Living the Discerning Life: The Spiritual Teaching of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Fr. Timothy Gallagher

The following notes are from Fr. Timothy Gallagher lectures at IPF 2016.

 Text of the Rules of St. Ignatius (click here for PDF of text)

Here is my PDF summary of the Rules: St. Ignatius Rules for Discernment of Spirits (black)

St. Ignatius, in forming these Rules for Discernment of Spirits, has not invented anything new, but simply revealed what has always been true. These Rules are all about “setting captives free!” Jesus did not come so that we be held hostage. These are the practical guidelines for responding to the movements of the spirit (essential but not exhaustive).

Airplane vertigo analogy – you need to trust the instruments instead of senses.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God ~ 1 Jn 4:1

St. Ignatius’ introduction to the Rules:

Rules for becoming aware and understanding to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul, the good, to receive them, and the bad to reject them. And these rules are more proper for the first week. (313)

  1. Be Aware

  2. Understand

  3. Take Action (Accept/Reject)

First we must be aware, then understand what is truly going on, so that we can take the appropriate spiritual action.

Rules 1 -4 are the foundational texts for understanding the movements of the spirit.

First Rule. The first rule: in persons who are going from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose apparent pleasures to them, leading them to imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses a contrary method, stinging and biting their consciences through their rational power of moral judgment. (314)

   GOD                                                                     SIN



Second Rule. The second: in persons who are going on intensely purifying their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord, the method is contrary to that in the first rule. For then it is proper to the evil spirit to bite, sadden, and place obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that the person may not go forward. And it is proper to the good spirit to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing and taking away all obstacles, so that the person may go forward in doing good. (315)

  • False reasons = true to the person usually, but false to the situation.

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)

Consolation and Desolation –> varies in:

  • intensity: gentle <—> strong
  • duration: brief <—> long

Fourth Rule. The fourth is of spiritual desolation. I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to low and earthly things, disquiet from various agitations and temptations, moving to lack of confidence, without hope, without love, finding oneself totally slothful, tepid, sad and as if separated from one’s Creator and Lord. For just as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts that come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts that come from desolation.

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.
  • there is NO shame in experiencing spiritual desolation, but we must be aware to understand it (“have our spiritual eyes opened”), then reject it.
  • In spiritual desolation, there is NEVER a complete removal of light.
  • God can allow desolation to reveal an area he wants to heal. All light may seem that it is focused on one area. There is the same amount of light, but simply focused only on 1 spot.

Non-Spiritual Desolation:

  • A normal part of life: depression, tired,
  • Can easily lead to spiritual desolation
  • as good stewards of our humanity, we need to do something about it b/c the enemy attacks our weaknesses. Ex: workout when not feeling good can be the answer.

From Rules 5 – 14: Focused on taking action, especially rejecting.

In living the discerning life, most important thing is the accept & drink in all the consolations we experience – where the essential growth in the spiritual life happens – why we do Ignatian repetition.

But where do we find more problems? In desolation.

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 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.

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?

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.

Example from LOTR – Frodo and Lady Galadriel: “I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out


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.

Tools to reject desolation:

  1. Prayer – prayer of petition. Turn to God and ask for His help. Jesus promised that if we ask we will receive. Father help me! Jesus be my saviour right now. Etc.
  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. 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.

*Tip = make a list of each of these things that you will do in these times of desolation.

Carrying our crosses with Jesus is a part of our life, BUT never to passively accept spiritual desolation.

“Whenever I find myself faced with the prospect of an attack by my enemy, I am most courageous; I turn my back on him, without so much as looking at him, and run to Jesus” ~ St. Therese of Lisieux

* 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)

Rule 7 – tool to help reject desolation.

Tool = CONSIDER a set of 3 interrelated truths:

  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.

Tenth Rule. The tenth: let the one who is in consolation think how he will conduct himself in the desolation which will come after, taking new strength for that time. (323)

Rule 10 – Person in consolation (whereas 5-9 was for desolation).

  • When in consolation, take strength for desolation! Therefore, still help for future desolation.
  • One who is in consolation:
    1. Think – always live the reflecting discerning life.
    2. How he will conduct himself in the next desolation – example of Joseph storing up extra grain they do not need for the 7 years of famine to follow.
    3. Taking new strength for that time –
  • Ways of accepting consolation and “taking new strength”:
    1. Prayer of petition for strength in future spiritual desolation
    2. Meditation on truths that will sustain in spiritual desolation
      • “without spiritual desolation we will remain spiritual children”
      • meditate on 3 reasons why God permits spiritual desolation
    3. Consideration of the value of spiritual desolation for growth
    4. Reflection on past personal growth through spiritual desolation
    5. Resolution to make no changes in time of spiritual desolation
    6. Review of these Ignatian rules
      • Learn the Rules
      • Keep them fresh in our awareness
      • Plan right now how you will keep these fresh!
    7. Planning for specific situations of spiritual desolation

Eleventh Rule. 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. (324)

Goal = paint the portrait of the mature spiritual person. Neither blindly and naively high in consolation nor despairing in desolation, but humble in consolation & trusting in desolation”.

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

One who is in consolation:

  1. seek to humble himself as much as he can
  2. thinking
  3. how little he is capable in time of desolation, without such consolation

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.

Twelfth Rule. The twelfth: the enemy acts like a woman in being weak when faced with strength and strong when faced with weakness. For as it is proper to a woman, when she is fighting with some man, to lose heart and to flee when the man confronts her firmly, and, on the contrary, if the man begins to flee, losing heart, the anger, vengeance and ferocity of the woman grow greatly and know no bounds. In the same way, it is proper to the enemy to weaken and lose heart, fleeing and ceasing his temptations when the person who is exercising himself in spiritual things confronts the temptations of the enemy firmly, doing what is diametrically opposed to them; and, on the contrary, if the person who is exercising himself begins to be afraid and lose heart in suffering the temptations, there is no beast so fierce on the face of the earth as the enemy of human nature in following out his damnable intention with such growing malice. (325)

Shift in focus:

  • Spiritual desolation —> Temptations

Ignatius now shifts to the ways the enemy tempts us, rather than experiences of spiritual desolation. Spiritual desolation & enemy’s temptations often go together (same enemy with same goal in mind). Temptations can also come out of times from desolation.

Temptation = deceptive suggestion of the enemy.

Enemy of human nature 

12. woman fighting a man (or parents and spoilt child).

13. false lover

14. leader of a group of thieves

All 3 of these are unnatural and contrary to way God intends our humanity to act (no fighting, true love, lead for service).

  1. “weak when faced strongly &
  2.  strong when faced weakly”

Easiest moment to resist temptation – right in the very beginning.

  • snowball effect

Rule 12 = “Standing firm in the beginning”

  • Eve entering into the conversation with the tempter in Genesis 3
  • VS.
  • Jesus standing firm in the beginning vs. the tempter

Rule of St. Benedict #50 – as soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against Christ, and reveal them to your spiritual father

  • hurling ugly potter against a solid rock.

Thirteenth Rule. The thirteenth: likewise he conducts himself as a false lover in wishing to remain secret and not be revealed. For a dissolute man who, speaking with evil intention, makes dishonorable advances to a daughter of a good father or a wife of a good husband, wishes his words and persuasions to be secret, and the contrary displeases him very much, when the daughter reveals to her father, or the wife to her husband his false words and depraved intention, because he easily perceives that he will not be able to succeed with the undertaking begun. (Application–>) In the same way, when the enemy of human nature brings his wiles and persuasions to the just soul, he wishes and desires that they be received and kept in secret; but when one reveals them to one’s good confessor or to another spiritual person, who knows his deceits and malicious designs, it weighs on him very much, because he perceives that he will not be able to succeed with the malicious undertaking he has begun, since his manifest deceits have been revealed. (326)

Never forget Rules 5 & 13 together – they will get you safely through any darkness in life – never change & always speak to wise spiritual director.

Rule 13: “Breaking the Spiritual Silence”

  • enemy gives troubling temptations, doubts, fears, burdens that take away our peace… and doesn’t want us to reveal it.
  • enemy knows game is over as soon as secret is revealed.
  • ** never hold anything back from good confessor **
  • difference between spiritual VS. non-spiritual
    • Non-spiritual –> let relationship of trust gradually build rather than pouring everything out right away (in some situations).
  • reveal them to:
    1. one’s good confessor –> knowledgeable confessor (doesn’t have to be holy). (for us, make the labour to become this good confessor).
    2. another spiritual person who knows the enemy’s deceits & malicious designs
  • St. Therese – night before final vows
    • “evidently was necessary that I experience this trial” (Rule 9-2).
    • experiences darkness of soul (rule 4).
    • names that it’s a temptation from devil.
    • “my doubts left me completely as soon as I finished speaking”
  • Thomas Merton 7 story mountain
  • Temptations:
    • “He’s too busy” = let him decide that, go ask him.

“To advance toward the Lord we always have need of a guide, of some form of dialogue; we cannot do it just with our own reflections. And finding this guide is part of the ecclesial nature of our faith” ~ PB16

** Sustaining the discerning life **

2 resolutions:

  1. use spiritual direction in the seminary well.
  2. never let a year go by without being accompanied with a spiritual director.


  • once you make notes in journal, review before spiritual director, bring up those things that you think you do not need to bring up –> talk about exactly waht you do not want to talk about to make spiritaul director fruitful.

Fourteenth Rule. The fourteenth: likewise he conducts himself as a leader, intent upon conquering and robbing what he desires. For, just as a captain and leader of an army in the field, pitching his camp and exploring the fortifications and defenses of a stronghold, attacks it at the weakest point, in the same way the enemy of human nature, roving about, looks in turn at all our theological, cardinal and moral virtues; and where he finds us weakest and most in need for our eternal salvation, there he attacks us and attempts to take us. (327)

Rule 14: Strengthening the weak point

Right where we feel most helpless in our journey, Ignatius is telling us that captives can be set free. This rule goes to the deepest places in our hearts, precisely to set us free.

Just as there is NO shame in experiencing spiritual desolation, there is NO shame in experiencing a weak point – it’s simply living the spiritual life in a fallen & redeemed world.

Name that weak point, so that we know clearly the action needed to undo the enemy.

All our virtues = enemy studies our entire spiritual life, the whole picture of it…

“where he finds us weakest, there he attacks us”

  • defence only as strong as weakest point


  • “Strengthening the weak point” –> Even before attack of enemy comes, we are working to strengthen that weak point.

If we can live wisdom of rule 14, the weakest point will be transformed into the cutting edge of our growth.

When we grow in one virtue, we grow in all of them ~ St John of the Cross

Questions to ask:

  1. Is there some situation that frequently discourages me? That frequently strips me of spiritual energy?
  2. Are there circumstances: in which I often become afraid? often become worn out? spiritually helpless?
  3. Is there one recurring way in which I find myself spiritually weakened?
  4. Does one thing seem to diminish most my energy to love and serve others?
  5. Is there something that habitually disheartens me in prayer? that causes me to doubt God’s love for me?
  6. Is there a repeating pattern of these experiences?

How do we strengthen our weak point:

  1. know thyself
  2. Spiritual direction
  3. Daily examen – what has been my experience in regards to this weak point?
  4. Daily Holy Hour (ARRR)
  5. Spiritual reading – learn more about what is resolved in this weak point.
  6. If helpful, conversation with a counsellor (grace builds on nature; nonspiritual healing)

“Lord in your mercy give me the gift of prayer” ~ Venerable Matt Talbot

  • built his entire spiritual life on strengthening this weakest point.

Dark night VS. spiritual desolation

  • dark night = work of God for the good & spiritual growth of the person going through it –> so ACCEPT it (dark night of soul — father holding son so close that he can’t see anything)
  • spiritual desolation = garden variety tactic of enemy alone –> so REJECT it

Final remarks:

the only way to begin praying is by praying poorly ~ JH Newman

if the job is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly ~ GK Chesterton

stay with it

** “having a growing life of pray comes down to one thing – fidelity” ~ St. T Avila

John 16:33 – I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!

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