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Letter XIII.—Peace and Confidence.
On the same subject.
What you tell me about the peace and tranquillity you experience has given me great pleasure. You must remember all your life that one of the principal reasons why certain souls do not advance is, because the devil continually throws them into a state of uneasiness, perplexity, and anxiety which makes them incapable of applying themselves seriously, quietly, and with constancy to the practice of virtue. The great principle of the interior life is the peace of the soul, and it must be preserved with such care that the moment it is attacked all else must be put aside and every effort made to try and regain this holy peace, just as, in an outbreak of fire everything else is neglected to 143hasten to extinguish the flames. Read, from time to time, the treatise on the peace of the soul which is to be found at the end of the little book called “The Spiritual Combat,” and which the ancient fathers very truly called “the road to Paradise,” to make us understand that the high road to Heaven is this happy peace of the soul. The reason of this is that peace and tranquillity of mind alone give great strength to the soul, to enable it to do all that God wises, while, on the other hand, anxiety and uneasiness make the soul feeble and languid, and as though sick. Then one feels neither taste for, nor attraction to virtue, but, on the contrary, disgust and discouragement of which the devil does not fail to take advantage. For this reason he uses all his cunning to deprive us of peace, and under a thousand specious pretexts, at one time about self-examination, or sorrow for sin, at another about the way we continually neglect grace, or that by our own fault we make no progress; that God will, at last, forsake us, and a hundred other devices from which very few people can defend themselves. This is why masters of the spiritual life lay down this great principle to distinguish the true inspirations of God from those that emanate from the devil; that the former are always sweet and peaceful inducing to confidence and humility, while the latter are intense, restless, and violent, leading to discouragement and mistrust, or else to presumption and self-will. We must, therefore, constantly reject all that does not show signs of peace, submission, sweetness and confidence, all of which bear, as it were, the impression of the seal of God; this point is a very important one for the whole of our life. You ask me for some rules by which to regulate the thoughts of the mind during the day—to which I answer:
1st. That it is better to approach God and virtue by the affections of the heart than by the thoughts of the mind, and it is an important counsel to nourish the heart and make the mind fast; that is to say, to desire God, sigh after God, long for the holy love of God, for an intimate union with God, without amusing yourself with so many thoughts and reflexions. Therefore it is more useful to occupy yourself with the affair of belonging to God without reserve; with the desire to lead an interior life, with a profound humility, fervour, the gift of prayer, the love of God, the true spirit of Jesus Christ, and with the practice of those virtues which He taught by word, and His divine example, than to make a thousand useless reflexions about them. If you do not feel any of these desires the mere wish to have them, the mere raising of the heart is sufficient to keep your soul recollected and united to God. Therefore, once more, the mere raising of the heart to God, or towards certain virtues in order to please God, will do more to help you on than all your reflexions 144and grand reasoning.
This is called being led to God by inclination, attraction and affection; and this way is gentler, surer, and more efficacious than all those beautiful lights, unless, indeed, God infuses them by His grace and special favour; and even then, unless these lights are united to a certain taste and an interior attraction which touches and charms the heart, we usually make no progress.
2nd. God often permits souls to suffer from that emptiness of the mind of which I have spoken before, and in such cases it would be useless to wish to have distinct thoughts since God has deprived us of them. It would even be hurtful to make efforts to think or to reflect much; from which I conclude that, in any state it is better to remain before God peacefully, acquiescing heartily in His will as to what He gives or takes away without doing more than retaining in the depths of the soul a sincere desire to belong entirely to God; to love Him ardently and to be ultimately united to Him, or else, as I have explained, to wish to have these desires.
3rd. As God gives lights and thoughts when He pleases, either in prayer, or at other times; if you find that these lights and thoughts come quietly and gently, you can dwell upon them for as long a time as you feel any attraction or repose, content to let them go whenever God pleases, without making any effort to retain them; otherwise it would seem as if they were your own, and would act against that perpetual dependence in which God wills to keep those souls which He calls to the interior life. And it is especially to keep them in this continual dependence that, sometimes, God does nothing but give and take away in turns, almost unceasingly; and this produces in those souls perpetual changes. It is through these different changes and constant vicissitudes that God Himself exercises these souls in a perfect submission of mind and heart in which consists true perfection. The conduct of God in the interior of the souls He loves and wishes to raise to a perfect and solid virtue somewhat resembles that of a wise and firm mother who, to overcome the obstinacy and self-will of her child, and to make him perfectly submissive and obedient, gives, and takes away again what he likes best, and continues to do so until she has overcome his rebellious spirit. Oh! if we could only understand the loving conduct of God, what peace would be ours, and what submission we should practise in the midst of these spiritual vicissitudes and changes of the interior state. From this I draw the conclusion which I have often explained to you before that, in certain circumstances, the most efficacious way of making spiritual progress is the simple one of acquiescing in the will of God. “I agree to all, Lord, I wish what You wish, I resign 145myself entirely to Your will.” This is called desiring nothing and being prepared for everything; nothing for oneself, and everything by resignation: it is called walking before God in the greatest simplicity. This method, in a certain sense has nothing disturbing about it, because this simple adhesion of our will to the will of God comes almost spontaneously as a drawing and attraction, and finally as a sweet habit.
You are surprised that having heartily made certain sacrifices for God, temptations about them should return, most violently, so as to cause you anxiety. It is necessary that this should happen, to prevent self-complacency and self-love which would spoil all. Be satisfied, then, that God has inclined you in the first place by His grace to make these sacrifices for Him, and firmly resist the temptations to retract them. God intends through them to keep you humble; the mind is naturally so inclined to vaunt itself and to be puffed up about everything and to appropriate to itself all that is good and virtuous by self-complacency, that without the help of these oft-repeated trials of our misery and feebleness we should flatter ourselves to have had a great share in the victory, and should thus lose all the fruit we might have gained. In withdrawing from the truth of our own nothingness we go on in vanity and lies which are so opposed to God who is essential truth.
Thus it is that the actual and almost unintermittent experience of our own weakness becomes the protection of those virtues that faith makes us practise. From this it happens that according to the progress we make God gives us corresponding light, and a more lively realisation of our misery and poverty, to retain in us the treasures of grace and virtue of which our enemies would deprive us if God did not bury them in an abyss of misery well known to ourselves, and keenly apprehended by us. This will enable you to understand how it happens that the most saintly persons are always the most humble, and have the poorest opinion of themselves. It is because, by our great inclination to vanity we compel God to hide from our own eyes the small amount of good that we do by the help of His grace, and all our spiritual progress and the virtues He bestows upon us without our knowledge. This is a very touching proof, not only of our own misery, but also of the wisdom and goodness of our God, who is reduced, so to speak, to hiding from us His greatest benefits for fear that we should love them and appropriate them by vanity and scarcely perceptible self-satisfaction. From this great rule it follows that our wretchedness, thoroughly well recognised and experienced, is worth more to us than an angelic virtue the merit of which we unjustly attribute to ourselves. This rule, deeply engraved in the soul, keeps it always 146in peace in the midst of a lively realisation of its misery, since it regards these feelings as very great graces from God, as indeed they are.
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