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Letter III.—The Illusions of the Devil.
To Sister Charlotte-Elizabeth Bourcier de Monthureux (1735). On interior troubles voluntarily entertained and weakness.
My dear Sister,
For several days past I have had so many letters to write, either for this country, or for France, that I have not been able to read your long account. I do not disguise from you that it seemed to me very useless, because God has given me the grace 186to thoroughly understand your state without my having the trouble to read all this. However, I have read the most essential part, that against which you have put a particular mark, and it has only confirmed the opinion I had formed of you some time ago. Excuse me, my dear Sister, if I insist on the same direction that I have always hitherto given you. Until now you have derived great benefit from having followed it, why then allow yourself to be misguided by the illusions of the devil? I am not speaking to you at random, but with full conviction, do then believe me, and prove, by your docility that the confidence with which you honour me is not a vain pretence. If you really have a good will, if you are sincerely and earnestly resolved to belong to God, you ought to make every effort to maintain yourself in peace in order not to give the lie to the message of the angels, “Peace to men of goodwill.” But you must expect that Satan will exert every effort to prevent you acquiring a peace so desirable. I know that, unfortunately, he has but too well succeeded up to now. The greatest evil in your soul at present is that of anxiety, uneasiness and interior agitation. This malady is, thank God, not incurable, but as long as it remains unhealed it cannot but be even more dangerous than painful to you. Interior disturbance renders the soul incapable of listening to, and following the voice of the divine Spirit, of receiving the sweet and delightful impressions of His grace, and of applying itself to pious exercises, and to exterior duties. It is the same with such sick and afflicted souls as with bodies enfeebled by fever, which cannot accomplish any serious task until delivered from their malady. And as there is a certain analogy between them there is also some resemblance between the remedies to be used. The health of the body can only be restored by three means, obedience to the physician, rest, and good food. These are, likewise, the three means of restoring peace and health to a soul that is agitated, sick, and almost in agony.
The first condition for its cure is obedience, a childlike blind obedience founded on the principle that God, having authorised His priests to guide us cannot allow those souls to be deceived who, on this account, abandon themselves blindly to their guidance. Before all things, therefore, make your virtue consist in the renunciation of your own judgment, and in a humble and generous intention of believing and doing all that your director judges, before God, to be expedient. If you are animated with this spirit of obedience you will never allow yourself voluntarily to entertain thoughts opposed to what has been enjoined you, and you will take good care not to give in to the inclination to examine and scrutinize everything. If, however, 187in spite of yourself, some thoughts contrary to obedience enter your mind, you must reject them, or better still, despise them as dangerous temptations.
The second remedy for your complaint is rest, and peace for your soul. To acquire this, you must first of all desire it ardently, and pray to God earnestly for it, and then work with all your might to acquire it. If you wish to know how to set about this task I will tell you.
Be very careful not to allow any thoughts which would bring about uneasiness, sadness, or depression to remain in your mind. These thoughts are, in one sense, more dangerous than temptations to impurity; you must, therefore, let them alone, without dwelling on them; despise them, and let them fall like a stone into the sea. Resist them by fixing your mind on contrary ideas, and above all by making aspirations suitable for the occasion, with sighs and interior groanings accompanied by acts of humility. But this struggle while being energetic and generous must also be quiet, tranquil and peaceful, because if it were to be restless, unhappy, ill-humoured and wild, the remedy would be worse than the disease. In the second place avoid in your actions, whether exterior or interior, all eagerness, hurry, and natural activity; accustom yourself on the contrary, to speak, to walk, to pray and to read quietly, slowly, without overexerting yourself no matter for what, not even to repulse the most frightful temptations. You must remember that if these temptations are displeasing to you that is the best sign that you have not consented to them. As long as the free will feels nothing but horror at, and hatred for the objects presented to the imagination in these temptations, it is evident that it does not in any way consent to them. Keep yourself, therefore, in peace in the midst of these temptations as you have done in other trials.
1st. It only remains then to cure the weakness resulting from the fever which torments a soul in trouble. For that a strengthening diet is necessary—that is to say—to read good books, and to get accustomed to read very slowly with frequent pauses more to try and take an interest in what you read than to make use of the intellect in reflexions on it. Remember the wise saying of Fénélon, “The words we read are like the bark of the tree, but the interest we take in them is like the sap which feeds and fattens the soul.” We must act as regards this spiritual nourishment as gluttons and sensualists act with regard to their feasts which they taste in remembrance, and enjoy after having swallowed them.
2nd. We must only speak on useful and edifying subjects, and with those who are most capable of leading us to God by their holy conversation.188
3rd. Never seek consolation from creatures by useless intercourse. This is an essential matter for those who are suffering interior trials. God, who sends them for our good, desires that we should bear them without going elsewhere for consolation, but to Him; and He claims the right to settle the moment when such consolation should be given to us.
4th. We must apply ourselves, each according to his or her capacity and attraction to interior prayer, but without intense application or strain, keeping very quietly in the holy presence of God, addressing Him occasionally by some interior act of adoration, repentance, confidence, or love. If, however, it is not possible to make such acts, we must be content with the good desire of doing so; for, whether for good or evil, desire is equivalent to an act in the sight of God. Bossuet, somewhere in his works very truly says: “Desire is, with regard to God, what the voice and words are with regard to men. We ask, and return thanks by the desires we have, which say everything, and make our petitions known to God much more distinctly than any words could do, or even those interior acts which are called particular and formal.” This is what gave rise to the saying that a cry uttered only in the depths of the heart is the same in the sight of Him Who sounds all hearts, as a cry that pierces the heavens.
5th. It is necessary to put this manner of praying into practice, not only at morning devotions, but also during the whole day in a quiet, easy, tender, and affectionate manner by frequently raising the heart to God, or by an interior attention to the divine presence. To gain greater facility you might review in the morning nearly every event both interior and exterior, likely to occur during the day, and ask yourself, “If I find myself in such a circumstance, or such a position, what shall I say to God, what act should I make?” and if, when the time arrives you are prevented from carrying out your good intentions, you can be content to adhere to them, even if only indistinctly, and to lay before God your inability. Finally the best food for the soul consists in willing in all and for all what God wills; or, in other words to adhere to all the designs of divine Providence in every imaginable circumstance whether interior or exterior, health or sickness, aridity, distractions, weariness, disgusts, temptations, etc., and to accept all this very heartily, saying, “Yes, my God, I will everything; I accept all, I sacrifice all to You; or, at any rate I wish to do so, and ask for this grace, help me and strengthen my weakness.” In the most fearful temptations say to Him, “My God, preserve me from sin in this matter; but I willingly accept as much confusion to 189my pride, and interior abjection and humiliation as You will and long as You will, I unite my will to Yours.”
The most uneasy and enfeebled soul could not fail to recover its lost peace and joy if it adopted these means for regaining them.
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