St. Francis de Sales said that true devotion and the true love of God do not consist in the receiving of spiritual consolations in prayer and other devout exercises, but in the possession of a resolute will to desire and to do nothing but what God wills. This is the one end for which we should apply ourselves to prayer, to Communion, to mortification, and to every other thing that is pleasing to God; even though we experience in them no sweet flavor, and continue in the midst of temptations, and in a desolateness of spirit. “With dryness of mind and temptations,” said St. Teresa, “the Lord makes trial of those who love him.” Even if this dryness last for the whole of life, let not the soul leave off prayer; the time will come when all will be abundantly rewarded.
As all masters of the spiritual life recommend, in time of desolation we ought especially to exercise ourselves in acts of humility and resignation. There is no better time for learning our own helplessness and our misery than when we are barren in prayer, wearied, distracted, and desolate, without any perceptible fervor, and even without perceptible desires for making progress in divine love. At such times let the soul say, “Lord, have mercy upon me; behold how powerless I am to do a single good deed.” We must besides resign ourselves to the will of God, and say, “O my God, it is Thy will to keep me thus in darkness, thus in affliction; may Thy holy will be ever done. I desire not to be comforted; it is enough for me to abide solitary to give Thee pleasure.” And thus we ought to persevere in prayer during all its duration.
The greatest trouble, however, which any one suffers in prayer is not so much a dryness as a darkness, in which he finds himself stripped of every good wish, and tempted to give up faith and hope. Sometimes, in addition, he experiences violent attacks of temptations, and such distrust that he continues in grievous fear of having even lost the grace of God, and that for his sins God had driven him from Him, and had abandoned him; so that he looks upon himself as abhorred by God; and therefore at such times solitude torments him, and meditation seems to him like a kind of hell. Then must he take courage, and recollect that this dread of having yielded to temptation or to despair is simply the dread and the torment of the soul, but not a voluntary act, and therefore he is free from sin. At such a time a person really resists temptation with his will, though, through the darkness which enshrouds him, he is not able distinctly to perceive it. And the proof of this is the experience which he has, that if he were to be tempted knowingly to commit a single venial sin, his soul, which loves God, would rather accept death a thousand times.
On this account, we must not trouble ourselves at such times to attain a certainty that we are in the grace of God, and that there is no sin in what we are doing. Thou wouldst then know and be sure that God loves thee; but at such a time God does not choose to let thee know it; he wills that thou shouldst only strive to humble thyself, and trust in his goodness, and resign thyself to his will. Thou wouldst see that God does not will that thou shouldst see. For the rest, St. Francis de Sales says that the resolution which thou hast (at least in thy will) to love God, and not to cause him deliberately the slightest displeasure, is an assurance that thou art in the grace of God. Abandon thyself, therefore, at such times, to the divine mercy; declare to God that thou desirest nothing but him and his will, and fear not. Oh, how dear to the Lord are these acts of confidence and resignation, accomplished in the midst of this terrible darkness.
For forty-one years, St. Jane Frances of Chantal suffered these internal pains, accompanied by terrible temptations, and by fears that she was in a state of sin, and was abandoned by God. Her pangs were so great that she was accustomed to say that the thought of death was the only thing that gave her relief. She was wont to say, “Sometimes it seems to me that my patience is exhausted, and that I am on the point of giving up everything, and of abandoning myself to perdition.” For the last eight or nine years of her life, her temptations, instead of diminishing, became fiercer; so that whether she was praying or in any occupation, her inward martyrdom was such as to call forth the compassion of every one who associated with her. It seemed to her sometimes that God had driven her from him, so that to relieve herself, she turned her thoughts away from God; but not finding the relief she sought, she turned again to the contemplation of God, even though he seemed wroth against her. In meditations, in communions, and other devout exercises, she experienced nothing but weariness and torment. She seemed to herself to be like a sick person overwhelmed with complaints, unable to turn herself from side to side; dumb, so as not to be able to explain her sufferings; and blind, so that she could see no way of escaping from the depths. She seemed to have lost love, hope, and faith; and, for the rest, she kept her eyes fixed upon God, resting upon the arm of the divine will. In a word, St. Francis de Sales used to say to her that that blessed soul was like a deaf musician who could sing most admirably, but had no pleasure in his voice, because he could not hear it.
The soul, therefore, which finds itself tried with dryness, however it may be oppressed with gloom, must not lose courage, but trust in the blood of Jesus Christ, and resign itself to the divine will, and say: “O Jesus, my hope, and my soul s only love! I deserve no consolations; give them to those who have always loved Thee; I have deserved hell, and to be ever abandoned there by Thee, without hope of ever being able to love Thee. But no, my Saviour, I accept every pain; punish me as Thou wilt, but deprive me not of the power of loving Thee. Take from me everything, except Thyself. Miserable as I am, I love Thee more than myself, and I give myself wholly to Thee; I desire to live no more for myself. Give me strength to be faithful to Thee. O holy Virgin, hope of sinners! I trust in thy intercession; make me love my God, who has created and redeemed me.”