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Letter IV.—Darkness and Doubts.
To a Postulant. On obscurity and weakness.
Note: “This Postulant is Madame de Lesen, about whom Rev. Mother Marie-Anne-Thérèse de Rosen had consulted Fr. de Caussade, and had undertaken to place in direct communication with him. She entered the Convent of the Annunciation at St. Mihiel.”
My dear Sister,
All that you describe to me in your letter appears to me so easy to decide, that God must have kept you in very great darkness if you have not been able, with the help of His grace, to find a clue for yourself. Besides, as you tell me, God does, occasionally, send you some rays of light to illuminate your soul, and disperse the darkness of your doubts. These gleams of light which enkindle your heart, filling it with a sweet peace and great courage in the service of God, can come only from Heaven. Therefore you can follow these lights without fear, and the recollection of them will suffice to sustain and guide you in moments of darkness. However, since God has inspired you to apply to me again, it will be quite easy to satisfy you in each particular.221
1st. The snares and subtleties of self-love render you, you say, incapable of seeing things in their proper light. Then why do you attempt to do so? Have you not, in holy obedience, an infallible guide, and in humility and docility sure guarantees that you are not misled in following the decisions laid down for you.
2nd. After having consulted your Superior or your Mistress with the simplicity of a little child, remain in peace, for this is your security. If you do not submit to this rule, you will be much to be pitied, and it will be your own fault.
3rd. To feel so keenly your weakness, and need of sensible support, and as it were, always on the edge of a precipice is, in truth, a very humiliating trial, but a very salutary one, since it leads infallibly to a total distrust of self, and to the most perfect confidence in God. This is the only way to leave the region of the senses, and to enter the life of pure faith and love which is wholly spiritual.
4th. The dark dungeon in which you find yourself is a prison into which, I will not say the justice of God, but His very great mercy throws you from time to time to purify you like gold in a crucible. You have only to stay there as quietly as you can. “But how then shall I practise virtue?” In this case virtue consists in suffering, in silent endurance and abandonment, and in humble and loving submission. You know the great maxim that more progress is made during suffering than in action. “But,” you will say, “I commit sin while in this state.” No, there is no sin, the Master of the prison will prevent that. “But it seems to me that I look upon hell with indifference.” This is a strong way of expressing yourself, but, thank God, I can understand the meaning of it better than you do. It only expresses the result of that interior operation by which God weakens your self-love. Take courage, the day will come, and perhaps soon, when you will be able to realise the great good effected in this dark prison; for the present you must live in this hope without other light than that of faith.
5th. No doubt, there occur, in your state of interior fever, paroxysms which seem to devour and consume you. These are caused by what is impure and earthly in the depths of the soul, which is thus consumed and devoured, like the evil humours of the body during the paroxysms of certain fevers. This is a symptom of cure not of illness. “But at these times I can neither pray, nor have recourse to God.” No, perhaps not, at any rate not in a perceptible manner; but the heart prays without ceasing by hidden desires known only to God. Your conclusion really made me laugh; “judge therefore,” you say, “how I acquit myself of the obligation of reciting the Office, assisting 222at Mass and the rest.” Very willingly, my dear Sister, would I take upon myself all the evil you commit in these circumstances, if you would concede me all the good that God is effecting in you. That little word, “therefore,” has given me an insight into a certain temptation which the subtlety of the evil spirit tries to introduce into your soul. But let us follow your letter, and the thread of my reply. You begin to think, say you, that you were very rash in making a vow to become a Religious, and that the observances of the religious life are far beyond your powers. If I had not had a long experience of the progress made by even the most manifest temptations, when they are given the least encouragement under pretext of examining them, I should never have imagined you capable of succumbing so foolishly to this one. To cut it short I must tell you firstly, that I knew by the drift of your letter that this was the temptation the devil aimed at by all the changes he has rung in your soul. If he can only make you relinquish your prize, what a victory he will gain! what a triumph for all hell! Secondly, I forbid you in the Name of God and by all the authority He has given me over you, either to listen to, or examine into this subject in any way; and I command you to act about it in the same way as if the devil suggested that you should throw yourself into a well or poison all the Religious. Thirdly, God wills you to embrace the religious life; this then ought to take place, and will take place in spite of all hell let loose to prevent it. “But the spiritual afflictions! the bodily infirmities!” If necessary God will perform miracles about them, and you must expect these miracles when they are required. Now humble yourself, my dear Sister, annihilate yourself profoundly before God, confess to Him that you are weakness and inconstancy itself. This experience should serve for the future to make you feel how necessary it is to distrust self in our boasted courage and apparent firmness in good resolutions which come to nothing without God’s ceaseless support. How poor, weak and miserable beyond all expression are we not, and liable to go wrong in every imaginable way, and in things we should never have thought possible!
6th. The sensitiveness you feel when being corrected, in this state of trouble, ought to be a subject of humiliation, but not of discouragement; because it is true that at such times sensitiveness is so keen that St. Teresa herself was obliged to be on her guard against a spiteful and fretful temper which she was tempted to vent on the Sisters. It would take too long to tell you the great good God produces in our souls by these feelings and rebellions, provided they are borne patiently.
7th. God makes you feel that Satan is laying traps for you, and that, at the same time His invisible hand bears you up, and 223holds you back; what could be more encouraging? Keep firm, all this will turn to your very great good, and above all will serve to make you thoroughly convinced of your own weakness which you have never hitherto understood such as it is. You require all these temptations and trials to convince you of it, and to tear from your heart every fibre of foolish self-confidence. It is only when we begin to be cured that we recognize the evil.
I finish by repeating that your state, although, in truth, very crucifying, is nevertheless, and indeed on that account, very safe, very purifying and very sanctifying. You need fear no danger, as long as you hold by Fénélon’s great rule: despair entirely of yourself, and put not an atom of confidence in anything but God alone, Who, from the very stones can raise up children to Abraham.
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