How the First Rule of Ignatius caught me by surprise

To fulfill my requirements at Divine Mercy University to be a spiritual director, I needed to attend a retreat on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.  I chose the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Milford Ohio.  Fr. Mitch Pacwa of EWTN was the retreat master.    It was a fantastic experience, with one embarrassing but illuminating exception. 

Saint Ignatius brilliantly laid out the Rules for Discernment of Spirits.  He lists fourteen in Week One.  ‘Weeks’ are more like ‘stages’ of spiritual growth.  For more advanced situations, he lists eight more in Week Two. 

I thought I was far advanced in the spiritual life.  But at the end of the retreat, I found myself all the way back to the very First Rule of the very first week.  I felt like I was repeating Kindergarten.

The First Rule states:
In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy proposes to them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures to make them grow in their vices and sins.  In these persons the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.

Here’s what happened.  On the final day of the retreat, I was tired. I had a horrible night’s sleep. I wanted to get home before dark, and the retreat house was a seven-hour drive from home.  The Sunday morning schedule had a conference at nine o’clock, Rosary at ten, and Sunday Mass at eleven.  The voice of the enemy said, “You need to skip Mass and leave early.  You’re tired.  You went to Mass yesterday afternoon, so that counts.”  I did the retreat in February, and the voice added, “Think how nice it would be to sit on your comfy couch and watch the Super Bowl!”

I went back to my room and packed, ready to dash just as soon as Fr. Mitch finished his 9:00 AM conference. As I write this, I am horrified that I would even consider missing Sunday Mass. 

After breakfast, however, I went to the chapel.  There was an image of Saint Ignatius in one of the stained-glass windows.  He gazed upon me with a penetrating stare.  I recalled one foundation of Ignatian discernment: Stay within the Church.  If your discernment leads you anywhere else, you haven’t discerned properly. 

In the first rule, the bad spirit tempted me with “apparent pleasures” and “sensual delights”.  You need to rest and enjoy the Superbowl.  But the Good Spirit countered, ‘biting my conscience through the process of reason’:  Remember the teachings of Saint Ignatius?

I attended Sunday Mass.  The readings were about following the Law, and the homily was about how God’s law is rooted in God’s love.  A fitting affirmation that I had made the correct decision.

Although the retreat was powerful, my biggest takeaway might have come from this lesson in humility.  I’ll never be so far along the spiritual path to overlook the basics, even Week One, Rule One. 

May you hear and heed the voice of the Good Spirit in all that you do.