PATIENCE IN THE MIDST OF SPIRITUAL DESOLATION
Desolation of spirit is the most sensible and the sharpest pain a soul that loves God can experience on this earth. To a soul assisted by Divine consolations, all insults, sorrows, losses and persecutions are not only not an affliction, but rather a source of consolation, because they give her occasion to offer these pains to her Lord, and by such offerings to unite herself more closely to her Beloved. The severest pain of a loving soul consists in seeing herself without devotion, without fervour, without desires, and in finding nothing but disgust and tediousness in Meditation and Communion. But, according to St. Teresa, God has the best proof of their love, when without relish and even with anguish and pain, they persevere patiently in their accustomed exercises. By aridity and temptations, says the Saint, God tries His lovers. St. Angela of Foligno, finding herself in a state of aridity, complained to God as if He had abandoned her. No, daughter, answered our Lord, I now love you more than before, and I bring you nearer to Myself.
Some there are who, finding themselves in desolation, imagine that God has abandoned them, or that they are not fit for the way of perfection; thus they leave the road upon which they had entered, begin to give liberty to the senses, and thus lose all they have gained. Do not allow yourself to be deceived by the enemy: when you feel aridity, be constant, and omit none of your ordinary exercises of devotion. Humble yourself, and say that you deserve to be treated in this manner in punishment of your sins. Above all, resign yourself to the Divine will, and trust more than ever in God; for this is the time for rendering yourself dear to Jesus Christ. Do you imagine that the Saints were always in the enjoyment of consolations and celestial tenderness? Know that the Saints spent the greater part of their life in desolation and darkness. And to speak the truth, which I have learned by experience, I have but little confidence in the soul that abounds in spiritual sweetness without having first passed through the ordeal of internal sufferings; because it not unfrequently happens that such souls go on well as long as the Divine consolations continue, but when tried by aridity they give up all, and abandon themselves to a life of tepidity.
But some one may say: I do not refuse this cross if it be the will of God; but what afflicts me is that this abandonment may be the chastisement of my infidelities. But I answer: Let it be a chastisement, if you like; to you in a special manner I say, that if you have failed by attachment to any creature, God, Who is a jealous Lover, justly withdraws Himself. Let it then be a chastisement; is it not a just one? Is it not the will of God that you accept it? Accept it, then, in peace, and remove the cause of your desolation, take away affections to creatures, take away dissipation of spirit arising from excessive indulgence of the eyes, the tongue, and the ears: give yourself again entirely to God, and He will restore your former fervour. But seek not to be consoled by the tenderness of former days, but rather ask strength to be faithful to God. Be persuaded that He sends desolation only for our greater profit, and to prove our love. He said to St. Gertrude that He tenderly loves the souls that serve Him at their own expense, that is, in aridity and without sensible sweetness.
Love is not proved so much in following Jesus when He caresses you, as in seeking after Him when He flies from you. But, says St. Bernard, fear not, fear not if the Spouse hides His face for a little; know that He does all for your good; He withdraws for your security, lest, finding yourself greatly caressed, you begin to despise others by esteeming yourself better than them; and He withdraws also that you may desire Him with greater ardour, and seek after Him with greater solicitude. You must in the meantime persevere in your pious exercises, though you should suffer in them the agonies of death: far more painful was the agony your Lord suffered in the Garden of Gethsemani when He was praying for you, and preparing to go to die for you. Being in an agony he prayed the longer (Luke xxii. 43). Be constant, then, in seeking after Jesus; He will not delay long to come and console you. And should He not come to bestow consolations and tenderness, be content with receiving from Him courage and strength to love Him without the recompense of present delights. God is better pleased with a strong rather than with a tender love.