You seem to be a little troubled at finding yourself cold at prayer and as if our Lord had abandoned you. Were it otherwise I should feel uneasy; for this is one of the best signs that you are really pleasing to God, since He puts your fidelity to the test by sending desolation. There is no happiness to be compared to the sweets one tastes at times in prayer; but this, the greatest of all sacrifices, He will ask from you at times.
Hence in darkness and dryness, when weariness and disgust come on you, when the thousand petty worries of every day crowd upon you, sursum corda, raise your eyes with a glad smile to the face of Jesus, for all is well and He is sanctifying you.
COMMENT: It is an astonishing fact that many of the saints have experienced an incredible dryness and desolation in prayer. One common cause of dryness in prayer is simply lukewarmness – if we make no effort in our spiritual life, if we ignore the battle against vice and if we give in to every whim of our senses, then we cannot be surprised if our prayer is lifeless. This dryness is not what Fr Doyle refers to in today’s quote, and it certainly is not the dryness that the saints suffered through. This type of dryness may be a manifestation of spiritual sloth. Rather than being a sign that we are pleasing to God, this type of desolation may be something of a warning sign, indicating that we are beginning to stray from the right path.
Instead, Fr Doyle refers to the dryness that afflicts those who are progressing in the spiritual life. As he says, God can use this aridity to test our fidelity. It is easy to pray when all goes well for us. But how do we know whether we pray because of our love of God or because of a selfish desire for spiritual delights, unless these delights have been removed from us?
Many saints have experienced this darkness. Perhaps most famously, St John of the Cross wrote very movingly about this dark night of the soul. St Therese of Lisieux wrote that:
For me it is always night, always dark, black night. Dryness and drowsiness – such is the state of my soul in its intercourse with Jesus! But since my Beloved wishes to sleep, I shall not prevent Him.
Many people were surprised by the utter spiritual desolation suffered by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta for most of her life. Her letters revealed that she spent decades in this darkness. She once described it in these terms:
The damned of hell suffer eternal punishment because they experience the loss of God. In my own soul, I feel the terrible pain of this loss. I feel that God does not want me, that God is not God, and that he does not really exist.
Yes despite this, she continued to show heroic virtue by loving and serving Him in utter self-forgetfulness.
The list could go on and on, and dozens of quotes could be produced to show how great saints have struggled through this darkness of soul.
Fr Doyle himself experienced it. He once described Eucharistic adoration as “hard, grinding work” and said that he sometimes felt an extraordinary repugnance for this. Yet he persevered.
Fr Doyle, and all of the saints, showed us that they were not mercenaries. They did not serve God because of the spiritual reward, but did so purely out of disinterested love.