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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Screwtape's Eighth Letter and the Spiritual Undulations
of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Currently in a reading group that is covering C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, one of the letters I found particularly noteworthy is number 8, in which Screwtape instructs his nephew on the "law of Undulation" and its effects on the interior lives of humans. I came across a recording of a reading of this letter and thought it would be worth sharing here.

[The Enemy] will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs -- to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. ... Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

— Screwtape, from Letter 8.

On a related note, tomorrow is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuit order. (Perhaps it is worth noting here that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pontiff.) Fr. Mitch Pacwa, a Jesuit priest, has given an eloquent summary of the conversion story of St. Ignatius. Key to the story is St. Ignatius's overcoming of his attachments to the fleeting pleasures he enjoyed that were part of his life prior to his conversion. Fr. Pacwa explains how Ignatius's gradually deepened intimacy with Christ allowed him eventually to recognize the passing nature of these pleasures, to found the Jesuit order, and to become at last a great Saint.

The homily begins at 5:14 in the video.

...key to his conversion is that the process of reading the life of Christ and the life of the Saints is that he found that very enjoyable, and it left him with peace. But - even though he didn't have books about it - he would consider saving damsels in distress, fighting great battles, riding off for the king of Spain, and doing all sorts of great things - and he felt good about that too. Both of them made him feel very good. But what he noticed as time went on is that when he considered various aspects of being a knight, it would only feel good at that moment. It would then become hollow and leave him feeling empty. And thinking about Christ and the Saints and the joys of heaven gave him peace, and that did not leave him empty. It gave him a peace that lasted. And he began to notice the difference.

— Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. on the Conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola (@9:30 in the video).

July 30th is the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, Doctor of the Church. St. Ignatius of Loyola (✝ 1556) and St. Peter Chrysologus (✝ 450), pray for us.


Alex Kim said...

"Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best."

That's one of my favorite (if not my absolute favorite) lines in the whole book. It's such an encouragement for when my prayer seems dry.

Thanks for posting!


Patrick La Fratta said...

You're welcome. Thank you for the comment. If you would like to consider a more in-depth discussion on the topic of dryness in prayer, Ralph Martin gives one in his book "The Fulfillment of All Desire" at the end of the Part I on the Purgative Way. As with the rest of the book, Scripture and the writings of Doctors of the Church provide the foundation. In the section on dryness in prayer, passages from the writings of Sts. Francis de Sales, John of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Catherine of Siena are considered.

The rest of the book is structured around writings of the above Doctors, along with those of Sts. Augustine and Teresa of Avila.

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