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Letter XXXVI.—On Life and Death.

To Sister M. Antoinette de Mahuet (1742). On life and death, consolations and trials.


Here I am again at Albi, in a very agreeable climate, and among sociable people in whom the only fault I find is that of being too kind to me who always prefer solitude. The frequent invitations I receive are, to me, a veritable cross, and God will without doubt send me many others to temper the pleasure I feel in finding myself for the fourth time in a country that I have always loved so much. Blessed be God for all. He sows crosses everywhere! but I have already made a sacrifice of all, have accepted and offered in advance all the afflictions He is pleased to send me. This intention made beforehand renders trials much easier to bear when they come and makes them seem much lighter than imagination depicted them. Therefore I am overjoyed to find myself where God wishes me to be by the arrangements of His loving providence which always leads me as though by the hand. This paternal solicitude of which I am continually the object, redoubles my confidence. Although I am always in perfect health I feel that the years, so rapidly passing, will soon bring me to that eternal goal to which we are all hastening. True! this thought is bitter to nature but by dint of considering it as salutary it becomes almost agreeable as a disgusting remedy gradually ceases to appear so when its good effects have been experienced. One of my friends said the other day that in getting old it seemed to him that time passed with increasing rapidity, and that weeks seemed to him as short as days used to be, months like weeks, and years like months. As for that, what do a few years more or less signify to us who have to live and continue as long as God Himself? Those who have gone before us twenty or thirty years ago or even a century, or those who will follow us twenty or thirty years hence will neither be behindhand nor before others in that vast eternity, but it will seem to all of us as though we began it together. Oh! what power does not this thought contain to soften the 177rigours of our short and miserable life which, patiently endured, will be to our advantage. A longer or a shorter life, a little more, or a little less pain, what is it in comparison with the eternal life that awaits us? for which we are making rapidly, incessantly, and which is almost in sight, for me especially who am as it were on the brink, and on the point of embarking. It is therefore time, I ought to say with St. Francis of Sales and Fr. Surin to prepare my small equipment for eternity. Now the best equipment is that which appeared for us in the crosses which we bear lovingly, and the great sacrifices we make for God in doing His holy will. Nothing will console us more at the hour of death than our humble submission to the different arrangements of divine Providence in spite of the subtle imaginations of self-love often hidden under the most spiritual disguise and the most specious pretexts.

Do not be surprised then, my dear Sister, at being placed by God in this necessity of practising abandonment. The vicissitudes of good and evil, of illness and cure through which He makes you pass are well calculated to keep you in a state of continual dependence upon Him and to impel you to make acts of confidence of the most meritorious kind. To make a holy use of sufferings mitigates them considerably, and renders them extremely profitable. To bear them well is to make a great sacrifice comparable to that of those generous Christians who formerly confessed their faith at the stake; because the sufferings of life and the sorrows attached to the different states make martyrs of Providence, as the tortures inflicted by tyrants made martyrs of faith and of religion. I find, too, that the comparison of which you make use is very just. Yes, our life is like the journey of the Israelites across the desert amidst a thousand trials and followed by the too just judgments of God. Let us imitate the faithful Jews in recognising the divine equity in the chastisements He inflicts on us, and in regarding all our afflictions both visible and hidden as the work of God and not that of man’s injustice. God, says St. Augustine, would not allow any evil to happen, if He were not sufficiently powerful and good to turn it all to the greater good of His elect. Let us make use of our present evils, to escape those that are eternal, and to merit the rewards promised to faith and patience. The time will come, and it is at hand, when we shall say with David, “We have rejoiced for the days in which Thou hast humbled us for the years in which we have seen evils” (Ps. 89, v. 15).

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