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What is Spiritual Consolation?

What is Spiritual Consolation?

 

Dear Father John, what kind of general advice should I give to a person who is experiencing a lot of consolation in their spiritual life? From what this person has told me in spiritual direction, this consolation is certainly coming from God. Is there any practical advice I should give this person?

The Repentant Peter by El Greco for post on what is spiritual consolationGod gives consolation in order to strengthen us and draw us closer to himself, just as he allows desolation in order to purify us from inordinate attachments. And so, when we experience spiritual consolation, the proper response is primarily gratitude (just enjoy it and thank God for it!). We also need to be sure to stay docile to God’s will – to use the experience of God’s goodness to reaffirm our commitment to obey whatever God asks of us. There is actually a connection between these two things.

What Is Spiritual Consolation?

But before I get into that, I want to go back to how St. Ignatius of Loyola describes spiritual consolation – as spiritual directors, we need to try to understand deeply the distinction between spiritual and non-spiritual consolation, even though they often overlap. And for these kinds of things, it’s always good to go back to the masters! Here’s how St. Ignatius describes spiritual consolation in his third rule of discernment of spirits:

I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can, in consequence, love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all.

In other words, spiritual consolation gives us a palpable experience of God’s loveableness, and that experience acts like a magnet, drawing us to desire greater union with him and putting good order in our affections towards all other merely created realities. With that in mind, I have two thoughts regarding what kind of advice to give to someone experiencing strong spiritual consolation.

Active Gratitude

First, to express their gratitude by a constant, loving effort to fulfill and accept God’s will in all the small details of life – normal responsibilities, faithfulness to conscience and to Church teaching, acts of kindness and mercy, etc… Make sure the gratitude doesn’t stay at the level of pure emotion, but also overflows into decisions to seek deeper love and fidelity to Christ and the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. God sends consolations to encourage us, to bolster our effort to live a more intimate friendship with Christ.

In Times of Peace Prepare for War

Second, St. Ignatius also says that times of consolation are meant to be times of preparation: trials and desolations will return. This is the natural rhythm of the spiritual life. And so, during times of consolation, we should remember that times of desolation will come back, and we should stay ready for them. It’s a question of remembering that earth is not heaven, and shoring up a deep appreciation for the truth of God’s goodness and love as we experience them during times of consolation – creating a kind of spiritual reservoir that we can then draw on when we experience dryness and spiritual desolation. Here is St. Ignatius’ tenth rule on the discernment of spirits, which addresses this issue:

Let the one who is in consolation think how he will conduct himself in the desolation which will come after, taking new strength for that time.

So, during these times, make acts of faith and love, acts of hope, acts of confidence in God, driving those fundamental Christian convictions deeper and deeper into the soul, so that when the next storm hits, you are stronger than before.

May God continue to bless you and your ministry as a spiritual director!

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Art for this post on what is spiritual consolation: The Repentant Peter, El Greco, circa 1600, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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