Lord Father, do not put my soul to the test. I am beset with temptations of every kind. Invisible forces crowd in upon me and I cannot see Your Face. The Presence that gave me courage in trials, peace in turmoil and strength in difficulties has all but disappeared from view. I call and You do not answer, I seek and do not find, I search but to no avail. I seem to catch a glimpse of You at times but it is only a memory of the past. I see nothing but myself in the depths of my being. I see only the evil person that I am capable of being. I see my soul as three rooms. One room is called Memory, one Intellect and one Will. There are times, my Father, I am locked in the room —Memory. All is dark and filled with the ugly presence of the real me. At times it is like a room without an exit and then the least sign of love from my neighbor — a smile, a touch, a prayer, suddenly opens a door ever so slightly and I breathe a sigh of relief. And then the door is closed again and the struggle goes on. There are times of hope as I somehow escape to the room called Intellect, whose door is never closed. I go in and reason my plight, but I do not seem to be able to stay long. All the methods and arguments I find there to keep that invisible force from destroying me, merely confirm what I already know in the depths of my being. I go into that room to find new weapons, but only find the old ones I have been using. My soul is frightened at the prospect of no relief, but then a friend passes by and again a glance of love and concern calms my soul.
As I walked away from the room called Intellect, I heard a voice say, “Look into the room called Will. I walked inside and the gentle voice of Faith said, “Take me with you — do not fear.” I found in that place pure love — strong love — determined love. I found new weapons — Will and Love — the kind of love that is not dependent on feelings — the kind that is consistent, like God’s love. Yes, Lord Father, I would like to live in this room — the room of Will and Love.
I stumble into the room almost feebly, and look at the power and Presence within it. It is a paradox — it seems that suddenly the darkness in my memory and the Faith in my intellect join forces and let me stand in the door way of Will. Faith beckons me to do rather than rest in darkness — to accomplish rather than question why — to admit what I am before You, Lord Father, and do Your will with love — to be willing to suffer the vacuum in my soul, the darkness of my mind, the uncertainty of my way and still accomplish Your Will — to say “I love You” when only the deafening sound of silence rings in my ears — to say “I believe” when the void before creation calls out to me — to understand that this is for my good when futility surrounds me like a cloak.
Do you hear my sighs of pain as I struggle to rise above the darkness? Yes, I know You do. Does it hurt You to see me struggle and search to be what You want me to be? Will I ever cross that bridge called Humility so I can accept myself and keep my eyes on You? Can I stand before You willing to feel my sinner condition and keep my eyes on Your beauty?
Give me a pure heart and a strong will so my seeking will ever reach out to You as I feel my weaknesses. Strengthen my faith so I will never look for reasons or excuses. Let my hope grow deeper as I realize Your power is working in the darkness of my soul.
There is something deep within me that makes me somehow feel a Presence in the midst of an absence, Your compassionate Heart in the midst of one so empty, Your merciful glance that somehow wishes things were not so, but knows there is no other way but the cross.
Why do I feel like I’m alone on a desert waste? How is it I know I am so loved by God and yet feel so lonely? What a wretched state to think even for a moment that the knowledge of God’s love is not enough. Are you saying, my Father, that my heart is not all empty so You can fill it? Must my walk be in pure faith, my only assurance Your providence and my strength Your Will? Must my soul cry out in anguish and then hear only the sounds of its own echo?
I have come to realize, O God, that You are not my All. I thought my heart was detached from everyone and everything, but the purifying fire of Your Spirit touches my soul and suddenly I see myself on the bottom rung of the ladder, barely able to climb. I stand before You, Infinite Holiness , wanting to shield my eyes, but not daring, even for a moment, to take them from You. I look at Jesus, who took on my humanity and struggled as I struggle. I know He understands and yet I feel I have disappointed Him. I want to run, but there is no place to go. I want to be transformed, but my lack of courage keeps me from making that giant step. I say “Yes, Lord, take all” and fear grips my heart. I say “No, Lord, I cannot” and disappointment envelops me. Tears flood my eyes and I am ashamed of my lack of courage. Do You cry in me, with me? I do not want to cry alone.
Why do I feel trapped — I know this will pass. I know Your love never leaves me. I know You see my every action, my thoughts are open to you — and yet I feel as if I were in a battle — a battle of wills. I feel my very weaknesses are somehow tools in my hands to fight the enemy. Where is my weakest point? Is the knowledge of my weaknesses my stumbling block or am I fighting that knowledge? Perhaps I seek perfection thinking Your love would be a reward. Do I find it difficult to accept the reality that Your love is a gift to me a sinner? You love because you are so good and I am a bungling child, stumbling along each day. Why do I find it so hard to face myself and plunge myself into Your mercy and love? Why can’t I honestly present myself before You and drink in Your love? Would this be humility? Am I running from a secret weapon to fight the enemy?
I used to think humility was a matter of humiliations, but, Lord Father, is there any humiliation comparable to the reality of seeing my true self and how I stand before you? Will I ever accept myself and then be free to try and be like You? Will I ever be able to feel my sinner condition, expect Your power and then plunge into the ocean of Your mercy? My self-knowledge is no surprise to You, Lord Father. My soul is distressed because my new realization as to the depth of my degradation has made me aware of my need of Your love and Presence while I feel almost pushed away from Your sight. It is as if Your Eyes were cast down at the sight of me. As each new day begins, it seems the distance is further away and as my soul cries out “I love You,” the echo of my own voice returns and my heart sinks once more into another depth of anguish. I shall wait in hope for Your Eyes to turn toward me. Does it hurt You to wait for the fire to accomplish its work in me? Does Your Heart throb as You hear my voice cry out, “Oh God, lift Your Eyes and look at me — look upon this empty vessel — fill me with Your love — touch me — heal me — chastise me, but never leave me”?
I see Your image reflected in my neighbor, in nature, in events and my soul is thrilled at the sight, but when I look for more traces of Your Presence, You are gone. My soul becomes restless and tosses to and fro as a child with a high fever. I thirst and a little Living Water only increases my thirst. It brings back the memory of those times we were at home together, content in each other’s Presence. Those days seem so long ago. My heart is consoled at the realization that You knew me then as I know myself now and still You love me. I must wait with patience for Your good pleasure.
Thank you, Father, my soul somehow feels as if a door is opening. It is like hearing a familiar foot step and waiting for the key in the lock that will open the door to a loved one. The room of Memory is still dark and troublesome and little things seem to stir it up easily. As I seek You, even though my soul is in darkness, I feel Your Eyes are no longer cast down. Are You glancing at me? How powerful You are, Lord God, for Your slightest glance brings peace in the midst of turmoil. I seem not to fear the darkness. Have I begun to look at myself without surprise and perhaps accepted my weaknesses? Will I be able to keep my glance ever on You?
If I keep looking at myself I will be facing raw truth and that sight keeps me in a state of unmitigated turmoil. Help me to be able to feel my weaknesses but keep my eyes on Your beauty and power. This would be freedom — the ability to accept human truth and keep my eyes on Divine Truth — to possess knowledge of my natural worth without losing sight of my supernatural worth — to understand I am capable of any evil, but fully aware that Your grace is at its best in my weakness — to have a consciousness of the possibility of falling, while resting secure in Your mercy — to feel the icy chill of separation while ever resting in Your Love — to see as I am seen and not flinch at the sight, but see the glorious goodness of God as You accomplish a holy work in an imperfect being.
Can I be like Jesus when I find it so difficult to be kind, patient and understanding? My soul is constantly plunged into darkness and the tiny glimpse I may have had of You only makes the darkness more black when You are gone. My soul is like a rudderless boat bounced back and forth by the flesh, the world and the Enemy. Just when I think I have conquered all three, I suddenly find myself bound up in one of them.
Why are there three sources of temptation? Are the temptations of the flesh in the faculty made to Your Image, Father — the Memory? Are the temptations of the world in the faculty made to the Image of the Eternal Word — the Intellect? Are the temptations of the Enemy geared toward the faculty made to the Image of the Spirit— the Will? There is within my soul a battle on three sides. I cry out to You for help, my Jesus, and I do not hear Your voice. There are times the battle is so fierce I question Your power and my endurance. Forgive me — I seek only Your Will and the glory of Your name.
It seems that the Seven Capital sins often take up residence in a particular faculty. Does God permit this to enable me to make right choices — to confound the Tempter— to utilize grace, to witness to His Power?
It seems as if Lust, Gluttony and Sloth, the tempters of the Flesh, try to influence the Memory and Imagination. Covetousness and Envy are used by the World to influence the Intellect — while the Enemy desperately tries to acquire the Will by Pride and Anger.
What do I possess, Lord Jesus, to fight such foes? Yes, I possess Your Spirit, Your grace, Your cross, Your presence, Your love. You have asked me to be merciful and compassionate and to recall the words of Scripture and to pray so that I am not put to the test. And yet, with all these, my Lord, I seem hopelessly entangled in a maze of darkness. What is the shield to fight such powerful foes? Am I to be passive and let the storm rage as I live in Your Presence? Am I to fight the battle of Wills as St. Michael did long ago? Am I to love more when I feel hatred — to be more gentle when anger takes hold of me?
My Lord and Father, I have tried them all and each in turn gave me an oasis on which to live for a while — a breath of fresh air to revive my drooping spirit — a new direction to take — a new plan of attack. Yes, all these ways of fighting the foe have served me long and well.
Is there a new way — a new path for me to trod? Have I perhaps begun and do not see it? Is this a vacuum that comes from an absence or an emptiness that comes from Light — the Light in the darkness — the Light that penetrates my being and makes me see myself as I stand before my Creator? What do I do at such a sight? What does He want me to do?
The love that took upon Itself my sins “prayed the longer in distress, fear and anguish of heart.” (Mk. 14; Luke 22) In the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed for three hours and asked His Apostles to pray with Him. The Apostles’ prayer was to enable them to keep from falling. Like Jesus they were to pray for God’s Will and the courage to endure the suffering that would soon befall them.
Jesus was afraid, but He took His distress to His Father, He asked for some other way, but there was none. Suffering was necessary to manifest His love for me. Communion with the Father in prayer kept Jesus in union with the Father’s Will. No matter what the difficulty, Jesus saw the Father’s Will and accepted whatever that Will permitted in His life. I am more like the Apostles, who slept, as St. Luke tells us, from “sheer grief” as Jesus agonized in the Garden.
Obviously, prayer did not take away the terrible suffering that was in store for Jesus and His Apostles. What then was the “test” they were asked not to be put through? The test certainly was the way they endured that suffering. I see in the Gospel that Jesus prayed and received strength to face the trials ahead with courage. Humility enabled Jesus to submit to the Father’s Will in everything.
The Apostles’ pride did not permit them to face reality, so grief took possession of them instead of holy fear and prayer. As a result, the situation forced them to act on an emotional, selfish level and they could not see the Father’s Will. They ran away from the situation first by sleep, then by abandoning Jesus. They did not realize that in proportion as they ran and hid, in that proportion they were miserable. Had they prayed, they would have had the courage to stand by Jesus as His Mother Mary did. I can be reasonably sure that she prayed constantly to the Father for strength to endure the sufferings of Jesus.
Yes, my Father, I pray for the cross to be taken away for I do not possess the humility necessary to say “Thy Will be done — not mine.” I do not pray “earnestly and longer” — I do not place my soul in darkness and temptation before You and depend upon You entirely.
Lord Father, take my feelings, my anxieties, my fears and weaknesses — they are the only things that are mine to give — take my will and unite it to Yours. Let my strength be in a humble acceptance of myself and my hope be steadfast in Your Will. Let our hearts — Yours and mine — be united in pain, that I may comfort my neighbor in his sorrow. Let our love be one love, that my love for my neighbor may be unselfish.
Oh, God, let the dark night within me unite itself to the Agony of Jesus in the Garden that those who walk in darkness may one day see the Light of the world, for with the dawn comes rejoicing. Truly, there is a quiet awareness of Your Presence in this darkness and anguish. Though I look and do not find, there is a nearness of Love Itself that brings upon me a quiet calm. I push forward to live on a Will level and find myself more patient with my neighbor because I am more aware of my own struggles.
I find myself more capable of loving my neighbor. It is as if the faults that made him difficult to love at times are nothing any more. The reality of my own weaknesses —weaknesses that are so present and so clear to me — makes me look upon everyone else with greater love. They suddenly seem so much better than I — so much more deserving of love than I. This darkness in my soul makes me love all mankind with a compassionate and unselfish love. Through the maze of their sins and faults I am able to see Jesus. Since I am so full of weaknesses, their weaknesses are no longer an obstacle to my love.
I am free to love and to understand. The spiritual numbness that sometimes accompanies the darkness makes me listen to others. The false concepts of my own strength that made me unable to stop and listen to my neighbor, has been lessened. I am happy with their questions and the opportunity to be of service. The darkness in my soul sees only other souls also struggling, also in anxiety of heart.
The purifying flame of Your Spirit that touched my soul and plunged it into agony, forced it to rise above itself. Prayer is no longer a time of conversation with God but a deep awareness of Holiness Itself — ever present — ever merciful — ever loving— ever awesome. The weaknesses in me see the agonies of Jesus as He lived on earth and the tender justice of the Father. It is as if I am all sin, gazing at infinite holiness. It is frightening and yet without fear. His love for me seems so much more important than my love for Him. He is all and I am nothing.
The struggles and darkness that force me to live on a Will level make me seek God’s Will as a welcome haven of rest. My sinner condition makes me want to do His Will over my own. I am no longer sure of my will since the real me is ever present before me. Now I see the wisdom in His Will, His timing, His designs. I watch Him evolve events and then I step into them with confidence, for He alone is my security. Whatever happens in my moment to moment living, I am only to make myself available to its demands without worry, for He alone bears fruit.
What a paradox! “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone.” My refusal to face myself keeps me from “falling into the ground” and prevents me from dying to myself, but His Love plunges me headlong into the ground of self-knowledge and in the darkness of humility the seed of my soul grows into a tree — a tree that is beginning to bear the sweet blossoms of His fruit.
How great You are, Oh God, for You still call out to the void — to the darkness — to nothingness and say “Let there be light.”
Mother M. Angelica