Thursday, 26 March 2009

Annunciation, essay, and St Francis on spiritual barrenness

Okay, that's quite a title.

First off, apologies for not posting in the last few days, despite the Lenten resolution. A large part of it is my hectic rush to finish an essay for tomorrow, and I haven't been organised enough to post anything.

Secondly, I hope that you all had a wonderful Solemnity of the Annunciation yesterday. I certainly did!

Today St Francis talks about something that many people struggle with, which is spiritual barrenness - a sense that God has left me, and no longer gives me spiritual consolations. Many people automaticallly call this 'the dark night of the soul,' but I think the term is used too sweepingly. Certainly very holy people like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta spent large parts of their lives without feeling close to God, and this made their faith their charity all the stronger. For whatever reason, God can decide to withhold spiritual consolation from some people, even when in reality they are very close to Him. But St Francis says there are many reasons why we might feel far from God.

i) When we become complacent about the spiritual consolation He gives us. Then His seeming 'removal' from us teaches us humility.
ii) When we become too attached to material comforts, and as a result become sluggish in our devotion.
iii) When we are not honest with ourselves or our confessors about our spiritual lives.
iv) when we don't use the consolations we have been given to grow in virtue (which is the point of consolations)

But whatever the reason for spiritual barrenness, and even if we are not the cause of it, St Francis says we should not be anxious about it:

...nothing is so useful, nothing so profitable in such dryness and barrenness, as to have no attachment to the desire of being delivered from it. I do not say that we may not entertain wishes for deliverance; but I do say that we must not set our hearts upon it, that we must resign ourselves to the mercy of the particular providance of God, so that he may make use of us, as long as it pleases him, in the midst of these thorns and among these deserts...

...our actions are like roses, which, though they have more external grace, when they are fresh, yet give forth a sweeter and stronger scent when they are dry: for just in the same way, though our works done with tenderness of heart are more agreeable to ourselve - to ourselves, I say, who only consider our own pleasure - yet, when they are done in a state of dryness and barrenness, they have a sweeter scent and greater value before God.

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