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Letter II.—Interior Troubles.
To the same person. Interior troubles (1755).
If my letter distressed you, my dear Sister, I will say to you with St. Paul, that I rejoice not, indeed, at your affliction, but at the good effect it has produced. It is good to recognise that one has been culpable in many ways, not in order to reproach oneself in a hard, bitter, angry, and disturbed manner, but to humble oneself quietly and peacefully without self-contempt or bitterness. You do not consider yourself disobedient, you say, in relating to me quite frankly your fears and doubts. That is not the question, my dear Sister; but what is, is that you continue to cling to your fears and doubts; you study them too much, instead of despising them and abandoning yourself entirely to God, as I have preached to you for a long time past. Without this happy and holy abandonment you will never enjoy a solid peace full of absolute confidence in God alone, through Jesus Christ.
But, I ask you again, what have you to fear in this abandonment, especially after such evident signs of the very great mercy of God towards you? You are endeavouring to find help in yourself and your works, and to satisfy your conscience, as if your works gave your conscience greater security and stronger support than the mercy of God, and the merits of Jesus Christ; and as though they could not deceive you. I pray God to enlighten you, and to give you a change of heart about this matter so essential to you. You say that I should feel distressed and surprised if you laid bare to me all that you experience. This is exactly what people in your state so often say to me, people with whom I am not so well acquainted as with you. Here is my answer to you, and to others like you. The keen perception of faults and imperfections is the grace suitable to this state, and it is a very precious grace. Why? First because this clear view of our miseries keeps us humble, and even sometimes inspires us with a wholesome horror and a holy fear of ourselves. Secondly, because this state, apparently so miserable and so desperate gives occasion to an heroic abandonment into the hands of God. Those who have gauged the depths of their own nothingness can no longer retain any kind of confidence in themselves, nor trust in any way to their works in which they can discover nothing but misery, self-love, and corruption. This absolute distrust and complete disregard of self is the source from which alone flow those delightful consolations of souls wholly abandoned to God, and form their inalterable peace, holy joy and immovable confidence in God only. Oh! if you but knew the gift of God, the value, merit, power, peace and holy assurance of salvation hidden in this state of abandonment, you would soon be delivered from all your fears and anxieties. But you imagine you will be lost directly you think of abandoning yourself; and yet the most efficacious means of salvation is to practise this total and perfect abandonment. I have never yet come across any who have so set themselves against making this act of abandonment to God as you. Nevertheless you will, necessarily, have to come to it, at least at the hour of death; because, without an express revelation and assurance of eternal salvation, no one can be free from fear at the last moment, and therefore, every one is absolutely compelled then to abandon themselves to the very great mercy of God.
“But,” you say, “if I had lived a holy life and performed some good works I might think myself authorised to practise this abandonment, and to divest myself of my fears.” An illusion, my dear Sister. Such language can only have been inspired by your unhappy self-love, which desires to be able to trust entirely to itself, whereas you ought to place your confidence only in God and in the infinite merits of Jesus Christ. You have never really thoroughly fathomed this essential point but have always stopped short to examine into your fears and doubts instead of rising above them, and throwing yourself heart and soul into the hands of God, and upon His fatherly breast. In other words you always want to have a distinct assurance based on yourself, in order to abandon yourself better. Most certainly this is anything but an abandonment to God in complete confidence in Him only, but, rather, a secret desire of being able to depend on yourself before abandoning yourself to His infinite goodness. This is to act like a state criminal who, before abandoning himself to the clemency of the king, wishes to be assured of his pardon. Can this be called depending on God, hoping only in God? Judge for yourself! And God has for so long a time been calling you to this state of abandonment in filial confidence. And you, instead of responding to this loving call allow yourself to be tyrannised over, and martyrised by a slavish fear. I greatly insist on this matter, because experience has taught me that this is the last battle of grace for souls in your state; the last step to take in forsaking self, and the one that costs the most. But it seems to me that no one has ever offered so much resistance as you. This proceeds from a very strongly rooted self-love, from a secret great presumption and confidence in yourself that, possibly, you may never have found out; for, mark well, that directly you are spoken to about this total abandonment to God you feel a certain interior commotion as though all were lost, and as if you had been told to throw yourself, with your eyes shut, into an abyss. It seems a trifle, yet it is very much the contrary, for the greatest assurance of salvation in this life can only be obtained in this total abandonment, and this consists, as Fénélon says, in becoming thoroughly tired of, and driven to despair of oneself, and made to hope only in God. Weigh well the force of these words which at first sight seem too strong and exaggerated.
However, to bring you to this state of total abandonment God has imparted to you two great graces. Firstly, a powerful attraction to induce you to place all your confidence in His very great mercy and goodness; secondly, a great knowledge of, and a very penetrating insight into your miseries, weaknesses, perversity, powerlessness to act well, etc.; as if to say to you: “You see that in this state you neither ought nor can, in any sort of way, depend on yourself, since you are nothing but a heap of corruption. Let Me then, have the care of you, and forsake yourself once for all, to depend only on Me.” “But how shall I work out my salvation?” What! do you not understand that the most certain way of assuring this is to leave the care of it entirely to God, and to occupy yourself only with Him; as a man in the confidence of a great king leaves the question of recompense to him, and thinks only of the service and interests of his master. Do you not think that, in acting in this generous manner he would be doing better for himself than others who, more selfish, would think continually of what they might gain or obtain? But are we not commanded to think of ourselves, to enter into ourselves, to watch over ourselves? Yes, certainly, when beginning to enter the service of God in order to detach ourselves from the world, to forsake exterior objects, to correct the bad habits we have contracted, but, afterwards we must forget ourselves to think only of God, forsake ourselves to belong to God alone. But as for you, you wish to remain always wrapped up in yourself, in your, so-called, spiritual interests; and God, to draw you out of this last resource of self-love, allows you to find nothing in yourself but a source of fears, doubts, uncertainty, trouble, anxiety and depression, as though this God of all goodness said by this, “Forget yourself, and you will find in Me only, peace, spiritual joy, calmness, and an absolute assurance of salvation. I am the God of your salvation, and you can be nothing but the cause of your own destruction.”
But again you say, “In this forgetfulness of self, far from correcting myself of my sins and imperfections, I do not even know them.” An error! an illusion! ignorance! Never can you more clearly detect your faults than in the clear light of the presence of God. This is like an interior sunshine, which, without necessitating a constant self-examination makes us see and understand everything by a simple impression. In this way also, better than in any other, all our defects and imperfections are gradually consumed like straw in a fire. And then how happy is this state at which you should have arrived a long time ago! and of which God has given, and still gives me frequent experience. As the human heart is a bottomless abyss of misery and corruption, the more the light of God penetrates into it the more sad and humiliating are the objects disclosed; but at the same time these fresh disclosures, far from grieving the soul, console it in keeping it in an interior humility which it knows to be the solid foundation of the whole spiritual edifice. Far from disturbing its holy joy, and casting it down they inspire in it a solid confidence which it feels is placed in God alone, and that this confidence, according to Holy Scripture, has never been confounded. I have known, and know now many souls that, following this method, are astonished to find that the more feeble, poor, and miserable they realise themselves to be, the greater becomes their confidence in God. The reason of this is that in proportion to our insight into our own misery and corruption will be our distrust in ourselves and our confidence in God. God then imparts to those souls which have acquired this insight, an absolute self-distrust joined to an entire confidence in Him, from which proceeds total abandonment; these are the two strong springs of the spiritual life, and as long as you are in this state you run no risk of your salvation.
In abandoning all to God, therefore, we regain all in Him alone and with profit to our souls. In this way we are delivered once for all from these foolish self-examinations, fears, troubles, and uneasiness; in one word from these tortures to which those self-engrossed souls condemn themselves who wish to love God only out of self-love, who seek salvation and perfection, not so much to please God and to glorify Him, as for their own interests and eternal happiness.
But, you will say, God commands us to desire our salvation and eternal felicity. Yes, without doubt, but according to, and in submission to the ordaining of His will. Well! this is God’s rule, which it is necessary for you to understand thoroughly; God has created us for His own glory and to do His will, and He could not have created us for any other purpose, for He owes this to Himself, and to His own sovereign dominion; but, as He is also infinitely merciful He has so arranged that His creatures find their own interests and eternal happiness in doing His will. But see how this miserable self-love which seeks itself before all else, reverses the order of things. We want first and principally to provide for our own interests, spiritual and eternal, and as for the glory of God, in our preoccupation we give Him only the second place. God sees this subversion with a jealous eye in souls He has loaded with graces, and by which He desires to be loved with a pure and disinterested affection! and, in order to make them return to this right order of things He sends them troubles, fears and interior agitation, seeking by means of these secret trials to destroy that self-love so harmful to them. He desires to induce them by degrees to think less of themselves and their own interests, and to occupy themselves quietly with Him alone by abandoning to Him the care and management of their salvation; and this is the meaning of those words of Jesus Christ addressed to many holy souls. “My daughter think of me and I will think of you, busy yourself for My glory, and allow Me to occupy Myself with your interests and eternal welfare.”
As for us, what are we doing when we always worry, and are busied about ourselves? It is as though we said, “Lord, what are you saying? I shall be lost if I do not continually think about my own soul, if I am not constantly asking myself how I stand with you, and what is going to become of me. This is what I am obliged to do without ceasing. As for what concerns Your glory and Your good pleasure I can only think of them now and then. I hope I shall be able to occupy myself with them more habitually by the time I have conquered all my faults, and it is proved to me that I shall risk nothing by this constant attention to Your divine interests. But first of all I cannot now decide about it for I should consider myself lost and You wish me before all things to try and provide for the safety of my soul.” To those of His spouses who address such language to Him, this is the very clear and concise reply of our Lord in the Gospel, “Whosoever loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal.” And, in fact, I have never met with souls which have a greater horror of sin, more strength for the practice of virtue, or which make greater sacrifices for God when occasions arise than those souls which seem never to think of themselves but depend upon Him for everything, including their salvation. It is in this state that salvation is most certain; from which I conclude that not only scruples, but excessive fears, distressing doubts, spiritual trials and bitterness of heart, are caused by selfish feelings, a greater preoccupation about personal interests than about the glory of God and a desire to please Him out of pure love and all that should take the first place in our hearts. Since He is the sovereign good, love of Him should take precedence of the charity we owe ourselves. And since He has promised to love those who love Him, and to love most those who love Him only, we can be assured that in making use of all our powers to love Him for Himself we shall regain with interest by this pure love all that we seem to have sacrificed; therefore, far from losing, we gain all in abandoning ourselves entirely to God by love and confidence. The sight of that confused heap of weaknesses, miseries, unworthiness, and of all corruption should never distress you. It is on this account that I say boldly, all is well, for I have never known a soul endowed with this keen insight, so humiliating to it, to whom it was not a most singular grace of God; nor who has not found in it, combined with a true knowledge of itself, that solid humility which is the foundation of all perfection. I have known, and do know many saintly souls who, for their sole possession have that profound conviction of their misery, and are never so happy as when they feel themselves, as it were, engulfed in it. They then dwell in truth, and consequently in God Who is the sovereign truth. If you but knew how to walk before Him, your head bowed in this spirit of self-effacement, you would find in it all that makes the spiritual life. It only remains to know how to preserve this spirit of peace and abandonment. Would to God that you had the grace to pass all your time of prayer in this holy interior self-humiliation, engulfed in your misery, but in peace, submission, resignation and confidence. Then I should say to you: stay as you are, and all is well; God will do the rest, and perhaps without you knowing, or feeling that He is doing it.
You are trembling over your state, and I am blessing God for it. I only wish you changed in one particular, and that is that your self-humiliation should be mingled with peace, submission, confidence, and abandonment, as I have just said. After that I should have no fear for you not even about the laxness of which you tell me, which makes you walk like a crab. God will prevent great laxness and will allow small relaxations to keep you humble. St. Francis of Sales said it was an heroic virtue to rise again unceasingly without ever losing courage.
God be praised in all, and for all.
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