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Over the course of my time here on this forum, I have read the testimonies of many dear souls who are severely discouraged by the withdrawal of the feeling of God's grace and presence within them. To all of these souls: don't lose hope. This feeling of spiritual desolation is not unique to you, nor is it an abandonment by God because of a lack of love for you; on the contrary, as the Encyclopedia says, not only is it an "occasion of heroic virtue and of absolute detachment from sensible pleasure," but it also "may be turned into great merit, and many fruits of sanctity will be the result."




Spiritual states of consolation and desolation

Consolation and desolation may be said to be phases of the various stages or states of the spiritual life, rather than distinct states to themselves. The character of permanence does not usually belong to them. They succeed each other, as a rule, and devout souls have to experience both the one and the other, but as they may have sometimes a long period of consolation or desolation the term states may be used in a wide sense when treating of them. Speaking in a general sense, the sense of consolation is that in which the soul enjoys a spiritual sense or impression of close union and intimate converse with God. The state of desolation, on the contrary, is that in which the soul feels itself as it were abandoned by God. Consolation and desolation may be more easily understood when considered in opposition to each other.


Consolation

In the spiritual order consolation is of three kinds.

The first kind, which is known as "sensible consolation", is that which has its beginning and is felt chiefly in the senses or sensible faculties. It consists in sensible devotion and a feeling of fervour arising from the consideration of God's goodness vividly represented to the mind and heart; or from the external aids and ceremonies of the Church. It is not to be disregarded on this account because it leads us finally to good. St. Alphonsus says, "Spiritual consolations are gifts which are much more precious than all the riches and honors of the world. And if the sensibility itself is aroused, this completes our devotion, for then our whole being is united to God and tastes God." (Love for Jesus, xvii).

The second kind of consolation, which is often the result of the first, and usually remains with the third, is characterized by as facility and even a delight in the exercise of the virtues, especially the theological virtues. St. Ignatius says that any increase in faith, hope, and charity, may be called a consolation (Rule 3 for the discernment of spirits). By this kind of consolation the soul is raised above the sensible faculties; and in the absence of sensible consolation, truth is perceived at a glance, faith alone operating, enlightening, directing and sustaining the soul, and fervour of the will succeeds to sensible fervour. We should be thankful to God for consolations of this kind and pray for their continuance, and it is these we ask for in the prayer "En ego" usually recited after Communion.

The third kind of consolation affects the higher faculties of the soul, namely the intellect and the will, and in a more perfect way than the second. It consists in special tranquillity and peace of soul, and is the result of the firm determination of the will to live for God with entire confidence in His grace. It is present when, as St. Ignatius says, "the soul burns with the love of its Creator, and can no longer love any creature except for His sake" (Rule 3 for the discernment of spirits). The soul is conscious of its happiness even though the inferior and sensible faculties may be depressed and afflicted. This is the most perfect kind of all, and it is not often experienced except by the perfect. As the first kind is said to belong to beginners in the way of perfection, the second to those making progress, so the third is said to belong to the perfect.


Desolation

Spiritual desolation means the feeling of abandonment by God, and of the absence of His grace. This feeling of estrangement may arise from various causes. It may be the result of natural disposition or temperament, or of external circumstances; or it may come from the attacks of the devil; or from God Himself when for our greater good He withdraws from us spiritual consolation. In contradistinction to consolation spiritual desolation may be of three kinds.

The first is called sensible desolation and is the opposite of sensible consolation. It includes aridities, dissipation of mind, weariness, and disgust in the exercises of piety; and it is often experienced by beginners in the practice of mental prayer. It may co-exist with consolation of a higher order just as, in the natural. order, we may pain of body and joy of soul at one and the same time.

The second kind of desolation affects the intellect and will, and consists in the privation of the feeling of the presence of the supernatural virtues as described by St. Teresa in her Life (ch. xxx). This trial is extremely severe, but if generously accepted, and patiently endured, it may be turned into great merit, and many fruits of sanctity will be the result. (See letter of St. Francis of Sales to S. Jane Frances de Chantal, 28 March, 1612).

The third kind of desolation is still more severe. It is a darkening of the mind and a feeling of abandonment so great that the soul is tempted to distrust concerning salvation and is tormented by other terrible thoughts against faith, against purity, and even by blasphemous thoughts--the most painful experience which a holy soul has to endure (see St. John of the Cross, op. cit., infra, bk. I, ch. xiv). It would be a great mistake to imagine that spiritual desolation arrests progress in virtue or enfeebles the spirit of fervour. On the contrary, it affords occasion of heroic virtue and of absolute detachment from sensible pleasure, whether natural or supernatural. At the same time we may hope and wish that these interior griefs may be diminished or made to disappear, and we may pray God to deliver us from them, but if all our efforts are in vain, and God permits the desolation to continue, it only remains to resign ourselves generously to His Divine Will.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14254a.htm



Don't despair. God is waiting for you on the other side!