The Heart of Inner Peace
I use the word “consolation” when any interior movement is produced in the soul which leads her to become inflamed with the love of her Creator and Lord, and when as a consequence, there is no creature on the face of the earth that the person can love in itself, but they love it in the Creator and Lord of all things. . . . I give the name “consolation” to every increase of hope, faith and charity, to all interior happiness which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, leaving the soul quiet and at peace in her Creator and Lord (Spiritual Exercises 316).
This is where my heartbeat measures the wing beat of the Spirit—that is, in the world of spiritual consolation and desolation.
When Ignatius describes the First Spiritual Exercises, he notes the desires people might have in making them. Putting aside adult faith formation and reconciliation, the only desire named by him is the desire for “a certain level of peace of soul” (Spiritual Exercises 18). This appears to be very minimal, until the connection is made between the certain peace of soul and the consolation that leaves the soul quiet and at peace in her Creator. Inner peace is really a gift of spiritual consolation, not a little peace of mind that I know some catechetical truths and receive the Catholic sacraments. Once this is known, a great deal is revealed about the aim and purpose of the First Spiritual Exercises.
Ignatius states it is characteristic of the good spirit “to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and quiet, making things easy and removing all obstacles so that the person may move forward in doing good” (Spiritual Exercises 315). Here quiet, or inner peace, is linked to clarity of understanding and freedom. If I am feeling confused, blocked, lost, overburdened, or empty, I will naturally seek greater direction in my life. The First Spiritual Exercises provide the structure, resources, and relationships to help me find this direction and move forward in doing good. They help to remove obstacles, stimulate insights, and strengthen me with inner peace.
Another way to understand inner peace as consolation is to consider its contrary. This Ignatius does, speaking from his own hard-won experience. “Desolation” is the name I give to everything contrary to what is described in Rule Three [On Spiritual Consolation]; for example, darkness and disturbance in the soul, attraction to what is low and of the earth, disquiet arising from various agitations and temptations. All this leads to a lack of confidence in which one feels oneself to be without hope and without love. One finds oneself thoroughly lazy, lukewarm, sad, and as though cut off from one’s Creator and Lord” (Spiritual Exercises 317).
It is important to recognize the movements of disturbance, darkness, and disquiet in my spiritual life. I need to know what is happening in my soul if I am to take the contrary path away from the desolating spirit.
The First Spiritual Exercises will help me to recognize these movements. Ignatius is incisive about the soul being led by the bad spirit—it will be “weakened, upset or distressed, losing the peace, tranquility and quiet previously experienced” (Spiritual Exercises 333).
By its contrary, Ignatius reveals the true face of inner peace: it encompasses peace, tranquility, and quiet—a pattern of rightness between my soul and its Creator. Is there a larger pattern to spiritual consolations and desolations? St. Ignatius and St. Paul, among many others, tell me there is.
In his Guide to the Discernment of Spirits, Ignatius describes two spirits, the good spirit and the bad spirit. He depicts two spiritual movements in me—one from good to better and one from bad to worse. Paul speaks of two laws: the law of sin and death versus the law of the Spirit of life in Christ. He pictures two minds, but like Ignatius sees that only one brings life and peace.
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. . . . Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Rom 8:2, 5–6).
The place and importance of peace as an interior movement is mani-fest. Inner peace is a characteristic of the good spirit; indeed it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. As such, it will be one of my greatest guides. Accordingly, the First Spiritual Exercises offers practical exercises to set my mind on the Spirit, to receive the gifts and fruits of the Spirit, and with them peace.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (Gal 5:22–23, 25)
For Ignatius, peace is the first of all gifts, for it not only brings all other graces but also draws me into love of God and neighbor. Ignatius saw love of God and neighbor, taught by Jesus, as the summary of all good action for eternal life (see Mt 22:36–40). Indeed, he wrote the First Spiritual Exercises precisely to help me become a lover of God and neighbor, to open me to the gifts and graces of my Creator. He makes this surprising connection in a letter of spiritual advice.
The peace of our Lord is something interior, and it brings with it all the other gifts and graces necessary for salvation and eternal life. This peace makes us love our neighbor for the love of our Creator and Lord.
In conclusion, each gift of love, service, forgiveness, healing, freedom, and divine friendship is a path to inner peace. Walking this path, with Ignatius as a guide, I will receive the gift I desire and encounter the God of Peace. This God is the God of all consolations (see 2 Cor 1:3). Thus the ultimate end of the First Spiritual Exercises is spiritual consolation: the gifts of faith, courage, hope, strength, purpose in life, deeper love of God and neighbor, greater freedom from attachments, and a certain peace of soul in the Lord.