Rise Up and Fight the Spiritual Desolation

When we’re in the face of desolation, the Lord Jesus, our captain says: Rise up and fight! Oppose your enemy.
— Monsignor John Cihak

Key Takeaways

  • In this week's gospel reading, we hear about the woman caught in adultery, who Jesus saves from being stoned. Is she the future St. Mary Magdalene? We're not told for certain, but there is a strong oral tradition in the Church making that connection. If this woman is St. Mary Magdalene, it shows that even the worst of sinners can become the greatest of saints.

  • Even though Mary Magdalene turned away from her sin to follow Jesus, it's easy to think how she may have felt spiritual desolation from time to time. Did she think the Lord was being too good to her, or that she was undeserving of his love?

  • In our own prayer life, we may get the suggestion to be discouraged or fearful or sad about following Jesus more deeply. This is the work of the evil one, trying to discourage us in following Jesus. Saint Ignatius of Loyola knew this, and he called this movement "desolation".

  • When we're in the face of desolation, the Lord Jesus, our captain says: Rise up and fight! Oppose your enemy.

Full Audio Transcript

00:01                                 There she stands in the midst of that crowd before Jesus. In her mind its all over. She can already feel the sharp stones crashing into her twisted and hurting body.

00:20                                 She knows she's sinned and sinned grievously. She was caught in the very act of committing adultery.

00:24                                 Along with murder and idolatry, adultery has always been considered by God to be among the worst of sins, and in the old covenant, the penalty for this sin is death. A brutal physical death to match the spiritual death of her soul. All seems lost. All she can see are the faces of angry men full of wrath & judgement. She is full of shame and guilt. She is helpless and now her life lies in the hands of this Jesus. He exchanges some words, writes on the ground, and it begins to dawn on her that the stones are not being flung at her.

01:15                                 And in fact the angry crowd has been reduced to silence and slowly the mob dissipates, leaving her alone with her savior. This Jesus is doing something new.

01:32                                 And has saved her from death. He reaches out her hand, she grabs it and pulls her to her feet, tells her that he's in, does not condemn her and then gives her a command: Go and do not sin anymore.

01:50                                 Jesus hates sin, but he loves sinners and because he loves her, he hates the sin and pulls her out of it. And in our sin we have all been there in the place of this woman. And is she the future Saint Mary Magdalene? We're not told for certain, but there is a strong oral tradition in the church making that connection. And I would like to think that this woman is Saint Mary Magdalene, if only for the reason to show that even the worst of sinners can become the greatest of saints. She was one of the few that's remained faithful and stood at the foot of the altar at the Cross when Jesus was being crucified. I've always been struck by that line attributed to St John Vianney: Not all the saints started life well, but they all ended well. So what do you think this woman did for the rest of her life after being saved by Jesus? I imagine she began to follow him, especially if she's Saint Mary Magdalene and became this utterly faithful disciple of his.

03:09                                 But do you think that this past sin haunted her? Did she ever struggle with discouragement and anxiety about following Jesus. When she went to pray I wonder if the thought crossed her mind: who do you think you are trying to become holy? How can you come back from something like that? It's only a matter of time before everyone realizes the fraud that you really are.

03:41                                 Have you ever had that happen in your spiritual life? In prayer, getting the suggestion to be discouraged or fearful or sad about following Jesus more deeply. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, knew it and he called this movement desolation.

04:01                                 You know, these Sundays of Lent we've been exploring with Saint Ignatius how to pray, you know, using our imagination and the senses and to begin to discern the spiritual movements of the soul, to discover what is of the Lord and what is of our enemy. And hopefully we've engaged in that dedicated time of prayer each day, even if it's only for one minute.

04:26                                 And last week on Laetare Sunday and that that festival rose that we, that we saw, we talked about how the prodigal son illustrates those first two rules of discernment. Illustrating that first rule of discernment when he went away from his father's house into that distant country and how the, how the good spirits and the bad spirit move. Then when he turned around and went back to his merciful father and how the movements of the spirits shifted, right? The good spirit over here going away from God. The good spirit was biting in the moral conscience, whereas the bad spirit was trying to intensify the pleasure of the sin in the imagination. Whereas when we turn and go back to the Lord, it is the Lord the good spirit that is encouraging and, and lifting us up and trying to speed our way to him. Whereas the bad spirit begins to bite and tries to create anxiety and sadness and obstacles towards that movement.

05:32                                 And today or hopefully you've, you've seen in the, in the bulletin last week when I wrote about some of the resources that we can go to both in books and online. So see where I got this material and where you can go more deeply into it.

05:45                                 Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent and you notice in the church not festive rose, but there's something different about, about the church and even behind me, our statues and crosses are covered, getting us ready for, for the, for the, for Passion week, for the Sacred Triduum.

06:04                                 And now we can look at the, at, at, at the two next rules that Ignatius gives us and how they might be, have, have played out in the life of the woman caught in adultery. I say might because it is conjecture, but it's reasonable conjecture because this is part and parcel of our spiritual lives of the lives of the saints, of anyone who is, who is seeking to follow Jesus.

06:29                                 Now we looked at one and two last week. So let's look at three and four and in rules three and four, Ignatius gives us basically a description of what he means by spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation. Spiritual consolation...even from the word consoling, it's a, it's a happy and uplifting movement of the soul that is directly impacting our spiritual life. That's why we call it spiritual consolation. It's happy, uplifting. It instills joy and gives peace. The soul is inflamed with love for the Lord, perhaps shedding tears, an increase of faith and hope and charity. An interior joy that calls and attracts the heavenly things, spiritual delight, refreshment, a quieting and stilling of the heart.

07:27                                 I think of how that might've played out in this woman's life as she was praying later on when she thought about what Jesus had done for her and the joy of the fact that he saved her and perhaps shedding tears of joy and, and of the remembrance of how good he is and how it increased her trust in him that he was going to take her the rest of the way in holiness.

07:54                                 Right. That's, that's the spiritual consolation and we know from from what we learned last week, what we're supposed to do with spiritual consolation. We welcome it. We agree with it. Even if we think the Lord's being too good to us. Okay? That itself is a lie from the evil one to try to let us reject or leave by the side what the Lord wants to give us. In a way, let the Lord love us the way he wants to, not the way we think he should.

08:25                                 Right? So to welcome and roll around and absorb that spiritual consolation. Right, we're, we're practicing, being aware to understand and to take action and with a good spirit, we are aware. We understand that it's from the Lord and we take action, that we welcome it and agree with it and bring it in.

08:47                                 Now, when, when Ignatius calls it a spiritual consolation, he implies also that there is a non-spiritual consolation. A natural consolation that could happen in life all the time. Say for example, having a nice meal with some friends, your heart feels uplifted and satisfied with that. Yeah, that's a spirit. Let's, it'd be a nonspiritual, natural consolation or I think here, here in Oregon, one of the things that always kind of zings me is on a clear evening, uh, when you can see Mt. Hood, and the setting sun hits the Western slope of it lights it up, right? Oh yeah. So that's, I mean, you could say, wow, just that's, that's beautiful to see... Non- spiritual consolation.

09:30                                 But Ignatius also says that a non-spiritual consolation can be a springboard into a spiritual consolation. Takes that same example of a sunset. So in appreciating the beauty in that, that consolation of the sunset, I can think of the Lord and the fact of how awesome he is and how the beautiful things that he makes and his goodness for us and taking care of us and they could see how that brings us up into a spiritual consolation.

10:03                                 Now, desolation, spiritual desolation is the opposite of this. It's a darkness, a disturbance, an agitation, an anxiety, a movement to lower things, a lack of confidence, a discouragement, a decrease of faith, hope and charity, feeling spiritually slothful and tepid. Sad about following the Lord and it's not the sadness of contrition for our sins. It's the sadness that saps our spiritual energy and our desire for prayer. This week, last week we heard about this is the work of the evil one, right? Trying to discourage and do despirit us from going to the Lord.

10:54                                 And just like consolation, there can be a non-spiritual desolation. Here's an example of a non-spiritual desolation: I get up in the morning and I'm just in a bad mood and I go down and the kids didn't pick up. It didn't do what they're supposed to. And then I go to work and my boss yells at me, and on my way home I get a speeding ticket, right? All those things, everything going wrong, I could, I could have that sense of darkness, disturbance, agitation, anxiety, just blah, right? Non-spiritual desolation. A spiritual desolation has to do with my relationship with the Lord and my spiritual life. And a nonspiritual desolation can also be a springboard into spiritual desolation. Let's take that same example. Everything goes wrong. And all of a sudden I began to think, and the suggestion there is, you know what, the Lord really doesn't care about you. He may be good to other people, but you know, you're just a big mess up and, and uh, you deserve all this and he's really kind of done with you. He doesn't care. He's not going to come through with you. You shouldn't trust him, right? You see how a non-spiritual desolation turns into a spiritual desolation.

12:02                                 So this is when Ignatius, and how he describes it, right? And this is going on in our spiritual life. There's an ebb and flow to those things. Um, and so what we are supposed to do, that spiritual desolation is that we act against it. We're not to passively endure it, but rather we are to, to rise up and fight against it. That we disagree with it, that we call it the life for what it is that we resist and that we persevere in our walk with the Lord showing patience.

12:37                                 Talking about that non-spiritual how it can become a spiritual desolation. This is where the devil can really get at us in that because he's super lazy. He's, he's the epitome of all the vices. He always attacks where we're weakest. So sometimes in our lives, we can have a certain woundedness in us. It could be from our family, could be in a, in a, a family relationship or another sort of relationship. Uh, some sort of abuse or trauma from us. Maybe we suffer from depression, anxiety and addiction, right? And that we want to bring, of course, all of the goodness of medical science to help treat those things. But those can become weak points where the evil one will try to use that to create a spiritual desolation in our, in our souls and to dispirit us. And that's why we want to use everything that, you know, the medical sciences, the Lord's source of all truth to use all those things to help us in those areas. Um, and to, and to, he wants to heal us from those, from those things. Uh, but to oppose and to resist the spiritual desolations. So the same with, with, uh, with a, with a woman caught in adultery.

13:53                                 Hopefully that was Mary Magdalene. And that when that spiritual desolation came, she would oppose that with the, with the truth of the love of God and the fact that that the Lord saved her that time and will save her again and again and again and again and make her holy. And that she would believe that even though he had died on the cross, that he would rise from the dead and to, to, to continue to resist that. And this is where perhaps it was because Ignatius was a soldier. But even Saint Paul talks about the Christian life in military terms, when we're in the face of desolation, the Lord Jesus, our captain says, rise up and fight, oppose your enemy. And this is why so, so often evil goes unchecked in the world is because good people don't do that. We are to rise up and to fight our enemy, especially at this one. And that battlefield is right down in here (in our heart) in our prayer.

14:57                                 So I do hope that that, that this woman that we just heard from is Saint Mary Magdalene and then she moved forward in her life, not in discouragement and in being haunted by her past, but discerning the movements and rejecting the work of the bad spirit and welcoming the work of the good spirit.

15:18                                 And a great way to do this work is in Eucharistic adoration. You know, one of the final things we have in our Lenten preparation here at the parish - Friday, we have all day adoration from after mass until stations of the cross in the evening. While the blesses sacrament exposed here, the church will be open and there'll be signups in the back of the church. But even if you can't sign up for for a longer period of time, just stop by for five or 10 minutes, do that prayer we've been talking about. Sit and listen with the Lord and let his gaze come upon us to sift those movements of our hearts. To become aware, to understand, and to take action. Saint Paul's words to the Philippians today, just like last week, just hit it home. What does he tell us? I have accepted the loss of all things. I consider them so much rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own. I continue my pursuit and hope that I may possess it. Since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus. Forgetting what lies behind, but straining forward to what lies ahead.

16:51                                 It doesn't matter what we've done. Whoever hands himself or herself over to Christ will become a new creation.

Ashley Micciche