Discernment of Spirits Week 3: The Most Important Rule

(Homily for Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B)

Message: During time of consolation we pray to God to sound decisions and during desolation we continue to pray - even though we don't get warm fuzzy feelings.

This homily marks the mid-point in our series - Discernment of Spirits. So far we've seen that it does not suffice to simply be spiritual. We have to discern between good and evil spirits. And we saw that first step - the most basic step - in discernment: communication with God, placing ourselves humbly before him and listening to him. I stressed the importance of a daily prayer time - at least 20 minutes and then short, "javelin" prayers during the day.

This weekend we enter the rules for discernment. Of St. Ignatius' 14 rules I will give the most important one - or at least the one that has helped me the most. To appreciate why this rule is so important we need to first understand the law of undulation:

Undulation refers to the rising and falling of waves. You and I likewise experience peaks and troughs. As the song says, "Sometimes I'm up and sometimes I'm down." When we're up, the world brims with possibilities and we have high energy. When we are down, life looks bleak and our energy drops.

Something similar happens in the spiritual life. St. Ignatius speaks of consolation and desolation. During times of consolation, God seems near, but in desolation he appears distant or even absent. In his rules for discernment Ignatius says we should make significant decisions during times of consolation and stick with them during desolation. So that's the most important rule: "In time of desolation never make a change."

The evil spirit can attack a person during desolation and convince him to throw everything overboard. The devil uses desolation to sidetrack us, for example, to make unnecessary purchases, to abandon important relationships and to get involved in destructive behavior like porn, drugs - and gluttony. I admit it, one dreary afternoon I ate an entire box of See's chocolates!

How do we resist such temptations? We can learn a lot from the Gospel. You might remember that Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain where they saw his glory. A moment of enormous consolation. Peter said, how good to be here! They did not, however, enter "la-la land" - perfect dream world. No, you might remember that Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus about his "Passover" - the humiliation and suffering he would experience in Jerusalem.

When they come down from the mountain, Jesus begins to prepare them for the coming crisis. Peter, all of sudden, wants out. Jesus says to him, "Get behind me, Satan." You see, the devil's right there to say: "all that stuff about self-giving, pouring your life out, suffering for others, all that was fine up on the mountaintop, but now we are down to earth. This is the real world."

Get behind me, Satan, Jesus says. Here's the truth: On the mountaintop - during that experience of consolation - they saw things clearly. Down below - in the midst of the fog - they need to act on that earlier clarity.

So we have seen the most important rule: During the time of consolation, when you experience the closeness of God, make your major decision. Then, when desolation comes - when God seems absent - hold fast to your decision.

The Seattle Mariner, Mike Sweeney, gives a good example of making a spiritual decision and sticking with it. He is what he said in an interview:

"It is difficult to attend Mass on the road in the midst of a long, arduous season, but I make the effort because Jesus did so much for me. After leaving the stadium on a Saturday evening at midnight, getting up at 7 am to attend 7:30 am Mass is not the most exciting thing to do on the way to the stadium but there is not a better place to be on a Sunday morning than at Mass."

Mike Sweeney takes it a step further, "I love speaking with my wife after a Sunday's game about that Mass." During desolation, when you're tempted to waiver, talk to a person spiritually close to you.

So make your spiritual decision during consolation, when you feel the closeness of God - and hold on during desolation.* It will pass. I only know two circumstances where desolation may last a long time. I will talk about them next Sunday - and how to overcome desolation. For now I want to ask you to keep before you that image from Isaiah: "I have set my face like flint." You can scratch flint, but not much more. During desolation set your face like flint. When the devil tries to dissuade you, remember Jesus command, "Get behind me, Satan.

And one other thing before I conclude. I have often reminded you we are saved by faith. Faith is our lived relationship with Jesus. That's what saves - not any great work we might do. Still we hear James tell us that works demonstrate faith. Well, if we have faith in Jesus we will continue forward even in times of desolation. As Blessed Mother Teresa says, we will do "something beautiful for God" and for our neighbor.

In summary: during time of consolation we pray to God to make sound decisions - and during desolation we continue to pray. Even though we don't get warm fuzzy feelings, we need prayer to cling to God in midst of trials. As our Psalm says,

"I love the Lord because he has heard my voice in supplication
Because he has inclined his ear to me the day I called." Amen


*Thomas F. Fischer offers good insight on How to Survice Desolation

Spanish Version

Plan for this series:

August 30: Discernment of Spirits: What is it?
September 6: Discernment of Spirits: The First Step
September 13: Discernment of Spirits: Most Important Rule
September 20: Discernment of Spirits:
September 27: Discernment of Spirits:

From Archives (24th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2012: Taking Up The Cross
2009: Jesus' Identity
2006: The One Way to Happiness
2000: I Have Set My Face Like Flint

Sunday Homilies

Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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