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.
The grace of purifying and fruitful sorrow is assured by the sleep of Jesus in the soul. As the tempest on Tiberias coincided with the sleep of the Master, so in souls the hurricane rages when Jesus sleeps. Souls need to be tempered in the clamor of the storm. They must be shaken by the seething waves to learn the stability of love. The sky must be overcast so that in the midst of shadows they may catch sight of the mysterious light of faith. The very depths must be opened beneath their fragile bark, so they may know how to hope against all hope.
The ancients believed that pearls were formed when the ocean was shaken by a storm. The precious pearl of divine love (the possession of which causes one to despise all earthly things) is formed within the spotless shell of the soul precisely at the dreadful but fecund hour of desolation.
Together with the grace of suffering, spiritual tempests bring the grace of humility, a new, deep humility that hollows out in the soul a void so immense that God fits into it. When Jesus is awake and shows Himself to the soul in all His celestial beauty, when His divine lips speak of love and life, and when His infinite action becomes a delight, the soul has neither eyes nor time nor desire to look at itself adorned with the precious jewels from its Beloved. But when He sleeps, the night that envelops the soul with its cold, sorrowful darkness, obliges the soul to gaze upon itself in astonishment, to experience its wretchedness, to feel its powerlessness, and to be lost in the abyss of its nothingness. From the depths of that abyss, humility arises by divine magic, and the soul, even if elevated to the third heaven, will never forget the repulsive sight of its own misery which it contemplated, horrorstricken, in the sad night while Jesus slept and the tempest roared.
Incredible as it may seem, it is necessary that Jesus sleep in order to refine love and purify the soul. At first sight, we might believe there is nothing better than divine consolation to inflame souls with love. Was it not consolation that made the soul turn its eyes toward Jesus in the first place? Was it not He, attractive, resplendent, loving, who passed near the soul like a vision of life and happiness, saying to it as to the Apostles, “Come, follow me,” making the soul leave everything to run after Him “to the sweet smell of His ointments”? So, let not that vision of Heaven be fleeting. Let Jesus always show Himself to the soul. Let Him speak words of love to it. Let Him charm it with His radiant beauty. Let Him establish His dwelling within it. Upon the summit of radiant Tabor, the soul’s love will be converted into fire, into passion, into Heaven.
But this is not the way that love is purified. Love, purest gold from Heaven, mixed with earthly dross, needs the fire of suffering to recover the limpidity and brilliance proper to its celestial origin. When Jesus is awake, He gives more than He receives. The soul can scarcely do anything else than receive the divine infusions. When night comes, when Jesus surrenders to sleep, He moves the soul to correspond to the love it has received, to give generously, to offer its bitter tears and its secret martyrdom with heroic fortitude.
This precious prerogative of love did not escape St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Nothing escapes the intuitions of love! “And now, dear Mother, what can I tell you about my thanksgivings after Communion, not only then but always? There is no time when I have less consolation — yet this is not to be wondered at, since it is not for my own satisfaction that I desire to receive our Lord, but solely to give Him pleasure.”
Most souls in their recourse to God seek in Him their own satisfaction. They go after consolations and sweetness. They think about themselves, about giving themselves pleasure, and not about pleasing their Beloved. They have true love, but it is imperfect. Blessed are the souls who, like St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, await God’s visit only to please Him. Blessed are the souls who know how to watch over the slumbers of Jesus and peacefully await His radiant awakening. Blessed are those who shower upon Him loving caresses while He sleeps, converting their tears into pearls of pure love and their bitterness into sweet consolation. The love that forgets itself to think about the Beloved, that suffers so that He may rejoice, that watches so He may sleep, that weeps in secret so He may rest in silence and peace, is love pure and undefiled, born only of suffering and desolation, despoiled of the gross dross of egoism.
This article is adapted from a chapter in When God is Silent by Archbishop Luis M. Martinez, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post on Spiritual Peace: Cover and featured image used with permission.