In Ignatius’ classic Spiritual Exercises, a guide for spiritual directors to give a 30-day retreat, Ignatius has a number of annotations or suggestions for spiritual directors. Some of the most helpful and discussed are his Rules of Discernment. These rules guide understanding whether something is from God or satan (or at least a distraction from God.) Ignatius’ rules are split into two groups. The first group is discussed in Gallagher’s earlier book The Discernment of Spirits. Spiritual Consolation discusses the second set of rules.
The second set of rules largely focuses on spiritual consolation and desolation and how the more mature believer may be tempted by satan differently than a less mature believer might. The central insight in my mind is that generally, satan seems to tempt less mature Christians by desolation, making them question God or their path. But in this second set of rules, Ignatius focuses on the idea that satan tempts more mature Christians by placing additional good opportunities or ideas in their path as a way to distract them from the better option.
One example in the book is a deacon that has come to a new parish and is helping it clean up its finances, become more focused in ministry, do fundraising, etc. But as he is there a while, he realizes that the youth programs are inadequate, and no one is taking a real interest in youth and their discipleship. So he considers if whether he should stop his work with administration and finance and refocus his time on youth. It is not that either is bad. Both may be what God is calling him to. But either adding too much onto your plate so that you cannot do either well, or working on both but losing time and energy for personal devotion and prayer is a bad long-term result.
The point of rules of discernment, especially this second set, is that God does have a plan for you and that God is trying to guide us to be more aware of his presence. But satan (or more general sin and temptation) regularly tempt us away from the better path. Ignatius does not suggest that there is only one path, and if we veer off of it, we are lost. There are good and better and sometimes awful options, but God can work for our good even if we choose less good options. However, trying to stay in a path that is the right one and hearing from God is what we should strive more most of the time.
I really disagree at points with Gallegher, especially around satan’s ability to mimic God’s consolation. I think that what satan is doing is mimicking but not actually giving real consolation. Gallegher suggests that satan is giving real consolation, but without the long-term benefits of God’s consolation. I do not know how much of this is my theological disagreement with Gallegher because he is Catholic and I am Protestant, or how much other Catholics may also disagree. Because I read this for a class, I can say that most Catholics in my class also seemed to find Gallagher’s position concerning.
Overall, I think that this is too technical for most people who do not have a strong interest in Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment. That being said, I think this quote is right:
For persons in the second spiritual situation, simply to know that the enemy may attempt to deceive under the appearance of good is already an enormous gift. Conscious that deception is possible precisely in their spiritual energy, they understand the value of the “greater discernment” that Ignatius teaches in these rules. And when, through ongoing spiritual awareness and with the aid of their guides, they assimilate these eight rules in practice, they are effectively prepared to unmask and to reject the “hidden deceits” of the enemy. With joyful and serene confidence, they will “grow and rise from good to better” in the service of the Lord they love.