On the Lack of all Comfort
It is not difficult to forego human comfort when we enjoy that of God. But it is a great thing to be able to forego all consolation, human or divine, and for God's sake willingly to endure desolation of heart, neither seeking oneself in anything, nor regarding one's own merit. Is it any proof of virtue that you are filled with joy and devotion when God sends His grace? Surely, everyone longs for this; for he rides at ease who is borne up by the grace of God. Is it any wonder that he feels no weariness, when he is carried by the Almighty, and led by the greatest of all Leaders (Deut.1:30)?
We are always glad of comfort, and only with difficulty is a man stripped of self-love. The holy martyr Laurence, with his priest, overcame the world, because he despised all that seemed delightful in the world. For the love of Christ, he patiently allowed God's high-priest Sixtus, whom he dearly loved, to be taken from him. Thus, by love of the Creator, he conquered his love for man, and preferred the will of God to all the comforts of men. So also must you learn to give up even your close and beloved friend for the love of God? And do not grieve when a friend deserts you, for we must all be parted from one another at last.
A man has to undergo a long and fierce inner struggle before he learns fully to master himself, and to direct his whole love towards God. When a man relies on himself, he often comes to rely on human consolations. But the true lover of Christ and the eager seeker after holiness does not fall back on these things, nor does he look for pleasurable sensations, but prefers to endure great trials and arduous toil for Christ.
When God bestows spiritual comfort, receive it with a grateful heart; but remember that it comes of God's free gift, and not of your own merit. Do not be proud, nor over joyful, nor foolishly presumptuous; rather, be the more humble for this gift, more cautious, and more prudent in all your doings, for this hour will pass, and temptation will follow it. When comfort is withdrawn, do not immediately despair, but humbly and patiently await the will of Heaven; for God is able to restore to you a consolation even richer than before. This is nothing new or strange to those who know the ways of God, for the great Saints and Prophets of old often experienced these changes.
When grace was with him, David once exclaimed, `In my prosperity I said, I shall never be removed'(Ps. 30:6). But when grace was withdrawn, he tells what he experienced in himself, adding, `You turned Your face away from me, and I was troubled.' Yet he does not despair in his trouble, but prays to the Lord more earnestly, saying, `To You, O Lord, will I cry, and will make my supplication to my God.' At length, he received the answer to his prayer, and bears witness that he was heard, saying, `The Lord has heard and taken pity on me; the Lord has become my helper.' But in what way? `You have turned my mourning into joy,' he said, `and have surrounded me with gladness.' If this is the experience of great Saints, it is not for us, poor and frail as we are, to despair if we are sometimes fervent and sometimes cold of heart. The Holy Spirit comes and goes, according to His good pleasure; therefore holy Job says, `You visit him early in the morning, and suddenly You chasten him'(Job 7:18).
In what, then, can I place my hope or trust, save in the great mercy of God alone, and in the hope of His heavenly grace (Ps. 51:10). For whether I enjoy the company of good men, or devout Brethren, or faithful friends; whether holy books, beautiful treatises, or sweet singing and hymns; all these are of little help or comfort when I am forsaken by grace and left to my own poverty. At such a time there is no better remedy than patience and submission to the will of God.
I have never found anyone, however religious and devout, who did not sometimes experience withdrawal of grace, or feel a lessening of devotion. And no Saint has ever lived, however highly rapt and enlightened, who did not suffer temptation sooner or later. For he is not worthy of high contemplation who has not suffered some trials for God's sake. Indeed, the temptation that precedes is often a sign of comfort to follow. For heavenly comfort is promised to those who have been tried and tempted. `To him who overcomes,' says God; `I will give to eat of the Tree of Life'(Rev. 2:7).
Divine comfort is granted that a man may be the stronger to endure adversity; and temptation follows, lest he become proud of his virtue. The Devil never sleeps, nor is the flesh yet dead; never cease, therefore, to prepare yourself for battle against the unresting enemies who lie in wait for you on all sides.
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