St. Ignatius’ Ways to Reject Desolation

These are my notes from Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s lectures of St. Ignatius’ Rules for Discernment of Spirits:  

Link for Rules:


Spiritual Desolation –> claims power to interpret our spiritual past and predict our spiritual future. Presents itself as our spiritual identity. That what I am experiencing is who I am. But it is all a lie.


Fifth rule. 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. (318)

  • Never make a change in spiritual proposals in desolation. Be firm and constant in proposals made in preceding consolation. Right decisions cannot be reached with the enemy as a counsellor.
  • Learn to spot the times the enemy gives you a spiritual proposal, renounce it in the name of Jesus and reject the lie. 

2 questions:

  1. Am I in a time of spiritual desolation?
  2. Am I, in this time of spiritual desolation, considering changing a spiritual proposal that was in place before this desolation began?

Never forget Rule 5. It will get you safely through any darkness in your life.

“In time of [spiritual] desolation, never make a change” to any spiritual proposal or plan you had in place before that desolation began because it is the bad spirit that is proposing the change (also works for non-spiritual).

Sometimes in spiritual desolation, changes seem so urgent that you must make them right now.

Often, when we pursue through with our plans that we had made before desolation, those plans turn out to be the most fruitful experiences in the spiritual life.


Sixth rule. The sixth: although in desolation we should not change our first proposals, it is very advantageous to change ourselves intensely against the desolation itself, as by insisting more upon prayer, meditation, upon much examination, and upon extending ourselves in some suitable way of doing penance. (319)

Rule 5 & 6 are a pair that need to be seen together. Rule 5 = defence. Rule 6 = offence.

“Change ourselves (rather than our proposals) intensely against the desolation itself”.

God NEVER calls upon us simply to passively endure spiritual desolation.

The call in time of spiritual desolation, with hope and trust in God, to work with God to change ourselves intensely against it.

  1. Increased prayer – turn to God and ask for help (Father help me! Jesus be my saviour right now!)
  2. Meditation:
    1. truths of faith – Lord you are faithful, your providence is at work even with what I am going through right now.
    2. verses of scripture – Ps 23. Arrow prayers. Have your quiver filled with a list of spiritual arrows.
    3. memories of God’s fidelity in the past – I have been here before and I know Lord you have been faithful to me. You have gotten me through safely any desolation of my past. Develop your anti-desolation song.
  3.  Much Examination – stop and look at what is going on, engage in the process of discernment and see if you can name it.
    • (1) what is going on here?
    • (2) how did it get started?
    • –> look at these with the Lord in the time of desolation.
    • Q. What is you cannot see it clearly? Take it to spiritual direction – you are never meant to be alone in the spiritual life.
    • Tip = stop for 1 minute. Ask the Lord to help me see what is going on.
    • “myself-in-desolation” VS. “myself-reflecting-on-myself-in-desolation” –> beginning of finding myself in freedom.
  4. Suitable acts of Penance – whereas the the undiscerning move is to capitulate and go towards low & earthly things, in here, go intensely against the desolation itself –> stand your ground and make suitable acts of penance – it does NOT matter how small these things are – 1 small step with the Spirit and the Spirit will open up the next & the next & so on. Wait those 15 minutes before you head to the refrigerator the 3rd time. Do a small service for someone else. Smile at the last person you want to smile at. Do NOT be ashamed to take even the smallest steps in this. Remain in the exercise a little MORE than the full hour of contemplation – 1 extra minute (SE Rule no. 13). Go directly against the precise temptation.

* The fruit of turning against desolation = INTIMACY* 

Seventh Rule. The seventh: let one who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, so that he may resist the various agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can resist with divine help, which always remains with him, though he does not clearly feel it; for the Lord has taken away from him His great fervor, abundant love and intense grace, leaving him, however sufficient grace for eternal salvation. (320)

7th Rule: CONSIDER a set of 3 interrelated truths to help reject desolation: 

  1. A trial – whereas you can’t deal with empty meaningless pain, when you understand it is a trial – it acquires great spiritual meaning on the level of faith and it gets much easier to bear.
    • Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning – only those in the camp who found meaning in what they were going through survived.
  2. So that he may resist – how do we grow in the ability to resist and reject desolation? by being in situations that require us to do it. just like we become prayerful by exercising the act of prayer. In God’s providence, this is the way that we grow in the ability to reject desolation. God is giving me the opportunity to resist it so that it will not undo me as I continue in the spiritual life. This is a great gift from God.
  3. Since he can resist – one of the most hopeful things in the entire rules b/c God has given “sufficient grace for eternal salvation” –> all the grace I need in the moment. Litany of spiritual desolation – I can’t I can’t I can’t… VS. Knowing with certitude of faith God is giving me the grace I need. I can. Sometimes this is true in non-spiritual events (like body too weak and fails), but ALWAYS works in spiritual.


Eighth Rule. The eighth: let one who is in desolation (1) work to be in patience, which is contrary to the vexations which come to him, and let him (2) think that he will soon be consoled, (3) diligently using the means against such desolation, as is said in the sixth rule. (321)

In time of desolation, use these TOOLS:

  1. “Work to be in patience” – patience is the key virtue here. Patior = to suffer, endure, bear, to go on in the face of forces trying to pull us down. “work” b/c it takes effort. Do not give in and settle for minimum. But this is NOT just pure willpower. We have helps that can make it enormously helpful to get through the challenge.
  2. “Think that he will soon be consoled” – very helpful. “Think” – live the spiritual life reflectively. Hospital bed 2 patients example – doctor gives positive & negative replies to same pain in both patients – how will each respond? It gets enormously easier to carry. Think this:
    1. Desolation will pass
    2. Consolation will return
    3. And much sooner than the desolation is saying.
  3. “Diligently use the means” – as was said in Rule 6 (prayer, meditation, examination, penance).

Principle that underlies Rule 8 – the journey is far closer to a roller coaster of consolation and desolation rather than a straight line to God. The key is how we respond to these times, rather than whether we go through these times. Work with it, bring it to examen and spiritual direction, so that you can understand more and more what is going on.

Ninth Rule. The ninth: there are three principal causes for which we find ourselves desolate. (1) The first is because we are tepid, slothful or negligent in our spiritual exercises, and so through our faults spiritual consolation withdraws from us. (2) The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we extend ourselves in His service and praise without so much payment of consolation and increased graces. (3) The third, to give us true recognition and understanding so that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to attain or maintain increased devotion, intense love, tears or any spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and so that we may not build a nest in something belonging to another, raising our mind in some pride or vainglory, attributing to ourselves the devotion or the other parts of the spiritual consolation. (322)

Rule 9 – Why does God allow spiritual desolation?

St. Ignatius gives 3 principle reasons that revolve around the fruit if we resist the desolation (just like Jesus at the Last Supper – getting our mind off the suffering and onto the reason behind it all).

God’s Reason                        Fruit

  1. Our Faults                          Conversion
  2. A trial                                  Learning
  3. Consolation is a gift       Humility

Summary: The reasons for which God allows us to go through spiritual desolation is a love from God that (1) brings healing, (2) gives growth, (3) helps us avoid a pitfall.

11th Rule – part 2: 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. (324)

One who is in desolation:

  1. Think
  2. that he can do much with God’s sufficient grace to resist all his enemies
  3. taking strength in his Creator and Lord

Whereas spiritual desolation claims power to interpret our spiritual past and predict our spiritual future.



Dark night VS. spiritual desolation

  • dark night = work of God for the good & spiritual growth of the person going through it –> so ACCEPT it
  • spiritual desolation = garden variety tactic of enemy alone –> so REJECT it

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