Taken from his own experience, after the life-changing battle of Pamplona, Saint Ignatius of Loyola offers us two series of Rules to help us in our battle for the salvation of our immortal souls. The first series is composed of 14 Rules; the second, of 8 Rules!
ORIGIN? After the serious wounds in both of his legs in the Battle of Pamplona, Ignatius had plenty of time for recovery. In this period of convalescence his mind and affections gyrated back and forth between two contrary objects: one was the worldly, the sensual, the vain, the material life he had lived; the other consisted of reading and reflecting on the lives of the saints, as well as the life of Christ. The worldly thoughts and reveries brought him some immediate pleasure on the surface of his emotions, but then he sunk into a state of desolation and sadness. The joie de vivre dissipated, went up in smoke. But when he lifted his mind and heart to the spiritual realm of Jesus and the saints, his heart was set on fire and he had the most fervent desire and longing to imitate the saints. Ignatius said: “If Francis could do it, so can I; If Dominic could do it, then so can I.”
Then, as recorded in his Autobiography, his eyes were opened a little and he noticed that some thoughts brought him desolation and sadness, whereas others, consolation and joy.” This experience of Saint Ignatius establishes the background and foundation for his renowned Rules for Discernment. Ignatius insists on awareness of these various interior motions. We must reject the bad that leads to desolation; we must recognize, accept, and follow the good that leads to consolation. Knowing these various interior motions and applying these Rules are indispensable for living out Ignatian Spirituality, and consequently pursuing an openness to the good spirit, and a ready willingness to reject the bad spirit!
In this short essay we would like to give a brief summary of the 14 Rules of the first series and some concrete means to apply them to our lives.
RULE ONE: TACTIC OF THE GOOD VS. THE BAD SPIRIT: THE SOUL IN MORTAL SIN.
THE BAD SPIRIT. For the individual who has chosen to live a life of sin, and serious or grave sin, the devil has a specific tactic. The enemy proposes apparent pleasures, sensual delights, and gratifications by means of filling the imagination with these sensual delights. The tactic of the devil? To increase the vices, to augment the sins, to tempt such a person to commit as many and as grave sins as possible. The net result will be total SLAVERY. Actually, Jesus affirms the fact that sin is true slavery. Moreover, over time the slavery and the chains become more powerful. In modern language, the person becomes an ADDICT. The final step of the devil is to dull and erode the conscience, so much so, that the addict no longer has any remorse of conscience. Pope Pius XII stated on this matter: “The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.” Finally, if such an individual dies in the state of mortal sin without repentance, he loses his soul for all eternity. Sad to say, in our modern age there are many addicts, but the worst part is that they do not admit their addiction. Indeed, a Doctor can only heal a person who admits he is sick.
THE GOOD SPIRIT. Now the good spirit, when dealing with the soul of an individual living in a deep state of serious sin, uses a totally different approach. In silent reflection and by the use of reason, the good spirit will sting the conscience and fill him with remorse. The road to conversion is now underway! It might be compared to having a thorn in your side, or small stone in your sandal, or some dust in your eye. You just have to remove it. So it is with the Holy Spirit. He makes you feel uncomfortable with your conscience, with where you are morally, and then makes you feel the real need to change. Saint Augustine mentions this in his classic Confessions before his conversion. Associating with a recently converted man to Christianity who was radiating joy, Augustine felt sad because he did not experience that joy. He was on the path to conversion.
RULE TWO: TACTIC OF THE GOOD VS. THE BAD SPIRIT: SOMEONE IN GRACE AND STRIVING FOR HOLINESS.
THE BAD SPIRIT. In this state of soul, the bad spirit and the good spirit dramatically change tactics. Now the bad spirit strives to harass this soul who is striving for perfection with negative thoughts, often scrupulosity, with the intention of taking away his peace. Saint Ignatius experienced this in Manresa. After he had made a general confession that took close to four days, and was praying, doing penance, and acts of charity, in sum, striving to really follow the Lord in holiness of life, the devil assaulted him with negative thoughts trying to rob his peace. Such thoughts were the following: maybe he did not really make a good confession after all; now he was praying long hours and practicing extreme penances, but there was no way he would be able to persevere in this way of life for years to come. The devil even tempted Ignatius with thoughts against his own life, thoughts of suicide. These are the astute tricks of the devil in this state. The devil tries to fill the road to holiness with pot-holes, ditches, blocks, obstacles, detours, and even flat-tires. He will do all he can to discourage you, so that you give up pursuing holiness of life and return to a sinful life, or at least, mediocrity.
THE GOOD SPIRIT. Quite the contrary is the work and action of the good spirit on the soul who in all sincerity is striving to purge himself of sin and live a life of true holiness. The Holy Spirit, in a certain sense, becomes like a cheer-leader. The Holy Spirit sends thoughts and desires of peace, joy, and happiness. We see the spiritual life with the Lord as absolutely marvelous—nothing could be better. He gives us courage and strength, consolation and peace, tears of joy, heavenly inspirations, and removes all obstacles.
What is most obvious is that the spiritual life is a constant battle between the good spirit and the bad spirit; this battle is ongoing and ends only at the moment of death.
RULE THREE: A DESCRIPTIVE RULE OF WHAT SPIRITUAL CONSOLATION IS!
In this Rule Saint Ignatius simply describes in many ways what CONSOLATION consists of. The best way to understand this is to simply compose an Ignatian list of signs of CONSOLATION:
A LIST OF SIGNS OF SPIRITUAL CONSOLATION IN YOUR LIFE:
1. The soul is inflamed with love for its Creator.
2. The soul can love creatures of God only related to the Creator.
3. Tears, moved by the love of God. Why tears?
4. Tears of sorrow for one’s sins—true sign of repentance.
5. Tears being shed when meditating on the Passion and suffering of Jesus.
6. Tears shed for the praise and service of God.
7. Consolation is related to an increase in the theological virtue of Faith.
8. Increase in the theological virtue of Hope—trust in God.
9. Growth in the greatest of all the virtues: Charity, supernatural love.
10. JOY—that attracts to what is heavenly.
11. JOY—related to the salvation of one’s soul.
12. PEACE AND QUIET. Furthermore, the soul experiences great peace and quiet in the Lord. Saint Paul says: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7)
All of the above are clears sings of experiencing CONSOLATION. We pray to the Holy Spirit that we will experience consolation constantly. It must be noted that consolation is in the God of all creation, and not simply in creation separated from God.
RULE FOUR: A DESCRIPTIVE RULE OF WHAT SPIRITUAL DESOLATION IS.
As might be expected, noticing the fact that Ignatius plays on literary contrasts, DESOLATION will be the polar opposite of CONSOLATION. Indeed, this is the case! To make this easy for us, like in the explanation of the last rule, we will simply compose a list of signs of DESOLATION. However, it is very important for us to be able to detect in our souls, and in our lives, when we are in a state of consolation or desolation. The following rules give us concrete practices to undertake so as to claim victory with the help of God’s grace!
A LIST OF SIGNS OF SPIRITUAL DESOLATION IN YOUR LIFE:
1. DARKNESS of soul—imagine being spiritually in a dark tunnel, or a dungeon, or a cave. There you have it, but within your soul!
2. TURMOIL of spirit; this is diametrically opposed to inner peace. To the contrary, all peace is gone.
3. INCLINATION TO WHAT IS LOW AND EARTHLY. In other words, the flesh/carnality—the capital sins. This might be gluttony, lust, laziness—being pulled toward the earth and its base desires.
4. RESTLESSNESS. Think of Cain after he killed Abel. He was not at peace in the least; rather he was restless, a wandering, floating, and forlorn soul.
5. DISTURBANCES. A tendency to being pulled in many directions without any goal or purpose in life.
6. TEMPTATIONS—this is the role of the devil himself! Saint Thomas Aquinas calls the devil exactly that: THE TEMPTER.
7. THEOLOGICAL VIRTUES UNDER ATTACK. In consolation, the theological virtues flourish and grow; not so in desolation: they are under attack!
8. LACK OF FAITH… Faith seems to wane and to decline. What is the purpose of a God-centered life?
9. LACK OF HOPE… A tendency and temptation to simply throw in the towel, to give up. What is the use???
10. LACK OF CHARITY… Instead of love for God and neighbor, better is love of self. Instead of Theology, it is Meology!
11. SLOTHFUL. The soul is lazy, anemic, seems to be lacking in energy to do good.
12. TEPID. Another word for tepid is that of LUKEWARM. The Book of Revelation condemns this: “You are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm; I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16)
13. SAD. No joy whatsoever, lost in the valley of sadness and darkness; gloom and doom dominate the soul.
14. SEPARATION FROM THE CREATOR. Still more, the soul that is in the state of desolation seems to be separated from God the Creator. God, where are you???
Even though somewhat painful to read and study the reality of the state of DESOLATION, it is indispensable in the spiritual life to name it, claim it, and tame it through the grace of God and following the next rules that Ignatius so wisely lays out for us!
RULE FIVE: IN DESOLATION NEVER MAKE CHANGES IN YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE.
Saint Ignatius is very firm and clear in this rule. When you find yourself in the state of DESOLATION, make no changes in your spiritual life and proposals. Rather, you must remain firm and rock-solid. Why? The reason is very simple: the reality of the DEVIL. When you find yourself immersed in that state of darkness, sadness, and so to speak hopelessness, it is exactly in that state that the devil launches his most powerful weapons. If you give up prayer and your devotional practices, your meditation and examination of conscience, then you are a sitting-duck for the devil’s attacks. Like good soldiers under attack, you must be firm in not abandoning the fight! Saint Paul invites us to fight the good fight until the end.
RULE SIX. THE RULE OF AGERE CONTRA.
The words in Latin AGERE CONTRA are pure Ignatius! What the words mean are simply: do the exact opposite of what the devil is tempting you to do! In other words, you cannot give in to laziness in any size, shape, or form. In this rule Ignatius offers four specific practices, which we will list:
1. PRAYER. Do not neglect prayer under any circumstances, but especially when in the state of DESOLATION! Dedicate some time to vocal prayers prayed fervently: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Angel of God, Acts of Faith, Hope, and Love, the Hail Holy Queen… All of these are shields against the enemy.
2. MEDITATION. Also, under no circumstance should your daily meditation be neglected. This could be fatal. If you have the habit of making your daily Holy Hour, as Ven. Fulton Sheen calls it, THE HOUR OF POWER, be diligently faithful, and even add a minute or two, rather than whittle it down by praying less.
3. DAILY EXAMEN. Ignatius insists on the DAILY EXAMEN. However, this is most important in desolation so as to detect the why or the reason for the desolation! By going through your day and actions you might be able to detect some unfaithfulness to the Lord that is bringing on the desolation.
4. SOME SUITABLE PENANCE. Finally, Ignatius recommends some suitable form of penance. Jesus said clearly: “Some devils can be expelled only by prayer and penance.” (Mt 17:21) Giving up a cookie or soda; saying a few extra prayers; praying on your knees, denying a program you like—any of these can serve to untie the knot of desolation.
Finding yourself in this state of desolation, it is of supreme importance to remember these practices and the practice of Agree Contra—not to follow the devil of laziness and neglect, but to be a faithful soldier, vigilant, praying, working, and obedient!
RULE SEVEN: THE LAW OF SUFFICIENT GRACE.
When you are submerged in the dark night of desolation, it might appear as if you are in a dark tunnel in which there really is no exit; this thought is provoked by the devil. There is always hope! Possibly one of the best Biblical passages is that of Saint Paul who says he was tormented by a thorn in the flesh which he begged the Lord three times to be freed of. The response of the Lord was clear: “My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness!” (2Cor 9:12) We can all overcome the state of desolation if we rely on the grace of God and not on our mere human efforts. In other words, it must be God-reliance and not self-reliance! The fundamental reason for failure and falling into sin is lack of relying upon God and His super-abundant graces. Call upon Mary who is known as “The full of grace!”
RULE EIGHT: BY YOUR PATIENCE YOU WILL SAVE YOUR SOUL.
Rule Eight can be succinctly summarized by just one key word: PATIENCE!!! In this Rule, Ignatius offers three powerful tools!
1. Persevere in patience. It could be extremely helpful to meditate upon Jesus carrying the cross and His infinite patience.
2. Next, Ignatius reminds us of the practices of Rule Six which are: prayer, meditation, penance, and examination of conscience.
3. Finally, as a psychological boost, Ignatius encourages us to think about the consolation that will soon arrive. If you like, after the storm, the sun will break through the clouds. After sickness, health will be enjoyed. Winter gives way to Spring flowers.
Being an excellent spiritual psychologist, Ignatius knows how direly we all need to grow in the virtue of patience with God, with ourselves, and with others.
RULE NINE: WHY DO WE HAVE DESOLATION? WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
In this Ninth Rule, Ignatius teaches us the three basic reasons why our soul goes through this state of desolation. The first, is due to our own fault; the second and third, God actually allows desolation, so as to bring out of the desolation a greater good. Let us analyze them.
1. LAZINESS, TEPIDITY, SLOTH. The first reason for descending into a state of DESOLATION is simply because we have fallen into a state of laziness or tepidity. Examples? Skipping your morning and night prayers, not doing your meditation or Holy Hour, or doing it less, or praying it poorly. Or it might be that you were in the habit of frequent Holy Communion and due to indolence you have given up the practice. Therefore, good Teacher that He is, God allows the Desolation to visit us to pull us out of this despicable state of mediocrity and tepidity. How good God is to intervene, to yank us out of the quagmire of lukewarmness!!!
2. A TRIAL FROM GOD. So that we do not fall into what Saint John of the Cross terms Spiritual Gluttony. We must seek the God of consolations and not the consolations of God! Or if you like, Seek the Face of God more than the Hand of God!
3. HUMILITY AND RELIANCE ON GOD. The last reason Ignatius gives, is so that we will have a keen awareness that of ourselves we cannot bring consolation to our soul. On the contrary, only God can give us consolation. Also, God gives us consolation when He wants, how He wants, for as long as He wants, and with the intensity that He so desires. Related to this, Ignatius warns us against pride and vanity. How easy it is to attribute to ourselves holiness, fervor, consolation, and spiritual graces; when in reality all good gifts comes from the Giver of all good gifts, God Himself!
RULE TEN: WHAT TO DO IN CONSOLATION???
Up to this point Ignatius has been instructing us on what our spiritual strategy is, what we are to do, in the state of desolation. Now he turns to the tactic or strategy of what we are to do when we find ourselves in the state of CONSOLATION! This may come to us as a real shock! Ignatius basically warns us that when we find ourselves in joy, peace, happiness, and over-flowing consolation, we should get ready for desolation. In other words, in times of peace, we must prepare and be prepared for war. The devil never goes on vacation and can easily slip in when we are in consolation, simply because this is when we might begin to think less about God, when we might begin to attribute our state of Consolation to our own ingenuity and sanctity. Careful!!! Good athletes when they are ahead in the game, try to advance even further, so as to make their victory absolute!!!
RULE ELEVEN: WHAT ELSE TO DO IN THE STATE OF CONSOLATION.
The key word in Rule Eleven is HUMILITY. When we are in consolation we should not give into pride, but humble ourselves. Ignatius actually suggests that we rewind the film of our lives and recall how we were when we found ourselves in desolation: the trial, the darkness, the lack of peace, the over-riding sadness, the great turmoil. Reflecting upon that difficult state of desolation, possibly we felt buried in a dark pit, or lost in an endless tunnel, that only God could pull us out of. In other words, God loves those who are humble of heart, like the Blessed Virgin Mary. Moreover, God rejects the proud and self-sufficient! As Mary said: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and He has lifted up the lowly.” (Mary’s Magnificat Lk 1:52)
The last three Rules of Saint Ignatius on Spiritual Discernment treat explicitly of the devil and the various ways that he works on the soul. These indeed are spiritual masterpieces that all should get to know well and live out frequently in the daily combat!
RULE 12: COURAGE IN CONFRONTING THE ENEMY
In this Rule Ignatius exhorts us to be courageous and not cowardly. In the case of a street-woman striving to seduce a man, she knows psychology. If she tries to tempt or seduce him and he resists manfully from the outset and resists the temptation, then she backs off, recoils, and disappears. However, if she notes in her tempting that the man is weak, faltering, floundering, and vacillating like a leaf blown in the wind, then she becomes all the more powerful to overpower him and win. If you like, the following is a short summary in a few words: “The devil is weak with the strong, but strong with the weak.”
Therefore, the tactic that we must use with the devil, applied to this Rule, is the following! As soon as we are aware of the devil tempting us to go against God and to sin, then we must strive with all of the energy in our will to reject the temptation immediately and forcefully! This in most cases will result in victory! The devil is a coward, but if we are cowards then he becomes strong and goes for the kill.
RULE 13. AVOID SECRECY, OPEN UP IN TIMES OF DESOLATION! Ignatius says that the devil is like a vain lover trying to seduce a noble woman behind the back of a noble man. The key word in this rule is that of SECRECY—KEEP IT SECRET!
A SUMMARY OF THE RULE. When we find ourselves in a state of desolation, sadness, assaulted by many temptations, it is the work of the devil to try to get us to keep this a secret, under lock and key, top secret! Tell nobody!
RESULT OF SECRECY! If the devil wins by convincing us to keep our desolation a secret and not open up to anyone, then what happens is the following, by way of analogy. The devil turns a mole-hill into a mountain. Or if you like, a cut that is not tended to, gets infected with pus, the infection spreads, and finally gangrene sets in, ending with amputation. So it is with the work of the devil. If we do not have the courage and the means by which we can open up to a Spiritual Director or Confessor, or a person in whom we can trust and confide, then the temptation is exacerbated, grows bigger and stronger, until we finally capitulate and give into the temptation. In the Diary of Saint Faustina, Jesus revealed to the saint that revealing the temptation of the devil to her Confessor weakened the stronghold of the devil and would eventually conquer him. To open up and to reveal is an act of humility; the devil hates any shape, size, or form of humility.
IN CONCRETE. In concrete, all of us must be equipped with a Confessor or Spiritual Director, or both. In times of desolation we must have the humility and the courage to open up and to articulate clearly the thoughts and temptations we are experiencing. If we learn and practice this lesson, we have a powerful tool in our spiritual combat.
RULE 14. THE KRYPTONITE RULE: THE DEVIL KNOWS OUR WEAK POINT!
In this last Rule, which indeed is a literary masterpiece, Ignatius compares the human soul to a feudal fortress or castle. So as not to be plundered and sacked, the owner of the castle must have barricades, as well as walls of protection, maybe even a moat surrounding the castle. The enemy, of course, circles the castle and studies to see where there might be some opening. Maybe a crevice, a crack, a loose board, an opening in the roof, or possibly an unlocked window or door. Once the enemy becomes aware of an opening, then quickly and energetically he goes for the kill. Entering unawares, he sacks and plunders the castle, taking all that is in his power to steal.
This Middle Age image of the fortress or castle is an image of our immortal soul. Our enemy is not any mere military captain. Much more dangerous and insidious: it is the devil. The devil has many Biblical names: Lucifer, Satan, the devil, demon, Prince of this world, the serpent, the ancient serpent, the seducer, a liar and a murderer from the beginning, Beelzebub (the Lord of the Flies). Saint Peter goes so far as to call the devil a roaring lion who goes in search of whom he can devour.
MODERN IMAGE OF THE ATHLETE. A modern image easy to understand is that of the athlete competing in the sports arena or stadium. To be concrete, the example of a Professional Baseball Pitcher. It is incumbent upon the Professional Pitcher to get to know his opponents—namely the Batters. The Pitcher will study past videos, analytics, and statistics to see where the batter is strong and weak. Then, with this knowledge, he will strive to pitch to the weakness of the batter, hoping for a strike-out. The same can be applied to a Professional Boxer or Wrestler. Find the weak-point of the opponent, then punch and attack for the kill!
KRYPTONITE ANALOGY. Most of us know of SUPERMAN. Clark Kent, becoming SUPERMAN, was indomitable, powerful, strong, fast, able to fly over huge buildings. However, despite his prowess, he had one weak-point and that was the famous KRYPTONITE. Once exposed to this chemical element, Superman was as weak and vulnerable as any other man. In a word, he had to avoid Kryptonite. So it is with us and Rule Fourteen. We all have our own Kryptonite which we have to detect and avoid at all costs, lest we fall and be overcome. One of the best ways to detect your Kryptonite is once again to have a good Spiritual Director, and to talk out your strengths and weaknesses. However, it is also of paramount importance to study and get to know the seven Capital Sins, to detect and determine which one is your basic CAPITAL SIN, your primary weakness, in a word, your KRYPTONITE! Then try to practice the opposite virtue. The seven Capital Sins are the following: Gluttony, Lust, Greed (Avarice), Sloth (Laziness), Envy, Anger, and Pride.
In conclusion, we have come to the end of our short study of the 14 Rules of Discernment from the great Saint Ignatius of Loyola. We hope that you will become a student of these 14 Rules, not simply to have a head knowledge of these Rules, but most especially to implement them, put them into practice, so as to fight the good fight, run the good race, and win the merited crown of glory that awaits the faithful soldiers of Jesus and Mary in the Kingdom of Heaven!