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Abandonment, Spiritual


The term can be taken in either an active or a passive sense. In its active sense it refers to a person's self-abandonment to divine providence through the theological virtues. In its passive sense it refers to a condition in which the soul is really, because of sin, or only apparently, forsaken by God. This article refers to abandonment understood as that experience in which it seems to a spiritual person that God has forsaken him. This spiritual abandonment, then, is an interior trial in which the spiritually advanced soul, feeling the painful need of a clearer and stronger possession of God, has the keen impression that God has deserted it and no longer holds it in His favor.

In its less intense form this abandonment makes one feel that God is far away; in its more intense form it makes one feel rejected by God and destined to be lost. Such suffering is experienced only by persons who have reached a high degree of perfection. Although certain forms of abandonment may be experienced as a result of sin or of a lukewarm faith, the real suffering caused by the feeling of being forsaken by God is only conceivable in holy souls for whom God has become the sole object of an intense desire and love.

Christian hagiography from all ages offers examples of spiritual abandonment. Ancient writers such as St. John Climacus and Cassian describe the trial, but references to this suffering are much more abundant among the saints of modern times. This more recent testimony is undoubtedly attributable to the greater number of spiritual biographies and letters of spiritual direction; these manifest more clearly the interior secrets of souls and, notably, the painful aspects of their spiritual lives.

The experience of spiritual abandonment may arise from the purgative contemplation by which God effects the purification of the soul, especially in the passive night of the spirit; or it may be a means whereby already purified souls suffer as victims in union with Christ. In either case this trial enables the soul to share most intimately in the suffering of Christ's abandonment on the cross. This union with the crucified Christ in turn gives rise in the soul to the most sublime acts of self-abandonment.

See Also: self-abandonment, spiritual; purification, spiritual.

Bibliography: john of the cross, "The Dark Night," Collected Works, tr. k. kavanaugh and o. rodriguez (Garden City, NY 1964) 295389. a. poulain, The Graces of Interior Prayer, tr. l. l. yorke smith, ed. j. v. bainvel (St. Louis 1950). l. chardon, The Cross of Jesus, tr. r. t. murphy and j. thornton, 2 v. (St. Louis 195759). h. martin, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire 3:504517, 631645.

[k. kavanaugh]

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