Lenten Meditation 42: Spiritual Desolation

St Teresa of Avila

We ought to be resigned in times of spiritual desolation. The Lord is accustomed, when a soul gives itself up to the spiritual life, to heap consolations upon it, in order to wean it from the pleasures of the world; but afterwards, when he sees it more settled in spiritual ways, he draws back his hand, in order to make proof of its love, and to see whether it serves and loves him unrecompensed, while in this world, with spiritual joys. “While we are living here,” as St. Teresa used to say, “our gain does not consist in any increase of our enjoyment of God, but in the performance of his will.” And in another passage: “The love of God does not consist in tenderness, but in serving him with firmness and humility.” And again, elsewhere: “The Lord makes trial of those who love him by means of drynesses and temptations.” Let, then, the soul thank the Lord when he caresses it with sweetnesses; but not torment itself by acts of impatience, when it beholds itself left in a state of desolation. This is a point which should be well attended to; for some foolish persons, seeing themselves in a state of aridity, think that God may have abandoned them; or, again, that the spiritual life was not made for them; and so they leave off prayer, and lose all that they have gained. There is no time better for exercising our resignation to the will of God than that of dryness. I am not saying that you will not suffer pain on seeing yourself bereft of the sensible presence of your God; it is impossible for a soul not to feel such pain as this; nor can it refrain from lamentation, when our Redeemer himself upon the cross made lamentation on this account: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? [Matt 27:46] But, in its sufferings, it should ever resign itself perfectly to the will of its Lord. These spiritual desolations and abandonments are what all the saints have suffered. . . . This world is the place for meriting, where we merit by suffering; heaven is the place for recompense and enjoyments. Therefore, what the saints have desired and sought for in this world has been, not a sensible fervor with rejoicing, but a spiritual fervor with suffering.

He who prays in times of sweetness does no great thing. . . . You would not esteem to be a true friend of yours the man who was with you only at your table; but him who assisted you in times of trouble, and without advantage to any interests of his own. When God sends darkness and desolations, it is then that he is trying who are true friends of his.

What is said with regard to aridity must also be said of temptations. We ought to try to avoid temptations; but if God wills or permits that we be tempted against the faith, against purity, or against any other virtue, we ought not to complain, but resign ourselves in this also to the divine will. To St. Paul, who prayed to be released from his temptation to impurity, the Lord made answer, My grace is sufficient for thee [2 Cor 12:9]. And so, if we see that God does not listen to us, by releasing us from some troublesome temptation, let us likewise say, Lord, do and permit that which pleaseth Thee; Thy grace is sufficient for me; only grant me Thy assistance, that I may never lose it. It is not temptations, but the consenting to temptations, that is the cause of our loss of divine grace.

Text from St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Way of Salvation and Perfection, ed. Eugene Grimm, 2d ed. (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1886).

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