Spiritual desolation is certainly an obstacle in our spiritual life, but we still have the possibility to overcome it with the grace of God and in no way can it be used as an excuse for our falls.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola explains what desolation is. It is a darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. As he says, desolation is the contrary of consolation, which is an interior movement in the soul through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all. Likewise, when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one's sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise.
Now, dear brethren, we must understand – and this is fundamental for our spiritual life – that our holiness does not depend on the fact that we are in a state of consolation or in a state of desolation. Unfortunately, many believe this; especially women, even though it is not only a feminine defect and not all women are troubled by this. In other words, it is not because you are in a state of consolation that you are more holy, neither are you less holy because you are in desolation.
In fact, for you who have consolations, you might stop your spiritual progress because you are more attracted by them rather than by God. On the other hand, you can make great progress in spite of long periods of desolation, such as Saint Jeanne de Chantal who had terrible temptations for many years. She had no desire for prayer and as soon as she began to pray she felt distaste for it. She was tempted to leave her convent and to return to the world for a worldly and loose life. But she was at a good school with Saint Francis de Sales who told her that what matters were not her feelings, but her acts so, her will remained strong during all these terrible years. It is certainly during this time that she made the greatest progress in her spiritual life.
In fact, if you want to make progress in the spiritual life, you have to go through terrible hardships and face strong temptations. You had better be ready for this, as Saint Peter warns us in today’s epistle: Be sober, be watchful! For your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same suffering befalls your brethren all over the world. (I Peter 5:8,9)
Resist him, steadfast in the faith! When you are under attack, Satan wants you to change your position, so that you are more vulnerable and become a better target. No! When you are in a time of desolation, do not move, and change nothing as Saint Ignatius says. This is the fifth rule of discernment of spirits of the spiritual exercises, which is extremely important. Many souls do not reach the states of perfection, or even worst, return to a state of sin, because they neglect this rule. Many also lose their vocation for not following it.
In time of desolation never to make a change; but to be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination in which he was in the preceding consolation. Because, as in consolation it is rather the good spirit who guides and counsels us, so in desolation it is the bad, with whose counsels we cannot take a course to decide rightly.
So what do you have to do in times of desolation? Just wait, even if it is long. Wait and then you have to counter attack at the right time. At this point, the role of a good spiritual director is important. He is like a general who has a better sight on the whole battle field; while you are often blind by the fire of the enemy. So he can tell you how to act in order to be safe.
How do you counter-attack? Saint Ignatius says: agere contra! Act against your desolation. It is a wonderful way to change a temptation into a meritorious action. If you are tempted, make more acts of the opposite virtue: Do you have temptation of gluttony? Fast! ; Temptation of anger? Remain silent! ; Temptation of hatred? Pray for your enemy! ; Temptation of pride? Humble yourself! ; Temptation of sensuality? Do penance! The Saints are not those who do not have temptations. They even have more temptations than others, because they are the first targets of the evil spirits. The Saints are those who overcome their temptations with the grace of God.
Dear brethren, don’t expect to have a life without the cross. There would be something wrong if this were the case. The consolations of God are a gift that we should appreciate when they come. But they are not the most important thing and if God decides to not give such a gift, let us accept His Holy Will. We have to love Him for Himself, not for His gifts. And the fact is that the true love of God will lead us to Calvary, because it is there that God has expressed His love for us so much.
May Our Blessed Mother help us to understand the true love of God and sustain our faith, so that when the time of desolation comes we can remain firm and strong!