Consolation, desolation, and healing

April 24th, 2020

What is true healing? What’s really our goal in seeking God? These questions have arisen for me, a former Christian Scientist, as I’m going through an advanced prayer course with fellow Catholics. It is the same formation that priests get, and it’s the only time that this instruction in St. Ignatius spirituality has ever been done in the United States. I feel quite blessed, and I wanted to share one aspect of it here.

First, consider the condition called Spiritual Consolation.  This is when one is filled with faith, hope and love, drawn to heavenly things from the “good spirits”, moving toward God.  But the evil spirits are always there, biting and nipping at our heels, trying to sow seeds of discouragement and doubt.

The opposite condition is Spiritual Desolation.  This is when one feels down, overwhelmed, defeated by world events, futile, “what’s the use,” “what difference does it make,” “the hell with it.” These thoughts are from the evil spirit and draw one away from God. But the good thoughts are still there, pricking at the conscience, telling one “this isn’t right!”

The problem with our Christian Science background is that proceeding from the Mary Baker Eddy notion that “evil is unreal,” we may be completely oblivious to that inner struggle and simply deny the existence of the evil spirits.

We’re tempted to take all these thoughts as our own– but they are not, they are from the Evil One.  Then Satan has a field day! St Ignatius’s rule is You do not make decisions that change your life when you are in Desolation.

For it is precisely in Desolation that people–especially Christian Scientists, unaware of this eternal spiritual battle that rages within all of us–will quit something (a job, a church, a school), or get divorced,  or even commit murder or suicide.  Satan and his demons high-five one another and get kudos in Hell if they can get someone to kill themselves or others.

The Christian Science God is “applied” by Christian Scientists to fix their lives, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise, to lever the supernatural to achieve their personal goals.  But this is self-salvation and is counter to Jesus’ teaching and example of growing closer to God to learn His will for us.

(Topic for another time: After becoming Catholic I was interested to learn that the emphasis on spiritual healing of our physical bodies is largely a Protestant notion. I’ve come to believe that God gives us what we need for our spiritual development, not necessarily our health.  What an eye-opener for a former Christian Scientist.)

The notion that we are all the “perfect children of God”–and able to conjure up this perfection with the Bicknell Young formula of “know what is so clearly so it replaces what appears to be”– is found wanting.  Sadly, the resulting failure to realize some “pivotal healing” too often destroys faith in the “healing power of Truth” and ultimately casts doubt on truth itself, leaving a disillusion Christian Scientist spiritually adrift.

This brings us back to the concept of Spiritual Desolation as described above. The way out of Desolation is more intense prayer and self-examination, asking the Lord to reveal where Satan is finding the chink in one’s spiritual armor.

Bear in mind that the goal is not Spiritual Consolation for its own sake, but getting closer to God–or more precisely, to realize that God is always near–even though Satan would try to tell us that God has turned his back on us, or doesn’t exist, or is far away and uninterested in His children.

I think we can all recall decisions we’ve made in desolation and how they’ve turned out. In light of this knowledge of Consolation/Desolation, we can ponder and review, and be aware for the next bout of Desolation, better equipped to overcome it through God’s grace and draw nearer to Him.


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