Ignatius knew periods of consolation and
By Emanuel Werner, SJ
I entered the Jesuits with experience working in a psychiatric hospital as a licensed professional clinical counselor. I had the privilege to be present to people in severe psychological distress. Many of the patients I treated had come to a point where life no longer seemed worth living. They were in the throes of despair. Hope had vanished from their hearts in the wake of life circumstances that appeared too difficult to overcome.
I was in the midst of this experience when I began to think again about where God was leading me.
I was 26 at the time, and I had heard about Saint Ignatius of Loyola in name only. Through a providential course of events, I eventually found myself responding once again to a call towards the priesthood that I had first received in my final year of undergraduate studies. I entered the seminary out of college in Cincinnati, and my stay was very brief. My one desire was and is to do the will of God, but at the time, I had little experience with the inner workings of discernment and knew nothing of the "discernment of spirits," as outlined in such detail by Ignatius.
During my time in the seminary, and for some time after leaving, I felt lost. I was beginning to experience being stripped of hope until only God remains. I was overcome with sadness, as well as a loss of assurance and trust in God's love calling me forward to a life of joy. Saint Ignatius wrote at length about periods of what he called "desolation," when a person struggles to live in faith, hope, and love, but does not feel that is possible. He also wrote about periods of great confidence and trust in God's goodness, mercy, and love; he called this "consolation."
||Emanuel Werner, SJ, with students from St. Ignatius School in the South Bronx|
Ignatius understood periods of consolation and desolation from his experience of the changing seasons of his spiritual life. Ignatius, too, was at one point on the brink of despair in the cave at Manresa. There, God also gave him spiritual consolations, graces strengthening him to a different kind of life, a life uncommon. Ignatius "the sinner" was continually invited by God to become Ignatius "the saint" through a life committed to the humble reception of God's love and grace.
God's call to Ignatius to lead a life uncommon in the eyes of a world where people seek wealth, honor, and prestige is God's call to all Christians. I was greatly attracted to the many material goods of the world and the status that comes with a particular lifestyle. At times, I am still seduced by these things. Ultimately, however, God's gentle call within my soul continues to win my heart for the proclamation of the Gospel.
In time, I learned that it can be God's way to allow a soul to experience desolation as an effective means of drawing the soul closer to Himself and away from selfishness. Besides genetic, biological, and neurological factors that contribute to the anxiety and fear that can leave a person with little strength to face the day, our mental preoccupation with our own worries often makes matters worse. In times of fear and anxiety, Ignatius would have us be aware of the evil spirit at work, for God is never the source of our anxiety. By becoming aware of and paying less attention to those festering thoughts of anxiety, we can look instead toward the consolation God offers, in full hope that God will always give us exactly what we need, when we need it.
|Emanuel Werner, SJ, with students from St. Ignatius School in the South Bronx during their recess||
The instillation of hope is the most significant contributor to a psychiatric patient's recovery. My life experiences and personal times of distress have led me to a profound empathy and desire to alleviate, as best I can, the sufferings of others, by sharing God's love with them. I could have done this as a counselor and member of the laity. Yet my life as a Jesuit allows me to share God with others in a direct and concrete way, as a public witness to His life-giving words of joy and salvation.
How did I come to pronounce first vows of perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience in the Society of Jesus and move on to studying philosophy at Fordham University? I listened to the guidance of the good spirit in my life through wise spiritual directors who introduced me to Ignatius and the company he founded. This has been a wonderful way to grow in my vocation to the priesthood. I am able to serve God in more ways than I can imagine.
A simple life of devotion to Jesus and God's people as a son of Ignatius is an uncommon life. Let us pray that all of us continue to have the courage to lead such a life of grace and goodness. In all things may God be found, and may His will be done.
Emanuel Werner, SJ, pronounced first vows in the Society of Jesus on August 8, 2015. He is currently in first studies at Fordham University in New York.
This story was featured in the Summer 2016 issue of Jesuits magazine; click here for the Summer 2016 Jesuits magazine index.