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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

Have you . . . read anything on Saint Ignatius and the Spiritual Exercises—especially discernment of spirits? I just can’t imagine a Catholic psychologist who hasn’t heard of him.

Outline of the Answer
• The Spiritual Exercises
• Rules for the Discernment of Spirits
• The First Group of Rules: Consolation and Desolation
• Coping with Desolations
• The Second Group of Rules: Distractions

 
I haven’t written about Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises anywhere else on this website because, in their own way, the exercises speak about some of the same matters I explain here in psychological terms.

  

Note, however, that some parts of the exercises that consist in using the imagination (and even the five senses) to comtemplate the Divinity, angels, or demons can lead to spiritual pride, which is why the Church Fathers have warned about improper use of the imagination.

  

If you can’t imagine a Catholic psychologist who hasn’t heard of the exercises, it’s even more astonishing to consider that those who claim to revere Saint Ignatius and yet remain entrenched in liberal heresies have only toyed intellectually with his Spiritual Exercises and have fallen into self-deception.

 
Rules for the Discernment of Spirits

Saint Ignatius presents two groups of rules for the discernment of spirits.

The first group (314–327) of rules is more suitable for the first week of the exercises, and points to two facts: (a) that, in persons actively in a state of mortal sin, the influence of demons can maintain sin through desire for sensory pleasures, whereas the inspiration of good spirits can discourage sin through feelings of remorse; and (b) that, in persons earnestly purging away their sins, the influence of demons can, through feelings of anxiety, obstruct spiritual progress, whereas the inspiration of good spirits can bring about spiritual fruits.

The second group (329–336) of rules is more suitable for the second week of the exercises. In these rules, Saint Ignatius addresses the circumstances in which distractions such as false reasonings, casuistry, and self-deceptions inhibit our spiritual progress.

 
The First Group of Rules:
Consolation and Desolation

The first group of rules deals essentially with the difference between two psycho-spiritual concepts: consolation and desolation.

Now, in plain English, a consolation refers to those experiences that substantiate the belief that God cares for us and protects us.

  

For example, if you’re troubled about some course of action to take, and then, at Mass, one of the readings provides insight into the matter, that is a consolation. Or, again, if you have an important appointment and everything seems to be going wrong as you struggle to get there, but you still manage to get there on time, that is a consolation. A consolation, therefore, points to the fact that God cares for you and will protect you, if only you do not push Him away with sin.

  

In plain English, a desolation refers to those experiences that obstruct or inhibit us in our objectives. Psychologically speaking, desolations can take either of two forms.

1.

Desolations can happen because of circumstances. A traffic jam can obstruct you as you drive somewhere. A machine can break down when you feel pressed for time. An illness can deplete your energy.

2.

Desolations can happen because of other persons. Someone might refuse to do what you want. Someone might insult you. Someone might do something that you know is wrong. The items on this list are as numerous as there are people.

The fundamental danger of a desolation is that, in consequence of the emotional pain you feel because of it, you can fall under the influence of demons and thereby lose confidence in God’s providence (i.e., that He will protect you) or His justice (i.e., that all sin will be brought to judgment in the end).

 
Coping with Desolations

Because there are two kinds of desolations, there are two different ways to cope with them.

1.

When desolations of circumstance torment you, the demonic temptation will be to get upset, lose your patience, and, through your own frantic efforts, reject God’s will and try to make things go according to your will. So, instead of succumbing to evil, endeavor to tolerate the desolations with calmness and prayer. Turn your thoughts to God’s protection, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit will be your consolation.

2.

When desolations from others torment you, the demonic temptation will be to get angry and take revenge with your own hands, thereby committing sins against others or committing sins of self-satisfaction (e.g., erotic pleasures, using drugs, drinking, smoking, abusing food, etc.) or self-sabotage. So, instead of succumbing to evil, endeavor to reject thoughts of revenge, to trust in divine justice, and to pray for your enemies that they might repent their sins. Here again, turn your thoughts to God’s protection, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit will be your consolation.

 
The Second Group of Rules:
Distractions

The second group of rules deals essentially with spiritual distractions which I have described in detail elsewhere on this website.

 


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