A Journey Through the Spiritual Life (#5)
Jesus sends you His Holy Spirit
I had a wise spiritual director in Minnesota who tried to prepare me for the simple prayer of quiet, or contemplation. He introduced me to the trilogy of books written by David Torkington on prayer and the spiritual life. (The Hermit, The Prophet, The Mystic—now combined as Wisdom from the Western Isles) He encouraged me to focus less on what I was doing for God and more on letting God’s love minister to me. Unfortunately, I was not ready to absorb this wisdom. I was still excited about “doing things for God.”
I was falling into a well-known trap for those who are entering the night of the senses and the accompanying dryness of prayer: “To begin with and for a long time, we feel nothing. Only the desire for love keeps drawing us to prayer where nothing apart from distractions and temptations seem to engage us—including the biggest temptation of all, which is to pack up the obscure prayer and do something ‘meaningful.’”1
After we moved back to Virginia and the night of the senses began for me, I continued with prayer ministry. I was still “doing things for God,” but I was not dedicated to prayer time alone with God as in the past. The time I spent every week in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament decreased. Then, my spiritual world was rocked. The ministry and nonprofit I was involved with was split by betrayal and division. Two camps formed and the organization was destroyed. Friendships came to an end overnight as we were ostracized and cast out.
It is only now, fifteen years later, that I am starting to see how emotionally and spiritually devastating this trial was for me. I did not lose my faith in the process, but I definitely spent years throwing myself into work and non-faith activities to avoid having to confront and deal with the pain. It was during these years that I became a “Million Miler” on United Airlines.
When one commences the second conversion, prayer changes. Meditation, which was easy and fulfilling, suddenly becomes dry and barren. “When the meditation that can become heart-warming, and spiritually uplifting, suddenly comes to an end, it is not because it has failed, but because it has succeeded.”2 “A person just notices over a period of time the meditation that was once so helpful simply dries up.”3 “Meditation is very good in its time and very useful at the beginning of the spiritual life; but we should not stop there, since the soul, by its fidelity in mortifying and recollecting itself, ordinarily receives a purer and more intimate prayer, which may be called the prayer of simplicity. This prayer consists in a simple view, a gaze on God, on Jesus Christ, or on one of His mysteries.”4
“A person must become accustomed to nourish his soul with a simple and loving gaze on God and on Jesus Christ our Lord.”5 A good spiritual director in this period will teach one “how to remain in silence before our Lord with only a loving glance and an earnest desire of pleasing Him (for they are unable to meditate).”6 We should direct our attention lovingly and calmly toward God.7 “In prayer we should not seek to feel the gift of God, but should receive it with docility and disinterestedness in the obscurity of faith.”8
The soul that has entered into this part of the journey must firmly place their hope in Almighty God.9 It can be a long journey! “It is not in months or even years, but more usually in decades for most of us that our hearts are purified sufficiently to be united with Christ in his contemplation with God.”10 “We wish to become saints in a day; we have not patience to await the ordinary course of grace. This proceeds from our pride and cowardice. Let us only be faithful in cooperating with the graces which God offers us, and he will not fail to lead us to the fulfillment of his designs.”11
“When God wills to introduce souls into the secret way of contemplation, first of all He usually increases the trials whereby these souls are purified and prepared for it.”12 Some who persevere will gradually be purified by alternating periods of light and darkness, presence and absence.13 One experiences the emptiness of created things and can suffer temptations against chastity and patience.14 “God subjects these souls to an obscurity or darkness which is dreadful and prolonged.”15 One can also experience the loss of certain temporal goods—of fortune, honors, friendships on which we dwelt too much.16 God may also permit illnesses, so we may learn to suffer well.17 “If we bear these trials well, they produce precious effects in us.”18
“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”19
“God sometimes permits us to find ourselves in very difficult situations which cannot be solved by human means. He permits us to undergo painful spiritual trials, resulting in states of real anguish, and He permits this for the sole purpose of forcing us to practice the virtue of faith, which in certain cases can and must become heroic.”20
Souls in this stage “find prayer a terrible martyrdom.”21 If one perseveres in daily prayer, however, they find that they are strengthened even if they “feel” nothing.22 Intimate prayer thus obtains the spirit that vivifies.23
“What is most important at this stage is that souls be not dismayed. They must be made to realize that the work of perfection is not the work of a day, but of a lifetime.”24 We must place our firm hope in God, who does not abandon those who trust Him.25
If you have been persevering in daily prayer and everything has gone dry, have faith that God will lead you deeper. Do not run around looking to do something important for God instead! Continue to pray. Continue to seek His face. This is time to pray from the heart the anointed words of Psalm 63, longing for God:
O God, thou art my God, I seek thee,
my soul thirsts for thee;
my flesh faints for thee,
as in a dry and weary land where no water is.
So I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary,
beholding thy power and glory.
Because thy steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise thee.
So I will bless thee as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on thy name.
My prayer for you today is that Almighty God will continue the good work He has begun in you, that He will strengthen your faith and hope in Him in periods of dryness, that He will strengthen your fortitude and patience during prayer time, and that He will purify you to receive the Holy Spirit. In the mighty Name of Jesus I pray!
“Stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.”26
Power Tools for Prayer, Chapters 7-8 (Simplicity & Humility).
The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life: Prelude of Eternal Life (frequently cited in footnotes), Vol. 2: The Spiritual Age of Proficients Principal Characteristics, pp. 65-71, The Spirit of Faith and Its Progress, pp. 168-177, Confidence in God; Its Certitude, pp. 178-186.
John 19:30; John 7:37 & 39; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 4:1-4; Luke 4:14-22; John 14:15-27; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 10:34-48; Acts 19:1-7.
Eric A. Welter is an employment lawyer and trial attorney with a long-time devotion to intercessory prayer. He is a Catholic Christian who has been involved with intercessory and healing prayer ministry for over twenty years. The Abound in Hope Ministry website is https://www.aboundinhope.org/ministry.
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Id. at 305.
Id. at 208.
Id., Vol. 2, at 81.
Id. at 56; Fr. John G. Arintero, OP, Vol. 2, The Mystical Evolution, at 101 (1951).
Vol. 2, Three Ages, at 57.
Id. at 181 (citing Council of Trent no. 804).
Primacy of Loving, at 198.
Mystical Evolution, at 94 (quoting Lallemant, Spiritual Doctrine, IV, 2, art. 1).
Id. at 95.
Id. at 88; Primacy of Loving, at 87.
Vol. 2, Three Ages, at 59; see Tobit 12:13.
Mystical Evolution, at 96.
Vol. 2, Three Ages, at 61.
Fr. Gabriel, Divine Intimacy: Meditations on the Interior Life for Every Day of the Liturgical Year, at 728.
Mystical Evolution, at 98.
Primacy of Loving, at 216.
Vol. 2, Three Ages, at 69.
Mystical Evolution, at 106.
Vol. 2, Three Ages, at 185.