What St. Ignatius calls Spiritual consolation is always a movement toward God, always a movement toward greater faith, hope and love towards God, others and the self. Spiritual consolation is always a movement to the communal, always a movement out, a movement toward, and it carries a sense of confidence in God and God’s love for me. When we are in spiritual consolation, we are most ourselves, most capable of living, most capable of making good decisions and choosing life.
Here is how Ignatius puts it in the Spiritual Exercises:
I call it consolation when an interior movement is aroused in the soul, by which it is inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and as a consequence, can love no creature on the face of the earth for its own sake, but only in the Creator of them all. It is likewise consolation when one sheds tears that move to the love of God, whether it be because of sorrow for sins, or because of the sufferings of Christ our Lord, or for any other reason that is immediately directed to the praise and service of God. Finally, I call consolation every increase of faith, hope, and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly and to the salvation of one’s soul by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord.
That does not mean that spiritual consolation is always accompanied by pleasant feelings or experiences; consolation might flow from a painful experience as well as a good one. For example, I could be feeling sadness for some sinful act, but experience consolation because I recognize presence of God there. Or I may be mourning the death of a loved one, but in that pain, be consoled by God. Spiritual consolation can be found whenever we experience hardship and the cross, but at the same time have hope and optimism that God is with us. So it is marked by the presence of hope in the midst of turmoil.
Ignatius suggests a few things in his Rules of Discernment in the Spiritual Exercises that can be helpful when we are experiencing consolation.
First, we should savor the moment, allowing ourselves to enjoy it. (One of my instructors in the Exercises said “party with God”) We want to store the moment in our memory to return to in times of difficulty. We know there will be periods of desolation (more on that in my next Ignatian Year post) and it makes an enormous difference if during those periods we can clearly call to mind our moments of consolation.
Second, we should use periods of consolation as an opportunity for growth in humility. Ignatius encourages us to acknowledge with gratitude the gifts we have received. I cannot create consolation for myself; it is always gift from God.
Finally, when in consolation, it is good to look at our patterns of desolation, to look at what can get me hooked and think of how I will want to respond.
Note that this is a the ninth in a series of posts in celebration of the Ignatian Year, which began on May 20.