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Letter VII.—The Want of Good-Will.
To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil (1738). On the fear of being deficient in good-will.
Yes, my dear Sister, in spite of the fears which haunt you and cause you ceaseless agitation you should apply yourself with all the energy of which you are capable to the practice of an entire and filial abandonment into the hands of God.
1st. Your greatest mistake as well as your deepest affliction is the conviction that you are wanting in that good-will which is the essential condition of the friendship of God. Yes, doubtless you are wanting in a good-will that you can feel and know that you possess; but there is a certain settled will that God preserves in the centre of your soul, and which I clearly perceive in you in spite of your contrary opinion. Therefore let my decision tranquillize you. Return thanks to God that in depriving you of those gifts which are sensible, and which would only serve as food for self-love, He preserves in you, by a singular effect of His grace the far more precious gifts of the Spirit. Your abandonment in the midst of the apparent absence of good-will should serve in a powerful way to purify and to augment this imperceptible good-will which is in your soul. This is quite certain. Keep firmly to this belief and in the end you will be convinced of its truth by your own experience.
2nd. What I have just said about the absence of good-will I say also about the lack of power which forms the other subject of your fears. What is this want of power about? It prevents you from making recognized acts in turning towards God. These acts would give you pleasure; but, from the moment that God does not require them you would do wrong to force yourself to make them. This is an infidelity for which you pay dearly by a great increase of lassitude and desolation. What then is to be done? What you can do, and for which you will never lack power. This is to form a simple desire of good, for God sees all the actions you would wish to perform in this sincere disposition to act rightly. Cease then to distress yourself and to lament over your weakness. Rather say “Fiat, fiat.” This will be of infinitely more value than anything that you could say or do according to your own ideas, or to please yourself. I allow you, however, on account of your weakness, to say to yourself from time to time, “I know that usually I must wish to turn to God, but I am not able to do so. I know also that God sees this desire, and that this desire is all that He requires of me even though it be at once arrested, and as it were, stifled. I ought then to remain in peace and to depend on His love.” “But,” I hear you say to me, “sometimes it seems as if I had lost this desire,” and my answer to this is, “why do you experience so much anxiety about this supposed deficiency?” The privation of an object causes pain only in proportion to the affection you entertain for it; if you had no desire for it you would experience no pain at being deprived of it. Are you in great distress about the want of riches, honours, beauty, etc.? No, because these things do not affect you, and you simply do not think about them. It would be the same about the desire for God if the desire itself were, in truth, absent from your mind. If then this apparent absence afflicts you it shows plainly that it is not a real absence. You are only suffering from this dearth of strength and grace because at present God requires no more from you; but you do not experience any want of good desires, since you feel so much sorrow at being unable to form them. Remain therefore in peace in your great spiritual poverty. It is a real treasure if you know how to accept it for the love of God. I see plainly that you have never understood in what true poverty and the nudity of the spirit consists, by which God succeeds in detaching us from ourselves and from our own operations to purify us more completely, and to simplify us. This complete deprivation which reduces us to acts of bare faith and of pure love alone, is the final disposition necessary for perfect union. It is a true death to self; a death very inward, very crucifying, very difficult to bear, but it is soon rewarded by a resurrection, after which one lives only for God and of God through and with Jesus Christ. Understand then your blindness in grieving for what is the surest guarantee of your spiritual progress. After the soul has mounted the first steps in the ladder of perfection, it can scarcely make any progress except by the way of privation and nudity of spirit, of annihilation and death of all created things, even of those that are spiritual. Only on this condition can it be perfectly united to God Who can neither be felt, known or seen. Oh! daughter of little faith, of little intelligence, and of little courage, who afflict yourself and are in despair about what ought to console and rejoice you! Despise your self-love, tell it that it may despair as much as if it found itself struck to the heart, but that your soul will rejoice in God over its despair, even should it be torn with vexation.
3rd. As to the violent desire you sometimes feel to belong entirely to God, and as to what you feel directly after, as though you were being repulsed by an invisible hand, assuredly you have no reason to conclude from this that you are cast away. These spiritual vicissitudes ought to inspire you with an absolutely contrary conviction because this two-fold feeling is an infallible sign of the action of the Holy Spirit who works in us by this inward crucifixion the death of self. But what am I saying! if God allowed you to understand it as I do this would cease to be a trial, but would be changed into an ineffable joy. Happy daughter that you are without knowing it, cease to increase your distress by reflexions quite contrary to the truth of God.
4th. But what can be done you ask when you can no longer make an act of abandonment? Abandon then even this abandonment by a simple “fiat” which then becomes the most perfect abandonment. Oh! grand idea! how it will charm the heart of God, and what an act of the most perfect love it contains! Earthly lovers sometimes come to this through the excess of their insane love. It is your state of privation and sacrifice which has gradually led you to this holy excess of despairing love, and is precisely what God intends to effect by these privations, sufferings and interior weaknesses.
5th. God almost always allows a soul to imagine that this sort of affliction will never end. Why? In order to give occasion for a more complete abandonment without end, without limit, without measure; it is in this that pure and perfect love consists.
6th. Once more; you are only powerless to do those things that God does not wish you to do and that it would not be expedient for you to do if you were able. God effects then within you something so excellent that if you could understand it you would fall prostrate in thanksgiving. Fortunate weakness which prevents you interfering by your wretched and petty operations with those which the Holy Spirit effects in you almost invisibly, but which I can plainly perceive, and for which I return thanks to God for you, poor blind creature that you are.
7th. It is quite unnecessary to explain your troubles and doubts; they are not sins, but simply spiritual crosses, which it is only necessary to bear with unlimited submission. It is on this account that God has made it impossible for you to speak about them, or even to have distinct ideas about them because nothing sanctifies pain so much as silence both exterior and interior. What a great sacrifice the “fiat” becomes then, especially if it is hidden in a simple desire that can scarcely be discerned! God, however, sees all the greatness and extent of this sacrifice. This desire tells Him all that we wish Him to know without allowing us to enjoy the least consolation, nor giving us any certainty. From this there results a terrible agony which drives self-love to despair and assures in us at the same time the triumph of divine charity.
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