Ignatian Discernment: Responding to Consolation & Preparing for Desolation

My notes from the book, God's Voice Within - 
The Ignatian Way to Discover God's Will by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ


4 Ways to Prepare for Desolation:

  1. Observe the course of thoughts.
  2. Look out for false consolation.
  3. Attend to vulnerabilities.
  4. Seek God in your painful past.


1st Week: Third Rule. The third is of spiritual consolation. I call it consolation when some interior movement is caused in the soul, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and, consequently when it can love no created thing on the face of the earth itself, but only in the Creator of them all. Likewise when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins or for the passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly ordered to His service and praise. Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy that calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord. (316)

2nd Week: Seventh Rule. The seventh: In those who go on from good to better, the good Angel touches such soul sweetly, lightly and gently, like a drop of water which enters into a sponge. 

Tenth Rule. The tenth: Let him who is in consolation think how he will be in the desolation which will come after, taking new strength for then.

“Run while you have the light of life” ~ St Benedict

Desolation will come again. We can choose whether we will prepare for the next time it comes.

What are some concrete ways to prepare for desolation while in consolation?

(1) Observe the “Course of the Thoughts” 

2nd Week – Fifth Rule. The fifth: We ought to note well the course of the thoughts, and if the beginning, middle and end is all good, inclined to all good, it is a sign of the good Angel; but if in the course of the thoughts which he brings it ends in something bad, of a distracting tendency, or less good than what the soul had previously proposed to do, or if it weakens it or disquiets or disturbs the soul, taking away its peace, tranquillity and quiet, which it had before, it is a clear sign that it proceeds from the evil spirit, enemy of our profit and eternal salvation.

2nd Week – Sixth Rule. The sixth: When the enemy of human nature has been perceived and known by his serpent’s tail and the bad end to which he leads on, it helps the person who was tempted by him, to look immediately at the course of the good thoughts which he brought him at their beginning, and how little by little he aimed at making him descend from the spiritual sweetness and joy in which he was, so far as to bring him to his depraved intention; in order that with this experience, known and noted, the person may be able to guard for the future against his usual deceits.

Go back and follow the course of thoughts, emotions and actions that led me into desolation.

  • What was on my mind back then?
  • Any significant ideas or insights?
  • Any shifts in my reasoning process?
  • What are the underlying causes?

This is NOT an examination of conscience to find out where I sinned because it is very possible that I did not sin, but rather learn about the particular ways desolation typically enters my life so that I can be better prepared for the next time it begins to creep back in.

(2) Attend to Vulnerabilities

Fourteenth Rule. The fourteenth: Likewise, he behaves as a chief bent on conquering and robbing what he desires: for, as a captain and chief of the army, pitching his camp, and looking at the forces or defences of a stronghold, attacks it on the weakest side, in like manner the enemy of human nature, roaming about, looks in turn at all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral; and where he finds us weakest and most in need for our eternal salvation, there he attacks us and aims at taking us.

Desolation will push my buttons.

The more I’m aware of my own weaknesses, the more I’ll be able to recognize when the false spirit is going after them.

  • Places
  • People
  • Topics
  • Times
  • Personal traits

Remember HALT: Am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?


Building Fortifications

  1. I name the weak spots in me. In prayer, I bring to God the areas of my life where I struggle with these emotional potholes. I ask the Lord of insight and healing.
  2. I bring my weak spots to my support network.
  3. If appropriate, I tell others about this vulnerability.
  4. I commit myself to pray during the times when I feel especially vulnerable.
  5. I ask the Lord to help me move slowly and deliberately through the tense moments.
  6. I choose to be proactive rather than reactive.

(3) Look Out For False Consolation

The more intense the experience of consolation, the more susceptible I am to false consolation immediately following. Sometimes, after a profound religious experience, we can do something spiritually bold but not very prudent, like resolve to pray 4 holy hours a day or join a religious order.

“If the one giving the Exercises sees that the exercitant is going on in consolation and in great fervour, he must admonish him not to be inconsiderate or hasty in making any promise or vow” ~ SE, Annotation 14

Ultimately, all our actions should be “carefully examined” (#8).

(4) Seek God’s presence in the painful moments of your past

Whereas in desolation, I must believe that God is present in the difficult periods of my life, during consolation, it is important to look back on those dark moments in order to recognize the hand of God in them.

“Find God in all things” ~ St Ignatius

Two Helpful Practices:

  • Spiritual direction & mentorship
  • Spiritual journaling

Exercise on page 125 – Observing Past Desolation

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