Discernment Advice from St. Ignatius

From the Office of Vocations

Ever experience the feeling of uncertainty or a lack of clarity; or worse, have you found yourself feeling one day one way and another day the opposite? One of the most difficult parts of discerning your vocation is knowing when to accept a motivation as being from God or contrary to God’s plan. The path ahead is sometimes unclear, especially when your emotions are divided.

In these difficult moments, a bit of advice from St. Ignatius comes to our aid. In his Discernment of Spirits, St. Ignatius provides a clear way to determine the path forward in these seemingly complicated situations. Be aware that, as with any good action, it requires work and reflection.

St_Ignatius_of_Loyola_(1491-1556)_Founder_of_the_JesuitsThe first thing to do, says St. Ignatius, is to be sure that you are working to avoid sin and live virtue. The enemy will have an easier time luring the man who persists in sin into further sinfulness, whereas a man striving for virtue will be aided by the good spirit to see and desire that which helps him to love God.

The rest of his advice lies in understanding Spiritual Consolation and Spiritual Desolation.

Spiritual consolation is a spiritual gift which can help the soul to become more in tune with God’s plan. It is an interior movement of the soul to love God first, and all other things in Him. It is a growth in virtue or joy which lead a man to strive for love of God. Spiritual desolation, on the other hand, is the de-motivation of the soul which makes one apathetic, feeling separated from God, darkness of soul. St. Ignatius also describes it as the restlessness that comes from temptation, especially temptation against faith, hope and charity.

When you experience consolation, it is not difficult to continue doing what you know to be good and right, because the good spirit provides strength and courage. However, it is important to remain humble, knowing that any good you do ultimately depends on grace. During consolation, St. Ignatius counsels that you should prepare for the time of desolation, since it will eventually come. Consider what will be most difficult for you to continue doing when your emotions are telling you to give in or turn away, and be ready.

There are three reasons for spiritual desolation, says St. Ignatius. First, you may have become lazy in your spiritual exercises; you aren’t keeping up with your commitment to prayer, the sacraments, moral living, etc. Second, God may be providing a time or an opportunity to test your resolve and progress in the spiritual life. And, finally, it may provide an opportunity for the soul to understand how completely it relies on God, since lasting consolation only comes from Him.

During a period of desolation, the enemy will assault you with temptations, doubts, and apathy. He will work to discover and exploit your weaknesses, so it is crucial to remain firm in your purpose. St. Ignatius says that this is not the time to make a decision to change your course. On the other hand, he advises that you should be even more fervent in your spiritual exercises. Also, since the enemy works in deceit and secrecy, it is imperative to be completely open with your spiritual director.

When you remain firm against desolation, clinging to your devotion to God rather than abandoning it, the enemy will become scared. He may lash out with renewed fury. But fear not. St. Ignatius tells us that, to a man who remains firm in desolation, God will bring consolation soon!

If you are having doubts about your discernment, be careful that you are receiving good direction, that you are not making choices during a time of spiritual darkness or desolation, and that you remain firm of purpose until God gives you a clear indication that He wants you to change course. In this way, you will be sure to remain open to God’s plan, and certainty of your vocation will be given to you in His time.

Thank you for taking the time to consider your vocation. Be open with God, and He will bless you greatly!

If you would like to talk about your vocation, give me a call or send me an email.

This was originally featured in May of 2014 in the Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Vocations’s E-Newsletter Discernment, a monthly subscription-based email of vocations insights. These posts will be a monthly feature on Encourage & Teach to help those interested in learning more about vocations, to shed light on what it’s like living a vocation in everyday life, and as reminder to pray: for our priests and religious and that all people may discern and live their vocations with joy.

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