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The Who and What are the 'spirits' in the 14 Rules of St. Ignatius

Discernment in the Spiritual Life is a supernatural-supported decision-making process of cooperating with God's grace to grow in holiness day by day in choosing the greater good; while discernment in the world is a decision-making process also using our human faculties yet alone without grace.

St. Ignatius gave us 14 Rules for Discernment in choosing God's will in serving the greater good. It is a tool to live the spiritual life daily, to help you understand yourself on the deepest level concerning your interior struggle between good and evil. He describes what is happening inside us, what to look out for, to differentiate who is 'speaking', and what we choose with to discern what to accept or reject.

  • Aware

  • Understand

  • Choose

The 3-step process is: to be aware, to understand, and to accept or reject seems simple enough, yet there is more. We need to know who are all the players in the spiritual life, and how do they act in our interior life. The Rules give us not only what to look out for and how to act depending on where we are, and who and how they are acting within us.

What and Who are the 'spirits'

What are included under the terms St. Ignatius uses: the 'good spirits' and the ‘evil spirits' or the 'enemy,' and what are the graces that are already available to us? This listing has been drawn together from several sources: the Spiritual Exercises, several talks given by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, and the Catechism.

The 'good spirits'

  • God (CCC 798) –The Holy Spirit is "the principle of every vital and truly saving action in each part of the Body." He works in many ways to build up the whole Body in charity.

  • Sanctifying grace (habitual grace) is poured out in Baptism, it makes the soul holy – it is a state of the soul – there we receive the Giver of gifts, the Trinity, and we are sealed to become adopted sons and daughters being able to receive other graces (actual graces). Sanctifying grace remains with us unless it is lost by mortal sin; this first comes to us in Baptism and then through the other sacraments.

  • Actual grace is help given to us for a particular time to enlighten our minds and to move our will to do good and avoid or shun wrong; it must be acknowledged, received, interiorized and put into action. The Holy Spirit who works directly in our hearts through promptings and illuminations.

  • The Theological Virtues – Faith, Hope, and Charity; and all the other infused Virtues - Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Courage.

  • The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit given are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord, which are given for personal sanctification.

  • Individual God-given charism for serving others. Charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church: service, teaching, exhortation, contributes, acts of mercy, and prophecy are these gifts.

  • Good influences – such as other people, books, podcasts

  • And all of the influences that are from God and directed toward God

NOTE: (FromSpiritual Theology by Fr. Jordan Aumann Chp 4). Following the teaching of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas maintains that a person in the state of sanctifying grace still needs the further assistance of grace, first, "because no created thing can proceed to any action whatsoever except in virtue of the divine motion," and secondly, because of the actual state of human nature, subject to ignorance and weakness of the flesh and further hampered by the wounds of original sin. Moreover, even when endowed with sanctifying grace and the infused virtues, the just person needs the stimulus of actual grace to actuate those supernatural powers. Every act of an infused virtue requires a previous movement of grace to set that virtue or gift in motion. Actual grace also serves to activate the infused virtues.

The 'bad spirits'

'The enemy' – of our human nature: the devil, the world, and the flesh

  • Things around us in the world that can lead us away from God

  • Satan and the associated fallen angels – offer temptations. The enemy works within our human vulnerabilities and desires, telling lies and false reasonings.

  • Our flesh: what is internal in us such as a legacy of original sin - which is concupiscence (an inclination to commit sins). Concupiscence can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given in a particular meeting: the movement of a sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of human reason. The apostle Saint Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the "flesh" against the "spirit" (CCC 2515). Because man is a composite being, spirit, and body, there already exists a certain tension in him; a certain struggle of tendencies between the "spirit" and "flesh" develops. It's a consequence of sin and at the same time a confirmation of it. It is part of the daily spiritual battle (CCC 2516).

  • Tendencies - bad habits specified in our tradition as the 7 capital sins leads to other sins.

'Our vulnerabilities'

These are not 'spirits' but are areas that can lead us away from God, if we are not aware of, and do not take action for healing and reconciliation.

  • Shame* comes from past sins against us – can leave us with wounds not yet healed – with feeling of being unworthy or less of value which leads us into believing such about ourselves and reacting in a way that is not how God designed us to flourish.

  • Guilt from our past sins not confessed, or guilt from not making recompense; or believing we were not or could not be forgiven due to believing in our unworthiness which comes from shame*( that comes from sins against us).

Living the spiritual life and the life of discernment

Living the spiritual life and the life of discernment, we are to be reminded though they are both real - the good spirits and the enemy - yet they are not equal. Fr. Gallagher reminds us that the enemy – the devil and fallen angels - though a higher order than we, they use lies, while we have the Holy Spirit to guide us with reason.

There are many tools in Psychology for processing our mental and emotional wounds using our natural faculties, yet discernment of spirits is the processing tool for the mind, emotions, and the soul, the way that brings us hope.

The movements are involuntary, coming from the self, a good spirit, or a bad spirit, and freedom consists in a choice to either accept or reject the direction those movements propel us.

These movements or interior experiences can be related the
  • intellect (thoughts, reasonings, and imaginings) or

  • will (urges, impulses, and desires) or

  • affect (mood and emotion)

Consolation and desolation as understood in the Spiritual Exercises, are spiritual because they have God as their as their object, and are felt reactions to God and God's truth.

The Rules are a guide to being aware (state of being conscious*) as we use our reason (intellect) to understand and to choose (our will), all activated through accepting the gift of actual grace, a gift of God that brings us closer to God, who heals the wounds of our experiences housed with the mind-brain-body and soul.

What are we to be attentive to:

  • Head - Thoughts (beliefs, perceptions, our Intentions)

  • Heart - Feeling (emotions and body sensations, our Reactions)

  • Hands - Behaviors (Actions)

What we think is what we do and feel; What we feel is what we think and do; and What we do is what we think and feel.


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