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Letter I.—Some General Principles.
To Sister Marie-Antoinette de Mahuet (1731).
On the principles and practice of abandonment.
My dear Sister,
Our Lord has given me something better for you than that which you desire, something that it did not occur to you to ask for. It is a summary of some general principles to guide your conduct in life, with an explanation of the easiest way of putting them into practice.
1st Principle. The mainspring of the spiritual life is a good will, that is to say, a sincere desire to belong to God entirely and without reserve; consequently it is not possible to renew too frequently this holy desire in order to strengthen it, and to make it more lasting and efficacious.
2nd Principle. The firm resolution to belong to God should produce in you a determination to think only of Him, and this can be practised in two ways, first by accustoming yourself never voluntarily to entertain thoughts, or to reflect on subjects which do not concern God directly or indirectly as to the duties of your state in general, or in particular. The best way of dealing with idle thoughts is not to combat and still less to be anxious and troubled about them, but just to let them drop, like a stone into the sea. Gradually the habit of acting thus will become easy. The second way to think only of God is to forget everything else, and one arrives at this state by dint of dropping all idle thoughts, so that it often happens that for some time one may pass whole days without, apparently, thinking of anything as though one had become quite stupid. It often happens that God even places certain souls in this state, which is called the emptiness of the spirit and of the understanding, or the state of nothingness. This annihilation of one’s own spirit wonderfully prepares the soul for the reception of that of Jesus Christ. This is the mystical death to the workings of one’s own activity, and renders the soul capable of undergoing the divine operation. This great emptiness of the spirit frequently produces another void even more painful—that of the will; so that one has seemingly, no feeling, either for the things of this world, or even for God, being equally callous to all. It is often God Himself 123who effects this second void in the souls of certain people. One must not, then, try to get rid of this state, since it is a preparation for the reception of God’s most precious operations, and is the second mystical death intended to precede a happy resurrection to a new life. This two-fold void must therefore be valued and retained. It is a double annihilation very difficult for pride and self-love to endure, and must be borne with the holy joy of an interior spirit.
3rd Principle. We must confine our whole attention to fulfilling as perfectly as possible the holy will of God to its full extent, abandoning everything else to Him, such as, the care of all our temporal and also our spiritual interests, as, our advancement in virtue. The practice of this double abandonment is, first—every time we feel in our hearts a desire, or a fear, or have ideas and form projects regarding our own interests or those of our parents and friends, to say to God, “Lord, I sacrifice all this; I give up all my miserable interests to You. May all that You please, all that You wish, happen. However, as there may be occasions when it is reasonably necessary to think and to act, I beg You to give me the thought at the right time, and thus I shall do nothing but follow what You deign to inspire, and I accept in advance either good or adverse results.” Having made this interior act we should let all our fears and desires drop like a stone, without troubling ourselves any more about them, being assured that God will give us, in His own good time, the thought and impulse to act according to His holy will and divine intention.
As for the practice of the second kind of abandonment which is that of progress in perfection, it is a most difficult subject very badly set forth by spiritual writers, and one about which most mistakes are made, mistakes that produce nothing but trouble, and retard our progress in the ways of God. Here is a very simple method given by Jesus Christ to St. Teresa when He appeared to her: “Daughter,” he said to her, “never think of anything but how to please Me, to love Me, and to do My will, and I, on My side, will attend to all your affairs, both temporal and spiritual.” To thoroughly grasp this lofty precept look upon yourself as one who has entered the service of a king, like Solomon for example, the greatest, wisest and best of kings. However little nobility of feeling, refinement of heart, good sense or ability such a person might possess, he would doubtless address his master in these terms, “Lord, since I know that You are a Prince, as good as You are powerful, as liberal as You are magnificent, I give myself to You without reserve; I will serve You without knowing how much You will pay me by the day or the year, nor even at the end of my time. I promise to think 124only of Your interests, and mine I leave to Your discretion, or rather, to Your goodness and generosity.” Often apply this very imperfect and mean comparison to the great Master we serve and be assured that if the great King would not endure to see himself surpassed in liberality by one of his servants neither will the all-powerful and infinitely good God allow Himself to be outdone by His miserable creatures. The practice of this principle and the consequences to be deduced from it are:
1st. An intense desire takes possession of me to acquire the gifts of prayer, humility, sweetness, and the love of God. To this I answer, “Do not let me think so much of my own interests; my business is to occupy myself simply and quietly with God, to accomplish His will in all that He requires at present. That is my task, all the rest I leave to God; my progress is His business as mine is to busy myself for Him and to obey His orders.”
2nd. It occurs to me that I am still very imperfect, full of faults and defects, infidelities and weakness; when shall I be freed from these miseries? “By God’s grace I have no affection for my faults, I am determined to combat them, but I shall only be freed from them when God pleases; that is His business; mine is to hate these faults, and to make a point of combating them with patience, sorrow and humility till it shall please God to render me victorious.”
3rd. I begin to think that I am so blind that I cannot see my faults, even when I have to weep for them before God and to confess them. I reply without hesitation, “But I wish to know my sins, I no longer live in a state of voluntary dissipation, I quietly employ a little time in self-examination.” This is all that God requires, “He will give me more light and knowledge when He considers it necessary; that is His business. I have placed the affair of my spiritual progress entirely in His hands, it is therefore sufficient for the present to accuse myself of the daily faults that God reveals to me, and some sin of my past life.”
4th. It strikes me: Have I ever made a good confession? Has God forgiven me? Am I in a state of grace, or not? What progress have I made in prayer and in the ways of God? I at once answer: “God has willed to hide all this from me to make me abandon myself blindly to His mercy; I submit, and adore His judgments. I wish to know only that which He desires me to know, and to walk in darkness if such is His will; it is His business to know my state, mine to occupy myself about Him alone, to serve Him and to love Him as much and as well as I can; He will take care of all the rest, I depend upon Him.”125
5th. But for a long time past I have asked Him for certain graces; to obtain them I have begged the intercession of those powerful advocates the ever-blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph, the Holy Apostles and all the Saints in heaven, and it seems as if nothing will move Him: “He is the Master, may His will be accomplished in all things; I desire neither graces, nor merits, nor perfections beyond those it pleases Him to give me, His will is enough for me and shall always be the rule of my desires.”
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