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?