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Letter XV.—Perfect Detachment.
To Sister Marie-Antoinette de Mahuet. Nancy, 1735.
My dear Sister,
In sending you what is necessary to prosecute the work of charity which I recommended to you, the thought occurred to me to lay before you some of the certain and very consoling truths concerning souls who give themselves up to an interior life.
First Principle. Union with God, the source of all purity, can only be attained according to the degree in which the soul is detached from all things created, which are the source of continual corruption and impurity.
Second Principle. This detachment, which, when it has attained perfection, is called mystical death, has two objects; the exterior, that is to say, creatures other than ourselves; and interior, that is to say, our own ideas, satisfactions, and interests—in one word—ourselves. The proof and sign of the death of all that is external is a sort of indifference, or rather of insensibility with regard to exterior goods, pleasures, reputation, relations, friends, etc. This insensibility becomes, by the help of grace, so complete and so profound that one is tempted to imagine it purely natural; and God permits this to prevent the artifices of self-complacency, and to make us in all things, walk in the obscurity of faith, and in a great abandonment.
Third Principle: Interior privation, or death to self, is the most difficult renunciation of all; it is as though we were torn away from ourselves, or were flayed alive. The excruciating pain experienced by self-love, and the cries it utters, are an index to the power of the links which attach us to the creature, and to the necessity of this renunciation; for, the deeper the knife of the surgeon penetrates to the quick, the keener is the pain; and the greater the vitality one has, the stronger is the resistance to this death. The soul, therefore, cannot arrive at this happy death and perfect detachment except by way of privations and interior renunciation. It requires a proved and heroic virtue to acquire a stripping of the heart in the midst of abundance; and renunciation in the midst of pleasures. It is therefore, on the part of God, a favour and mercy to strip us of all sensible gifts and favours; just as it is an effect of His mercy to despoil worldly people of temporal goods to detach their hearts from them. What is to be done then while God is effecting this denuding? This—to allow oneself to be deprived of everything without any resistance, as if one were a statue. But what about interior 372rebellion? It must be put up with and no attention paid to it. But if one feels that one is not bearing this state of deprivation properly? This additional trial must be endured like that of despoilment, peacefully without voluntary trouble. But what if you are not certain that this deprivation comes from God? As it is now a question of cutting off self-love, which for its own consolation seeks impossible certitude in everything, this is the answer that should be given.
Fourth Principle. 1st, It is certain that without a special revelation God does not let us have any assurance about that which concerns our eternal salvation. Why so? To make us walk in darkness, and thus to render our faith more meritorious on account of the obscurity in which it leaves the reason. 2nd, To keep us always in a state of the deepest humiliation as a counter-poise to the natural and strong inclination to pride. 3rd, To exercise over us His sovereign dominion, and to keep us in the most absolute dependence and the most complete abandonment to His will, not only with regard to our temporal existence, but also as regards our eternal destiny. This is what makes religion apparently most terrible, but it has another aspect that is sweet and consoling: no sooner do we submit, while trembling, to the sovereign dominion of God, and to His incomprehensible judgments, than we experience the greatest consolation. This is because in His mercy He gives us, instead of certainty, a firm hope which is of equal value, without depriving us of the merit of abandonment, so glorious to God, and for us deserving of so great a reward. On what then is this firm hope founded? On the treasures of the infinite mercy and infinite and merits of Jesus Christ; on all the graces that have hitherto been heaped upon us; on the judgment of the directors whose office it is to judge of our state and disposition; on the clear light of faith which cannot deceive, and which we follow in our conduct; at any rate, in what is essential, such as overcoming sin, and practising virtue. We see, in fact, that by the grace of God we habitually practise these virtues, and that if we do so very imperfectly we at least desire to practise them better. But in spite of all this there is always some fear remaining. If it is that fear which is called chaste, peaceful, and free from anxiety, then it is the true fear of God which must always be retained. Where there is no fear, there will assuredly be an illusion of the devil; but should this fear be uneasy and wild, it must then be caused by self-love, and for this we must lament and humble ourselves.
But when one has accomplished this total destitution, what then?
Remain in simplicity and in peace, like Job on his dung-hill, often repeating “Blessed are the poor in spirit, he who has 373nothing, in possessing God possesses all things.” “Leave all, strip yourself of all,” said the celebrated Gerson, and you will find all in God. God, felt, enjoyed, and giving pleasure, is truly God; but He bestows gifts for which the soul flatters itself; but God in darkness, in privations, in destitution, in unconsciousness, is God alone, and as it were, naked. This, however, is a little hard on self-love, that enemy of God, of our own souls, and of all good; and it is by the force of these blows that it is finally put to death in us. Shall we fear a death that produces within us the life of grace, that divine life? But it is very hard to have to pass one’s life in this way! What does it matter? A little more or less of sweetness during the short moments of life? It is indeed a small matter for one who has before his eyes an eternal kingdom. But I suffer all this destitution so imperfectly, so feebly! Another unfelt grace; God preserve you from suffering with great courage, and a strength that can be realised. What an amount of secret complacency, of idle reflexions about yourself, would result to spoil the work of God! An invisible hand supports you enough to render you victorious, and the keen sense of your weakness makes you humble even in victory. Oh! how advantageous it is to endure feebly and patiently rather than to suffer grandly, powerfully, and courageously. We are humiliated and feel our weakness and littleness in these sort of victories, while in the other kind we feel that we ate behaving grandly, strongly, and courageously, and without perceiving it we become inflated with vanity, presumption, and self-satisfaction. Let us admire the wisdom and the goodness of God, who so well knows how to mix and proportion all things for our profit and advantage; whereas if He arranged matters to our liking all would be spoiled, corrupted and, possibly, lost.
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