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Letter XVII.—Confidence in God.
To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. Confidence in God is the cure of self-love.
My dear Sister,
When you have neither time nor inclination to read, try to keep yourself simply in peace in the presence of God, and do not trouble to practise works of supererogation unless by His special intimation and impulse, and if they are done with facility. If you seem to be wanting in courage for many things, compel yourself at any rate to retain in your heart a determination to be all for God. Humble yourself with the consideration of the inefficacy of your own resolutions, and look upon yourself as having so far done nothing. The less confidence you place in yourself, the more easy will it become to have entire confidence in the mercy of God alone, through the merits of Jesus Christ. This is that solid and perfect confidence which completely annihilates self-love by withdrawing all those resources upon which it was accustomed to rely. There could be nothing more salutary for some souls than this kind of martyrdom.
You say that some sort of sacrifices lead to God while others do not, but rather lead to revolts against Him. This idea is a mistaken one, caused by judging of good and evil in matters of devotion, by the senses. Some sacrifices which do not touch the heart in a vulnerable spot, always afford consolation, and thus lead us sensibly to God; but those that wound the heart, poignantly cause so much pain that we are greatly troubled, and inclined to break down completely. To the sorrow these sacrifices entail is joined another very painful suffering; namely, the fear of being unable to bear it, and of gaining nothing by it. This it is that produces the false idea that these sacrifices turn us away from God. Nevertheless it is an assured principle that the more these sacrifices touch us to the quick, and the more they make us die to ourselves, and detach us from all consolation, and sensible support, the closer they draw us to God and unite us to Him. This union is all the more meritorious in being hidden and further out of the range of the senses. Self-love, therefore, has no share in it, since it cannot feed on what it can neither know nor feel. May God deign to convince you of the truth of this consoling assurance, which is the teaching of all the Doctors of the Church, and is confirmed by every experience. In order to understand it thoroughly you must remember that in almost everyone there is such a depth of self-love, weakness and misery, that it would be impossible for us to recognise any gift of God in ourselves without being exposed to spoil and corrupt it by imperceptible feelings of self-complacency. In this way we appropriate as our own the graces of God, and are pleased with ourselves for being in such or such a state. We attribute the merit to ourselves, not, perhaps, by distinct and studied thought, but by the secret feelings of the heart. Therefore, God, seeing the innermost recesses of the heart, and being infinitely jealous of His glory, is obliged, in order to maintain it, and to protect Himself against these secret thefts, to convince us, by our own experience, of our utter weakness. It is for this purpose that He conceals from us nearly all His gifts and graces. There are hardly more than two exceptions to this rule; on the one hand beginners who require to be attracted and captured through their senses, and on the other hand great saints who, on account of having been purified of self-love by innumerable interior trials are able to recognise in themselves the gifts of God without the least feeling of self-complacency, nor even a glance at themselves. For my part I can bear witness to this constant action of divine Providence. God has so completely hidden from those who have appealed to me, the gifts and graces with which he has loaded them, that they cannot see their own progress, nor their patience, humility and abandonment, nor even their love of God. Then, too, they can hardly help weeping at the supposed absence of these virtues and at their want of generosity in their sufferings. However, the more afflicted and full of fear are their souls, the less need have their directors to fear and to be afflicted on their account. This ought to cure you of making so many difficulties for yourself. You would understand this still better, perhaps, if you were to consider what Fénélon said on this subject, “There is not a single gift so exalted but that after having been a means of advancement, cannot become, in the sequel, a snare and an obstacle to the soul, by the instinct of possession, which sullies it.” On this account God withdraws what He had given, but He does not take it away to deprive us of it absolutely. He withdraws it to give it back in a better way, after it has been purified from this malicious appropriation made by us without our perceiving it. The loss of the gift prevents this feeling of proprietorship, and this gone, the gift is returned a hundredfold. All this seems to me to be of such great importance for you that I think you would do well to read it over often although it is rather lengthy. By dint of impressing it on your mind you will, I hope relinquish those false prejudices, and the many errors that so frequently disturb and destroy the peace of your soul. Without this peace, as you know, it is impossible to make any progress in the spiritual life.
I am acquainted with a spiritual person who is so convinced of the truth of this rule that I have heard her say many times, that after having prayed for certain spiritual favours for a very long time, and after having had innumerable novenas and prayers offered for the same intention she often said to God, “Lord, I consent to be for ever deprived of the knowledge as to whether it has pleased You to grant me these graces, because I am such a miserable creature that when I know I possess a particular grace I immediately convert it into a poison. It is not that I wish to do this, Lord, but such is the corruption of my heart that this accursed self-complacency spoils all my works almost without my knowledge and almost against my will. I feel that it is I who tie Your hands, Oh my God! and who oblige You to hide from me in Your goodness those graces that Your mercy induces You to bestow upon me.
You, my dear daughter, have more need than anyone else to understand these feelings, for I have never hitherto met with anyone who depended so much on what is called the sensible help of direction under the specious pretext of spiritual need. I have always thought, without mentioning it to you, that the time would come when God, desiring to be the only support of your soul, would withdraw from you these sensible props without even allowing you to learn in what way He could supply all that of which He had deprived you. This state I must own is terrible to nature, but in this terrible state, one simple “Fiat,” uttered very earnestly in spite of the repugnance experienced in the soul, is an assurance of real and solid progress. Then there remains nothing but bare faith in God, that is to say, an obscure faith despoiled of all sensible devotion, and residing in the will, as St. Francis of Sales says. Then it is, also, that are accomplished to their utmost extent the words of St. Paul when he said, “We draw near to God by faith,” and “The just man lives by faith.” All this ought to convince you that it is not in anger but in mercy and in very great mercy that God deprives you more than others. It is because He is more jealous of the possession of your whole heart and all your confidence, and for this reason He is obliged to take away everything and to leave nothing sensible either exterior or interior. Therefore, my dear Sister, a truce to reflexions on present or future evils. Abandonment! Submission! Love! Confidence!
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