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Letter XIII.—The Fear of Reprobation.
On the purification of the soul.
My dear Sister,
While reading your letter I had no sooner arrived at the part where you depicted your suffering state than an involuntary impulse led me to cast myself interiorly at the feet of Jesus Christ to thank Him for it. A thousand experiences convince me more thoroughly every day that interior trials purify a soul, in its very essence, and penetrate to its most hidden recesses, and sanctify it more efficaciously than any exterior crosses, mortifications, or penances. I can but bless God, therefore, for the great goodness He shows you, and encourage you to correspond faithfully thereto. For this purpose you have only to observe the following points.
1st. Neither in the present circumstances, nor during the whole time that your trial lasts must you expect to receive any other consolation than it pleases God to give you; for not even an angel from Heaven could draw a soul out of the crucible in which God keeps it, to purify it more and more.
2nd. Moreover, it is certain that the interior crucifixion is so much the greater the greater the degree of love and union with him to which God intends to raise the soul.365
3rd. The fear of being lost does not seem to me at all extraordinary, in fact it is common enough with those good souls whom God designs to raise to a state of perfection.
4th. In this matter God seems to me to give in to your weakness by giving you an abandonment and confidence in Him which He even renders perceptible to you occasionally. How many souls in this state are deprived of such a consolation!
5th. In this matter, as in all others, God teaches you by the spiritual impressions of His grace, that He brings you to practise, exactly, and continually, all that He requires of you, so that I can content myself with saying just two things; first, your present state seems to me the best that you have ever been in during your whole life, and the greatest grace that you have hitherto received. Secondly, God teaches you all that is necessary about it; go on, and be at peace.
However, let us see if, in re-reading your letter God will enable me to clear up, by some explanation, the already perfectly sufficient direction that I am giving you in His name. First, all those thoughts by which God is represented as having ceased to extend to you that infinite mercy which is His attribute, are but the groundwork of your trial. They are the distinctive features of that deep fear of reprobation that God wills you to endure. This suffering is your martyrdom, and these different suggestions of the enemy are the different arrows that he lets fly by the divine permission. Instead of wounding your body they pierce your heart and your soul, and are none the less meritorious on that account. Secondly, that idea and conviction that the measure of your sins is filled up is decidedly inspired by the father of lies, and not by the Holy Spirit; however, although God is not the author, He nevertheless permits you to be tormented by it, and permits it for your good. Besides this trial being very humiliating, the suffering it causes is like a fire, which cannot fail to purify you the more completely the more intense are its flames, and the more frequently your soul is plunged into the crucible. Thirdly, your supposed lukewarmness, your dryness, and want of feeling, are the results and effects of this unhappy persuasion impressed on your mind; these are the flames which are intended—not to consume, but to purify the victim in order to render it more capable of being consumed by the fire of divine love. Fourthly, I say the same of those efforts of your heart to rush towards God; those efforts to which God seems to make no other reply than to repulse you. These are, in some souls, so violent and painful that they produce what Bossuet calls despairing love—or the despair of love. This movement which is only despairing in appearance is, in reality, the most vehement form of love. This, says this great Bishop, 366is the way that grace sometimes imitates the effect of the profane love of creatures on those who are carried away by it. Fifthly, it is an additional grace to be able to make the heroic act of St. Francis of Sales, and to say, “If I must be separated from my God for all eternity, at any rate while I live I will love Him and serve Him.” This is a help of which many souls are deprived; make use of it then, but do not depend upon it, because God may take it away from you, or prevent you being aware of it.
6th. It is very wise to multiply your communions in a state in which this support is most necessary. You ought to consider yourself very fortunate in being able to avail yourself of this help.
7th. Faith, abandonment, confidence, hope, against hope; these are the most powerful aids you can have. However if God should deprive you of the consolation of feeling these virtues, nothing remains but to abandon yourself entirely, without limitation, and even without any help that you can feel or perceive. Then will God sustain you in the depths of your soul in an incomprehensible manner; but the poor soul, being unable to feel any kind of support, and imagining itself completely forsaken, experiences a kind of grief that makes this state a kind of hell. You, however, are, as yet, only in purgatory, but this Purgatory is so purifying, and so filled with treasures of grace, that I pray God not to take you out of it until He has enriched you with treasures for eternity, and rendered you as pure and right in His sight as so many saintly souls have become by virtue of these same trials.
8th. The peace that you enjoy in suffering is the true peace of God, without fear of any admixture of illusion. Instead of fidelity, courage, strength, and fervour in prayer, you find in yourself nothing but infidelity, weakness, tepidity, and indevotion. This must be. It is what will effect your annihilation before God. Oh! happy state of annihilation! A holy person told me some days ago that she would be afraid to be taken out of a certain fearful state. “Why so?” I asked her, “Because, Father,” she replied, “I am afraid that I might lose my state of nothingness before God, which is, to me, more delightful than those other sensible, sweet and consoling graces.” Here are a few words for your dear Sister, for I notice that with regard to both of you God leaves little for the director to do; from which I conclude, by the way, that neither of you requires to consult him often. To do so would be a sort of infidelity to the great spiritual Master who wishes to lead you both entirely Himself. To return to the point.
1st. It seems to me that God has, hitherto, made the most of the weakness of this dear Sister. Darkness and aridity are 367trials in a less painful sense, and yet they are very fruitful because the soul, being unable to perceive anything, has no power to spoil anything, and consequently is led to a more perfect abandonment. Hers increases, she says, in an astonishing manner. This is the acme of grace, because all perfection is to be found in the most perfect abandonment in which our will is lost in the will of God. Love practised like this is the most pure, and is sheltered from all illusion and from all vain recourse to self-love.
2nd. The ineffable consolations experienced by this good Sister before she fell into this state of obscurity and dryness, was only a merciful kindness of grace, intended to gain the foundation and centre of the soul in which God wished to establish His dwelling and from thence to work insensibly. These consolations were a great grace, but the present want of feeling is a much greater one.
3rd. The good Sister should therefore remain as well as she can, in this state of simple surrender, or simple waiting, and not leave it except under the impulse of a movement of interior grace, and only so far as this movement allows: for one must never either forestall attractions, or go beyond them.
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