Discerning with the Psalms (Pt. 1)

After having sat for a few weeks with this article by our contributor, DoctorSimplex, I think a little bit more explanation is in order for a few of the rules. DoctorSimplex gave an excellent overview of St. Ignatius’ rather strategic way of discerning which movements of the heart come from God and which do not. But I find the best way to learn is by example from real lives. Someone that we all know and has gone through very visible movements of spiritual consolation and desolation is King David. In part one of this series, I want to focus on David in spiritual consolation and compare it to what Ignatius has to say.

Take a look at the famous Psalm 23 (NASB):

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

If this doesn’t give us a look into David’s trust in God’s will, I don’t know what does. David knows the importance of a shepherd and the vulnerability of sheep. He is well aware of how utterly helpless sheep are, so for a teenage boy with dreams of being in the military to compare himself with a farm animal is profound. Now compare this piece of David’s heart with how St. Ignatius describes spiritual consolation in Rule 3:

I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all.

Likewise, when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise. Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.

Although they are few and far between, I certainly have days where my prayer sounds like Psalm 23. These are usually days when God has gifted me with a powerful conversation or an interaction that confirms my call to the priesthood. Days when I just want to rise up and thank God for the gift of my life.

Let’s turn back to David’s prayer of trust. One of Ignatius’ key descriptors of spiritual consolation is “when [one’s positive movement of the heart] can, in consequence, love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all.” Brothers and sisters, this is called trust. Trust that God is present and loves us too much to lead us astray. Like a good shepherd.

Also, pay attention to the peace that David writes with. This is coming from a teenager who has always felt like he would never measure up to his older brothers. They were the soldiers, the war heroes, in whom his parents were very proud. I can’t imagine that David didn’t compare their lives with his as a lowly shepherd. But in this instance, he doesn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. He wants to stay and sit with his sheep forever and imagine himself being loved by God in the same way.

Now think about the last time you felt this way in prayer. A time when you were sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament and just had a sense of peace and love wash over you. They may have been brought on by a good day or an event in which God decided to love you in a particular way, or it may have come on for no perceivable reason. This was Jesus reminding you of His constant presence in your life. Anytime you have a moment like this in prayer, write it down and bring it up with your spiritual director.

In Part 2, we will discuss a psalm where David was in spiritual desolation.


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