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Letter XII.—How to make use of trials.
On the use of trials and how to act about them.
Before anything else, my dear Sister, I think I had better explain what thought was suggested to me by your anxious doubts, and eagerness to consult me about your soul. I cannot help thinking that, if we were more attentive to the light given us by the Holy Spirit, better disposed to receive His holy impressions, and more faithful in following the impulsion of His grace, nothing more would be required to enable us to attain that perfection to which we are called; for I have noticed that even in the midst of the most profound spiritual darkness, there is ever in the centre of the soul a certain light of pure faith which is a most safe guide. Besides this, there are certain moments when the 242Holy Spirit makes known to us by a brighter, but very rapid light, that we are in the right way. Add to this a certain settled peace, even during interior storms, a right way of acting, and a regularity in the performance of duties, which, in spite of the frailty of nature, we never deliberately set aside, but follow with perseverance the maxims of the Gospel and the rules of perfection. An obedient and faithful soul ought to find in this a sufficient guarantee for confidently trusting herself with entire abandonment to this interior Spirit who guides her so well. It is often a sign of weakness, and an effect of the workings of self-love that we hanker after more complete assurance. However, there are exceptions to be made, such as the beginning of the spiritual life when the Holy Spirit has not yet acquired full dominion over us, and some extraordinary occasions when the tumult of the storm prevents us hearing His voice. I might content myself with this general reply but will, however, answer you in detail.
1st. This fresh condition of obscurity, dryness and distaste, into which God has permitted you to enter does not surprise me. This good Master always begins by making Himself known and loved in sensible devotion, and afterwards deprives the soul of these consolations to withdraw it from the earthliness of the senses, in order to unite it to Himself in a far more excellent way, more intimate and solid, by pure faith entirely spiritual. To make this purification complete, suffering has to be added to privation, at least interior suffering, interior rebellion, diabolical temptations, anguish, weakness, and repugnance for all that is good which sometimes rises to a sort of agony. All this serves marvellously to deliver the soul from self-love and to give it some trace of resemblance to its crucified Spouse. All these trials are so many blows that are inflicted on us by God to make us die to self. The more strongly self-love struggles against these blows the harder they seem and the more cruel the agony. Divine love is a two-edged sword, and strikes self-love until it is killed and destroyed. Great sorrow in these trials proceeds from the strong resistance of our cursed love of self which is loth to relinquish the empire it has gained over our hearts, and to allow the love of God to reign in its stead. This love produces only sweetness and delight as long as it finds no obstacles to its divine influence, nor any enemy to resist it.
Do not regret, then, in any way those days that you pronounce happy because you enjoyed sensible devotion in prayer and communion, and because your union with your Beloved was so charming and delightful. How much more precious and of inestimable value are your present days of agony and martyrdom! These are days of the purest love, since in them you are loving God at your own cost, and for Himself alone. You need not 243fear any mixture of self-love in your intercourse with Him, since there is nothing in this intercourse but what is crucifying to self-love. In such a state our will is united to the will of God, and it is this that we love, and with a love so pure that the senses have no share in it. It is most difficult indeed to love God in happiness without any admixture of self, or of vain self-complacency, but in the time of crosses, and of interior spiritual privations, all that is needful in order to be certain of the purity of our love, is to endure them patiently, and to abandon ourselves sincerely. How truly consoling and encouraging is this certainty for those who understand the value and advantages of pure love. When God makes you understand this you will also understand why so many of the saints preferred privations and sufferings to consolations and joys, how they so passionately loved the former that they could hardly put up with the latter. God may possibly allow you to think that this painful state is going to last you your life-time, in order to give you an opportunity of making Him a more complete sacrifice. Do not waver, do not hesitate for a single moment, sacrifice all! abandon yourself without reserve, without limitation to Him, by Whom you imagine yourself abandoned, and keep yourself always in this interior state which is, at present, the most essential for you. I would almost say it is the only one for you during prayer, at Holy Communion, at Mass, during the Office, and all the day long; but attend to this quietly without effort, and do not even attach yourself to the frequent repetition of formal acts, it will suffice to keep your soul in this habitual condition of total abandonment without any reserve. I forbid you, therefore, voluntarily to desire anything but the accomplishment of the most holy will of God. Ask neither for more nor less pain, God knows better than we do the right measure that is necessary for us. It is very often nothing but presumption and illusion that makes us wish to imitate certain saints who, in their sufferings were especially inspired to say, “More, Lord, more!” We are too little and too weak to dare to speak thus unless we have a moral conviction that God requires it of us. I forbid you also, all voluntary scruples, troubles, or doubts on the subject of the Office, of Holy Mass, etc. To act with a pure intention, and in simple good faith is enough; in this respect God asks no more of us, and I daresay you would not be able to do more at present.
2nd. Oh! how glad I am to hear you say that you are insupportable to yourself, that at every moment you are on the point of falling into a state of despondency and trouble, without, by God’s grace actually doing so. That is to say that God, in making you understand all your weakness upholds you invisibly, thus giving you the victory, while at the same time 244preserving you in humility. You might very likely lose this virtue, either entirely, or to some extent, if you found yourself possessed of courage, or felt some spiritual strength. Learn from this a most important lesson inculcated by Fénélon. It is a pure grace from God, and one of the greatest to suffer in a petty way, to conquer in a feeble manner, that is to say with a sort of spiritual feebleness, humbly and with self-contempt, and to be so discontented with ourselves that we do not believe that we ever do anything well. This discontent with ourselves is very pleasing to God, and His content should be the basis of our own. Nothing could give us any further anxiety if we found our sole satisfaction in pleasing and satisfying God.
3rd. God gives you a great grace also in enabling you while in your present state to faithfully fulfil all your duties and rules. I greatly commend you for having sought no consolation from creatures and for having made no mention of your troubles to anyone even in confidence. Your silence will sanctify you more than any conversation or advice.
4th. Another great grace is to feel neither trouble, nor fear nor anxiety about your present state, nor about the future, just as though you had become callous about everything. This is the fruit and happy effect of your entire abandonment. As you have abandoned all to God, He takes charge of everything, banishing all trouble, fear, and anxiety from your soul. He takes from it all feelings of self-interest, and leaves it alive only to His interests. This disposition is the solid foundation of the most absolute security that a soul could possibly enjoy, it is the greatest happiness this life contains for us, and a sure sign of the friendship of God.
5th. The words that were spoken to you interiorly, and that you heard so distinctly were assuredly from God. I recognise this by the good and immediate effects they produced in you. Only God can impress souls to such a profound extent with whatever He pleases. You see that the divine goodness does not refuse you occasional scraps of comfort and strength to fortify you during the journey He makes you take through the desert.
6th. There is no reason to be surprised that your spiritual afflictions have no influence with regard to your conduct towards your neighbour, nor deprive you of your patience and equable temper, and kindness. As a rule while in this state of trial one is generally more able to help, to console, to comfort, and to serve others.
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