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Letter XXVI.—On Different States of Resignation.
To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. On the same subject. Alby, 1733.
My very dear Sister,
1st. I cannot do otherwise than congratulate you on the efforts you are making to keep always in a state of perfect resignation and of entire abandonment to the will of God. In this, for you, consists all perfection. But on this point as on all others you must learn how to distinguish between the appearance and the reality, the feeling of consent and the working of the will. There are two kinds of resignation; one that can be felt and that is accompanied by sensible pleasure and a quiet repose; the other unfelt, dry, without pleasure, even accompanied by feelings of repugnance, and by interior revolt. It is this latter that I understand you to possess. The first is good, very agreeable to nature, and for this reason rather dangerous, because it is natural to become strongly attached to that which one enjoys. The second, which to self-love seems absolutely painful and unpleasant, is more perfect, more meritorious, and less dangerous since there is no pleasure to be found in it except through bare faith and perfect love. Compel yourself to act with these solid motives. When you have succeeded in doing so your union with God will be proof against every vicissitude, but if you accustom yourself only to act according to sensible attractions you will do nothing when these come to an end. Besides, we cannot prevent them from often failing us, while the motives of faith never fail. It is only in order to induce us to act, gradually, from these spiritual motives that God so often takes away sensible devotion and pleasure. If He were not to act thus we should always remain in a state of spiritual infancy. You should not therefore be surprised at the weariness and the revolts of which you speak; God permits them for your good. Nevertheless, if you fear that human motives are mixed with the mortifications you inflict on yourself say these two things to yourself (1) “I am not at present in a fit state to judge but will reflect about it when I feel peaceful and calm. (2) If there is still some human element in it, God allows it that He may help my weakness. When it shall have pleased Him to render me less imperfect I shall be able to act in a more perfect manner.” On this matter be calm, and do not indulge in the least voluntary trouble.
2nd. I can easily understand how your dislike of your duty should materially add to your trials; but consider how the martyrs won their crowns by enduring much worse tribulations than yours.
3rd. In this state it is usual to feel an inclination for a solitary life, but a life of obedience is of greater value, it is a continual sacrifice, and even if there is more cause for being bored, there are also many subjects for meriting. Continue as you are with great fortitude and even scruple to utter a word against your state, or that could detach you from the cross of Jesus Christ.
4th. The best way of bearing these disagreeables is to look upon them as crosses sent by God, just as you do illness and other misfortunes of life. If God were to send you exterior afflictions that you could feel, you would bear them patiently; bear then with equal patience your interior trials.
5th. Look upon all these miseries of our earthly existence as so much treasure for the spiritual life, since they afford you such powerful means of acquiring humility and self-contempt. With this aim in view love every humiliation, and its consequent abjection, as St. Francis of Sales counsels. You ask me if it would not be better to hide your miseries for fear of causing disedification. With all my heart. Try simply and very quietly to manage so that these feelings may not appear externally, but if they should appear and you are not greatly to blame for it, try to accept this little humiliation pleasantly. Even should it occur by your own fault, then embrace the abjection which it brings you. In this way you will mortify your self-love very meritoriously, for this seeks to avoid outward faults, not because they are an offence against God, but on account of the humiliation they entail. Do not dwell on the pain that the difficulty you experience in concentrating your thoughts causes you. Remind yourself that the habitual desire of recollection alone will serve equally well, and that all that is necessary is to desire unceasingly to think of God, to please God, to obey God, in order to please and to obey Him in reality.
6th. You say that the more you desire to learn to pray the less you know how to do so. This may very possibly be because your desire is not accompanied by a sufficient submission and purity of intention. Always have the intention of pleasing God when you pray, and not of enjoying sensible devotion. Pray in a spirit of sacrifice and accept all that God pleases to send you during your prayer; and I must tell you that the prayer of recollection is one of those things, that leaves you if you are eager to retain it, and remains if you learn how to keep yourself in a state of indifference about it; this is the doctrine of St. Francis of Sales.
7th. Often recall to mind this great rule, that spiritual poverty recognised, felt, and loved on account of its abjection, is one of the greatest treasures that a soul can possess here below; because this feeling keeps it in a state of profound humility; but to imagine yourself lost because you do not find in yourself lively enough feelings of faith and charity, and to be distressed, uneasy, or discouraged about it, is a dangerous illusion of self-love which always wants to see things plainly, and to take pleasure in itself. When you experience this temptation you must say to yourself, “I have been, I am, and I shall be whatever God pleases, but according to my reason and the higher faculties of my soul I desire to belong to Him and to serve Him no matter what happens to me in this world and the next.”
8th. You cannot describe to me what you are suffering; but I will tell you what it is; it is for one thing all kinds of rebellions, pains, and temptations in the inferior part of your nature, and a perpetual confusion of feelings excited by the devil and your own self-love. On the other hand, in the superior part, a little ray of light and of faith that is almost imperceptible on account of the tumultous emotions in the inferior part. And with only this slender support you are immovable, because the finest thread in the hands of God is as strong as a cable, and a mere hair is stronger than an iron chain.
9th. It is a temptation and a false humility to keep away from the sacraments. What others do ought never to affect you who know nothing about their ideas nor motives, nor the cause of their keeping away.
10th. You say that God often deprives you of the feeling of being in a state of grace. To whom among His dearest friends has He given continually this sensible support? Do you aspire by any chance to be so highly privileged than so many saints whom He has deprived of it for a much longer time than you? What had they to depend upon then save only the light of faith, and of a faith the same as ours which seems like darkness? And amidst the darkness of their temptations and the tumult of their passions they knew no more than we do whether God was satisfied with them. Faith teaches us that, unless by particular revelation, the saints themselves were not able to be perfectly certain about it; and you complain because you do not possess this certainty. See how far this unhappy self-love goes. To satisfy it God would have to work miracles. Of all the miseries that humble you so much this is certainly the greatest, and the best calculated to humiliate you.
11th. To wish to be occupied with God and not with yourself, and then to fall back continually on yourself is, I must own, a temptation as troublesome as the flies in autumn; but then you must drive away this temptation as you have continually to drive away the flies, without ever leaving off this work; quietly however, without distress or annoyance, humbling yourself before God as you do in other miseries. It is we, ourselves, who compel God to overwhelm us with miseries to make us humble and to increase our self-contempt. If, in spite of this, we have so little humility and so much self-esteem, what would it be if we found ourselves free from these trials? Believe me, you have appeared to be for some time past so penetrated with the knowledge of your miseries that I believe this feeling alone is one of the greatest graces that God could bestow upon you. Love then everything that helps to preserve it.
I remain yours in our Lord.
I feel very tired of so much writing and before reading to the end of your letter I had the same idea as you, to divide my answers. I do not, however, regret having now placed you in a condition to understand at a single glance the general drift of the direction you ought to follow in order to gather all the fruit of the trial to which God is subjecting you.
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