Well, anyway, this one is intended to be short. I am trying to work on this whole "having faith" thing. In the goodness of God - I'm not trending toward heresy, I believe intellectually, it's just being-in-relationship that seems bizarre, pointless, and impossible. (Rotten timing, what with Christmas coming and all.) So I have started reading I Believe in Love by Fr. Jean C.J. d'Elbee. It's a "retreat" on the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux. It's good so far.
But I have problems with the spiritual life in general...this book simply provides an example. And I swear I'm not trying to pick it to death just for the sake of finding fault. But somebody give me an actual, not just theoretical (i.e., would work in a hypothetical universe not consisting of the people who actually inhabit this one) explanation of the following.
Love is life; it is the sun, the light, a divine warmth over our whole life. Without this love, you live a shallow life; you vegetate. Externally you do spiritual exercises, fulfill the duties of your state in life, but if your heart is not there, life is not there. Without love, everything is painful, everything is tiring, everything is burdensome. The Cross, taken up hesitantly, is crushing; taken smilingly, by free will, and with love, it will carry you much more than you carry it. . . . Louis Veuillot wrote, "Dry duty is a cold and hard master who does not console anyone and who is terribly boring. Speak to me of loving God, that I may fulfill with joy the duty He assigns to me, and keep the great joy of love which is sacrifice."
(I'm still on board at this point.)
How often have I heard the objection, "I tell Jesus that I love Him, but I don't feel it. It seems to me that I'm not being sincere." Not to doubt that you love Him when you feel demands great faith, the forgetting of yourself, and a true understanding of sanctity. The greatest saints passed through the dark night of the soul, painful periods of dryness. . . . Love is not sensible piety. Never forget this distinction. Holiness is a disposition of the soul, of the heart, and above all, of the will, toward God; the senses may play a role, but that is not necessary.So, to clarify: if you exercise your will to perform all acts of piety (prayer, charity, avoiding wrong and doing good), but do so without "love" (not yet defined), your life will be "dry," "cold," and "hard," with no "consolation." If you have "love," you may nevertheless find that life is "dark," "dry," and "painful." But you will know that you love anyway, because of . . . a disposition of the will toward God. (I understand a disposition of the will to mean that you use your discipline to cause yourself to do the things that are good, or right, to do. If I'm mistaken, let me know.) In the first example, you do all the right things, but don't "love" - consequently, life is unpleasant. In the second example, you know that you have "love," despite life being unpleasant in more or less exactly the same way, because . . . you chose to do all the right things.
This is a logical mess. Unless I am missing a trick with the basic definitions, someone with a perfectly rational brain (better than mine) could, I suspect, cross off bits on both sides of the equation until it boiled down to: the difference between living a good life without love for God and living a good life with love for God is saying that you love God, whether you feel that to be true or not, and whether or not it affects any aspect of either your conduct or your lived experience of anything.
I have no problem with the idea that I will never, ever feel close to God, or experience anything that gives me confidence that He considers me other than a disappointment, that my salvation is other than questionable, or that my life is better than worthless. That's how I felt when I was praying three hours a day, going to Mass every day, filling my time with charitable works, doing without valuable possessions and other pleasures, and wasn't dealing with infertility or a husband who is losing (has lost?) his faith - the man who is supposed to be the spiritual head of my family.
Now, of course, I am living an objectively far less pious life, so I have more objective evidence that my salvation is questionable and my life is worth little. But I don't have a verdict now and I didn't then, so the outcome is no more certain. I felt distant from God then, and doubted constantly that anything I could do, or receive, or experience, would mean that I loved Him; I thought it might be unattainable. Now I feel...more distant, but I care less, so usually, it hurts less. That actually seems like an improvement.
I'm not in this case arguing that the goals we're supposed to attain are difficult or costly or not worthwhile; I'm more concerned that they logically are incapable of existing at all. The rational distillation of Fr. d'Elbee's writing is that love is a word. A word (other than the Word, Who is actually a person - let's not start there) is not "life," "the sun," and "the light."
My catechesis and my natural disposition require me to try; I don't know how to give up entirely. But let's be honest: how hard will I be trying when I believe beforehand that the goal actually doesn't exist?