Along the lines of my last post, I would like to point out a simple truth of the spiritual life, for those who may not already know this little rule of thumb. If you are trying to gain a particular virtue, you will be tried in that virtue. How else will you know if your prayer has been answered and you have gained the virtue in question?
For instance, if we desire faith, we will be tried in our faith with doubts and fears that we have perhaps been wrong. If we desire hope, do not be surprised if you are tried with a bout of hopelessness in your life. Likewise, for the theological virtue of love: you may experience being reviled and ridiculed or left feeling abandoned by those whom you care about most. And so it is for all the other virtues you can name.
These trials or tests occur only when the soul is ready for them but many, who mistakenly take pride in thinking they can easily withstand them, often fail the test. It is a two-fold reveal: first that find that they do not yet have the virtue they thought they had possessed and secondly, they found out that deep in their heart they were harboring elements of spiritual pride. So it becomes a beneficial barometer of our spiritual life. If used properly, we will pick ourselves up off the floor and begin again, a bit more humbly than before.
For the saints, their tests were often the most excruciating, but for the average spiritual soul they will usually be far less severe; though the severity increases with the soul’s increase in obedience to holiness. The closer they get to God, the more painful even the slightest misstep that might cause pain to God. There is an increased sensitivity to their souls.
God will always give sufficient Grace to endure the trials that He sends but we don’t always feel that way. Many succumb on the way to sainthood to their fears and to their doubts. Some become mere pew sitters or side-liners instead of the spiritual warriors they were meant to be. That is why it is important to pay close attention to how we begin our spiritual life. St. Bernard of Clairvaux had a saying that he often repeated to his novices: “If thou beginnest, beginnest well.”
So as you move to perfection one must prepare for the journey as much as is possible. Learn Holy Theology if possible or make sure you have access to an advisor who is adept in these studies. Read the mystical saints and the theological examinations of the spiritual life as they will help you identify what to the uninitiated appears to be of no value. The saints get the nectar out of the driest fruits; fruits that most of us could not recognize.
Learn of dark nights, consolations and desolations. Expect them and then welcome them as a means for growing in faith and holiness. Failure is common and there is no shame in being wounded in battle. You heal and you head on back to the front for another engagement. It is the way of the Spiritual Warrior and your Lord, for Whom you fight, will not forget you; not here nor in His Kingdom. A heroes welcome awaits all who fight the battle well.