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Letter V.—The Fear of Being Wanting in Submission.
To Sister Charlotte-Elizabeth Bourcier de Monthureus (1734). On the fear of being wanting in submission to God.
God grant me sufficient grace, I do not say, to cure you, but to help you to make your trouble salutary; and may He give me the necessary light to properly understand it. This trouble is not a fresh one, and I do not perceive any particular change in the state of your soul. Also I have no new remedy to give you. All that I can do is to repeat in a different way what I have said to you before. I have reduced my advice to rules and practices, and I beg of you in the name of Jesus Christ to read this letter, from time to time, in the presence of God and in a spirit of recollection. The most suitable time for reading it will be when you are a prey to darkness and mental agitation; for, during the time when the storm rages, no other reading can be of any use. An angel from Heaven himself could not succeed in giving you either light or consolation. There is no intelligence nor power in the world capable of wresting from the hand of God a soul He has seized in the rigour of His mercy to purify it by suffering.300
First rule. Be convinced that all the trials that God sends us in this life are sent in mercy more than in justice; this is why the prophet says that God remembers His mercy even when He is angry with us.
Second rule. Even as God, for the conversion and sanctification of people in the world often sends them purely temporal afflictions such as illness, loss of goods, reverses of fortune, etc., so, likewise, for the purification and sanctification of the souls that belong to Him more entirely, especially in the Religious life, He sends spiritual trials and purely interior afflictions. It is thus that He acts with regard to you, for, although you are suffering from a bodily illness, your principal sufferings arise from the tortures of your mind which react on your body, and redouble and augment your illness, rendering it more painful.
Third rule. As we help people in the world to sanctify themselves in temporal adversities by preaching patience, submission, and continual resignation, so also to souls in pain and interiorly crucified we preach nothing else but abandonment into the hands of God.
Fourth rule. It is a certain and known fact that when one no longer commits either mortal or deliberate venial sin one makes more progress in the ways of God by suffering than by action; from which I conclude that all you need do to ensure your salvation, and even to attain perfection is to endure as patiently as you can, and with peace and interior resignation, the painful state in which you are, imploring the aid of divine grace with an unshaken confidence in the merits of Jesus Christ. This is your principal difficulty, you say. I admit it, but I have no doubt that this practice will become easy enough in time if you try to accustom yourself to it, and follow the rules I will give you.
1st. To take, as you already do, the word “fiat” for your favourite act, and constant exercise.
2nd. To despise and treat as nothing the continual rebellions you feel in your heart during your troubles, and not to attempt to resist them directly but to content yourself with pronouncing the word “fiat”; or, better still, simply to form an interior act. “But,” you will say to me, “how can I despise or count as nothing these rebellions of the heart which prove to me that my submission to the will of God is neither interior nor real?” Listen to me, I beg of you, to the end. I feel that God inspires me for your good, and possibly for your consolation. You deceive yourself, Sister, and it is, no doubt, the most cruel of your trials to think that because of these violent, and to all appearances, voluntary rebellions of the heart, your submission is not real. In this respect you are by the divine permission 301rather like persons in the world with violent temptations to impurity, hatred, aversion, vengeance, or any other unruly impulse, that makes a strong impression but is indeliberate and involuntary. In these poor souls temptation is sometimes so violent, the accursed pleasure which is called precedent and involuntary seizes them so strongly, the tempter raises such a disturbance and causes so much trouble in the sensitive and inferior part, that it becomes impossible for them to discern if they have consented or not in the superior part. Only the confessor can know and discern by certain signs that they have not consented. In the same way God, for your greater trial does not allow you to distinguish that true submission which resides almost unknown to yourself, in the higher part of the soul as in a hiding place. But, thank God, I recognise, see, and feel that you have this true submission which is purely intellectual, spiritual, and well-nigh imperceptible. “But,” you say, “how can you recognise, see, and feel in the depths of my soul what I cannot perceive in the slightest degree myself?” I will tell you, but possibly God may not allow you to understand it, or else only for a single moment so that the knowledge of it may not diminish in any way the pain by which He wishes to purify you by crucifying you.
Let us return to the comparison of the other temptations. A person will tell me of the great interior trouble that these temptations to hatred, impurity, etc., cause her, and will add that the fear of having given way to them makes her feel troubled, saddened, and downcast. Here, I say to myself, is proof positive of a great fear of God, of a great horror of sin, and of a great wish to resist. Besides, theology as well as a knowledge of the human heart teaches me that a soul in this interior condition could not give a free, whole, entire and what is called deliberate consent; that if it did, it would immediately lose that interior state and habitual condition in which it is, and which I recognise in it. At the same time it might happen that on account of the violence and frequency of the temptations there may have been some negligence, some momentary surprise. For example: some slight desire for revenge begins, some feeling of pleasure half voluntary, as theology teaches, but, in this condition of the soul, full, entire and deliberate consent is not possible. Also we find by experience that those who really consent to sin are very far from feeling these pains and troubles, this despondency and fear; they feel no uneasiness whatever. You have only to apply this reasoning to your own state and you will see, as I do, when your soul has regained its calm, that the more you fear and are in trouble about your want of interior submission the more certain it is that you possess it in the depths of your soul. But 302God does not allow you to see it as I do, because the assurance of this submission, by consoling you and delivering you from your greatest trouble, would put an end to the state of trial in which God wishes you to remain for a certain time, the better to purify your soul in the crucible of affliction. From this I deduce a third rule; you must say the same “fiat” about the apparent absence of this submission that you so much desire, as you do about your other trials, because it is probably the most useful of all. You have perhaps some reason to fear lest this keen desire may be a seeking of self-love, which would find consolation for feeling convinced of having endured them well. Do not be surprised then that God, wishing to purify your soul from all the ingenuities of self-love, refuses you this consolation; and doubt not that by so doing He confers upon you a great grace. Therefore when you feel the greatest sadness on account of your supposed want of submission or the greatest terror at the idea of the judgments of God, the only thing to do is to say “Lord, You do not even wish me to know in what state I am, whether I have the submission I ought to have or am deprived of it. As You will, fiat, I submit to this also.” You can then, with the intention of regaining interior peace, and to encourage yourself, say, “At least I feel that by the grace of my God I desire this submission with a desire that is, perhaps, only too great and too strong since the fear of not possessing it throws me into a state of agitation and despondency, and distresses me more than anything else. Therefore, as I have a sincere desire for it, I must have all the effect and the fruit of it, because a sincere desire is of equal value to the thing desired and makes the merit or demerit of our good works.”
When nature and the inferior part are thus distressed and despair of any remedy, or of any consolation for its interior miseries, then it is that self-love is in its agony and on the point of expiring. Ah! let it die, then, this wretched love of self, let it be crucified! this domestic enemy of our poor souls, this enemy of God and of all good! I add some advice which will form the fourth rule. Practise a blind submission to those who guide you, and beware in future of omitting a single communion you have been ordered to make. “But,” say you, “what about this frightful indifference towards God?” This, Sister, is only superficial and in the inferior part. The superior part desires God, and He is satisfied, but does not wish you to know it. An evident sign that I am right is that you acknowledge to being upset and saddened during all your exercises to feel that you do not love God, and that you can only pity yourself and tell Him, “My God, I do not love You!” Oh! how violent must be that profoundly interior desire if you are so 303deeply afflicted at the mere idea of not loving Him! This is a sure sign that in the midst of your apparent coldness, insensibility and indifference God has enkindled in your soul the fire of a great love which will go on increasing and becoming stronger and more fervent even by the fears themselves of not loving Him. “But,” you say, “why does He remain so hidden that I can neither feel His presence, nor know that He is there.” This, Sister, is the simple effect of God’s goodness to purify you and to make you merit a more perfect love. If you understand it at present you would be so satisfied with your love of God as to think more of this love than of God Himself Who ought to be its sovereign and sole object. It would happen to you to the injury of this love what Fénélon said about the sensible presence of God, that often by its sweetness it makes us forget God Himself; that is to say that we attach ourselves to the sweetness and enjoyment more than to God until we actually forget the object of it, which is, God realised by faith. You cry out and exclaim, “What, must I then abstain from asking for this love?” Your heart asks for it without your knowledge; your fears, troubles and alarms about it are petitions and prayers most powerful with God Who beholds to what these fears and your most secret desires tend, and even sees the most hidden recesses of your heart. Remain, therefore, in peace and fear nothing. If you are in need of a director God Himself will direct you, or will find you a suitable person. Sacrifice, abandonment, peace and confidence in all things! In the meanwhile leave everything to God. He will care for and provide for all. Amen! Amen!
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