Having reached the final chapter of St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Uniformity With God’s Will with this post, I will be closing off this series and recommence the St. Pius V Corner column that was temporarily halted last July. While in previous chapters the author discussed the basics of perfect uniformity of the soul to what God desires, practical tips on how to engage it, and its effects on the person’s profile, the sixth chapter discusses spiritual desolation – by which He bestows certain chastisements, so-called, as a means of assessing the strength of an individual’s piety, to make known if their spirituality is a true one, illuminated with a genuine desire to love and serve God, or simply a front. It is like that of a teacher who sends examinations to their students; by no means is it a manifestation of a cruel God who sends punishments for the sake of such, but rather an opportunity to better understand His ways in our lives.
To the layperson, this experience may feel like a wake-up call; the method by which their mind and body undergo a reformat that weeds out obstacles that can impede in their journey to the Divine realm can seem grueling at times. Sometimes it leaves them feeling tepid, unmotivated to continue their routine of Christian acts, as if to say, “What’s the point since God doesn’t seem to hear me?” For this reason the moment of spiritual desolation is sometimes called the dark night of the soul – in relation to the allegorical darkness that surrounds a person who feels lost without Him who is “the light (that) shineth in darkness” (St. John 1:5). One would be surprised to know that Digimon Adventure contains this aspect through the character of Yamato Ishida in the series’ second half.
This earth is a place of merit which is acquired by suffering; heaven is a place of reward and happiness. Hence, in this life the saints neither desired nor sought the joys of sensible fervor, but rather the fervor of the spirit toughened in the crucible of suffering. “O how much better it is,” says St. John of Avila, “to endure aridity and temptation by God’s will than to be raised to the heights of contemplation without God’s will!”St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 6.6
CHARACTER ANALYSIS: YAMATO ISHIDA
The bearer of the Crest of Friendship, and the human partner to Gabumon, a wolf-like Digimon, he, alongside de facto Digidestined leader Taichi Yagami, is one of the only other older brothers in the group, having arrived in the Digital World alongside his eight-year-old sibling, Takeru “T.K” Takashi. Unlike the headstrong, big-haired, risk-taking goggle-wearing Taichi, he is cautious, quiet and modest in emotion; a personality which occasionally sees him at odds with the former when deciding what to do. However, by the story’s conclusion, the two find common ground and end up complementing, rather than dislocating their differences to make an effective tag-team.
Like all the members of the group, Yamato’s pre-Adventure life was not without problems. Similarly to Taichi, whose strong sense of obligation to his sister, Hikari, was manifested due to a prior traumatic incident, Yamato’s duty arose after his parents divorced several years prior, leaving the two siblings apart. The moment affected Yamato greatly, and his concern for Takeru’s well-being molds him into the overprotective brother during their stay in the Digital World, wanting to set a good example for him to follow. The depth of his duty envelops the first part of his character, and becomes the main focus after Takeru, with his partner Patamon, singlehandedly defeats Pinocchimon and receives applause from the older Digidestined: a sight which leaves Yamato disheartened and drags his crisis of insecurity to its breaking point.
Eventually, this brooding is what leads to his separation from the group, in the hopes of finding his own way and to make amends for his past muck-ups. What results is an experience equivalent to the above Catholic mystical experience, when he finally comes face-to-face with his own sense of self, his relationship to others, and his desires.
THE DARK NIGHT OF YAMATO’S SOUL
In episode 51, Yamato and Gabumon are seen wandering through a dark, endless cave for what appears to have been days. Initially unaware that the place itself was a mirage, hopelessness sets in him, and he begins to surmise his relationship with Takeru; namely, how he believes the latter didn’t need him this whole time. He continues by telling himself how useless he is, and how his team would have been better off without him. Despite Gabumon’s assurances, Yamato falls deeper into his emotional crisis, symbolized by him plunging into an ocean, his outline surrounded by a dark aura the further emotionally incapacitated he becomes. In order to understand the source of this quote, we need to look back seven episodes prior.
Gabumon: How can you keep comparing yourself to Taichi? Don’t you know there’s only one of you in this world? And furthermore… don’t you know how long I’ve waited for you? What would I do if you disappeared? Is that what you wish for? For me to leave your sight, never to see you again?
Yamato: No… All this time, I was only trying to act cool in front of others yet the truth is… I was lonely… all I wanted to do was cry.Yamato reflects on his inner problems to Gabumon
Following Pinnochimon’s defeat, Takeru celebrates his victory with the Digidestined, noting how he was able to bravely take him on and outsmart him alone, as opposed to previous battles when others seemed to carry his legs. In the background, Yamato’s joy visibly turns into distress upon hearing him getting complemented, walking away to a nearby lake. For the first time in the series, Yamato becomes vulnerable at the sight of how better everyone else has advanced since the beginning. He begins to feel a whirlwind of emotions at once: impatience, anger, envy, pride and a sense of gluttony for the same change of heart that the others received, frustrated with how he hadn’t received his epiphany yet.
Enter Jureimon, who realizes the extent of Yamato’s despair, and successfully manipulates him in confirming all his doubts. Taichi became his enemy, on account of how proper he was compared to him; the friendship he shared with the rest of the Digidestined was nothing more than a mere illusion, and unless he rises above that forcefully, he will never find satisfaction. Sure enough, Yamato succumbs to this temptation and goads Taichi into a physical fight, with Gabumon, in his ultimate form as MetalGarurumon, to fight the latter’s partner, Agumon, as WarGreymon. It is only thanks to the intervention of the Digital World’s God-entity, Homeostasis, that the fight is stopped, emotions quelled, and Yamato becomes filled with remorse over these deeds.
Yamato: I kept believing, all this time that Takeru needed me; without realizing it, it was actually I who needed him most. He has everyone else to cheer him on, especially Taichi. He deserves to have him as his big brother, but not me…
Gabumon: I don’t understand. You are Takeru’s only big brother!
Yamato: All I ever used him for was to prop myself up, feel proud of myself for having done something noteworthy… That’s why I got so mad at Taichi. He’s smarter, decisive, and a better leader than I will ever be. I thought Takeru was going to look up to him; especially since he treats him as an adult, unlike I. I’m hopeless. Everyone doesn’t need me.Yamato mulls over his hopelessness at life’s circumstances
See then, how far-gone Yamato was in his pain, which he interiorly suppressed until it could no longer contain itself. Masking himself in exterior displays of level-headedness, confidence, and an aura that seemed to say, “I know what I’m doing”, yet by not tending to his interior life it complicated, and set back, his own personal progress and development. Because of his inability to connect with others as easily as Taichi, for example, did, he sinks deeper into his shell. He fears the loss of their trust after what he had done to them and begins to lose hope in everything. That was what the Dark Cave symbolized to him: loss of faith in his Crest.
Such an experience is not alien to the realm of Catholic spirituality. Almost two centuries before St. Alphonsus wrote Uniformity With God’s Will, St. John of the Cross, a Spanish Carmelite mystic, coined a poem and treatise known as Dark Night Of The Soul, chronicling a believer’s journey through this period of spiritual desolation. He describes the process as two-fold: first, God purifies the person’s senses, ridding them of external vanities that they hold on to, like disordered affections pertaining to the capital sins; then, He clears any remaining thoughts, desires, and scrupulosities still abound within them. It would appear that Yamato’s plight in episodes 44 and 51 liken themselves to the first part of the night, which St. John says is prefaced by depression, anxiety and lack of spiritual motivation – the very same emotions that he went through.
Yet, what both saints teach in common is that when faced with bouts of abandonment, the foremost way one can prepare themselves to persevere in the Faith is not by succumbing to it, but by endorsing self-humility. Only by calming down their tempers, annihilating themselves before God’s majesty, trusting in Him to deliver us from our own weaknesses and iniquities can they be brought out of the surrounding abyss of hopelessness.
Let the soul thank God when she experiences His loving endearments, but let her not repine when she finds herself left in desolation. It is important to lay great stress on this point, because some souls, beginners in the spiritual life, finding themselves in spiritual aridity, think God has abandoned them, or that the spiritual life is not for them; thus they give up the practice of prayer and lose what they have previously gained. The time of aridity is the best time to practice resignation to God’s holy will.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 6.4
UNIFORMITY WITH GOD’S WILL IS TO BE PATIENT AMIDST TRIBULATIONS
Thankfully, Yamato’s time in the Dark Cave comes to an end rather quickly. After losing his will to live, rebuffing in spirit his friends and consigning himself to wallowing in eternal depression, Gabumon comes to his partner, and most importantly, friend’s aid, reminding him how much of a pleasure it has been to be by his side, the good fruits of his endeavours with the Digidestined, and, above all, that he and Taichi shouldn’t be enemies on account of their different personalities. That is enough to dispel the negative feelings that Yamato kept inside; at once the ominous scenery transforms into a bright, sunny valley, and he reunites with Joe and Gomamon. And soon, the two of them would be there to console Sora, another member of the Digidestined, out of her own Dark Cave: that of anxiety. Though this scene has become an undeserved rallying cry for those who ship the two together, but nonetheless, his experience allows him to impart some words of encouragement towards her plight.
What Yamato took as the main catalyst for liberating him from his turmoil was a renewed realization that his situation isn’t as bad as he makes it out to be. His friends and family will always be there to back him up during his high times and pick him up during his lows. Instead of mourning, he should be joyful for his experiences, and cultivate the positive aspects of it. He finally gathers the strength to thank his partner for this newfound outlook, while Gabumon tells him that never will he abandon Yamato, and gladly will listen to his troubles and successes if needed. After saving Sora from her worries, he rushes over to the penultimate battleground against Piedmon, reconciles with Taichi, calling him “a true friend”, and defeats the magnanimous opponent before them.
Yamato: I hate this isolation.
Gabumon: You’re wrong, you have me! Wherever you go I will be with you! That’s the only thing that can keep me going in this world!
Yamato: That’s right… I only came this far because of you. Here I am, lost in this cave of emotions, but you’re still right here by my side. As long as I have you, my family, and the other Digidestined out here, I’m sure that there’s still hope for my happiness.
Gabumon: That dark speck that was coiling around you… it’s going away!…
Yamato: I finally realize what this place is. It’s a manifestation of the pitch-black feelings I was experiencing just now… to think that my loneliness brought all this darkness inside of me; I’ll never do that again!Yamato regains his will to live
The lesson one can acquire from this episode is: even when all seems lost, the love of God is a powerful weapon that can dispel our heaviest doubts. Our fallible human nature often begins to assume the worst when things take a turn for the worst, presuming that God is hiding Himself from us, and that all our prayers are like screaming into a void. Not so! St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron of Catholic youth, says: “He who wishes to love God does not truly love Him if he has not an ardent and constant desire to suffer for His sake” – as in Yamato’s case, these afflictions are allowed by God for our own spiritual reflection, to reformat the corruptions within us; just like an antivirus scans a computer of its software malfunctions, and eliminates them.
Furthermore, as Jesus Christ Himself promised in His final moments on Earth: “Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (St. Matthew 28:20) Always remember, He is there, in our midst, even to those whose sins blind their sight of Heaven, actively working interiorly to banish those impurities of the soul and make us better persons. Yet keep in mind the process often won’t be a spontaneous, night-and-day experience where we are suddenly freed from all these like a take-out order. In fact, rarely will a moment of spiritual desolation be resolved in a matter of days, like Yamato does, transpire, or even be a one-time event. St. John of the Cross writes that this cross might last weeks, months, or even years; some bouts might be recurring, maybe harder than before. Nevertheless, that is no reason to be discouraged.
The saints have all experienced desolations and abandonment of soul. “How impervious to things spiritual, my heart!” cries a St. Bernard. “No savor in pious reading, no pleasure in meditation nor in prayer!” For the most part it has been the common lot of the saints to encounter aridities; sensible consolations were the exceptions. Such things are rare occurrences granted to untried souls so that they may not halt on the road to sanctity; the real delights and happiness that will constitute their reward are reserved for heaven.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 6.5
Essentially, what St. Alphonsus teaches in this segment is that no excuse suffices to abandon our devotion to God. It is cowardice to bandwagon on the side of God in prosperity, and even more cowardly to abandon Him when the going gets tough, even to the point of demotivation. The Christian response to the latter is to use this period of aridity as an opportunity to abide with God even more and seek to expunge our terminal faults with stronger fervour. Now is the time to even be more encouraged, and persevere in keeping a prayer life, receiving the Sacraments, and attending to spiritual directions on how to overcome these barriers; at the same time, resolving to do His will. Whatever we face that’s causing us to stumble, He will deliver us if we allow Him to be our consolation, and the very means of our salvation from our own pitfalls, as the words of the Miserere prayer goes: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity.” (Psalm 51:3).
The time of spiritual desolation is also a time for being resigned. When a soul begins to cultivate the spiritual life, God usually showers his consolations upon her to wean her away from the world; but when he sees her making solid progress, he withdraws his hand to test her and to see if she will love and serve him without the reward of sensible consolations. “In this life,” as St. Teresa used to say, “our lot is not to enjoy God, but to do his holy will.” And again, “Love of God does not consist in experiencing his tendernesses, but in serving him with resolution and humility.” And in yet another place, “God’s true lovers are discovered in times of aridity and temptation.”St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 6.3
The path toward Heaven will not be filled with roses, nor will it be full of prosperity as charlatans like Kenneth Copeland or Joel Osteen will claim. Saints like St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis De Sales, and St. Hilarion faced spiritual difficulties – but all came out on top, joyfuller than before through their devotion to God. From this we can learn to remember that if we fall, we still have the abundance of God’s merciful hand to hang on to. No example demonstrates this better than St. Peter, who the Church reveres as the first Pope. First there’s the account of him walking on water with the Lord, yet sinking due to his tepidity, only to be saved by clutching to Him; and again, during the Passion of Our Lord: after assuring Him his eternal loyalty, he denies Him three times, as earlier prophesized. It’s easy to imagine the gravity of sorrow this act had on his soul. Lo and behold though, he banishes that darkness, trusting in the goodness of his recently resurrected Saviour, approaches Him with a clean heart, and becomes formally invested upon him the authority of the Papacy, with the duty of bringing all people to His kingdom. This he does with an even greater fervour than before, an unshakeable faith that beats out any dark prison or human reprove wherever he went.
In a similar manner, the first recourse we should have whenever we feel spiritually desolate is to not panic. If my personal experience has taught me anything, it’s that sooner or later, we will conquer those feelings with the help of God – and that He will answer our prayers, even if it does take time, so patience is key to winning this battle. If, like Yamato in the above example, found consolation in something that lifted them away from his faults, this is proof that we too can rise above the darkness of sin and ignorance, and become holy ourselves, by trusting in the plan of Our Redeemer: “In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.” (Sirach 7:40)
It is well to remember, however, that aridity is not always a chastisement; at times it is a disposition of divine providence for our greater spiritual profit and to keep us humble. Lest St. Paul become vain on account of the spiritual gifts he had received, the Lord permitted him to be tempted to impurity: “And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan to buffet me.”St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformiy With God’s Will, chapter 6.9
I hope this series was helpful not just to serve as a summary of this wonderful work of St. Alphonsus Liguori, but a practical one through examples of each tenet as demonstrated through the lens of anime. I personally find it helpful to have visual aids that can assist in understanding tenets of the Catholic Faith, in matters spiritual and dogmatic – and it’s my hope that you come to the same conclusion as well. Should God permit me to, I hope to be able to revive this series albeit using a different Catholic spiritual book as the headliner sometime in the next year or so.
To conclude, I leave you with one final encouraging piece of advice from St. Alphonsus Liguori himself from chapter seven, as well as a prayer he composed regarding the overarching subject matter. It goes: “May the most just, most High, and most adorable will of God be in all things done, praised, and magnified forever.” Indeed, His will be done at every moment. Laudetur Iesus Christus, et Ipsi gloria, per nunc et semper!
Let us will always and ever only what God wills; for so doing, he will press us to his heart. To this end let us familiarize ourselves with certain texts of sacred scripture that invite us to unite ourselves constantly with the divine will: “Lord, what wilt thou have me do?” “Tell me, my God, what thou wilt have me do, that I may will it also, with all my heart.” “I am thine, save thou me.” I am no longer my own, I am thine, O Lord, do with me as thou wilt. If some particularly crashing misfortune comes upon us, for example, the death of a relative, loss of goods, let us say: “Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in thy sight.” Yes, my God and my Father, so be it, for such is thy good pleasure.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 7.3-7.4