Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Discerning Spirits, Setting Captives Free

Recently I turned on the TV and happened to catch the last few minutes of a retreat being given by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV. I had stumbled upon episode three of a ten-part series called Living the Discerning Life: The Spiritual Teaching of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I have two of Fr. Gallagher’s books (The Discernment of Spirits and Meditation and Contemplation), which I’ve only begun reading, and some free mp3’s of some conversations he had with Kris McGregor of the blog, Discerning Hearts, which I’ve been listening to in the car. The DVD set and CD’s look really good, too, but I have more than enough to absorb for now. (Description of the Discernment series continues below.)

Living the Discerning Life, EWTN series, DVD

Series description in the EWTN Religious Catalogue: St. Ignatius Loyola designed the Spiritual Exercises over 450 years ago, to help retreatants discern those influences arousing discouragement and deception in their spiritual lives. Fr. Timothy Gallagher, O.M.V. devotes this 10-part series to those same 14 rules, more relevant today than ever before. As they facilitate our drawing closer to God, they awaken new hope in those who practice them; as a result, Living the Discerning Life is one of the the most- requested titles. 5 discs. 10 hrs. (Documents referenced in series are included on a seperate CD in case) — Quoted from the product page in the catalogue.

Living the Discerning Life, series, DVD, from Fr. Tim's siteFr. Tim’s* way of presenting the teachings of Saint Ignatius is full of practical examples drawn from everyday experience. It’s not dumbed-down, not over-my-head technical, or abstract, but also not syrupy sweet or that putrid, vapid empty-headed “positive thinking” and “self-help” nonsense I’ve come to loathe so much. He shows you the difference between spiritual and non-spiritual things (thoughts, feelings, inner promptings) and helps you distinguish between the two in your own life.** He helps you to develop discernment so that you can tell when you are receiving promptings from God or from someone else (either our ancient enemy or our own selves). He shows you the difference between non-spiritual and spiritual desolation and the connection between the two; what to do after discerning the difference (ie, to accept the promptings from God and reject the ones from that other guy). And much, much more.

Episodes in the Living the Discerning Life series, showing now on EWTN. Also available in DVD from EWTN or from Fr.’s site.

Episode 1 – The Discernment of Spirits: The Teaching of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Fr. Timothy Gallagher begins this retreat on the 14 rules of St. Ignatius of Loyola by introducing us to St. Ignatius. Fr. Gallagher shows how the great saint converted from a life steeped in the secular culture of the time to one of deep love for our Creator. The priest also shows how we can discern whether events in our own lives are of God or the Enemy and how the choices we make can affect our immortal souls.

Episode 2 – The Enemy Hinders Those Seeking God: The Path of St. Augustine
Just as God tries to draw us near, Satan tries to pull us from God. Fr. Timothy Gallagher explains the 14 rules of St. Ignatius using the example of St. Augustine. He shows how we can easily fall into sin and have the inclination then to stay there instead of repenting and following God’s path for us.

Episode 3 – Spiritual Consolation and Desolation: The Third and Fourth Rules of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Fr. Timothy Gallagher shows us how the Good Spirit uses spiritual consolation to help us rise closer to the Creator. These consolations range from a simple hug from a child, smile from a co-worker or a full infusion of grace showing God’s actions in our lives. However, we may also feel periods of loneliness, but with God’s grace this to can be overcome.

Episode 4 – Spiritual Desolation: The Pull Towards Low and Earthly Things
Spiritual desolation is employed by the enemy to bring us down and draw us away from God. Fr. Timothy Gallagher shows that if we learn to live the discerning life, we can recognize the source of spiritual desolation and reject it, thus using it to enrich instead of harm our spiritual health.

Episode 5 – How Do We Handle Spiritual Desolation: Rejecting Downward Movement
We all experience times where we feel abandoned by God. Fr. Timothy Gallagher reminds us that God never leaves us, and we can combat spiritual desolation through prayer, meditation, and acts of penance.

Episode 6 – Spiritual Desolation: Why God Allows Hardships
The question is often asked “Why would a good and loving God allow us to suffer spiritual desolation?” Fr. Timothy Gallagher uses the teachings of St. Ignatius to show that because God is a good and loving God is the precise reason why we undergo desolation.

Episode 7 – Growing in Times of Desolation: Consolation from Desolation
God may seem far from us in times of desolation. Fr. Timothy Gallagher shows us why God is closer than ever during these times and how we can actually prepare for times of desolation when we are in consolation, reducing the hardship of the desolation and instead making it a learning experience.

Episode 8 – Moving Beyond Desolation: Fighting Temptation
Temptations abound when we are in times of desolation. Fr. Timothy Gallagher shows that we are always faced with temptations and the best way to resist is to stay close to God who will provide the strength to overcome all temptations.

Episode 9 – Breaking the Spiritual Silence: Speaking with the Proper Spiritual Person
We give in to temptation many times by holding it interiorly and fabricating accompanying scenarios for the temptation. Fr. Timothy Gallagher uses Ignatian Spirituality to show how if we share our concerns with a competent person, we realize our concerns are often not real, giving us the ammunition we need to fight the enemy.

Episode 10 – The Journey’s End: Concluding Our Ignatian Retreat
Retreats offer us time to renew and refresh our spirituality. Fr. Timothy Gallagher concludes the Ignatian retreat by summing up the saint’s 14 rules and answering participants questions.

I’ll be reading these books, listening to the audio, and watching the series (on the DVR until I can afford the DVD’s — and a DVD player!) for some time yet and I plan to blog about what I’m learning. Oh, and I should point out that neither the TV series, the DVD set, nor the MP3’s you can download are audiobooks. They’re not the Discernment of Spirits being read; they’re actual recordings of Fr. Tim’s conferences. When you hear these, it’s like sitting in a room with him while he teaches this Ignatian way to you and the others in the class. I don’t know about the CD sets yet.

Oh, and why the Setting Captives Free in the post title? It refers to Fr. Tim’s original title for the book. His editor thought the title, The Discernment of Spirits would be better. (I think I agree with the editor, though Setting the Captives Free — as he worded it — would have been fine as a sub-title.)



*”Fr. Tim” is the way he introduces himself, so I’ll follow his lead.

**It can be less than obvious which is which. I’ve had people who are, they tell me, “very spiritual”, indicate that they want to talk with me about “spiritual matters” and then proceed to regale me with ribald talk about subjects most sensual and physical, to the point of vulgarity. And not once has anyone ever told me how “spiritual” he or she is, but “not religious at all”, without following this up with the most un-spiritual revelations imaginable. How did our thinking become so twisted, inside out and upside down? (Hint: It has to do with the fall. And not the season. The Fall, with a capital T and a capital F.)

13 thoughts on “Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Discerning Spirits, Setting Captives Free

  1. Dear Fr.Tim,
    i am interested in the retreat you conduct esp. discerning the spirit and the talks on finding God in all things I COULD NOT GET YOUR EMAIL but managed to get hold of something like your web site. I felt you have a DVD but cannot understand how to get it My sister lives in Seattle and comes once in 6 months and lives here as we have our mother 92 years of age. Can you tell me how much will it cost with the handouts too.? My email id is [removed by admin].


  2. Pingback: Another version of my conversion story | Catholic Heart and Mind

  3. Hi, Lauretta :) Ah, yes, Scott Hahn played a large part in my conversion (and I got to tell him that when I met him at Samford University a while back). His conversion story was out on cassette tape then and somebody gave me a copy of it or we had it at the Catholic bookstore where I was working. While I was a Buddhist, I might add. Yes, you heard that right. While I was still a Buddhist. Had been for many years, though I was raised Methodist. But I had so many questions as a child and young adult and I never heard answers that were satisfying to my heart or my mind. So I went on a long journey of exploration and experimentation. And when I say long, I mean long! Forty years of searching for truth and finding glimmers and tantalizing hints here and there and yet I knew that I had not found IT and I didn’t even know what IT was, only that I had not found it.

    In the meantime a close friend of mine had decided to get serious about her faith or, rather, the faith of her grandfather who was Catholic. She went through the RCIA and got very active in the Church. And since we did everything together back then, I got very active in the Church right along with her, helping with the music side of things, playing guitar for the youth group when they sang at Mass, washing dishes and cleaning up after Lenten meals, things like that.

    On the way home from work one day I happened to spot a little Catholic bookstore. Aha, I thought, I’ll have to tell my friend! I dropped in to explore a few days later and fell headlong into an entire world that I had not even suspected existed.

    I started working there as a volunteer without any thought of converting, mind you. But I had volunteered to put the books in order (they were just placed any old way on the shelves and that drove me crazy!), and to put the books in order I had to at least read a little bit of them to see what kind of books they were. So I read a little of this kind of theology and that (who knew there were different kinds?), a little Church history, the lives of a few saints, a few of the great spiritual writers, some Fathers of the Church, some apologists and some Bible studies. Then I discovered Scott Hahn’s tape sets. I was hooked! Fascinated! When I became the buyer for the store, I started stocking every tape set of his I could get hold of. And listening to them over and over. Thrilling stuff!

    And then my friend and I got into an argument. She said that I should be Catholic and I was perfectly happy as a Buddhist. Even though I was still searching for the ultimate truth and was beginning to suspect that the Church might have at least some of that truth. (Oy, how hard-headed could I be?) Then the new Catechism was published and we started carrying stacks of them at the story. Couldn’t keep them in stock. And everywhere study groups were popping up and my friend mentioned that her parish was holding study classes on the Catechism. And I shocked her by asking if I could attend the classes with her. Well, why not, I said, I’ll just collect another religion if nothing else. That was what I was thinking but God had different plans.

    The class was led by a facilitator who somehow somewhere sustained an injury early on and the parish priest took up where she left off. And the class really took off, too. How mysterious are the ways of the Lord! The priest was from Ireland and had been in this country for many years, a good faithful devout knowledgeable priest. And he made Catholicism come alive for us! That was one of the best summers of my life and by summer’s end I went to the priest to ask for instruction. Our instruction class only had four people in it, we didn’t do the RCIA, just a simple talking about the teachings of the Church and what it means to be, to live as a Catholic.

    I was received into Holy Mother Church at the Easter Vigil in 1996. I was on fire then. I’m on fire now. I have my struggles but the good Lord and His Church help me through them. My struggles are not with the Church but with myself. I accept all that the Church teaches and I wouldn’t change a thing even if I could. Would that more Catholics would embrace their faith and live it! But I know many who do. Sometimes I wish I had grown up Catholic but I realize that God can use even the stupid things I did to bring good out of them.

    So, in answer to your question, what drew me to Catholicism, I’d have to say: Truth. And He Who is the Truth. In Catholicism I discovered the Church and the Church led me to Christ. I also discovered the Blessed Mother and she also led me to Christ. I discovered the Catholic interpretation of Scripture and Scripture, read in the Church at Mass and interpreted by the Church, also led me to Christ. The Rosary led me to Christ. The Divine Mercy devotion and teachings led me to Christ. Devout Catholics led me to Christ. Thanks be to God! :)


  4. Lauretta Fagan

    Wow! I just stumbled on this series currently airing on EWTN. I will be setting my dvr for this because of it’s enormous value. Discernment is so important in our walk as believers, invaluable when dealing with ourselves and others. Where would we be without it? I love how he breaks down the steps to 1) becoming aware 2) understanding and 3) taking action. These truths, marvelous in their simplicity, can help any sincere seeker gain deeper understanding…I am blown away by what I’ve read on this subject so far.
    I feel compelled to keep a journal as I make my way through this series and then revisit my writings sometime later, after I’ve had a chance to gain a practical application of these principles. I’m so happy and excited to have this powerful resource! Glory to God!
    If anyone has any other resources similar to this that they can suggest, let me know. I would love some good recommends on any awesome reads pertaining to further growing in faith. Thanks!


    1. Greetings, Lauretta :)

      You may notice that I haven’t been blogging my progress on the series…mainly because I haven’t made any progress. But I do have the books, which I have made some progress on (well, a little), and I’ve listened to the MP3’s over and over. As for the EWTN series, I finally have all ten episodes on my DVR. (I can’t tell you what I went through to get all ten episodes, in order. I don’t know why I had so much trouble with it but I did.)

      For other resources, check out Fr. Tim’s own site:

      Also see my own resource pages, where you’ll find Scott Hahn’s site:
      and Institute for Catholic Culture:
      and many others.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Lauretta. Peace be with you and Happy Gaudete Sunday! :)


      1. Lauretta Fagan

        Peace be with you- and thanks for the additional links. Now that my semester is over, I’ll have a chance to engage in something other than “research” for once! Ha ha!

        Keep up the good work- I’ve enjoyed cruising around your site- very enlightening.

        Happy Gaudete Sunday and Merry Christmas!


        1. Ah, research, how well do I know thy lure! I get so caught up in the discovery of new things, sometimes I forget why I began the search. But I suppose it’s a bit different when you have to research something for a class or a paper with a deadline. I used to go to the library on campus to study and lose myself among the books for hours at a time. And not get one bit of my homework done. ;)

          Thank you for your kind words. I hope you’ll find something useful on the site. May our Lord richly bless you on your journey of faith. And a very Merry Christmas to you and yours! :)


          1. Lauretta Fagan

            “Getting lost among the books” Love it! Glad to know I’m
            not the only one. :) By the way, I just received this book entitled
            “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Anything” by James Martin, SJ. I’m
            looking forward to digging into this one. What are you reading
            these days?


            1. I’ve heard of that book. it’s on the to-read list. :) Let’s see. What am I not reading! ;) I’m almost through re-reading We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, first time to re-read it since I bought it from the Scholastic Book Club Back when I was in high school, I think. Also re-reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables in preparation for the film. (I can hardly wait to see Hugh Jackman in that.)

              Reading several other things in preparation for writing the next draft of my novel. Reading Fr. Michael Gaitley’s Consoling the Heart of Jesus, then 33 Days to Morning Glory, and I want to read his newest book on the Trinity. And soon will be getting back to Pope Benedict’s trilogy on Jesus. Have been re-reading the Catechism and the documents of Vatican II. And also some encyclicals, some for the first time, some that I’ve read I don’t know how many times.

              Recently finished reading Tolkien’s Children of Hurin. Reminded me so much of reading Sagas of the Icelanders, one of my favorite books.

              An eclectic list, no? ;)


              1. Lauretta Fagan

                Eclectic?  Oui!  C’est Magnifique!    Les Miserables has always been a favorite of mine- looking forward to seeing it, too.  Sidenote:  my friend named her baby daughter Cozette.  :)    Wow.  I just looked up “We” and read the synopsis. I need to get that one in the queue-reminds me a little of Fahrenheit 451.  Would that be an accurate comparison?  I read Fahrenheit in high school.    I think it’s cool that you continue working on your novel.  I believe the world will be a better place because of it.  Keep it up.  How many drafts are you considering?  What time frame are you looking at for a possible publishing?   The Vatican II docs are cool, as is the Catechism.  Some of the Encyclicals are a bit over my head.  I have to admit that I’ve needed to reread some of our church’s documents a few times before it really sinks in. The men that wrote these are way smart.   I’m always amazed at the level of education that even a parish priest has.   I’ve not read Saga of the Icelanders.  The title alone seems to indicate that it would be adventure-laden.  Interesting.  I’ll have to remember that.     ________________________________


                1. Wonderful name for your friend’s daughter! :) “We” is a little like Fahrenheit 451, you could say that. It’s a strange little book. Banned in the author’s homeland for decades. I just found a review of it by George Orwell. And here’s another interesting article about it.

                  Ah, yes, the novel. How many drafts? As many as it takes. Could be two or three more or thirty. I don’t have a contract and I don’t have a deadline. What I do have is a mass of ideas rolling around in my head and some sections of the story that seem to flow and other sections that, well, don’t. But to quote a friend of mine, I find the process fascinating. Time frame for publishing, oh, I have so far to go before that becomes an issue. I know, some would think I’m going about this the wrong way. But I’m taking my time and developing the story and learning as I go.

                  Exploring the documents of the Church has been one of my favorite things since I discovered them in 1994 when I first discovered the Catholic Church in general.

                  This is the link to the hard copy I have of The Sagas of the Icelanders. This is the Kindle edition I’ve got. There’s another edition for a lower price that apparently contains fewer sagas. Amazon’s product pages can be confusing.

                  This is what happens when I start talking about books. :)


                2. Lauretta Fagan

                  Thanks a bunch for the articles and links.  I enjoyed them very much- and I learned a few things, too.   It’s great that you have no deadline or editor tweaking your work for you.  Perfection takes time and often we’re our own worst critics, aren’t we?  Just keep right on enjoying the process.  It’s not about the destination anyway, it’s the journey.    On discovering the faith in 1994, that explains a lot.  I find that often the most fervent Catholics come from varied faith traditions, unlike cradle Catholics like me.   You, Laura Ingram (political/news commentator), Scott Hahn and many others.  May I ask what drew you to Catholicism?  I love stories like that.     



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