By Fr. Corey Close
In my recent training as a spiritual director I have learned many things that have greatly aided my spiritual journey. One spiritual aid I plan to discuss now and in the following months is St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Rules for the Discernment of Spirits.
St. Ignatius was a 16th century Spaniard who had an incredible spiritual journey that led him from life as a vainglorious soldier to a soldier for Christ and founder of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. At the beginning of his conversion, he had an awakening to the inner workings of the spiritual life and developed rules to better understand and live out life in Christ. I found these rules profoundly practical, helpful and freeing.
St. Ignatius’ first set of rules numbers 14, which I will cover in this series. If you would like to learn these rules in greater depth, please read “The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living” by Father Timothy Gallagher, OMV. I am greatly indebted to him for what I know on this topic.
The first two rules of St. Ignatius tell us about the two types of people in the world and how the Good Spirit and the Evil Spirit act in regards to these persons.
Rule 1: A “Rule 1” person is someone who goes from mortal sin to mortal sin and is unconcerned about intimacy with Our Lord. These individuals may be “average people” who do not look like “big sinners,” but in their hearts they are concerned with their own pleasure and happiness rather than growing close to God. In these people, the evil spirit acts as a “good friend” who knows the next pleasure that will really make them happy. These sinful pleasures continue the imprisonment of the person’s life to the Evil Spirit, drawing them farther away from God.
The Good Spirit, contrariwise, bites the person’s conscience with thoughts such as, “Is this all there is in life? Isn’t there more? Wasn’t I made for something better? Will this really make me happy? Has this ever really made me happy?” This is akin to a man running toward the edge of a cliff, driven by the Evil Spirit’s designs, while the Good Spirit shoots an arrow into the man’s ankle to prevent his demise. It may hurt, but it is only out of love for that person’s ultimate health and salvation.
Rule 2: “A Rule 2” person is someone who has turned away from their previous life of sin and has put God first. This does not mean that sin is behind them — the work of being converted to the will of God in daily life is an ongoing process — but this person has committed to placing God first. Ignatius sees it as “rising from the good to the better in service of their Lord.” Rule 2 people actively cooperate with the Lord for their growth from vice into virtue.
In these people the Good Spirit takes the role as friend, a true friend. He calms, consoles and gives peace and reassurance in the face of opposition. The Evil Spirit, contrariwise, bites, saddens and places obstacles in their path, giving false reasons for not continuing in the service of God.
At this point you may be wondering, “What rule person am I?”All of us, at times, have apparent pleasures proposed to us that are sinful and thus we look like Rule 1 people. None of us is as committed to Christ as we should be. The question to ask: Is intimacy with Christ the number one guiding light in my life or is something else? It is important to be honest, or we will never grow. A Rule 1 person doesn’t have to look like a serial killer or Hitler. They simply disregard intimacy with Christ as a life priority, choosing a hobby or something else as the focus of their attention. If we are committed to Christ, we desire intimacy with him above all else, even amidst our personal sinfulness.
Pray about how committed you are to serving Jesus. Ask yourself: “Is Jesus number one in my life or does something else take precedence? Do I truly desire intimacy with Christ, or do I keep God at an emotional distance?” Ask for the Spirit’s guidance in this and be honest. All of us, no matter where we are in our spiritual journey, have places in our life where God does not take precedence.
If you find a part of your life where God is not the priority, where you do things your way and not his, bring it to him — no matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable it may seem. Telling God where we are and being honest is the surest sign that we are committed to him and that we are growing in our relationship. My prayer is that all of us continue to grow in intimacy with Jesus, the Blessed Trinity and Mary and, with their help, we root out all parts of our lives that have not yet been touched by the love of God.
(Fr. Corey Close is parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.)