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Letter XIV.—Singular Favours of God.
To Sister Anne-Marguerite Boudet de la Bellière (1734). On the practice of abandonment during consolations.
My dear Sister,
What you tell me about the extraordinary circumstances attending your vocation is more useful than you imagine, because a director who recognises a call of Providence in a vocation has the right to conclude that God has special designs on the soul so singularly chosen, and that He desires to find in it a devotion proportioned to the predilection He has shown it. I thank God for the first grace, and still more for the second which consists in making you know and appreciate this singular favour. I conclude from these favours that you are of the fortunate number of those from whom God expects a particular fidelity, and who would run a great risk if they failed to correspond to the loving kindness of their heavenly Spouse, or if they wounded the divine jealousy of His love. It is true that in the interior life you must be prepared for continual vicissitudes. This is the law to which all the transitory things of this life are subjected by God, and this law is so universal that to remain always in the same state must be looked upon with suspicion. What must you do now, then, that God is overwhelming you with lights and caresses?
1st. You must wait, and prepare yourself for the distressing absences of your Spouse: also in His absence you must look forward to His return, and sustain yourself with the hope of it.
2nd. You must not give yourself up too completely to these affections and consolations for fear of becoming attached to them. You should use the same moderation and the same sobriety with regard to them as a mortified person does with regard to the dishes at a feast.
3rd. Your present method of prayer is more a gift of grace than your own. Therefore let grace act, and remain in a position of humble docility, keeping with calmness and simplicity your interior glance fixed lovingly on God, and on your own nothingness. God will then effect great things in your soul without your knowledge either as to what they are, or how He works. Be careful not to give way to curiosity; be content to know and to feel that it is a divine operation, trust Him who works in you and abandon yourself entirely to Him so that He may 147form and fashion you interiorly as best pleases Him. Is it not enough that you should be to His liking and taste?
4th. During these happy moments have no other fear than that of becoming more attached to these gifts and graces than to the Giver and Benefactor. Do not value nor enjoy these graces and favours except in so far as they serve to inflame your soul with divine love, and are useful to help you in acquiring those solid virtues which please your heavenly Lover: self-abnegation, humility, mortification, patience, sweetness, obedience, charity, and gentle forbearance with your neighbour. Know that the devil is not the author of favours such as these, and that he can never deceive you if you only make use of these tastes and attractions for the acquisition of those solid virtues which faith and the Gospel teach and prescribe for us. Let God act; do not by your natural activity place obstacles in the way of His holy operations, and be faithful to Him in the smallest things for fear of exciting or provoking His divine jealousy.
5th. The most simple thoughts, and those that lead more directly to a filial confidence are the best in prayer. How pleasing to God are those prayers that are, at the same time, simple, familiar, and respectful, and how irresistible they are to Him. I wish you, with all my heart, a continuation of this simple and humble gift of prayer which is the greatest treasure of the spiritual life.
6th. You say that you cannot understand how the strong antipathy that you formerly entertained for your present state of life should have given place to such a perfect love of it. It is, my dear Sister, because, by different interior operations, your soul has, so to say, been re-modelled, somewhat in the way that an old metal or silver pot is re-cast to make an entirely new one, shining and bright. There will be many other remouldings in your soul if you become quite detached from consolations, faithful to grace, and completely resigned to God’s good pleasure in aridity, trouble and desolation.
7th. I feel, as you do, that it is God’s will that, little by little, you should die to all things, in order to live only in Him, for Him, and by Him; that is to say, to have neither thoughts, desires, plans, views, ambitions, affections, joys, fears, hope, nor love but for Him. But before arriving at this entire detachment, which is what is called a mystical death, you will have to endure cruel agonies. From henceforth you must prepare yourself for this, as, in bygone times the virgins, and the rest of the faithful prepared themselves for martyrdom, because this is in reality a true martyrdom beginning in love, and tending to the consummation of love. But be of good courage; God will uphold you and will give you now and then, breathing-space 148for the enjoyment of heavenly graces and of a delightful sweetness with which He will fill your soul as with a heavenly manna to nourish and fortify it during its sojourn in the desert of this world.
8th. What a fortunate attraction it is which unceasingly recalls you interiorly! What a holy dwelling, and blessed retreat has the heavenly Spouse made for Himself in your soul, where He makes Himself known to you and speaks to your heart in the most profound and loving silence, without sound of words, or confusion of fugitive thoughts! This should be your permanent dwelling and when you perceive yourself on the point of quitting it, try very gently to return, and to re-enter this divine trysting-place. It is in this that it is most necessary for you to be faithful.
9th. As concerns your extreme weakness and misery during times of aridity, and in the absence of the heavenly Bridegroom, you need not be in the least surprised at it and still less excessively afflicted or troubled. All good souls suffer in the same way, and God acts thus to remind us, by a hundred personal experiences, that we are nothing without Him, so that we shall attribute to Him alone all the glory of the little good that we perform by the help of His grace, and appropriate nothing to ourselves but evil.
10th. During this time that immediately follows the entrance of a soul into the state of recollection, you would hardly believe how necessary it is, not only to deny itself every useless pleasure and natural satisfaction, but also conversations, even pious ones, that are too long. It is often a device of the devil to feed pride, self-love, and foolish self-esteem, and to draw us gradually away till we forget God even in speaking about Him and about our own souls. We escape this danger when by continual efforts we have acquired a habit of living an interior life, and become accustomed to let the heart speak, rather than the intellect.
11th. Preserve most jealously a great taste for silence and solitude: the desire of it is enough for the present, and later, the time will come to put it into practice.
12th. It is certain, also, that familiar correspondence by letter, even in the most harmless way, is an obstacle to perfection, especially in youth. One of your former directors has already given you this advice and you did well in obeying him. This little sacrifice was very pleasing to God, and will have obtained for you the grace to make a second which I judge necessary. I see that it is incumbent on you to make continual progress in the way of detachment, and also that the special graces bestowed on you by God give Him the right to expect a corresponding fidelity on your part. After weighing the matter well in the 149sight of God, and in the interests of your soul this is what I think; I wish you to tell the person quite simply, that your director, whose advice you wish to follow, tells you that this letter-writing, though of the most innocent description, must be given up, as a little sacrifice which he desires and exacts, although he knows quite well that there is no danger either on your side or the other, as you have declared that the correspondence is with an upright man, a good Religious who is a relative: and that in spite of knowing all this the director is firm, and will maintain his prohibition, under the penalty of refusing any longer to undertake the care of your soul and that you neither wish nor dare to disobey him. I believe that this declaration, made with quiet energy will suffice to give your soul its full liberty.
13th. I thoroughly understand the miserable self-love of which you speak, and its natural result in the instinctive and indeliberate seeking after your own ease and comfort. This self-love is so deeply rooted in us, that only its opposite, divine love, can cause its death. It is enough, at present, to grieve about it, and to humble yourself before God. The prayer He gives you is a sacred fire which will insensibly consume all these evil inclinations, as fire consumes straw; so, have confidence in God, and wait patiently till this wretched straw is completely consumed.
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