Jesus Sleeps in Souls
Jesus lives mystically in souls, reproducing in them all the mysteries of His mortal life. With the keen intuition of her love, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus understood the mystery of this mystical sleep, expressing it with her inimitable language, full of ingenuous and truest poetry: “Jesus slept in my boat, as was His wont. But how rarely will souls allow Him to sleep in peace. Wearied with making continual advances, our good Master readily avails Himself of the repose I offer Him, and in all probability will sleep on till my great and everlasting retreat; this, however, rather rejoices than grieves me.”
Who else would have thought of interpreting the dark, painful chasm of spiritual desolation with such amiable, heavenly light? Almost all souls are disconcerted by desolation. They conclude that Jesus has gone away, that the sweet visits of former times, bright and fragrant as a spring garden, were a fleeting dream, an idyl interrupted through their own infidelity and ingratitude. They fear that the love so sweet, so deep, and so sure, to which Jesus invited them, has been turned into hate, as happens to all love that meets with neglect. In their unspeakable agony, these poor souls hold the firm conviction that the Beloved has fled from them, perhaps not to return, bearing away with Him the entrancing perfumes of Heaven, the divine clarity that illuminated life’s pathway, and the holy consolations superior to all earthly joys.
These desolate souls surmise everything except that Jesus is only sleeping within them, just as He slept in the little bark on Tiberias while the wind roared and the tempest raged. Only the pure eyes of the gentle child of Lisieux, only her gaze of love could discover the secret of a lover. Jesus has not gone away, nor will He ever leave, because love, strong as death, never departs, and its divine ardor cannot be extinguished by the torrents of our ingratitude. Jesus continues to live in the soul to whom He pledged love, because His name is Faithful and True. He sleeps sweetly in that soul which belongs to Him, because it surrendered itself to Him, attracted by His irresistible fragrance.
Could that consoling idea of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus be an effort of an ingenuous and charming optimism to cover with a veil of piety the blackness of a terrible pain in order to endure it, or is there hidden under a precious symbolism a profound reality concealed from the eyes of the wise and prudent and revealed only to the little ones? The exceedingly deep love of the Carmelite virgin for truth and her remarkable sanctity, attested to by the Church, shows unmistakably that the girl saw clearly and deeply into the divine mystery. Jesus needs to sleep in souls so that they may contemplate the exquisite beauty of His slumber, so that the divine Heart which watches while He sleeps may accomplish in silence the prodigies of purity and love that Jesus ordinarily accomplishes only in the midst of tempests and in the mystery of His sleep.
Like the Apostles, souls want to awaken Jesus when the storm threatens. What will they do without Him? Passions that seem conquered rise with new vigor. A darkness like that of death covers the sky of the soul, once a bright blue. The whistling of a hurricane disturbs the soul with gloomy, desolate, despairing ideas that seem to come out of Hell. The frail little bark of the soul is about to capsize, and Jesus sleeps. “Master,” the soul cries to Him, like the Apostles on Lake Tiberias, “do You not care if we perish?” And Jesus, when He does awake — the time of trial seems so prolonged — speaks to the soul as to the disciples in the little boat: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
Just as it was unnecessary to awaken Jesus on Tiberias, it is unnecessary that He be awake in souls to give them life. The words of the Song of Solomon may also be applied to His mystical sleep: “I sleep, but my heart watches.” Yes, Jesus watches solicitously in souls that love, even though they feel that He has abandoned them. Love does not abandon. Jesus is there in the depth of the soul. He seems to sleep because the soul does not hear His refreshing voice, because it does not enjoy His celestial consolations. But the Heart of Jesus is always watching with His inextinguishable love, with His incessant actions, with His tender care more solicitous each day.
If only one might know the fecundity of Jesus in His mystical sleep! He works in the soul with the same efficacy as when awake — perhaps with greater efficacy. Divine consolations dilate the heart, calm the passions, and quiet the soul, filling it with the mildest unction. Desolations also accomplish the work of God — a delicate, profound work of purity, strength, and love. There are certain delicate and intimate operations that Jesus does not perform in souls except when He is sleeping. His mystical sleep is not from weariness, but from love. He sleeps because He loves. He sleeps because, while He sleeps, His Heart watches, transforming souls profoundly, although this transformation is imperceptible.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus saw secrets of the spiritual life with remarkable clarity, and in order to explain why she was not grieved by her aridity in prayer and her naps during her thanksgivings, she observed that doctors put their patients to sleep in order to perform operations. It is likewise necessary for Jesus to place souls under a holy sedative, into complete darkness, into absolute unconsciousness, to accomplish in them divine operations. When this occurs, the soul thinks Jesus is sleeping.
How would souls be able to endure those awful sufferings which, like double-edged swords, penetrate even to the depths of their being, if Jesus were awake, if that sweetest of voices resounded in them, if the fragrance of His life penetrated their spirit, if they experienced the divine action clearly and palpably? With Jesus manifest, one does not suffer. Looking at Him and receiving His caresses, the soul becomes a replica of Paradise. When He shows Himself, sufferings are either dissipated like vapor before the heat of the sun, or are turned into a brilliant and beautiful vision. The soul needs to suffer in its innermost being, and to suffer for a long time, and to suffer without much consolation. In order that the soul may suffer in this way and thus receive special graces, Jesus sleeps.
Art for this post on “Jesus Sleeps on Souls”: Cover of When God is Silent, used with permission. Christ on the sea of Galilee by Simon de Vos, 1641, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.