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
given 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." 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."
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 her 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 tendernesses, 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?"
In her sufferings, however, the soul should always be resigned to
The saints have all experienced desolations and abandonment of
soul. "How impervious to things spiritual, my heart!" cries a 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!"
But you say you would gladly endure desolation if you were
certain that it comes from God, but you are tortured by the
anxiety that your desolation comes by your own fault and is a
punishment for your tepidity. Very well, let us suppose you are
right; then get rid of your tepidity and exercise more diligence
in the affairs of your soul. But because you are possibly
experiencing spiritual darkness, are you going to get all wrought
up, give up prayer, and thus make things twice as bad as they are?
Let us assume that this aridity is a punishment for your
tepidity. Was it not God who sent it? Accept your desolation, as
your just desserts and unite yourself to God's holy will. Did you
not say that you merited hell? And now you are complaining?
Perhaps you think God should send you consolations! Away with such
ideas and be patient under God's hand. Take up your prayers again
and continue to walk in the way you have entered upon; for the
future, fear lest such laments come from too little humility and
too little resignation to the will of God. Therefore be resigned
and say: "Lord, I accept this punishment from thy hands, and I
accept it for as long as it pleases thee; if it be thy will that I
should be thus afflicted for all eternity, I am satisfied." Such a
prayer, though hard to make, will be far more advantageous to you
than the sweetest sensible consolations.
It is well to remember, however, that aridity is not always a
chastisement; at times it is a disposition of divine providence
for our greater spiritual profit and to keep us humble. Lest St.
Paul become vain on account of the spiritual gifts he had
received, the Lord permitted him to be tempted to impurity: "And
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."
Prayer made amid sensible devotion is not much of an
achievement: "There is a friend, a companion at the table, and he
will not abide in the day of distress." You would not consider
the casual guest at your table a friend, but only him who assists
you in your need without thought of benefit to himself. When God
sends spiritual darkness and desolation, his true friends are
Palladius, the author of the "Lives of the Fathers of the
Desert," experiencing great disgust in prayer, went seeking advice
from the abbot Macarius. The saintly abbot gave him this counsel:
"When you are tempted in times of dryness to give up praying
because you seem to be wasting your time, say: 'Since I cannot
pray, I will be satisfied just to remain on watch here in my cell
for the love of Jesus Christ!' "Devout soul, you do the same when
you are tempted to give up prayer just because you seem to be
getting nowhere. Say: "I am going to stay here just to please
St. Francis de Sales used to say that if we do nothing else but
banish distractions and temptations in our prayers, the prayer is
well made. Tauler states that persevering prayer in time of
dryness will receive greater grace than prayer made amid great
Rodriguez cites the case of a person who persevered forty years
in prayer despite aridity, and experienced great spiritual
strength as a result of it; on occasion, when through aridity he
would omit meditation he felt spiritually weak and incapable of
good deeds. St. Bonaventure and Gerson both say that persons who
do not experience the recollection they would like to have in
their meditations, often serve God better than they would do if
they did have it; the reason is that lack of recollection keeps
them more diligent and humble; otherwise they would become puffed
up with spiritual pride and grow tepid, vainly believing they had
reached the summit of sanctity.
What has been said of dryness holds true of temptations also.
Certainly we should strive to avoid temptations; but if God
wishes that we be tempted against faith, purity, or any other
virtue, we should not give in to discouraging lamentations, but
submit ourselves with resignation to God's holy will. St. Paul
asked to be freed from temptations to impurity and our Lord
answered him, saying: "My grace is sufficient for thee."
So should we act when we find ourselves victims of unrelenting
temptations and God seemingly deaf to our prayers. Let us then
say: "Lord, do with me, let happen to me what thou wilt; thy grace
is sufficient for me. Only never let me lose this grace." Consent
to temptation, not temptation of itself, can make us lose the
grace of God. Temptation resisted keeps us humble, brings us
greater merit, makes us have frequent recourse to God, thus
preserving us from offending him and unites us more closely to him
in the bonds of his holy love.
Finally, we should be united to God's will in regard to the
time and manner of our death. One day St. Gertrude, while climbing
up a small hill, lost her footing and fell into a ravine below.
After her companions had come to her assistance, they asked her if
while falling she had any fear of dying without the sacraments. "I
earnestly hope and desire to have the benefit of the sacraments
when death is at hand; still, to my way of thinking, the will of
God is more important. I believe that the best disposition I could
have to die a happy death would be to submit myself to whatever
God would wish in my regard. For this reason I desire whatever
kind of death God will be pleased to send me."
In his "Dialogues", St. Gregory tells of a certain priest,
Santolo by name, who was captured by the Vandals and condemned to
death. The barbarians told him to choose the manner of his death.
He refused, saying: "I am in God's hands and I gladly accept
whatever kind of death he wishes me to suffer at your hands; I
wish no other." This reply was so pleasing to God that he
miraculously stayed the hand of the executioner ready to behead
him. The barbarians were so impressed by the miracle that they
freed their prisoner. As regards the manner of our death,
therefore, we should esteem that the best kind of death for us
which God has designed for us. When therefore we think of our
death, let our prayer be: "O Lord, only let me save my soul and I
leave the manner of my death to thee!"
We should likewise unite ourselves to God's will when the
moment of death is near. What else is this earth but a prison
where we suffer and where we are in constant danger of losing God?
Hence David prayed: "Bring my soul out of prison." St. Teresa
too feared to lose God and when she would hear the striking of the
clock, she would find consolation in the thought that the passing
of the hour was an hour less of the danger of losing God.
St. John of Avila was convinced that every right-minded person
should desire death on account of living in peril of losing divine
grace. What can be more pleasant or desirable than by dying a good
death, to have the assurance of no longer being able to lose the
grace of God? Perhaps you will answer that you have as yet done
nothing to deserve this reward. If it were God's will that your
life should end now, what would you be doing, living on here
against his will? Who knows, you might fall into sin and be lost!
Even if you escaped mortal sin, you could not live free from all
sin. "Why are we so tenacious of life," exclaims St. Bernard,
"when the longer we live, the more we sin?'' A single venial
sin is more displeasing to God than all the good works we can
Moreover, the person who has little desire for heaven shows he
has little love for God. The true lover desires to be with his
beloved. We cannot see God while we remain here on earth; hence
the saints have yearned for death so that they might go and behold
their beloved Lord, face to face. "Oh, that I might die and behold
thy beautiful face!" sighed St. Augustine. And St. Paul: "Having a
desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ." "When shall I
come and appear before the face of God?"exclaimed the
A hunter one day heard the voice of a man singing most sweetly
in the forest. Following the sound, he came upon a leper horribly
disfigured by the ravages of his disease. Addressing him he said:
"How can you sing when you are so terribly afflicted and your
death is so near at hand?" And the leper: "Friend, my poor body is
a crumbling wall and it is the only thing that separates me from
my God. When it falls I shall go forth to God. Time for me is
indeed fast running out, so every day I show my happiness by
lifting my voice in song."
Lastly, we should unite ourselves to the will of God as regards
our degree of grace and glory. True, we should esteem the things
that make for the glory of God, but we should show the greatest
esteem for those that concern the will of God. We should desire to
love God more than the seraphs, but not to a degree higher than
God has destined for us. St. John of Avila says: "I believe
every saint has had the desire to be higher in grace than he
actually was. However, despite this, their serenity of soul always
remained unruffled. Their desire for a greater degree of grace
sprang not from a consideration of their own good, but of God's.
They were content with the degree of grace God had meted out for
them, though actually God had given them less. They considered it
a greater sign of true love of God to be content with what God had
given them, than to desire to have received more."
This means, as Rodriguez explains it, we should be diligent in
striving to become perfect, so that tepidity and laziness may not
serve as excuses for some to say: "God must help me; I can do only
so much for myself." Nevertheless, when we do fall into some
fault, we should not lose our peace of soul and union with the
will of God, which permits our fall; nor should we lose our
courage. Let us rise at once from this fall, penitently humbling
ourselves and by seeking greater help from God, let us continue to
march resolutely on the highway of the spiritual life. Likewise,
we may well desire to be among the seraphs in heaven, not for our
own glory, but for God's, and to love him more; still we should be
resigned to his will and be content with that degree of glory
which in his mercy he has set for us.
It would be a serious defect to desire the gifts of
supernatural prayer -- specifically, ecstasies, visions and
revelations. The masters of the spiritual life say that souls thus
favored by God, should ask him to take them away so that they may
love him out of pure faith -- a way of greater security. Many have
come to perfection without these supernatural gifts; the only
virtues worth-while are those that draw the soul to holiness of
life, namely, the virtue of uniformity with God's holy will. If
God does not wish to raise us to the heights of perfection and
glory, let us unite ourselves in all things to his holy will,
asking him in his mercy, to grant us our soul's salvation. If we
act in this manner, the reward will not be slight which we shall
receive from the hands of God who loves above all others, souls
resigned to his holy will.