In his rules for discernment of Spirits, St. Ignatius of Loyola gives this beautiful advice:
When one enjoys (spiritual) consolation, let him consider how he will conduct himself during the time of ensuing (spiritual) desolation, and store up a supply of strength as defence against that day… He who enjoys (spiritual) consolation should take care to humble himself and lower himself as much as possible. Let him recall how little he is able to do in time of (spiritual) desolation, when he is left without such grace or (spiritual) consolation. On the other hand, one who suffers (spiritual) desolation should remember that by making use of the sufficient grace offered him, he can do much to withstand all his enemies. Let him find strength in his Creator and Lord.
In a nutshell, this Saint is reminding us that in times of spiritual consolation, when we are so moved and inclined towards God and the things of God, we should prepare for the coming spiritual desolation when we feel ourselves emptied of that movement and affinity toward God. And when we are in spiritual desolation, we should use the grace of the present moment to prepare for the coming consolation. Neither spiritual desolation nor spiritual consolation lasts forever. This timeless advice is the key to hope in our spiritual life that is in constant fluctuation between times of spiritual fervour and dryness in our relationship with God.
The first reading shows us Job at the point of despair after losing everything through a trial that God permits in his life. He feels completely abandoned by God. “So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me…My days come to an end without hope.” He appears to be at the point of despair because he does not prepare himself for the coming consolation from God, “Remember that my life is like a wind; I shall not see happiness again.” He resigns himself to a life of unremitting unhappiness and does not recognize that moments of divine consolations are sure to come again after the desolation has passed.
The Gospels shows us Jesus Christ after a successful day of healing the sick and casting out demons. This is a moment of great success in His earthly ministry and no doubt a consoling moment for Him. But what does He do next? “Rising very early before dawn, He left and went off to a deserted place, where He prayed.” In this moment of consolation, when He experienced the presence and power of the Father’s Spirit within Him to cure and liberate others from slavery to sickness and the devil, He humbled Himself in silent prayer to the Father and prepared for the time of desolation to come during His Passion when He would lament from the Cross, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”
One of the truths that we can easily forget is that the Spiritual movements we experience in our life are beyond our control but they call us to respond in different ways. In a moment of spiritual consolation, we feel so close and drawn to God and godly things, and our spiritual practices are so fervent and are so filled with faith, hope and love that we feel that we can do and suffer anything for Jesus Christ. The next moment, we feel so dry and abandoned by God in moments of spiritual desolation and we lose the sense of faith, hope and love that we used to have as God seems too far away and completely out of our reach. We then become drawn and moved to earthly and sensual things. Sadly, we give up our spiritual practices and disciplines like regular prayer and the sacramental life. The result is that life become meaningless and a useless drudgery as it became for Job who could not see any possibility of his being happy again.
I experience this rhythm of consolation and desolation through the regular praying of the Holy Rosary. There are times when I easily enter into the mysteries of the Rosary and feel and experience closeness to Mama Mary and Jesus Christ and it leaves me with great consolation. But there are moments when I cannot keep my mind fixed for a single Hail Mary on the mysteries of the Rosary and it seems like I am speaking to myself and God appears so distant. One thing is sure though, in and through this Rosary, I am learning from Mother Mary the secret to constancy in moments of consolation and desolation. Who can ever fathom Mary’s consolation in bearing the Prince of Peace truly in her womb and by faith in her heart? Who else can teach us about constancy than she who later stood at the foot of the Cross and still looked forward to the moments of consolation will return after the desolation of Calvary?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, no spiritual movement is permanent. We are constantly caught in this rhythm of consolation and desolation. Are we experiencing spiritual consolation today? Then let us humble ourselves in grateful prayer and prepare ourselves for the spiritual desolation that will surely come. Are we in spiritual desolation, then let us make use of the sufficient grace of the present moment that Jesus offers to us in this Eucharist today to bear this desolation until the sure light of divine consolation shines in our hearts.
In moments of consolation or desolation, we are never alone; Jesus remains with us through the light and darkness: “I am with you always until the end of time.” (Mt 28:20) But only a spirit of constancy borne of hope will see us break through the clouds of desolation and into the light of consolation.
O Mother Mary, please help us to be constant in moments of consolations and in desolations so that we may not be thrown off by the unending rhythms of the spiritual life. Amen.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honour to Mary!!!