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Letter XI.—The Impressions of the Holy Spirit.
To Mother Louise-Françoise de Rosen (1735), on the practice of abandonment in the different states of the soul.
My dear Sister,
Peace in our Saviour Jesus Christ. When we are attentive and docile to the interior spirit, it guides us so surely that we very rarely make false steps. I commend, however, the wise precaution of occasionally explaining oneself to the priests of Jesus Christ in a spirit of self-distrust. God has so greatly blessed this humility in you that I was almost inclined to write only, “All is well, go on as you are doing.” However, for your consolation I will add what God may inspire after a re-perusal of your letter. I admire what you say—“I do not care to speak, nor to write, nor to read much.” This alone indicates a spirit usually well occupied interiorly; and a good spiritual writer has said of such a one that without working it is well occupied. Another calls this happy disposition, holy leisure, a holy idleness, in which although apparently doing nothing, everything is done, in saying nothing, all is said.138
1st. I find nothing but what is good in the three dispositions you experience alternately; firstly of faith, secondly of tastes and feelings, thirdly of subversion and suffering; but their value differs. The first is the most simple, the most certain, and is less favourable to the growth of self-love; the second is more pleasant and requires a great detachment from all taste and feeling even from that which is divine, so as to attach yourself solely and purely to God, as Fénélon expresses it. The third is painful, and often very crucifying, but then it is also the best, because all that mortifies the interior purifies it, and consequently disposes it for a more intimate union with the God of all purity, and of all sanctity.
2nd. Thanks to the goodness of God you behave very well in all these states, and have only to go on in the same way; but you explain yourself in a manner that might be misunderstood by those who have no experience of this state of prayer. You say that you do nothing; yet you must all the time be at work, otherwise your state would be one of mere laziness; but your soul acts so quietly that you do not perceive your own interior acts of assent and adhesion to the impressions of the Holy Spirit. The stronger these impressions are, the less is it necessary to act; you must only follow your attraction and allow yourself to be led quite calmly, as you so well express it.
3rd. Your way of acting in times of trouble and distress, gives me great pleasure. To be submissive, to abandon yourself entirely without reserve, to be content with being discontented for as long as God wills or permits will make you advance more in one day than you would in a hundred spent in sweetness and consolation. It is a good, beautiful and solid practice. Teach it to all, and especially to poor Sister N. Properly speaking she only requires this one point—and this constantly practised by her will sanctify her, and sweeten all her spiritual trials: with this single practice she will become a different being, as if she had been remodelled and transformed.
4th. Your total abandonment to God, constant and universal as it is, and practised in a spirit of confidence, and of union with Jesus Christ doing always the will of His Father, is, of all practices the most divine and the most certain to succeed: try to instil it into everyone, especially the good Sister of whom I have just spoken.
5th. The grace and light which enable you to combat and to stifle the feelings of nature on every occasion of which you have told me, deserve to be especially retained. Care and fidelity in corresponding fully with these graces even on the smallest occasions will serve to increase them; but never expect to be free from feeling the first movements, they will help to keep 139alive interior humility which is the foundation and guardian of every virtue.
6th. As to your ordinary faults you must know that directly our imperfections are really displeasing to us, and that we are sincere resolved to combat them without exception, from that moment there is no longer any affection for them in the heart; and consequently no obstacle to our union with God. Therefore what we ought to work at with all our strength is, to diminish the number of these faults and imperfections. If, however, we fall again through frailty, surprise, or otherwise, we should at once courageously rise again and return to God with the same confidence as if nothing had happened, and having humbled ourselves in His presence, beg His forgiveness without feelings of vexation, anxiety, or agitation. Humility will supply for the want of fidelity, and often makes good our faults with advantage to ourselves. Finally should there be, with regard to your neighbour, any little reparation to be made, never omit the opportunity of generously overcoming pride and human respect by making it.
7th. When you experience, involuntarily, the first irregular movements of any passion, give yourself time, before they are stifled by the help of grace, to thoroughly recognise to what lengths pride and passion would have carried you without such help. In this way you will acquire by personal experience a complete knowledge of that deep abyss of perversity into which you, like so many others, would fall if God did not uphold you. It is by this practical knowledge, these oft-repeated feelings, and frequent personal experiences, that all the saints learnt that profound and heartfelt humility, self-contempt and holy hatred of themselves of which we find so many proofs in the history of their lives and which formed the most solid foundation of their perfection.
8th. With regard to your trials and temptations, I understand from all that you tell me, that the Holy Spirit has so well regulated your thoughts, feelings and conduct in these matters, both exteriorly and interiorly, that I have nothing further to add. In the marks of esteem and friendship that are shown to you without your own seeking, if they cause you annoyance instead of pleasure, then the pain and trouble will prove their own antidote. There could not be anything but great merit in suffering patiently in conformity to God’s will and the arrangements of His providence and following the example of Jesus Christ, suspicions, rash judgments, envy, jealousy, etc., without attempting to clear yourself, except in so far as the edification of your neighbour enjoins. When you are exposed to all sorts of criticism and unjust accusations go on in your own way without 140making any change in your conduct, according to the pleasure of divine providence and keeping pace with His plans; this is truly to live by faith alone with God in the midst of the bustle and confusion of creatures. In such a condition exterior things can never penetrate to the interior, and neither flattery nor contempt can disturb the peace that you enjoy. This is to live a truly interior life. As long as this state of independence has not been acquired, virtues that have a most attractive appearance are not really solid, but very superficial, and liable to be overthrown by the faintest breath of inconstancy or contradiction.
9th. Be well on your guard against all these illusions which aim at making you follow your own ideas, and prefer yourself to others. The spirit of self-sufficiency and criticism of one’s neighbour seems to many persons a mere trifle; but it is nevertheless undeniable that this spirit is much opposed to religious simplicity, and that it hinders a great many souls from attempting an interior life. It is not possible, in fact, to begin this life without the help of the Holy Spirit, who only communicates Himself to the humble, the simple, and those who are little in their own eyes.
10th. Your way of resisting all sorts of temptation; profound, gentle, simple, and almost imperceptible as it is, is a pure grace from God: keep to it; that simple look at God is worth infinitely more than any other sort of act. The peaceful doubts you experience after the temptation has ceased are caused by a chaste fear which you must never lay aside; as for anxious doubts born of self-love, they must be despised and driven away. With regard to the rest, there is nothing easier to recognise, and discover, than the deceits and illusions incident to the prayer of faith, and of simple recollection; and that by the infallible rule of Jesus Christ; the tree is known by its fruits. Therefore all prayer that produces reformation of the heart, amendment of life, the avoidance of vice, the practice of the evangelical virtues and the duties of one’s state, is a good prayer. Also all prayer which does not produce these fruits, or which produces their opposite, is a false prayer and produces the fruit of a bad tree, even were it accompanied by raptures, ecstasies and miracles. The paths that lead us to God are those of faith, charity and humility, therefore all that makes its walk in these paths is useful to us, and whatever leads us away from them is dangerous and hurtful. This is the safest and most infallible rule to prevent and reform all that is evil, all that is illusory, and it is within everyone’s power.
I greet, very cordially, your good Sister. Please tell her from me to allow herself to be always guided by the interior 141spirit, and thus to be ready, as she is, to abandon herself completely into the hands of God, equally content when He gives, or when He takes away, and with that apparent nothing that He leaves her; as it pleases Him. In this is all perfection and the true progress of a faithful soul. How pleasing you must be to God in recommending so unceasingly to His spouses this holy abandonment which alone can unite them entirely to Him.
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