St. Ignatius Loyola’s use of the terms “consolation” and devotion” in describing our spiritual experience
The term ‘consolation’ describes the essence of Ignatius Loyola’s spiritual experience. ‘Consolation’ is the aim and purpose of God’s labor in each person’s life. ‘Consolation’ also expresses the heart of our spiritual desires. Among the writings of Ignatius, his most familiar description of ‘consolation’ is found in Rule Three concerning ‘Rules for the Discernment of Spirits more suitable for the First Week of The Spiritual Exercises’. Rule Three assists one ‘to perceive and understand to some extent the various movements produced in the soul.’ Ignatius explains:
‘On spiritual consolation. I use the word “consolation” when any interior movement is produced in the soul that leads her to become inflamed with the love of her Creator and Lord, and when, as a consequence, there is no created thing on the face of the earth that we can love in itself, but we love it only in the Creator of all things. Similarly, I use the word “consolation” when one sheds tears that lead to love of one’s Lord, whether these arise from the grief over one’s sins, or over the Passion of Christ Our Lord, or over other things expressly directed toward His service and praise. Lastly, I give the name “consolation” to every increase of hope, faith, and charity, to all interior happiness that calls and attracts a person towards heavenly things and to the soul’s salvation, leaving the soul quiet and at peace in her Creator and Lord.’
In other words, consolation is essence is any increase of love, and this experience of love is rooted in the workings of God and leads us to God.
Another word that Ignatius frequently uses in describing his spiritual experience is “devotion”. The word ‘devotion’ is found only four times in The Spiritual Exercises. However, Ignatius uses the term ‘devotion’ frequently in The Spiritual Diary and in the Jesuit Constitutions. Though not equivalent to ‘consolation’, ‘Devotion is an aspect of consolation, an experience we have no power on our side to arouse or sustain and which we must not put down to our own account.’ To ‘find devotion’ is to ‘find what I want’, in other words, an increase of faith, hope, and love. Devotion is the catalyst that points the individual to consolation. Examples may include an object, such as a work of art; a place, such as a shrine; a person, such as the life of a saint; style of prayer, such as contemplation or the rosary; or an event, such as a pilgrimage.
All of these examples point one to deeper consolation. ‘Thus in prayer one should “rest until satisfied” at the point where one has found devotion.’ Any experience, encounter, or memory that ‘facilitates finding God’ forms the essence of devotion. Ignatius describes what he meant by devotion in his summary of his spirituality as recorded in his Autobiography. He was ‘always growing in devotion, i.e. in facility in finding God, and now more than ever in his whole life. And every time and hour he wanted to find God, he found him. And that now too he had visions often, especially those which have been talked about above, when he saw Christ as a sun. This often used to happen as he was going along talking about important things, and that would make him arrive at assurance.’ Devotion is the result of God’s activity, always laboring to move us towards deeper faith, hope, and love.
My hope is that every retreatant who comes to El Retiro, no matter what type of retreat he or she chooses, encounters an experience of “devotion” and notices that he or she is guided by the “consolation” of God.
Fr. Kevin Leidich, a native of San Francisco is an experienced Spiritual Director and has been a member of the JRC Pastoral Staff since August 2014.