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Letter XVI.—The Operations of Grace.
To Sister Marie-Anne-Thérèse de Rosen (1734). The operations of grace.
My dear Sister,
I have read your letter with much consolation and spiritual joy. I bless God from my heart for having been pleased to glorify Himself in your weakness and poverty. We celebrate to-day the feast of St. Agatha, and in her collect we pray that as He has chosen the weaker sex to show forth His mighty power, so we might by her intercession be brought nearer to Him. I have applied this thought to you.
1st. Your great attraction towards simplicity is a grace that can have no other effect than to unite you more closely with God, for simplicity tends to unity, and this can be obtained, first, by a simple and loving interior looking to God in pure faith, whether this interior looking is perceptible by its sweetness, as at present, or becomes almost unknown to the senses by being in the depths of the soul, or in the apex, or point of the spirit. Secondly, by keeping guard over all your interior senses in a profound silence. Thirdly, by only making repeated acts and reflections according as God gives you the thought, attraction, and impulsion.151
2nd. This indistinct knowledge, or rather, this strong impression that you have of the immensity of God is the work of grace, which produces, and leaves in the depth of the soul very salutary effects that no one has ever been able to explain, and on which it is best not to reason nor even to dwell unless God, Himself, impels us. Do not interfere with this impression, nor distress yourself when it pleases God to take it away. The soul will thus be prevented from becoming more attached to the gifts of God than to God Himself, and from ruining all the operations of grace by attributing the good effects they produce to itself.
3rd. The holy Scripture says that God dwells in inaccessible darkness to the spirit of man, but when He introduces a soul into that darkness it becomes luminous to it. Then can it see all without seeing anything, it can hear all without hearing, and gain knowledge without knowing anything. This is called wise ignorance, or, as St. Denis explains it, the darkness of the light of faith. All that is necessary to know about it is that it is an operation of grace; allow yourself to be immersed in it with joy, let yourself be engulfed and lost in it as much as God pleases.
4th. This attraction to and taste for mental prayer, and this profound peace and silence full of admiration and love are marked effects of the prayer of recollection. But to remain in a kind of inactivity, like an empty space, or a mere instrument waiting for the master-hand of the worker, is another operation of grace. In this state you have only to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Wait patiently in silence and resignation, as the holy king, David, said, “Like a servant waits with her eyes fixed on her mistress to forestall and accomplish her commands at the least sign from her”; if nothing is said, still wait in the same interior spirit of submission and abandonment. Should grace inspire particular and formal acts, perform them quietly, following step by step the impulse given for that purpose, and stop directly it ceases, to resume once more the same silent attention.
5th. This spirit of total abandonment, with the fervent and reiterated petition to accomplish all that God wills frequently prognosticates a transition to an interior state of trial extremely hard and crucifying. All that can be done is to prepare yourself generally, before God, by a complete self-distrust and a great confidence in Him; and by a general abandonment to all without particularising anything unless God makes it clear to you. On this subject I say to you that if for want of tyrants there are no longer martyrs for the faith to the shedding of blood; Jesus Christ will continue to have martyrs of grace. The torments of the body give place with advantage to the different interior sufferings which souls have to endure to purify them more and 152more and to render them better fitted for a more strict and intimate union with the God of all purity and holiness. The feeling of confusion and of interior annihilation is caused by the action of the Spirit of God; all the graces He gives us should always bear the sign-manual of humility, and all that has not this sign must be regarded with suspicion, and likewise everything that has the slightest shadow of pride, presumption, or vain self-satisfaction.
6th. Having once experienced the sweetness, efficacy, and purity of the divine operations, I am not surprised at the sort of horror you entertain for your own efforts which are nearly always hurried, wild, uneasy, and followed by a thousand fruitless self-examinations. It is not a bad thing to remain inactive when you do not think yourself to be actuated by the Spirit of God; as long as one of these two conditions can be found in this state—that this inaction does not last long, or else that it is a peaceful waiting which is not idleness, since there is in it that interior and loving attention to God, with faith, desire, and hope of His holy operation, which are so many acts, and so many movements of the mind and heart, forming the essence of true interior prayer.
You must not scrutinise spiritual things so much, but follow God with simplicity, as St. Francis of Sales says: “To do otherwise is to oppose the holy simplicity that pertains to candid and innocent souls.”
All that is caused by, or proceeds from the love of God, says your saintly Father, is sweet and gentle, like this very holy love itself; and the signs of a self-seeking nature are the confusion, haste, and anxiety of a self-love that is perpetually eager, anxious and impetuous.
7th. I understand that your attraction has always been the knowledge and love of God in, and through Jesus Christ. The simple perception, or consideration of these mysteries, accompanied by holy affections, is already a very good method of prayer. When all the contemplation of the mind, and the affections of the heart are gathered into one point, for instance—-the Deity, the prayer is much simplified, is better and more divine; but you must not imagine that this method will always continue: usually it is not a permanent state, but a fugitive grace. When it has passed, you must return to the simple contemplation of the mystery with some affections of the heart, gentle, peaceful, without effort or too much examination.
8th. Be careful, during the time of prayer, not to reflect on yourself, or your method of prayer, because to examine closely in this way, one often leaves off looking at God to look at oneself, to reflect and, as it were, to turn back on oneself simply out of self-love which, not having been entirely given up, falls 153back naturally on itself. When divine repose begins, do not think of its sweetness but only of God in whose heart your soul should rather seek charity and the infusion of those virtues which fill the soul during that happy sleep, than its own repose. For the rest you could not hear Mass nor recite the Office in a more worthy manner than with these interior dispositions, but you must prepare to be weaned from the milk of spiritual infancy, and to eat the bread of the strong. May God be praised for this beforehand.
9th. Certainly the more annihilated and empty of created things a soul becomes the greater will be its capacity for divine love, and the more abundantly will this love be infused into it. Then the soul drinks long draughts of love with a delicious satiety, and an insatiable thirst. One must then be content to drink at the source, and not make unseasonable commotion. Formal acts of charity would be greatly out of place when one feels that the heart is entirely submerged in charity. God wills that by dint of plunging and replunging your soul in this ocean of charity your heart may become inebriated with this holy love, and set on fire with these pure and divine flames. To attain this you must think of two things only—first to detach your mind and heart more and more from all created things, secondly to allow God to act, for He alone produced these effects in your soul. Still you can, and ought to desire, and to ask for a greater love of God, when you feel inclined, and impelled to do so; but this you will do almost without thinking and without being able to help yourself.
10th. God carries out His work with any tools He pleases, and sometimes effects wonderful things with very weak instruments. Therefore do not deny yourself to those souls whom He has inspired to appeal to you: say quite simply what you think and give them what God has given you for their benefit, and rest assured that He will give His blessing to your simplicity, and to the humility of these good souls. When God sends someone to us in whatever way it may be, it is not meddling to help others, but the best way of showing our love and gratitude to Him. Even when they seem to repel you, stand your ground, and endure all for the glory of your great Master.
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