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Letter XVII.—Remorse and Rebellion.
To Sister Marie-Anne-Thérèse de Rosen. On remorse of conscience and the rebellion of the passions.
Do all you can to calm your soul on the subject about which you have consulted me, first because the motives which you believe you have to make you uneasy have no foundation in fact. The only danger lies in the uneasiness itself.
When the reproaches of your conscience, however well merited they may be, throw you into a state of trouble and depression; when they discourage and upset you, it is certain that they come from the devil who only fishes in troubled waters, says St. Francis of Sales. The first care of a soul experiencing these troubles ought to be to prevent them, to stifle them, or better still to despise them. Let it say with St. Teresa, “What my weakness finds impossible, will become easy with the help of the grace of God, and this He will give me in His own good time. For the rest, I desire neither perfection, nor to lead a spiritual life, except as far as it should please God to give them to me and at the time He has appointed to do so.” You must try to acquire a habit of making these two acts by a constant repetition of them in your heart. The second will contribute marvellously to reproduce entire abandonment, which is the special attraction of souls desiring to belong unreservedly to God.
2nd. The rebellion of the passions, and that excessive sensitiveness which causes one to be put out beyond measure on the slightest provocation ought not to disquiet, nor to discourage anyone suffering from them, nor to make her think that her desire of sanctification is not sincere. This mistake and the discouragement it occasions are more harmful than all the other temptations. To get rid of them, or to overcome them we must be well persuaded that these rebellions, and this extreme sensitiveness are sent to us by God to be the ground of our combats and victories; and that these little falls are permitted to help us to practise humility. Looked upon in this light our falls will be incomparably more useful to us than victories spoilt by vain self-complacency. This is a very certain and a very encouraging truth. We must be convinced, thoroughly convinced that our miseries are the cause of all the weakness we experience, and that God, in His mercy, allows them for our good. Without them we should never be cured of a secret presumption and a proud confidence in ourselves. Never should we be able to rightly understand that all that is bad is ours, and that all that is good is from God alone. To acquire a habit of thinking thus it is necessary to pass through a great number of personal experiences, and there is a greater necessity for this the more deeply rooted these vices are, and the greater the hold they have on the soul.
3rd. You must never feel surprised at finding that a day of great recollection is followed by one full of dissipation; this is the usual condition in this present life. These changes are necessary, even in spiritual things, to keep us in humility, and a state of dependence on God. The saints themselves have passed through these alternations, and others still more troublesome. Only try not to give rise to them yourself; but should this, unfortunately, happen, then humble yourself peacefully and without vexation, which would be a worse evil than the original one; then endeavour to regain self-control, and to return to God; doing so quietly without over-eagerness, and by means of a total holy abandonment to God’s ways.
4th. Your present method of prayer is good; continue to practise it. The humble feelings of the heart, the submissive attitude of the soul before God are worth more than a multitude of formal acts constantly reiterated; they are acts straight from the heart, stronger and more efficacious with God although not always so sensibly felt, nor as clearly perceived, nor as consoling as the former. God takes from us this multiplicity to give us instead something better, more simple and better calculated to unite us to Him.
5th. The person of whom you speak is not wanting in the love of God. She has as much as is necessary, but God has deprived her of the knowledge of it for fear that she should pride herself on it, and in order to prevent her preferring the sensible pleasure of it, to Him who ought to be its sole object. Let her be consoled about this, while at the same time she should always desire to love Him more without wishing to know it, or to be able to be certain of it.
6th. The opposition and perpetual contradiction between your thoughts and feelings is nothing else than that inner strife spoken of by the Apostle when he says, “the spirit wars against the flesh, and the flesh against the spirit.” None of the saints have been exempt from this rule. It is true that this interior war is more violent with some people, and about some things more than others, and also at a certain age, or time or occasion, but whether more or less violent, no harm is done to a soul that fights with a determination never to be beaten nor discouraged. On the other hand, the greater the violence of the attacks the more serious are the combats, and consequently, the more glorious the victories. The greater the merit, the higher the sanctity, and the grander the recompense. These happy results are all the more certain the less they are felt, and especially if a more profound humiliation is experienced.
Oh! if only this interior abjection were accepted, loved and valued, no one would consent to be without it, because it brings the soul nearer to God. This great God has, in fact, declared that He draws near to those who humble themselves and who love to be humiliated. If it is good for us to be humbled in the sight of others it is no less useful to be annihilated in our own eyes, in our pride and self-love which are put an end to in this way. It is thus, in fact, that they are gradually extinguished in us, and for this purpose does God permit so many different subjects for interior humiliation. It only remains to know how to profit by them, by following the advice of St. Francis of Sales, and practising acts of true humility, gently and peacefully; and this will drive out false humility which is always in a state of vexation and spite. Vexation and spite under humiliation are so many acts of pride, just as worry and irritation during suffering are so many acts of impatience. Let us not forget this, and let us take good care not to look upon the want of feeling we experience for the things of God as callousness; it is simply dryness, and a trial as inevitable and ordinary as distractions. If it is constant it is a still better sign, because it is in this way that God prepares the soul to proceed by pure faith, the most sure and meritorious way.
One should repeat continually to anyone in this state, “Peace, peace, remain in peace, and keep retired within your soul.” Preserve a constant desire of the interior life. This single attraction ought to suffice to make you live within yourself, and in constant communication with God. The results will follow in their own time. Guard above all against anything likely to withdraw you from this good disposition; avoid all occasions of losing it; humble yourself when you have failed about it, but do not ever worry yourself, nor distress yourself about anything whatever, nothing could harm you more than that.
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