An excerpt from Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli:
Expect often to feel disturbed and deprived of the holy and sweet solitude and precious liberty, because, from the emotions of your heart, a cloud of dust will sometimes arise, and it will give you much trouble on the road you have to travel. God permits this for your greater good. Remember that this is the war in which the saints have carried off crowns of great merit.
In all the things that disturb you, say, “Behold, Lord, Thy servant; let Thy will be done in me. I know and confess that the truth of Thy Word shall stand fast forever; and Thy promises are sure, and in them do I trust. Behold Thy creature; do with me what Thou wilt. I have nothing, my God, that holds me back. I am Thine alone.”
Happy is the soul that thus offers itself to its Lord every time it is troubled and disturbed. And if the struggle lasts long, and you cannot as quickly as you would wish bring your will into conformity with the will of God, be not on this account discouraged or bewildered. Persevere in self-oblation and in prayer, and you shall gain the victory.
See Christ’s conflict in the garden, and how His humanity recoiled from it, saying, “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me.” But at once He placed His soul in solitude and, with a will free and detached, said with deep humility, “Yet, not my will, but Thine be done.” See and act according to this pattern. Do not move a step, when you find yourself in any difficulty, until you have raised your eyes to Christ on the Cross; there you will see written and stamped in large letters how you should act. Copy faithfully this example.
Be not dismayed if sometimes your love of self disturbs you. Do not leave the Cross, but return to prayer, and persevere in lowliness until you have lost your own will, and will only that God’s will may be done in you. And if, when you leave off praying, you have gathered only this one fruit, be contented; but if you have not achieved this, your soul will remain empty and hungry. Strive not to brood over anything, even for a short time, but strive to let God alone dwell in your heart.
Do not harbor a feeling of gall or bitterness toward anything or person, and do not let your eyes rest on the malice and bad example of others, but be like a little child, who has no consciousness of these bitter feelings, and passes through the midst of them without offense.
As it is our adversary, the Devil’s custom to seek to devour souls, he uses every possible means to lead us to forsake humility and simplicity, and to make us attribute something to ourselves, to our own industry and efforts, irrespective of the grace that is given to us, without which no one can name the name of Jesus.
And although of ourselves by the exercise of our free will, we can resist this grace, we cannot even receive it without its assistance. Thus, if any man does not receive grace, it is his own fault; but if he does receive it, he can do so only through the same grace — a grace, however, that is sufficiently bestowed upon all. Our adversary, then, would make us think and believe that of ourselves we are more diligent than others, and that we are better disposed for receiving the gifts of God. In this way, he would lead us to pride and make us forgetful of our own insufficiency, when unaided, and then would induce us to despise in our hearts others who do not do the same good works that we do.
Therefore, unless you are very watchful, and instantly turn with all promptness to humble, abase, and annihilate self, he will make you fall into pride…And if, in this manner, he ever gets possession of your will, he will make himself master of it and put into it all kinds of vices, to your great hurt and peril.
Therefore, the Lord warns us to watch and pray. It is indispensable, then, that you should use the utmost vigilance, in order to prevent the enemy from robbing you of so great a treasure as peace and quietness of mind; for with all his might he tries to deprive you of this repose and to make you live in continual unrest, knowing that such a state is fraught with danger and injury to your soul.
For if a soul is at peace, all things are done with ease, and great things are done well; hence, it willingly perseveres and surmounts all opposition with ease. On the other hand, if it is disturbed and unquiet, it does little, and does that little very imperfectly, and soon becomes weary, and, in fact, lives in a fruitless martyrdom.
If you wish, then, to come off victorious, and to foil the enemy when he attempts to destroy your labours, there is nothing about which you must be more on your guard than not to let your soul become disturbed, nor to consent even for a moment to any temptation to disquietude.
And in order that you may know the better how to guard yourself against the wiles of the enemy, make it a certain rule in this case that every thought that discourages you and lessens your love and confidence toward God, is a messenger from Hell, and therefore to be driven away and banished from your presence without an audience. For the office of the Holy Spirit is none other than always to unite the soul on all opportunities more and more closely with God, enkindling and inflaming it with His sweet love, and with fresh confidence in Him; whereas the work of the Devil ever points in the opposite direction and consists in the employment of all means in his power, such as inordinate fear, exaggeration of our natural weakness; and scruples as to the dispositions for Confession, Communion, or prayer, so that by these suggestions he may render us distrustful, fearful, and restless. The absence of warm feelings in our devotions, of delight in our prayers and other exercises, he uses as an opportunity for producing impatient sadness, construing it into a sign that all is lost, into a reason for discontinuing our spiritual exercises, and finally into a ground for despair, so that, do what we will, we think it will be in vain and fruitless. Thus, sadness and fear go on increasing until we imagine that we are forgotten by God.
But this is not the truth…Many blessings come to the soul through bitterness and dryness of spirit, when it is received with humility and patience. If we understood this, doubtless when we were visited in this way, we would be less disturbed and afflicted by it, because we would regard it, not as a token of our Lord’s hatred, but, rather, of His great and special love, and we would receive it as a signal grace that He conferred upon us…
Whether the trouble and temptation arise from the Devil, or from men, or on account of sins, in whatever way, it is always God who gives it to you, even though it reaches you through various channels, as it pleases Him; since it is only the evil of the pain that reaches you, and this is always ordered for your good. Even though, however, the evil of the fault itself — for example, an act of injury or insult committed by your neighbour— is contrary to God’s will, He makes use of it for your benefit and salvation. Therefore, instead of giving way to sadness and discontent, you should give thanks with inward joy and gladness, doing everything that lies in your power with perseverance and resolution, without losing time and, with that loss, the many and great rewards that God wills that you should gain by this opportunity He presents to you.