We can enumerate various categories corresponding to the different attitudes of the soul toward the Cross and, at the same time, to the profit the soul draws from it. Some persons reject the Cross openly, and it profits them nothing. Others, after some delay, take it up, and then it begins to do them good. Others accept it, and thus it is more profitable to them. Lastly, there are others who not only accept it, but also love it and seek it; and unquestionably for them it is profitable to the highest degree.
Let us examine, then, how we ought to make use of desolations, and how we ought to conduct our soul during them.
All crosses, no matter what their source, can help to sanctify you
In the first place, to profit from a cross we must, before all things else, recognize it. It seems strange to say that we ought to realize that we have a cross. Can we be unaware that we are suffering if we feel our sufferings?
There is no question that when we bear a cross on our shoulders, we are aware that we are undergoing pain, but very many times we do not advert to the fact that this is a cross. But all suffering, no matter whence it comes, is a cross, and consequently it leads us to God and is fruitful for our souls. Not only the sufferings that God sends us directly, but those that come from creatures, the Devil, or ourselves, are also crosses.
When some suffer anything, they say to themselves: “This is not a cross. This is not a spiritual affliction.” Let us suppose the statement is true; that I am in the wrong for having brought about that state of affairs. But now that I am in this painful situation, can I not use it to sanctify myself?
We are to blame for the Cross of Jesus Christ, with which He redeemed us. It was precisely the Cross that aided Him in redeeming us from the very sins that are responsible for it. Thus, I am able to turn the very consequences of my sins into an instrument of health and of life. If the state of my soul is the result of my failings, I can, if I endure it as I ought, bring about its conversion into a fountain of life for me.
Thus, in a certain sense, the cause of our afflictions matters little. In all instances, we ought to see in them a cross, and we ought to make use of them for our sanctification.
Do not worry about the source of your spiritual trials
If we view our sufferings and the state of our soul with the spirit of faith, we must see a cross in them, and from the moment that we view them in that light, we transform them.
To regard our present affliction as an abandonment by God or as a great fault in our soul is very different from regarding it as a cross — that is, as a means leading us to God. Hence, the first thing we must do to use desolation well is to consider it a cross, to view it with the eyes of faith.
How many souls think in times of desolation, as I have so often said, that all is lost, and that their spiritual life has gone to ruin! Invariably the exact opposite is the truth. If, in those moments, we would come to see with clarity the value of desolation, perhaps we might even cease to suffer, and then desolation itself would lose, at least to a great extent, its efficacy and worth.
We do not need to know whether what we are undergoing is an affliction that comes directly from God. The attitude that we should take in the one instance is almost the same as in the other. Hence, if we ought to comport ourselves in the same manner, why waste time and rack our brains in trying to find out the origin of the trial we are suffering?
Undoubtedly there can be various special kinds of affliction of divine origin, and in these cases, we shall have to wait until the director diagnoses the matter.
To live the interior life with constancy, we must bear up well, not only with spiritual dryness, but also with everything that God sends us. If I put emphasis on desolations of divine origin, that is because, in this matter, greater light and strength are necessary to receive them well.
Shield your interior life from the fluctuations of this world
In general, the secret of the spiritual life consists in this: that we try, with a spirit of faith and with sincerity of heart, to unite ourselves to God in the midst of all the vicissitudes of life. The important thing is that we withdraw our interior life from that region where the changes and fluctuations of this world shake and disturb it, and place it in that serene region where there are no vacillations, but only stability and peace.
When God draws near to me, I shall live the spiritual life, perceiving that God is very near to my soul; when God withdraws from me, I shall live the spiritual life without anything or anyone impeding it.
Hence, it is not important that we know whether the desolation is this kind or that, but that we live the spiritual life in the condition in which we find ourselves. What we must do is not to leave off living the spiritual life in the circumstances in which we are, no matter what may be their origin.
Therefore, the best rule for the spiritual life is this: to receive, moment by moment, whatever God sends us and to persevere at all cost with our soul united to God, in spite of all vicissitudes.
Our life is so complex! So very many elements enter into it! We are affected by everything, even by the weather: cold, heat, cloudy days. Hence, with greater reason do these various states of our soul affect our being. This fact is especially true in the supernatural order, since God affects us with the most varied invitations of grace, and the Devil with his ceaseless solicitations to evil. Again I say, this is the reason our life is so complex. Therefore, the wise course is not to analyze those states, but to withdraw our spiritual life from them in order that nothing and nobody may rob us of our treasure.
How can we succeed in withdrawing our spiritual life from the changes of time? First of all, by faith. Faith is not subject to changes; we have faith always; it is our safest and most unfailing guide. Beyond faith is love — not sensible love, but sure, solid love that is ready to unite us to God in spite of every adverse circumstance. If we possess God by means of faith and love, the changes of this life matter little. Whatever they may be, we shall continue to live the interior life.
Allow me to make a comparison. In all the circumstances of our life, we eat. The joyful eat with gladness; the sorrowful moisten their bread with their tears. But all eat. We find a similar truth in the supernatural order. The food of the soul is the interior life, since God is our life and to be united to Him is to live. Consequently, whether we are happy or sad, whether we are afflicted or consoled, whether everything is easy for us or whether we perceive ourselves to be utterly helpless, we must nourish our soul; we must live the interior life; we must unite ourselves to God.
There are times of famine when the poor, not finding food at home, go into the field and feed on any edible thing. Likewise let us, in times of desolation and helplessness, which are the famine periods, seek the way of uniting ourselves with God in spite of everything, in order that our interior life may not become extinguished. Let us hold it as certain that our Lord gives us what we need moment by moment.
We should not eagerly seek after consolation or desolation, but only after the will of God, with the full assurance that at each moment His paternal providence sends us whatever we stand in need of, and that the best thing for us is to live the interior life continually, no matter what may be the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Archbishop Martinez’s book, Worshipping a Hidden God: Unlocking the Secrets of the Interior Life. It is available from your local Catholic bookstore or online from Sophia Institute Press.