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States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church/Part 2/Section 2/Chapter 5

< States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church


ST. IGNATIUS points out the three states in which a soul may be, and in which she is properly disposed to make a choice conformable to God's will. The first state is when the action of God so influences the human will that it puts an end to all hesitation, and even to the power of hesitating-, as to the doing of that to which it impels. This was the case of St. Paul, St. Matthew, and others, whom our Lord called to follow him.[1] Though, in our days, we witness no vocations exactly of this kind, still there are many that resemble them. In these, the light and consolation shed over the soul are so intense, that all doubt vanishes about the will of God. However, such vocations are extraordinary : no rules can be given respecting them. We should neither ask for them, nor expect them from God.[2]

A second time favorable for a right election is when the soul is under the influence of inspirations and interior motions so powerful, that, almost without any reasoning of the intellect, the will is borne on toward God and the practice of perfection. This state of a soul is more usual than the first.[3] Although the intellect and will are so united in us that the one can make no choice without the assistance of the other, however, in the two states of the soul that have just been mentioned, the will precedes, and the intellect follows, carried away without reasoning and without hesitation in the direction of the will.[4] Whenever a soul is thus acted upon by grace, he who directs her must teach her the meaning of spiritual consolation and desolation.[5] Spiritual consolation is recognized by the following signs : The soul, under the action of interior emotions, is on fire with love for God, and can love nothing created save in view of him. Tears flow, stirring up that divine love, whether they flow from grief for sin, or from meditation on the passion, or from any other cause whatever that tends directly to the glory and service of God. We may also give the name, spiritual consolation, to any increase of faith, hope, and charity, and also to every joy which is wont to incite the soul to the meditation of heavenly things, to the desire of salvation, to the possession of rest and peace with God.[6]

We call spiritual desolation any darkening and disturbance of the mind instigating to low and earthly things ; also, every disquietude and agitation or temptation, which moves to distrust concerning salvation, and expels hope and charity, whence the soul finds herself all torpid, lukewarm, sorrowful, and, as it were, separated from her Creator and Lord.[7]

To know, therefore, what side we have to choose, we must examine to what spiritual consolation and peace of mind incline us, when they make themselves felt in the soul ; and also to what desolation inclines us. The evil spirit is wont to excite confusion in the soul, to overwhelm it with pusillanimity, sadness, and torpor. The good spirit, on the other hand, brings joy to the soul, and acts upon her, and influences her during consolation.[8] It is to his voice that we must listen, while closing our ears entirely to the suggestions of the Evil One. When we find ourselves impelled toward the vanities of the world, to the enjoyments of sense, to useless desires, we may be sure that it is the bad spirit who is speaking to us, and we should drive him off with indignation.[9]

Another practice that may be followed during an election is that indicated by St. Ignatius under the comparison of a servant who presents to his master several dishes, in order to discover which of them will meet his favor. In the same way, the soul, with profound humility and ardent love, and an immense desire to prove her gratitude to God, offers him at one time this state, and at an other that state, carefully noting the one that gives most pleasure to God, and often saying : " Lord, what wilt thou have me do ? " She ought to repeat this request, not with her lips only, but with her whole heart.[10] Among the signs of God's will calling us to the most perfect state, there is this one, which is excellent, namely : when the soul feels that the difficulties of a perfect life, which appear so annoying to others, and formerly seemed so to herself, begin to grow light and pleasant. Another mark is, when thoughts of perfection constantly urge the soul to something better. For Satan, when concealing himself under an appearance of good, may at first hide his stratagems, but he soon appears in his real character and displays his wrath.[11]

Thus far we have assigned the rules relative to the two first times favorable for choosing a state of the Christian life. If, while the soul is in any of these conditions, she is sufficiently enlightened as to the decision she should come to, and if she is sufficiently firm in her resolve, so that she has no wish for further certainty, she may stop there ; but, if the decision is not steady enough, she may pass on to a third time, or to the third state suited to a right election.[12]

This third state differs from the others, inasmuch as in them the will goes first and draws the intellect after it ; but in the latter, on the contrary, the intellect has the principal part, and it sets before the will such an array of reasons, that it hurries the will into the adoption of what it judges to be best.[13]

With regard to this third time, St. Ignatius gives two methods of acting, which we here set before the reader. In both of them, and indeed whenever there is question of choosing a state of life, the soul must be calm and in peace ; for, when she is troubled, she cannot make a proper choice.[14]

During desolation no decision should be made. We should not change our resolutions nor our state of life, but persevere in what was previously determined or decided during moments of spiritual consolation. In desolation we are under the action of the Evil Spirit, and his suggestions cannot lead us to a right and good choice.[15]

Here now is the first method for choosing a state when the soul is in peace. We give it in an abridged form, since what we have hitherto said enables us to dispense with details.

The first point is, to place before our minds the state which we intend to embrace.

The second point is, to recall the end of our creation, which is to praise God and save our souls by promoting his glory ; then to be indifferent, and ready to adopt whatever may appear best fitted for our own salvation and the glory of God.

Third, to entreat the mercy of God to impel our will in the direction in which we ought in preference to go.

Fourth, to consider the advantages and help which the state offers for salvation and God's glory, and also the difficulties and dangers that are to be met with in it. Consider, likewise, what help and advantages for salvation, as well as obstacles, the opposite state may present.

Fifth, compare the advantages and disadvantages of both sides ; listen only to the dictates of reason, set aside all inclinations of corrupt nature, and conclude the election.

Sixth, as soon as the election is over, immediately pray and offer it to God, that he may accept and confirm it, if such be his good pleasure.[16]

The second method of choosing well contains four rules and one important remark.

The first rule is, take care that your inclination for a state proceed from and have in view God alone.

The second rule. Consider what you would advise a man altogether unknown to you, who would consult you about choosing a state of life, and in whom you would wish no perfection to be wanting. After this consideration, say to your self: " I would choose what I should advise him."

The third rule. Ask yourself: "If I were about to die, how would I wish to have decided ? It is clear that I should now choose what at the hour of my death I would wish to have done."

The fourth rule. Seriously say to yourself: " When I shall stand before the judgment-seat of God, what shall I wish to have done? That I shall now choose immediately, so that I may appear with greater security before my Judge."

Remark. Having carefully observed these four rules, the election is to be concluded and offered to God for his approval.[17]

When, in following both of these methods, we obtain the same result, it is a proof that the choice has been well made.[18] It is good to put in writing the reasons for and against the matters on which we deliberate, because thereby the truth becomes clearer and more striking.[19] These reasons are afterward to be submitted to our spiritual director.

These last two methods given by St. Ignatius afford the surest means of making a right election. If, to the reasons furnished by the intellect for embracing perfection, be added experience of the dangers to be met with in the world, so as to make us sensible that salvation runs great risks there, we can act with much more certainty in our determination.[20]

" Yet, while following all these rules, we must not expect," says St. Liguori, "an angel from heaven to come and point out to us the career we have to follow, in order to correspond to God's designs in our regard. It is enough to set before our eyes the state which we think of embracing; afterward we have to reflect on the end at which we aim, and weigh circumstances well."[21] We should also keep in view what was said in the third chapter of this second section.


  1. " Exercise on the Three Times."
  2. " Exercise on the Three Times."
  3. Director, n. 2.
  4. Ibid., c. xxvii, n. I.
  5. Exercit. regulae aliquot reg. 3a
  6. Ibid.
  7. Exercit. regulae aliquot reg. 3a
  8. Director., c. xxvii, n. 5.
  9. Bona, "Discernment of Spirits," c. vi.
  10. Director., c. xxvii, n. 6.
  11. Ibid., n. 7.
  12. Ibid., c. xxvii, n. 8.
  13. Director., c. xxiii, n. i.
  14. Ibid., c. xxviii, n. 2.
  15. Exercit. regulae aliquot reg. 5 a .
  16. Exercit. modus prior electionis.
  17. Exerc. modus posterior.
  18. Director., c. xxxi, n. I.
  19. Ibid., n. 3.
  20. Ibid., c. xxviii, nn. 6, 7.
  21. Ascetic Works, vol. 3, ed. Castermann.