Guidelines For Discerning Spirits
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First Section -- click here
Second Section -- stay here
Third Section -- click here
Complete Endnotes -- click here
B. First Set Of Guidelines
Notation  -- gives this advice concerning persons who could care less about going from sin to sin:
The phrase, "persons going from mortal sin to mortal sin," may not mean that they are actually in separation from God's eternal life of grace. Ignatius sometimes uses the word "mortal" to mean those primordial categories of sin called the seven deadly or capital sins -- pride, anger, lust, envy, anger, gluttony, and sloth. Besides its obvious meaning -- going from one serious sin to another in the form of irresponsible behaviour -- this phrase also means going from capital(9) sin to capital sin, i.e., from bad to worse. The affectivity of such persons is oriented, for the most part, away from God, and therefore they risk making a fundamental option away from God and losing eternal life. Such persons are almost completely self-centred. For some, the movements within their hearts tend to encourage the obvious disordered activities listed by Paul in Galatians 5:19-21. For others, the movements within their hearts tend to encourage less obvious behaviour as in the well-disciplined suave person, dominated by ambition and profit, who seems to be generous, kind, externally compassionate, and all this, with calculation. Since the Evil Spirit is at home with persons like this, it makes a peaceful entry. It encourages the sinful tendencies that already exist, and so there can be a false kind of peace when the Evil Spirit encourages choices in keeping with these tendencies. The Good Spirit is not at home with persons in this disordered state so there is a "sting of conscience, remorse" when it enters their hearts. In a sense, this guideline is outside the Guidelines for Discerning Spirits; the rest of the First Set of Guidelines are not intended for persons in this state.(10)
- The Good Spirit causes them disturbance so that they will repent.
- The Evil Spirit peacefully enters their hearts so they will remain in their sinful state.
- The rest of the First Set Guidelines are not intended for these persons.
Notation  -- indicates the persons for whom the First Set is intended; namely, persons who are serious about their spiritual life but who are less mature and, therefore, less knowledgeable about their spiritual growth:
The Guidelines are for those who desire to make progress in the life of the Spirit, who seek to follow God's desires for them, and if they find themselves not doing so or compromising themselves with evil, they soon repent. These persons are going from "good to better."
- "For those who are going on and intensely cleansing their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God.... ">[
- The Evil Spirit torments with difficulties, anxieties, disturbing thoughts.
- The Good Spirit strengthens, inspires, and makes things easy.
Notation  -- gives descriptions of three different experiences of Spiritual Consolation:
1. An intense interior experience:"When some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord...."2. An experience of sadness and sorrow:"It is likewise Consolation when one sheds tears ... that move to the love of God.... "3. An experience of growing faith, hope or love in dryness:"Consolation is every increase of faith, hope, and love, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things ... quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord."Description (1) above makes it clear that Consolation can be an intense interior experience but not in itself. An intense interior experience in itself is not Consolation but its perceived and accepted relationship to God. In addition, if the wonderful interior experiences and feelings of well being are associated with other persons or events, it is precisely in the perceived direction of these interior experiences that make them Consolation. "For example, an interior movement may arise from the love we have for another person, and this kind of emotional experience may resemble spiritual consolation. But it is the beginning of spiritual consolation only when that human love is directly related to the love of God."(11)
Description (2) above shows that a person can feel down and be sad because of something related to God, as for example when she feels sadness or sorrow over how Jesus still suffers in the oppression of others or because of her own sin. Tears are also an expression of Consolation when they accompany sorrow or joy, or when they flow from compassionate union with Jesus' sufferings. Such experiences may indicate a deep relationship with Jesus and release one from the narrow bonds of egotism. Of course, all tears are not a sign of Consolation but only those that move one to the love of God.(12)
Description (3) above points out that every increase of faith, hope, and love is Consolation. Often, and particularly in the early stages of the spiritual journey, a directee becomes downcast because she does not feel that God is giving her Consolation. She begins to suspect that by doing something wrong she has failed to earn the Consolation. However, when you question her, you find out that her faith, hope, or love have been increased. She has discovered a new meaning. Yet, she does not think that she has been consoled because she did not have some intense interior experience as described in (1).(13) Fundamentally, Consolation exists if a person experiences an increase of faith even though there is pain or dryness on a felt level.
It is wise to keep in mind that although notation  is placed in the First Set of Guidelines, it also belongs to the understanding of Consolation in the Second Set. Consolation is Consolation! These three descriptions, along with the other indicators, are valid for understanding it whether a directee's experiences fit under the First or Second Set.
- Thus many indicators signify the presence of Consolation, as, for example, when a directee's prayer experiences: Move towards God;
- Lead to an interior acceptance of and respect for others;
- Are delicate and gentle;
- Lead to a realistic knowledge of self;
- Give a sense of God's presence with a deeper faith perspective;
- Lead her to accept and perceive painful, dry or sad experience as having some meaning in terms of her relationship with God;
- Have meaning with a sense of hope even though tension may still exist;
- Are directed outward, not self-centred -- not turned in on self.
Notation  -- gives a description of Spiritual Desolation:
"Desolation is the opposite of Consolation. The experience is darkness of soul, disturbance in it ... so the thoughts that spring from Consolation are the opposite of those that spring from Desolation." In summary:Desolation is the opposite of Consolation and is experienced in relationship to the perception of God's seeming absence. In Desolation the directee's overall affectivity is still oriented to God, but now, with respect to these transient movements, the directee herself, does not experience or recognize God's presence and feels or perceives that God is no longer around to help her. Where she used to experience prayer and the experiences of life between the times of prayer as relatively easy and meaningful, now she experiences them in a contrary way.(15)
- Desolation is the opposite of Consolation.
- One feels that God is no longer helping one.
- Left to one's own resources, one begins to experience former tensions of unwanted or disordered habits threatening to overtake one.
- One experiences darkness, turmoil, restlessness that lead to want of faith, hope, or love. All this leads to skewed thinking and bad judgements affecting the way one arrives at decisions.
- One feels as if one were separated from God.(14)
It is important to distinguish Desolation from depression. Desolation is a spiritual experience; depression is a psychological experience. Desolation may at times feel like depression, and psychological depression may in fact lead to Desolation, but the one is not the other. A person who is chronically and clinically depressed may experience Consolation; for example, the presence of God in a somewhat felt, sustaining way or, at least, in a meaningful way, as with a person who is sustained throughout a chronic depression by an identification with the suffering Jesus.
Again when a directee is in Desolation, she is not necessarily "down." She can feel very "up" with a certain "hyperness" that could be characterized as "running around like a chicken with its head chopped off." This, no doubt, might also be psychologically or chemically induced. In this kind of enthusiasm, a directee can sometimes fool herself by judging that God is near because she feels "up." However, the transient movements that she is experiencing are leading away from God. She is acting on her own resources, not in companionship with God's Spirit.(16) After a directee experiences God's presence and love, she sometimes moves into Desolation when and if she takes the Consolation to herself and/or runs ahead of the grace given in the initial Consolation. In the Exercises journey, a spiritual director witnesses this when the directee returns to a prayer passage in Repetition and expects to receive a continuation of such deeply felt intimacy.(17)
It is also important to distinguish between Desolation which is a "spiritual" experience from desolate feelings which are more of a "natural" experience. These desolate feelings are natural (normal, human, psychological) reactions to one's inner or outer environment. What makes natural experiences "spiritual" is the context of faith-filled trust in God perceived and accepted as related to the natural experience. The context of living faith orients its meaning. Therefore:
Notation  -- explains three reasons for Desolation. Implied in these are two other reasons. The three explicit reasons can be summarized as follows:
- When the natural experiences are perceived and accepted as part of this context they are experiences of Consolation.
- When the natural experiences are perceived and accepted as part of this context but at the same time manifest turmoil and struggle, a person is experiencing Consolation with desolate feelings which, unfortunately spiritual guides often refer to as "desolation." To avoid the ambiguity, I use the phrase `Consolation with natural desolation' to indicate this type of experience.(18) I think that this is what Mary Magdalene was experiencing as she was weeping with grief before the empty tomb (Jn 20:11ff).
- When the natural experiences are not perceived or accepted as part of this context because this context is perceived or felt to be absent though still desired, these are experiences of Desolation which Ignatius describes in notation  and deals with in notations , and -.1. Through one's own fault, Consolation has been taken away.The other two (more implicit) reasons are:
2. God allows the distressful experience to help one become more spiritually
3. God wants one to realize deeply that Consolation is a free gift from God.4. Desolation comes when one lets oneself be dominated by some InordinateAs a spiritual guide, you can frequently observe the relevancy of all these explanations in Call-Mode directees during the Exercises journey, particularly as they prepare for the making of an Election. The first reason of notation  is discussed below in conjunction with the fourth reason.
5. Desolation is a form of resistance.
The second reason -- God allows Desolation to test us -- should not be interpreted with a skewed image of God who enjoys putting us to the test. The "testing" or "trying" to which Ignatius is referring is more like that of the biblical image of "purifying gold in a fire." It is not for God's sake or pleasure that we are tested through Desolation; it is for our own sake and it is because God loves us. Even though this kind of testing, which is allowed by God, is experienced negatively, it has a very positive thrust. It has a maturing effect on the directee. Desolation forces the directee to question the selflessness of her love. Does she love God merely because she has enjoyed interior movements that have inflamed her heart with love? Or can she persevere in loving God, keep on doing her prayer exercises, and stay true to her commitment to the Exercises journey, even in Desolation. It helps the directee to be disposed for the gift of Spiritual Freedom in the process of decision-making.
The third reason that Ignatius gives is the one most commonly experienced during the Exercises journey. God is teaching the directee that all is gift:
So as a directee is praying to be disposed properly to be open for the Election, the experience of Desolation continues to make her realize that the proper dispositions for making this decision and the actual decision itself must come from God's own gift and not from her own making. "God may allow us to be desolate at times in order to impress upon us the fact of our pelagianism, our desire to control God. God wants us to abandon the mistaken notion that we can command Consolation to come and Desolation to go by an act of the will."(19)
- Any progress through the prayer exercises is due not to her effort but to God's gift.
- The needed Spiritual Freedom for decision-making is also a gift.
The fourth reason -- Desolation comes when one is dominated by an Inordinate Attachment -- is not articulated in notation . Perhaps it should be. Certainly in our daily living outside the Exercises-journey context, we experience Desolation most frequently for this very reason.(20) This explanation is more evident with directees in the notation- context, who are making the Exercises in the midst of daily living, than with directees in the notation- setting. But this reason becomes more noticeable even during the notation- Exercises when Call-Mode directees are in the midst of a decision-making/ discernment process. From notation  it is obvious that Ignatius expected that directees would encounter the experience of being dominated by an Inordinate Attachment. The Second Class of Persons  is a good example of being dominated by such an Inordinate Attachment. When such an attachment begins to be manifested during the Exercises journey, it is often through Desolation.(21)
To some extent, this fourth reason is implicit in the first one which suggests that, through a directee's own fault, Consolation is withdrawn. The fault described, however, is that of negligence or laziness in the performance of her spiritual exercises. Often people try to describe what is amiss by pointing to the symptoms rather than to the issue causing the symptoms. In the first reason, Ignatius expresses a more general symptom rather than the specific issue that exists behind it. When the Inordinate Attachment begins to affect her prayer, and if her less-than-conscious self is not quite ready to allow the attachment to be put in order, often a directee becomes negligent in the accomplishment of her spiritual exercises. Although negligence could be the issue itself, often negligence is the symptom of a deeper issue. Nonetheless, when the directee is encouraged to be faithful to her committed prayer exercises and when, exercising more care, she faces this commitment more intentionally, the issue that needs attention usually surfaces.
The fifth reason -- Desolation is a form of resistance -- is another way of expressing what was expressed in the fourth reason and it is implied in the three outlined in notation . The point of growth in human behaviour is often the point of resistance. Ignatius seems cognizant of this by constantly recommending that the directee make Repetitions on those areas of her prayer experiences where Desolation occurs . We know by observation that when a directee does this, she often discovers that she has been resistant to the surfacing of some unwanted enlightenment.
During the Exercises journey, Desolation is only one way in which resistance is experienced. In the Exercises, as in our own lives generally, resistance occurs in many different ways.(22) A directee often experiences resistance in the face of Jesus' challenge to a more radical discipleship. Even after a directee has made a decision in the context of Spiritual Freedom, resistance can emerge because of the fear of the consequences of implementing that decision. When a directee is growing in Spiritual Freedom, resistance often manifests itself with phenomena different from that of Desolation. As explained in the Second Set of Guidelines, the more generous and spiritually astute the directee is, the more subtle the resistance can appear.
Decisions are made in the context of time, place, outside pressures, unconscious material, historical habit, culture. This is true of decision-making in the notation- Exercises journey and certainly true with respect to decision-making and the use of the Guidelines for Discerning Spirits in day-to-day living outside the Exercises journey. Spiritual Freedom, the hoped-for disposition for decision-making, like most things in life, is often never completely possessed this side of heaven. Given the variable and practical contexts in which decisions are made, a directee's realization of Spiritual Freedom may not be as complete as more time and prayer might allow. It follows that `Consolation with natural desolation' and/or Desolation can signify one or other of the following:
The movements of Consolation and Desolation, as well as those of `Consolation with natural desolation' are part of that continuous purifying process through which we become more spiritually free. Along with the five reasons for Desolation, they demonstrate some of the ways that God's Spirit deals with us in this growing process in daily life and the usual ways during the Exercises journey. This activity of God's Spirit manifests God's mutual relationship with us  as well as the way God labours for us  in all things. We might summarize God's activity as it pertains to Desolation and `Consolation with natural desolation' as God's way of revealing to us that we may:
- The proposed decision is not appropriate and the directee is not receiving Confirmation; or
- The directee is still dealing with Inordinate Attachments from which she thought she was free; or
- The directee is afraid of the cross implied in the implementation consequences of the decision.
Consolation and Desolation should not be confused with a moral state or category as if Consolation is morally good and Desolation is morally bad. Both experiences are the ways by which we are schooled in becoming more sensitive to God's initiatives with us. Both experiences are necessary if we are to discern God's call in our lives. Just as there is no growth in any other area of human life without the pain and resistance of one paradigm giving way to another, so in the Exercises journey, there is usually no movement toward Consolation without Desolation or `Consolation with natural desolation.'
- Be at fault in some way:
- Lack of faithfulness and care in prayer exercises;
- Allowing Inordinate Attachments to take over.
- Need to be strengthened and to mature spiritually.
- Need to learn that all growth in prayer and in the spiritual journey is due to the free gift of grace -- all is gift:
- Consolation can not be earned;
- Spiritual Freedom is a gift of God;
- Dispositions for the making of a good decision are given by God.
- Be resisting God's approach:
- With respect to some needed enlightenment;
- With respect to a further challenge.
- Not be receiving Confirmation.
- Be afraid of the cross and the consequences of a decision made.
Notations - -- give instructions on what to do in time of Desolation; that is, how to act against the Desolation:
1. Wait patiently and trust that:
2. Insist more upon prayer, upon meditation:
- Consolation will return;
- There is a purpose for Desolation which one will come to understand later;
- God is still there helping even though one does not feel it.
3. Much examination of oneself:
- Rather than cutting short the time of the prayer exercise, extend it a little to make sure that at least one is not at fault;
- Insist more on the method of meditation; it may be more appropriate. When one is in Desolation, it is almost impossible to give oneself to more Gospel Contemplation of prayer. Sometimes a form of bible study is all one can do in this state.
4. Do some penance in a suitable way:
- Try to discover the reason for the Desolation;
- Sometimes the identification of the trigger or stimulus of the Desolation is enough to pull one out of it; at other times, one must still wait.
5. Make some change in the way of prayer, penance, and examen:
- If one has discovered that one is at fault, then the penance helps to dispose oneself for God's forgiveness;
- If one has found no fault, then the penance helps to tell oneself and God that one is attempting to be sincere;
- One does penance in a suitable way when it is not for its own sake or to control God;
- Penance is suitable when it puts one externally, and hopefully internally, in harmony with one's present experience, by expressing one's need in a humble way.
6. Do not make any change in the decision that one has just made:
- This is in keeping with 2, 3, 4, above;
- This is also in keeping with Ignatius' suggestions in other places of the Exercises; for example, notation  where Ignatius says that if one does not find what one desires in prayer, one should change one's posture for prayer.In time of Desolation we should never make any change, but remain firm and constant in the resolution and decision which guided us the day before the Desolation, or in the decision to which we adhered in the preceding Consolation. ... In Desolation the evil spirit guides and counsels. Following its counsels we can never find the way to a right decision .The primary meaning of notation  is this: when in the process of making a decision, we must remember that a proper decision can only be made in time of true Consolation. Whereas Desolation is a time of cloudiness, unfreedom, lack of perspective and reaction, Consolation is a time of freedom and response. So when a directee is discerning a decision, she must wait for Consolation before she makes the Election. Thus, notation  has to do primarily with the decision-making in the course of the Exercises.
This principle is also true in our daily life outside the Exercises. Desolation is not a good time to make decisions. However, in daily life Desolation is often an indicator that some change will have to be made. For example, when a person has spent a long time at one career and no longer finds meaning or the presence of God in her work, Desolation may point to the fact that some change needs to be made. The truth in notation  applies even here as well; wait until one experiences Consolation before finally discerning a choice.
First Section -- click here
Second Section -- stay here
Third Section -- click here
Complete Endnotes -- click here