Category: Second Week Rules


We may have met people who have had a powerful ‘conversion’ experience.  They feel as though they have been chosen by God, who has acted in their life in a decisive way.  A classic example is an alcoholic who reaches rock bottom, and then calls out for help and is touched in some way which leads to this conversion of life etc. George W Bush is a classic example – often the person feels like God has touched them especially and their personal theology, as a result, is more exclusive, although in his case Billy Graham gave a  helping hand. Perhaps this explains how language such as his ‘axis of evil’ upset so many liberals in Europe.  In Saint Ignatius’ rules for discernment, he talks about how the Holy Spirit can work in this way – like water hitting a stone – like a ‘spiritual’ intervention.   It all depends on the direction of someone’s life, if you wake up at the age of 40, like ‘Dubya’ after a wild weekend and you see your life slipping away a because you are drinking too much,  and in this reality check you are given a cold sharp clarity that makes you realise you have to stop.  Whereas if your orientation is the other way, i.e. if you are already seeking God and becoming growingly sensitive to the interior life then the spirit works more softly – ‘suavemente’ in the original Spanish – like water hitting a sponge.

The general orientation of a person’s life is key here because it can work either way, the spirits have the opposite effects depending on your general orientation. A person moving from good to better can suddenly be faced with a not-so-subtle temptation that could knock them of course, MP’s expenses come to mind. However, if a person’s life is disintegrating for whatever reason, and they are in the grip of an addictive vice, such as online gambling – the soft movement is from the ‘bad spirit’.  One more subtle temptation here, one more rationalisation there…. like water hitting a sponge.  Whereas the good spirit will come in clashing – like water hitting a stone in this case – a sudden sting of conscience, or a sober realization that all my credit cards are maxed out. We all have these ‘turning points’ in our lives, and this is where it pays off to have a spiritual director to help understand what their significance is.

Second Week Rules for Discernment – Rule 7 

In those who go on from good to better, the good Angel touches such soul sweetly, lightly and gently, like a drop of water which enters into a sponge; and the evil touches it sharply and with noise and disquiet, as when the drop of water falls on the stone. And the above-said spirits touch in a contrary way those who go on from bad to worse. The reason of this is that the disposition of the soul is contrary or like to the said Angels. Because, when it is contrary, they enter perceptibly with clatter and noise; and when it is like, they enter with silence as into their own home, through the open door.


Definition of afterglow

1a glow remaining where a light has disappeared
2a pleasant effect or feeling that lingers after something is done, experienced, or achieved
      ” basking in the afterglow of success”

We all have experienced ‘the afterglow’ of a sunset when the sun has dipped below the horizon and the sky lights up in vivid colours.  Equally after a great experience, a wedding or a party we might bask in the afterglow of friendship and love.  If you are football fan like me, you might experience the afterglow of your team’s success, winning a trophy or an exciting game (like beating Man City 3-2, or Tottenham’s 2-0 victory over Utd).  St Ignatius also had a helpful insight about the afterglow of a religious experience.  Occasionally, or perhaps more frequently in life we might have a direct experience of God, which Ignatius calls ‘Consolation without Cause’.  There is also a type of ‘spiritual afterglow’ after this type of experience. Often we are so gripped by it that we start making plans for the future, getting married,  changing career direction,  or maybe start developing a project and imagining all the good it’s going to do….  Ignatius wisely warns us to be careful and to test these plans with someone wise who knows us, or if we are lucky enough –  a spiritual director.  He specifically mentions this in his rules for discernment of the second week. Here is David Flemings contemporary translation:

Eighth Rule.  When a consolation experience in our life comes directly from God there can be no deception in it.  Although a delight and a peace will be found in such an experience, a spiritual person should be very careful to distinguish the actual moment of this consolation-in-God from the following, the afterglow which may be exhilirating and joyful for some period of time. It is in this second period of time that we begin to reason out plans or to make resolutions that cannot be attributed as directly to God as the initial experience which is non-conceptual in nature. Because human reasoning and other influences are now coming into the total picture of this consolation period, a vey careful process of discerning the good and evil spirits should be undertaken, according to the previous guidelines, before any resolution or plan of action is adopted.

Decisions and projects that are formed in the afterglow can overstep the evidence of the experience of consolation. Over time they can lead to frustration, to losing motivation and momentum (often seen in Founders Syndrome).  It can also be spiritually undermining and leading us to doubting the original and genuine experience from God.  It can even more poisonous in that we begin to mistrust God in any future experiences. There are obvious parallels in political power often described as hubris e.g.  Tony Blair and Iraq, David Cameron and the Brexit referendum. Both successful leaders, effecting change until they reached too far.  If only they had an Ignatian Director accompanying them!


I was fascinated to come across the work of the psychologist Paul Bloom recently. In his book Against Empathy – The Case for Rational Compassion, he challenges the received wisdom about the importance of empathy.  The ability to empathise, “to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” is rightly valued. We also know that all sorts of pathologies come from a lack of empathy, psychopaths – sociopaths etc. When Donald Trump tweets negatively about a particular group or country, we are shocked by his ignorance – he seems to lack any empathy.  However, the main and interesting point that Bloom makes is that empathy ‘works like a spotlight’ i.e.  focusing attention on individuals at the expense of the bigger picture.   This can lead to the perverse situation in which the suffering of one can matter more than the suffering of a thousand.  You can see how this works with some of the heart-wrenching cases that call for the legalisation of euthanasia….  As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said – hard cases make for bad laws.

From an Ignatian perspective,  our inner lives are marked by movements closer to God (consolation) and away from God (desolation).  These movements are instigated by both good and evil and the ability to read and understand the direction of these movements is often referred to as ‘discernment of spirits’.  In Ignatius’ famous Rules For Discernment, the basic ones are called ‘First Week Rules’ and the more advanced ones ‘Second Week Rules’. One of the more advanced rules is when the ‘bad spirit’ appears sub angelo lucis, that is in the guise of good or as an angel of light, tempting with feelings that initially seems as though they are from God but end up leading us to situations of desolation. For example, we are caught up in prayer with the idea of starting a charity – the good desire then sets off a trail of events that leads to losing our job and the break-up of our family.  Ignatius says that we can only spot this type of deception by seeing the ‘serpents tail’, by tracing pack the discernment process, with the help of a good director, to see where we have been deceived.  We are often open to deception in our thoughts and ideas, and the brightness of an idea is not necessarily an indication that it is from God.  In the cases where our empathy can lead us to deception,   our ability to empathise with someone who is broken can end up helping us lose the wider perspective and be caught up in their destructive havoc-wreaking behaviour.  The pride of victimhood, their sense of entitlement and our desire to rescue people creates a toxic cocktail that ultimately leads to collusion and enabling behaviour.

The insight that we can often be deceived and led astray by what appears good, is important to carry in our Ignatian toolkit and a good spiritual director will be adept at spotting this.  It is one of the ‘Rules for Discernment from the second week,’ and is more relevant to someone who is in the more advanced stages of a spiritual life.  If your basic disposition is towards an easy, peaceful and comfortable life then you will be discouraged by any thoughts that may challenge this, this is still first-week stuff.  And the first week rules are helpful there, but if you have made a commitment to follow Christ with all that entails, joys and sorrows, engaging in a messy world and the humiliations that come along with this then the second-week rules are endlessly fascinating.  And discernment is about having ‘ A nose for God and the things of God’ but also about detecting evil and being realistic about it.

Second Week  Rules for Discernement 

Fourth Rule. The fourth: It is proper to the evil Angel, who forms himself under the appearance of an angel of light, to enter with the devout soul and go out with himself: that is to say, to bring good and holy thoughts, conformable to such just soul, and then little by little he aims at coming out drawing the soul to his covert deceits and perverse intentions.

Sixth Rule. The sixth: When the enemy of human nature has been perceived and known by his serpent’s tail and the bad end to which he leads on, it helps the person who was tempted by him, to look immediately at the course of the good thoughts which he brought him at their beginning, and how little by little he aimed at making him descend from the spiritual sweetness and joy in which he was, so far as to bring him to his depraved intention; in order that with this experience, known and noted, the person may be able to guard for the future against his usual deceits.