Dryness and Distractions during Holy Communion
by Sister Martin-Marie, O.C.D.
“Jesus, come to me.
All my longing is for Thee.
Of all friends the best Thou art.
Make of me Thy counterpart.”
(St. Gregory Hymnal, page 167)
When we receive Holy Communion, Jesus does come to us. He enters into, and works His miracles of grace within our souls whether we are aware of it or not. God’s grace neither depends on nor effects feelings (emotions) in our soul—although sometimes God chooses to do so for our consolation. More often than not feelings are absent; nevertheless, charity grows.
God delights to dwell in the soul that yearns for Him in spite of darkness. He inspired David to say, “O God, You are my God Whom I seek … my lips shall glorify you” (Ps 63:1-4). God leaves many souls in this darkness even in their most fervent Communions. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus (the Little Flower) wrote about this trial in the nineteenth century in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul. Nearer our own time, it was revealed after her death that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced total darkness for fifty years. As with St. Thérèse, the darkness did not dim Mother Teresa’s charity or her faith. In fact, it spurred her on to a greater trust in a loving God.
Jesus Himself felt abandoned and in darkness in His human nature on the night before He died even though He was united to the Father in His divine nature. Jesus’s action within our souls is often unseen and unfelt, even though we may yearn to see and feel the results of the graces poured in during Holy Communion. He wants us to grow in faith, hope, and charity. He wants us to yearn for Him as David did: “Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for You, my God. My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God (Ps 63:1-3).
The Holy Spirit, too, acts in the soul during Holy Communion even in those who are dry or in darkness.
Professor Anthony Esolen puts it very eloquently in the Magnificat™ Roman Missal Companion. In his
commentary on the Second Eucharistic Prayer on the words, “Send…down Your Spirit upon them [the offertory gifts] like the dewfall,” Professor Esolen comments that the Holy Spirit’s work is quiet and secret, but brings life to the parched soul as the early morning dewfall on a desert land.
Perhaps Jesus woos these souls into the desert, so that He can lure them away from the cares and anxieties of the world. By frequent Communions, they grow closer to God without realizing it. They learn to let go of what is keeping them tied to the world and to turn more and more to our Lord. While their souls may still be in the dark, they are at peace – filled with the peace the world cannot give – the peace Our Lord promised. But Jesus does not work only in the souls who are in the dark. Some souls He leads along another road filled with light and the consolation of feeling Him near. Whether in darkness or in light, Jesus comes to us to transform us into His Body. “Our sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ has no other purpose than to transform us into that which we receive” Pope St. Leo the Great (ca 400-461).
Jesus delights to dwell with us even when He does not make His presence felt. Mother Teresa trusted that Jesus was with her because she knew that there was no possible way she could have accomplished so much on her own in so short a time. She spoke with Him at every moment as she interceded for her poor and dying, and He obviously responded to her as He did to the Canaanite woman: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Mt. 15:28). Mother Teresa’s faith blossomed from her being transformed into Christ by daily receiving Him in Holy Communion. For fifty years, she persevered even though she did not feel Him within her, near her, or know if He were really there. Like her Savior in His feeling of abandonment on the Cross, nevertheless, she continued to trust in the Father. Our Lord sees the soul as a place He delights to dwell in despite of our faults, failings, and venial sins. His presence in our soul in Holy Communion wipes away those sins and strengthens us to overcome our faults and failings. He communes with us deep within our soul. That is why when we are going through heavy trials, we can still be at peace and accepting of those trials. This peace may not always necessarily be felt on the surface; all the same, it is there. Jesus comforts us and shows us the way if we but listen to Him.
Jesus loved us before we came to be, and He does not want to spend one moment away from us. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer. 1:5). He wants to be one with us.
Sometimes the problem is not darkness or dryness, but distractions. At the most intimate moment with our Lord, the reception of Holy Communion, the mind is off on flights of fancy. Some examples are: thinking of what is next on the To Do list, the latest news story, the problem at work or school or with a family member, or perhaps the dinner party we have to prepare for. Most of these distractions we can take to our Lord in prayer. Instead, we leave Him standing on the doorstep, ignoring His knocking. St. Jane Frances de Chantal said that if we consciously desire God and not the distractions, we will gain more profit than from the pleasant power of attention. God takes the miserable crumbs we give Him and transforms them into the wonderful loaf of His Body. We should not be ashamed to ask God to come into our heart however unworthy we may feel. That shame comes from the Evil One. God desires to come to heal whatever needs to be healed. He desires to make right whatever we have done to disfigure His image in us. He did not disdain to be born in a dirty, smelly, cold stable; much less will He refuse to come into our heart which He made for Himself. The worst possible scenario is to refuse to receive Jesus in Holy Communion for any misguided reason. God is able to impart His grace to any heart that opens itself to Him in even the minutest way.