This is a chapter we can ALL relate to. Satan does not want any of us to develop a prayer life. Distractions and Dryness are temptations that every saint has experienced. What do we do with it and how do we identify it is what this chapter is about.
Father Marie Eugene states that neither the most vital methods, or the best ordered prayers, nor even assiduous spiritual reading can make one wholly secure against distractions and dryness in prayer. We must educate ourselves in this topic because ignorance of this topic will contribute toward increasing our suffering and increase the dangers. St. Teresa states in the fourth book of Interior Castle, “We suffer terrible trials because we do not understand ourselves; and we worry over what is not bad at all, but good, and think it very wrong. They risk becoming melancholy and their health declines causing them to abandon prayer all together.”
To receive more light on so important a subject, we must study the nature and the causes of distractions and dryness so as to discover the remedies.
A. Nature of Distractions and of Dryness
While recollection is a concentration of the activity of our faculties on a supernatural reality, distraction is an evasion of one or of all the faculties towards another object, which interrupts recollection. St. Teresa was consoled when she discovered that imagination was not the same as understanding. She realized then that our imagination can sometimes interfere and cause us great harm.
The external and internal senses that can perceive or experience impressions can cause distraction. She uses the following examples of walking through the country and hearing the song of birds, or experiencing some physical or emotional pain. The imagination whose activity is so closely bound up with that of the senses can also stray away. St. Teresa states, “It exasperated me to see the faculties of the soul, as I thought, occupied with God and recollected in Him, and the imagination on the other hand, confused and excited.” Interior Castle p. 233. St. Teresa is explaining that while the will is sweetly bound in the prayer of quiet and enjoying the divine delights, the imagination may be agitated and restless.
Distraction is called voluntary when, willingly and with full intention, the mind turns from the supernatural reality to give its attention to another object. It is involuntary when this movement is produced involuntarily or without full intention, ordinarily by yielding to the attraction of a sensation or an image.
Knowing that St. Teresa has experienced these and overcame them gives us great hope. They are certainly trials but we must recognize and fight them off as best as possible but not be too hard on ourselves lest we give up hope. We must be gentle but not careless.
B. Causes of Distractions and Dryness
The very nature of supernatural truths is the primary cause of distractions and dryness. Our intellects power to penetrate such mysteries of the supernatural is strictly limited. It only draws so much light depending on the person’s amount of grace and time spent in prayer. Therefore, there is great risk of becoming weary in not making progress or losing its taste for new light. In a nutshell: the enemy must be acknowledged as being a deterrent – we must be persistent and determined because Jesus wants this! He wants our determination to draw closer to Him.
1. The Instability of the Powers of the Soul
The sense powers as well as the understanding whose activity is so closely bound up with that of the senses, are unstable and fickle. The will can direct them to an object and hold them to it; but as soon as the will lets go its grasp, the senses reassert their independence. A patient and persevering discipline is necessary to maintain recollection but it cannot change the nature of the senses.
It is only in the sacred humanity of our Savior and in Our Lady that we find the sense faculties marvelously developed and yet at the same time perfectly submissive to the will. This should give us courage to try to persevere – knowing we are not perfect. We must not give up.
Obviously, physical or mental anguish will be a huge distraction. We must do all that we can to be patient and persevering during these trials. Always know that offering up this anguish is a prayer as long as we submit to the Will of God with pure love in our hearts for Him. As one suffers, the suffering must be united to the cross of Christ and it then becomes a prayer. To love in this situation is more important than to think.
Also, under this category we must mention that pathological tendencies or defects that are imbedded in our character or temperament are distractions to our prayer life. Not everyone is wired the same, not everyone was brought up in the same household, not everyone had the same experiences or trials along the way. The melancholic type who is forever accusing himself; the scrupulous person, continually preoccupied with his doubts; the highly imaginative, who cannot check his mental wanderings; the restless and excitable, whose faculties are always in movement; these find special difficulties in the way of recollection. The key is to be gentle on oneself and remain fervent in one’s desire to grow close to God in prayer no matter what. He knows the load we carry on our back. Persevere in drawing close to God without giving up or being discouraged. God can do miracles with our soul.
3. The Devil
Last but not least – the enemy! He wants you to have no part in prayer! This could encourage us daily – knowing that we enter into a battlefield each and every day – no exception! “When the distractions and disturbances of the understanding are excessive… the devil is their author,” declared St. Teresa. She continues, “He confuses the understanding and does whatever he likes with it, so that the soul, fettered as it is and no longer its own mistress, can think of nothing but the absurdities which he presents to it – things of no importance…It has sometimes seemed to me, indeed, that the devils behave as though they were playing ball with the soul, so incapable is it of freeing itself from their power.” Life, p. 198-9. Worry is a state of the soul that is caused by the devil. If all things are surrendered to God and He is in charge – why worry!
C. The Action, At Least Permissive, Of God
The action of these natural and preternatural causes enters into the plan of God who uses everything for the good of those whom He loves. St. Teresa states, “I believe myself that often in the early stages, and again later, it is the Lord’s will to give us these tortures, and many other temptations which present themselves, in order to test His lovers and discover if they can drink of the chalice and help Him to bear the Cross before He trusts them with His great treasures.” Life, p. 67.
Ah! This quote speaks volumes!! A meditation all in itself and should be read daily – because we all struggle yet God wants us to bear His Cross for the sake of souls and His Kingdom!
Everything passes, Patience obtains all things! It was through perseverance that St. Teresa and the saints obtain their supernatural riches. We must keep a guard over the senses during the day, abstain from dissipating frivolities and turn our minds and hearts to the Master as frequently as possible by ejaculatory prayers or acts of the theological virtues. Our Fatima Reparation prayers should be a constant prayer or turning to God throughout our day.
Let the soul persevere, St. Teresa assures us, and even though one be a sinner, God will be merciful. We must have determined determination – why? Because God wants it!
What is humility? Humility is truth – truth that God is the Creator and we are the creatures. Therefore, we need dependence on Him in ALL THINGS! If we can always keep this before us, we will be humble. We need to remember that whatever good we can ever do, it is because God has given us the grace and the health to do it – the glory ALWAYS belongs to Him. If we can remember these two things – we can remain humble.
Of course, we cannot close this Chapter without mention of Our Lady – our true model, mentor and advocate in our journey toward perfect union with Her Son in prayer. She is there. She is the channel of all of God’s grace. May we remember to ALWAYS turn to Her and beg Her for the help we need in combating distractions, in combating the devil, in persevering in God’s grace to seek Him in all things. Finally, may we ask Her to make us saints by giving us the grace to seek God in prayer throughout our day until we are finally safe in Heaven.
Our Lady of Fatima – pray for us!
Blessed Fr. Marie-Eugene