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Letter I.—About Vanity and Infidelities.
To Sister M. Thérèse de Vioménil. About feelings of vanity and frequent infidelities.
My dear Sister and very dear daughter in our Lord. The peace of Jesus Christ be always with you. You must know that before curing you of vanity God wills to make you feel all the ugliness of this accursed passion, and to convince you thoroughly of your powerlessness to cure it, so that all the glory of your cure should revert to Him alone. You have, then, in this matter, only two things to do. Firstly to examine peacefully this frightful interior ugliness. Secondly, to hope for and await in peace from God alone the moment fixed for your cure. You will never be at rest till you have learnt to distinguish what is from God from that which is your own; to separate what belongs to Him from what belongs to yourself. You add, “How can you teach me this secret.” You do not understand what you are saying. I can easily teach it to you in a moment, but you cannot learn to practise it until you have been made to feel, in peace, all your miseries. I say, in peace, to give room for the operations of grace.
Remember the words of St. Francis of Sales: “One cannot put on perfection as one does a dress.” The secret you ask for I give you freely; try to understand it so that it may gradually work its way into your soul, which is what you hope.
All that is good in you comes from God, all that is bad, spoiled and corrupt comes from yourself. Therefore put on one side the nothingness, the sin, the evil inclinations, and habits, a whole heap of miseries, and weaknesses, as your share, and it belongs to you in truth. All that remains: the body with all its senses, the soul with its faculties, and the small amount of good performed, this is God’s and belongs to Him so absolutely that you could not appropriate any part by the least act of complacency without committing a theft and robbery from God.
That which you so often repeat interiorly, “Lord, You can do all things, have pity on me,” is a good and a most simple act; nothing more is required to gain His all powerful aid: keep constant to these practices and interior dispositions; God will do the rest without your perceiving it.
I am thoroughly convinced that, without great unfaithfulness on your part, God will work great things in you by His holy operation. Count upon this and do not place any voluntary obstacles in the way; and if, unfortunately, you recognise that you have done so, humble yourself promptly, return to God and to yourself always retaining an absolute confidence in the divine goodness.
3rd. A lively sense of your misery, and the continual need you are in of God’s help is a very great grace and opens the way to all good but especially to the prayer of humility and annihilation before God which is so pleasing to Him.
4th. You do not understand as I do, the effects, and the operations of grace in your soul; if you recognised them you would be too satisfied with them, but your weakness and lack of virtue do not allow you to bear the knowledge. It is necessary that this fruit of grace should remain hidden and, as it were, buried in the abyss of your miseries and beneath a keen sense of your weakness. Under this heap of refuse God preserves the fruits of His grace, for such is the depth of our wretchedness that we compel God to hide from us His gifts as well as the rich ornaments with which He adorns our souls; unless He did so the least little breath of vanity, and of an imperceptible self-satisfaction would destroy or spoil these flowers or fruits. When you are in a state to be able to bear, and to enjoy them without danger, God will open your eyes, and then you will only praise and bless Him without any reverting to yourself, and ascribe all the glory of your deliverance to your divine Redeemer. In the meantime follow the guidance given you now by His Holy Spirit, and do not let fear enter your heart. Understand that in all that you actually experience there is no sin, since you endure it with so much pain and would only be too happy to put an end to these wretched effects of your sensitiveness. Maintain yourself in this holy desire, pray for it patiently, above all, humble yourself before God; it is for Him to complete the work He has begun in you, no one else could succeed in it. Understand that this is the little sacrifice that God demands of you before filling your heart with the ineffable delights of His pure love. You will have no rest till this merciful design of God shall be realised because your heart cannot exist without love. Let us pray, then, that this thirst may be satisfied by the love of God alone, that He and He alone may captivate our hearts, that He may sustain, possess, enlighten, and change them.
5th. The abyss of misery and corruption in which God seems to take pleasure in seeing you plunged is, to my judgment, the chief of graces since it is the true foundation of all self-distrust, and of an entire confidence in God, the two poles of the interior life; at any rate, of all graces it is the one I like best, and that I find most frequently in souls that are far advanced. What you think of yourself, therefore, although terrible, is nevertheless perfectly true and very well founded, for, if God were to leave you to yourself you would be a heap of all that is evil and a monster of iniquity. But God makes this great truth known to very few people, because few are capable of bearing it properly, that is to say, in peace, in confidence, in God only, without anxiety or discouragement.
6th. There is no other remedy for these frequent infidelities than to lament them, peacefully to humble yourself, and to return to God as soon as possible. We shall carry these afflictions and humiliations during the whole of our lives, because we shall always be ungrateful and unfaithful; but, as long as it is so only through the frailty of our nature, without any affection of the heart, that is enough. God knows our weakness, He knows the extent of our misery and how incapable we are of avoiding all infidelity; He sees also that we have need of being reduced to this state of misery without which we could not resist the continual attacks of pride, presumption, and secret self-confidence. Be careful not to get discouraged even when you find that the resolutions so often renewed, of belonging entirely to God, fail. Make use of these constant experiences, to enter more deeply into the profound abyss of your nothingness and corruption. Learn a complete distrust of yourself to depend only on God. Often repeat: “Lord I can do nothing without Your help. Enlightened by sad experience I can depend on nothing but Your all-powerful grace, and the more unworthy I feel, the more do I hope, because my unworthiness will more surely draw down Your mercy.” You cannot carry your confidence in God too far. An infinite goodness and mercy should produce an infinite confidence.
7th. It is a very subtle and imperceptible illusion of self-love to wish to know how you stand with regard to the mystical death, under the pretext of being able to act so as to render this death more complete in you. You will never know it in this life, neither would it be expedient for you to know it, because even supposing a soul to be entirely dead to self; if it became conscious of the fact, it would run a great risk of losing this state; because self-love would be so much pleased, and so satisfied with this assurance that it would rise to life again, and begin a new existence more sensitive and difficult to destroy than the first.
Oh, God! how subtle is this wretched self-love! It turns and twists like a serpent, and is only too successful in preserving its life in the midst of the most fearful deaths. This is of all illusions the most specious. Have a horror of this accursed self-love, but learn that, in spite of all your efforts it will not die completely and radically until the last moment of your life.
8th. The impression of the sanctity of God which throws you into such a state of confusion and pain, without, however, causing you trouble is, I am assured, a great grace, more precious and more certain than the consolation by which it is succeeded. I can, then, only wish for you that it may continue. Do not resist it, let yourself be abased, humiliated, annihilated. Nothing is better calculated to purify your soul, and you could not approach Holy Communion in a disposition more in keeping with a state of annihilation to which Jesus Christ has reduce Himself in this mystery. He will not be able to repulse you if you approach Him in a spirit of humility and as though annihilated in the profound abyss of your misery. If you have not the impulse, nor the facility to discover your interior state after having begged this grace, you must remain in peace and silence. Your discouragement is a sign of a want of purity of intention and is a very dangerous temptation, because you must onIy desire to improve, to please God, and not to please yourself. You must, therefore, be always satisfied with whatever God wills or permits since His will alone should be the rule, and the exact limit of your desires, however holy they may be. Besides, you must never get it into your head that you have arrived at a certain state, or you will become self-satisfied, which would be a grievous misfortune. The most certain sign of our progress is the conviction of our misery. We shall, therefore, be all the more rich the more we think ourselves poor, and the more we humble ourselves, distrust ourselves, and are more disposed to place all our confidence in God alone. And this is just what God has begun to give you, therefore let there be neither anxiety nor discouragement. Each day you must say to yourself, “To-day I am going to begin.” I greatly applaud the practice you have adopted of never upholding your own judgment, and of allowing yourself to be blamed and criticised even in circumstances where you believed you had good reasons to excuse yourself. You sacrifice, you say, the good opinion that you wish others to have of you, and you keep silence although until now you would have thought that it would be better to defend yourself that your conduct might give edification when that which was said against you was untrue. This is my answer: To endure every kind of blame and unjust accusation in silence without uttering a single word in justification under any pretext whatever is according to the spirit of the Gospel, and in conformity with the example of Jesus Christ and of all the saints. Your ideas to the contrary were the result of a pure illusion; therefore, keep firm to your new and holy conduct. You are right in saying that we carry a fund of corruption inseparable from our nature, and that it resembles muddy stagnant water that gives out an intolerable stench when it is stirred. That is an unquestionable truth, and God has given you a great grace in making you feel it so keenly. From this feeling will come, gradually, a holy hatred and complete distrust of yourself in which true humility principally consists.
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