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What is Spiritual Consolation?

Q: Dear Father John, What kind of general advice should I give to a person who is experiencing a lot of Peter's Tears El Grecoconsolation 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?

A: God 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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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". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently resides in his Order’s General Directorate in Rome, where he is continuing his writing apostolate. His blog contains questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. His online retreats are available at www.RCSpirituality.org.

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QJPSTEVMQAO3LALLJEHDGQTXOI Teresa

    I find so much consolation in adoration and that is about the only time right now. I am not sure if it is consolation but it is comforting. I feel God speaking to me with each visit. My spiritual director seems to knock down what I feel God is saying. Like compassion and mercy is your vocation or mercy does not discriminate. I also go to confession the same day I go to adoration. Gods forgiveness is always a consolation for me. The Lord seems to make clear his will and what is not his will along pointing out sins faults and other spiritual things. When I know I am physically in Gods presence I am consoled and filled with joy but afraid what I feel is coming God is not because of what my spiritual director thinks about. What should I do?

  • Becky Ward

    Great advice Fr. John – we can’t do better than remembering what the masters have taught – your explanations make them easier to apply on a daily basis, and in our current environment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chamay.papi Chamay Papi

    wow.i have a question,ihave 12 yrold girl and a 10 year old girl both whomlive withthier mom out of state,italk to themdaily and pray with them and for them daily, my 12 yr old was caught lieing to us again today she was told she couldnt have a boyfriend in december whenshe got caught lying to us about having a boyfriend but i forgave her and encouraged her to do right…so today i find out notonly is she still with her boyfriend but now she kisses him and her little sister the 10 yr old has a boyfriend aswell, now the positive is that God answered my prayers i has been praying real hard for them lately asking for our father to protect his kids and i feel he answered me by letting them get caught, having said all that, i was really merciful with them but stern, we will be home schooling for the rest of the year but it seems that my talk of God to them doesnt work, and when i talk to them as man about how men think it doesnt work, i guees i dont know what i/m asking but if you have advice please help and please include us in your prayers.thanks

    • jcmeg56

      These girls need their father WITH them — nearby physically to hug them, touch them with fatherly affection, look into their eyes and tell them how he admires them, naming the good qualities he wants to encourage in them, telling them they are intelligent and beautiful children of God. Long distance cannot possibly replace your physical presence. Consider moving to live near them so you can have daily contact with them. Because of divorce our society is not ordered to optimize children’s lives and well being. The burden is on you as their father to do this if their mother is not making the effort. How did you end up in different states? Was it you that moved away? Did their mother take them away? Your girls are living a disordered childhood and there will be inevitable damage, negative consequences that will follow them into adulthood. Because of divorce or parental separation, a failure in the relationship of their parents, their lives have been altered and their destinies changed. You must do EVERYTHING possible to re-unite with their mother and salvage their childhood. If their mother will have no part of it, then do EVERYTHING you can do unilaterally to make sure you are there for them — physically as well as in word. Nothing else in your life right now is more important than being present for them in their developing years. You only have a few short years to influence them for God and for good; to spare them as much as possible from the ravages of satan at this most important and most vulnerable time in their lives. I plead with you as a family court mediator who has watched for 20 years as oblivious parents plant the seeds of their children’s distruction in pursuit of their own selfish “needs.” God help you to see the urgency of what is needed here and to make it a priority in your life. Do not leave your girls with a father-need, which they turn to boys and young men to fulfill, then fall into moral desolation.
      From one who’s been there and survived to tell it and urge others to avoid it.

  • RobinJeanne

    Be there for them as much as possible and go to Mass every week. Be an example of how important it is to have God in your life. Also instead of “punishment” maybe read with them books by Jason Evert and his wife who both give talks and write book on Chastiy, they are great. Two books by them are “Pure Love’ and “How to find your soulmate without Loosing Your Soul” Be active in their lives, you set the example of what a good man is. And of course keep praying for them. As parents thats sometimes all we can do… are best and remember they to have free will and are at the age they are accountable for their actions… Have they been catechized… do they know what sin is?mortal and venial sin? Why they need a relationship with Jesus? I began to like boys at there age but only for kissing. In my ignorance about birthcontrol I would never “go all the way” because I thought it meant instant pregnancy. I was raised by two faithful Catholice parents who went and took us to Mass every week but with 7 kids in the family dad worked 2 jobs and was never around (except Sundays) and mom was busy with the younger kids. They didn’t do alot of talking with us or sharing their faith. I think because when they were growing up , people just didn’t do that. They sent us to CCD and 4 yrs of Catholic school. I guess they figured we should be learning what we needed to learn but that was the 60′s and 70′s and religious education was poor.

  • Tessye Soria

    Hello there, I am not sure I understood your question, so I will try to help by sharing my experience. When I am consoled (immense joy & peace, no worries, etc..), I feel very blessed and undeserving, as all good things, within us and around us, are soley gifts from God that He gives (Corinthians 4:7 and James 1:17). During this time, I ask God to give me more love for me to give back to Him so I can trust and praise Him more….especially during the times when I don’t feel consoled.
    God bless and peace to you.