Sometimes the Holy Spirit just breaks into the moment. It might be during a specific prayer period or it could be as you go about your day to day activities. In such moments, we become aware that our lives are about more than surface appearances. We awaken to the mystery at the heart of all things, and our lives radiate with the pure light of Jesus Christ. Our hearts rest in these moments of grace as we experience a deeper way of living and being.
We want to experience this joy forever, and in a sense such delights are foretaste of heaven. They give us a glimmer of what being with God in eternity must be all about. We don’t manufacture nor create such moments; rather we receive them with gratitude and wonder. This is the nature of God’s grace. It is unearned.
This does not mean, however, that we are completely passive to such in-breakings of the Spirit. By living a virtuous life and creating the space for God’s activity, we carefully prepare the way for such moments of rest. There is a certain alternation in the spiritual life. These consolations are meant to build us up and strengthen us so that we can face the desolations which are inevitable. Those desolations, in turn, strengthen and stretch the heart so that we can return and drink deeper from the well of contemplation.
The detachment that saints such as St. John of the Cross call for is not anti- consolations as if feeling good was a bad thing, but rather a willingness to allow the Lord to move us from consolation into desolation and back again. As we let the Lord lead us through this cycle, careful not to cling to the past, we soon begin to experience deep peace in both states. Our desolations try us without shaking our confidence and our consolations lead to gratitude instead of selfishness and egocentricity.
The key is that we must learn to let go of our preferences. St. John of the Cross has a simple antidote to this that can be a helpful mental exercise. He advises that instead of preferring the most comfortable and consoling, we should choose the most difficult. Although such wisdom can and has been abused, if correctly applied it can be a great aid. It challenges us to consider whether we tend to make our decisions based more on our personal comforts or on doing God’s will. This does not mean that doing God’s will is always unpleasant, but rather it is an invitation to live in the freedom of Christ, a freedom in which the criteria of our actions is not personal preference but perfect obedience to the Father’s plan. Such interior freedom is the true path to happiness.