Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: The Discernment of Spirits

Why do I feel so far away from God?
Nothing I do is ever important.
Prayer is boring; it doesn’t seem to be working.
I want God, but He doesn’t seem to want me.
I’m a failure as a Christian.
Maybe I shouldn’t be in this chapel.
God wants me to be unhappy, and I should just accept it.
I’m just too tired to pray.
With these and other words of saints and would-be-saints, Fr. Gallagher illustrates examples of the work of evil spirits in our lives --- and even in the lives of saints.  He uses words from their personal journals to illustrate the highs and lows of life --- and he makes very clear that the spiritual highs (consolations) are from God, while the spiritual lows (desolations) are not from God.
The book, The Discernment of Spirits, explains one by one St. Ignatius’ fourteen rules “for becoming aware and understanding to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul, the good, to receive them, and the bad to reject them.”  The book’s subtitle says it is “an Ignatian guide for everyday living,” and indeed it is.  I found Fr. Gallagher’s examples to be ones I could readily relate to, and the “rules” clearly explained.
Ignatius’ Rules 1 and 2 distinguish physical actions/feelings from spiritual ones, and notes that they ARE related (physical weariness, for example, can lead to spiritual weariness).  Rule 3 describes how we feel consolations, like the tears I often shed.  Rule 4 describes desolations, a “lack of confidence,” while Rules 5 through 9 describe the causes and what to do when you are in desolation, and are “under attack.”  I found Rule 6 very enlightening:  when in desolation do not change the spiritual practices begun while you were receiving consolations --- while you are being influenced by evil spirits is not the time to make spiritual changes!  Rules 10 through 12 describe how you should act when receiving consolations, including your plan of attack for when desolations again arrive, as they will.  Fr. Gallagher clearly shows how EVERYONE’S life has spiritual ups and downs, and you can AND SHOULD count on it --- and not be anxious.  : - )
Rule 13 brings forth another key point in discerning actions of the evil one:  “he conducts himself as a false lover in wishing to remain secret and not be revealed.”  Whether because of your fear of embarrassment or because of doubt, the enemy will encourage you to “go it alone.”  Like hiding adultery from your spouse, or fearing to ask a stupid question of your boss, the enemy wants you to worry --- and not talk things over with another friend (or priest), but figure things out on your own --- like making some major changes in your spiritual practices, which is EXACTLY what Rule 6 says you should NOT do.
Finally, Rule 14 notes that often a good offense is a good defense, and that we should search out our spiritual weak points --- before the enemy does --- and strengthen them.
“Ignatius here provides an unparalleled resource for overcoming what is generally the major obstacle faithful persons encounter in their efforts to grow spiritually:  discouragement, fear, loss of hope, and other troubling movements of the heart.”  This book explains how to be aware of our inner spiritual experience, to understand the stirrings of our heart and to take action (accept that of God, and reject that not of God).  In the end, the goal is moving the direction of our lives closer to God’s will.
I have lots of underlines in this book!  If one of those opening statements is one you’ve felt at one time or another, this book will help you to distinguish and understand your physical and spiritual feelings – and do something about them, something that will change your life for the better.


  1. Thank you for this book review. It looks like one that might be worth getting. I have found the spiritual life is more like a lifelong dedication to running marathons, rather than a short time sprint. Not every race goes well, there's lots of daily "grind" (routine prayer) and some pain, and yes, the low points when the thoughts such as the ones you quote at the beginning seem to be self evident. ("God wants me to be unhappy, and I should just accept it." seems to be one that haunts me a lot.) It's hard to keep fighting when you're tired, tired over a long haul, and things don't go right for a long time. But this post comes at a good time for me, when I have been flagging for a while now, and gives me a renewed reminder to keep up the daily practice, like the daily run to keep the body in shape (I'm not a runner, but I think the analogy is apt.) and ready.
    Thanks for the insights and the lead on what looks like a helpful book. ~ Fran

    1. Well, Fran, I'm not a runner either (but I just signed up with a personal trainer to get in shape, starting on Monday!). It is a long race, and I liked a lot of the insights of this book. I purchased it because I was accepted into a 2-year class to become a spiritual director, something I felt was right for me.

      I liked that this book said it is normal to feel down, and inspired confidence that "there will be ups." I'm sure there will be consolations for you, also.

  2. I haven't finished this one yet but what I did read was very helpful. Even with noticing the little obstacles internal or external that come up when I resolve to go to daily Mass. Thank you for your review.