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Letter I.—Aridity and Weakness.
There is reason to think that this letter was addressed by Fr. de Caussade to Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil, who, to enable her holy director to understand her better, had given him an account of her vocation, and of her spiritual state from the time she had embraced the religious life.
On the trials above-mentioned. General direction.
God has indeed granted you what you told me you had asked of Him, my dear Sister; for, in reading your letter I seemed to be reading your soul, and it appeared to me that I understood your spiritual state as well as if I had been your confessor and director for a long time. Oh! what consoling and instructive things I have to tell you! I hope that the Holy Spirit will enable you to understand and to enjoy them; and that God will deign by the merits of Jesus Christ, and the intercession of His most Holy Mother, of St. Joseph, St. Francis of Sales, and of all the saints of your Order who are now in Heaven, to grant them His holy blessing.
1st. Your vocation seems to me to have the marks of the seal of God; I see in it manifest signs of His divine will, proofs of His gratuitous predilection of your soul, and a solid guarantee of your eternal predestination.
2nd. The attraction you feel to give yourself entirely to Him, and live a wholly interior life in spite of the dissipation of your mind, and the rebellion of nature, is a grace the value of which I would that it pleased God to show you as He has me. It is all the more real in being less accessible to the senses and more completely hidden under contrary appearances.
3rd. Why is it, then, that in spite of this attraction, and of all your pious reading, you seem to remain always at the entrance of the interior life without the power of entering? I will tell you the reason, my dear Sister, for I see it very distinctly; it is because you have misused this attraction by inordinate desires, by over-eagerness, and a natural activity, thus displeasing 213God, and stifling the gentle action of grace. Also, because in your conduct there has been a secret and imperceptible presumption which has made you rely on your own industry, and your own efforts. God wishes to humiliate and to confound you by your own experiences, and in this way to moderate that natural ardour that carries you beyond the impressions of grace. Without noticing it you have acted as if you aspired to do all the work by your own industry, and even to do more than God desired. You who would have taken yourself to task for any worldly ambition, have, without scruple, allowed yourself to be carried away by a still more subtle ambition, and by a desire for a high position in the spiritual life. But, be comforted; thanks to the merciful severity of God’s dealings with you, so far there is nothing lost; on the contrary you have gained greatly. God punished you for these imperfections like a good father, with tenderness; and enables you to find a remedy for the evil in the chastisement He inflicts on you. To avenge these infidelities He sends you the sort of trials He is accustomed to make use of to purify and detach those chosen souls called to pure love and divine union.
If you understood this fatherly conduct in your regard, and looked at your trials from the right point of view all your fears would disappear of their own accord. You would not be surprised, for example, that your aridity and interior trouble have increased since you entered religion. I am not by any means surprised, and should have been very sorry on your account had it been otherwise. Has it not been since then, in fact, that you have belonged more entirely to God, and that this divine Spouse has laboured more energetically to purify your soul, and to render it capable of being perfectly united to Him?
4th. As for that state of dissipation of which you complain so much, I agree with you in thinking that it is partly the result of your natural character, of the liveliness of your imagination and above all, of habit. However, God has only allowed this result to humble and confound you more completely; and the keen pain you suffer is not the least part of the merit of this trial. You see I am very far from believing, as you do, that there is no remedy for this evil or that it is caused by some secret sins.
The fear that this dissipation of mind causes you when you go to prayer, is a temptation, or else simply imagination, and God gives you a great grace in giving you courage to take no notice of it, but to approach Him with confidence in spite of this misleading fear.
5th. In your distaste for your outward occupations and duties I see only another side of your trials and one which can be very 214meritorious in the sight of God provided that you overcome it instead of allowing yourself to be overcome by it.
The acts that you make in opposition to this feeling, and of sacrifice and self-abnegation are very solid and very good. The merit of these acts is much increased by the renewal of the interior rebellions by which you are crucified; this is another part of the trial.
6th. That which you add about your powerlessness and apparent idleness in prayer, is a consequence of this trial, and naturally follows it; I should have been greatly surprised had it been otherwise.
Be reassured, therefore, for you will have to continue to waste your time in prayer, my dear Sister, and although you might do it more quietly, and this, please God, you will eventually achieve, you will never make any prayer that would be better, more useful, or more meritorious; because the prayer of abnegation and suffering being more crucifying is also more purifying for the soul, and makes it die to self more quickly in order to live henceforth in God and for God. Oh! how much I love such prayer during which you stand before God like a beast of burden feeling nothing and bowed down under the weight of all sorts of temptations! What could be more calculated to humble, confound, and annihilate a soul before God? This is what the soul requires, and to what its apparent miseries lead. Ah! if you only knew how to remain with respect and submission in this humiliating condition, abandoning yourself so entirely to the divine will as to take pleasure in your abjection and annihilation for the love of God, you would become much more pleasing to Him in your inaction and silence than by making the most explicit and energetic acts! No! there is no sacrifice more acceptable to God than a broken and humble heart, this is truly a holocaust full of sweet odours. Prayers that are full of fervour and devotion, or voluntary mortifications, bear no comparison because they cannot come near it.
7th. Your terrors about confession and communion are to be rejected and despised as temptations and imaginations; they are another part of your trial. However, should they continue to trouble you, in spite of your resistance, take no notice, and be patient in this state as in other things. As to the wish to get rid of this trying state, it is not the direct, but the natural result of the trial, and the effect of self love which cries out, and struggles rebelliously when it finds itself on the point of being pitilessly exterminated. You must not be daunted, nor terrified, but struggle bravely with your free-will against these desires, and persevere with an unshaken constancy in choosing always to accomplish the holy will of God. This 215point is of the first importance, not only to gather the fruit of the trial, but also to soften its bitterness and to shorten its duration. If, in your case, it has lasted a long time, I have grounds for attributing this to the fact that you have not had sufficient courage to make the entire sacrifice that God demanded of you. Hasten then to make it, and say to Him, “Yes, my God, I accept all, I submit to all without reserve, and for as long as You please.”
From all I have just said you will conclude without difficulty that there is but one thing for you to do, which is to let God dispose of you as He pleases, and to keep yourself quietly and interiorly tranquil as far as you can, but nevertheless without effort. Abandonment to God is for you just now the one thing necessary. To effect this thoroughly I give you the following rules:
1st. When you go to prayer you must be resigned to suffer at it, to be tormented and afflicted exactly as God pleases. When distractions, aridity, temptations, and weariness overwhelm you, say, “You are welcome, Cross of my God; I embrace you with a resigned will; made me suffer until my self-love becomes crucified and dead.” Then remain in God’s presence like a beast of burden weighed down with its load, and almost ready to perish, but expecting succour and help from its Master. If you could but throw yourself in spirit at the foot of the Cross of Jesus Christ, humbly kiss His sacred wounds, and remain there at His divine feet steadfast and motionless, and do nothing else but wait patiently in silence and peace as a poor beggar waits for hours at a time at the gates of a great king, or of a generous and rich benefactor, hoping to receive an alms. But before all things do not dream of making any more efforts, either in prayer, or in anything else, trying to be more recollected than God wishes you to be.
2nd. Do not therefore, make any violent efforts to preserve recollection during the day, or to drive away the continual distractions that make you uneasy; be satisfied to know that this state of dissipation displeases you, and that you have a great desire to be recollected; but only when it pleases God, and as much as it pleases Him, neither more nor less.
3rd. If the dissipation of mind should sometimes be so trying, and the aridity, troubles, fears, and other vexatious feelings so overwhelming that you cannot make a single interior act, nor even entertain a good thought, do not be cast down. You have nothing to fear, but rather, much to gain if, in this deplorable condition you understand how to remain in the simple interior silence of respect, submission, and adoration of which I have 216already spoken, and to bury yourself in the abyss of your own nothingness. This nothingness, accepted and loved for the love of God, is your safe refuge in the midst of these storms. It is there that you must remain, and it is from thence that you must take pleasure in beholding the fulfilment within you of the will of God. You must love to see Him, in imagination, raining down from the heights of Heaven, distractions, aridity, fears, anguish, and every species of trouble and humiliation on your soul; as if He would make of you the plaything of His pleasure and of His divine love; just as one sees sometimes, how great princes will amuse themselves with splashing one of their favourites with mud.
4th. As to the sacraments take good care never to omit receiving them. “But,” you say to me, “how can I prepare for confession and communion when my mind is obsessed with all sorts of fears and difficulties?” You must despise them, take no notice, and go straight to God without ever disputing or reasoning with them either for or against, and having done the little you could, or knew how to do, quietly, and without effort, remain tranquil in the perfect interior silence of faith, respect, submission and confidence often saying, but without words: “May my sovereign Lord and Master do with me whatever He pleases. Amen! Amen!”
5th. As in all that you tell me there is no sin, or at any rate, nothing voluntary although it often seems otherwise to you, keep yourself in a constant state of calmness and tranquillity. I do not speak of the lower part of the soul, which is all in trouble and desolation: but of the superior part, of that profound depth of your soul, which, with God’s help, can remain tranquil and peaceful in the midst of these storms and commotions. Agitation is, so to speak, only outside the soul in the exterior senses, to mortify them and cause them to die, as they must in order to be able to attain to pure love and union with God. It is for you to prevent this trouble from penetrating to the interior; and it is in this, that, up to now, you have not been sufficiently enlightened, nor faithful enough.
6th. In fact, although I can discover no particular sin in your conduct, yet I perceive a whole host of defects and imperfections in it which might do you great harm if you did not apply a strong remedy. These are uneasiness, foolish fears, depression, weariness, and a discouragement not quite free from deliberation, or at least not combated with sufficient energy, all of which tend to diminish that interior peace the necessity for which I am endeavouring to inculcate. “But what can I do to prevent them?” This: first, never retain them wilfully; secondly, never parley with them, nor yet combat them with effort, or 217violence, because that would make them doubly hurtful; but drop them, like one drops a stone into the water; think of something else, speak to God of other things, as St. Francis of Sales advises, then take refuge in the interior silence of respect, submission, confidence, and a total abandonment. “But,” you say, supposing that in these, or in other matters I commit faults, how ought I to behave?” Well! then you must bear in mind the advice of St. Francis of Sales; do not trouble yourself about your troubles, do not be uneasy about your uneasiness, do not be discouraged because you are discouraged, but return immediately to God without violence but humbling yourself quietly and tranquilly, even thanking Him for having prevented you from falling into greater faults. This sweet and gentle humility united to confidence in the divine goodness will tranquillize and pacify your soul, and this is, at present, your greatest spiritual need. I forgot to tell you that your great desire of divine love in spite of what you undergo afterwards, is certainly not an imagination, nor a chimera, on the contrary it is very real, very solid and most excellent, and must be preserved, but quietly and gently without giving way to those feelings of fervour, to those transports of the imagination, or to that natural activity that spoils everything. That which you experience, after having been all on fire with these ardent desires, when you try to return to yourself, need not surprise you. I will try and make clear by a comparison what then takes place within you. When you throw a very dry piece of wood that will burn easily, on the fire, the flame seizes it at once and consumes it quietly and noiselessly; but if you throw green wood on the fire the flame does not affect it except for a moment, and then the heat of the fire acting on the green wet wood makes it exude moisture and emit sighing sounds, and twists and turns it in a hundred different ways with great noise, until it has been made dry enough for the fire to take hold of it; then the flame spreads and consumes it without any effort or noise, but quietly.
This is an image of the action of divine love on souls that are still full of imperfections and the evil inclinations of self-love. These must be purified, refined, and cleared away and this cannot be achieved without trouble and suffering. Look upon yourself then, as this green wood acted on by divine love before it is able to enkindle it, and to consume it with its flames. Or else as a statue under the hands of a sculptor, or like a stone which is chipped and cut with the chisel and hammer to make it the right shape to take its place in a beautiful building. If this stone could feel, and if, while it thus suffered it asked you what it should do in so much pain, you would, without doubt, reply, “Keep perfectly quiet in the hands of the workman and let him 218proceed with his work, otherwise you will always remain a rough common piece of stone.” Take this advice yourself, have patience and let God do the work because there is really nothing else for you to do, only say, “I adore and I submit. Fiat!”
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