One of the greatest privileges and beauties of my life as a parish priest is that I am a witness to some very intense spiritual lives.
Often their experience is very wrenching; it brings them God's joy and peace, but it also imposes on them some of the sorrow and pain of the Lord's Passion. Usually it is the former that is seen outwardly, while God (in his mercy, to protect us from vainglory) keeps the "pain of heart" and spiritual anguish secret. When I encounter people who seem to be going through this double experience, I can't help but think of St. Francis and the stigmata. Brother Thomas of Celano, Francis's first biographer, describes Francis's internal state as he is about to be imprinted with the Passion: ...tristis et laetus, et gaudium atque moeror suas in ipso alternabant vices. (First Life, 94) "Sad and joyful, with both joy and sorrow alternating by turns in himself."
When the Holy Spirit finds a soul willing to work, he puts it to work for as long as it can consent. But why does God put souls through this 'emotional rollercoaster'? For me I think it has something to do with the grace of Christmas.
When it came time for the Word of God to be born in the creation that the Father had spoken through him, "There was no room for them in the inn" as St. Luke tells us. That's the trouble with the "world" in the spiritually negative sense. There isn't an obvious and given place for God to dwell. From the sin of our first parents down to the sins, injustice, culture of death, and philosophical and practical atheisms of our own day, God has been excluded from his creation. When God wills to be incarnate among us, there is no room for him to be born, and he dies outside society, both literally and spiritually. "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
This is why the spiritual life can be such a wrenching, perilous journey. God is looking for homes in this world, for He delights to live among us. When God finds hearts and minds that are willing to be a home for him in this world He sets about cleaning, purifying, and hollowing them out for his own. This is not an easy process on the emotional level, as we are called to let go of more and more of our external selves, parts of our self-conscious being we mistakenly thought were our real selves.
It's rough, but it's our joy. As it was with St. Francis as he became in his body a home for our Lord's Passion, it is our joy and our sadness, our peace and our pain of heart.