From Formation to Action

From Formation to Action

I came to Ignatian Spirituality via the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  The 19th Annotation and my Jesuit based studies for a Certificate in Spiritual Direction at Spring Hill College have formed who I am.  I came as I was, with prior life formation already in place.  Although new formation has occurred, I also bring to the equation and to the Catholic Church to which I returned who I was and who I am.  One of the prior formation events that I brought to the table was my prior formation in nonviolence.  I became a conscientious objector to war at about 20 years old and left the Catholic Church to join an historic Peace Church.  I did not know at that time that Vatican II allowed for such matters of conscience.  In my studies of Ignatian Spirituality I have found links to nonviolence and social action.  See note 98:

 

(098)

Eternal Lord of All Things

Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of Thy infinite goodness, and of Thy glorious mother, and of all the saints of Thy heavenly court, this is the offering of myself which I make with Thy favor and help. I protest that it is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only it is for Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life[1]

 

The bearing of all wrongs, all abuse, and all poverty is the heart of a nonviolent lifestyle.  Seeking to align our personal desires and discerning our choices only for God’s service and praise is the heart of Ignatian discernment.

 

Although some might attempt to change who they are to fit the constituency of a particular organization, Church, government, or group in order not to offend that group, or to be popular, the giving of the self (kenosis) to live only in the love and grace of God requires one consider what is the most loving thing to do and what will bring greater glory to God regarding one’s own birth, formation, life, burial, and resurrection.  To be popular, approved of, to value in essence riches, honor, and pride is diametrically opposed to the discernment which leaves one absolutely free to choose and do only what God wants and do what brings God greater glory.

 

The third degree of humility of which Ignatius speaks allows for one’s recognition of particular gifts, although not for one’s own conceit, pride, and vanity, but for service and praise to the Lord our God. See note 167:

 

(167) The Third Kind of Humility

This is the most perfect kind of humility. It consists in this. If we suppose the first and second kind attained, then whenever the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty would be equally served, in order to imitate and be in reality more like Christ our Lord, I desire and choose poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches; insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world. So Christ was treated before me.[2]

 

Fr, Joseph Tetlow has this to say about the Third Degree of Humility:

 

The lover in this case is made greater by love. The Beloved chose to empty himself, taking on the ways and characteristics of a servant. He did not mind being told that he was seriously mistaken about God and the people. He did not mind being considered mad. And his way led to great suffering and death. The person who wishes to be meek and humble as Jesus was can say to the Father honestly, “Treat me as you treated your own Son.” Such a prayer has nothing to do with negative self-image or despising the gifts of the Spirit. On the contrary, heroic love is meek and humble, but it is also glorifying. Just look at what happened in the end to Jesus of Nazareth.[3]

 

It is possible one might be considered a little crazy, a little radical, and that one may be viewed simply as mistaken, but sometimes one’s particular gifts may not perfectly fit the spiritual needs of others.  In this case, it is better to let the Creator deal directly with the creature. In the end, all will be well.

 

In my case, I am not led to accept everything as is in the Catholic Church.  I am somewhat of an activist who desires change in some areas of the Church, like Women being Deacons, like Communion shared especially with non-Catholic mates of members, like something being done about the sex abuse scandal, like perhaps a married Priesthood, like a commitment to non-violence in Catholic cultures all around the world.  No more war. No more Catholics killing and bombing fellow Catholics because Catholics will be encouraged not to kill at all. I am feeling the most loving thing to do, and what will bring greater glory to God, is to not accept everything as is in the Church and try to “fit in,” but to promote Ignatian Spirit led change and improvement in the Church.  I have been able already to effect some minor changes.  I don’t think I am being prideful; I think I am being realistic that this may make me look down upon by some.  Good.  I have made some mistakes already on this path, and I am sure to make more, but I am willing to submit to correction and supervision and to realize that the time may not be right yet for such changes.

 

I am writing this essay as part of my discernment process concerning what to do with my CSD (Certificate in Spiritual Direction) degree.  I am led back to one of my Consolations without prior cause, which was to write a book which is now titled Let God In: One Ignatian Journey, and is soon to be published.  For Consolation without prior cause, see note 330:

(330)

God alone can give consolation to the soul without any previous cause. It belongs solely to the Creator to come into a soul, to leave it, to act upon it, to draw it wholly to the love of His Divine Majesty. I said without previous cause, that is, without any preceding perception or knowledge of any subject by which a soul might be led to such a consolation through its own acts of intellect and will.[4]

 

My consolation without prior cause was to write this book and to promote Ignatian Spirituality.  I think I need to stick with that consolation for now, and to wait to see what happens and where these matters lead.  If other consolations arise, and are like water dripping on a sponge, I remain open to considering them.  If they splash like on a rock, then no.  Getting too many things going, too many balls bouncing at once, could be thoughts of my own after the consolation without prior cause and such thoughts need to be carefully discerned.

 

Pray for me,

 

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

 

 

 

 

[1] The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Louis J. Puhl, SJ translation

[2] Spex, 167

[3] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/the-third-degree-of-humility/

[4] SpEx, 330

Continuing Confirmation

 

Continuing Confirmation

            I was once a little Catholic boy who had been baptized in Paris, Illinois St. Mary’s Church and confirmed at St. Mary’s Church in Marshall, Illinois where my family attended.  As I look back on this second year class of spiritual direction from September, 2018 to May, 2019, the first thing that I distinctly recall may have been from the first class meeting.  I recall being annointed by Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan with Holy Oil, anointing my forehead in the shape of a cross.  I view this as my second confirmation in the Catholic tradition.  I highly value and respect this gesture of faith as I value my first confirmation.

            In the past year I am aware of the continuing need for discernment regarding my call to be a spiritual director.  I shared some of my original  ideasexcitedly about what I thought I was going to “do” about my desire to act as a spiritual director with Bob Fitzgerald, my supervisor, quite a while back. What I shared was my own thinking and reasoning after my first consolation without cause to use to use the rest of my life to dedicate myself promoting Ignatian Spirituality. As a consolation that came after the first one without cause, I now know these ideas need to be subjected to discernment. Bob patiently listened to my ideas and did not say much, but merely pointed me to Tielhard de Chardin’s prayer, Patient Trust.  I must use only one quote in this reflection. I offer this poem from Tielhard de Chardin:

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.[1]

            In view of the preceding prayer/poem, let me continue to speak from my heart about my continual calling to become a spiritual director.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

            This patient trusting and finding God’s desires for me and where my own deepest desires meet in my inner man is different from the ways in which I have previously operated.  In the past I have been very quick to decide and take action, without taking appropriate time concerning business decisions, thinking that the opportunity might not be there if I did not act in time.  I have found that with God’s work there is always time to act, time to decide, and if a less than better decision is reached, there is time to slowly discern another path.  Discernment is not so much about making decisions as it is reaching interior freedom to be or become who God wants us to be and in any case to do the most loving thing in any situation in which we find ourselves.

            For instance, I wrote a book, Let God In: One Ignatian Journey, before I began my Spring Hill College studies, as a response to a call to promote Ignatian Spirituality while taking the 19th Annotation.[2] I thought I would publish it right away, but it did not work out that way.  It is now in the process of being published and the past class year has helped me as the book has slowly been edited and I have used some of what I am learning to refine this work.  I have discerned that some of my original ideas about how to promote Ignatian Spirituality are not the right things to do at this time.  I have discovered the interior freedom to let go of these ideas.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

            These classes are an intermediate stage of my calling to be a spiritual director, or my calling to use this training in another method, if not spiritual direction, to bring greater glory to God.  For instance, if my book takes off and I am invited to promote the book and Ignatian Spirituality in other ways, I have the interior freedom to perhaps not do as much spiritual direction as originally planned.  Taking too many commitments might result in overload and being ineffective.

            I am pleased that two directee’s came to me and that one is female, the other male, that one is more of a “conservative” Catholic, and the other more a “progressive” Catholic, one is younger, the other is older.  One has already asked me to continue the spiritual direction relationship after the six month SHC class period is over.  The differences in personality types has been very helpful.  It has been very fulfilling to be a spiritual director to each of these individuals.  One lives in an assisted living facility and it is possible that giving the 19th Annotation in a group setting there may eventually be appropriate.  I pray for proper discernment.  I am also pleased that although not many know about my being a spiritual director, others have sought advice from me about spiritual matters.  I will wait until these classes are over to take on any more directee’s.

your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

            I feel the slow and patient work of Bob Fitzgerald and Sr. Susan and Sr. Barbara have been very helpful regarding the progress I am making in formation.  These classes have provided needed time for reflection, careful consideration, and thoughtfulness.  I have had time to read additional books, Looking into the Well, by Maureen Conroy, and Ignatian Journey, by Kevin O’Brien, S.J.  I particularly advise Ignatian Journey and suggest it for future classes as one of the final readings because it gives a helpful synopsis of the Spiritual Exercises and one can use it as groundwork for giving the 19th Annotation.

            Ignatian discernment is primarily choosing between two or more good things.  If it happens, as in St. Ignatius’ case, that one of the good things proves not to be exactly what God has in mind for, one can always look back and choose another good thing because of the interior freedom we have to be unattached to any one thing.  This is how I view my calling regarding a choice of giving spiritual direction one to one, giving it in a group setting, or giving less of directee based spiritual direction and promoting my book more, or a combination of all the above.  Whatever brings greater glory to God is always the best choice. Whatever is the most loving thing to do is always the best choice.  I must be careful not to run too fast, but, on the other hand, “Here I am, Lord. Choose me.”

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.

I withdraw judgement on exactly what is supposed to happen, or what is happening, or what will happen to me, or to you, whomever is reading this reflection.  God is not finished with us yet.  I think back again to when I was a little Catholic boy, baptized, and later confirmed…

Confirmation


I left the Catholic Church at about 20 years of age for matters of conscience, becoming a conscientious objector to war, and joined an historic peace church.  This was before the new Catechism.  I did not know of Vatican II allowances for my beliefs.  In the process of returning to my Catholic roots I have been baptized again, ordained a deacon, commissioned a pastor, and ordained an elder, but God is not finished with me yet. My anointing, by Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan is another highlight of my life and the continual and gradual formation of whom God wants me to become.  Every class session has been a new and deeper confirmation as I recognized the Holy Spirit at work in the world and in my life.

              I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at Confirmation.  I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at other junctures in our lives, ordination, marriage, commissioning, etc.  I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at baptism, even if baptized as an infant, as I was, or baptized again in my second conversion experience, or coming again when I experienced the 19th Annotation in a third conversion experience. I think the Holy Spirit is always coming to us, always confirming us when we discern and choose wisely.  Eternity is left for us and has always existed for God who is always purifying something or someone, always making new or renewing His plans for us to bless us and not curse us.  It is not so much about making immediate choices but about experiencing inner freedom to act according to the most loving option in every situation God brings to us.   Only God knows His plans.  Only God knows our future and the hope He has for us.  Until then, let us patiently trust.

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

 

[1] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/8078/prayer-of-theilhard-de-chardin

[2] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/24517/what-is-19th-annotation-what-can-you-expect

Discerning Deeper Call to Action

Discerning a Deeper Call to Action and Experiencing Consolations in Ignatian Spirituality

Prayer

I have been a business owner and cabinet maker for 45 years.  In this role I have trained many apprentices.  Some I trained had taken classwork in trade school in order to “be” a cabinet maker.  A better term would be to “become” a cabinet maker.  Cabinet making is a skill and an art.  One cannot become a journeyman cabinet maker only by going to school.  One must experience the actual work of cabinet making and do it for many years.  One must learn every day.  In a lifetime, it is unlikely all aspects of cabinetmaking will be mastered so one can say, “I know everything about cabinetmaking and I can do it all.”

Likewise, it appears that “becoming” a spiritual director must be approached humbly, as an art more than a science, and a call to learn spiritual matters by experience as well as by knowledge.  Experience is crucial else one harm another by bumbling around dabbling in matters too great for oneself.  I feel the SPT 598 Spiritual Direction Practicum course conducted by Sr. Susan Arcaro and Sr. Barbara Young and in my case, supervision by Bob Fitzgerald, is a transition from head knowledge to experience as a journeyman would train an apprentice.  The spiritual maturity and kindness, calmness, and peacefulness of the three are a consolation in itself to acknowledge and emulate.  Thank you!

Speaking of the “head knowledge” of this course, our assigned books were Candlelight, by Susan S. Phillips,[1] and The Call to Discernment, by Dean Brackley.[2]  Also suggested reading was Silent Compassion, by Richard Rohr,[3] and Spiritual Direction, by Susan K. Ruffing, R.S.M..[4]  In addition, Looking into the Well, by Maureen Conroy,[5] was added as optional reference material.  I read all the books and benefited by each one, especially by The Call to Discernment.

I want to note the “experiencing” part of Spirituality in this essay.  I believe that Spirituality can only be known by experience.  Even if we are given a specific spiritual consolation, or a revelation directly by God Himself, it is an experience.  It is, by experience, that we have all been called to pass along our own calling by God to the rest of the world:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, etc.[6] 

Going entails passing along our experiences, our Faith story, the Gospel, and for those of us in this class, our experienced based Ignatian Spirituality learned not so much by knowledge, but by love.  This love, or affectionate awe, is derived by our desires to know Jesus more clearly, to follow Him more nearly, and to love Him more dearly.  In other words, just as a skilled carpenter, such as Jesus was, passes along this experiential knowledge and skill, art, and love, so do we, pass upon the specific graces with which God blesses each of us.

All the books we have read this semester reflect this experiential sharing by spiritual masters.  Likewise, the experiential knowledge, the examples of following, and loving Jesus are being passed along to us by our journeymen teachers, Sr. Barbara, Sr. Susan, and Bob Fitzgerald.  Thanks to all for this labor of love.  It is my desire to share this love with others as I have been so blessed to do with my directees.  Also, I want to share as an example of everyday life what a wonderful consolation it was to me to share with one of my physical sisters the Examen Prayer.  My sister expressed her burden to me of being somewhat addicted to list passed praying and going over the same list year after year habitually and not letting go.  I gave her two versions of the Examen Prayer and suggested she look up videos of the Examen Prayer on the internet and perhaps drop some of the list-based praying she said was burdensome to her.  She told me how helpful this was to her.  I share this because it is just one example of how our classwork this semester is bleeding off into my daily life and living with others. What a blessing it was to share spiritual matters with one I cradled in my arms when she was a baby.

I feel this Fall’s class is where the rubber meets the road regarding Ignatian Spirituality.  Now is the time to discern our specific calling to this skill and art of experiential Ignatian Spirituality.  May we discover how much we love others, how much we want to help others, as Ignatius did.  May we go into all the world as tools in His hands.  Now is the time for action.  The course name, Practicum, points to action and experience.  Our response to the call is action.

I would like to share some insights I experienced from reading the books for this past semester.  Candlelight draws on many years of the Spiritual Direction experiences of its author, Susan S. Phillips.  Dr. Phillips using actual cases of her directees (names changed) to illustrate for us how the art of Spiritual Direction is actually done.  One of the greatest consolations of her book to me was her 21st chapter, Planted by the Waters.  What resonated with me was that I should not try too hard on my own, but trust that God has called me to this work of spiritual direction and will of His desires supply nourishment to bear fruits of His grace, not only in me as I help others, but also provide His direct nourishment to the directees I am trying to help.  In this work of God’s grace as both the director and the directee sit in the candlelight of His Presence, this grace acting upon both.  I wrote an extra essay about Grace being a “middle voice” of Spirituality,[7] this is, that both Director and Directee are participants in the action that another, (God,) initiates.

Also, in Candlelight, Susan Phillips indicates respect for taking a Sabbath each week.  “There’s a feel of Sabbath to spiritual direction.  We enter into the rest that God blessed and called “holy,” a time of reflecting on the wholeness of creation and union with God.”[8]  For many years after leaving the Catholic Church at about 20 years of age, for matters of conscious, I observed the seventh day Sabbath (Saturday) of the Ten Commandments.  A little over 20 years ago I came to a better understanding of the New Covenant, and that our rest is actually in Jesus, who started His work in us, and I no longer observe the letter of the law, evening Friday to Saturday evening Sabbath rest strictly, but I respect those who attend to their spirituality in this manner.  It was a consolation to me to see how Dr. Phillips valued the Sabbath in relationship to spirituality and a reminder to me to respect all people’s beliefs.

The Call to Discernment was in my view the deepest and most profound of the books we were assigned this semester.[9]  Brackley takes a journey through the Exercises[10] as if one were experiencing the actual Exercises week by week.  I have taken the 19th Annotation of the Exercises and reading The Call to Discernment brought back my actual experiences of the Exercises to life once again.  When doing the Call of Christ, the King part of the Exercises, I received my first desires to promote Ignatian Spirituality, and specifically to write a book about my journey and to share the Exercises with others.  This book, Let God In: One Ignatian Journey is soon to be published and I am also in discernment regarding the promotion of this book which is a fruit of this calling. The 19th Annotation was an additional conversion experience for me.  It is just one of the factors which led me back to the Catholic Church of my youth.  The Call to Discernment speaks to the heart of my personal theology of non-violence and social justice and deepens my commitment and call to promote Ignatian Spirituality, not just for Catholics, but for others who may be Protestant, or of another Faith Tradition, or no tradition at all.

Next, I will mention Silent Compassion[11] and Spiritual Direction[12] in relationship to how these two books also led to responding to the call of God and my own personal discernment.  I already follow Richard Rohr’s daily meditations.  I use apophatic (wordless, thoughtless) contemplation in conjunction with kataphatic (with words and thought) meditation in my personal spiritual practices.  Ignatian Spirituality is largely kataphatic.  Silent Compassion was reinforcement for what I already do.  Spiritual Direction was valuable to me with its heavy emphasis on actual experience in spiritual direction and mutuality with God.  Experience is mentioned throughout the book.  Experience is what we are gaining this semester in the Practicum.  We are spiritual directors in training, gaining experience.  Ruffing is a master of her trade, passing along her knowledge and experience to others who include myself as an apprentice.

Looking Into the Well[13] was very helpful in understanding how to provide Verbatim’s and Process Notes.  The book is helpful not only to supervisors of Spiritual Directors, but to Spiritual Directors themselves as a continuing reference Source.  In process notes for my first directee session I wrote:

I thought I was going to have a real problem with the Verbatim, but now that I have done two pages requested, I could go on and on.  I was feeling apprehensive because I am so hard of hearing and have trouble listening.  I tried to “bone up” for a few days in advance, reading Looking Into the Well and making notes [from Candlelight] and typing them up, then a couple of days before the first session it came to me that I was trying too hard and I needed to let the Holy Spirt lead.  He/She did.  I am crying as I write this… There was so much more in this session I could have put in the Verbatim.

In closing, I want to speak of my class experiences of consolation this semester.  Our commonality of spirit in periods of prayer was very important to me.  Several of us shared different prayer presentations and Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan offered succinct and helpful handouts relating to prayer.  Our prayer time was experiential in nature with each of us learning from each other’s efforts as if we were a team of prayer warriors.  Experience in prayer is crucial to all spirituality.  Bob Fitzgerald was very effective in advising exactly the right things and pointing out principles directly from the Exercises to clarify my concerns.  Thanks to all, including my classmates!  Finally, as a journeyman passes along his trade to future generations of apprentices, let it be so with Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan, and Bob Fitzgerald, as those of us in our Fall 2018 class offer ourselves as tools in God’s hands and continue to discern just how, when, and where we will work to help all God’s people!

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

[1] Candlelight: illuminating spiritual direction, by Susan S. Phillips, Morehouse Publishing, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-8I92-2297-8 (pbk.)

[2] The call to discernment in troubled times : new perspectives on the transformative wisdom of Ignatius, of Loyola, by Dean Brackley, The Crossroads Publishing Company, 2004, ISBN: 0-8245-2268-0 (alk. Paper)

[3] Silent Compassion : finding God in contemplation, by Richard Rohr, Franciscan Media, 2014, ISBN: 978-61636-757-2 (alk. Paper)

[4] Spiritual Direction: beyond the beginnings, by Janet K. Ruffing, Paulist Press, 2000, ISBN: 0-8091-3958-8 (alk. Paper)

[5] Looking into the Well: Supervision of Spiritual Directors, by Maureen Conroy, Loyola University Press, 1995, ISBN:0-8294-0827-4

[6] The Go-Anywhere Thinline Bible Catholic Edition, NRSV, by HarperCollins Publishers, 2010, p. 945, Mat. 28:19

[7] https://jcooperforpeace.org/?s=middle+voice

[8] Ibid, p. 189.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Ignatius of Loyola

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

Moods

Moods

            A few years ago one of my nieces lost her little boy, Cole, to brain cancer.  It was a terrible time for all seeing little Cole suffer.  He was only 5 or 6 years old but he put up his bravest fight, and the best attitude he could, only to lose in the end as we all will one day.  At his funeral his mother, right before they closed his little casket, somewhat impulsively rescued one of Cole’s little teddy bears from the little casket to save in for her memory.  I can’t imagine the desolations and moods she was feeling.

In our lives we all live with streams of consolations and desolations like the birth of one’s child or the death of a loved one.  We also die our own little bitty deaths each day, offset by good moods and attitudes.  I transferred my business to someone else about a year and a half ago and this person has decided to move out of a smaller building my office has been in for over 40 years.  I am still a consultant, but my office will now be in another building. I am feeling a bit driven.  I quote Margaret Silf, “Did we say yes because we felt we really, deep down, wanted to do it, or did we go along with it to please someone else or to avoid conflict, but against our deeper inclinations?” … “If we are feeling driven, then the prompting that gives rise to it is not from God, but from the force fields of our own (or other people’s) kingdoms.” [1]

It is human that we face challenges and turmoil.  “We all know that we are subject to moods.”[2]  There are “good” moods and “bad” moods, “consolations” and “desolations.” It is likely that feelings of turmoil are “not of God but has to do with our own kingdoms.”[3]  Chapter 7, Tracking our Moods, of Inner Compass speaks to evaluating our moods in Examen prayer.  Desolations and Consolations, Examen Prayer and discernment in relationship to The Spiritual Exercises have been the focus of our classwork.  I will speak primarily to this chapter, yet keeping in mind some of Silf’s foundational thoughts in other chapters of Inner Compass.

How can we know which are consolations and which are desolations?  Silf recommends centering ourselves in stillness, (p. 79) reviewing our moods in prayer.  Turmoil, fear, and apprehension are indicators of desolations that draw us away from God.  Periods of peace, insight, and stillness of heart are indicators of consolations.  We Examen our moods daily, making a “review of consciousness” (p. 81) our prayer priority.  Silf lists indicators of consolation and desolation (pp. 84-85).  Moods that are inward driven, or downward driven, or selfish, are likely to be desolations and lead us away from God.  Visions and moods for greater good, uplifting and joyful thoughts, are likely indicators our moods are motivated in consolation to draw us closer to God.

However, we might just be tired and need a good night’s sleep.  We can’t be happy all the time.  “Consolation is not the same as happiness.”[4]  I spoke with a woman today whose mother had 7 children and a Doctorate degree, teaching at Loyola University.  She was also a Spiritual Director.  She discovered she had cancer and joyfully faced her death.  In her latter stages, when she would wake up, she would smile and be happy until she discovered she was still alive.  She was looking forward to death, but this is an exception…  Or is it?

We can choose how we react to pain (p. 89).  We can focus outward and Godward.  “When this begins to happen, we may experience a real breakthrough, leading to the discovery that God is actually drawing us closer to him through the very event that appears (at the Where level of ourselves) to be so destructive.”[5]  It is possible to joyfully face death, to have our bags packed and believe all is well, but it is not guaranteed that this is what is going to happen.  An indicator that we might die well may be how we die daily.  “Every day of our lives will bring its own share of little dyings, and in the sense we are called to rebirth every time we react by turning toward God instead of in upon ourselves.  To be born again is truly a continuous process.”[6]  Maybe we should consider how we face our daily dying, how we address all the little losses, how we age and if our moods are turning inward upon ourselves.  Even in daily death we can garner up a smile, opening our arms to the God of our consolations.  Maybe memories of all our past consolations and good moods where we felt we were in the arms of the God of unconditional love are stored up for the times of desolations.

If I were a mother or father who had lost a little boy to cancer, If I had clinged to his little teddy bear pulled from the casket, maybe I would know more about these things.  If I were God, and lost even one of my beloved children to eternal death, maybe I would know His moods and feelings.  If I were my little bitty great-niece looking down from heaven, maybe I could be glad and rejoice in the trials I have had, even death.  Maybe Cole, my great-nephew, could tell me more about facing death each day, which I need to know, and how it is to live in heaven.  An inner compass points us in the stillness of our hearts, centered in and pointed in prayer, to God who loves us to and awaits us. The compass is the Spirit in us, (p. 102) who knows how to connect us and lead us to the Divine Mystery, three-in-one.

John Cooper

[1] Inner Compass, by Margaret Silf, Loyola Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8294-1366-9, p. 86.

[2] Ibid. p. 79

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. p. 86.

[5] Ibid. p. 89.

[6] Ibid.

Deception and Discernment in Christian Living

Deception and Discernment in Christian Living

(An Essay regarding The Screwtape Letters,[1] by C.S. Lewis and St. Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment[2])

            A key to discernment in the life of a Christian per The Screwtape Letters, is understanding humility and pride… “All virtues are less formidable to us [Satan and demons speaking] once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility” (Letter 14, p. 81).  Satan wants us to take false pride in our humility whereas God wants us to accept our areas of giftedness and give the glory to God alone, using our giftedness in service for His greater glory.  Turning away from self to God’s desires, letter 14 continues, “The Enemy [God] wants him, in the end, to be so free of any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents…” and “to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things” (Letter 14, p. 84).

Ignatius wants us to see God in all things and recognize Him in all decisions and desires.  Ignatius understands the wiles of the enemy, Satan.  Satan is likely to use reverse logic on us, just as Screwtape advises Wormwood.  Rules of Discernment I, (Note 314. 1.) states, “In the case of those who go from one moral sin to another, the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose [tempt] apparent pleasures.”  Satan rewards for our sins.  On the other hand, Ignatius advises that if we are in a good spirit, Satan reverses his logical method on us and “Then it is the characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles” etc. (note 315 2.).  Forgetting the self is a key to discernment.  Attention must turn outward, away from “self” and ego for proper discernment.  Both Screwtape Letters and The Spiritual Exercises advise that we have an enemy (n. 314.1).  The enemy’s desire in the Screwtape Letters to alter our awareness of the self.

One of the temptations of our enemy can be false consolations which counterfeit God’s true consolations.  Temptations can be matters of the mind, or of our imaginations, just as well as physical feelings.  Pleasure may come from actual infidelity or from imaginary infidelity.  Deep and lasting love is justified by decisions of chastity, poverty, and obedience, whether married or not married.  In the contemplative spiritual life, spiritual chastity, spiritual poverty, and spiritual obedience bring depth, width, and height to the practice of discernment in Christian living.  Our enemy would like it otherwise because he does not like such transcendental relationships (Letter 18, p. 108) lived in lasting humility, filled with love.  Life in the practice of discernment is not only about transcendent theories of love, or worship.  This life involves a type of dying, of giving up everything to live only in the love and grace of God.  Everything is brought to light in Examenation for discernment.

C.S. Lewis speaks of “ownership.” “The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged” says Screwtape (Letter 21, p. 125).  Mankind is to think he “owns” his body, to do with as he or she pleases.  Ownership and attachment are to be valued for everything – “my” house, “my” wife, “my” country, etc. until we are completely addicted to possessions (Letter 21, p. 126).  Pride and clinging to ownership without consideration of how “things” are to be used to praise, reverence, and worship our Lord is a way of deception.  God already “owns” everything and desires us to be “stewards” of all things given to us for His greater glory. Demanding that things are “ours” brings destruction to all, just as Satan wants.

One area I find C.S. Lewis himself may not have properly discerned is the ethics of war.  Does he to think that the death of humans in battle guarantees their place in heaven?  Screwtape says, “Or do you not realize that the patient’s death, at this moment, is precisely what we want to avoid?” (Letter 28, p. 165).  What about the Christian German soldiers, and Jews, killed and cooked to ashes in German prison camp ovens?  Are they going directly to heaven?  Are German prison camp guards sending these Jews directly to heaven?  Is Screwtape mad at Hitler too?  Perhaps C.S. Lewis has been triple tricked by the enemy in this one area.  In Letter 29 Screwtape asks, “Are we to aim at cowardice – or at courage, with subsequent pride – or at hatred of the Germans?” (Letter 29, P. 171,).  Screwtape is confused.  “There is here a cruel dilemma before us.  If we promote justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy’s hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces … a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor” (Letter 29, p. 173, 174).  The Myth of Redemptive Violence continues.

How are Christians to practice discernment?  When presented choices about loving or killing, following Jesus to the cross, or not following Him, dying daily to the self or feeding the self, what are we to do?  What are we to do with the choices between two or more good things?  Proper discernment is crucial.  It is crucial not to be deceived by the ploys of Satan as are imagined in The Screwtape Letters and spoken of in The Spiritual Exercises where Ignatius warns us about the trickery and false consolations of Satan.

For a Christian in the practice of discernment, there are always choices.  The first choice may be between humility and pride.  Another choice may be between love and hate, or war and peace.  Always discerning, always choosing, hopefully always in view of what is best to love, reverence, and praise our Lord, for His greater glory!

John Cooper

[1] Ltd. Annotations copyright, 2013, by Paul McCusker, ISBN 978-0-06-202317-9

[2] From The Spiritual Exercises, by Ludovico J. Puhl, S.J. ISBN-10 0-8294-0065-6