • “God never sends a trial without immediately compensating for it by some favour” (St. Teresa of Avila).
“The third, to give us true recognition and understanding so that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to attain or maintain increased devotion, intense love, tears or any other spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and so that we may not build a nest in something belonging to another, raising our mind in some pride of vainglory, attributing to ourselves the devotion or the other parts of the spiritual consolation.”
  • God’s reason = consolation is a gift.
  • God’s goal (our fruit) = humility.

3rd reason: To help us know that He is the source of all the good within us.”

  • God allows desolation to reveal the false idea that we are the reason we are able to maintain or cause an increase in our devotion to God and reinforce the true idea that all spiritual consolation is purely God’s gift.
  • God wants us to receive this gift both cognitively (“true recognition and understanding”) and affectively (“interiorly feel”) – both head knowledge & heart knowledge.
  • “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Without Jesus, we are nothing, we deserve nothing, and can do nothing.
  • Humility: “The third cause does, in fact, touch a pivotal theme in the whole of Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises: that evangelical humility rooted in evangelical poverty, is the gateway to God’s grace and to following the Lord Jesus in our lives (SpirEx, 146)” (Gallagher, DS, 123). Humility prepares us to receive the further work of God’s grace (cf. 1 Peter 5:5).

Other Notes:

God’s Reason                                         Fruit

  1. Our Faults                     –>           Conversion
  2. A trial                             –>           Learning
  3. Consolation is a gift    –>           Humility

Summary: The reasons for which God allows us to go through spiritual desolation is a love from God that (1) brings healing, (2) gives growth, (3) helps us avoid a pitfall.

Have faith that God will make good use of this desolation

  • Desolation is a great opportunity to receive the more difficult graces that can come only through a bit of suffering.
  • God allows desolation for 3 difficult graces: repentance, fortitude, humility.
  • Remember that God transformed the worst evil into the greatest means of salvation.
  • Welcome and utilize desolation for God’s greater glory. It’s the ultimate practical joke that God and I play on the false spirit.
Spiritual desolation and healing

God can allow spiritual desolation in order to reveal an area that He wants to heal. Accept that penetrating light of love with trust, that He is going to work great things through this difficult time.

Spiritual desolation, of itself, does NOT produce growth
  • Spiritual desolation is ONLY beneficial when resisted.
  • God’s motives for allowing the experience of spiritual desolation become a reality ONLY when we resist spiritual desolation.
“But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you” (John 16:7).
  • Just as Jesus tried to shift the apostles’ focus from their immersion in the sad reality of Jesus’ words of departure on the eve of his passion to the good news of the Advocate’s coming – to get their minds off the sorrow of anticipated separation and on to the reasons for it – so too Jesus wants us to shift our focus from feeling “as if separated from our Creator and Lord” (Rule 4) to the reasons why our loving God permits this experience of “separation.”
  • The temporary painful separation of Christ’s passion & death was necessary for the apostle’s formation to be equipped for the mission that lay ahead.

Find the specific cause – then act.

  • This instructional Rule implicitly calls us to seek the specific cause at work when we are in spiritual desolation. Once we are aware and understand this, then we can act appropriately.

Spiritual desolation is NOT always your fault. Our faults are only one of the reasons why God allows spiritual desolation.

  • Far too often we think it’s the only reason – or worse, that God doesn’t love us.
  • The 2nd and 3rd “causes” remind us that spiritual desolation is not always our fault.
%d bloggers like this: