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What is the difference between desolation and aridity?

Dear Dan, what is the difference between aridity and desolation?

desolation and aridityDear friend, this is a very simple but important question with a simple answer. Here are the two definitions and a brief reflection on the similarities and differences.

DESOLATION. A temporary darkening of the mind and disturbance of the will and emotions, permitted by God to purify the souls of his followers. It may be caused by the evil spirit or brought on by a variety of other causes, but it is always purposeful, namely to withdraw a person's affections from dwelling on creatures and bring them closer to the Creator.

ARIDITY. In ascetical theology, the state of a soul devoid of sensible consolation, which makes it very difficult to pray. It may be caused by something physical, such as illness, or voluntary self-indulgence, or an act of God, who is leading a person through trial to contemplation.

The key similarity between them is that both can be rooted in sin, the enemy, and/or in God’s desire to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him. Aridity is typically spoken of more in relation to prayer whereas desolation is an element of St. Ignatius observations about the movements of our soul in a more general sense. As you can see, they can almost be used interchangeably in the midst of real life circumstance.

PS: Both of these definitions are provided by courtesy of Catholic

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • LizEst

    Thank you, Dan. It’s good to make these distinctions. It should be helpful to many.

  • Teresa

    Thank you posting Dan. I had one of those days filled with desolation yesterday. It’s not great to know that it’s always purposeful and is meant to bring me closer to God and detach from creatures in a healthy way. It definitely makes it easier to endure such days when I know it’s for God’s divine good purpose.

    • LizEst

      May the Lord grant you peace in all the circumstances of your life.

  • judeen

    what is the suffering for other souls.. like the saints did because of sin against God.. or Jesus in the agony of the Garden? or doing a retreat and receiving a suffering before putting on the retreat.. like the cure of ars ==night before a big sinner would come back to God… is it desolation or is it something else?

    • Becky Ward

      My understanding is that this is a form of intercession Judeen. The suffering is done in reparation or on behalf of another…or others……very much like Jesus suffered for us. I believe that the Lord makes it known to a soul who suffers in this way, that this is not ‘their own’ stuff they are dealing with. I think this is different from desolation.

      • judeen

        hi Becky 313, I wrote it to make people think about things they expereinced.. and wanted to know the difference between desolation and the other… we expereince it and it is deeply spiritual.. but do not reconize it.. or why things go wronge or very hard… and how deep it can go like the cure of arcs…. sorry doing to much thinking not enough being plain speach

        • Becky Ward

          Hi Judeen! No worries…..I thought you were looking for an answer.
          My mistake!

  • hazcompat

    Consider the moth and the street light. The moth moves away from heat into the darkness, only to be compelled to approach the light for life. If the moth is not careful the light will kill it. The streetlight does not love the moth.
    When Our Savior sees the poor soul moving away He becomes very bright and we are consoled. Turning toward The Light we would be consumed unless He darkens and we feel desolate. Yet when He feels near, He Is far. When He feels far, He Is near.

    just for consideration


    • LizEst

      Very good…as long as we don’t equate Our Savior with the streetlight in the sense that the streetlight does not love the moth. Our Savior is different in that regard. He loves us very much. Thanks hazcompat.

    • Tori

      Thanks a great reminder that light dispels darkness. Without light we are dead in our body as well as soul.

  • Leah

    Thank you for this distinction.
    I like the moth and the streetlight analogy. Sometimes it helps me also to think of aridity like a close embrace…. God has in reality pulled me closer to Himself, but in that closeness I can no longer stand back and see Him. And I even lose the ability to meditate on Him clearly. It’s cloudy and confusing but also very peaceful and edifying.
    The spiritual life can be such a roller coaster of consolation and desolation/aridity…. but I feel like I’d be tossed around if I dwelled too much it. It seems the best I can do is to abandon my will and to set my sights on Christ to the best of my capacity, to expose and inform my conscience in the light of the Church and her Sacraments, to resolve to never intentionally sin, and to conform my life to a disciplined pattern of prayer and work. What a ride isn’t it?!

    • LizEst

      What a beautiful, balanced and peaceful understanding you have of all this, Leah. Thank you for your insights.

  • Thank you, Dan for this Post. When this happens to this old gal, her reaction is typical of the aged: “I walk by Faith, not by Sight”. I re-commit myself even more fervently to my Spiritual Rule of Life and leave the rest to God. And the best place to be at these moments, is before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament at 3.00 O’Clock – The Hour of Great Mercy.

  • Martlet

    In these times of aridity or desolation, is it normal to have thoughts that cut across your sorrowing, telling you that none of what went before is real? Sometimes, it feels like a real onslaught. Then I have to remind myself that things really did happen as I remember them, that on occasion, events were concrete and witnessed… and then the little nagging voice tries to come up with “logical” explanations that really are not at all logical.

    • LizEst

      Hi Martlet,

      I don’t know if it is normal or abnormal. I recommend a spiritual director help you sort this out.

    • Becky Ward

      When you say, “…none of what went before is real.” Do you mean spiritual things or temporal (worldly or physical) things?

      • Martlet

        I’m sorry if I didn’t make myself clear, Becky. This is about spiritual reality. The “wooing” period was so intense, so long and so wonderful and now there is almost total silence. I’ve had a good spiritual director and accept the silence, but recently, cutting across the silence are thoughts that none of the wooing really happened. They seem to come at me out of left wing. I am currently waiting to see a new SD after moving overseas and am eager for it.

        • LizEst

          Hi Martlet,

          Ah, now I understand. You’ve had a good spiritual director as you’ve indicated. It sounds like this “wooing” was discussed. And, I commend you for accepting the silence. If this had not happened, you would not have discussed it. As you wait to see a new SD, if you wrote it down in a journal, review it. If you didn’t write it down, I would do so–not for the purpose of becoming attached to it but for the purpose of keeping it in your mind so you are certain it happened.

          When the evil one tempts someone to discard this initial experience, it is for the purpose of making you abandon the whole project, of making you reject your call. That’s a danger. “Therefore…be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble. For, in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.” (2 Peter 1:10-11)

          All the best to you in your overseas move and as you wait to see a new SD.

        • Becky Ward

          No apologies needed! I would cautiously tell you that you need not worry about these thoughts – yes, they are normal. Both the devil and our ‘self’ fight and resist the spiritual good we receive and strive for. The devil would like us to believe that they never happened because he doesn’t want us to reach our final home in heaven. Our ‘self’ doesn’t like the discipline necessary to keep working at making spiritual progress. Because spiritual realities are ‘spiritual’ it is difficult to believe that they really happened….many people say that their spiritual experiences seem like a dream….mine often do. They are very real when they happen, but because I have nothing tangible to remember them by, they seem to fade. This is one reason I keep a journal…..recording the important things I learn, and selected experiences, gives me a tool to remember and help fight the temptations to say they never happened. Make sure to discuss this with your new director when you are settled.
          Praying for you!

  • Ralyge

    Nice, succinct definitions.

  • sparrow

    “The key similarity between them is that both can be rooted in sin, the enemy, and/or God’s desire to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him.” ……… My question is how can one tell the difference? What are the “fingerprints” that show it is God drawing us closer or the enemy leading us down a rabbit trail?

    • That requires a bit more discussion. Generally, the thing we are drawn to determines the source. However, people of good will are often tempted to do more and more good until they are diffuse and weakened. Much to explore here.

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