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Letter XIV.—Explanations and Direction.
To Sister Charlotte-Elizabeth Bourcier de Monthureux. Explanation of certain trials. Direction. Nancy, 1734.
My dear Sister,
As long as you continue abandoning yourself to God as you are doing at present, I assure you in His name that He will never abandon you. The experiences of the past and the present are your guarantee for the future. I acknowledge that the path by which our Lord conducts you is very hard to nature; but, besides the fact that He is the Master, He allows you to reflect from time to time on the advantages and security of this way, also to consider its necessity. It is the usual way by which God conducts His chosen spouses to the perfection He destines them to attain; and I have known very few whom He has not judged it necessary to guide along this path when they give themselves up entirely to Him. Why then are there such painful states? Why this heaviness of heart which takes the pleasure out of everything? and this depression which makes life insupportable? Why? It is to destroy, in those souls destined to a perfect union with God, a certain base of hidden presumption; to 368attack pride in its last retreat; to overwhelm with bitterness that cursed self-love which is only content with what gives it pleasure; until at last, not knowing where to turn, it dies for want of food and attention, as a fire goes out for want of fuel to feed it. This death, however, is not the work of a moment; a great quantity of water is required to extinguish a great conflagration.
Self-love is like a many-headed hydra, and its heads have to be cut off successively. It has many lives that have to be destroyed one after the other if one wishes to be completely delivered. You have, doubtless, obtained a great advantage by making it die to nature and the senses; but do not dream that you are entirely set free from its obsessions. It recovers from this first defeat and renews its attacks on another ground. More subtle in future, it begins again on that which is sensible in devotion; and it is to be feared that this second attempt, apparently much less crude, and more justifiable than its predecessor, is also much more powerful. Nevertheless, pure love cannot put up with the one any more than with the other. God cannot suffer sensible consolations to share a heart that belongs to Him. What then will happen? If less privileged souls are in question, for whom God has not such a jealous love, He allows them a peaceful enjoyment of these holy pleasures, and contents Himself with the sacrifice they have made of the pleasures of sense. This is, in fact, the ordinary course with devout persons, whose piety is somewhat mixed with a certain amount of self-seeking. Assuredly God does not approve of their defects; but, as they have received fewer graces, He is less exacting in the matter of perfection. These are the ordinary spouses of an inferior rank, whose beauty needs not to be so irreproachable, for they have not the power to wound His divine heart so keenly; but He has far other requirements, as He has quite other designs with regard to His chosen spouses. The jealousy of His love equals its tenderness. Desiring to give Himself entirely to them, He wishes also to possess their whole heart without division. Therefore He would not be satisfied with the exterior crosses and pains which detach from creatures but desires to detach them from themselves, and to destroy in them to the last fibre that self-love which is rooted in feelings of devotion, is supported and nourished by them, and finds its satisfaction in them. To effect this second death He withdraws all consolation, all pleasure, all interior help, insomuch that the poor soul finds itself as though suspended between Heaven and earth, without the consolations of the one, nor the comforts of the other. For a human being who cannot exist without pleasure and without love, this seems a sort of 369annihilation. Nothing then remains for him but to attach himself—not with the heart which no longer feels anything, but with the essence of the soul—to God alone, whom he knows and perceives by bare faith in an obscure manner. Oh! it is then that the soul, perfectly purified by this two-fold death, enters into a spiritual alliance with God, and possesses Him in the pure delights of purified love; which never could have been the case if its spiritual taste had not been doubly purified.
But this carries me too far. Let us return to your letter.
What a number of false steps! you say. But do you not know the remedy? To humble yourself gently, rise again, and to take courage. “But,” you add, “I do this with so much repugnance, trouble, weariness, and sadness.” This is precisely what increases the merit, and makes you acquire solid virtue, because it is only by gaining it at the point of the sword that it is so, says St. Francis of Sales. “Our surroundings are very depressing.” I understand that perfectly, and it is precisely on this account that God attacks your heart in its weakest point. “Indeed, my daughter,” said St. Francis of Sales, “this is to gain it all for Himself, this poor heart.” Well then, give it to Him, at first, perhaps, against your inclination, but later more amiably, when that grace that He has taken away, which was so sweet and alluring, returns again but without being felt. “But I am not sure that I do love, all that I know is that I try to love.” Well, that is all that God requires of you. It is a received axiom in theology that God never refuses grace to him who does all that is in his power to acquire it. Try then to love Him, and if these efforts are not the fruit of love, they will obtain for you the grace of charity. God already gives you a great favour in inspiring you with the desire to love Him. Some day, I hope, He will lead you further, and satisfy this desire. Say to yourself, “I should be consoled, even overwhelmed with consolation if I felt towards God what I try to feel, but at present God wishes to take from me all interior consolation, to make me die the second death which should precede that completely supernatural and divine life of His Holy Spirit, of His grace and pure love.”
Now I come to a beautiful part of your letter which rejoices my heart before God. You say; “I should like, very humbly, to remonstrate, but instead I will remain on my cross through obedience even if I have to die there.” Here indeed the good God gives and inspires you with a great courage. He holds you, therefore, always in His hand; what have you to fear? No, you will not die of it, my dear daughter, except only by a spiritual death more precious than any earthly life. “Yes,” you add, “but all the same I should be very glad and much 370relieved if God would take me out of this state, or these circumstances.” The saints in a thousand similar cases would say the same, but the more one would like to be relieved of a position or duty, the more merit there is in being willing to remain in it if such is the will of God. Be consoled, therefore, put your mind at rest and remain in peace. God is with you and a God all goodness, who bears with the weakness, miseries, and frailties of His good friends with a tender compassion even to the extent of forbidding them to distress themselves; and why? Because He wishes all whom He loves to enjoy an unalterable peace. Frequent acts of the love of God, or even of a holy desire to love Him, are an excellent remedy for the fear of divine judgments, and for the terrors about predestination. I am not at all surprised at the happy results of this remedy. I much approve, also, of the reply you made to the person who told you that she did not love God with sufficient disinterestedness. This is a visible illusion of the devil, who, under pretext of I know not what self-love, wants to keep this soul back, and to retard itself progress. Tell her that self-love (I allude to spiritual self-love which, although not sinful, tarnishes the perfect purity of divine love) is only found in those souls who make of the gifts of God, or of His rewards, a motive to love Him for their sakes. To love God for Himself, and because He is God, and inasmuch as He is our own God, our great reward, our sovereign good, infinitely good to us, is the pure and practical love of the saints; for to love one’s supreme happiness, which is God Himself, is to love God alone. These two terms express the same thing, and it is impossible to love God otherwise than as He is in Himself. Besides, in Himself He is our supreme good, our last end, and our eternal happiness. But, some will say, supposing that God were not our eternal happiness, ought we not to love Him just the same, for Himself? Oh! what a strange and pitiable supposition! It is as much as to say: If God were not God. Do not let us split hairs so much, but go on in a direct and simple manner, broadmindedly, as St. Francis of Sales advises. Let us love God with simplicity and as well as we can, and He will raise and purify our love ever more and more according to His own good pleasure. As for you, keep to the spiritual condition in which God has been pleased to place you. The fear of death and terrors about the judgments of God and about eternity, were endured by St. Jerome for a longer time and much more severely than by you. Let us be willing to retain these strong impressions for as long as God pleases. Our own will should be ready to die, to be extinguished, and happily lost in that of God, which is always equally loving, perfect and adorable.
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