Brothers and sisters, last week we spoke of a time when King David was in spiritual consolation, in a state of peaceful recognition of the presence of God. But today I want to contrast Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd) with my favorite Psalm. Psalm 88:
LORD, the God of my salvation, I call out by day;
at night I cry aloud in your presence.
3Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.
4For my soul is filled with troubles;
my life draws near to Sheol.
5I am reckoned with those who go down to the pit;
I am like a warrior without strength.
6My couch is among the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave.
You remember them no more;
they are cut off from your influence.
7You plunge me into the bottom of the pit,
into the darkness of the abyss.
8Your wrath lies heavy upon me;
all your waves crash over me.
9Because of you my acquaintances shun me;
you make me loathsome to them;
Caged in, I cannot escape;
10my eyes grow dim from trouble.
All day I call on you, LORD;
I stretch out my hands to you.
11Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades arise and praise you?
12Is your mercy proclaimed in the grave,
your faithfulness among those who have perished?
13Are your marvels declared in the darkness,
your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
14But I cry out to you, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
15Why do you reject my soul, LORD,
and hide your face from me?
16I have been mortally afflicted since youth;
I have borne your terrors and I am made numb.
17Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
18All day they surge round like a flood;
from every side they encircle me.
19Because of you friend and neighbor shun me;
my only friend is darkness.
Do you see the change in David’s attitude? Many scholars believe David wrote this Psalm after his sin with Bathsheba. The same man who said with extreme peace in his voice said “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”, now says “your wrath has swept over me, your terrors have destroyed me.” He’s blaming God for the hardships in his life.
Now let’s take a look at what St. Ignatius says about spiritual desolation:
I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. Because, as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts which come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts which come from desolation.
I’m not sure that David wrote this psalm in a time when he was lazy or sad, but he was certainly disquieted, without confidence or hope, felt unloved, and “separated from his Creator and Lord.” He felt that God could never love him for what he’s done, but you and I know that He does. David was experiencing the opposite of how he felt in Psalm 23. For he finished the Psalm with my favorite line, “my only friend is darkness.”
Brothers and sisters, it is a common trend in seminaries that the second year is the hardest year. The newness of the seminary experience has worn off, and now men want to be anywhere but there. They think about all the things they’ve given up, whether it be jobs, girlfriends, or lifestyles, and wonder if it’s all worth it. They are yearning for “things low and earthly.” But any spiritual director worth his holy oils would see this as spiritual desolation and counsel this man to persevere.
Men discerning the priesthood often feel the same way. It usually doesn’t come until they are almost through their application and girls start to get a whole prettier. They are feeling “unquiet of different agitations and temptations.” Men start to see all the sacrifices they will make after entering seminary (whether real or imagined), and wonder if it’s all worth it.
I will finish by telling you this: If you do end up applying to seminary, you will probably pick up your application joyfully and with great ambitions to convert the world and spread the Good News. But as you carry on with it, things will begin to get harder. You will be attracted to the “low and earthly things”. The trick is to identify whether or not you are in a state of desolation and call it out. Bring the devil into the light.
And, as always, get a spiritual director.