Category Archives: Ignatius of Loyola

Of Consolation and Desolation, part 2

In my last blog, the focus was on the idea of consolation as proposed by St. Ignatius de Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. The definition he offers for desolation was as follows:

I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. [1]

To clarify consolation and desolation, there are degrees to which each concept applies. For instance, the darkness of soul need not be total darkness. And though there are times we may feel that low, the ultimate would be unbearable. Think of depression. One who is clinically depressed is most likely unable to bring themselves out of their depression by doing things that bring them out. They live in a darkness that prevents them from doing anything and those who live in the darkest depression have no hope at all. The only action those in such a dark place contemplate is suicide.

But there is also a lighter form of depression, one which everyone goes through at one point or another. A loved one dies, a promotion goes to someone else, a grade given on a paper is an “F”. Sometimes we want to wallow in that depression for a while. In the end, though, we are able through various coping methods to lift ourselves back up to normal. But what is “normal?”

I believe that we all live in some state of desolation most of the time. Yet that is not to say desolation need be a bad thing. Ignatius has more to say about desolation than he does consolation. Importantly, he gives three reasons one is in desolation:

The first is, because of our being tepid, lazy or negligent in our spiritual exercises; and so through our faults, spiritual consolation withdraws from us.

The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we let ourselves out in His service and praise without such great pay of consolation and great graces.

The third, to give us true acquaintance and knowledge, that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to get or keep great devotion, intense love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and that we may not build a nest in a thing not ours, raising our intellect into some pride or vainglory, attributing to us devotion or the other things of the spiritual consolation. [2]

The three may be summed up as Transgression, Testing, and Training. By Transgression, I mean that there is a desolation that is our fault. Desolation is the condition that consolation disappears. If you have ever cried out, “Where are you God,” then you have experienced desolation.

Testing is from God’s hand. He may not and often does not create that which tests us, but he does use things that are happening around us. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV) Another way of looking at it is that God works all things. In either case, the emphasis is that testing from God is not designed to find out how holy we have become. He already knows that. However, we do not know where our faith is. Through trials, we discover how we have grown in our sanctification. We also discover how far we have to go. In fact, Ignatius looks at consolation as a kind of payment for our service to the King in further establishing his Kingdom on earth.  Desolation shows us how we work for Christ without reward which is the purest kind of service.

Then there is Training. What we must learn is maybe the most difficult thing to learn in both head and heart. We must discover that nothing, neither desolation not consolation, our devotion, and our gratitude comes from our inner self but all comes from the gracious hand of God our Father. If we suppose there is any personal source for anything good, it is not really good because it is destroyed by pride.

We have a lot to learn. Ignatius gives his students the gift of wisdom when he outlines a number of “rules” to help us navigate through our times of desolation. Some of them include never change commitments or vows made in times of consolation. This is one of the greatest temptations of desolation. In our race, we come to a hurdle that is too high to jump, a mountain too high to climb. Stick to it no matter how hard or how long it is to do it. So, we should not take any counsel from desolation, because apart from the grace of God, desolation darkens even our ability to think clearly.

Instead of changing our commitments to God, Ignatius tells us to change ourselves. This advice has been used in one form or another by pastors, self-help gurus, and personal coaches. “We can’t change the things around us so we should adapt and we will be happier,” they say. The flaw in this thinking is not in the principle but in the details of the change. The change he suggests is to work toward change “by insisting more on prayer, meditation, on much examination, and by giving ourselves more scope in some suitable way of doing penance.” [3]

Ignatius doesn’t get everything right. But he does give help to any of us who get trapped in the pop-culture of worship. A few years ago, when I had gone back to school, I attempted to “Protestantize” the Exercises and take what is good from them. My project was to test my work by training some small groups in local churches. The project was not a great success because I could not introduce the concepts of reflection on our sin and on the work Christ did on the cross to pay for our sin. “We are past the cross” was all they could say. My answer is that Christ is past the cross, but we are not completely past it. Yes, we are passing it, but if we were completely past, there would never be any desolation. This is why Paul reminds us:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3–4, ESV)

But even after this knowledge,

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:14–19, ESV)

Give thanks to God.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25, ESV)

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Covid-19 Questions, part 2

So far, I have presented Ignatius of Loyola’s Principles at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises. The foundational principles are that humanity’s created purpose is to praise, reverence, and serve God and that the purpose of everything else in creation exists for us to use in the fulfillment of our end. However, when it comes to describing how this might look in life and practice, Ignatius uses the word indifferent.

“For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things…”

What does he mean? Doesn’t indifferent mean not to care? Aren’t we supposed to care about all of creation? The answer to that last question is a resounding, “Yes!” So what does he mean using the word indifferent?

Webster’s first definition for indifferent is, “marked by impartiality: UNBIASED.” (Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary., 2003.) Likewise is Noah Webster’s 1928 Dictionary, “Neutral; not inclined to one side, party or thing more than to another.” (Noah Webster, Noah Webster’s first edition of An American Dictionary of the English language., 2006.) Is this not what Ignatius means? He is not saying we should not care but we should not judge one thing against another in any other terms than the glory of God. Read how he explains it:

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. (Ignatius Spiritual Exercises, 19. Emphasis mine.).

This is the point. If I am devoted to the glory of God, and to Jesus Christ and his kingdom, then my condition, my circumstances, and my worldly desires should always be of a minor import compared to the purpose of my creation, of my calling in Christ, and of my praise, reverence, and worship to God.

I don’t know about you, but I find this a most difficult way to live. Truth be told, I fail all the time. However, there is great news. Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God and covered our sin with his blood. Moreover, following his Ascension to the Throne, he has sent his Spirit to enable us to follow Christ in all things.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26, ESV)

And now, I have some questions about our current worldwide situation with the Corona Virus. I remind you that I have no absolute answers to my questions. They are questions of who is in charge of my life and what he desires of me. Each individual may or may not have to struggle as I do. I am called by God to love and serve him. Part of this service includes all of his Laws of justice and mercy. I do not want to harm my neighbor by spreading this virus. But some of what we are called by our world to do, such as “social distancing” seems to contradict other requirements. For example,

  1. How can the church worship without the main aspect of worship which is gathering?
  2. How can the church gather without human contact?
  3. Most obviously one of my answers was to start this blog. Yet I am deeply aware that a blog has nothing to do with communal worship. What else should I be doing?
  4. We are entering the holiest time of the year with the passion of Christ and his resurrection. How can the church celebrate when the church does not gather?
  5. If the church cannot celebrate the gospel through worship, what is our testimony to the world around us? Can God be truly glorified apart from our communal worship?

The easy answers to me are that God is glorified by our willingness to work with our communities to stop the spread of a disease. Yet this does not seem adequate to me. How did Christ deal with the sickness around him? How have his servants dealt with crisis and danger? How many saints went to the fire singing hymns of joy? Why did Martin Luther and his wife open their homes when the plague hit Wittenberg? Why did so many Christians continue to gather (yes, secretly) in Communist-ruled countries that wanted to quash all religions?

So, my personal predicament in all of this is fear of death over the fear of the Lord? God help me because my heart moves one way while my life lives another. May our God answer our prayers to end this pandemic. May he answer our prayers to love him above all else.

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Covid-19 Questions, part 1

I last wrote about our true comfort in all times of crisis, times of joy, and the times in between. I do believe that we can find comfort even in the present time of fear and uncertainty. Yet, I can’t help some nagging questions that lie in a corner of my mind.

Let me quote St. Ignatius of Loyola:

     Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. (Saint Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1914), 19.)

This passage he calls Principle and Foundation. The principle is two-fold. First is to state the purpose of God in creating human beings. We are made to praise, reverence, and serve the Lord. This is close to the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s first question:

What is the chief end of man? Man’ s chief end is to glorify God, (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom. 11:36) and to enjoy him forever. (Ps. 73:25–28). (The Westminster Shorter Catechism: With Scripture Proofs, 3rd edition., (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).)

I know that most Protestants might feel uncomfortable with the statement “by this means to save his soul.” It does sound like works salvation. However, James speaks openly about works and faith.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14, ESV)

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:17–20, ESV)

Thus, to say that the works of bringing praise, reverence, and service to God saves us is correct if taken that these things are works coming out of our faith.

The second principle states the purpose of everything else that God created which is to be used to accomplish the first principle. I don’t believe that all of creation is strictly utilitarian. However, the intricacy, beauty, diversity, and all other aspects of creation bring us pleasure. How much more God’s pleasure seeing humans created in his image appreciating all things. I believe that our delight in food, drink, music, nature, and more is to praise God. Our gratitude for all things does reverence God. Our service in caring for all of creation brings glory to God.

This two-fold foundation may be the hardest thing for humans born in sin, even by faith to live by. All of us are on a journey from faith to sanctification. The third paragraph of Ignatius’s foundation is a description of life fully committed to the principles stated. Read it again meditating on its meaning in the context of your life. The most difficult language to accept is he he says, “it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things.” For me, the word “indifferent” is where my mind tries to block out what Ignatius is saying using every excuse I can work up.

The problem is that I want to stop reading at the word and insert my interpretation of what Ignatius means without allowing him to tell me what it means. The mental process is like the person who while listening to a sermon hear some small part they don’t like and shut down and not listen anymore.

In my next post, I will address this call for indifference. I will attempt to change the negative connotation of the word to a positive one. Then I will ask the questions I have been thinking about. Let me assure you, my questions may or may not have an answer.

 

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