On Holy Thursday Jesus explains to his disciples that he will be leaving them:
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, “Where I am going, you cannot come,” so now I say it to you. (John 13:33)
These are hard words to hear. Why would Jesus ever remove himself from our lives? And yet, we know from our own experiences that for all of the grace-filled spiritual highs we might have, there is always some sort of low on the horizon. If you have ever completed an inspiring retreat, an exciting and grace-filled catechesis class with your families, or committed to some new ministerial or spiritual endeavour with great energy, you have more than likely also experienced periods of doubt, dryness, and spiritual heaviness. These moments of spiritual desolation can leave you wondering just what all of the excitement was about in the first place.
What is happening here? Why would our Lord leave us, especially in the midst of a time filled with such good, spiritual fruit?
- I may have become lazy or negligent in my spiritual life. In this first case, the sense of doubt, the loss of confidence in my ministry, and the “spiritual lethargy” I find myself in act as rumble strips on the side of the highway. They wake me up and alert me that I’m starting to veer off course.
- Moments of desolation give me an opportunity to really see what I’m made of spiritually. It is easy to do well, pray well, and serve well when I am being “paid” in consoling grace. Real love begins when there seems to be no reward. God may be giving me the grace-filled opportunity to persevere out of love for Him alone.
- The third—and my favorite—reason is so that “we may not build a nest in a thing not our own.” St. Ignatius teaches us that any reward in my spiritual life, any act of love I may do for my neighbor, or any success in my ministry is not a nest of my own building. All is gift and grace from God. This is the invaluable gift of humility, the gateway to the Beatitudes themselves!
Our temptation in times of spiritual dryness is to seek any opportunity to make it go away. In our efforts to avoid these moments, we may miss the hidden gifts and opportunities to grow and mature in the spiritual life.
As we journey through this Lenten season, we would do well to spend some time reflecting on the lessons those occasions of Christ’s apparent absence in our spiritual lives may be attempting to teach us. And let us also keep in mind his eternal promise that, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:3)