Consolation and Desolation

Brother John O'Brien, SJ speaks about Saint Ignatius, his conversion experience, the Jesuit spiritual exercises, consolation, desolation, and the Jesuit examen among other topics at his workshop on May 18, 2013 at the Guildford Recreation Centre in Surrey. (Photo: Paddy Magdua)

Brother John O’Brien, SJ speaks about Saint Ignatius and his conversion experience, the Jesuit spiritual exercises and examen, consolation, and desolation,  among other topics at his workshop on May 18, 2013 at the Guildford Recreation Centre in Surrey. (Photo: Paddy Magdua)

The Society of Jesus intimidates me.

Now, the Jesuits (members of the Society of Jesus) I’ve met are wonderful people and often give great, enriching homilies–Father Robert Allore, SJ at St. Mark’s parish is one of them. But as a religious order they have such a great academic, spiritual, and institutional résumé: they were founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Jean Brebeuf are among their ranks, they participated in the Counter-Reformation, actively helped colonise Canada and convert China in the 17th century, rescued the persecuted in the Holocaust, aided in the implementation of Vatican II, and made many contributions to science and academia including instituting universities. Pope Francis is one of the world’s most prominent Jesuits.

They’re called “God’s Marines” in some circles. That’s a huge name to live up to.

Brother John O’Brien, SJ certainly lives up to his call as a Jesuit and his workshop at the Regional Youth Conference (RYC) showed that. His workshop seemed a bit academically and spiritually intimidating when I first saw its title, “Paying attention to the movements of the heart: recognising consolation and desolation (and why they matter)” but it was one of the most fruitful workshops I’ve ever attended in my 3.5 years as a CFC Youth.

His workshop focused on the Rules for Discernment, found in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola (found online here). From there he zeroed-in on consolation and desolation and, more specifically, how to recognise where we stand at times in our lives and what to do when we feel desolate.

God is a God of consolation.” (Brother John O’Brien)

It was certainly fruitful to learn that integral to know where we are to make sense of whether or not we feel consolation, “the interior motion that becomes inflamed with love for the Lord,” or desolation, “contrary to the Catholic theological virtues”. Additionally, to learn that both consolation and desolation manifest in ways contrary to the obvious was a reminder to discern for all things carefully. Although it can be easy to feel desolate in obvious times of despair, we must also consider subtle consolations that stem from God and lead us closer to Him.

When in desolation, never change decisions that we made in consolation. Be strong and wait for consolation to return, which it will. When you are in the state of desolation, do not make a major decision.” (Brother John O’Brien)

In the contemporary religious landscape, the need for discernment in all aspects is important. As CFC Youths, we hear the term all the time but to truly consider it, to truly discern is to be an active listener of God’s voice, no matter how it may manifest itself. Whether in consolation or in desolation, whether God whispers to us when the world is too loud or not, I am certain that blessings abound when we are so in love with God that we are inflamed in Him and submit ourselves to His voice.

The world needs men and women of discernment. What is God saying to you?” (Brother John O’Brien)


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