Week #38

Forty Weeks ~ Sacred Story

Encouragements & Wisdom

In addition to this week’s prayer materials, there are new Encouragements and Wisdom for Week 38 (PDF).

Part Three
Entering the School of Discernment

1 I resolve to spend no more and no less than 15-minutes in each formal prayer period.

2 As before, I continue this thirty-eighth week by praying meditations one through five in the Sacred Story prayer, entering my prayer at least once daily as St. Ignatius suggested. I reaffirm the importance of the simple journal exercises and my monthly practice of Sacramental Reconciliation.

3 I will ask God’s grace to keep my mind and heart open as I learn the ways of spiritual discernment in my Sacred Story. This week I am invited to reflect on the second series of discernment rules given by St. Ignatius. This second series of rules details temptations of a more subtle nature. Here the enemy of our human nature manipulates our undetected narcissism to obstruct or disrupt our spiritual growth.

I will awaken to the present moment.
I will awaken to my spiritual nature.
I will not make any decisions based on fear.
I will practice Sacramental Reconciliation monthly.
I will ask Jesus for help when I am troubled.
I will thank Jesus daily for life’s gifts.

Focus Affirmation for Week Thirty-Eight

I will say this affirmation aloud once daily:

I will strive daily to pick up the cross, for it leads to my life.
The closer I get to holiness, the more I will
see and feel sin’s disorder in my life.


Read this at the beginning of the week

Awakening to Sacred Story Discernment Guidelines
Guidelines for Integrated Healing and Spiritual Growth


Take some time this week to read and reflect on this eleventh lesson in discernment. Last week we finished a study of St. Ignatius’ first set of rules on discernment. The first set of rules is called Guidelines for Foundational Healing and Spiritual Growth. They are foundational rules because they are directed towards those who can be more easily distracted from their spiritual journey with sensual pleasures and delights by the enemy of human nature. These rules help build the foundation of one’s faith journey. The enemy of human nature seeks his victories at this level by fanning our cowardice and fear in the face of surrendering addictive and sinful thoughts, words and deeds.

This week we examine St. Ignatius’ second set of discernment rules. We call these Guidelines for Integrated Healing and Spiritual Growth. They apply to those persons who the enemy of human nature distracts from their spiritual journey with attacks to the reasoning processes. These rules are termed integrated because they facilitate healing of our human nature as a unity of body and spirit. The enemy of human nature seeks his victories at this level by creating illusions, and hiding the truth of our thoughts, words and deeds.

This week we consider five of the seven guidelines for discerning the difference between the Divine-Inspirer’s and the counter-inspirer’s tactics at this more subtle, nuanced level of spiritual development.

The Guidelines for Integrated Healing and Spiritual Growth are essential for discerning counter inspirations of a more subtle nature.

They are applicable when a person has matured to the point where vices, sinful habits, addictions, and extravagant appetites are no longer effective temptations to lure one from God.

When a certain level of spiritual, emotional and psychological maturity has been reached, the enemy of human nature can best deceive with seemingly good, holy thoughts and feelings. He mimics the Divine-Inspirer. He is no longer successful in undermining your authenticity and innocence with temptations to false pleasures and obvious discouragements. Direct appeals to narcissistic pride are no longer effective. Instead, the enemy resorts to twisting new and holy inspirations and habits against you, based on the undetected roots of your narcissism.

The enemy of human nature will then disguise counter inspirations by having them appear as Divine-inspirations. Ignatius first discovered these new, indirect temptations in the midst of his battle with the crippling guilt of his scruples. The obsessive habit of re-confessing his past sins appeared as a good thing to do. The habit appealed to someone serious about spiritual growth. But the habit appealed especially to Ignatius’ desire to be in control of his life and save himself.

In his former way of living, Ignatius tried to win fame at the battle of Pamplona by attempting to conquer the French almost single-handedly. Later, in his Christian life, his narcissism appeared under the “holy” guise of winning fame by conquering his sinfulness through his own agency. A different battle; but the same concealed narcissism and pride at work.

Ignatius was miserable and experienced the constant re-confessing as damaging. Yet he would not relinquish the obsessive habit even when told to do so by his spiritual director. Ignatius seemed to be held bound by a “pious” and “holy” habit. In fact, he was bound by his narcissism and determination to save himself instead of allowing Christ to be his Savior. The enemy’s counter inspirations that characterized this episode were invisible to Ignatius, most likely because surrendering the habit would mean a loss of control and a threat to his pride.

Ignatius was given grace to see the deception by observing the direction it was taking him: away from God. He realized that the inspiration was to “stop” the new life he was living. The enemy of our human nature can inspire desires and choices that are non-harmful or even objectively good. They appear as if they will help us evolve towards more perfect Love and life.

Thus in Ignatius’ situation, conscientious confession would appear to be a good choice to root out past sins and vices. But to someone susceptible to damaging scrupulosity, it could be the perfect tactic to turn them from the path of faith and trust in God! And the enemy of human nature will search for any and all vulnerabilities to subvert our journey in faith.

Spiritual and religious persons are especially vulnerable to these more subtle temptations. The narcissism of these persons is concealed in a pious façade. A partial conversion has not sufficiently targeted the narcissistic pride that guides this person’s life. Those not sufficiently purified parade about like a just and righteous person. The truth is they are proud and arrogant. Jesus reserved some of His most serious criticisms for these religious hypocrites. (Lk 18:9-14).

Some things that are good, or appear as good, can gradually lead you away from the good you intend. They lead you away from God toward disintegration, separation, and death. This is exactly what happened to Ignatius. He was so disgusted with the trials and traumas of his obsessive re-confessing of past sins that he was suddenly inspired to be done with the new life he embraced. As far as Ignatius was concerned, if he could not convert himself, and do it his way, he would not do it at all. This is narcissistic pride, plain and simple.

A habit that appeared noble was silently, slowly, and maliciously eroding his confidence in himself and his confidence in God, and threatened the new way of life he had chosen. If the enemy of human nature could not lure Ignatius with the obvious vices and sins of his former life, then the enemy would manipulate Ignatius’ new and holy inspirations, linking them to his yet undetected narcissistic pride. The enemy turned Ignatius’ good habit against him.

It can be difficult to differentiate between Divine inspirations and counter-inspirations, especially because a counter-inspiration can appear as a genuine good, or feel authentic. Ignatius offers these guidelines of discernment:

First, the Divine-Inspirer works to give you true joy and happiness. This is accomplished by eliminating all sadness and upset caused by the enemy of your human nature. The counter-inspirer works against such joy and happiness. He does this most successfully by using false reasoning, subtleties, and layers of deceptions. The enemy’s arguments will be logical, yet leave you feeling anxious, discouraged, hopeless and possibly cynical.

Second, the Divine-Inspirer alone can work directly on your heart and soul. The Divine-Inspirer can touch your soul at will. What does the Divine-Inspirer promote by these spiritual visits?

  • Increases love of God and love of innocence
  • Increases humility, selflessness, and surrendering control of your life to God
  • Fosters a docile spirit: a spirit capable of listening deeply, accepting and affirming as true the Commandments, the teachings of Christ, and those divinely revealed and definitively proclaimed matters of belief held by the Church. 1

Inspirations with these signature characteristics can be verified as coming directly from the Divine-Inspirer.

Third, both the Divine-Inspirer and the counter-inspirer can inspire, but with opposite goals. The Divine-Inspirer seeks to promote genuine human freedom, authenticity, and spiritual/psychological growth in harmony with your authentic human nature. The counter-inspirer seeks to erode genuine human freedom and to disintegrate your spiritual and psychological health. The goal is to further damage your authentic human nature.

Fourth, the counter-inspirer can mimic some of the influences of the Divine-Inspirer in thoughts, feelings, and desires. However his purpose in doing so is to gradually lead you in the wrong direction: similar to Ignatius’ experience with his damaging habit of re-confessing old sins.

Fifth, distinguishing the difference between Divine and counter inspirations requires you to develop the habit of examining the overall trajectory of your thoughts and desires. If the beginning, middle, and end are all directed to what is genuine and right, the inspirations are from the Divine-Inspirer. If the trajectory of the desires and thoughts lead to:

  • something contrary to the Commandments or the precepts of Christ;
  • or they distract and weaken your aspirations for selflessness;
  • or they in some way diminish the good plans and goals you had previously established;

then it is very clear they are a product of the counter-inspirer. The goal of the enemy of human nature is to lead you away from genuine progress, authenticity, innocence, humility, obedience and peace and conceal his presence as he does so.

Ignatius was distracted by his re-confession habit, and his aspirations for following the path of conversion were undermined by it. When he realized this, he identified the influence of the counter-inspirer, and surrendered the damaging habit. This choice began the process of dismantling his narcissistic pride at its root2

Ignatius once remarked that human beings are no match for the subtle temptations of the enemy of human nature. But God is! God is indeed a match for the enemy’s temptations. Never dialogue with the enemy of your human nature. Speak only to Christ, and let Christ deal with the enemy of your human nature. Trust your life, your heart and your soul to Christ.


LORD, guide me in your justice because of my foes;
make straight your way before me.

For there is no sincerity in their mouth;
their heart is corrupt.
Their throat is an open grave;
on their tongue are subtle lies.
Declare them guilty, God;
make them fall by their own devices.
Drive them out for their many sins;
for they have rebelled against you.

Then all who trust in you will be glad
and forever shout for joy.
You will protect them and those will rejoice in you
who love your name.
For you, Lord, bless the just one;
you surround him with favor like a shield.

(Ps 5: 9-13)

1  Brothers and sisters: The Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. Among men, who knows what pertains to the man except his spirit that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. Now the natural man does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The one who is spiritual, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2: 10b-16)

A sermon by Pope St Leo the Great: I SHALL PUT MY LAWS WITHIN THEM

Dearly beloved, when our Lord Jesus Christ was preaching the Gospel of the kingdom and healing various illnesses throughout the whole of Galilee, the fame of his mighty works spread into all of Syria, and great crowds from all parts of Judea flocked to the heavenly physician.

Because human ignorance is slow to believe what it does not see, and equally slow to hope for what it does not know, those who were to be instructed in the divine teaching had first to be aroused by bodily benefits and visible miracles so that, once they had experienced his gracious power, they would no longer doubt the wholesome effect of his doctrine. In order, therefore, to transform outward healings into inward remedies, and to cure men’s souls now that he had healed their bodies, our Lord separated himself from the surrounding crowds, climbed to the solitude of a neighboring mountain, and called the apostles to himself.

From the height of this mystical site he then instructed them in the most lofty doctrines, suggesting both by the very nature of the place and by what he was doing that it was he who long ago had honored Moses by speaking to him. At that time, his words showed a terrifying justice, but now they reveal a sacred compassion, in order to fulfill what was promised in the words of the prophet Jeremiah: Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I shall establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. After those days, says the Lord, I shall put my laws within them and write them on their hearts.

And so it was that he who had spoken to Moses spoke also to the apostles. Writing in the hearts of his disciples, the swift hand of the Word composed the ordinances of the new covenant. And this was not done as formerly, in the midst of dense clouds, amid terrifying sounds and lightning, so that the people were frightened away from approaching the mountain. Instead, there was a tranquil discourse which clearly reached the ears of all who stood nearby so that the harshness of the law might be softened by the gentleness of grace, and the spirit of adoption might dispel the terror of slavery.

Concerning the content of Christ’s teaching, his own sacred words bear witness; thus whoever longs to attain eternal blessedness can now recognize the steps that lead to that high happiness. Blessed, he says, are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It might have been unclear to which poor he was referring, if after the words Blessed are the poor, he had not added anything about the kind of poor he had in mind. For then the poverty that many suffer because of grave and harsh necessity might seem sufficient to merit the kingdom of heaven.

But when he says: Blessed are the poor in spirit, he shows that the kingdom of heaven is to be given to those who are distinguished by their humility of soul rather than by their lack of worldly goods. (Taken from Roman Catholic Office of Readings, Book III, Weeks of the year 6-34)

2   For a modern example of these types of temptations, see Week 38 Encouragement and Wisdom.