Spiritual Deserts

She went to Mass every day.  She listened to the Word of God proclaimed and heard the priest’s homily — words meant to enlighten and inspire.  She received the Eucharist in Holy Communion.  At home, she prayed.  Her family watched her go to work and watched her come home again.  She cooked and cleaned and cared for her children and her husband.  She was active in her ministry work at church and as a volunteer at the local hospital.  And always, she prayed.  On the outside, nothing had changed.  But on the inside, everything was darkness.  Her spiritual life, once the source of her joy and peace, was now a wasteland.  Prayer brought her no comfort.  Her pleas to God went unanswered.  She felt totally cut-off from Christ, from the sweet Savior Who had always felt so close to her.  She felt alone.  She felt lost.
 
There are times in life when God seems very close to us.  The sun of His love shines brightly.  Our hearts exult in the joy of His presence.  Every Mass is a foretaste of heaven and Holy Communion is almost unbearable intimacy with Christ.  When we read Holy Scripture, He speaks to us directly and reveals His heart fully to us. Our prayer life is rich, satisfying and exciting.  We feel as if we are always in the presence of our Lord.  And then it seems, for no reason, we wake one day to find ourselves cast away from Him, no longer in His presence at all but in a kind of spiritual desert.  Anyone who follows Christ will someday experience this dryness and spiritual loneliness.  In the Catholic tradition, many great Saints have written of their own experiences of feeling isolated from Christ.  St. John of the Cross’ most famous work is The Dark Night of the Soul.  St. Therese of Lisieux wrote:  “For me it is always night; dark black night…but since my Beloved wishes to sleep, I shall not prevent Him.”  More recently, the private letters of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta have revealed that this loving and heroic woman lived for many years in the lonely darkness of a spiritual void.  And yet she persevered in her work with the poor.  To the outside world, her faith seemed as vibrant and alive as ever.
 
The truth is:  it was.  It’s a mistake for us to think that our “feelings” define our faith lives.  Faith is more than just warm and fuzzy feelings.  The gift of faith requires a conscious decision to follow Jesus Christ.  Feelings fade, but true faith persists in the desert.  It can even thrive there.  Remember in St. Matthew’s Gospel, that it wasn’t the devil that led Christ into the desert:  it was the Spirit of God.  Whether we like it or not, all of us will be led into that desert at one time or another.  In that blistering, lonely wilderness we can, like Christ, be cleansed and purged for God’s great purpose.  What did Christ do in the desert?  He fasted and prayed and waited on God.
 
This is what we also can do when our interior faith life becomes dry, dusty, and silent.  Pray, even when you don’t feel like it.  Go to Mass as often as you can.  Go to Confession every week.  Do something for someone else.  Fast. Read the Gospels every day.  Be quiet.  This last one may be the most difficult of all.  Spend some time each day quietly and prayerfully opening your heart to God’s presence.  This “desert time” can be a wonderful gift, because it is a time just for you and for God to be together.  In the wilderness, He teaches us to rely on Him more completely, to depend on Him for all our needs.  Alone with Him, we learn that He is using this desert to teach us how to love Him as He already loves us.  Completely.
 
“I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved Me and followed Me through the desert, through a land not sown.” 
                                                                                                            –Jeremiah 2:2
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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Juan R. Velez
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 00:43:18

    In the encyclical Spe Salvi Pope Benedict XVI writes: “A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me.” God listens to us even when we don’t feel his presence. “When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God.” The Pope then tells us: “Saint Augustine, in a homily on the First Letter of John, describes very beautifully the intimate relationship between prayer and hope. He defines prayer as an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]”

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Gaudete Sunday. Rejoice in the Desert! | thesaltyslug

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