"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

DAY IV: The Desolation of Satan (July 21)

Ezekiel's Vision by Raphael c. 1518
Fourth Rule of the Discernment of Spirits: SPIRITUAL DESOLATION. I call desolation what is entirely the opposite of what is described in the third rule, as darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations which lead to want of faith, want of hope, want of love. The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord. For just as consolation is the opposite of desolation, to the thoughts that spring from consolation are the opposite of those that spring from desolation. (SE 317)

I propose that we look at the "Rules of the Discernment of Spirits" as an invitation to "imaginative play," a method prescribed by Tim Muldoon, SJ. He said that when this type of imagination is appropriated by the seeking person, it leads one to spiritual growth through intimate encounter with an ever-present God. A century ago Romano Guardini was first to use this play metaphor in approaching sacred liturgy. Think of the play of the child and the creation of the artist. "The sacred liturgy, while being similar to these realities, offer something even greater: the possibility of becoming, with the aid of divine grace, a child of God. And, as this demands going beyond ordinary experience, the liturgy finds its expressions in the world of art. Thus, liturgy 'unites art and reality in a supernatural childhood before God'" (Fr. Daniel Cardó).

Let us quote at length Guardini as he used Ezekiel’s vision of the Cherubim to illustrate his model of play before God: “Every one of them went straight forward, whither the impulse of the Spirit was to go…, and they turned not when they went…, ran and returned like flashes of lightning…, went…and stood…and were lifted up from the earth…. The noise of their wings was like the noise of many waters…, and when they stood, their wings were let down."

The Whirlwind: Ezekiel’s Vision of the Cherubim and Eyed Wheels
(Illustration to the Old Testament, Ezekiel I: 4–28),
William Blake c. 1803–05, Pen and watercolor over graphite on paper
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
One of the most important developments in our Church's teachings at the dawn of the twentieth century is that of "active participation" not merely through external activity, but through an "interior movement." In my treatment below of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Desolation, keep in mind the interplay between imaginative play and active participation.

The Desolation of Satan
The enemy, a.k.a., Satan cannot afford to see humans advancing towards God. He will go about breaking his own back to oppose every consolation through his many cunning tactics, e.g., delaying, subterfuge, masquerading, deceit, duplicity, scheming, lurking, beguiling, etc. Like a person, he flatters you to your face and later slanders you behind your back. They say flattery makes a fool of the one who falls for it and a devil of the other who uses it. The devil's ace is always to disguise his modus operandi because when the serpent's tail gets exposed, it would be the end of him. However, it will not be the end of us because he will just come back when he finds another backdoor left unguarded.

Luca Signorelli,
Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist, (detail)
1499-1502, fresco,
Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto
I am reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Desolation of Smaug" (Second sequel of The Hobbit). The meaning of the word desolation according to Tolkien does not refer to an action or event but a place just like hell. This desolate place belongs to or is created by Smaug, the last great dragon of Middle Earth. We go back to where we started, Satan and Smaug are the agents of desolation breathing murderous put-downs to assail or to cause paralysis, stagnation, decline, cessation, inactivity, idleness, all that which will prevent any movement towards God.

We will not be immune from being assailed by the enemy. Jesus was tempted in the desert. But the good news is that our Lord has totally vanquished the "evil one" through his passion, death and resurrection. What is the grace that remains to be asked for? For Jesus to fight the enemy again? Not anymore. This time we beg for spiritual enlightenment and courage that will go with our God-given freedom to choose for ourselves and to claim the victory of Christ. Choice is always good. What is not good is when we misuse it. The exercise of choosing will constantly be needed because the conflict between the standard of Christ and the standard of Satan will continue in everyday life. As Bilbo Baggins might have put it, "we've been there and back again."

Discernment of spirits is God's concrete grace of enabling us to fight our own battles and come out victorious—"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31). The trickster will even masquerade as god to muddle things up. Look at the painting above entitled "Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist." It portrays the anti-christ where his arm functions like Christ's arm. When this happens we must put on "the mind of Christ," which is always countercultural and against many of the worldly lures and vanities. This is the reason why "agere contra" or "to go against" is a very effective tool, according to St. Ignatius, to stay put bearing the mind of Christ. For one, the enemy knows to some extent a lot of our vulnerabilities and frailties, e.g., the three temptations of Jesus in the desert were all related to the weaknesses that are common to all humankind, e.g., pleasure, power and prestige.

Our theme about the desolation of Satan is not to frighten but to empower us during these days of great difficulty. It may seem there is a great desolation happening around us but it is good to discern first because we may look but not see clearly. The ones labelled as evil persons in history were not plainly the bad eggs but they turned evil because of bad decisions they made. Surely some of them did come to a tragic end—beguiled endlessly by the enemy to go from bad to worse. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that the number of those who got converted is still far greater. Many of whom attained sainthood and left an inspiring legacy, e.g., King David, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Ignatius of Loyola, among others. Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

Meditate on the grace to beg for today: An increase of faith, hope and love. Faith means: "You, O God, are right in every case, even when I cannot see it or perhaps would prefer the opposite." Hope means: "In you alone, O God, do I have my continued existence, and for that reason I leave behind all assurances resting on myself." Love means: "All my strength and heart and mind are straining themselves to affirm you, O God (and myself only in you), and those whom you have placed beside me as my neighbors." (Hans Urs Von Balthasar)