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Persistence

While I was completing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I learned about spiritual consolations and desolations:

“Consolation: ….every increase of hope, faith, and charity; to all interior happiness that calls and attracts a person towards heavenly things and to the soul’s salvation; leaving the soul quiet and at peace in her Creator and Lord.

Desolation: ….a lack of confidence in which the soul is without hope and without love; when one finds oneself thoroughly lazy, lukewarm, sad, and as though cut off from one’s Creator and Lord.”

Rules of Discernment, St. Ignatius of Loyola

Both consolation and desolation can sometimes originate from the happenings of our life. For example, illness or pain can cause desolation. 


Consolation, on the other hand, can come in the form of a dramatic prayer experience like the one I talked about in my last article when I thought I was finally able to experience my soul. I say “finally” because, until that experience, I had been very curious about the state of my soul. I spent time on questions like: “What is my soul? Where is it? What is it like? Can I really access it on my own? Do I want to?”


Persistence

Since then, my life has been excessively full of both consolations and desolations that distracted my heart and mind, causing my prayer to feel disjointed at best. But I know this is how things go sometimes, and I accepted the uncomfortable state of my prayers as par for the course. Note that I accepted the discomfort - I did not run from it, or chuck it to the side. I have learned that staying the course is an essential, if not the most essential, part of praying. So I do my best to persist with the habit of praying, and doing so with the companionship and support of my spiritual director has made all the difference.


Desolation meets Consolation 

Praying has become such a habit for me that I made an attempt to pray one evening after having had surgery earlier that day. I laughed at myself for trying, thinking “how will I get my mind past the pain?” But I put my favorite prayer app on, giving myself permission to listen passively to the reading and soothing music. 


Before I knew it, the narrator of the prayer posed the question: “As I sit here now, trying to pray, what kind of shape is my soul in?” Before I could finish laughing at this preposterously timed question, I was brought to a deep, dark and quiet place inside me. This part of me was not in pain, or worried about sleep, or discontented in any way. This part of me was at peace. I was able to linger there for a few moments. As I did, I felt grateful that the extreme physical pain I was feeling was limited. There was a part of me that was not in pain at all; indeed, she was totally at peace in every way. 


This was a deep consolation that I will carry with me always. Can you see how desolation (the extreme physical pain) and consolation (awareness of inner peace) co-existed within me that night? It inspires the idea that God is in both states of our spirits. 


The Payoff

I hope my little story illustrates the joy of discipline. I’m not saying that I received God’s consolation because I prayed hard enough. Rather,  I was simply able to notice God’s consolation during a difficult time because I was well practiced at a few things:


  • Opening my heart. At first, this sounded as vague to me as finding my soul. But, with practice, I learned what it meant. After making the effort to be in a quiet, comfortable place and taking a few deep relaxing breaths, it comes down to my desire. All I have to do is put my mind in touch with my desire to open myself to the presence of God. God does the rest, and I have no words to describe what God does.


  • Leaning on faith.  There are times when I sometimes wonder if God really is present, or if it is all in my imagination. How can I open my heart when this doubt arises? I have taught myself to put my trust in the times when I was sure of God’s presence. For me, lack of trust has been a great obstacle to my prayer. Sharing these doubts with a non-judgmental companion, validated them as normal, which helps me resist the temptation to give up. 


  • Being honest. What really keeps me from prayer? Is it laziness, fear, anger - or a combination of all three? I have been surprised by the results of an honest exploration of these questions and more like them. A spiritual director can help one discover the best questions for their honest exploration. 


  • Being Brave. While prayer hopefully deepens my relationship with God, it also deepens a relationship with myself. This can be scary, even more so than the idea of sitting in the presence of God. But, as I found during my No Fear New Yearthe presence of God mixed with some of my own determination supplied all the bravery I needed. So far, I have never regretted diving into the mysteries of God and myself. If there is pain, it is consoled by the love of God. We do not go into the breach alone - ever!


My time in spiritual direction has offered me much instruction and validation in all of these areas of prayer. Is it time for you to delve more deeply into a relationship with a God who loves you beyond measure? If so, prayer is the best, and perhaps only, tool you’ve got. 


A Nudge Toward Lent

Lent is a great time to begin such a journey. This season is mostly about finding oneness with God in his suffering, but only if it leads us to sharing in the joy of His Resurrection. Giving something up that typically gets in the way of a deeper relationship with God is an excellent start. And prayer is the tool to help you be humble and brave enough to jump in with both feet to discover more about yourself and God. Why not embrace Lent with all your heart this year and see where it leads?


And, if you’d like some company along the way, seek out spiritual direction. You can find a director either by using any of the resources listed on my website or by asking your local priest. As always, I’m happy to help you in your search as well.


In the meantime, keep up the good work of seeking God, and let’s be sure to pray for each other along the way.


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Anna Graziano
Anna Graziano
Feb 20

Dearest Regina

Awesome , deeply rich with grace, wisdom and true desire for all of us readers to grasp the gift of consolation and desolation. I felt it was one big prayer… not a read.

Thank you. Given where my life is I felt ministered to and comforted . It was what my heart and soul needed to hear.

Blessings

Anna

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rfurlan19
Feb 20
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Thanks Anna. Amen 😊

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