There are times in our spiritual lives when we seem to only see darkness, where our own internal misery looms large. I think you know what I mean. We all have these ups and downs in our prayer lives and spiritual journeys. These week has been such a week for me; it happens from time to time. And I see these downturns as temptations for sadness does not come from God. Yet sometimes it is so diffitult to see the light. Little St. Therese had it right when she said that she knew that behind the clouds, the sun was still shining. And so in my morning prayer today, in my little misery, I glanced at my bookcase and a book caught my eye. A friend had given me this book some years ago and it is called "The Holy Will of God" by Fr. Leo Pyzalski CSSR. I was drawn to a short chapter that addressed my thoughts of this week and I would like to share these thoughts. Already my own little clouds are beginning to part and the light is growing stronger; these times do not last. Let us have hope! And let us continue to trust even in the darkest night. Ave Maria!
THE WILL OF GOD IN OUR SPIRITUAL MISERY
All the material evils of the world cannot distress a soul abandoned to God as much as her own spiritual shortcomings, her human weakness and all the resultant infidelities in the service of God. No human creature, except Jesus and Mary Immaculate, is entirely immune from spiritual misery, in the supernatural sense of the term. And yet, enlightened souls know how to console themselves by accepting that misery as the Will of God-of course, under certain conditions and with important reservations.
First, let us accurately define the conception of spiritual misery. In a very broad sense, spiritual misery embraces every deliberate sin, both venial and grievous. Sin is the worst and most tragic kind of misery and mishap on earth. But in our discussion we take the word in its restricted sense, namely, as a soul's imperfections and spiritual shortcomings, which are not dependent on her will and consequently constitute no real fault before God. Only this sort of misery which is morally indifferent, neither evil nor good, can be regarded to a certain extent as conformable with the Holy Will of God. For, whatever means real guilt, if only the shadow of guilt, is absolutely opposed to Divine Sanctity and hence to the Will of God.
But spiritual misery is a result of Original Sin and of subsequent personal sins. How, then, can it be called Will of God? Was not man predestined by God to live in a state of innocence, as a perfect child of his Maker, and moreover elevated by sanctifying grace to the inconceivable dignity of a real friend of God-nay, admitted to participate in the very nature of God? No spiritual misery of any kind whatsoever would have afflicted him in that sublime state of innocence.
Hence, our spiritual misery seems to be contrary to the eternal Will of God. Indeed, our present state, our proneness to evil, our countless spiritual shortcomings resulting from sin, were not intended by God from eternity. But following God's prevision of man's sin, God has decided from eternity that the fall of mankind should entail all those consequences which, as a whole, are called our spiritual misery.
The line of demarcation between innocent and imputable or sinful spiritual misery often proves rather doubtful and is hard to discover. That is why enlightened and saintly souls are wont to humiliate themselves incessantly, not only for certain sins and infidelities but for their general imperfection and moral weakness as well. They are suspicious that they may be guilty of some negligence in the service of God, so as to be in part responsible for their spiritual misery. Absolute self-confidence as to this point is indicative of pride and spiritual blindness.
Nevertheless, souls whose good will and fervor in the service of God cannot be doubted, especially when they have the assurance of their spiritual guides, should never yield to sadness and worry in spite of their great spiritual misery. They may hopefully rely upon God's mercy, despite all the symptoms of imperfection and human weakness, since their guilt before God is certainly very limited, if there be any at all. God's goodness is infinitely forebearing toward those who show unmistakable good will.
There is no reason for worry on account of involuntary defects and shortcomings, since mere human weakness does not diminish God's glory or cause displeasure to the Divine Heart. On the contrary, inevitable human misery tends to increase the glory of God, as it proves the omnipotence of Divine grace more emphatically and clearly. If a soul endowed with many natural gifts, abilities and virtues is elevated to a high degree of sanctity, it certainly is an evidence of the immense power grace exerts upon her. But when the same thing happens to a soul steeped in spiritual misery, then it appears to be a real miracle of Divine grace. How powerful and effective has the operation of grace proved in Mary Magdalen, Saul of Tarsus and Augustine!
So why should they feel despondent at the sight of their spiritual misery? As a rule, symptoms of human weakness and misery should disappear gradually as a soul abandoned to God is advancing upon the way of perfection and drawing closer to the ideal of union with God. Progressive sanctity is expected to restore, to a certain extent, man's control of his nature, as it existed in the state of original innocence. However, the ways leading to final sanctification can be very different one from another.
To keep a soul in the state of perfect humility, God may conceal from her eyes the real progress. He may permit her to be mistaken as to the extent and gravity of her spiritual misery. She will feel inclined, then, to view her whole relationship to God in very dark colors and to assume that her spiritual misery is rather increasing than diminishing. In such circumstances it is of extreme importance to rely upon the decisions of our spiritual guides. But even in the case when the soul's human weakness is growing, indeed, a soul assiduously and wholeheartedly striving for religious sanctity should never yield to sadness and despondency. God permits this kind of involuntary misery for His greater glory.