Winter Desolation

It’s been a miserable winter for many people, with record-breaking snowstorms and chilling temperatures. As I write this, we are about to get hammered with yet another snowstorm, and nearly every face I see seems to carry a scowl. It’s the kind of atmosphere that is ripe for desolation. St. Ignatius gives us some tips on resisting the “evil one” who seeks to undo our efforts toward goodness and love: “The enemy acts like a woman, in being weak against vigor and strong of will. Because, as it is the way of the woman when she is quarreling with some man to lose heart, taking flight when the man shows her much courage.” (Sp. Ex. 12th rule)

Let’s admit that it’s a sexist image that the evil one is a like a woman who stops arguing with a man when he finally puts his foot down. However, if we can forgive Ignatius for being a 16th-century man, his underlying insight is crucial: the evil one flees in the face of courage. Our temptation is to make the evil one stronger than he really is. Yes, evil can be like a wild beast assaulting us. God’s goodness is always greater, but we have to cooperate too. Ignatius is clear: we must each individually face the temptations of the evil one with courage.

How do we resist? First, we should not change our plans made in times of consolation. Instead, we should remain firm in our prior commitments to family, friends, service, prayer, and so on, for when we resist temptations with courage, the enemy flees. Second, Ignatius suggests finding trusted spiritual friends with whom to share our struggles, so that they are out in the light rather than hidden in darkness (rule 13). Third, we need to have enough self-knowledge to understand our own weaknesses, which the enemy analyzes like a military defense, which he seeks to invade (rule 14).

If we can shore up those weak spots with support, we will be less likely to react out of those places. We can actively resist the enemy by remaining with our prior good commitments, sharing our feelings and struggles with our friends, and remembering that Jesus is our strong ally who overcomes all evil.

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Marina Berzins McCoy
Marina Berzins McCoy is a professor at Boston College, where she teaches philosophy and in the BC PULSE service-learning program. She is the author of The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness and Wounded Heroes: Vulnerability as a Virtue in Ancient Greek Philosophy. She and her husband are the parents to two young adults and live in the Boston area.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Pure heart and limpid eyes will keep us close to the Beauty of God, so present also in this cold and snowy winter. Let us Praise HIM for our “sister snow” as St. Francis did. I am sure, Ignatius will bless us….sister snow

  2. You’d think that with the Virgin Mary having been female they would rethink their position but truly it makes no difference as long as the work gets done!

  3. No wonder women are not allowed to be Jesuits!
    However, that said, yes we need to gird our loins to rebuke the evil one. And I find my girding strengthened when I interact with my spiritual director. Ignatius was right about that, finding someone to share doubts and wonders with. It truly helps to get that other perspective, and strengthens my faith and my trust in God.

    • Yes, I had the same thought about women and the Jesuits in re-reading that rule! I agree, consistent and reliable directors and friends are good gifts.

      • I thought anyone could join the Jesuits just like they could join the Franciscans — just can’t be a priest. Likely I just did not pay attention again.

        • No, there are Dominican women, Franciscan women, Carmelite women, and lay women can also belong to third orders for each of the above, but no female Jesuits, and no lay Jesuits in any formal way. However, I do hear the term Jesuits and their “lay partners” but the relationship of the latter to the former is often unclear.

  4. Stop arguing when a man puts his foot down? To step on it? I had a good laugh when I read that notwithstanding that we surely do have to build up an armour against evil. Just like those winter days when we go outside with layered clothing under a warm coat we have to layer on the grace of God.

  5. Marina, as I read this it is snowing here once again. It is hard to believe that it can snow so often but this is also true in our lives at times – that it is hard to believe that so much can happen and continue to happen. At times like that we do need to reach out for support and objectivity of others. Thank you for this reminder of Saint Ignatius’ teaching on resisting the enemy.

    • Yes, when it rains (or snows), it pours, doesn’t it?
      I agree that friendship is so helpful; those friends who stay by one’s side through thick and thin, who are in it for the long haul, are like those mentioned in Sirach, “Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter.”

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