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Letter VII.—On Darkness and Want of Feeling.
To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. On darkness and want of feeling.
My dear Sister and very dear daughter in our Lord.
May the peace of our Lord be always with you. By what you tell me I understand that you are in a state of obscurity but far from sharing the alarms that this state—a very ordinary one in persons of your sex—causes you; I believe it to be, unquestionably, the most safe because it is less exposed to the delusions of self-love, to attacks of vanity, and therefore, even this obscurity is a grace of God; for, during this life the way that leads most directly to God is the way of bare faith which is always obscure. In spite of this obscurity you are able to understand your state and to explain it clearly enough to enable any director with a little experience to guide you. I will tell you what I think about your general state and take your difficulties one by one.
1st. You say you do not know how to pray. Experience has taught me that persons of good will who speak in this way know better than others how to pray, because their prayer is more simple and humble, but, on account of its simplicity it escapes their observation. To pray like this is to remain by faith in the presence of God, with a hidden, but constant desire to receive His grace according to our needs. As God sees all our desires, and as, according to St. Augustine, to desire always is to pray always, so in this consists our great prayer. Follow the leading of simplicity in prayer, there can never be excess of it, for God loves to see us like little children in His presence.
2nd. As to Holy Communion, the increasing hunger that is felt for this divine Food, and the strength it imparts are great reasons for receiving It frequently. Therefore fear nothing, but rest on the assurance I give you.
3rd. Insensibility towards all created things, and detachment even from relations, are greater graces than you imagine; it only remains to become detached from self by renouncing all interior self-seeking. Frequent union with Jesus Christ and prayer will gradually achieve this task, provided you do your share of the work in forgetting yourself to think only of God, abandoning to Him all your interests, both spiritual and temporal.
4th. It is right that you should realise that all God requires of you is submission and resignation. Ah! my dear daughter, in that is comprised all perfection. To look for it elsewhere would be only error and illusion. Therefore a spiritual person inclined to an interior life, has, truly, but one thing to do, which is to submit with hearty concurrence, to all imaginable circumstances, whether interior or exterior, in which God wills to place him. Therefore when you are ill say “God wills it, very well, I will it also as He wills it and for as long a time.” “But what if it should incapacitate me from fulfilling my duties and being of use to the community?” Well, if God wills it, will it also, and accept beforehand, with the pain you suffer, the holy abjection and humiliation which accompany it. “But in this state, perhaps, I give in to myself a little, and do not make all the efforts that I could and should make.” If, even so after having consulted your superior and your confessor you follow their judgment blindly you are then doing the will of God which is also your will. Then rest satisfied in having acquiesced in the divine will in all this, and preserve that interior peace in which God dwells and works. This, my dear Sister, is a clear and safe way; follow it faithfully, and constantly reject all contrary thoughts and ideas as suggestions of the devil, who desires at least to disturb the interior peace in which your soul should be settled, and which forms the solid foundation of the spiritual life.
5th. You have committed a grave fault of disobedience and imprudence in exposing yourself to three months of fever. Hold for certain that to reuse a dispensation in such circumstances is, by no means, an act of virtue, but stubbornness, and an obstinate attachment to your own judgment, and your own will under a pretext of piety. Many devotees and spiritual persons are to be pitied when they act in this manner, and great patience is required to put up with them. Their blindness and illusion are sometimes so strong that an angel from heaven would find a difficulty in making them see clearly. As for you, submit to everything, listen to every advice, suffer with all peace, gentleness, and patience, and do the will of God in all things, in the same spirit, this will be of great benefit to you.
6th. They were quite right to forbid you to think of giving up your post, or of even wishing to do so. I, also, forbid you most strictly. Be very careful not to attempt to escape from the commands of God. “But I am not strong enough.” God can very easily make you strong enough. “I am not clever enough.” Well! the power of making you clever enough is not wanting to God, and He has already given you the principal qualification, which is, a distrust of your own powers. To know, and to feel one’s incapacity is the essential thing, because then one depends entirely on God, applies to Him for everything, and attributes nothing to oneself, but all to God alone; and these graces will by themselves make everything prosper. In fine be at peace, and place your confidence in the God of all goodness; after that you can despair of yourself as much as you like. This humble feeling of your incapacity, weakness, and imbecility is exactly the instrument made use of by God to exalt His glory, and to make it shine forth more visibly.
To have no feeling about the truths of religion is not a bad sign in certain souls; on the contrary, it is often a sign that God desires to lead them by the safest way, that of simple, bare faith without those feelings of devotion that He can give when He pleases. In the ways of God the only violent efforts to be used must be employed against sin, but with regard to everything else there must only be peace and tranquillity. When you find you cannot succeed in making acts say to yourself: “Very well! they are all made in the sight of God since He has seen my desire; He will enable me to make them when He pleases, He is Master. His most holy will shall always be my rule; to accomplish it is the reason I am in the world. It is my wealth, my treasure. May God grant to others all the light, talent, grace, gifts and sensible and spiritual sweetness that are pleasing to Him. As for me I desire nothing but to do His holy will. That is my wealth.” This, my dear daughter, is your path, walk in it continually in peace, confidence, and abandonment of your whole self; you are in perfect safety.
7th. In order to advance, endeavour to suffer peacefully all that God wills or permits to happen to you, without going to creatures to complain, or to seek consolation; neither try to find distraction in useless conversations, nor amusement in frivolous thoughts and idle projects for the future, as all this would withdraw you from God, and prevent the operations of His grace in you; so take great care.
8th. To help you to occupy yourself with God easily and uninterruptedly according to your wishes and requirements this is what you ought to do. Firstly, love solitude and silence, for this will do much towards forming an interior spirit of recollection. Secondly, read only choice books that are solid, and full of piety, and read them slowly, with frequent pauses, trying more to enjoy, than to understand or remember them. Thirdly, during the day make frequent aspirations after God, especially those that occur to you in sufferings, temptations, weariness, disgust, sadness of heart, contradictions; etc.
9th. The prayers you make to God for detachment from all things, are inspired by grace; continue them, and be assured that sooner or later they will be answered. It is but just that we should wait God’s time, since we have kept Him waiting so long, and the great graces we ask of Him deserve to be desired and waited for with patience and perseverance.
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