Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 4, Chapter 14

Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 4, Chapter 14

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CHAPTER XIV. Of Dryness and Spiritual Barrenness.

SO much for what is to be done in times of spiritual consolations. But
these bright days will not last for ever, and sometimes you will be so
devoid of all devout feelings, that it will seem to you that your soul
is a desert land, fruitless, sterile, wherein you can find no path
leading to God, no drop of the waters of Grace to soften the dryness
which threatens to choke it entirely. Verily, at such a time the soul
is greatly to be pitied, above all, when this trouble presses heavily,
for then, like David, its meat are tears day and night, while the Enemy
strives to drive it to despair, crying out, “Where is now thy God? how
thinkest thou to find Him, or how wilt thou ever find again the joy of
His Holy Grace?”

What will you do then, my child? Look well whence the trial comes, for
we are often ourselves the cause of our own dryness and barrenness. A
mother refuses sugar to her sickly child, and so God deprives us of
consolations when they do but feed self-complacency or presumption. “It
is good for me that I have been in trouble, for before I was troubled I
went wrong.” [198] So if we neglect to gather up and use the treasures
of God’s Love in due time, He withdraws them as a punishment of our
sloth. The Israelite who neglected to gather his store of manna in the
early morning, found none after sunrise, for it was all melted.
Sometimes, too, we are like the Bride of the Canticles, slumbering on a
bed of sensual satisfaction and perishable delight, so that when the
Bridegroom knocks at the door of our heart, and calls us to our
spiritual duties, we dally with Him, loath to quit our idle and
delusive pleasures, and then He “withdraws Himself, and is gone,” and
“when I sought Him, I could not find Him; I called Him, but He gave me
no answer.” [199] Of a truth we deserved as much for having been so
disloyal as to have rejected Him for the things of this world. If we
are content with the fleshpots of Egypt we shall never receive heavenly
manna. Bees abhor all artificial scents, and the sweetness of the Holy
Spirit is incompatible with the world’s artificial pleasures.

Again, any duplicity or unreality in confession or spiritual
intercourse with your director tends to dryness and barrenness, for, if
you lie to God’s Holy Spirit, you can scarcely wonder that He refuses
you His comfort. If you do not choose to be simple and honest as a
little child, you will not win the child’s sweetmeats.

Or you have satiated yourself with worldly delights; and so no wonder
that spiritual pleasures are repulsive to you. “To the overfed dove
even cherries are bitter,” says an old proverb; and Our Lady in her
song of praise says, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and
the rich He hath sent empty away.” They who abound in earthly pleasures
are incapable of appreciating such as are spiritual.

If you have carefully stored up the fruits of past consolations, you
will receive more; “to him that hath yet more shall be given,” but from
him who has not kept that which he had, who has lost it through
carelessness, that which he hath shall be taken away, in other words,
he will not receive the grace destined for him. Rain refreshes living
plants, but it only brings rottenness and decay to those which are
already dead. There are many such causes whereby we lose the
consolations of religion, and fall into dryness and deadness of spirit,
so that it is well to examine our conscience, and see if we can trace
any of these or similar faults. But always remember that this
examination must not be made anxiously, or in an over-exacting spirit.
Thus if, after an honest investigation of our own conduct, we find the
cause of our wrongdoing, we must thank God, for an evil is half cured
when we have found out its cause. But if, on the contrary, you do not
find any particular thing which has led to this dryness, do not trifle
away your time in a further uneasy search, but, without more ado, and
in all simplicity, do as follows:–

1. Humble yourself profoundly before God, acknowledging your
nothingness and misery. Alas, what am I when left to myself! no better,
Lord, than a parched ground, whose cracks and crevices on every side
testify its need of the gracious rain of Heaven, while, nevertheless,
the world’s blasts wither it more and more to dust.

2. Call upon God, and ask for His Gladness. “O give me the comfort of
Thy help again! My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from
me.” “Depart, O ye unfruitful wind, which parcheth up my soul, and
come, O gracious south wind, blow upon my garden.” Such loving desires
will fill you with the perfume of holiness.

3. Go to your confessor, open your heart thoroughly, let him see every
corner of your soul, and take all his advice with the utmost simplicity
and humility, for God loves obedience, and He often makes the counsel
we take, specially that of the guides of souls, to be more useful than
would seem likely; just as He caused the waters of Jordan, commended by
Elijah to Naaman, to cure his leprosy in spite of the improbability to
human reason.

4. But, after all, nothing is so useful, so fruitful amid this dryness
and barrenness, as not to yield to a passionate desire of being
delivered from it. I do not say that one may not desire to be set free,
but only that one ought not to desire it over-eagerly, but to leave all
to the sole Mercy of God’s special Providence, in order that, so long
as He pleases, He may keep us amid these thorns and longings. Let us
say to God at such seasons, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this
cup pass from me; “–but let us add heartily, “Nevertheless, not my
will, but Thine be done,” and there let us abide as trustingly as we
are able. When God sees us to be filled with such pious indifference,
He will comfort us with His grace and favour, as when He beheld Abraham
ready to offer up his son Isaac, and comforted him with His blessing.
In every sort of affliction, then, whether bodily or spiritual, in
every manner of distraction or loss of sensible devotion, let us say
with our whole heart, and in the deepest submission, “The Lord gave me
all my blessings, the Lord taketh them away, blessed be the Name of the
Lord.” If we persevere in this humility, He will restore to us His
mercies as he did to Job, who ever spake thus amid all his troubles. 5.
And lastly, my daughter, amid all our dryness let us never grow
discouraged, but go steadily on, patiently waiting the return of better
things; let us never be misled to give up any devout practices because
of it, but rather if possible, let us increase our good works, and if
we cannot offer liquid preserves to our Bridegroom, let us at least
offer Him dried fruit–it is all one to Him, so long as the heart we
offer be fully resolved to love Him. In fine weather bees make more
honey and breed fewer grubs, because they spend so much time in
gathering the sweet juices of the flowers that they neglect the
multiplication of their race. But in a cold, cloudy spring they have a
fuller hive and less honey. And so sometimes, my daughter, in the
glowing springtide of spiritual consolations, the soul spends so much
time in storing them up, that amid such abundance it performs fewer
good works; while, on the contrary, when amid spiritual dryness and
bitterness, and devoid of all that is attractive in devotion, it
multiplies its substantial good works, and abounds in the hidden
virtues of patience, humility, self-abnegation, resignation and
unselfishness.

Some people, especially women, fall into the great mistake of imagining
that when we offer a dry, distasteful service to God, devoid of all
sentiment and emotion, it is unacceptable to His Divine Majesty;
whereas, on the contrary, our actions are like roses, which, though
they may be more beautiful when fresh, have a sweeter and stronger
scent when they are dried. Good works, done with pleasurable interest,
are pleasanter to us who think of nothing save our own satisfaction,
but when they are done amid dryness and deadness they are more precious
in God’s Sight. Yes indeed, my daughter, for in seasons of dryness our
will forcibly carries us on in God’s Service, and so it is stronger and
more vigorous than at a softer time. There is not much to boast of in
serving our Prince in the comfort of a time of peace, but to serve Him
amid the toils and hardness of war, amid trial and persecution, is a
real proof of faithfulness and perseverance. The blessed Angela di
Foligni said, that the most acceptable prayer to God is what is made
forcibly and in spite of ourselves; that is to say, prayer made not to
please ourselves or our own taste, but solely to please God;–carried
on, as it were, in spite of inclination, the will triumphing over all
our drynesses and repugnances. And so of all good works;–the more
contradictions, exterior or interior, against which we contend in their
fulfilment, the more precious they are in God’s Sight; the less of
self-pleasing in striving after any virtue, the more Divine Love shines
forth in all its purity. A child is easily moved to fondle its mother
when she gives it sweet things, but if he kisses her in return for
wormwood or camomile it is a proof of very real affection on his part.
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[198] Ps. cxix. 67, 71.

[199] Cant. v. 2-7.
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