“Rule #5: Spiritual Desolation: A Time for Fidelity” by St. Ignatius of Loyola

“The fifth: in time of desolation never make a change, but be firm and constant in the proposals and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination in which one was in the preceding consolation. Because as in consolation the Good Spirit guides and counsels us more, so in desolation the bad spirit, with whose counsels we cannot find the way to a right decision” (St. Ignatius).

“In time of desolation”
  • This Rule applies to persons who are right now in a time of spiritual desolation.
  • This Rule does NOT apply to non-spiritual desolation (click here for more).

1st question to ask: Am I in a time of spiritual desolation?

  • Some specific questions can help answer this: Does God feel close? Is prayer easy? How’s my faith, hope, and charity? Am I keeping my peace and joy? Am I transparent with appropriate spiritual persons? Do I have holy desires?
  • Keep in mind: Learning to understand the ebb and flow of consolation and desolation is not a black-and-white science, but rather an intuitive art that improves with attentive and prayerful observation and action.
  • If so, (1) name the spiritual desolation. The ability to “name the desolation”, to admit that you are in a state of desolation, is an essential part of living the discerning life. Be ready to name things in the midst of a potentially desolating experience. We know from Scripture that to name something out loud is to have authority over it (cf. Gen 2, Mt 16, Luke 1, Mark 1, Mark 5). In psychology, too, we learn that giving a name to a particular experience can liberate us: “Naming it in blunt and unambiguous terms reveals its smallness before the mighty love and mercy of God.”

2nd question to ask: Am I, in this time of spiritual desolation, considering changing a spiritual proposal that was in place before this desolation began?

  • Since we lose objectivity in a state of spiritual desolation, then we should conclude that we should draw no more conclusions without careful consideration and counsel from those who have an objective point of view.
“Never make a change”
  • never“: a categorical norm, no exceptions allowed.
  • a change” that has direct that direct pertinence to our spiritual life – our life of faith & the pursuit of God’s will.
  • When you emerge out of desolation (into a tranquil state) or are in consolation, you can reevaluate. For now, the decision is “no changes.”
  • Desolation is like being in the fog. We need to wait until the sun breaks through. 
“proposals and determinations in which one was the day preceding such desolation”
  • Proposals and determinations” = these are firm spiritual choices & resolutions that are explicitly stated and diligently pursued.
“but be firm and constant”
  • Often, when we persevere with our plans that we had made before desolation, those plans turn out to be the most fruitful experiences in the spiritual life.
  • Firm and constant” = classic Ignatian doublet to express to totality of this counsel – a clear refusal to give way.
“Because as in consolation the Good Spirit guides and counsels us more, so in desolation the bad spirit…”
  • When in desolation, the voice of the good spirit is very hard to hear and understand & the voice of the bad spirit is very loud and clear. Therefore, the bad spirit guides and counsels us more in spiritual desolation.
Remember: Never forget Rule 5!

It will get you safely through any darkness in your life.

“At times [Rule 5] will be the one light that shines in the confusing darkness, revealing clearly the call of the Lord to unchanging fidelity in time of spiritual desolation” (Gallagher, DS, 84).

Other links:
  • Be Aware of the False “Angel of Light” (click here)

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