CONFORMITY TO THE WILL OF GOD
XII. SPECIAL PRACTICES OF THIS VIRTUE
The lives of the Saints have been ordinarily full of dryness and not of sensible consolations. These are favours the Lord does not bestow, excepting on rare occasions, and to perhaps the weaker sort of spirits, in order to prevent their coming to a standstill in their spiritual course. The joys He proposes to us as reward, He prepares in Paradise. This world is the place for meriting, where we merit by suffering; Heaven is the place for recompense and enjoyment. Wherefore, what the Saints have desired and sought for in this world has been, not a sensible fervour with rejoicing, but a spiritual fervour with suffering. The Blessed John of Avila used to say, “Oh, how much better is it to be in dryness and temptation by the will of God, than in contemplation without it!”
But, you will say: If I could only know that this desolation came from God, I should be content; but what afflicts and disquiets me so is the fear that it may have come by my own fault, and as a punishment for my tepidity. Well, then, put away your tepidity and employ greater diligence. But will you, because you are under a cloud — will you therefore disquiet yourself and leave off prayer, and thus double the evil of which you complain? Let it be, as you say, that the dryness has come upon you as a chastisement. Then accept it as a chastisement on one who so much deserves to be chastised, and unite yourself to the Divine will. Do you not say that you deserve hell? And why, then, are you complaining? Is it because you deserve that God should give you consolations? Ah, go and be content with the manner in which God is dealing with you; persevere in prayer, and in the way on which you have entered; and henceforth let it be your fear that your complaints may arise rather from your little humility and your want of conformity to the will of God. When a soul applies itself to prayer, it can derive no greater benefit from it than the union of itself with the Divine will. Therefore, make an act of resignation, and say: Lord, I accept this pain from Thy hands, and I accept it for as long as may please Thee. If it be Thy will that I should be thus afflicted for all eternity, I am content. And in this way your prayer, painful though it may be, will be a greater help to you than any spiritual consolations however sweet.
We must ever bear in mind that dryness is not always a punishment, but is occasionally ordained by God for our greater good, and in order to keep us humble. That St. Paul might not grow proud of the gifts he had received, the Lord permitted him even to be tormented by temptations to impurity: Lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me (2 Cor. xii. 7). No great thanks to him who prays in times of sweetness. There is a friend, a companion at table, and he will not abide in the day of distress (Ecclus. vi. 10). You would not esteem him a true friend of yours who was with you at table; but he is the true friend who assists you in time of trouble, and without advantage to any interests of his own. When God sends darkness and desolations, it is then that He tries who are His true friends. Palladius suffered great weariness in prayer; and when he went to tell St. Macarius, the latter said to him “When the thought suggests itself to leave off prayer, let this be your reply: I am content, for the love of Jesus Christ, to remain here as guardian of the walls of this cell.” This, then, is your answer, whenever you feel tempted to leave off prayer, because it appears to you no better than a mere waste of time: “I am here in order to give pleasure to God.” St. Francis de Sales used to say that if in time of prayer we did no more than drive away distractions and temptations, our prayer would, nevertheless, be well made. Nay, Tauler says that on him who perseveres in prayer in a state of aridity, God will bestow greater graces than if he had prayed much with great sensible devotion. F. Rodriguez tells us of a certain person who said that during forty years of prayer he had never experienced any consolation; but that on the days he prayed he found himself strong in virtue; whereas, on the contrary, whatever day he omitted prayer he experienced such a weakness as made him unfit for anything good. It has been observed by St. Bonaventure, and by Gerson, that many serve God better when deprived of that sensible devotion they long for, than when they possess it, because they thus live in a state of greater diligence and humility; whereas had they spiritual consolations they might perhaps become proud and more tepid, thinking that they had already gained the object of their desires. And what is said with regard to aridity must also be said regarding temptations. We should try to avoid temptations, but if God wills or permits us to be tempted against the Faith, against purity, or against any other virtue, we should not complain, but resign ourselves in this also to the Divine will. To St. Paul who prayed to be released from his temptation, the Lord made answer: My grace is sufficient for thee (2 Cor. xii. 9). And so, if we see that God does not listen to us, and release 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 causes us to lose Divine grace. Temptations, when we overcome them, keep us more humble, gain for us greater merits, force us to have recourse to God more frequently; and thus keep us further from offending Him, and unite us more closely to His holy love.