For the Love of God

Jesus-ConsolationAlthough I have limited exposure to and experience with Ignatian Spirituality two of its core terms ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’ have been part of my vocabulary for nearly all of my Catholic life. Recently I used these terms so freely that I found myself having to find a simple and concise explanation for them. What came immediately to mind was the context of a love relationship. After due consideration it continues to seem fruitful to me so I would like to share it with you while conceding that I am in no wise an authority on the subject.

Spiritual consolation is like an affirmation of love. It’s similar to showing or telling someone, “I love you.” The only difference is that with spiritual consolation Jesus is the one expressing that love to you. He gives you feelings of love out of His perfect goodness. Our natural response then is to reciprocate that expression of love by replying in prayer, “I love you too.”

Desolation is like a moment of silence in a love relationship. No words are spoken but no less love is exchanged. It is a quiet moment when we wonder what the other person is thinking or we may even question if the other person is truly present with us at all. Even if we venture to speak the words, “I love you” we may not hear them in return. The only difference in spiritual desolation is that Jesus is silent for our good.

Like most simple definitions, it’s a good place to start but it brings up more questions. To fully understand the implications of this love relationship with God one must consider the magnitude of having a relationship with the almighty, all-knowing, all-loving, eternal God in contrast to having relationships with purely ordinary, knowing, loving, temporal people[1] . Both are persons but in the case of Jesus the person is also God and therefore perfect in all things especially love. Indeed, God is love itself. That means that every expression, action and movement or lack of the same must be from the pure motive of perfect love. In an ordinary relationship if we were to say, “I love you” but not hear that reciprocated, the natural thing to think or feel is to doubt the other person’s sincerity in that relationship or wonder if that person is holding a grudge. To continue loving another in this kind of ordinary relationship would mean unrequited love and would demand fortitude that few people can sustain long term. Knowingly entering into marriage under these circumstances would seem like a mistake. And this is where the problem in the analogy happens.

Earthly marriage is like spiritual marriage but not the same. The spiritual relationship and indeed marriage of the soul to God is never unrequited even in times of desolation (consider also that it is we who reciprocate love since God is the originator and author of love and we are made in His image). In fact, it is impossible to keep another from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Only the act of our free will can separate us from God. Now we are beginning to understand the point of desolation since the only factor in this love relationship that we have control of is our free will to love as perfectly as possible. Not just the good of reciprocal love, which is love for love given, but rather the perfection of love for love’s sake. This is the point of desolation; to reveal to us the disposition of our hearts toward God through trials because He wants for us to join Him in His perfect love by loving perfectly without provocation. So, during desolation (as at all times) we have the choice of doing nothing or continuing to love Jesus and pray the same as if we had received consolation. For whether we sense it or not, the Love of God is as constant as the rays of the Sun continually shining on all of us indiscriminately. The difference is simply whether we acknowledge it and continue to trust Him.

Romans 8:38-39
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
38For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might,
39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  1. This is from Therese of Avila rather than from Ignatius. Interior Mansions pg. 44 []

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