When You’re Discouraged

Robert McTeigue, SJ, says that when we are discouraged or feeling desolation in the Ignatian sense, we should follow St. Ignatius’s advice and insist more on prayer, meditation, and increasing penance.

Although it seems counterintuitive, Saint Ignatius is wise to urge us when in desolation to “increasing our penance in some suitable manner.” But why? It’s not obvious why “I feel miserable” will be helped by “I will increase my penance.” When in desolation, the momentum is towards helplessness and despair. If I can do something—anything—even a very small penitential act like foregoing sugar in my morning coffee, then I have concrete proof that I am not helpless. If I can undertake even a small penance, I have proof that the desolation has not vanquished my freedom, my strength, or my hope. Such a penance can be a first step, a small victory that, over time, can lead incrementally to greater victories.

It’s an interesting strategy, and many recognize the value of penance during Lent. Why not during other times of the year as a tool against discouragement?


  1. Hopelessness can lead to a downward spiral of great velocity. Being able to find one small act, that you can do, cab change the outlook of a hopeless person. If they are able to complete that one act,another may follow. The relief of knowing that penance can be tailored-that it need not be hair shirts and whipping-that the penance may be small and achievable allows this wonderful spirituality to be offered to so many more people.

  2. I never thought of penance in this light. I like the idea that success in a small area reminds me I am not overcome, and help is on the way.

  3. I think this is one of the greatest challenges those who try to be believers face nowadays: how small “sacrifices” and penitences can leads nearer to Jesus and God, our Lord. I think about that often, but I feel I’m very far away from a answer. The pressure of contemporaneity is much too big – or so it seems – to forget day to day events. This comment was only posted for the sake of better discussion and thoughts of faith!


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