O God, Thou art my God, I seek Thee, my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. -Psalm 63:1
There are seasons in the spiritual life in which you feel parched, as if you’re wandering the desert without refreshment. Silent reflection is filled with distraction. Prayer seems awkward, difficult, or boring. Your heart feels lifeless.
Lately, despite my attempts to find escape, this sums up my prayer experience. It doesn’t matter that I infuse my days with the Mass readings, a Rosary, Catholic podcasts, or spiritual books. Right now, it seems so much easier to turn on a show or scroll through social media than to pray. Any time I resolve to do the latter, all the things I need to do bombard my mind, or the texts and notifications come in streaming. At Mass, I hear the beautiful words of Scripture and the homily but feel hollow in the pew.
Am I a bad Catholic? Is something wrong?
During times like these, many people of faith get disheartened. They think they have done something wrong in the spiritual life, that God has abandoned them, or that their faith must not be relevant anymore. But all people of faith will experience this to some degree at one point or another! It is often hard to trudge through when warm feelings are absent and prayer requires intentionality and effort, but these times in the spiritual life can be the most fruitful of all.
Our hearts can grow cold and tepid for two reasons: either we’ve slackened in the spiritual life and slowly let the cares of the world take over – like the weeds that choke out the good seed in the parable – or God is calling us to deeper faith and growth. If it’s the latter, this is often a time of spiritual maturation that deepens our faith and love. We choose to cry out to God in prayer not because it makes us feel good or holy or satisfied, but because we trust in God and love him despite how we might feel. We’ve often heard that love is a choice, not a feeling. Therefore, when feelings are absent, God is inviting us to choose him with a love that is selfless and trusting. The feelings that are lukewarm, indifferent, or distracted are part of the spiritual dryness St. Ignatius of Loyola called “desolation.”
According to St. Ignatius, there are moments in the spiritual life of both consolation and desolation. In times of consolation, we feel especially close to God, find prayer easy, fulfilling, and natural, and have peace and joy. I remember one time talking to a priest in spiritual direction who asked how things were going spiritually. I told him I almost felt guilty because all was going smoothly. He chuckled and told me to enjoy this time of consolation because it wouldn’t last forever—advising me to write down my feelings and spiritual observations as something to look back on in times of dryness or sorrow. A quote attributed to St. Philip Neri sums up this ebb and flow: “As a rule, people who aim at a spiritual life begin with the sweet and afterward pass on to the bitter. So now, away with all tepidity, off with that mask of yours, carry your cross, don’t leave it to carry you.”
How can you carry your cross during this time? Below are some tips to reinvigorate your faith and get you through this time of spiritual dryness.
It is important if you feel indifferent to your faith right now not to give up. I encourage you to re-double your efforts in prayer, seek help from your community and the saints, and persevere. Know that this is a completely normal phase of the spiritual life, that even the saints felt arid at times, and that you are not alone.
Kate Fowler is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center. She received her Master's in Leadership for the New Evangelization from the Augustine Institute.
After the Post-Synodal Forum in Rome, I had a few days to spend in the Eternal City visiting friends and taking in some of my favorite sights During my time there, I also saw a fair amount of my new friend and co-delegate to the Forum, Brenda Noriega from the Diocese of San Bernardino in California. I had been to Rome before, but Brenda hadn’t, so my time in Rome was a new experience in many ways. As we made our way into St. Peter’s Square during Brenda’s first time in the Vatican, she mentioned how it seemed as though most of the people there were tourists as opposed to pilgrims. She wasn’t wrong. As we made our way into St. Peter’s Basilica, we experienced deep prayerful encounters at the tomb of Pope St. John Paul II and in the Adoration Chapel of St. Peter’s, but we couldn’t help noticing the constant click of cameras around us and the onslaught of tour groups. Brenda was, understandably, taken aback by the reality that the city that is at the heart of our faith seemed to be more of a museum than a place of pilgrimage
I have a love-hate relationship with the Eternal City, but what I love is the art, the history, and the architecture. Sharing that experience of Rome with Brenda made me think, “How often do we treat our faith and our experience of it as a museum and not an experience of miracle?” It’s so easy to do in Rome. I love walking around and seeing historic places like St. Peter’s or the Chiesa del Gesù, which is the mother church of the Jesuit order and the first baroque church ever built. The Gesù is known best for its trademark baroque façade, its ceiling painting (the Triumph of the Name of Jesus by Baccicio), the beautiful gold gilding, and the tomb of St. Ignatius Loyola as well as the arm of St. Francis Xavier. This time I made a special trip to the relic of St. Francis Xavier to pray for a friend who heads on mission soon, but this prayerful experience wasn’t always my norm. How many times have I walked into that church and treated it like a museum? The arm of St. Francis Xavier is there because of his immense holiness, but for many (including myself at times) it is nothing but a photo opportunity. The Triumph of the Name of Jesus is painted to display Philippians 2:10 which reads, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” But how often did I look at it as if it were the Mona Lisa or just another piece of art in a museum?
We might think to ourselves, “I don’t live in Rome, so this can’t happen to me!” How often, though, do we shuffle into Mass expecting to hear stories of a man named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago? When we see our faith as a museum, we miss the miracle. We miss the truth that, as Pope Francis reminds us in Christus Vivit, Christ is alive. The Scriptures aren’t just antiquated books like those that we can find in a library or hall of records, but they are the Word of God truly alive. The Eucharist that we receive is not just bread and wine, but the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, truly alive. Our faith has history and tradition, that is for sure, but it is not a museum. Our faith is not just a collection of gold chalices, stained glass, historic cathedrals, and antiquated practices, but is truly alive. Our faith, when seen as a miracle, allows us to enter deeper into the depths of the Church, into the depths of Christ and his life, into the depths of the mysteries of the Trinity, and into the depths of our relationship with Christ who is alive and who has come to save us. May our faith always be a lived miracle, never just a museum.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
Brian Rhude is Project Coordinator with the Catholic Apostolate Center. He is a student at The Catholic University of America in the School of Theology and Religious Studies.
“In the world there is often a lack of joy. We are not called to accomplish epic feats or to proclaim high-sounding words, but to give witness to the joy that arises from the certainty of knowing we are loved, from the confidence that we are saved”
(Rejoice! (Letter in Preparation for the Year of Consecrated Life), n. 3)
Last month, on the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Pope Francis went for lunch at the Generalate of the Jesuits. As I reviewed the pictures from his visit, joy and happiness are very evident. He appears very comfortable and relaxed with them, even though he may not know them well individually. Why is he comfortable? As a member of a religious community, I think that I can venture an answer. He is among those who shared a similar formation as he did as a member of the Society of Jesus. Technically, he formally ended his time as a Jesuit when he became a bishop. Bishops cannot be under the authority of the superior of a religious community. They can, though, ask to continue to use the religious initials of their community as well as wear the habit. Cardinal O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston, continues to use the initials of the religious community that he came from, the Capuchin Franciscans, as well as wear the habit. Many religious communities even officially continue to count bishops among their membership. Some might think this strange, but the reality is that once a person is part of a religious community, it is part of who that person is and how the person approaches God, life, ministry.
When you share a common formation and lifestyle from a relatively young age, that formation does not simply go away. It is a lifestyle that one freely chooses and it forms and informs the person. Once committed to, consecrated life (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 913-933) is not something that can easily be cast aside. Even those who have left religious communities often continue to live the spirituality of that community as a single or married person or diocesan priest. I have seen it time and time again.
Twenty-eight years ago today, I made my First Consecration of Promises as a member of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers). Our six promises of poverty, chastity, obedience, sharing of resources, spirit of service, and perseverance have provided me with a way, within the context of our community life, to live the charity of Christ. I make no claim to live it perfectly, but I try to live it as authentically as possible. The way that I live more authentically is through the assistance of the members of my community who “urge me on” to live more fully in Christ’s love.
This summer, more than most, I have had to even more deeply reflect on the quality of my life as a member of the Society. Am I living as an apostle, as St. Vincent Pallotti called all to do, reviving faith and rekindling charity? Have I fully surrendered, given, and offered myself to God, as the form of consecration of my religious community challenges me to do? If not, then why not? These questions have been very much on my mind as I form, with the help of God, a new member of the Society who began Postulancy only a few days ago. Thirty years ago last month, I did the same and have grown and developed spiritually and otherwise in ways that I would have never thought or imagined. As I work in formation with our Postulant, Brandon, I try to teach, but once again God causes me to learn and for that I am full of gratitude and joy.
Pray for those in consecrated life, especially as the Church prepares for the Year of Consecrated Life that will begin this coming Advent!
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on August 17th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
As we arrive at a new year, we offer you a name for the Catholic Apostolate Center blog, Ad Infinitum. Where does this name come from? At the beginning of this post there are four letters that were at the top of every letter that the Center’s patron St. Vincent Pallotti would write, A.I.D.G., Ad Infinitam Dei Gloriam, For the Infinite Glory of God. The letters would remind him and also his readers that all that is done is not for our glory, but for God’s. As many will recognize, this usage is an adaptation of Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, For the Greater Glory of God, of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Why infinite? Because of Pallotti’s deep experience of God as Infinite Love, a love which is infinitely communicated to us, and in which we are called to respond. In the writings of Pallotti, the Apostle-Mystic of the Infinite, we witness his experience, one in which we can share,
“Oh the excess of incomprehensible love! Ah my God, infinite love of my soul, ineffable mercy! Oh the divine inventions of your infinitely merciful love…My God, my infinite Mercy, Eternal, Immense, Incomprehensible, one and only Infinite, infinitely Communicable.”
The infinitely communicable God of Infinite Love works in and through us to communicate this love to the world. The logo of the Catholic Apostolate Center, the Infinity Cross, is a meditation on the communication to us of the Infinite Love of the Trinity through the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ, and his great unmerited sacrificially loving gift for us on the cross, a cross that in the logo is opened ended, open to Infinite Love being spread to all points of the world through us.
Since God is working in and through us we are challenged to do all that we do not for our glory, but For the Infinite Glory of God! Of course, that is easier said than done. We like being recognized, appreciated, honored, and maybe even, sometimes, glorified, if we can get it. And yet, does it bring us true joy or just a fleeting sense of happiness? As we begin another year, it is worth our reflecting on who brings us true joy, peace, and love and how we respond in faith and charity as apostles of Christ not for ourselves but Ad Infinitum.
Fr. Frank S. Donio, S.A.C., D. Min is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
For a free book of daily meditations for each day of the year based on the writings of St. Vincent Pallotti, click here.
 When used in the phrase“Ad Infinitam Dei Gloriam,” an “a” is used instead of a “u” in “Infinitum” in order to correspond with “gloriam” which it modifies.