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Letter III.—The State of One Tempted.

An explanation of the state of a soul in temptation and of the designs of God in regard to it.


One would imagine, my good Sister, that you had never meditated on those numerous texts of holy Scripture in which the Holy Spirit makes us understand the necessity of temptation, and the good fruit derived from it by souls who do not allow themselves to become disheartened. Do you not know that it has been compared to a furnace in which clay acquires hardness, and gold is made brilliant; that it has been put before us as a subject of rejoicing, and a sign of the friendship of God; an indispensable lesson for the acquirement of the science of the saints? If you were to recall to mind these consoling truths you would not be able to give way to sadness. I declare to you in the name of our Saviour that you have no reason to fear. If you liked you could unite yourself to God as much or more than at the times of your greatest fervour. For this you have but one thing to do in your painful state, and this is to suffer in peace, in silence, with an unshaken patience, and an entire resignation, just as you would endure a fever or any other bodily ailment. Say to yourself now and then what you would say to a sick person to induce him to bear his pain with patience. You would represent to him that by giving way to impatience, or by murmuring he would only aggravate the evil and make it last the longer. Well! this is what you ought to say to yourself. I greatly approve of the order you have received to go to Holy Communion without taking any notice of your temptations. Your confessor is right, and would have made a great mistake if he had listened to what you said on the subject. “But,” you will say, “if I have consented to the temptation, and have committed a mortal sin, what a misfortune!” It is not for you to judge about it, but to obey blindly; and this opinion is founded on the great principle that even should the confessor be mistaken, the penitent cannot be misled in obeying in good faith in the sight of God, those who are in the position of guides. “But,” you say again, “I should like to know how my confessor can understand better than I what takes place in my soul during 296temptation?” Useless curiosity! It is not a question of knowing how this or that but it is so, and you must obey without reasoning or replying. Nevertheless, as I wish to be kind and gentle towards souls but little accustomed to the spiritual warfare, I will reply to your unexpressed question, and this reply will teach you some important things. You must know first that in each of us there are, as it were, two souls, or two persons; one, animal, sensitive, and earthly which is called the inferior part, the other spiritual, in which the free will resides, and this is called the superior part. Secondly, that all that takes place in the inferior and animal part, such as imaginations, feelings, disorderly movements, are in us, but not of us, and by their own nature are indeliberate and involuntary. All these can tempt us, but cannot compel the will to give free and voluntary consent without which there can be no sin. When the temptation is not strong it is easy to recognise for oneself and to feel that, far from giving consent to it, one rejects it; but when God permits the temptation to become strong and violent then, on account of the great involuntary agitation taking place in the inferior part, the superior has great difficulty in discerning its own movements, and remains in great perplexity and fear of having consented. Nothing more is wanting to occasion in these good souls the most terrible trouble and remorse which is a further trial permitted by God to prove their fidelity. Confessors who judge calmly and without difficulty, easily discern the truth; and the great distress the poor soul experiences, and its excessive fear of having consented, are to the confessor proof positive that there has been no full and deliberate consent. In fact we know by experience, that those who consent and give way to temptation do not suffer from these troubles and fears. The greater the temptation and the pain and fear that result, the more certain is the verdict in favour of the person tempted. I join therefore in the opinion of your confessor, and this is the rule I lay down.

1st. Neither examine, nor accuse yourself as a rule about these things.

2nd. Bear peacefully your humiliation and interior martyrdom which, I assure you, is a great grace from God, but a grace which you will not be able to understand properly till after the trial is over.

3rd. This is the interior petition which you ought to make incessantly to God. “Lord, deign to preserve me from all sin, especially in this matter; but, as for the pain which mortifies, and ought to cure my self-love, and the humiliation and holy abjection which gall my pride and ought to destroy it, I accept them for as long as You please, and I thank You for them as for a grace. Grant, Lord, that these bitter remedies may take 297effect and that they may cure my self-love and vanity, and help me to acquire holy humility and a low opinion of myself which will form a solid foundation for the spiritual life, and for all perfection.” I find you very ignorant on the subject of temptation. It is true that it does not come from God, Who does not tempt anyone, as St. James says. It comes, therefore, either from the devil, or our own temperament and imagination; but since God permits it for our good, we ought to adore His holy permission in all things except sin which He detests, and which we also ought to detest for love of Him. Be careful, then, not to allow yourself to get troubled and harassed by these temptations, for this trouble is much more to be feared than the temptations themselves.

You tell me that you are travelling along the path that is very dark. That is exactly what is meant by “the way of pure faith.” It is always obscure, and necessitates a complete abandonment to God. What could be more natural or more easy than to abandon yourself to so good and merciful a Father Who desires our welfare more than we do ourselves? “But,” you add, “I am always in trouble and extremely afraid of having sinned; this makes life very miserable, and prevents me possessing the peace of the children of God.” It is so for the present, I know, but I also know that by these continual terrors the salutary fear of God takes root in the soul, and is followed by love of Him. It is thus that God endeavours to make us disgusted with this life and with its false goods in order to attach us to Himself alone. Know that none can enjoy the peace of the children of God who have not shared their trials. Peace is only purchased by war, and is only enjoyed after victory. If you could only see as I do the advantages and good to be derived from the state in which God has permitted you to be; instead of repining as you do about it you would be making continual acts of thanksgiving. You are, you say, as deeply involved as the greatest sinners. Oh! my dear daughter, this is just what galls your pride. And what are we in truth but great sinners? Do we not carry about with us an amount of misery and corruption, which, without God’s grace, would lead us into the gravest disorders? This is what God wishes to make us understand by personal experience without which we might live and die without ever attaining to a knowledge of our nothingness, the foundation of humility. Let us thank God for having solidly laid this foundation, necessary for the salvation of our souls, and also for the perfection of our state.

The thought and fear of the justice of the judgments of God is a great grace, but do not spoil it by carrying this fear so far as to be troubled and rendered uneasy by it; because the true and 298right fear of God is always peaceful, quiet, and accompanied with confidence. When contrary effects are produced, reject them as coming from the devil who is the author of trouble and despair. “If I had made myself,” you say, “I would have done it in such a way that—-” Oh! what are you saying here? One must never wish to be other than what God wills. Do you not know that to be able to bear one’s miseries, weaknesses, caprices, spiritual defects, follies, and extravagancies of the imagination, is the effect of heroic virtue? What treasures have not these same miseries enabled a crowd of saints of both sexes to acquire! In using them as subjects and matter for interior combats they have served for victories and for the final triumph of grace. You say again, “Of what use can it be to me for my heart to be emptied of one object if it becomes filled by another, and God has no place in it?” Know, daughter, that the heart is so full that it cannot be emptied all at once. It is a work of time, and as the space is enlarged God fills it gradually; but we shall not experience what St. Paul calls the plenitude of God until we are completely empty of all else. This will take a long time, and will require many trials to accomplish the work. Be patient and faithful. Have confidence and you will see the gift of God, and will experience His mercy.

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