“Mechtilde of Marburg said the ‘nature of love is such that it overflows at first in sweetness, secondly it becomes rich in understanding, thirdly it abounds in desolation.”
Nesta de Robeck, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, 123
I thought these words describe very well, the journey of one in the spiritual life. When we first discover the Lord and His Church we are often like romantics who feel great delight in anything pertaining to our new found love. Zeal, energy, enthusiasm stream from us, easily. There’s nothing that we won’t promise, nothing we won’t attempt to do. But, then, after time, the glow wears off. Then comes the time of real sanctification, of real love.
“The seat of love is in the will.” (Catholic Encyclopedia) Love is something we will to do, it is not necessarily a feeling. I had an instructor once draw a straight line across the blackboard in chalk. He called this line, love in the will. Then, up and down over that line he drew a big curving line, one curve up and over the main line, the other curve dipping below the main line. He called that ‘romantic love’, love that is a feeling. We have no control over our feelings. Our faith is not centered in our feelings. Belief is in the soul because faith is an infused gift, the practice of our faith is in the will, where love resides. I think in a protestant culture, one can inadvertently accept the protestant’s idea of faith, the sensible feeling of faith, that somehow one needs"the personal involvement" of the feelings to be truly faithful. But, Catholics do not practice their faith because of personal feelings on a given day. When we look at the practice (praxis) of the church, we see a rich Liturgical tradition with plenty of repetition. The repetition in our Liturgy, in our Rosaries, teaches us something: The unchanging nature of God, despite our own ups and downs. So, just because on a given day, I don’t feel like God is near to me, that doesn’t mean He isn’t near. It means I have a great opportunity to show God the depth of my love. I have the great chance to derive no pleasure in the worship of God. I give Him a sheer gift of self, with nothing in it for me.
Perhaps, an example from real life. If on a given day, a mother wakes up and doesn’t feel like mothering today, does that mean she no longer loves her children? Of course not. Despite her feelings, she goes about caring for her children, demonstrating her real and unselfish gift of self. This is the same in the spiritual life.
All the saints go through a spiritual dryness. St. Teresa of Avila went through nearly 20 years of spiritual dryness before beginning the second phase of her life, the one of mystical union complete with visions of the Lord. In fact, she so often saw the Lord with her earthly eyes, that the sisters in her community asked her, “the next time you see the Lord, look and see what color his eyes are.” Well, one time that she remembered this, and began to look at him for this purpose, He wouldn’t accept this. He finished the visit early. My point is spiritual dryness is not a reason to despair. Better things are around the corner, as in the example of St. Teresa of Avila. It is the devil who tries to take advantage of this situation. We have to be on guard not to be the seed which falls on rocky soil. Do not let the troubles and concerns of this life choke our faith in God.
St. Therese with her beautifully simple plan of life, but a true and continual martyrdom of self, lived in constant doubt of the existence of heaven! She had to go beyond her feelings, and stretch out in faith, Yes there is a God and I am going to smile at this troublesome nun, because I can offer a sacrifice to the God, I cannot see yet believe wholeheartedly exisits (despite my feelings.)
These two saints were Carmelites. It is not unusual for those in cloistered lives to experience aridity. Their whole life is dedicated to prayer. If it was easy for them, there would be no sacrifice. It is very difficult to pray as a Carmelite. You do not see the fruit of your work or the fruit of your prayers. For example, St. Francis Xavier, he knew he had baptized 40,000 souls. Through his sacrifices whole villages who before his visit did not know Christ, now knew the Lord. This work, and I am not in any way underestimating his heroic sacrifices, can be rewarding. The Carmelite doesn’t experience this consolation. It is all faith.
A surprising fact, Mother Teresa, incredibly active, had no spiritual consolation in this life. She felt nothing! How could she spend so much time, her order has a requirement of at least 2 hours a day of Eucharistic adoration, and not feel any spiritual consolation. She spared herself nothing, and yet the Lord did not reward her in this life with consolations. One of the Sisters of Charity said, once for one month she received incredible consolations. It was shortly after the death of a priest. She knew he was in heaven and was interceding for her. But, that’s it. What an example for us.
What can help us through this cycle of ups and downs? Here is a qutoe from Saint Anthony Mary Claret:
“For myself, I say this to you: The man who burns with the fire of divine love is a son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and wherever he goes, he enkindles that flame; he deserves and works with all this strength to inflame all men with the fire of God’s love. NOTHING DETERS HIM; he rejoices in poverty; he labors strenously; he welcomes hardships; he laughs off false accusations; he rejoices in anguish. He thinks only of how he might follow Jesus Christ and imitate him by his prayers, his labors, his sufferings, and by caring always and only for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
Nothing deters him. In the spiritual life we can become discouraged at the Lords’ appeal ‘Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.’ It is an ideal attainable only by supernatural intercession. On our own, in mankind’s condition, we cannot be perfect. But through grace, the gift of God’s presence, we can step by step become perfect. In times of discouragement, the devil uses Christ’s ideals as a stumbling block. I can evade this wile of the devil by looking to the example of perfection in the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her goals are much closer to my reach than the divine. But, each step towards Her brings me closer to Jesus. She will help me.
Nothing will deter me.
Monday, February 27, 2006