The founder of the Jesuits can change your life for the better.
In her latest book, The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God’s, she shares her most practical takeaways from his rules for discernment.
“If we’re walking closely with the Lord, and striving to follow His will, our bouts of discouragement and desolation aren’t from Him. And as long as we’re under the influence of those feelings, we shouldn’t make any course corrections other than to intensify our prayer and self-denial.”
How many times could that keep us from further discouragement, bad habits, and worse?
If you find yourself here:
Ask God for strength, confide in a spiritual friend, and remind yourself that the Lord’s consolation – those feelings of “courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and peace” – will return soon. Then get to work doing more of the things that tick off the devil: being kind to those who aren’t kind to you, staying calm when all is falling apart, trusting Jesus to manage problems that you can’t.
Satan sends desolation “to prevent the soul from advancing,” Ignatius says, but if the devil sees desolation leading you closer to God, he’ll let up. And you’ll emerge with a purer faith and deeper dependence on the Lord than before desolation hit—which may be the reason God allowed it in the first place.
Secondly, bear in mind that when you’re finding prayer dry, God can very much be at work. Campbell writes: “Desolation times can be useful. If you pay attention to when they come, the forms they take, and your response to them, these dry seasons can help you spot weaknesses in yourself that you might never otherwise discover—weak points that God and the devil have seen all along.” She adds: “Ignatian principles can help you use desolation to learn important truths about yourself.”
Third: “Before we let pleasant feelings and pious inspirations send us sprinting in a new direction for God, we should pause to consider where they came from and where they’re leading.”
Everything in life should be about getting ourselves and others to Heaven. So what are the fruits of these consolations? “No matter how lovely a consolation begins, if it winds up leaving us restless, cranky, weary, dissatisfied, or distracted from the good God already has called us to do, we can bet it’s not from Him.” As Campbell shares from her own experience, “The consolations that come from God leave me more peaceful, joyful, and free. The ones not of God start off thrilling or exhilarating but tend to spark a certain drivenness in me—a compulsion to do this thing right now and not waste a single minute more thinking it over lest I miss my opportunity.”
And finally: How to keep this all in mind and yourself on track? Ignatius has a prayer for that: The Examen. And that’s Campbell’s fourth pointer for those who want to make Ignatius a friend for life. She writes:
The Examen, when prayed daily, helps us learn to distinguish the voice of our Divine Lover from that of the seducer, to sift our spiritual experiences in real time. It’s a powerful tool for hearing the whisper of the Holy Spirit over the screeching of the world and our emotions.
She points to one of the best experts on Ignatius alive, Fr. Timothy Gallagher, who has written a book called The Examen Prayer – as well as many others on Ignatius’ rules for discernment and the spiritual life and spiritual direction. Campbell writes:
He summarizes the Examen’s five essential elements as gratitude (giving thanks to God), petition (asking for the grace to see ourselves as God does), review (considering what’s happened since the day started and how we’ve responded, with an emphasis on discerning the different spirits we’ve encountered), forgiveness (asking pardon for sins), and renewal (asking God’s help with what comes next).
It all comes down to gratitude. As Campbell shares about her friend Ignatius:
Ignatius once described ingratitude as the worst sin, the evil that gives rise to all others, because it is “a failure to recognize the good things, the graces and the gifts received. He saw discernment not only as a way to spot the evil of Satan but as a way to rediscover the goodness of God. Discernment opens our eyes to “the light that shines in the darkness,” a light that the darkness has not and never will overcome (John 1:5).
So gratitude goes a long way. Gratitude to God for the gift of Ignatius and his modern-day interpreters. Gratitude for tools with which to come to better know and love God. Gratitude for this very moment and the opportunity to choose God, to allow Him to draw us closer. Gratitude for every good gift, which means the crosses, too. Gratitude that God has a plan, and we don’t have to know it all or do it all or solve it all. Ignatius leaves us proclaiming: “Thanks be to God.”
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