Friday, March 2, 2012

Discernment of Spirits.

Lent brought me a new podcast: from Discerning Hearts, Fr. Timothy Gallagher's commentary on Ignatius of Loyola's Discernment of Spirits. The opening interview alone was worthwhile for its biography of St. Ignatius (who was quite the Don Juan, rivaling Augustine in the drama of his conversion).

The interview on the Second Rule offered so much encouragement.

The Evil Spirits' Strategy

Ignatius wrote that, once the soul has turned its face toward God and begins to fly after the things of God, the evil one (the "flesh," the Devil, demons, the heart's concupiscence) changes its tactics. The heart is no longer enticed by occasions of sin--in fact, it begins to flee from or at least feels displeasure at what is unpleasant, evil, or just plain banal (you know, I really just don't want to watch Modern Family anymore). Now, he says, the Father of Lies reverses course: instead of luring the soul toward the lusts of the flesh, it lures the soul into "sadness."

I begin to think, "Who am I kidding?" or "I won't bother with that fast. After all, I failed it last week." I sometimes, after an argument with the Scientist Dad, begin to sigh, "Well, I guess we just can't talk about that subject anymore. It's not worth it." Or, I become discouraged at the concatentation of circumstances: "I'll never be able to teach Miriam--these little kids are too much! She should go to school... she's better off there than with me." Or, "What's the use of asking Todd if I can go to Stations? He'll just feel tired, and I won't be able to concentrate anyway. Too tired."

Mope. Mope. Mope.

The Father of Lies.

Being able to recognize that sadness--the "bite" of Satan, as Ignatius calls it--gives me the chance to reject it. This is only a passing mood. The reasons for avoiding the Stations, bothering Todd for a night out, that difficult conversation about our marriage, giving up on homeschooling--they are false reasons, because they cause that unreasonable sadness.

The Good Spirits' Strategy

On the other hand (thank heavens for the other hand!), Ignatius says that the good spirits (our own virtues, good desires, our angelic warriors, Christ Himself) have already won this battle. All we must do is reject the sadness, turn to them, and join in their victory.

At this point, the good spirits offer only encouragement. When the soul was turned away from God, the good things acted as the Big No-No Police. NO sex. NO cheating. NO gossip. All that is Good, when we are not good, seems to be judging and reprimanding us at all times. OOPS, you fornicated! OOPS, you cheated! OOPS, you gossiped! Repent!

That's because you did mess up. And you need to repent.

Once we choose the good and reject the bad, however, the Good is suddenly and only our friend, mentor, and joy. While evil becomes a thing of sadness, good becomes a thing of pleasure and enjoyment. We find that, when we overcome our sadness and give ourselves to others in prayer and service, we want to... pray and serve more! (Do you see how this works?)

This is heart of the discernment of good spirits: if you are choosing the good, you will desire more good. As we have been buried with Christ, we want even more to burrow deeper into Him and His suffering and passion. As we die to ourselves in Him, we want even more to die. And as we enjoy the crown--even the foretaste of the crown--we desire it more and will suffer any difficulty to see "His title and His crown."

So, if this Lent has begun to grow difficult and the sadness is in your heart, be encouraged. Your heart is turned to Christ, and He has only good things for you.

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