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Letter VIII.—On Dryness and Distractions.
To Sister Jeanne-Elizabeth Gaury (1735). On dryness and distractions during prayer.
My dear Sister,
1st. Your method is very simple, and that which is simple is always best. It goes straight to God, and you must continue it; but do so quietly, without effort, and without eagerness either to preserve it, or to regain it when the perception of it has been lost; that would be to wish to appropriate to yourself the gift of God. In this method of prayer distractions and dryness are pretty frequent, but all the same if these are endured patiently and with abandonment to the will of God, it is an excellent prayer. Besides, although these distractions and this aridity are painful, they do not prevent the constant desire to pray which remains in the depths of the heart, and it is in this desire that heartfelt prayer consists.
If you have been praying in this excellent manner for a considerable time, say for two or three years, it would serve no purpose to take a book; but if these times of powerlessness and aridity have lasted only for seven or eight consecutive days, then make use of a book, but read with frequent pauses; and should you find that this reading distracts you still more, or troubles your soul, leave it off, and try as well as you can to remain peacefully and silently in the presence of God.
You need not be surprised, nor still less troubled that the very same things that used to touch you deeply, at one time, should now make not the slightest impression on you; this is one of the vicissitudes that have to be put up with interiorly just as the exterior vicissitudes of weather and seasons have to be borne; and it is only the very inexperienced who do not expect this.
2nd. In this method of prayer resolutions are seldom made, but virtue is practised much more easily than when resolutions were made in meditation; because by the previous operation of the Holy Spirit the heart is disposed to do so when the occasion arises. The interior dispositions of persons following this method might be expressed in the following manner which 233would be of more value than any resolutions. “Lord make me do good and avoid evil on such occasions, or in such circumstances, otherwise I know by personal experience that I shall do exactly the reverse of what I ought.”
The sweetness and efficacy of holy recollection are often the prize and recompense of former sacrifices; but this sensible pleasure does not, at first, take away all repugnance and interior rebellion, though it gradually diminishes them until, in time, a sensible joy is felt even in the most bitter trials.
3rd. God permits your slight infidelities to give you a deeper conviction of your weakness, and gradually to destroy in you that unhappy self-esteem, presumption and secret self-confidence which would never otherwise allow you to acquire true humility of heart. As you know nothing pleases God more than a complete contempt of self, accompanied by an absolute confidence in Him alone. This God of all goodness, therefore, does you a great favour in compelling you, often against your will, to drink from this chalice so much dreaded by your self-love and corrupt nature. And to know how to appreciate this favour at its proper value, and to realise your own happiness, are feelings so supernatural that they can only be attributed to the operation of the Holy Spirit. Another operation of grace is to feel happy in bearing some resemblance to Jesus Christ, but this feeling is not to be greatly depended on, have a fear of meeting with difficult circumstances, and distrust your own weakness.
4th. There are never any illusions to be feared in repugnance and involuntary rebellion, as they are incompatible with holy prayer by which they are vanquished and overcome. You are wrong in persuading yourself that you will never be able to acquire true humility nor perfect mortification on account of feeling in yourself such a strong opposition to these virtues. If you had only your own powers to rely upon it would indeed be impossible, but as you very justly add yourself, with the help of God’s grace merited for you by Jesus Christ, all becomes easy. It might happen that even this truth should make no impression on you and I should not be surprised if such were the case, but your remark to me on the subject proves plainly that like all beginners, you attach much too much importance to feelings of devotion. Nevertheless, it is an understood fact that in the order of supernatural operations of grace what is most sensible is least perfect and least safe, while that which is most spiritual and most hidden is by far the best. When God deprives you of His sensible presence, and of devotion in recollection, content yourself with having a holy desire and wish to 234retain it; this will suffice, as it is most pleasing to God and very meritorious.
5th. Any disquiet is an injury to the soul, therefore you should exert all your energy to repel that which you experience on the subject of the divine Office, especially as there is no reason for it, the desire to say it well and the will to do so always remaining in spite of involuntary distractions, and yours are all of this kind. The proof of this is manifest, which is, that you feel a real pain at heart whenever you notice this wandering of the mind. What more certain, or better sign could you have that you have not consented? If you are afraid of distractions, it shows that they are not voluntary in their origin, and especially if you try to practice recollection during the day. Therefore be at peace and accept submissively these involuntary miseries.
6th. You have shown me another subject of uneasiness; one which is of no consequence, and which has its foundation in various illusions, and of which you must cure yourself. The first is the great desire you have of sensible pleasure in Communion, and is an effect of spiritual self-love. The second is the belief that this sensible pleasure is a necessary condition of a good Communion. Alas! my dear daughter what would become of so many holy souls who usually feel nothing but dryness, callousness, and often distaste? In all our spiritual exercises we must approach God by pure faith which is scarcely felt. The less feeling you have in your communions and prayers the more likely they are to be purer and more pleasing to God. This is the way of bare faith and pure love which is never self-seeking. St. Francis of Sales used to say, “Our miserable satisfactions do not satisfy God.” Pure love consists in being content with all that pleases God, and will not permit us to will anything contrary to the will of God, even as to our holiest desires and actions; nor, consequently, to act against His holy permissions; even should the cause of certain occurrences be the result of our own fault. This principle is either ignored, or, at least, obscured by the subtlety of our self-love, so ingenious in making out everything that satisfies it, or gives it pleasure to be good and holy. A good Religious speaking on this subject said that God had gradually taken away all her pleasure, and all the spiritual attractions and feelings in whatever she did, to purify her love, which the first sweetness had left so imperfect and impure.
For communion and the spiritual exercises of the morning and evening follow the method that most attracts you. One short act of your own is worth more than all the long prayers you read. The indifference you feel as to what is thought or said about you is an effect of the operation of the Holy Spirit. Continue as you 235are doing, never excusing nor justifying yourself, unless you are ordered to do so; it is the most perfect way of acting. God be praised for all, and in all. Amen.
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