St. Ignatius' Autobiography, Part 10: The Path to the Dark Side, and Letting the Mule Decide
Well then, as he went on his way, he came upon a Moor riding a mule. They both fell to talking, and the conversation turned on our Lady. The Moor admitted that the Virgin had conceived without man’s aid, but could not believe that she remained a virgin after once having given birth, and for this opinion submitted the natural reasons which occurred to him. For all the arguments which the pilgrim gave against this opinion, he could not refute it. The Moor then took the lead with such haste that he was soon lost to view, and left the pilgrim with his own thoughts of what had taken place. These gave rise to emotions that brought on a feeling of discontent in his soul, as he thought he had failed in his duty. This, in turn, led to indignation against the Moor, as he thought he had done very ill to allow a Moor to say such things against our Lady, and that he was obliged to defend her honor. Hence a desire arose to go in search of the Moor and give him a taste of his dagger for what he had said. This battle of desires lasted for some time with the pilgrim quite doubtful at the end as to what he ought to do. The Moor, who had gone on ahead, had said that he was going to a place which was on the same highway, a little further on, but a little to the side of the highway. The royal highway, however, did not pass through the place.
Tired out from this examination as to what it would be good for him to do, and not being able to come to any clear decision, he thought of letting the mule decide, and gave her a free rein up to the spot where the road divided. If the mule took the road that led to the village he would search out the Moor and give him a taste of his dagger. If she did not take the village road, but continued on the royal highway, he would leave him in peace. This he did. But it was our Lord’s will that, although the village was only thirty or forty steps away, and the road to it broad and even, the mule took the royal highway and passed by the village road.
If you’ve seen Revenge of the Sith, you now know what led Anakin Skywalker to embrace the Dark Side of the Force to become Darth Vader—good intentions mixed with pride and bad judgment. He is not an evil person, yet he allows his desire to protect someone he loves cloud his judgment about what he can and cannot control. His pride will not allow him to admit this is something he cannot have control over and he is lured away from his essential goodness by the promise of power, the power over even death itself. This is the same type of temptation as those offered to Jesus by Satan at the beginning of the Gospel—the promise of control over things that should be left to God.
Saint Ignatius finds himself with a similar set of challenges. He has what is essentially a good and even holy intention—defending the honor of the Blessed Mother. Yet, this intention is not born of holy sentiment, but of pride. He has been bested in an argument, failing to adequately come to the defense of our Lady. His former instincts take hold and he determines also to assert some power over life and death—he will kill the Moor for his insult to the mother of our Lord. But we must wonder: what is his primary intention? Is it really a matter of defending our Lady’s honor, or his own? Is this murderous plan really well-intentioned or is it just indicative of Ignatius’ inability to accept his own failure? Killing the Moor, it seems, would be replacing one failure with an even greater one. The newly converted Ignatius was likely asking himself the same questions, even as his passions were inspiring this course of action. Though not specific about his inner struggle, he explains that “tired out from this examination as to what it would be good for him to do,” he decides to let the mule decide. In doing so, he surrenders his need for control and submits himself to God’s will, which he believes to have been manifested in the mule’s decision to follow the other road. Literally “letting the mule decide” might well not be the best technique for continued discernment, but it does demonstrate that discernment requires a giving over of one’s will, for pride and the need for control—even if born of good intentions—can too easily lead to the Dark Side.