There is a divine richness in spiritual dryness that produces a marvelous transformation in the soul. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus tells us of it in her autobiography, but with such ingenuousness that she disconcerts us, and we do not suspect that she encloses so profound a teaching in such simple words.
A case in point is that in which the saint tells us that she did not grow alarmed when she slept after Holy Communion, since she reflected that children are just as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as when they are awake.
Moreover, as she adds, doctors induce sleep in their patients for certain operations. How true it is that in the spiritual order, there are certain operations for which it is necessary to anesthetize souls! Why is it necessary to give an anesthetic to sick people? Without doubt, it is in order that they may not suffer, but above everything else, it is so that they may not cause trouble.
There are people of great endurance who would be able to undergo an operation without an anesthetic. Nevertheless the surgeon anesthetizes them, since every movement of a patient, even though involuntary, can ruin certain very delicate operations.
Similarly, there are operations in the supernatural order in which we work with our Lord and cooperate with Him in them. But there are others of a very intimate nature in which the one thing He asks of us is that we do not hinder Him. And in order that we do not impede Him, He gives us a spiritual anesthetic — that is, desolation, since it is a kind of paralysis of the spirit which renders us helpless.
In time of spiritual dryness, souls often think as follows: “I go to prayer, and I do nothing, absolutely nothing.” The soul does nothing, but God does a great deal, although the soul may not be aware of His secret and mysterious operations. But when the period of trial passes, we find that we are different.
Without our knowing how or when, a profound change was wrought in us: our love is more solid; our virtue has become stronger. According to the familiar expression, we have come out of the trial “as new.” What does it matter that those afflictions may endure for years on end, if finally the soul emerges as new, fit to be united with God and to realize fully the role it was destined to fill on earth?
Desolation is the indispensable means whereby the soul attains its transformation in Jesus, the supreme goal and the perfection of holiness.
We think, perhaps, that transformation in Jesus is something that we can achieve with God’s help. But no. God alone can accomplish it, and the only help that we can give Him is to allow Him a free hand, not to impede Him.
We could conceive that the method for transforming us in Jesus would be this: the Gospel has left us a perfect representation of Jesus, precise indications of His moral makeup; hence, I need do nothing more than continue imitating Him little by little. I have so many years to become meek, so many to become humble, so many to become obedient, and so on. Thus, I need only continue imitating Him, virtue by virtue, availing myself of ascetical helps such as the particular examination, meditation, and spiritual reading.
When, in this way, after much time and labor, I have copied the lineaments of Jesus, I shall be but a sketch, an outline; I shall possess something similar to Him, but I shall not be that living representation that is necessary for
transformation. Transformation requires that God Himself come to work in the soul and, so to speak, make us anew. Hence in Ezekiel, God says that He will take away from us our stony heart and give us a new heart and a new spirit.
Do not think that these are hyperboles, divine exaggerations. On the contrary, the reality goes much beyond symbols. Truly, when a soul has been transformed, it has a new way of seeing, feeling, and operating. Hence, this transformation cannot be achieved by our poor human efforts. God must come and work in the deepest recesses of our being, and, in order that we may not hinder Him, He anesthetizes us by means of spiritual desolation. Therefore, when a soul has passed through the great trials of the spiritual life, it stands on the threshold of union, of transformation in Jesus.
Desolation is a Cross
We appreciate, then, the value of spiritual affliction. It will be painful and hard, but it is of the utmost value and altogether necessary for arriving at sanctity. I know of only one exception: the Blessed Virgin. Since she was perfect from the moment of her Immaculate Conception, she had no need of desolations to attain sanctity. Nevertheless, no one has suffered more terrible afflictions than she did in the years of her exile after the death and Ascension of her Son.
But there is this difference: she did not need those desolations for her sanctification, although through them she grew in holiness. By them, in union with her Son, she procured graces for us and fulfilled her role of co-redeemer and mother of all men.
We must make our choice: either we choose transformation, and then we also accept the desolation without which it cannot be arrived at; or we refuse desolation, and then we must also reject transformation and thus give ourselves over to dragging out our life in a common mediocrity.
Desolation is a cross, but one of the most precious, one of the most divine. It is not wrought by the hand of men, but by God Himself. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. The trial, therefore, is made in accordance with the measure of each soul, perfectly fitted to its circumstances, requirements, and mission, and to the degree of perfection to which God has destined it. Hence, trial possesses an eminently sanctifying power.
Let us open our arms to it, then, and salute it with the same cry as the Church uses: “Hail, O Cross, our only hope!” In this way, this truth is once more established: God’s ways are not our ways.
This article is from a chapter in Archbishop Matinez’s Worshipping a Hidden God. It is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Photo by Alexander Nachev on Unsplash