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Letter VIII.—On Natural Activity.
To Sister Marie-Henriette de Bousmard. On natural activity.
I wish, my dear Sister, that you were able to understand well all the harm that the excessive activity of your nature, unless completely under the rule and direction of grace, will infallibly cause you. This is one of those defects that the world mistakes for virtues, but which is none the less disastrous to the soul in its progress in the path of sanctity. Natural activity is the enemy of abandonment, without which, as I have often told you, there can be no real perfection. It prevents, obstructs, or spoils all the operations of grace, and substitutes, in the soul which succumbs to it, the impulsion of the human spirit for that of the divine Spirit. In fact there is no doubt that the impetuosity with which we give ourselves up to good works proceeds from a hidden source of self-confidence, and a thoughtless presumption that makes us imagine that we are doing or can do great things. How much more modest and reserved we should be if we were thoroughly penetrated with the undoubted truth that we have nothing of our own, and are utterly powerless to do anything good, but only powerful for evil. To cure, and to tear up by the root an evil so fruitful in imperfections, and even in sins, requires much time and much trouble. These are the means I most recommend to you.
1st. To be thoroughly convinced, by past and present experience, of your own weakness and misery, in order to distrust more and more your own works even to the length of feeling a kind of horror of them.
2nd. To repress your excessive exterior activity by performing all your actions without eagerness or hurry, quite gently and quietly, as St. Francis of Sales advises.
3rd. To do the same in all your spiritual exercises, and always to mortify the initial eagerness with which you start any good work, no matter what it may be; to undertake it only under the influence of the pure Spirit of God, and by the peaceful impulse of grace.
4th. When you pray and hold intercourse with God interiorly, try to avoid all sensible ardour, all that fiery fervour, and excitement of the imagination characteristic of beginners. To effect this, follow the advice of St. Francis of Sales and manage so that all your interior acts shall flow, and be drawn from, and distilled by, the highest point of the mind, so that you hardly feel that you are praying and making acts. Far from these acts being, on this account, less fruitful, they make a deeper impression on the soul and penetrate more deeply and more pleasantly into the heart.
5th. When you feel, however confusedly, that something is acting in your soul, the stronger this impression is, the more necessary it is to keep quiet and still, and as though in a state of inaction, so that you may not spoil all by interfering unseasonably.
6th. When God makes you experience certain consolations, or strong emotions, instead of giving yourself up to them with a sensual avidity, behave with the reserve and modesty of a mortified person invited to a great feast.
7th. During the day let the principal interior occupation be what is called simple interior waiting, silent, peaceful, and entirely resigned; and do not think that this is idleness, waste of time, or in any way useless, because, as a beggar who waits the whole day long at a rich man’s gate, or at the church door, is by no means idle but much occupied interiorly with his own misery, his wants and continual necessities; so, in the same way, a soul in this simple waiting before God is very much occupied interiorly, and in this simple manner is making the following acts; of faith in the presence of God, of adoration before this great God whose infinite power and mercy it acknowledges; of self-distrust; of profound humility in thinking itself incapable of anything; of desire for the holy operations of God, of hope since one does not wait for what one does not expect to receive; and of abandonment to divine Providence in regard to all His gifts or operations. And although these acts may not be accurately performed, specified, nor sensible, yet they are none the less there, at the bottom of the heart; and God, at least, sees them in our desires, and in our state of preparation. Now, as you are aware, our wishes and desires, even if only begun to be formed, are to God what the voice is to our fellow men. He hears them, in fact, far more clearly than men hear our voices, and it is enough for Him that we form these desires; for, as the Psalmist says He knows even the mere intention and disposition of our hearts from the first moment that they begin to turn, and to move towards Him. And this, by the way is very consoling to you in the present state of your soul. But a still more efficacious way than any other is to bear patiently darkness, dryness, coldness and weakness. This sad state is the specific remedy employed by God to suppress natural activity by reducing us to our own nothingness. Without this we should never be able to overcome it, because the inordinate activity of our powers cannot be regulated until, by constantly reiterated efforts, we force them to act only under the influence of the Spirit of God, and by His grace, and never of themselves, or by themselves. You see in this how blindly and unjustly we act when we turn the benefits of God into subjects of affliction and complaint; for they not only tend to extinguish our natural activity but to kill our self-love, and to enable us to live the supernatural life of grace.
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