Spiritual States of
'Consolation' and 'Desolation'

hope_despair_morgan.jpg (134068 bytes)
"Hope and Despair" by Evelyn de Morgan


The time of Spiritual Desolation is a time for being Resigned. When a Soul begins to Cultivate the Spiritual Life, God usually showers His Consolations upon her to wean her away from the World; but when He sees her making Solid Progress, He withdraws His Hand to Test her and to see if she will Love and Serve Him without the Reward of Sensible Consolations. "In this life," as Saint Teresa used to say, "our lot is not to enjoy God, but to do His Holy Will". And again, "Love of God does not consist in experiencing His Tenderness's, but in serving Him with Resolution and Humility". And in yet another place, "God's true lovers are discovered in times of Aridity and Temptation".

One Single Act done with Aridity of Spirit is worth more than many done with Feelings of Devotion.


Spiritual States of 'Consolation' and 'Desolation'

from The Catholic Encyclopedia

Consolation and Desolation may be said to be Phases of the various 'Stages' or 'States' of the Spiritual Life, rather than distinct 'States' to themselves. The Character of Permanence does not usually belong to them. They Succeed each other, as a Rule, and Devout Souls have to experience both the One and the Other; but as they may have sometimes a Long Period of Consolation or Desolation, the Term 'States' may be used in a Wide Sense when treating of them. Speaking in a General Sense, the Sense of Consolation is that in which the Soul enjoys a Spiritual Sense or Impression of Close Union and Intimate Converse with God. The State of Desolation, on the Contrary, is that in which the Soul feels itself as it were Abandoned by God. Consolation and Desolation may be more easily understood when considered in 'Opposition' to each other.



In the Spiritual Order, Consolation is of Three (3) kinds.

Human Being/Person
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)

Natural Order

Body/Inferior Will/
Psychosomatic Powers
Sensory Faculties/

Superior Will/
Infused Knowledge/
(Dominant Partner)

Satan attacks the Soul through the Psychosomatic Powers already weakened by Original Sin.


The First kind, which is known as "Sensible Consolation", is that which has its Beginning and is felt Chiefly in the Senses or Sensible Faculties. It consists in Sensible Devotion and a Feeling of Fervor arising from the consideration of God's Goodness vividly-represented to the Mind and Heart; or from the External Aids and Ceremonies of the Church. It is not to be disregarded on this account because it leads us finally to Good. Saint Alphonsus says, "Spiritual Consolations are Gifts which are much more precious than all the Riches and Honors of the World. And if the Sensibility itself is aroused, this completes our Devotion, for then our Whole Being is United to God and tastes God" (Love for Jesus, xvii).

The Second kind of Consolation, which is often the result of the First, and usually remains with the Third, is characterized by as Facility and even a Delight in the Exercise of the Virtues, especially the Theological Virtues. Saint Ignatius says that any increase in Faith, Hope, and Charity, may be called a Consolation (Rule 3 for the Discernment of Spirits). By this kind of Consolation, the Soul is raised above the Sensible Faculties; and in the Absence of Sensible Consolation, Truth is Perceived at a Glance, Faith alone Operating, Enlightening, Directing and Sustaining the Soul; and Fervor of the Will succeeds to Sensible Fervor. We should be thankful to God for Consolations of this kind and Pray for their Continuance, and it is these we ask for in the Prayer "En ego" usually recited after Communion.


Prayer before a Crucifix (En Ego)

Behold, O kind and most sweet Jesus,
I cast myself upon my knees in Thy Sight
with the most Fervent Desire of my Soul,
I pray and beseech Thee that Thou wouldst impress upon my Heart
Lively Sentiments of Faith, Hope and Charity,
with True Repentance for my Sins,
and a Firm Desire of Amendment,
whilst with Deep Affection and and Grief of Soul
I ponder within myself and mentally contemplate Thy Five Most Precious Wounds,
having before my eyes that which David, in Prophecy, made Thee say, sweet Jesus:
"They have pierced My Hands and My Feet; they have numbered all My Bones".



The Third kind of Consolation affects the Higher Faculties of the Soul, namely the Intellect and the Will, and in a more Perfect Way than the Second. It consists in Special Tranquility and Peace of Soul, and is the result of the Firm Determination of the Will to live for God with Entire Confidence in His Grace. It is present when, as Saint Ignatius says, "the Soul burns with the Love of its Creator, and can no longer love any creature except for His sake" (Rule 3 for the Discernment of Spirits). The Soul is conscious of its Happiness even though the Inferior and Sensible Faculties may be Depressed and Afflicted. This is the Most Perfect Kind of all, and it is not often experienced except by the Perfect. As the First kind is said to belong to Beginners in the Way of Perfection, the Second to those Making Progress, so the Third is said to belong to the Perfect.



Spiritual Desolation means the Feeling of Abandonment by God, and of the Absence of His Grace. This Feeling of Estrangement may arise from Various Causes. It may be the result of Natural Disposition or Temperament, or of External Circumstances; or it may come from the Attacks of the Devil; or from God Himself when for our Greater Good He withdraws-from-us, Spiritual Consolation. In Contradistinction to Consolation, Spiritual Desolation may be of Three (3) kinds.

The First is called Sensible Desolation and is the Opposite of Sensible Consolation. It includes Aridities, Dissipation of Mind, Weariness, and Disgust in the Exercises of Piety; and it is often experienced by Beginners in the Practice of Mental Prayer. It may co-exist with Consolation of a Higher Order just as, in the Natural Order, we may Pain of Body, and Joy of Soul at One and the Same Time.

The Second kind of Desolation affects the Intellect and Will, and consists in the Privation of the Feeling of the Presence of the Supernatural Virtues as described by Saint Teresa in her Life (ch. xxx). This Trial is Extremely Severe, but if Generously Accepted, and Patiently Endured, it may be turned into Great Merit, and many Fruits of Sanctity will be the result. (See Letter of Saint Francis of Sales to Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, 28 March, 1612).

The Third kind of Desolation is still more Severe. It is a Darkening of the Mind and a Feeling of Abandonment so Great that the Soul is Tempted to Distrust concerning Salvation and is Tormented by other Terrible Thoughts against Faith, against Purity, and even by Blasphemous Thoughts -- the most Painful Experience which a Holy Soul has to endure (see Saint John of the Cross, op. cit., infra, bk. I, ch. xiv). It would be a Great Mistake to Imagine that Spiritual Desolation Arrests Progress in Virtue or Enfeebles the Spirit of Fervor. On the contrary, it affords Occasion of Heroic Virtue and of Absolute Detachment from Sensible Pleasure, whether Natural or Supernatural. At the same time we may Hope and Wish that these Interior Grief's may be Diminished or made to Disappear, and we may Pray God to deliver us from them, but if all our Efforts are in Vain, and God Permits the Desolation to continue, it only remains to Resign ourselves Generously to His Divine Will.


Prayer of Saint Padre Pio

Lord Jesus, sometimes, when I am in the State of Spiritual Aridity, I don't even feel like Praying, and I certainly do not feel Your Presence. I wonder how You, the Bread of Life, could ever Love me, a Miserable Sinner. Help me to Accept my Weak Humanity, and to bow always Humbly before You and Accept the "Medicine" of Your Holy Spirit Who longs to Heal my Heart and Soul.


Nota Bene: Padre Pio was Graced by God with the Stigmata. His Shield depicts the Pelican,
a Symbol of Christ, who strikes her own breast to draw blood in order to feed her young chicks.