CONTAINING NEEDFUL COUNSELS CONCERNING SOME ORDINARY TEMPTATIONS.
Chapter XIV --Of Dryness and Spiritual Barrenness.
SO much for what is to be done in times of spiritual consolations. But these bright days will not last for ever, and sometimes you will be so devoid of all devout feelings, that it will seem to you that your soul is a desert land, fruitless, sterile, wherein you can find no path leading to God, no drop of the waters of Grace to soften the dryness which threatens to choke it entirely. Verily, at such a time the soul is greatly to be pitied, above all, when this trouble presses heavily, for then, like David, its meat are tears day and night, while the Enemy strives to drive it to despair, crying out, "Where is now thy God? how thinkest thou to find Him, or how wilt thou ever find again the joy of His Holy Grace?"
What will you do then, my child? Look well whence the trial comes, for we are often ourselves the cause of our own dryness and barrenness. A mother refuses sugar to her sickly child, and so God deprives us of consolations when they do but feed self-complacency or presumption. "It is good for me that I have been in trouble, for before I was troubled I went wrong." 1 So if we neglect to gather up and use the treasures of God's Love in due time, He withdraws them as a punishment of our sloth. The Israelite who neglected to gather his store of manna in the early morning, found none after sunrise, for it was all melted. Sometimes, too, we are like the Bride of the Canticles, slumbering on a bed of sensual satisfaction and perishable delight, so that when the Bridegroom knocks at the door of our heart, and calls us to our spiritual duties, we dally with Him, loath to quit our idle and delusive pleasures, and then He "withdraws Himself, and is gone," and "when I sought Him, I could not find Him; I called Him, but He gave me no answer." 2 Of a truth we deserved as much for having been so disloyal as to have rejected Him for the things of this world. If we are content with the fleshpots of Egypt we shall never receive heavenly manna. Bees abhor all artificial scents, and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with the world's artificial pleasures.
Again, any duplicity or unreality in confession or spiritual intercourse with your director tends to dryness and barrenness, for, if you lie to God's Holy Spirit, you can scarcely wonder that He refuses you His comfort. If you do not choose to be simple and honest as a little child, you will not win the child's sweetmeats.
Or you have satiated yourself with worldly delights; and so no wonder that spiritual pleasures are repulsive to you. "To the overfed dove even cherries are bitter," says an old proverb; and Our Lady in her song of praise says, "He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away." They who abound in earthly pleasures are incapable of appreciating such as are spiritual.
If you have carefully stored up the fruits of past consolations, you will receive more; "to him that hath yet more shall be given," but from him who has not kept that which he had, who has lost it through carelessness, that which he hath shall be taken away, in other words, he will not receive the grace destined for him. Rain refreshes living plants, but it only brings rottenness and decay to those which are already dead. There are many such causes whereby we lose the consolations of religion, and fall into dryness and deadness of spirit, so that it is well to examine our conscience, and see if we can trace any of these or similar faults. But always remember that this examination must not be made anxiously, or in an over-exacting spirit. Thus if, after an honest investigation of our own conduct, we find the cause of our wrongdoing, we must thank God, for an evil is half cured when we have found out its cause. But if, on the contrary, you do not find any particular thing which has led to this dryness, do not trifle away your time in a further uneasy search, but, without more ado, and in all simplicity, do as follows:--
1. Humble yourself profoundly before God, acknowledging your nothingness and misery. Alas, what am I when left to myself! no better, Lord, than a parched ground, whose cracks and crevices on every side testify its need of the gracious rain of Heaven, while, nevertheless, the world's blasts wither it more and more to dust.
2. Call upon God, and ask for His Gladness. "O give me the comfort of Thy help again! My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." "Depart, O ye unfruitful wind, which parcheth up my soul, and come, O gracious south wind, blow upon my garden." Such loving desires will fill you with the perfume of holiness.
3. Go to your confessor, open your heart thoroughly, let him see every corner of your soul, and take all his advice with the utmost simplicity and humility, for God loves obedience, and He often makes the counsel we take, specially that of the guides of souls, to be more useful than would seem likely; just as He caused the waters of Jordan, commended by Elijah to Naaman, to cure his leprosy in spite of the improbability to human reason.
4. But, after all, nothing is so useful, so fruitful amid this dryness and barrenness, as not to yield to a passionate desire of being delivered from it. I do not say that one may not desire to be set free, but only that one ought not to desire it over-eagerly, but to leave all to the sole Mercy of God's special Providence, in order that, so long as He pleases, He may keep us amid these thorns and longings. Let us say to God at such seasons, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; "--but let us add heartily, "Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done," and there let us abide as trustingly as we are able. When God sees us to be filled with such pious indifference, He will comfort us with His grace and favour, as when He beheld Abraham ready to offer up his son Isaac, and comforted him with His blessing. In every sort of affliction, then, whether bodily or spiritual, in every manner of distraction or loss of sensible devotion, let us say with our whole heart, and in the deepest submission, "The Lord gave me all my blessings, the Lord taketh them away, blessed be the Name of the Lord." If we persevere in this humility, He will restore to us His mercies as he did to Job, who ever spake thus amid all his troubles.
5. And lastly, my daughter, amid all our dryness let us never grow discouraged, but go steadily on, patiently waiting the return of better things; let us never be misled to give up any devout practices because of it, but rather if possible, let us increase our good works, and if we cannot offer liquid preserves to our Bridegroom, let us at least offer Him dried fruit--it is all one to Him, so long as the heart we offer be fully resolved to love Him. In fine weather bees make more honey and breed fewer grubs, because they spend so much time in gathering the sweet juices of the flowers that they neglect the multiplication of their race. But in a cold, cloudy spring they have a fuller hive and less honey. And so sometimes, my daughter, in the glowing springtide of spiritual consolations, the soul spends so much time in storing them up, that amid such abundance it performs fewer good works; while, on the contrary, when amid spiritual dryness and bitterness, and devoid of all that is attractive in devotion, it multiplies its substantial good works, and abounds in the hidden virtues of patience, humility, self-abnegation, resignation and unselfishness.
Some people, especially women, fall into the great mistake of imagining that when we offer a dry, distasteful service to God, devoid of all sentiment and emotion, it is unacceptable to His Divine Majesty; whereas, on the contrary, our actions are like roses, which, though they may be more beautiful when fresh, have a sweeter and stronger scent when they are dried. Good works, done with pleasurable interest, are pleasanter to us who think of nothing save our own satisfaction, but when they are done amid dryness and deadness they are more precious in God's Sight. Yes indeed, my daughter, for in seasons of dryness our will forcibly carries us on in God's Service, and so it is stronger and more vigorous than at a softer time. There is not much to boast of in serving our Prince in the comfort of a time of peace, but to serve Him amid the toils and hardness of war, amid trial and persecution, is a real proof of faithfulness and perseverance. The blessed Angela di Foligni said, that the most acceptable prayer to God is what is made forcibly and in spite of ourselves; that is to say, prayer made not to please ourselves or our own taste, but solely to please God;--carried on, as it were, in spite of inclination, the will triumphing over all our drynesses and repugnances. And so of all good works;--the more contradictions, exterior or interior, against which we contend in their fulfilment, the more precious they are in God's Sight; the less of self-pleasing in striving after any virtue, the more Divine Love shines forth in all its purity.
A child is easily moved to fondle its mother when she gives it sweet things, but if he kisses her in return for wormwood or camomile it is a proof of very real affection on his part.
1. Ps. cxix. 67, 71.
2. Cant. v. 2-7.