Presence of God – O Lord, help me to be faithful to You, so that the spirit of prayer will not be extinguished in me through my own fault.
1. At the beginning of a more intense spiritual life the soul usually enjoys a sensible fervor which makes spiritual exercises easy and agreeable. Good thoughts, sentiments of love, and outpourings from the heart arise spontaneously. To be recollected and alone with God in prayer is a joy; time passes quickly, and frequently the presence of God becomes almost perceptible; there is a like facility in the practice of mortification and the other virtues. However, his state does not ordinarily last long, and there comes a time when the soul is deprived of all sensible consolation. This suppression of sensible devotion is the state of aridity, which may have various causes.
Sometimes it is the result of infidelity on the part of those who little by little have become lax, allowing themselves many slight satisfactions and pleasures and giving in to their curiosity, selfishness, or pride–which they had previously renounced. If they only realized what benefits they are losing by such conduct, they would be ready for any of sacrifice rather than yield to these weaknesses. The habit of mortification, which was acquired at great cost, is quickly lost, and they again become the slaves of their own passions. Self-love, which was not dead, but only sleeping, becomes active again and may become not only the cause of many voluntary imperfections which had previously been overcome but even of deliberate venial sins. It may ultimately reduce to lukewarmness a once fervent soul. The unfaithful who has fallen back into mediocrity cannot protest to Lord in prayer that it loves Him and desires to advance His love; still less can it taste the joy of knowing that it t loves God. Hence such a soul inevitably falls into aridity. In this condition the only remedy is to return to its fervor. This will cost it dearly, but far from becoming discouraged, the soul should begin anew as soon as possible. Besides, Our Lord loves so much to forgive!
2. On the other hand, aridity sometimes arises from physical or moral causes which are entirely independent of ourselves: indisposition, illness, fatigue, or depression caused by troublesome preoccupations or excessive work. These are things which can make all feeling of spiritual consolation disappear, and this often occurs with no way of remedying it. It is a trial which may last a long time, but one in which we must, with good reason, see the hand of God which disposes everything for our good, and realize that He cannot fail to give us the grace necessary to profit by our suffering. Although not feeling any consolation nor experiencing attraction for prayer, the soul should apply itself to it through duty, while trying by some ingenuity to remedy its powerlessness. St. Teresa of Avila says that “anyone who cannot make mental prayer should turn to vocal prayer, or reading, or colloquies with God, but should never fail to consecrate to prayer the time set apart for it ” (Way, 18). If, in spite of everything, the soul does not succeed in moving its heart, let it love God by the will alone. This requires a great effort, but by it this faculty is strengthened.
Almost without realizing it, the soul is made capable of a more active, generous love. This love will be deprived of feeling is true, but we must remember that the substance of love does not consist in feeling, but in willing to give pleasure, any cost, to the person loved. One who, in order to please God, perseveres in prayer although he finds no consolation in it, but rather repugnance, gives Him a beautiful proof of true love. Progress in the spiritual life is not measured by the consolation the soul feels; for this is unnecessary since true devotion consists solely in the promptness of the will in God’s service. The will can be very prompt and firmly resolved to serve God, although at the same time it is arid and even forced to struggle against its natural repugnance.
“Lord, my God, You who are holy, look and see my affliction! Have pity on the child whom You have engendered in sorry and do not consider my sins, lest you forget Your power over them. What father will not liberate his son? And what son has not been chastised by his father’s compassionate rod? O Father and Lord, although I am a sinner, I am nonetheless Your child, because You have created and recreated me. Can a mother forget the fruit of her womb? If she should forget – You, Father, have promised to remember. Behold! I cry and You do not hearken to me, I am torn with grief, and You do not console me. What shall I say, what shall I do, miserable creature that I am? Deprived of Your consolation, I am far away from Your site.
“O Lord Jesus, where are Your ancient mercies? Shall You be angry with me forever? Be appeased I beg You, and do not turn Your face away from me… I confess that I have sinned, but I am certain that Your mercy surpasses my offenses!
“Weep my soul and complain miserable one; groan because You have sent away Your Spouse, Jesus Christ, the All-powerful God; do not be angry with me, O Lord, for I could never withstand Your anger. Have pity on me, so that I may not fall into despair. Although I am worthy of condemnation, do not withhold that which can save sinners.
“I hope for much from Your bounty, O Lord, because You Yourself teach us to ask, to seek, and to knock; at Your word, I ask, I seek, I knock. O Lord, You who tell us to ask, grant that I may receive; You who tell us to seek, grant that I may find; You who teach us to knock at the door, open to the one who is knocking! I am weak strengthen me. Bring me back, because I have wandered away and revive me, because I am dead. According to Your good pleasure, direct and govern my senses, my thoughts, and my actions, that I may live by You and give myself entirely to You.” (St. Augustine)
Adapted from Divine Intimacy, #153 by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. by Dan Burke.
Art for this page on aridity: Bryce Canyon, Lois Sapio, 2015, all rights reserved, used with permission.