FROM THE LETTERS OF PADRE PIO: HOW CAN I FIND GOD IN THE DESERT ?
Written by: Br. William Trauba Capuchin
Dear Friends of Padre Pio,
Peace and goodwill to each of you!
July is one of the hottest months here where I live in Juarez, Nuevo Leon. It is even worse this year because of the drought that has affected northern Mexico and much of the western United States. The heat sucks the energy out of a person, and everything becomes more difficult. Even the once delightful and refreshing experience of praying can disappear like a mirage in the desert, like a dream that one awakes from in the morning. What can we do so as not to lose our way in the arid desert within us?
Aridity in prayer tests the quality of our communication with God. This quality of communication is measured not so much by pleasant emotions nor by their intensity, but rather by the sincere application of our consciousness and free will towards God. When it is hard to pray (aridity), a person must be more mindful of God and more considerate and deliberate in his or her intentions. Therefore, this prayer with this deepened intentionality includes more of the person in his or her relationship with God. In this way God is adored in spirit and in truth, that is, with our whole being enlightened by the Holy Spirit (Truth). In this context Padre Pio counsels his spiritual daughter, Lucía Florentino, on how to pray when you don’t feel like praying. His advice in found in his letter to her written on January 11, 1917:
What a joy it is to serve Jesus in the desert without manna, water, or any other consolation, except that of being led by him and suffering for him! May the most holy Virgin be born in our hearts, to bring us her blessings.
During this state of aridity and spiritual desolation, do not be upset at your being unable to serve God as you wish, because when you adapt to his wishes you serve him according to his will, which is a great deal better than yours. And we must not worry and upset ourselves, because we belong to God in one way rather than another. In truth, given that we seek nobody but Him, and we do not find Him any the less whether walking on arid ground in the desert, or on the waters of sensitive consolation, we must be happy both with the former and the latter.
Padre Pio speaks of the importance of being detached from all that is not God and so to be able to pray with a pure heart. Detachment from consolations and even previous lights and understandings, liberates one from deviating the gaze of the soul towards God. Our Lord exhorted us to seek his Face and when we are looking for something tangible in his Face that something tangible converts itself into a barrier between one’s spirit and God, if only for an instant. Therefore, it is the pure heart that can see God because it knows how to maintain its gaze on the Face of Christ during torrents of consolations and in times of prolonged aridity. Clearly, it is difficult not to be distracted during prayer and by one’s own efforts it is impossible. Nevertheless, our struggles are necessary as a hand outstretched is necessary to be grasped by the rescuer. Seeing our outstretched hand, our good and merciful Lord then succumbs to our desires and hurries to rescue us from despair. So, from time to time and suddenly and unexpectedly our Lord reveals his Face to the soul as through the window grating mentioned in the Song of Songs.
Our previous experiences of the Face of Christ can serve as oases and guides in our trek through the arid interior of our soul if we take care that these previous oases be not goals nor distractions but means along our way to the Lord. The lights most brilliant are the most subtle because they are the least contaminated by concepts and sentiments. These lights help us most. Their perception requires a simplicity and purity of heart in every aspect. If not, these favors of God will be misinterpreted or discarded as figures of our imagination or interpreted as an idealization of our necessities. Nevertheless, their authenticity is proven by their effects which are more profound and transcendent than what our imagination can produce.
Being surprised in prayer is a good sign. Surprise is the forerunner of a new way of seeing things; it is a sense of discovery. Surprise is a sensation that indicates that the stimulus surpassed the capacity of our rational mind to assimilate its contents. Surprise indicates also that things not assimilated or understood pass to the subconscious to be assimilated or brought to consciousness little by little over time. Our imagination does not know how to surprise us, but God does. God is a mystery and whenever we are in contact with a mystery we are surprised in so far as we catch just a tantalizing part of the whole. Contemplation includes being surprised by the direct encounter with the mystery of God, but it is faith that prepares us and brings us to this encounter whether through consolations or through trials. This encounter is always within us, although at first this encounter may be projected onto an object or image outside as if God were in that image or object.
So then, when you are sweating buckets and there is no relief in sight, recite brief affirmations of faith and forge ahead with what you are called to do for the moment while maintaining the desire of the soul for that oasis in the desert. In short time our Lord will give you what your soul longs for. This encounter will be surprising just as an encounter of an oasis in the desert. In fact, this oasis can be the Holy Mass which surprises us with the living water that quenches the incessant thirst of the soul.
Your brother in Christ Jesus,
Fray Guillermo Trauba, Capuchin