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Letter XVI.—Fear of Singularity.
To the same person. On the fear of being deceived, and of appearing singular.
When one begins to wish to belong to God entirely and unreservedly, He increases, by the interior operations of His grace this holy desire which He has Himself inspired; but the more vehement this desire becomes, the more does the soul feel seized and penetrated with fear lest it should be deceived. This fear is a fresh gift of God, and provided the soul knows how to make good use of it, she will derive great benefit, become more humble, more self-distrustful, vigilant, and eager to obtain the help of God. But precisely because it is a gift of God, the spirit of darkness does not fail to make use of his ordinary tactics, and if he cannot prevent these gifts of God, he sets to work to spoil and corrupt them by every kind of stratagem. This is what he does with regard to the salutary fear of which I speak; and for this he makes use of two kinds of deception. At first he attempts to make this fear immoderate, excessive, uneasy and vexatious, to unsettle and weaken the soul, and having effected this, to cast it into a state of pusillanimity, and depression. For this, the only remedy is, to turn the laugh against the tempter, and to address him thus: “He who has begun the work will finish it, and since of His own goodness He has chosen me even when I shunned Him, He will take care not to abandon me when I seek Him with my whole heart.” Remember, besides, that a good beginning is the best guarantee of perseverance. It is very much easier to continue in the same way than to change it. There never would have been any conversions if attention had been paid to foolish fears. These are the first temptations of beginners. But, another and more dangerous stratagem still is this; the tempter seeks accomplices, and too frequently finds them amongst good people. In the way of our good resolutions he throws people not wanting in a sort of wisdom, nor in good intention, who find something to carp at in everything that grace inspires in our souls to take them out of the ordinary groove. To listen to these counsellors, who are the more eager to offer their advice the less they are asked for it, one would think that to aim at perfection is to make yourself remarkable in a dreadful way.209
We ought never, say they, to exaggerate, nor to undertake a course of life contrary to nature; what is out of the common never lasts, and exaggeration is blamable in everything. I do not hesitate to say that this is one of the greatest obstacles to divine grace that souls called to perfection can encounter. It is human respect in the cloister, which in its way, is as dangerous as that in the world, and no less prevents the conversion of souls from imperfection to sanctity, than the latter prevents the conversion from bad to good.
By what means can these dangers be avoided? By these. We must overcome, courageously, for the love of Jesus Christ, the impressions made on us by a false human respect, and make a generous sacrifice of them to our Lord, begging Him to help and sustain us that we may despise all these foolish remarks. It is enough to compare the maxims of the Gospel with the captious sophisms to which they are opposed, to convince ourselves that they cannot possibly proceed from the Spirit of God but only from human reasons, and that carnal spirit which is reprobated by God. “But those who talk like this are pious people.” That may be, but it only proves that some pious people do not always judge things by the pure light of the Gospel, but allow themselves to be deceived by false prejudices, and natural considerations, by interested self-love, error, blindness, or ignorance. They must, in fact, of necessity, be very ignorant and very blind not to perceive that there never has been a true conversion nor real change of heart that escaped notice either in the world or in religion. And why are these conversions noticeable when they are real? It is because they, necessarily, extend to the regulation of outward conduct, and even if there were nothing in the outward conduct that required regulating, the perfect order and heavenly peace restore to the soul would be manifested by infallible signs by which the good would be edified, but which, perhaps, would irritate the jealous self-love of others. One must needs be voluntarily blind not to see that at the beginning of a new life one’s conduct may seem constrained and uneasy, for this reason; because neither the person who is changed, nor others, are accustomed to an altered way of acting. In all things ease comes with habitude. Besides, how can a soul which is entirely employed in keeping recollected, in fighting against itself, in compelling itself to do violence in a hundred different ways, both interior and exterior, be expected to appear gay, free, happy, agreeable, and amusing? Truly, if I saw it like this I should have strong doubts as to any interior change whatever. However there are some people who are very interior, and at the same time appear very gracious outwardly. This is when a sufficiently long experience has made the exercise 210of interior recollection, in a sort of way, natural to them. But when they began they were just like you, my dear Sister, and the same things that are said of you, were said of them. They went their way without taking any notice of the talk, and God at last placed them in a state that is called the liberty of the children of God. Like them you also will attain to this, be assured: the day will come when your recollection will be without compulsion, constant, sweet, agreeable and good-humoured; then you also will be able to add to the pleasure of others by reflecting exteriorly that abounding peace and joy which is caused in the soul by the pure love of God, and of your neighbour. But no one can arrive at this suddenly, or at once; it is the result of a sufficiently long practice of virtue and of an interior life, which, at the beginning, seems of necessity uncomfortable and rather constrained; but in the end it will become natural. Then you will be able to resume your light-heartedness and gaiety, for both will be reformed and spiritualised by the holy operations of grace. In the beginning, however, it is impossible to do this without spoiling something.
You see the ignorance of these clever reasoners? Their judgments and remarks are to be pitied because it is precisely in this way that the world judges and reasons when God by His grace effects one of those great changes that are visible to all. Can it be possible that Religious talk in this way? It must be the work of the father of lies, who alone could make them speak and reason in such a wrong way. God be praised in all things! He will procure glory from it in some way or other. As for you, think only of bearing this trial bravely, and encourage yourself with the teaching of faith and the evangelical counsels which these grand reasoners seem to have lost sight of. Rejoice interiorly at this appearance of folly and stupidity which exposes you to their mockery; for it is a most sure sign of the change that has taken place in you. Say to our Lord with the Psalmist: “I am become like a beast of burden in Your presence, Oh my God; no one can separate me from You again.” In the service of so great a Master can any position be without honour? Act the part that He has given you at present, of seeming silly and awkward, as well as you can, and with a joyful heart wait patiently for the moment when another change will take place quite different to that which you are going through now. Then your faculties which now seem in bonds will regain their freedom of action; ease will succeed restraint and the holy liberty of the children of God will drive away excessive fear. The sight of the imperfection of all your works is a great grace of God Who by this, wishes to keep you humble, and with a poor opinion of yourself, but the excessive severity you are tempted to exercise 211towards yourself about it, the sadness, low spirits, and the idea that you will be lost, are suggestions of Satan who tries in this way to spoil the gift of God in you, and to turn it into poison. Cast them away therefore as diabolical imaginations. For a certain time such thoughts will return again and again without ceasing and will be matter for combats, for victories, and for merit; but, have a little patience, perfection is not the work of a day. At first do not attempt what is the most perfect; that would be trying to fly before you have got your wings, as St. Teresa says. Be content with what God gives you, and what He does for you at present, without desiring anything more until He judges fit to give it to you. In this way you will avoid interior agitation by which the devil succeeds too well in upsetting those souls who seek in the practice of virtue, more the satisfaction of their own self-love than the glory of God. In fact, it is impossible not to recognise the vexation of injured pride in the impatience with which they behold their imperfections and in the pain they feel in finding themselves at the foot of the ladder of sanctity when they wished to persuade themselves that they had arrived at the top. Do you, Sister, behave in a totally different manner. Love your abjection, allow the good God to carry out peacefully His work in you. Allow Him to place there a solid foundation of humility, and to cement it with frequent experiences of your misery and weakness. We should run too great a risk of losing everything by our vain imaginations if God were to give us, at once, all the perfection we desired. The inordinate love of our own excellence would carry us to as high a flight as Lucifer, but only like him, to fall into the abyss of pride. God, who knows our weakness in this respect, allows us to grovel like worms in the mud of our imperfections, until He finds us capable of being raised without feeling any foolish self-satisfaction, or any contempt of others.
This conduct of God, full of wisdom and goodness, fills with admiration those who have the guidance of souls, but they cannot help feeling sad when they see souls who refuse to understand the object of these merciful trials, getting out of temper when the ineffable ways of divine Providence are explained to them.212
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