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Spiritual Desolation

We ought to view in the light of God’s holy will, the loss of persons who are helpful to us in a spiritual or material way. Pious souls often fail in this respect by not being resigned to the dispositions of God’s holy will.

Our sanctification comes fundamentally and essentially from God, not from spiritual directors.  When God sends us a spiritual director, he wishes us to use him for our spiritual profit; but if he takes him away, he wants us to remain calm and unperturbed and to increase our confidence in his goodness by saying to him: “Lord, thou hast give me this help and now thou dost take it away. Blessed be thy holy will!  I beg thee, teach me what I must do to serve thee.”

In this manner, too, we should receive whatever other crosses God sends us.  “But,” you reply, “these sufferings are really punishments.”  The answer to that remark is: Are not the punishments God sends us in this life also graces and benefits?  Our offenses against God must be atoned for somehow, either in this life or in the next.  Hence we should all make St. Augustine’s prayer our own: “Lord, here cut, here burn and spare me not, but spare me in eternity!”

Let us say with Job: “Let this be my comfort, that afflicting me with sorrow, he spare not.” (Job 6:10).  Having merited hell for our sins, we should be consoled that God chastises us in this life, and animate ourselves to look upon such treatment as a pledge that God wishes to spare us in the next.  When God sends us punishments let us say with the high-priest Heli: “It is the Lord, let him do what is good in his sight.” (1 Kings 3:18).

The time of spiritual desolation is also a time for being resigned.  When a soul begins to cultivate the spiritual life, God usually showers his consolations upon her to wean her away from the world; but when he sees here making solid progress, he withdraws his hand to test her and to see if she will love and serve him without the reward of sensible consolations. 

“In this life,” as St. Teresa used to say, “our lot is not to enjoy God, but to do his holy will.”  And again, “Love of God does not consist in experiencing his tenderness, but in serving him with resolution and humility.”  And in yet another place, “God’s true lovers are discovered in times of aridity and temptation.” 

Let the soul thank God when she experiences his loving endearments, but let her not repine when she finds herself left in desolation.  It is important to lay great stress on this point, because some souls, beginners in the spiritual life, finding themselves in spiritual aridity, think God has abandoned them, or that the spiritual life is not for them; thus they give up the practice of prayer and lose what they have previously gained. 

The time of aridity is the best time to practice resignation to God’s holy will.  I do not say you will feel no pain in seeing yourself deprived of the sensible presence of God; it is impossible for the soul not to feel it and lament over it, when even our Lord cried out on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  (Matt. 27:46).  In her sufferings, however, the soul should always be resigned to God’s will. 

The saints have all experienced desolations and abandonment of soul.  “How impervious to things spiritual, my heart!” cries St. Bernard.  “No savor in pious reading, no pleasure in meditation nor in prayer!”  For the most part it has been the common lot of the saints to encounter aridities; sensible consolations were the exceptions.  Such things are rare occurrences granted to untried souls so that they may not halt on the road to sanctity; the real delights and happiness that will constitute their reward are reserved for Heaven.

This earth is a place of merit which is acquired by suffering; Heaven is a place of reward and happiness.  Hence, in this life the saints neither desired nor sought the joys of sensible fervor, but rather the fervor of the spirit toughened in the crucible of suffering.  “O how much better it is,” says St. John of Avila, “to endure aridity and temptation by God’s will than to be raised to the heights of contemplation without God’s will!” 

This article is taken from a chapter in Uniformity with God’s Will by St. Alphonsus which is available from TAN Books.

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