December 18, 2017
From the second reading for the Third Sunday of Advent:
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.
This is a beautiful passage from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. It is a call to be prayerful in all aspects of our lives. This is what can enable us to “test everything; retain what is good.”
How do we test our decisions to make sure that we are retaining good and refraining from evil, or at least avoiding a bad choice and its consequences?
St. Ignatius of Loyola has laid out the process for us. When he was recovering from his serious battle wounds, he became aware of various movements in his spirit and emotions as he envisioned his future. He understood these movements as signs of either consolation from God, affirming their goodness, or desolation, signifying that they were not of God.
When our thoughts and imaginings result in dark or disturbing emotions, inner turmoil, doubts, and extreme anxiousness, and we feel cut off from others, or overly self-absorbed, the question to ask is: Where are these experiences coming from and to where are they moving me? The answer to this question is key to understanding that these feelings could be those of desolation, and thus are not coming from God or God’s Spirit. We need to stop at that point and check the direction of our lives.
If in our imaginings or our circumstances we experience peace and gratitude, connection with others, and are prompted to be grateful and to draw closer to God in faith, then these experiences can be those of consolation, coming from God’s own Spirit. We can be sad or happy and still be consoled; sadness is normal when, for example, dreams and hopes are dashed, or we lose someone or something we cherish. However, sadness can lead to greater openness to God and compassion for others; this sadness could be present even in a spirit of consolation.
Ignatius can be our best teacher in these situations, and his rules for discernment can be found in the Spiritual Exercises 313-336. A good spiritual director will be familiar with these rules, too.
My Advent prayer for all of us is the same as Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians in the rest of the passage:
May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,
be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful,
and he will also accomplish it.