14th Rule of Discernment

Dear Beginner,

There are two sets of rules in the discernment of spirits.  In the first set, there are 14 rules for beginners in the spiritual life.  In the second, there are eight rules for further advancement in the spiritual life.  Since these are called “Letters to a Beginner,” I think this will be the last rule we will talk about.

The 14th rule for discerning spirits compares the devil to the captain of an army.  Imagine the 1500s when St. Ignatius was around, with walled cities and a fortress inside.  The enemy camps in the field outside the city walls, and they send out men to investigate each part of the wall.  They search for the weakest part, where there is no guard, or a back door, etc.  And once they’ve found the easiest way to enter, the captain directs the whole army there, to enter and conquer. 

Back to our enemy… He is constantly observing you, watching your every move, listening to all you say (he cannot, however, read your thoughts).  Your reactions, comments, how you spend your free time, your vices, things you like that are bad for you…  And from there he attacks.  If you’ve never stolen anything, it’s doubtful that you’ll be tempted to steal something the next time you go to the store.  But if you are impatient, you will easily encounter situations that test your patience.  The enemy finds the weak spots, and enters there.  And when he enters, he intends on bringing every vice and evil with him.  So once you fall, react quickly—ask for forgiveness, go to confession, talk with your spiritual director, whatever is necessary… and don’t lose hope.  On the contrary, use it as a trampoline, saying, “Lord, forgive me.  Thank you for showing me just how poor I am.  Please help me.”  And then forget about it.

St. Peter, in his first letter, says, “Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  And he continues in the next verse, encouraging those who feel like they’re the only ones going through this, “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.”  Don’t be surprised at how the devil works, but prepare yourself and be on guard, praying for your brothers and sisters in the faith.

In the Eucharist,
Another beginner, but with really good teachers