You read that right. Spiritual dryness is wonderful! Now, before you all cart me off to the nearest priest for an exorcism or something, let me explain. Never in all of recent memory did I ever think I’d be grateful for the agonizing desolation that is The Dark Night of the Soul. However, I’m known to be incorrect about these kinds of things… a lot. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is kind and can remove false illusions.
What is spiritual dryness? Rather than give you a textbook definition (I’m rather quite horrible at that kind of thing), allow me to paint you a picture.
On a Saturday not too long ago, I’m in College Station. It’s been a month since my last confession and I know I’m not doing anything important at 4pm, I know that confession is at a nearby parish at 4pm, and I know that my prayer life is shot. I should go to confession, right? But it’s a beautiful, sunny, 90 degree day! and my hotel has a pool! Or a nap… A nap would be lovely! Only at the incessant suggestions of my friend Gwen (who’s sharing the hotel room with me) do I eventually drag myself out the door, albeit a little later than 4:00.
Does any of this sound familiar? After all, I know in my heart that Jesus himself is available to me in the grace of the sacrament of confession. So, why am I not running into his loving embrace?
Once I get to the parish, I find that the confessional is in the perpetual adoration chapel. I go through the motions: the sign of the cross with holy water, a genuflection on both knees, and even a little prostration. But as I’m standing in line for confession, I’m sad. This is a beautiful chapel and it’s my first time here… But I don’t feel anything. The painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe is just a painting of the Mother of God; I know she loves me and is right here with me, interceding for me, but I can’t feel her loving gaze upon me. The painting of the Divine Mercy is just a painting; I know that he appeared to St. Faustina and it was his desire that this painting be made, but I don’t feel the shower of grace that emanates from the red and white rays of blood and water. And most of all, (worst of all,) the monstrance is holding simple bread. My head knows that this is the true presence of Christ in all his glory — His body and blood. Why am I not moved to tears at the beauty of this great gift? Why am I not struck senseless at his overwhelming majesty, bowed down in fear and trembling? The emptiness is agonizing.
This, I think, is the essence of spiritual dryness. Now this is only one afternoon in this recent leg of my journey to sainthood, but I think it conveys a feeling, an emptiness, we can all relate to. So many of us have dragged ourselves to Sunday mass, wondering all along, “What’s the point?” Or even in some extreme cases, so many of us have wandered away, so subtly that we can’t remember why and now find it impossible to fight the inertia. (Some of us even miss blog deadlines because of “writers’ block.” Mea culpa.)
Fortunately for us all, there was a lesson Jesus wished to teach me in all of this, and I’d like to share it with you now. This lesson was learned in the confessional.
Enter Fr. Kurtis Wiedenfeld in persona Christi. I know full well that this holy man is a vessel through which I will encounter Jesus Christ and he and I are going to have ourselves a little chat.
I go through my spiel and list my sins and look expectantly at Fr. Kurtis. However, my head tells me that it’s not just Fr. Kurtis who’s looking back at me, speaking to me. Then, I’m floored by what he has to tell me.
“Feeling” is not a stable foundation for faith. Feelings are fickle, they come and go, always moving and never steady. And worse, they’re easily influenced by outside sources and not entirely in our control. How often have we let an uncourteous driver or quarterback’s mistake ending our playoff chances (I’m looking at you Cowboys) ruin our whole day? How often are we dissatisfied with Mass because the music was boring the homily didn’t “move” us? How often are we rocky ground?
We are slaves to our feelings, but faith is not. This is why Spiritual Dryness is such a gift. It’s the answer to anyone who questions faith or religion as brainwashing. (As a convert, how often the evil one tempts me with such thoughts!)
My faith is still real in the absence of feeling. My faith is not a result of my slavery. I don’t love Jesus out of obligation. I love him out of Free Will. Every prayer, every genuflection, every sign of the cross we make in the Dark Night is so much more meaningful because of this! This time of darkness has been a gift!
My chat with Jesus continues after confession in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I marvel at his plan and what he has (audibly!) revealed to me. I went from having my first Charismatic experience in March to Desolation of the Soul in May. Less than an hour earlier I had been wondering if it was some cruel joke to go from one extreme to the next, but I realized that this was only the next lesson Jesus himself wanted to teach me. I “leveled up.”
Step One had been the Father revealing His overwhelming love for me and now Step Two was him proving to me that the love was real. It was freedom from feeling and the gift of increased, intensified faith.
The revelation of this truth is available to all who walk through the Dark Night. This is why Spiritual Dryness is great!