"A deserted place"
Believers understand that this experience of God’s absence is a difficult gift that has been given to many saints and people of faith throughout history. It is a painful gift, but glorious as well, for it provides the greatest opportunity for one’s faith to shine.
After all, as we read in Hebrews 11:1:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.
Likewise, as St. Paul says in Romans 8:23b-25:
We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons,
the redemption of our bodies.
For in this hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what he sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see,
we wait for it with patience.
How much brighter, then, did her faith shine.
How much more powerful, then, was her hope.
How much more selfless, then, was her love.
The “dark night of the soul” or “desert experience” also has a explicit Christological dimension. As we read in today’s Gospel (Luke 4:38-44), our Lord often went “to a deserted place.”
Indeed, the analogy between our Lord in this Gospel and Blessed Teresa in her life is clear: working into the night with crowds of “people sick with various diseases”, then retreating for a brief time to “a deserted place” before moving on to minister to still greater crowds of needy people.
How often too must she have echoed in her broken heart our Lord’s words on the cross (Mark 15:34):
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
You and I, of course, are probably nowhere close to the level of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s sanctity and faith. We should be thankful that we have the gifts of experiencing God’s comforting presence that we may have been blessed to enjoy.
Some among us, saints and otherwise, have many of these gifts of feeling God’s presence, some of us have fewer, but all of us are given gifts by the same God in accordance with the mysteries of his will: a will that overflows with love for us and who accompanies his faithful ones with his grace, even when he is not felt.
For this slight momentary affliction
is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory
beyond all comparison,
because we look not to the things that are seen
but to the things that are unseen;
for the things that are seen are transient,
but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:17-18)