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Letter XI.—Remembrance of Past Sins.
To Sister Marie-Antoinette de Bousmard. On weakness remembrance of past sins, fatigue, and fears. Nancy, 1734.
My dear Sister,
1st. The calmness you enjoy in solitude, and the peace of mind and heart which, emptied of all created things, is no longer occupied with them in any way, are signs of true interior recollection. God deprives you of feelings of devotion during prayer, to prevent the desires and eagerness they give rise to. While you are at prayer remain exactly as you are in solitude. I do not exact from you an atom more of application or attention. Continue in this thoughtful pensive state without allowing your thoughts to dwell on created things and then you will be in God without understanding how, without feeling His presence, nor even knowing how this can be. This is a mystery which you will only be able to recognise by its happy effects which are—death to self, and unconsciousness of the things of this world.
2nd. To believe that you do nothing for God, and that the little you try to do is spoilt by an admixture of self-love, is nothing but the truth, and a truth so self-evident that it is extraordinary that it is not seen by everyone, and that we are not all trembling and annihilated before God. On the other hand, however, this truth is so shrouded in darkness for us, so completely hidden in the folds of our self-love, that we cannot be too grateful to God when He is pleased to allow us to grasp it.239
When it pleases God to grant us by His holy grace, this clear knowledge of ourselves, accompanied by feelings of humility; then we no longer expect anything more from self, but everything from Him alone. No longer do we count on our good works, but solely on the mercy of God and the infinite merits of Jesus Christ; this is that true Christian hope which will be our salvation. Every other state, every other spiritual condition is full of risks to our salvation; but, to hope only in God, to depend only on God, in and through Jesus Christ, is that solid and immovable foundation that neither illusion, self-love, nor temptation can affect.
Oh! how I congratulate you on having arrived at this state! Hold to it firmly, it is the anchor of the vessel in the harbour of salvation.
3rd. I am glad to find, by your letter, how completely the good God in His mercy is keeping you in the dark. You attribute to your wickedness the recollections of the past which fill you with horror of yourself; but it is as clear as day that this is one of the most salutary impressions that grace can produce in you; there is, in fact, nothing better calculated to sanctify you than this holy hatred of yourself occasioned by these recollections, and the deep humiliation in which they keep you before God. These feelings are given you suddenly when you least expect them or are thinking of them, to make you understand that they are an effect of grace. “But why used you formerly to experience exactly contrary feelings when recalling the past?” It is because formerly you would not have been able to endure the sight of your imperfections without great despondency. It was necessary then that hope should predominate in you, but now you require a holy horror of yourself which is a true change of heart. When God gives you these feelings, receive them quietly and with gratitude and thanksgiving, and allow them to pass away when God pleases, abandoning yourself entirely to all He wishes to effect in you, and do not attach yourself to any of the interior conditions in which He places you, nor regret any of which He deprives you.
4th. I understand the difficulties of the duty about which you speak, and the strain to tired lungs of sustaining the chant, especially on great feast days. All this is very painful it is true, but what is also true and extremely consoling is that such is the will of God, and permitted by Him that you may overcome your own will. In a few words I will suggest to you how to act in this, and in any similar case. Prayers, frankness, sacrifice, abandonment. I will explain my meaning. Having implored light from God, go and explain clearly to your Superior how you feel, and in what state you are, then wait to hear from her 240mouth what God is pleased to arrange for you, being resolved to sacrifice to Him by perfect abandonment your dislikes, your health, and even your life, never doubting that, God Who has never been known to forsake those who abandon themselves to Him, will inspire her who is charged to manifest to you His will, to tell you what is necessary. One of three things will infallibly happen; either you will be relieved of your office, or God will sustain and preserve you in it, or else He will allow you to succumb and will take you to Himself out of this wretched life. Then, I ask you, my good Sister, if you could end your life in a better manner than by a sacrifice so generous, and an act of abandonment so perfect? Whatever happens, then, keep firm after making your attempt. Live or die in peace. We will not speak about it any more, it is God’s affair, and no longer yours. He well knows how to make everything turn to your advantage, and to His own greater glory. Oh! my dear Sister! in what a saintly, happy, and generous manner you will be able to act! How good it is to have chosen, once for all, the part of obedience and abandonment in all things! What peace! what a sacrifice! what a grace! what certainty of salvation! and above all, what merit in the eyes of God! What a consolation for me, in such a case, to learn that you have died a martyr to holy abandonment, and that God has permitted you to immolate yourself as a holocaust on the altar of His most holy, most adorable, and divine Will.
5th. Make yourself, therefore, a partaker of the contentment of God; place your happiness in the knowledge that His good pleasure is always accomplished in you; in this way even when you have occasion to be dissatisfied with yourself, you will reflect the satisfaction of God who, as St. Augustine remarks, is never so pleased with us as when we are displeased with ourselves. In this way it is that we constantly practise without even adverting to it the virtue of pure charity which consists in loving, in satisfying, and in willing in all things the good pleasure of God, preferring His holy will to everything that we could possibly wish, however holy our wishes might appear to be. You have chiefly two ways of exercising this meritorious abandonment. The first is, to say to God, “Lord I hate and detest my sins and imperfections, and I will make every effort to correct myself with the help of Your divine grace; as for the pain and abjection they bring me I accept this with all my heart for the love of You.” The second way is to say, “My God, I desire to please You, I desire my own salvation and sanctification, the gift of prayer, of mortification, and of all virtues. I ask them of You, and I will exert all my powers to acquire them, whenever You show me an occasion of doing so; nevertheless 241in this as in all other things I prefer Your holy will to my own wishes, I only desire to possess that degree of grace and virtue that You are pleased to bestow on me, and at the time appointed by Your divine wisdom even should that be the last moment of my life; for Your most holy will is the rule and measure of my desires, even of those that are most holy and lawful.” These acts, made with the whole heart, are the fruit of that pure charity which, according to the Doctors of the Church, is as efficacious as baptism and martyrdom for blotting out all our sins; as Jesus Christ said about Mary Magdalen, “Many sins are forgiven her because she has loved much.” Could anything be more consoling, fortifying and encouraging? You say that you live in a mean and poor way. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” By this is intended interior humility and a holy self-contempt. You live without assistance, that is to say that you live in spirit, and in pure faith. Oh! what a happy state! Yes, happy indeed although this happiness is hidden from the soul. You go on blindly from day to day. This is perfect abandonment, you do not feel it, and hardly realise it, but if you felt and understood it, it would no longer be abandonment, but the strongest assurance of your salvation that you could possibly desire. For, what assurance could you have more satisfactory than the knowledge of being completely abandoned to God both for time and eternity? Abandonment is a virtue the entire merit of which cannot be acquired, unless the possession of it is unrealised. Go on in peace, then, in the midst of your fears, pains, and obscurities, and put your whole trust in God above all knowledge, and all feeling, in, and through Jesus Christ. May He be with you for ever.
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