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Letter XIV.—Remedies for Troubles.
To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil (1734). The use of trials continued.
My dear Sister,
To apply a remedy to the trouble that makes you so unhappy, it will suffice for me to indicate the causes of it, in order to oppose it with the contrary principles. The origin of the evil is first an ignorance of your attraction. It seems to me that you have forgotten that divine grace makes different souls experience different attractions, some sweet, and some exceedingly crucifying. Among people in the world there are those whom God conducts by the way of prosperity; but a far greater number whom He compels to walk in the thorny path of the Cross, of afflictions and difficulties. Thus He apportions, according to 248His wisdom, spiritual joys and tribulations to those who lead a spiritual life. The work of salvation and perfection consists in following faithfully the path allotted to us according to the attraction God has given us, whatever this may be.
1st. You seem equally ignorant of this great principle, that usually more progress is made by suffering than by acting, and that to take things patiently is to do a great deal, and especially to be patient with oneself.
2nd. You forget, at any rate in practice, this other incontestable truth, that perfection does not consist in receiving great gifts from God such as recollection, prayer and the spiritual taste for divine things, but simply in fulfilling the will of God in every possible circumstance whether exterior or interior, and in whatever situation Providence may be pleased to place you.
3rd. Your troubles proceed from this ignorance and forgetfulness together with those anxieties and that interior depression which have embittered and doubled your pains, and have deprived you of the peace of your soul which is the foundation of the spiritual life, and have often led you to seek consolation in creatures by confiding your troubles to them when it was God’s will that you should have no consolation but that which He was pleased to give you Himself. You must correct this by other rules of conduct and a totally different way of acting.
1st Principle. Often say to yourself, “My way is painful, it is true; it is hard and bitter, but as it is the will of God I must submit, no matter what it costs; firstly, because God is my sovereign Master who has a right to dispose of me absolutely as He pleases. Secondly, because He is my father, and so tender, good, and merciful a Father that He can will nothing that is not for the benefit of the children whom He loves, and makes all things turn to the benefit of those who are submissive to Him. Thirdly, because I shall never find peace, calm, nor repose of heart, nor any solid consolation except in resigning myself humbly and patiently to all that He is pleased to ordain. Fourthly, because I cannot take a single step in the spiritual life unless I follow the path marked out, and decided for me in the eternal decree of my predestination. Can I mark out a path for myself? And if I could, would it not be like the path of a blind man, leading to destruction?
2nd Principle. “I ought to desire only that progress and perfection which God wills for me, and to wish to attain them only by those means He wills me to employ.” Such a desire can only be calm and peaceful, although at the same time, full of power and energy. There is, however, another kind of desire for perfection, born of pride, and of an inordinate love of one’s 249own excellence. This does not rely upon God for support, and besides, is restless and always in a state of turmoil. The more we have to give ourselves up to the first of these desires, the more strenuously we must resist the second. Therefore every desire for our progress, however holy it may seem, must be suppressed directly it shows signs of eagerness, disquiet or anxiety. These effects can only proceed from the devil, while everything that comes from God leaves the soul tranquil. Why then, my dear Sister, do you desire with such fiery eagerness those lights of the soul, those feelings, interior joys, and that facility of recollection and prayer, and other gifts of God, if it does not please Him to bestow them on you yet? Would not this be to make yourself perfect for your own pleasure, and not for His? To follow your own and not the divine will, to have more regard for your own inclination than for that of God, to wish to serve Him according to your own caprice, and not according to His good pleasure! “Ought I then to be resigned to spending my whole life in this state of poverty, weakness and misery?” Certainly, if such is the will of God. Your poverty, weakness and misery ought from henceforth to be pleasant to you, and preferable to any other state since it is willed for you by God. Henceforth this poverty will be converted into wealth, for to be exactly what God wills is to be very rich indeed, and all perfection consists in this alone. Moreover are you not aware that there is heroic virtue in the patient endurance of misery, weakness, spiritual poverty, darkness and callousness, of fickleness, folly, and extravagance of mind and imagination? It was this that made St. Francis of Sales say that those who aspired to perfection required to exercise as much patience, kindness, and endurance towards themselves as towards others. Let us then bear our own burdens of misery, imperfection, and defects in the same way that God wills us to bear one another’s burdens. It often happens however that, in this spiritual tumult the will endures strange commotions, and is on the point of giving way out of all patience. Let us keep firm for in this new battlefield fighting for patience and making fresh sacrifices we shall find fresh subjects for merit and triumph. And if during the first moments the poor will should escape, it must be made to try to regain possession of itself in humbling itself quietly and peacefully before the infinite mercy of God.
“But all these spiritual vicissitudes take off my attention from prayer, Holy Mass, the Office, and Holy Communion, and my spiritual exercises seem useless.” No! No! none of them are useless, because merely the will to acquit yourself well of these duties, which you formed at the beginning will be valid throughout, unless nullified by long continued and altogether 250voluntary distractions, in a word, by deliberate venial sin. Far from losing anything, you will have gained doubly, because combined with the merit gained by your spiritual exercises will be that of having made them in a most penitential and crucifying manner, and also with much humiliation; in this way, very far from having spoilt these holy exercises by foolish self-examination, and a thousand satisfactions of self-love, to which you would have been exposed in making them with feelings of devotion, you will have fulfilled these duties well by the practice of holy humility which is the foundation and guardian of every virtue. “But this will prevent me from feeling contrite.” The efficacy of contrition is not in the feeling of it, it is entirely in the higher part of the soul—in the will. Sensible contrition very frequently serves only as food for self-love and can never be reassuring, since it is not what God requires.“But supposing I have no contrition of the will?” You should believe and hope firmly that God has given it to you; but if you should only have had contrition once after having already confessed your sins it would be enough to remit them all, both past and present sins, so great is the mercy of God.
My dear Sister, I will conclude with this consoling assurance; if it had pleased God to make your state known to you as it is to me, you would be thanking Him for it instead of afflicting yourself about it. Remain in peace then in whatever condition you may possibly find yourself: when you have achieved that you will have done all that is necessary. Repeat constantly “Blessed be God for all and in all. I wish only what He wills and nothing more. May His holy will be done in me, and by me. May none of my wishes be accomplished; they are all blind and perverse. I shall be lost if they are accomplished.”
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