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

DAY V: Desire and Misperception (JULY 22)

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, stained-glass window at
St. Andrew Church in Sag Harbor, N.Y.
(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Fifth Rule of the Discernment of Spirits: In the time of desolation we should never make any change, but remain firm and constant in the resolution and decision which guided us the day before the desolation, or in the decision to which we adhered in the preceding consolation. For just as in consolation the good spirit guides and counsels us, so in desolation the evil spirit guides and counsels. Following his counsels we can never find the way to a right decision. (SE 318)

When everything is going well, it is tempting to think the good times will never end. We cannot desire too much from anything good we have received because time will come when things will get rough. The Roman philosopher, Marcus Aurelius (121-180), had this expression: "The greatest part of what we say and do is really unnecessary. If you take this to heart, you will have more leisure and less uneasiness." In today's theme we will talk about the one thing necessary and desirable in our lives. It is quite natural to interpret "good times" as consolation and "bad times" as desolation, pursue consolations and avoid desolations. But that is one kind of misperception that often results given a simplistic or immature view of reality. "Sweet are the uses of adversity," Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It (II, i, 12) which echoes that of St. Teresa of Avila, "Patient endurance attains to all things." As a rule, you are prohibited from making any major change when one is undergoing desolation which might be a costly gamble if this rule gets ignored.

Ebbinghaus Illusion
God allows both the good and bad to mingle in our lives so that we may learn to desire not His consolations but God Himself as the source of all consolations and enter into a sincere and loving relationship with Him. That is the whole objective of the Spiritual Exercises. Look at the adjacent image of the Ebbinghaus Optical Illusion which we will use to illustrate the most important goal of our human existence. This will prove that sometimes what our senses perceive and how our brain interprets images do not always match. This is called 'misperception', and that is really what illusions are–misperceptions or mistaken beliefs. We will leave this for now to stay at the back of our mind and we will just go back to it again later.

Our Heart's Desire
What are your heart's desires? Relationship, riches, honour, wealth, long life, etc.? God, when He plans to gather all of His flock to go back to Him, He takes into account our human freedom to choose. He does not force us to follow His way. Each can choose our will or God's will. And God took the risk that we could choose to reject Him. However, when those who were once lost are found there is great rejoicing on the part of God. Solomon was once asked a question about his heart's desires. If he were to choose from anything God has promised to give him, what would that be? He did not choose long life, nor material riches, not even the lives of his enemies. He chose an understanding heart, a discerning heart which can cure all kinds of misperceptions. Once cleared of all the worldly desires he will desire to praise and serve God. Solomon knew that pursuing the other desires will only end in frustration and emptiness. Psalm 37:4 reads, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Believe it or not, the deepest desires of our heart can be fulfilled only by delighting in the Lord.

If we tear our gaze from all our other attractions like inordinate attachments and fix our focus on God, He will surely grant us the longings of our hearts. It sounds like a riddle because it is a sublime reality that goes much deeper than ordinary experience. Let us go back now to the Ebbinghaus Illusion, which to me is not just an optical illusion but a spiritual one. Within the diagram imagine the individual self being the innermost circle. Think of the other desires that a person may have apart from God which are symbolised by the circles that surround the person at various stages along the journey. There are two groups which could stand for any two moments of our life journey this far. We may interpret the first group of circles as the bad times and the second group as the good times or the other way around. Notice that the two orange circles are exactly the same size. Yes, they are. Check it yourself by scrolling up or down your screen to partly hide the black circles. But then no matter how you look, the orange circle on the right always appears to your eyes larger. No wonder it is called an illusion. Remember the picture of the full moon in Day 3, it looks bigger when it is close to the horizon than when it is up in the sky. That too is an illusion for, certainly, the size of the moon is always fixed. Here is the catch for us who are seeking for our heart's desires. We must look BEYOND or TRANSCEND what is obvious to find what we are truly looking for. Is that desire something that depends on the consolations, desolations or ambitions that you surround your life with? If yes then that is still very prone to letting misperceptions get a hold of you. Is it something like that of Solomon? A discerning heart that could see BEYOND human perceptions, vanities, whims and worldly desires? Fr. JM Manzano, SJ
Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices." (St. Teresa of Avila)
We begin today the first day of our Novena of Grace in honour of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Repeat this prayer for nine successive days. The first novena happened between the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost, when the disciples gathered in the upper room and devote themselves to prayer.

Suscipe (Prayer by St. Ignatius)
Take, O Lord, and receive
all my liberty, my memory,
my understanding and my entire will. All I have and call my own. Thou hast given all to me, to Thee, O Lord, I return it. Everything belongs to Thee; do with it as Thou wilt. Give me only the love of Thee and with it Thy grace, that is enough for me. Amen.

With St. Ignatius we pray:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise Thee
Forever and ever.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us.