Spiritual Consolation: An Ignatian Guide for Greater Discernment of Spirits

Spiritual Consolation: An Ignatian Guide for Greater Discernment of Spirits


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Spiritual Consolation: An Ignatian Guide for Greater Discernment of Spirits by Timothy M., OMV Gallagher

The third volume in the acclaimed and best-selling Ignatian Trilogy, by international speaker and retreat leader, Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher. In Spiritual Consolation, Fr. Gallagher introduces us to the teachings of Ignatius of Loyola through the use of real-life examples and principles from Ignatius's Second Rules for discernment. Fr. Gallagher, author of The Discernment of Spirits and The Examen Prayer, shows how all of us, especially those with busy religious lives, can learn to listen to and follow God's leading.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780824524296
Publisher: Crossroad Publishing Company
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Edition description: ANN
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 510,537
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.51(d)

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Spiritual Consolation

An Ignatian Guide for the Greater Discernment of Spirits

By Timothy M. Gallagher

The Crossroad Publishing Company

Copyright © 2007 Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8245-2429-6


The Contrasting Spirits in the New Spiritual Situation (Rule 1)

* * *

Your servant, too, when he sits in prayer, glows and loves in his fervor. His mind is transformed; he burns with fire; indeed, he expands in the vehemence of his longing. — Richard Rolle

The Spirits at Work in the Second Spiritual Situation

Ignatius opens his second set of rules with a statement regarding how the spirits operate in the dedicated persons who have entered the second spiritual situation. In these "second week" persons, Ignatius says, the spirits work in the following manner:

First Rule. The first: it is proper to God and to his angels, in their movements, to give true joy and spiritual gladness, taking away all sadness and disturbance that the enemy induces; to whom it is proper to militate against that joy and spiritual consolation, bringing apparent reasons, subtleties, and persistent fallacies.

This first rule does not give guidelines for spiritual action but rather, like the first rules of the first set (First Rules, 1–2), clarifies how the contrasting spirits characteristically operate — "it is proper to God and to his angels ... the enemy ... to whom it is proper" — now in the new spiritual situation envisioned by the second set of rules. The rule is comprised of two parts: the first describes how God and his angels characteristically work in such generous and ardent persons; the second depicts the deceptive tactics of the enemy in these same persons.

"True Joy and Spiritual Gladness"

In these deeply dedicated persons, Ignatius tells us, "God and his angels" characteristically act by giving "true joy and spiritual gladness," or, in the similar vocabulary of the second part of the rule, "joy and spiritual consolation." This joyful spiritual consolation takes away "all sadness and disturbance that the enemy induces." God and his angels give something that takes away something else: they bestow the gift of spiritual consolation, the joy of which takes away all the sadness and disturbance that the enemy insinuates in the hearts of these persons.

God's workings in both the persons of the first spiritual situation (the college-age Patricia) and in the deeply committed persons of the second spiritual situation (Patricia ten years later) remain essentially the same: whether in the beginnings of the spiritual journey (first spiritual situation) or in the later stages when these persons have become more rooted in God's service (second spiritual situation), God and his angels give a spiritual consolation that fills the heart with joy and imparts blessed clarity to the mind, breaking the grip of the spiritual desolation induced by the enemy. This spiritual consolation, Ignatius writes, "casts out all disturbance and draws a person to complete love of the Lord"; it "shows us and opens to us the way that we are to follow."

We may note that in this rule Ignatius does not speak simply of the "good spirit" as in the first set of rules, but rather of "God and his angels," distinguishing, without further comment for the moment, between these two sources of spiritual consolation. While all spiritual consolation is ultimately referable to God as the origin of all grace, Ignatius distinguishes between specific experiences of spiritual consolation according to how they are given — whether directly from God or from God through the mediation of his angels — for a practical reason to which he will return later in the rules (Second Rules, 2–3).

"Apparent Reasons, Subtleties, and Persistent Fallacies"

It "is proper to" the enemy, on the contrary, "to militate against that joy and spiritual consolation." As in the first set of rules, so also in the second the enemy strives to negate the gift that God gives through spiritual consolation; the verb Ignatius chooses indicates the energy of the enemy's deceptive work: he militates against that joy and spiritual consolation.

The ultimate goal of the enemy thus remains unchanged, whether in the first spiritual situation or in the second: to obstruct God's gift of spiritual consolation and to hinder the growth it offers to those who love the Lord. The tactic of the enemy changes, however, in the second spiritual situation in accordance with the further spiritual growth of these persons (the change between the college-age Patricia and the Patricia of ten years later). Now the enemy no longer works through spiritual desolation, as in the first spiritual situation, but rather, Ignatius says, through "bringing apparent reasons, subtleties, and persistent fallacies" that militate against the joy and spiritual consolation that God and his angels give to these same deeply dedicated persons.

The words Ignatius employs here graphically describe the nature of the deceptive thoughts that the enemy brings to these deeply committed persons. The enemy proposes "reasons" for the choice of a good and holy thing that conceal, under an appearance of truth, something erroneous: they are only apparent reasons. These suggestions have a complex, elaborate quality: they are subtleties in which ardent persons may be caught unawares. Finally, though seemingly true, these thoughts are in fact fallacies that, if not discerned, will recur tenaciously in such persons' consciousness: they are persistent fallacies. Some examples will clarify how such deceptive reasoning may present itself in the spiritual lives of persons in the second spiritual situation.

True or Apparent Reasons?

Charles is a married man with a professional background in finance. His faith has long been the center of his life; God's love has become very real for him, and a great desire to respond to that love has awakened in his heart.

During those years of faithful prayer and active service in his parish, a time came when Charles felt God's call to the diaconate. His wife and children supported this calling and found that Charles's new involvement in the Church through it caused them to grow spiritually as well. Two years ago, Charles completed his studies in theology and was ordained a deacon.

After his ordination Charles was assigned as deacon to a nearby parish. The pastor welcomed him warmly and invited Charles to serve as head of the parish liturgical committee. Aware of Charles's professional background, the pastor asked him to chair the parish financial board as well. Charles willingly agreed and soon realized that much needed to be done in both areas. His professional expertise contributed to a new and effective effort to reduce the large parish debt. Charles also led the parish in a creative fundraising drive that permitted long-needed repairs to the church building. His love for the Mass and able guidance of the liturgical committee bore fruit in increasingly well-prepared Sunday Masses in the parish. Gradually, attendance began to rise and an air of new life stirred in the parish.

As the months passed, Charles became acutely aware of the limited number of young people involved in the parish's life. He discussed this with the pastor, who invited him to explore initiatives directed toward the young. Charles began a young adults group in the parish and was happy to see it grow steadily. The group clearly met a real need among the young, and Charles's dynamic leadership attracted increasing numbers to its meetings. Some of the members asked for a weekly Bible study as well. With the help of the group leaders, Charles also organized weekend retreats that proved spiritually fruitful for those who attended. The group began to explore possibilities of participation in local service projects.

As Charles's involvement with the young increased, he was correspondingly less available for the work of the liturgical committee and finance board. The committee and board members missed his leadership, and progress began to slow in both areas of the parish's life.

Now Charles is reflecting on his apostolic involvement in the parish. He is aware that he cannot retain his former role in the financial and liturgical life of the parish and simultaneously guide the expanding ministry with the young that he has come to love. Charles recalls how the pastor initially asked him to assist the parish liturgically and financially, and knows that his contribution in both areas has been valuable to the parish. Still, he thinks, the future of the parish lies with the young. If he can attract more young people, the parish will gain fresh energies for the liturgy and acquire a new generation to support the parish financially. Charles concludes that he should ask to be freed of his liturgical and financial roles in the parish in order to dedicate his undivided energies to the young. As he considers this new focus in ministry, Charles feels his heart grow warm with joy in the Lord. The spiritual consolation he feels seems to confirm that God truly wishes him to take this step.

At this point we may ask the question, Is Charles's joy in the Lord the "true joy and spiritual gladness" that God and his angels give? Is it therefore a sign that God is indeed calling him to this change of ministry? Might Charles's thoughts regarding this change be "apparent reasons" rather than true indications of God's desire? Is it true, in this concrete situation, that the most effective contribution Charles can make to the parish's liturgical and financial needs is to work exclusively with the young? Might there be a subtlety here that is not of God?

Charles is clearly a man who deeply loves the Lord, a person who has grown spiritually over many years, is prayerful, is ardently dedicated to God's service in the Church, and sincerely seeks God's will. The possibility exists, therefore, that Charles may be a person in the second spiritual situation. Equally clearly, the project of more complete involvement with the young in the parish is a good and holy thing. In his discernment, then, Charles will do well to consider the wisdom of the second set of rules. These rules will advise him that the spiritual joy he feels in contemplating a change of ministry is not enough to confirm that God does in fact desire this change; they will counsel him further to consider closely the reasons that motivate his proposed change: Are these reasons solidly based on the objective truth of the parish's needs? Are they valid indications of the manner in which Charles may most effectively serve the parish, or might they be rather "apparent reasons," only partially true and therefore misleading in this concrete situation? Might these reasons be more subtle than substantial? Attention to Ignatius's first rule will alert Charles to the need to consider such questions seriously before proposing a change that may have significant consequences for him and for the parish. We may also hope, in keeping with what we have said earlier, that Charles will discuss this matter with a competent spiritual guide before taking active measures to pursue it further.

A Genuine Call from God?

The persistent quality of the enemy's fallacies in regard to choices for good and holy things may well be evident in one aspect of the extraordinarily fruitful life of that holy parish priest Jean Vianney (1786–1859). A man of deep prayer and great love for his people, Jean Vianney unquestionably belongs to Ignatius's profile of a "second week" person. In the forty-one years of his service, his parish was transformed into a center of spiritual renewal that drew literally thousands of people in unending pilgrimage, eager to attend this holy man's celebration of the Eucharist, to hear his teaching, and to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at his hands.

Throughout those years, however, this man of God constantly longed to leave his parish and enter a Trappist or Carthusian monastery in order to dedicate himself fully to prayer and penance. On three occasions, once for over a week, he left his parish with that intention, each time returning either at the request of his bishop or simply in response to the cry of the people he loved so deeply. A witness describes Jean Vianney's longing for the contemplative life as born of three converging motives: a keen, even painful sense of the responsibilities of a pastor and of his inadequacies in fulfilling them; a desire to do penance for what he called "his poor life"; and a deep longing to be freed from the relentless demands of his ministry and so be able at last to immerse himself in prayer with the God he so profoundly loved. This was the humanly understandable desire of a man constantly faced with crushing pastoral labor and the spiritually blessed longing of a saint for deep communion with God.

Another witness affirms that Jean Vianney "owned himself there was something intemperate in this desire" and that the enemy "made use of it to tempt him. He subdued and resisted it, but all his life he had to fight against the attraction." Throughout his entire priestly life, in fact, Jean Vianney continued to yearn for a life of solitude and prayer.

He sought permission to enter the monastic life each time his bishop came to the parish in visitation. On every such occasion his hopes would rise and he would beg God in ardent prayer that his request be heard. A further witness tells of meeting Jean Vianney in the sacristy of the church one day shortly before the bishop's visit. The pastor was "radiantly happy" and spoke of the request he would soon be making once more. Even to the last weeks of his life, Jean Vianney continued to seek freedom to dedicate himself to a life of solitude and prayer. The successive bishops of the diocese during these forty-one years, aware of the extraordinary good that God was working in thousands of people through this priest, never recognized God's will in Jean Vianney's desire for a life of solitude.

A deeply dedicated disciple of the Lord, good and holy reasons for the choice of a good and holy thing, spiritual joy (he was "radiantly happy") in the consideration of that choice, questions of discernment regarding the choice that awakens such joy: this appears to be precisely the spiritual situation Ignatius contemplates in his second set of rules. The persistent quality of the thoughts that motivate Jean Vianney's desire for solitude is highly instructive. Though he himself recognizes that there is "something intemperate" in this desire and that the enemy employs it "to tempt him" — that is, that there are fallacies in his perception that such solitude will truly permit him to best serve God — these thoughts nonetheless persist throughout his entire priestly ministry. In his first rule Ignatius alerts us to this persistent quality of the fallacious reasons through which the enemy urges dedicated persons to seek a good and holy thing distinct from that which God genuinely desires for them.

This account contains further important lessons as well. Such experiences indicate that holiness of life, even great holiness of life, does not eliminate the need for discernment of spirits; rather, it is precisely goodness of life that calls for the "greater discernment of spirits" found in Ignatius's second set of rules. Humble recognition of this need and ongoing openness to such discernment in these dedicated persons is a spiritually fruitful disposition of heart (Jas 4:6); through this greater discernment, that goodness of life will remain firmly anchored in God's will.

Jean Vianney's experience also illustrates clearly why the discernment of the second set of rules is so crucial in the life of the Church. What might have happened to the thousands blessed by his forty-one years of parish ministry had Jean Vianney followed his persistent desire for a life of solitude — also a good and holy thing? What might happen, in the reverse situation, if a woman living a dedicated contemplative life, whose intercessory prayer strengthens the Church, should find spiritual consolation in considering the good she might accomplish by meeting actively, outside the cloister, the needs for which she is now praying? Will her choice of this new good and holy thing not have consequences for the Church? Will she not need to discern carefully whether these thoughts are truly of God or whether they might be "apparent reasons, subtleties, and persistent fallacies"?


Excerpted from Spiritual Consolation by Timothy M. Gallagher. Copyright © 2007 Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V.. Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


The Text of the Rules,
Prologue: A Greater Discernment of Spirits,
1. The Contrasting Spirits in the New Spiritual Situation (Rule 1),
2. When Spiritual Consolation Is Surely of God (Rule 2),
3. When Spiritual Consolation Is Ambiguous (Rule 3),
4. True or False Light? (Rule 4),
5. The End Reveals the Beginning (Rule 5),
6. The Review That Prepares the Future (Rule 6),
7. Consonance or Dissonance? (Rule 7),
8. The Ambiguous Time after Unambiguous Consolation (Rule 8),
Appendix: The First Set of Rules for Discernment,
Select Bibliography,
Which Ignatian title is right for you?,

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I've never felt compelled to write a review before, but this book has made a great impact upon my life. The principles of discernment are explained clearly, and the examples really help you make personal application of those principles. Anyone who truly desired to know how to follow the Lord, to know themselves, and to grow in holiness will definitely benefit from reading this book and taking its message to heart. It's not a one-time read, but a guide book you will return to again and again.