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Letter VI.—Fear of Wasting Time.
To Sister Marie-Henriette de Mahuet. On the same subject, and interior rebellion and spiritual poverty. Alby, 1732.
My dear Sister,
Nothing is more common with souls who have not yet acquired much experience in the ways of the spiritual life, than the fear about which you have consulted me; I mean the fear of wasting time in the prayer of the simple presence of God. But it is easy to reassure such souls, and to reassure you also. For this it suffices to recall to your mind the principle laid down by the divine Master: “the tree is known by its fruits.” That which produces only good effects cannot but be good. Besides, your own experience teaches you, that since you applied yourself to this kind of prayer you have become, interiorly, greatly changed for the better. You have, then, only to thank God for the favour He has granted you in substituting as He has, the peaceful action of His grace for the agitation of your natural activity. I wish you could accustom yourself always to judge of your progress and the state of your soul by the infallible rules of faith and the counsels of the Gospel. When you find that your ways, your ideas, and your conduct agree with the teachings of faith, and with the practice of the saints, you may hold them to be good, and perfectly safe. In this no illusion is possible, as it is when one judges oneself by sensible impressions, which are always deceptive. To guide one’s conduct by these impressions is to take a weathervane, which turns with every wind, for a mariner’s compass. It is impossible to navigate safely unless guided by the sure and infallible rules of faith which make us turn away from sin, love God and our neighbour, detach us from creatures, and lead us to obedience, self-forgetfulness, complete submission to the will of God, abnegation and mortification. The kind of prayer which produces these effects is, without doubt, the best.
2nd. As those spiritual books which treat of prayer might fall into the hands of all sorts of persons, and consequently not be well understood, authors and preachers do wisely in making use of general terms and in laying down only general rules, in order to avoid giving any handle for illusion; but directors, in speaking to persons they are well acquainted with, make use of a different method to reassure those under their direction who, without cause, would be terrified in reading or listening to sermons. It is because of my knowledge of your state and of God’s designs on your behalf that I do not hesitate to reassure you. Go forward without a shadow of fear. No one can experience the fruit of the blessing of God, unless he follow the attraction of God. The deceptions and illusions of the spirit of darkness are made known by their effects and fruits which are contrary to those produced by grace. If I saw you exposed to these illusions I should not fail to tell you of it; and in default of me there are others who would render you this service on condition that you laid bare your mind to them with sincerity.
3rd. The rule of faith must be also taken, by which to form a judgment about the stupidity you have experienced for some time past. If it be only a question of being stupid, dull, and slow, and even insensible to all the things of this world, faith teaches us that this stupidity is true wisdom. But even if this same stupidity should seem to extend, sometimes to things of salvation, that is no proof that it is a sign of your being at a distance from God if it does not prevent you from fulfilling your duties, keeping the Rule, and carrying out your exercises of piety. You should, therefore, regard it as a trial from God which you have in common with nearly all the saints. Be faithful, and while accepting this apparent stupidity you will find in it a very meritorious exercise of patience, submission, and interior humility. It can only be prejudicial to self-love, which dies gradually and is thus destroyed and annihilated more efficaciously than by any exterior mortification.
4th. When we have to make great sacrifices, nature and self-love, reluctant to do so, excite rebellions in the heart which seem to overthrow the whole soul. Did not Jesus Christ Himself experience the same in the Garden of Olives? It is enough therefore for the superior part of the soul to remain firm and to say with Jesus Christ, “Fiat voluntas tua.” These are the interior combats of which St. Paul speaks, and after him all the masters of the spiritual life: this is how the just man truly lives by faith and escapes from the rule of the senses: these are the great victories which will be crowned in this world by peace, and the submission of the lower nature; in the next by the possession of a God.
5th. The last and most efficacious of all the remedies I have to offer you is an entire and total abandonment into the hands of this God of goodness, Who has not ceased for a long time in being beforehand with the blessings of His very great mercy. You must throw yourself into this abandonment with the same courage with which you would cast yourself into the sea if God asked this sacrifice of you; in the same way as, in times past, a holy martyr by a particular attraction, and an especial inspiration threw herself into the midst of the flames without waiting for the executioners. It is this courage, and this holy abandonment founded on faith and love which charms the heart of God, and establishes in the soul a peace that nothing can disturb.
6th. Your conduct in avoiding useless visits, waste of time, and distractions, seems to me excellent. Know that exterior solitude is the rampart of that which is interior which, without it, can with difficulty be preserved. I advise you to add, with regard to the people in the house, the greatest possible silence, never speaking without a reason, nor without some holy motive—such as for a necessary recreation, to refresh yourself a little, for the sake of charity, or religious condescension; or to overcome yourself about certain persons towards whom you may feel some antipathy. Finally I recall to your mind a maxim that I wish I could engrave on every heart, and especially on the hearts of Religious, and devout persons who are stressed and uneasy at seeing how poor, miserable and destitute they are; as they say with sighs and groans. This maxim alone can make them tranquil, contented, and even exceedingly rich in their spiritual poverty. You understand what I mean beforehand, that true perfection and consequently the real wealth of the soul consists in conforming our will to the will of God. Consequently every time that, overcome by the sense of your weakness and interior misery, you think that, while avoiding by the grace of God, everything that could offend Him, you are, at the same time very devoid of those gifts and graces by which the saints were enriched, you can and ought to say: “My God, I will all that You will and for as long as it pleases You.” “But,” you will say, “what resource shall I have if God takes me at my word, and keeps me always in this state of spiritual poverty?” You will have, my dear sister, only the Will of God, and this resource will take the place of every other. This divine and adorable Will will supply you with all the gifts in which you are wanting, it will become your treasure, and will constitute a spiritual fortune in the very midst of your poverty; for how can anyone be more rich in the sight of God than by conforming in all things to His most holy will even in those things that are most afflicting? Can anyone be more certain of possessing pure love, than those who resign themselves willingly to all that is most mortifying to that most sensitive form of self-love, spiritual self-love? Believe me, my dear Sister, the soul that regards its poverty in this light need not envy even those souls which are most greatly enriched with the gifts of God.
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