According to Ignatius of Loyola (born in 1491) the good spiritual feelings that are stirred up within us he calls spiritual “consolation” and the negative and dark spiritual feelings he calls spiritual “desolation.”
Spiritual consolation is an experience of being connected to God and His love and mercy. We want to serve Him, love Him, and grow to know Him more and more. This encourages in us a deep sense of God’s faithfulness towards us, and that He is our companion through the “thick and thin” of life. The contrast of spiritual consolation is what Ignatius calls spiritual desolation. This is when we cave in to the darkness and commotion around us. Our thinking and decisions are fueled by doubts, temptations, and many self-preoccupations. We are restless and become alienated from others. The end product of spiritual desolation is that we are always taking one step backwards, living without faith, hope, or love.
We all fall victim of spiritual desolation just as we have moments of spiritual consolation. For St. Ignatius much of the spiritual life is largely about “interpreting” the “whys” and “whens” these contrasting movements of “desolation” and “consolation” come to us and where it all might they be leading us?
Keep in mind, spiritual consolation is not always moments of happiness. Jesus tells us, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” Sometimes when we are at our lowest it can be a moment of real truth and conversion giving way to a deeper trust with God. Human suffering when surrendered to the Holy Spirit becomes powerful redemptive medicine for us.
The season of Lent encourages us to try to understand the “whys” and “whens” that consolation and desolation enter our soul and thinking. This can help us move to a deeper conversion with God and maybe help us face changes we need to make.