“Rule #11: Spiritual Consolation and Spiritual Desolation: Finding Our Balance” by St. Ignatius of Loyola

  • “The eleventh: let one who is consoled seek to humble himself and lower himself as much as he can, thinking of how little he is capable in the time of desolation without such grace or consolation. On the contrary, let one who is in desolation think that he can do much with God’s sufficient grace to resist all his enemies, taking strength in his Creator and Lord” (St. Ignatius of Loyola).

“let one who is consoled”

  • “seek to humble himself and lower himself as much as he can”:
    • The 3rd cause of Rule 9 revealed that God permits spiritual desolation to anchor us more deeply in evangelical humility. Now, in Rule 11, Ignatius counsels us to actively seek this attitude in times of spiritual consolation.
    • Why humility? For Ignatius, a humble heart is the rich spiritual soil from which all other virtues spring (SpirEx, 146) and is completely open to embrace God’s call (SpirEx, 167).
    • Why humility in times of consolation? In times of spiritual consolation, we can naively rely too much on our human and spiritual energies, taking on unwise and unsustainable spiritual initiatives that expose us to a risk of spiritual collapse. Example: St. Peter, whose experience of consolation at the Last Supper led him to make good-willed but naive assertions and an eventual fall. Therefore, humility safely conserves God’s work in times of consolation, helps us to avoid the pitfalls of making proud spiritual claims, and deepens our awareness of the pure gift of spiritual consolation.
    • Overall, spiritual consolation is the time to focus entirely upon God – that is true humility – living in the truth of your relationship with God.
  • “thinking of how little he is capable in the time of desolation without such grace or consolation”: The humble attitude we seek happens through a way of deliberate thinking, particularly focused on our past failures during times of spiritual desolation.
    • Fr. Gallagher asks: “How many of us would be happy to have projected now on the screen before us a video of how we handled our last time of spiritual desolation?” I pause for a moment, and then add: “There would probably be a few refrigerators, remote controls, and smartphones in that video” (SCF, 197).

“let one who is in desolation”

  • “think that he can do much with God’s sufficient grace to resist all his enemies”: Against the feeling that we can do little in desolation, Ignatius counsels us to think that we can do much, that is, resist ALL our spiritual enemies, without exception.
  • “taking strength in his Creator and Lord”:
    • “I can do all things in [the Holy Spirit] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Overall = Humble in consolation & trusting in desolation

In Rule 11, St. Ignatius paints a “portrait of the mature spiritual person who is neither blindly and naively high in consolation nor despairing in desolation, but humble in consolation & trusting in desolation” (Fr. Gallagher).

  • Lower yourself when spiritually high.
  • Raise yourself when spiritually low.

In Rule 11, St. Ignatius “gives us a total picture of the discerning person, able to maintain a firm spiritual balance amid the ongoing alterations of spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation” (Fr. Gallagher, DS, 138).

  • Humble heart in consolation.
  • Trusting heart in desolation.

“Little” in consolation & “much” in desolation

Humility is a key spiritual weapon in the daily battle for peace in both times of consolation and desolation:

  • When in consolation, embrace the gift of consolation with gratitude and humbly admit that we had nothing to do with this grace. 
  • When in desolation, confidently invoke God’s grace and humbly admit how much you need Him to win the battle. 


  • consolation is not a prize
  • desolation is not a punishment

In commenting on Rule 11, Dan Burke makes a great distinction between simply reacting like an animal to temptations to desolation and responding like a saint (click here).

Example: Peter Holy Thursday. (I will never deny you VS. Jesus I’m weak help me if I fall).

The gift of fortitude gives us both the infinite strength of God to overcome all difficulties and supernatural confidence to be peaceful in the midst of trials and joyful in the midst of suffering.

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