Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Interior Trials in the Spiritual Life

God often sends us trials and sufferings to increase our love for and trust in Him. Suffering is an opportunity, the very best of opportunities, in fact, for us to grow in devotion to God. In suffering, we are given two options: first, to allow our sufferings to cast us down, discourage us, and deaden our efforts to make any progress spiritually. Or second, to accept our sufferings as part of God's will, and to endure them lovingly and patiently for the love of God. Now it should be obvious to Christian people that we absolutely must choose this latter option. This is the only way to sanctity and happiness, and this is the way all the Saints did it. 

But it would seem that this is easier said than done. The concept is easily understood, that we must bear all our sufferings with loving patience. But in the actual experience of these sufferings we are easily overcome with such emotions which, if we were to be guided by their influence, would lead us to despair and discouragement. Thus, our tendency, when we encounter sufferings, is towards the first of the two options just mentioned; and yet we must fight this tendency. If we become discouraged and inclined to just give up, to throw up our hands in despair, resolving to make no further endeavors, we commit a grave sin against the virtue of Hope, by which we have confidence that God inflicts these trials upon us for our own good and our own edification; we also commit a sin against the virtue of Charity, insofar as we make known that we no longer love God, that we no longer wish to strive to conform our wills to His.

Christian perfection, then, is reached by entirely conforming our wills to God's will, and having confidence that by so doing, we will attain our good. Our sole desire should be to do God's will; if we have any other desire, it must be completely subordinated to this first one. We must love nothing except that in which we see the will of God, and these things we are commanded to love. Thus, if God sends us sufferings, we must embrace them lovingly; indeed, we must love our sufferings - not as they are in themselves, but as they are God's will for us. And of course, if God sends us prosperity and pleasure, we must also accept these lovingly; but again, ultimately our love for these things must have its source in our love for the will of God.

This attitude by which we love nothing except the will of God is not an easy one to acquire. One must detach oneself quite completely from the love of worldly things, becoming indifferent to them as they are in themselves. We may seek and desire worldly things, but always keeping before us, as a first and ultimately non-negotiable principle, the will of God; always keeping in our minds that if we were to discover that God's will is that we should not attain the desires we seek, we would most humbly and willingly submit to His will, and give up our desires. 

Pain, sorrow, and suffering are brought about when we are deprived of our desires, when we are afflicted with some evil, which is the privation of good. This is why we must be detached and indifferent to worldly desires, so that when we are deprived of them, our wills may not succumb to the depression and suffering which follows. But more than this: if the one thing we desire completely be the will of God, then, whatever happens to us, be it good or bad fortune, we can experience a great happiness. Whatever happens to us is part of God's will for us; thus, we can accept it joyfully and happily even if, in itself, it is terrible and painful. Part of what is necessary for happiness is that we be given the desires of our will; thus, if our will be to have only what God wills, then practically anything at all can make us happy, for everything that happens to us is God's will.

But here it is important to distinguish between the will and the emotions. When we are deprived of our worldly, temporal, desires, we feel pain and sorrow on the emotional level. Indeed, this is the primary place in which we suffer: our emotions, which make up our sensible appetite. The goal is not to allow our emotions to influence our will, which is our rational appetite. Man alone has a rational nature; but he shares the sensitive part of his nature with the animals. That part of him which constitutes his rational nature is thus the higher nature, and the sensible part the lower. But because of the fall, man is weak, and he is often ruled by his lower nature. But for virtue it is necessary to be ruled by the higher nature. Thus, man must raise himself and his will above the influence of the emotions, in order to be virtuous. This means that when, in his emotions, he experiences any pain or anguish or discouragement, he must, by an act of his rational appetite or will, determine not to let these feelings direct his actions. In the spiritual life, this means he must seek with his will to be detached from worldly desires, which manifest themselves in his emotions, so that when they are frustrated, his will will not be discouraged, and he will remain strong in his endurance of these emotional sufferings. 

Further, by his will, man can determine to direct all his efforts solely for love of God; he must desire and love nothing else but the Will of God, even if his emotions pull him to worldly things. Thus, if he is deprived a worldly good which he desires on the emotional level, and if his emotions are consequently placed in a state of pain and sorrow, he will nevertheless remain strong on the level of his rational appetite, his will, by which he will lovingly embrace his deprivation and his sufferings as the Will of God, and will have confidence that God will bring him to happiness.

Although this act of the will may be a cold and dull act, devoid of the affective warmth which comes with emotional love, it is most meritorious. It is a mistake to think that devotion is only meritorious when it is accompanied by warm affections and emotions. Indeed, true devotion is at its height when it remains sure and strong despite the lack of these affections.

As a piece of motivation, we must always keep in mind that God has our best interests in mind at all times, no matter how great the trials he sends upon us. If we persevere through these sufferings in the way just described, we will attain a happiness with God in heaven which is infinitely greater than all the happiness that we could ever achieve in this life. Thus, when we are deprived of any of our worldly desires, we would do well to remember that any happiness we may have derived from these worldly goods is a mere drop when compared to the infinite ocean of happiness that awaits us in heaven if we willingly embrace our deprivation. This must be our first thought at all times, whenever we pursue any desires, or whenever we are deprived of them. If we keep this in mind at all times and live accordingly, we will not fail to abandon ourselves completely to the Divine Will.


  1. Thank God for this article. Truly inspiring... Thank u and God bless u for writing this :-)