Discernment advice from St. Ignatius


I’ve always wanted to be a priest and heal souls! That’s why I’m discerning the priesthood. But lately, I’ve lost interest and think maybe God isn’t calling me any more.

One of the most difficult parts of discerning your vocation is knowing when to accept a motivation as being from God or contrary to God’s plan. The path ahead is sometimes unclear, especially when your emotions are divided.

In these difficult moments, a bit of advice from St. Ignatius comes to our aid. In his Discernment of Spirits, St. Ignatius provides a clear way to determine the path forward in these seemingly complicated situations. Be aware that, as with any good action, it requires work and reflection.

The first thing to do, says St. Ignatius, is to be sure that you are working to avoid sin and live virtue. The enemy will have an easier time luring the man who persists in sin into further sinfulness, whereas a man striving for virtue will be aided by the good spirit to see and desire that which helps him to love God.

The rest of his advice lies in understanding Spiritual Consolation and Spiritual Desolation.

Spiritual consolation is a spiritual gift which can help the soul to become more in tune with God’s plan. It is an interior movement of the soul to love God first, and all other things in Him. It is a growth in virtue or joy which lead a man to strive for love of God. Spiritual desolation, on the other hand, is the de-motivation of the soul which makes one apathetic, feeling separated from God, darkness of soul. St. Ignatius also describes it as the restlessness that comes from temptation, especially temptation against faith, hope and charity.

When you experience spiritual consolation, it is not difficult to continue doing what you know to be good and right, because the good spirit provides strength and courage. However, it is important to remain humble, knowing that any good you do ultimately depends on grace. During spiritual consolation, St. Ignatius counsels that you should prepare for the time of spiritual desolation, since it will eventually come. Consider what will be most difficult for you to continue doing when your emotions are telling you to give in or turn away, and be ready.

There are three reasons for spiritual desolation, says St. Ignatius. First, you may have become lazy in your spiritual exercises; you aren’t keeping up with your commitment to prayer, the sacraments, moral living, etc. Second, God may be providing an opportunity to test your resolve and progress in the spiritual life. And, finally, it may provide an opportunity for the soul to understand how completely it relies on God, since lasting spiritual consolation only comes from Him.

During a period of spiritual desolation, the enemy will assault you with temptations, doubts, and apathy. He will work to discover and exploit your weaknesses, so it is crucial to remain firm in your purpose. St. Ignatius says that this is not the time to make a decision to change your course. On the other hand, he advises that you should be even more fervent in your spiritual exercises. Also, since the enemy works in deceit and secrecy, it is imperative to be completely open with your spiritual director.

When you remain firm against spiritual desolation, clinging to your devotion to God rather than abandoning it, the enemy will become scared. He may lash out with renewed fury. But fear not. St. Ignatius tells us that, to a man who remains firm in times of spiritual desolation, God will bring spiritual consolation soon!

Note that Spiritual Consolation and Desolation are different from ordinary consolation or desolation. Ordinary consolation and desolation are simple parts of daily life which do not really affect the spiritual life directly. For example, a full stomach can cause one to feel good, a consolation, while he still experiences spiritual desolation because he is living a life of sin. On the other hand, spiritual consolation and desolation are specifically the soul’s movement toward or away from God.

If you are having doubts about your discernment, be careful that you are receiving good direction, that you are not making choices during a time of spiritual darkness or desolation, and that you remain firm of purpose until God gives you a clear indication that He wants you to change course. In this way, you will be sure to remain open to God’s plan, and certainty of your vocation will be given to you in His time.