The damp, misty, drizzling morning, in which I leave home with a slight headache and nose-drip, can most appropriately describe the state of soul called Desolation. Indeed, there are hours, perhaps even days in which we feel as if we were traversing a tunnel that seems to have no outlet! Or if you like, days in which we feel as if we were meandering aimlessly through a dark interior, a humid and foul jungle, entangled in an emotional and spiritual tug of war in which the battle seems all but lost.
These images describe the interior state of soul that St. Ignatius calls Desolation.
Fr. Tim Gallagher, OMV frequently asserts that nobody should be ashamed about experiencing this state of desolation. However, it is incumbent upon us to strive to use all the means at our disposal so as not to succumb to the state of desolation. Because if we do succumb, this can wreak havoc in our lives. Indeed, it could lead to irreparable damage. Sad to say, many make an attempt even against their life when immersed in the dark interior jungle of desolation.
Therefore, given that desolation is a universal phenomenon in nearly all times, cultures, and persons, we will offer some concrete remedies so we can exit the dark night, the deep pit, the meandering misty jungle of our interior state of desolation. It must be said that many of our moral and spiritual pitfalls happen due to human fragility, but many also, due to ignorance of desolation—our lack of intellectual and spiritual formation.
Our Game Plan/Strategy to Conquer the State of Desolation
1. Humble Recognition of the State of Desolation
Even though this point may appear to be obvious, it may not be when immersed in the state of desolation. We should humbly admit to ourselves and to God, who is always ready to help us, that we are in desolation. Our faith is low, as well as our hope and charity. Sadness, discouragement, even depression seem to be knocking and seeking entrance into our heart. There is the overall desire to simply chuck in the towel and abandon the fierce struggle.
We must stop, even for a moment, and admit: “No doubt: I am in the state of desolation!”
2. Pray Immediately
When the devil battles to manipulate us, almost like puppets on a string, plunged as we are in an intense state of desolation, the enemy can launch arrows of deceit with these poisonous words: “Pray? Why? That is a waste of time… it never helps you anyway!”
Our reaction to the wily attacks of the enemy of our soul should be agree contra—to react against the temptation and to pray immediately and all the more fervently! “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Ps. 124:8)
3. Give Thanks
St. Paul states: “Give thanks to the Lord in all circumstances!” (1 Thess 5:18)
The devil will attack and try to persuade you with this idea: “Thank God now—that is hypocrisy. You don’t feel like doing that. You are not in the mood. You must be true to yourself!” However, calling to mind one of the many benefits and blessings that God has showered upon you in your life can truly help to dissipate the mist of desolation imbuing your soul!
4. Talk It Out: Bring It to the Light!
In desolation, the devil works overtime. The devil always works, but in desolation he works time and a half. Satan desires that when we find ourselves cast into desolation, we will keep it top-secret. For this reason, in talking out desolation with a spiritual guide or friend in the spirit, we humble ourselves, and the devil takes flight in the light of a humble soul!
5. Way of the Cross/Stations of the Cross
One of my past spiritual directors told me that in his personal experience, when he found himself cast into an intense state of desolation, by making the Stations of the Cross, without fail the desolation was conquered. Our suffering compared to the sufferings of Jesus on Calvary are reduced to nothingness!
St. Ignatius reminds us in the Spiritual Exercises that Jesus willingly suffered all of His agony on the cross for love of all of humanity, but also for love of each one of us individually!
6. Contemplate God’s Beautiful Book of Creation
Another tool or weapon in the imperious struggle to conquer desolation could be contemplating some aspect of God’s beauty in creation, even for a short interval. The sunset or sunrise, the fluffy white clouds in a blue sky, the raiment of God’s beauty in the rainbow, the meadows decked with a variety of flowers and their heavenly fragrance.
St. Ignatius was enthralled and captivated by the stars shining in the dark night. God’s beauty reflected in His creation can cast out the gloom of a dark and murky soul immersed in desolation.
7. Invoke the Holy Spirit
In the classical prayer to the Holy Spirit, we beg for the grace to always rejoice in His consolation. What a marked contrast: the devil insists on chaining us to an inner, somber cave of darkness called desolation. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit yearns to fill our whole being with an overflowing wave of consolation. The Holy Spirit is a God of joy, happiness and consolation!
Pray: “Come, Holy Spirit, come through the Heart of Mary.”
This short but fervent prayer can melt the icy glacier of desolation encrusted in our soul!
8. Physical Activity & Exercise
As a child, I remember the wisdom and advice of my good mother. When she noticed I was in a state of tension, sadness, disorientation, she would tell me to go outside and play. By an intense engagement in some form of physical activity, whatever the source of desolation might have been, it evaporated and vanished. In desolation we cave in on ourselves; physical activity is going out of ourselves, often to others!
9. Humbly Beg for the Prayers of Others
Jesus said: “Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am in their midst” and “Where two agree in my name, my Father will hear their prayer”. (Mt. 18: 19-20) In desolation, humbly asking for prayers can be the means that turns the tide from desolation to consolation.
If it were not for the prayers of St. Monica, we would never have experienced the conversion of St. Augustine. In the movie Little Boy, this little guy’s prayers, said with fervor and faith, actually moved the majestic mountain. Prayers of other prayer-warriors can move the smaller mountains of our interior state of desolation.
10. Mary: Our Life, Our Sweetness, and Our Hope
It is recorded in the life of St. Francis de Sales that, as a youth, he traversed an intense period of profound desolation. Having lost sleep and much weight, with almost a total loss of hope, he entered into a Church dedicated to Our Lady of Victory in Paris, knelt in front of a statue of Mary, and prayed the prayer the Memorare to Our Lady. “
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection was left unaided….”
Like a dark and dense mist exposed to the sunlight at midday, the desolation evaporated, and peace and joy invaded his soul. Then Francis de Sales went on to become a priest, Bishop, writer, Founder, Doctor of the Church and great saint! This all was thanks to the intercession of Mary—our life, our sweetness, and our hope!
May Our Lady, cause of our joy, lift us from the dark valley of despair to the heights of the summits of holiness and joy!