Chapter 9 – Want of All Consolation
Want of All Consolation
Thomas a Kempis speaks from observation and according to general experience when he says: “I never found any one so religious and devout as not sometimes to experience a withdrawal of grace, or fee a diminution of fervor. No saint was ever so sublimely rapt and illuminated as not to be tempted sooner or later.”
You must understand this aright. God never withdraws His grace from us in such a way that He will not assist us in time of temptation, so that, from want of this assistance, we must fall into sin. No! God is always with us; He always gives us grace enough to overcome the temptation. “God is faithful,” says St. Paul. “He will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, so that you may be able to bear it.”
By “withdrawal of grace” Thomas a Kempis means that God will sometimes take all consolation away from us. Outwardly we may be afflicted by various kinds of troubles, sickness, poverty, contempt from our neighbours, and so on; while inwardly we may be tried, at the same time, by most grievous temptations—temptations against charity, holy purity, and such like. Now, if in these trials and afflictions we could, so to speak, feel the loving hand of God supporting us; if we could lay our heads on Jesus’ breast, as St. John did at the Last Supper; in short, if we could sensibly feel God’s might presence holding us in His arms and sweetly consoling us: oh, yes! Then we, too, might cry out in exultation: “If God be for us, who is against us? I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But, my little follower of Jesus, we must be tried even more than this. Jesus permits it. He Himself has deigned to give us an example of this. Look up to Him, as He hangs on the cross: His hands and feet are pierced by nails, thorns are driven into His head; His body is torn by countless wounds; His blood flows down to the earth; most intense is the suffering He endures—no one else, before or after, has ever endured such pain and torment; and all the while He hangs on the cross, He hears the bitter curses, blasphemies, mockeries from His enemies, those who have crucified Him, and for whom He dies. But the greatest pain, the most bitter of all torments He endures then when He cries out: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
So, let us be prepared for this want of all consolation, whenever and as often as God may visit us with it—prepared to take it with resignation and endure it patiently, as long as it may last. It will be something in this way: you still have good will to say your prayers regularly, to make your meditations and examinations of conscience, to visit Jesus in the holy Sacrament of the altar, to receive Him often in holy Communion, and so on. Heretofore you felt so much pleasure and satisfaction in these practices; but now, all at once, you lose your relish. You feel so dry and indifferent. When you pray it is nothing but distractions—no spirit, no pleasure. The same as regards your meditations and you examination of conscience. When you go to church to visit Jesus, it is just as if He repulses you. In Communion, though you continue to receive Jesus regularly and often, you feel as if it were not Jesus at all; He does not speak to you any more as He used to; He lets you be dry and without feeling, as it were. You become discouraged—you feel much like throwing everything overboard, that is, you are tempted to give up everything, praying, meditation, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, receiving Holy Communion, and all.
This is what is meant by “want of consolation:” when the world, your friends, and apparently God Himself have forsaken you and left you, as it were, to yourself. But courage! This is your best hour, my child! Hold on to your prayers and other practices, in spite of the dryness. You can gain the most precious merits now.
I read once about three pious sisters, who went together to church to receive Holy Communion. Another saintly person was in the church and saw them. She had a vision in which she beheld our Lord, in the form of a Child, most lovely and gracious. When the first of the three sisters had received the sacred Host, Jesus very fondly embraced her, and, in look and manner, showed Himself friendly and loving. When the second received Him, He showed no more than ordinary satisfaction; He remained rather passive. But when the third received Him, our Lord showed nothing but signs of displeasure; He struggled in the priest’s hands as if to get away from her; He put out His hands as if to push her away, and repel her. A voice asked—it was the voice of Jesus Himself: “Which of these three, thinkest thou, gives Me most pleasure in receiving My Body and Blood?”
“Lord,” answered the person, “most certainly the one who received You first.”
“No,” answered Jesus, “The one that received Me last gave Me most pleasure. The first receives Me only for the sake of consolation: I must draw her by sweetness, lest she come not at all. The second remains faithful, though she experiences little or no consolation from Me. The last, however, keeps on receiving Me, though I fill her heart with aridity and bitterness.”
Do you see and understand?
I will close by giving you the example of David, as it is contained in The Following of Christ: “There was one who, when grace was with him, exclaimed: ‘I said in my abundance, I shall not be moved forever.’
But, when grace was withdrawn, he tells what he experienced in himself, saying: ‘Thou hast turned away Thy face from me, and I became troubled.’
“Yet even then he despaireth not, but more earnestly prayeth to the Lord, and saith: ‘Unto Thee, O Lord, will I cry; and to my God will I make supplication.’
“At length he receiveth the fruit of his prayer, and witnesseth that he was heard, saying: ‘The Lord hath heard, and had mercy on me; the Lord hath become my helper.’
“But in what way? ‘Thou hast turned,’ he saith, ‘my mourning into joy, and Thou hast encompassed me with gladness.’”