Fresh Trials, Sufferings and Privations, by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Letter I – Rules to be Observed in Illness

On illness and its uses. Rules to be observed. To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil.

My dear Sister and very dear daughter in our Lord,

The peace of Jesus Christ be always with you. Do not fear that your illness will be a danger to your soul, but, on the contrary, be reassured that you will derive great profit from it, because:

1st. To suffer peacefully and patiently without any resistance is to suffer well, although you may not make any express and energetic acts of acceptance. The heart by submitting, and by a humble and simple acquiescence offers them passively.

2nd. Also, my dear Sister, you ought to thank God as for a grace, in that you suffer in a feeble and small way; that is to say without feeling much courage and as if you were overwhelmed by your illness and on the point of losing patience, of complaining, and giving way to the revolts of nature. Yes, it is a grace and a signal grace, because to suffer thus is to suffer with humility and lowliness of spirit; whereas, if one felt a distinct courage and strength, a conscious resignation, the heart would swell with satisfaction, and one would become filled with self-confidence and spiritual pride and presumption. In your state, on the contrary, you feel weak before God, humbled and confounded at suffering in so feeble a manner. This is a certain truth, very consoling, very spiritual, and very little recognised. Remember it, then, on all occasions when, feeling more keenly the weight of the Cross and of your sufferings you feel at the same time your weakness, and submit in peace and simplicity in the centre of your soul to all that God wills. This way of suffering is most sanctifying, and is what Fénèlon calls becoming little in your own eyes and humbling yourself with the knowledge of how wanting you are in courage to suffer. If all people of good will understood this truth they would be able to suffer in peace and simplicity, without being distressed and wounded in their self-love by finding themselves so helpless and with so little courage to bear their sufferings. You should apply this rule to all your afflicting trials, and especially to those daily annoyances you experience from the person who worries you, and also when you have feelings of antipathy towards anyone else.

3rd. As regards the alleviations you might find beneficial; certainly those officious persons who imagine they cannot do better to show their charity to the sick than by raising in their minds all sorts of longings are, as you remark, not to be accounted charitable; their flattering conversations are so many snares; at the same time you ought to take, without scruple, humbly and in holy simplicity, all that the doctors, superiors, and infirmarians order. Obedience and giving up our own will which we practise in acting thus are much more agreeable to God than any bodily mortification. This is another truth that many devout persons lose sight of, and are consequently very unmortified even in their mortifications. Do not forget this, because self-love and following your own will would spoil everything, corrupt everything, even in practices that are very holy in themselves. Oh! how happy should we be if we could once for all renounce our own will, judgment and ideas for the love of God!

Letter II – Different Sufferings

On sufferings of different kinds.

My dear Sister,

The sufferings about which you ask my direction are of different kinds. There are great trials, and the vexations of daily occurrence. These, on account of their multiplicity form the chief part of our treasure if we only know how to take advantage of them. Believe me, inasmuch as it depends on our own efforts it is necessary to bear the little crosses we encounter every day, for by them God will enable us to destroy our self-love. Oh! how happy should we be if we could but get rid of this accursed vanity which embitters us and irritates us about every trifle, makes us commit a thousand faults, and do ourselves great harm by the constant annoyance and interior trouble it causes us. Even should the occasion present itself of having to endure still greater sufferings, remember that they will pass like everything else, and that when they are over we can have no consolation in having borne them badly, and in having derived no advantage from them. On the other hand what a great satisfaction it will be to have made a virtue of necessity. To do this do not speak more than is necessary about them, and then in as few words as possible; do not make a fuss about them, or about the pain they cause you; abandon all to divine Providence who will make everything conduce to your profit if you live by faith. I pray God to make you well understand the great spiritual fruit, and the temporal blessings derived from the holy practice of entire resignation to the holy will of God in all things, and from total abandonment to all that He permits, recognising that without this divine permission not a hair can fall from our heads, nor a leaf in Autumn from all the innumerable trees of the forests. This is of faith. Could Jesus Christ have more clearly expressed than by these words, that there is no event, great or small, in the world which has not been expressly arranged by the sovereign providence of God? Oh my God! how consoling this is, and how easily we could cast off all our cares if, according to Your own words we could learn to look upon You as a loving Father, and upon ourselves as Your children, and to remember that You never show us more love than when You make us take bitter remedies for our cure! Have pity, Father of infinite goodness, on those who are sick, who, in their delirium turn against You, their good Physician, and refuse the medicine which is intended to procure them health and life.

Oh my God! how many blind and senseless people there are in the world who will not even listen to these truths although You have revealed them in the sacred Scriptures for our present consolation and our future salvation!

Letter III – On Public Calamities

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. On public calamities and disasters.

The disaster of which you speak is, as you say, a most visible scourge of God; happy will they be who take advantage of it to save their souls. These punishments, borne well, as from the hands of God, are of more value than all worldly prosperity. At the same time they may be made, by a bad use, the occasion to some of eternal reprobation. This will be, however, entirely by their own fault, and their very great fault, for what could be more reasonable, or easier in a sense than to make, as I said before, a virtue of necessity? Why make a useless and criminal resistance to the chastisements of God, Who is our Father and Who strikes us only to detach us from the miserable pleasures of this world? Could He do us a greater favour than to deliver us from attaching ourselves to that which would cause us to lose eternal happiness and our own souls! On such occasions it is well to think often and attentively of this passage in the writings of one of the Fathers of the Church. “Such is the goodness of our heavenly Father that even His anger proceeds from His mercy, since He only strikes us to withdraw us from sin, and to save us.” Like a wise surgeon He cuts the mortified flesh away from that which is sound to save the life of the patient, and to prevent the infection from spreading. We should accustom ourselves to see everything in the light of faith; and then no event of this life, nor desires, nor fears will have any effect on us. Those strong hopes that so frequently upset the peace of the soul and the tranquil course of life, even those will make very little impression on us. How blind men are! and how much attached to their own ideas! How rarely one meets with anyone who will own that he has been obliged to seek and to take good advice! Saint Francis of Sales had good reason to say that we are all wanting in sense. At least let us understand the depth of the misery and blindness into which sin has caused us to fall. Let us learn from this to be always distrustful of ourselves, and to guard against our own judgments and perverse ideas. Saint Catherine of Siena was so convinced of the truth of this that she wished she could cry out constantly in a way to be heard by everyone: “Lord help me, come to my assistance and have pity on me!” Do not forget in future that a simple “Fiat” with regard to your present pains, and to those which you fear in the future either for yourself, or for others, will suffice to amass for you a treasure of peace even on earth. If this practice does not bring perfect peace immediately, it will, at least, fill your soul with joy and enable you to taste a solid consolation in all your pains and fears.

Letter IV – Opportunities for Practising Charity

On contradictory tastes and characters.

Far from pitying you I consider that you are more to be congratulated on having, at last, an opportunity of practising true charity. The antipathy you feel towards the person with whom you have such continual intercourse, the difference in your ideas and tastes, the offence she causes you by her manners and conversation are so many infallible signs that the charity you show her is purely supernatural and without any admixture of human feeling. This will be a way of amassing pure gold, and it depends entirely on yourself whether or not you will heap up an immense treasure. Be grateful, therefore, to the good God and in order to lose nothing of the inestimable advantages of your present position follow out exactly the rules that I will now give you.

1st. Bear patiently the involuntary feelings of disgust that this Sister’s behaviour causes you, just as you would bear a sudden attack of fever or megrim. Your antipathy is really, in fact, an interior fever, with its shivering and paroxysms. This is very crucifying, humiliating and painful, consequently is more meritorious and sanctifying.

2nd. Never speak, as perhaps the others do, about this Sister unless to speak kindly about her, remembering that she has her good qualities. And which of us is without bad ones? Who is perfect in this world? It is possible that without your will or knowledge you are as great a trial to her as God allows her to be to you. God often polishes one diamond by friction with another, says Fénélon.

3rd. When you have committed some fault in this matter do not distress yourself but humble yourself quietly without voluntary vexation either with her or yourself, without anxiety, annoyance or uneasiness. If we treat our faults in this way they will be to our profit and advantage. God keeps us in a state of true humility by these miseries, and the daily faults by which we discover our own pettiness.

4th. For the rest, unless your duty obliges you, do not meddle in anything that is said or done, let everything go on without speaking or thinking about it. Abandon all to divine Providence. What does it matter if everything goes, if everything perishes, provided that we belong to God and save our souls? But, I almost hear you say, if such or such a thing should happen what shall I do? This! I will take no notice, I will have nothing to do with it, because I should be sorry to lose this happy state of abandonment which makes me live in complete and absolute dependence on God from day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment, without a thought of the future, nor even of tomorrow. To-morrow will take care of itself. He who sustains us today with His invisible hand, will sustain us tomorrow. The manna in the desert was only given from day to day, and whoever, through want of confidence, or a false wisdom, gathered it up for the next day, found it spoilt. Let us not in our anxious and ignorant foresight make unnecessary provision for ourselves, when God in His wisdom and foreknowledge provides for us. Let us depend entirely on His fatherly care and abandon ourselves to it utterly both for our temporal concerns and our spiritual and eternal interests. This is true and total abandonment which binds God to take all under His care with respect to those who abandon all and thus pay that honour to His sovereign dominion, His power, wisdom, goodness and mercy that is due to all His infinite perfections. Amen.

Letter V – Profit to be gained by Patient Endurance

You have reason to bless God, my dear Sister, for having preserved in your heart peace, gentleness, and charity for the person whose place it is to wait upon you. He has given you a great grace. Perhaps He may still allow that, either through ignorance, thoughtlessness, or even, if you will, out of caprice, or bad temper, she may give you occasion to practise patience. Then, Sister, try to profit well by these precious occasions which are so adapted to gain the heart of God. Alas! we offend this God of all goodness not only through ignorance and thoughtlessness, but deliberately and maliciously. We want Him to forgive us, and this He most mercifully does, and then we will not forgive others like ourselves. And we recite every day the prayer our Lord taught us, “Forgive us, Lord, as we forgive.” We must remember also the words of our God, telling us that He would act towards us as we act towards our neighbour; therefore we ought to bear with our neighbour, and to show him consideration, charity, gentleness and condescension; and God Who is faithful to His promises will treat us in like manner. I am enlarging on this subject a little because it will give you occasion to practise the greatest and most solid virtue every day; charity, patience, meekness, and humility of heart, benignity and the renunciation of your own ideas; and these little daily virtues faithfully practised will procure you a rich harvest of graces and merits for eternity. It is in this way better than in any other that you will be able to obtain the great gift of interior prayer, peace of mind, recollection, the continual presence of God, and His pure and perfect love. This simple cross borne patiently will draw down upon you an infinitude of graces, and will enable you more efficaciously to become detached from self than trials, in appearance much more grievous, and to attach yourself unreservedly to God.

Letter VI – Difficulties

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. On different kinds of difficulties.

My dear Sister,

How can you still feel surprised at that of which your experience ought to have convinced you for a long time past? As long as we live upon earth, and do not live among saints we shall always require patience to put up with each other. It is a good thing for us that such is the case, so that we may have more frequent opportunities of practising the most meritorious virtues; charity, humility, and self-renunciation. Let us then resign ourselves with a good grace to this necessity, let us try to profit by the faults of our neighbour and be indulgent towards them, and by our own faults and rise speedily from them. This is the only way to keep peace. I acknowledge that your habitual position is extremely hard, but then what a fund of merits for Heaven! what a magnificent opportunity of doing penance, and of practising heroic virtue! You can hardly fail, if it lasts, to attain in a short time, the grace of an interior life, if you continue to practise abnegation, and self-renunciation by charity, humility, resignation and abandonment to God. These acts of virtue will soon make your heart ready to receive the sweet infusion of divine love; and therefore I should feel very much disappointed on your account if you were given an easier and more agreeable post. These trials of which you complain were valued and sought for by the saints with eagerness, because they understood their worth and advantages for the reformation of the soul, and far arriving at true union with God. You have, for a long time past, been attacked by a temptation all the more dangerous the less you suspected its danger. This comes from never having rightly understood this truth, which is an article of faith, that everything that happens in the world, with the sole exception of sin, comes directly from God, and the ordinance of His will. Also further, although it is certain that God never wills sin, nor consequently the calumnies, persecutions and injustices of which His elect are the victims; He wills the consequences, nevertheless; that is to say, that He wills that His elect should endure calumny, persecutions, humiliations, and often martyrdom in a thousand different ways. I say the same of the consequences of our own sins. A man, by his own imprudence, or even by more culpable means, falls into poverty, illness, and all sorts of severe afflictions. God, while detesting the sin, wills its consequences, such as poverty, illness and misfortune. This man then can, and ought to say, “Lord, I have thoroughly deserved this, You have permitted it, it happens by Your will, may Your holy will be done, I acquiesce in all. I adore and submit.”

It was the knowledge of this great principle which made holy Job say, “The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the Name of the Lord.” He did not say, “The Lord hath given, and the devil hath taken away,” because the devil has no power to do so without the permission of God, and it was from this principle that he drew his perfect submission, constancy, and peace of mind.

For want of being thoroughly imbued with this great principle, you have never known how to submit to certain conditions and events, nor, consequently to remain in them firmly and tranquilly according to the will of God. The devil has always tempted you, made you uneasy and deceived you by a hundred illusions and false arguments about them. Try then, I beg of you in the interests of your salvation and peace of mind, to put an end to such a mistake; you will, at the same time put an end to the vexations you feel, and to all the rebellious feelings of your nature. For this end accustom yourself to make acts of faith and submission about every event that happens either through the agency of men or the malice of the devil or your own fault, and even your sins. God has permitted it thus. He is Master, may He be blessed in all, and may His holy will be accomplished in all things. Fiat! Fiat!

Your situation is very painful, it is true, but on that account it is very sanctifying and is the best penance you could possibly perform, being assured that it is imposed on you by God Himself. All that the evil presents to your mind to the contrary is an evident illusion to deprive you of the peace of God, to make you sad, uneasy and vexed; always discontented with your present state, and sighing for some other. This is why so many in the world are as unhappy as they are culpable, for want of being able to understand this truth, so important and so consoling, of which I have just reminded you. How many torments would they not spare themselves, and how much merit would they not amass in the midst of their trials if they could but persuade themselves that God makes use of all things for His glory and for the benefit of His creatures; and that it remains for them to derive profit from all by a blind submission which must be total, general, without exceptions and without contrary arguments, at any rate, none that are deliberate. If I could but inscribe this truth on your mind and heart even with my blood! But God will do so Himself gradually I am sure, if you will but co-operate with His grace by rejecting at once all thoughts contrary to it. Once more I entreat you to submit in spite of all repugnance and disgust to the secret decrees of this adorable Providence, and you will become holy and pleasing to God.

Letter VII – Rules for Difficult Circumstances

To the same person. On the same subject. Rules to be followed.

I own, my dear Sister, that there is nothing more difficult than to keep a perfect evenness of temper and an immovable patience amid domestic difficulties and intercourse with those persons of different character by whom we are surrounded. The constant friction makes it almost impossible for us not to forget ourselves occasionally; but if one falls one moment, one can rise immediately. To fall is a weakness, to rise, a virtue. If one loses hold on oneself it is but to gain a firmer hold without feeling annoyed, and little by little God gives all to those who know how to wait patiently. But you want everything with impetuosity and imagine you are going to become perfect at once. You must try to moderate by degrees the turbulence and agitation of these desires which clash with each other at the risk of being broken. However, if you cannot altogether prevent this collision you must try to endure it quietly and humbly, and not increase the misery uselessly by tormenting yourself because you are tormented. The difficulties that are caused you, and the injustice of certain people towards you are, I own, the most revolting thing in the world, my heart is troubled with only reading about it; but what other remedy is there than the one we have already made use of for the cure of many other ills? – to raise our eyes to heaven and to say, “Lord, it is Your will, You permit this to happen, I adore and I submit. May Your holy will be done. Your divine permission will help me to carry this cross in expiation of my sins, and to make me merit heaven. Fiat! fiat!”

If I knew a better remedy I would impart it to you, but as I am certain that this is the most efficacious you must excuse me trying to find others. I own that it is next to impossible not to give way on such occasions to some slight movements of impatience, revolt, and bitterness, at any rate, interiorly; but you must return as quickly as you can to God and to yourself by humbling yourself quietly without too much trouble, and asking earnestly of God the necessary patience.

Letter VIII – Annoyances caused by Good People

To the same person. On annoyances caused by good people.

1st. The annoyances you have experienced must have been all the more painful as coming from people from whom you would least expect them; but be assured that you will have gained great merit for heaven by them. Men’s ideas are so different; they vary according to their interests or temper, and each is convinced of his own sense, and that he has right on his side. Oh men! men! To what have we come? What an abyss of humiliation for the whole human race! It is a good thing to have arrived at the bottom of this abyss, for it will be more easy to place all one’s confidence in God. The mind, enlightened by faith, disposes the heart to submit to the decrees of divine Providence who permits good people to make each other suffer to detach them from each other. On occasions such as these we can only resign ourselves, and abandon ourselves to God who will support us. These dispositions will enable us to turn a deaf ear to arguments that might tend to disturb us. Whether we consider ourselves, or the conduct of others towards us there will never be wanting specious reasons for becoming vexed and uneasy. But there is never any reason for depression and worry. These irregular emotions are always contrary to reason as well as to religion; and the peace of which they deprive us is of incalculably more value than that for which we sacrifice it.

2nd. For the rest it is always allowable to speak in confidence to a director, to obtain consolation, strength, and instruction, but always do so with charity and discretion. Nevertheless it is better and more perfect to keep silence. It is to God alone that we should confide our vexations, and tell all as to a friend, or director worthy of our entire confidence. This is an excellent and easy way of praying, and is called the prayer of confidence, and the outpouring of the heart before God. By it is gained great spiritual fortitude, and from it proceeds consolation, peace and courage. If you continue to live as you are doing now, very imperfectly no doubt, but with a sincere desire to improve, and with efforts proportioned to your weakness, our salvation is certain. Even the fear you feel about it is a gift of God provided it does not go so far as to trouble you, and to prevent you frequenting the Sacraments, practising virtue, or continuing your spiritual exercises. As for the hardness of heart and want of feeling that you complain about, be patient and offer this affliction to God in a spirit of penance as you offer Him your illnesses and bodily infirmities. Those of the soul are much harder to bear and consequently more meritorious.

Letter IX – How to Bear These Trials

To the same Sister.

I feel keenly, my dear Sister, the painful nature of the trial to which God has subjected you, and the sadness of your heart at receiving these daily wounds. It is true, I own, that it is necessary to be very holy to be able to let such things pass unnoticed, without feeling any kind of resentment; but, if you cannot attain such perfection yet, try at least during these times of trial, first to dismiss as far as you are able, all those thoughts, feelings and that language likely to embitter your mind; secondly if you cannot succeed in doing this, at any rate, say interiorly in the superior part of your soul, “My God, You have permitted this, may Your adorable will and divine decrees be accomplished in all things. I sacrifice to You this affliction and its consequences according to what pleases You. You are the Master, may You be blessed by all and in all things.” Then add, “I forgive, Lord, from the bottom of my heart for the love of You the persons who cause my sufferings, and to show the sincerity of my feelings about them I ask for them all sorts of graces and blessings, and every happiness.” When the heart is inclined to resist say, “My God, You see my misery, but at least I desire to have all these feelings and I beg this grace of You.” Having done this think no more about it, and if uncharitable feelings still molest you be resigned to endure this torment in conformity to the divine Will which permits it, contenting yourself with renewing the offering in the higher part of the soul. This is one of the ways by which we can share the chalice of Jesus Christ, our good Master.

Letter X – To See God in Our Trials

To the same Sister. On seeing God in our trials.

I am surprised, my dear Sister, that with the help of the rules I have so often given you, you are not even yet able to recognise the hand of God in the misunderstandings that arise among people with the best intentions. “God,” you say, “does not inspire anything that brings trouble.” That, in one sense, is true, but is it not also true that God has permitted, and often permits His servants to be given to mistakes and illusions which are intended to try them, to exercise them, and, in this way to sanctify them by the trouble they cause each other? We see hundreds of examples of this in the lives of the saints, and again quite recently in the lives of Saint Francis Regis, and the venerable Sister Marguérite-Marie Alacoque. Try to judge, not by human judgment, weak, narrow, and blind as it is, but by divine judgment which alone is upright, sure, and infallible. In this way you will improve, and not have the peace of your mind and heart disturbed.

Letter XI – To Seek God’s Help Alone

To the same Sister. On the deprivation of human assistance.

You think yourself greatly to be pitied, my dear Sister, because God has deprived you of the helps that up to now He has contrived for you. You are indeed to be pitied, but only on account of your want of resignation to the arrangements of divine Providence. Is it not deplorable that a soul chosen by God, and which He had taken into His service and overwhelmed with graces, instead of being contented with Him, ardently sighs after the little helps it receives from fellow creatures? These helps are all very well if God allows them, but when He takes them away, how much better it would be to rely upon Him alone! With what joy a soul that truly loved Him would repeat over and over again, “My God, You are my all! Lord! I have only You, but You are enough for me, and I desire nothing but what You give me.” The almighty hand of God will then take the place of a weak and worthless reed in regard to this soul. With this certainty how can you possibly consider yourself unhappy and abandoned? That which terrifies you is, that in future you can have no advice until too late. For my part I must say that, after so much advice and so many letters from the most enlightened directors you ought to be able to advise others. Besides, even though in certain circumstances you should have a serious doubt, is that any reason to despair? Raise your heart to God and He will not refuse to guide you when all other guidance is taken away from you; and then choose, unhesitatingly, what you believe, in good faith, to be the most suitable, the most useful to souls, and the most in conformity with the Will of God. Whatever may be the result, you must believe that you have acted rightly because, under the circumstances, you could not have done better. Do you really think that God demands impossibilities? No! God, Who is infinitely good, loves straightforwardness and simplicity, and is satisfied when we have done all in our power after having asked with confidence for His divine light.

You tell me that in your isolated condition you can see nothing that is not a subject of trouble and affliction. Oh! what a grace is this! It should have produced, or will necessarily produce in you, a complete detachment from all created things. Does not God give such a grace only to those souls He most loves? Oh! daughter of little faith, but daughter beloved of God, complain after this if you dare! “Only God,” you say again, “can know all that I suffer.” If you are not exaggerating, I congratulate you with all my heart. It was thus that the blessed Mother Saint Teresa spoke during her great spiritual difficulties. It is a good sign to find life sad and bitter. Death is terrifying because of the judgment that follows: but unless this terror causes disquiet, it comes from the Holy Spirit. I should fear much for anyone who did not feel this salutary dread.

Letter XII – God Alone

To the same Sister. On the absence of a director.

My dear Sister, I am neither angry nor surprised at what you feel about the departure of your director. If, instead of allowing yourself to be cast down by this feeling, you could master it, it would be the occasion of the most meritorious acts of abandonment to God. Thus you would gradually become detached from creatures, and unite yourself to Him, Who alone is your sovereign good. Oh! what a joy! what safety as to the future life and unchangeable peace for the present to be in God alone, to have no other treasure, no other support, no other help or hope but God alone! I wish I could send you a beautiful letter that one of your Sisters has written to me on the subject. She says that, for a whole month this thought, “God alone, I have only God,” gave her so much consolation and support, that instead of regret, she felt full of peace and an inexplicable joy. It seemed to her that God took the place of director, and that in future He would correct and instruct her Himself. It was to Him I recommended you when I left, and continue to do so. This is the farewell that Mother — bid me on the eve of my departure, “Father, I bid you farewell as this is the will of God.” That same evening she went to console the other Sisters, and the next day held the conference as usual. Since then she has had much to suffer, but has done so with a resignation that was worth more than any gratification, even spiritual.

Letter XIII – Reliance on God Alone

To the same Sister.

I acknowledge that a visible guide endowed with all the requisite qualities for so difficult a position, is a grace of God, and a powerful help to the soul. But if Divine Providence should refuse us this assistance, or should take it away from us, if we could say with our whole heart, “My God, I have only You, You are all that I desire,” what we should obtain by doing so, would be worth all that we could obtain by means of a director. It is an undoubted fact that God often deprives us of all outside help in order that we may give Him our sole confidence. Oh! if we would but give it entirely to Him without sharing an atom of it with anyone, whoever it might be! how well repaid we should find ourselves! For the want of any help from creatures, we should experience a great liberty of spirit. If, however, you have such contrary feelings it is because you are still very far from having that purity of love which makes us seek God for Himself alone. In fact this is evident, because the extreme sorrow and trouble to which a soul deprived of exterior help abandons itself, can only proceed from an immediate attachment to these human helps.

This attachment excites the jealousy of God, particularly if souls that have been favoured behave in this way, as He desires all their confidence and affection. But take courage! as God has made you endure the severe trial arising from such an attachment, He wishes in this way and by means of this very pain to moderate it gradually, until finally you are freed from it altogether. Allow Him to effect in you this desirable purification, and compel yourself to fulfil His designs faithfully. This will be an operation of grace as salutary as it is painful. You must endure it patiently as you would endure the suffering of some painful remedy intended to cure certain serious complaints. However, if you cannot at once succeed in becoming completely detached, at least desire with all your strength to become so, and moderate as much as you possibly can, the sorrow of which you cannot entirely rid yourself. God will do the rest when He thinks fit. Offer yourself to Him to do with you as best pleases Him, and show Him simply and humbly all your misery and weakness; that will suffice; this good Master asks no more at present, because this is all that you can do. Rise quickly from your frequent falls, which, as far as this matter is concerned are not sins but merely imperfections. For the rest, be satisfied to go to confession for the sake of absolution, then go to Communion as usual; in other respects your only help will be God. The rules which have been given you on former occasions will suffice to guide you, provided that you allow God to animate them with His spiritual unction. The more you wish for something fresh, the more tormented will you become, and to no purpose; and you will also commit many imperfections which will impede your spiritual progress just as much as real sins prevent others entering the way of salvation. The fear of not knowing, or of passing over many interior sins is another temptation of the enemy to deprive you of peace, and to disturb you. I command you for God’s sake to make yourself quite easy in this respect, contenting yourself with mentioning in confession that which your conscience tells you is the most important. Leave all the rest to the very great mercy of God without worrying yourself at all about it. Thus your confessions will be unconstrained and peaceful, and in this way will also be very fruitful. If we give way to trouble, we derive hardly any fruit from our confessions, and this the devil knows very well. If you have any difficulty in finding positive sins that you know to be such, just mention some particular sin of your past life, and after be at peace. This is the usual practice of well-intentioned persons, and you will lose nothing by following it.

Letter XIV – Abandonment in Trials

To the same person. On abandonment in trials of this nature.

My dear Sister,

1st. I always exhort you to be patient and to abandon yourself to God because you have need of these virtues. God alone is all, everything else is nothing. Attach yourself to Him therefore strongly, entirely and resolutely. He has intentions and designs which are not for us to fathom. For all our ills there is no other remedy; for all our sufferings no other consolation than submission, and complete abandonment. This is the most certain way of amassing a fortune for eternity and of gaining that true life which will never end.

2nd. Look upon your ills and infirmities as a very advantageous exchange for purgatory where you would have to suffer much more severely in the next life, if you did not pay your debts while here on earth.

One simple “fiat” during your exterior and interior pains will be enough to make you acquire true sanctity. Remind yourself of what Saint Francis of Sales said to one of his penitents, “My daughter, repeat often during the day, Yes, my heavenly Father, yes, and always yes.'” It is a very short and easy practice; nothing further is required to attain perfection. We need not go far to attain it, since we can easily do so without seeking it outside our own souls.

3rd. I am much edified by your holy reflexions about the very small amount of consolation you find in creatures, and I strongly approve of your taking this as a merciful punishment for your over great tenderness and excessive affection for your relations and friends. A trial endured in such a manner cannot fail to contribute powerfully to recall your affections to Him for Whom alone we are created, and apart from Whom we can find no repose.

4th. But I perceive that now, as formerly, the most afflicting trial you have to endure is the deprivation of all outward help for your soul. I have often told you, and again repeat, that although it is true that this help is a grace from God, yet, I maintain that, with regard to some people and certain characters, the withdrawal of this support is in the end a still greater grace, and a most efficacious means of sanctification. Listen to me without interruption. When God honours a soul by being jealous of its love, the greatest favour He can confer upon it is to gradually deprive it of everything that could turn its love away from Him; because never would it have sufficient courage and strength to detach itself. Now, God has seen that for a long time past, after having become detached from all other creatures, you still kept an attachment for and a confidence in your spiritual guide. This attachment was in no way wrong, most certainly, but it was the same sort of feeling that the Apostles had for their divine Master before His Resurrection. This jealous God Who aims at being loved purely and solely for Himself, cannot endure this sort of division, and therefore He has taken away from you the one who shared with Him the affection of your heart. This is truly your heaviest cross, because by it you have been attacked in that most sensitive spot, your heart, which formerly discovered so many ingenious pretexts to render its sorrow justifiable. I can hear you say to yourself that you do not regret this deprivation on account of the consolation of which it has robbed you, but because of the assistance it has given you for your spiritual progress and which is now taken from you. A mistake! an illusion of self-love! One “fiat” uttered in this sort of privation gains more merit in the sight of God than could be acquired by the most beautiful, the most worthy, the most consoling direction in the world. “But,” say you, “if one were guided by a connected course of advice one would not committ so many faults.” I answer that these faults are less displeasing to God than the smallest little attachment, however pure and innocent it may seem, and really be fundamentally. Therefore, I cannot sufficiently admire the goodness of God Who for many years past has led you by this sort of privation to break off in you all, even the least attachment. At present He is attacking your body by illness to detach you from yourself. He attacks the soul by weariness, disgust, callousness, and other troubles to detach you interiorly from all sensible help and consolation. If you will but allow Him to act freely in you, you will come at last to adhere only to Him by pure faith and in spirit, or, as Saint Francis of Sales puts it, by the higher faculties of the soul. Let this God of all goodness act then, for He desires all your confidence. I cannot help adding that the longer I live, the more clearly I see and understand that everything depends solely on God, and that if everything is left to Him, all will go well. No sooner do I make the sacrifice of everything to Him, than all goes perfectly.

5th. You do well to think that there are others who have much heavier crosses than yours, but be careful that the thought of the weight of yours does not prevent you being resigned to God. We might very likely be deprived of a sensible and consoling submission, but that which comes from pure faith and is simply spiritual can never be wanting to us. That which is not spoilt by any sort of vain self-complacency is very much more meritorious. This is why God gives only this last sort of submission to most people, leaving the soul groaning and humbled under the weight of its afflictions. God’s gifts are according to our requirements. He bestows especial graces to enable us to bear extraordinary troubles. What we cannot help, patience makes bearable. This is what a pagan philosopher said, enlightened only by human reason; what then, may not faith and religion make us think and say when we look at the crucifix and think of the eternal happiness in store for us?

Letter XV – The Use of Afflictions

On the usefulness of those afflictions.

My dear Sister,

When I consider the infinite value of your present trials I dare not wish them to cease; what I do wish is that you should keep yourself in a perpetual state of sacrifice and abandonment, or at least to tend that way, and to desire and implore it incessantly of God. With this disposition, and by making good use of crosses and afflictions, you will advance your eternal interests much more rapidly than you would by consolations and success. In a short time everything will have an end for us, and we shall have a boundless eternity in which to rejoice and to return thanks. This thought should completely console us for all our pains both interior and exterior, for these will procure us the joys of paradise. Let us remember that we have but little time to attain to this infinite happiness! and let us try to render ourselves worthy of it, at no matter what cost.

To continue, my dear Sister, I have already pointed out the fruit obtained by your soul in the great trial through which God has made you pass. In spite of the violent tempests it raised in your soul, I have no doubt that it greatly contributed to your spiritual progress. You learnt by it how to remain interiorly crucified, to be wearied of everything earthly, to make many painful and frequent sacrifices to God, to overcome yourself in many ways, to be patient and submissive and to abandon yourself to God. “But how,” you will ask, “has all this been done?” It has been done by means of troubles, reverses, and feelings of utter repugnance; by the higher faculties of the soul, and often without your knowledge, and without your being able to understand how you had this submission which you possessed without being aware of it. At other times you were persuaded that you did not possess it, and hardly desired to have it, while all the time there it was at the bottom of your heart! Oh! how admirable are the ways of God! If you had known as I did, the depths of your soul, you might, perchance, have spoilt all by secret reflexions and vain self-complacency. Let God do His work. It is through our ignorance, blindness, and obscurity that He can act as He pleases, without having His work spoilt by us. We acknowledge this, even by our humiliation when we believe that all is going wrong, that all is lost! but it ought to suffice for you to know that I see clearly enough the progress you have made to re-assure you, to answer for you, and to encourage you! Oh! how I wish that you would have more confidence in God, more complete abandonment to His all-wise and divine Providence which arranges even the smallest events of our lives! He turns them all to the advantage of those who confide themselves to Him, and who abandon themselves unreservedly to His fatherly care. What peace does not this confidence and entire abandonment produce in the soul! and from what uneasy and vexatious cares without end does it not deliver us? But as we cannot attain to this all at once, but gradually and by imperceptible degrees, we must aspire after it without ceasing, ask it of God and make frequent act of it. Occasions for doing so will not be wanting; let us avail ourselves of them, and repeat constantly, “Yes, my God, since it is Your will and You permit it thus to be, I also will it for love of You, help and strengthen me.” All this quietly, without effort, with the higher powers of your soul, and in spite of interior repugnance of which you need take no notice, except to bear it patiently and so make a sacrifice of it. Let us even wish to make these acts in the midst of these repugnances and revolts, since God wills or permits it thus to happen. If we should fail in this respect, let us act as we should after any other fault, try to regain what we have lost by interior humility, but a humility that is sweet and tranquil, without self-contempt, or annoyance with ourselves or others. I repeat, without despondency or voluntary vexation, for the first involuntary movements do not depend upon ourselves, and provided that we do not give our consent to them, they will make us exercise more meritoriously the virtues of patience, meekness and humility. In this miserable exile we find everywhere continual and unavoidable dangers and there is no other way of safe-guarding oneself, than to take quietly, and without over-eagerness, those precautions that prudence suggests, and then to trust everything to divine Providence. Throw yourself into the arms of God and remain there peacefully and without care, like a little child in the arms of a good and loving mother. Whoever knows how to make use of this practice will find in it a treasure of peace and of merit. Try to act thus about everything and at all times, and to adopt somewhat of this interior spirit. Nothing could be more calculated to pacify and to moderate impulsiveness and natural impetuosity; nothing could better prevent or soften a thousand bitter annoyances, and a thousand uneasy forebodings. The state of P.F. is to be lamented. God wills to sanctify her indeed, since He afflicts her so grievously at the end of her life. At that time it is doubly hard to nature to be neglected, but what a consolation to be able to suffer so much for God before going to appear before Him. Consolations are in truth a great blessing, but not to be compared to sufferings and trials. God preserve me from that sort of blessing. I have no doubt I should like it and find comfort in it. A middling virtue could make good use of the first grace, but it would require heroic virtue to practise, with God’s help, the second. I remain yours in our Lord until death and even after, if God will do me this favour. I sincerely hope that He will.

Letter XVI – Detachment

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. Bitterness mingled with pleasure to detach the soul.

1st. I am not surprised, my dear Sister, at the trouble which the grievous trial to which our Lord has subjected you, has caused. This sort of event affects us all the more keenly in that they wound us in our most intimate affections. But if I am not surprised at this involuntary trouble, at the same time I urge you to supersede it in your heart by an entire resignation to the will of God. How great will be the treasures of grace, of merit, and of peace which such an act will bring to you! It is on this account that I have so constantly inculcated the virtue of perfect abandonment, and still preach it incessantly, wishing you to become as tranquil and as happy as I wish you to be holy. You have not yet attained to this, but with God’s help you will.

2nd. God allows my sick relation to remain in the same state, to prove, and to convert the whole family. If they avail themselves of this opportunity, as I have every reason to believe they will, I shall bless God from the bottom of my heart for this happy occurrence which is worth more than all the fortunes in the world.

3rd. I am about to lose the best and dearest friend I had left, one whom I most esteemed, and on whom I could thoroughly rely. God has willed it thus. His holy will be done! Fiat! I commend him to your prayers.

4th. Blessed be God in all, and for all, but especially in this, that He knows so well how to make everything serve for the sanctification of His elect by one another. On this subject the holy Archbishop of Cambray has well said that God makes use of one diamond to polish another. What a useful thought for our consolation! and one that will prevent us ever being scandalised at the little persecutions of one another that good people are given to.

5th. Hail and rain have caused great havoc in many provinces as well as in your neighbourhood. May God grant us grace to derive profit from all these disasters for the expiation of our sins. A simple and sincere “fiat” is worth more than all the superfluities that we desire, because it adds to our treasure for eternity. Once filled with these high thoughts and hopes, we shall feel much less the occurrences of this short and miserable life.

6th. By dint of constantly thinking of death, we shall gradually come to contemplate it without shrinking. Father Bourdaloue has very well expressed this when he said, “the thought of death is indeed a sad one, but by dint of considering it as salutary, it will at last appear almost pleasant”; and a Jesuit theologian, Father Francis Suarez, said when his last moment came, “I did not know it was so sweet to die.”

7th. Sometimes one hears it said, “I have no longer either help to fortify me, or instruction to encourage me.” This is an occasion for sacrifice, “fiat, fiat.” All instruction, however much it may strengthen us, does not equal in value what we gain by one simple “fiat” uttered in the lack of all extraneous help. The high road to all perfection is pointed out in the “Our Father.” “Fiat voluntas tua.” Say this with your lips as well as you can; and still more perfectly in your heart, and be assured that, with this interior disposition nothing is wanting to you, nor ever will be. Learn by this to find repose in no matter what difficulties and troubles, because all will come right when God pleases, and according to our desires, if He should will it so, or permit it. Crosses and afflictions are such great graces that the wicked are rarely converted without them, and good people are only made perfect by the same means.

8th. God can easily make up for all, and really does so if we wish for nothing but Him, and expect to receive all from Him alone. It is in order to lead us gradually and by a happy necessity to this beautiful and desirable condition that He frequently deprives us of all human aid and consolation, and in the same way He mingles bitterness with worldly pleasures to disgust and detach the souls of worldly people from them, in order to save them. Fortunate disappointments! happy privations! which come from the goodness of God rather than from His justice. It is thus that we ought to regard them.

Letter XVII – Conduct During Trials

To the same Sister. On conduct during trials.

My dear Sister,

Ought you not to be able to overcome your fears, and to check your tears after all the experience you have had of the way in which your mind creates phantoms when anything affects it keenly, making you indulge in idle terrors? If it is impossible to prevent these tiresome wanderings of the imagination, at least endeavour to gain some profit by them, and to make of them matter for interior sacrifice, and an occasion for the exercise of a complete abandonment to all the decrees of divine Providence whatever they may be. I am of your opinion, and have never desired, and still less, prayed for pains and contradictions. Those sent by Providence are quite enough without wishing for more, or inflicting them on oneself. We must wait and prepare ourselves for these; that is the best way to gain strength and courage to receive them, and to bear them properly when God sends them. This is one of my favourite practices, and suits me both for this life and the next. I offer to God, beforehand, all the sacrifices that occur to my mind without any effort of my own. It is to enable us to acquire the merit of this offering that God tries us by these ideas, and these fears of future evil that He does not intend to send us. When, on the other hand, He sends us consolations whether spiritual or temporal, we ought to accept them simply, with gratitude and thanksgiving, but without clinging to them or taking too much pleasure in them, because all joy that is not in God only serves to feed our self-love. Your solitude in the absence of the person on whom you could most rely, in spite of her having been very tiresome, cannot fail to be very good for you. How many acts of resignation will you not have made in your illness and weakness! How often will you not have raised your heart to God! How many holy affections and good resolutions will you not have made! You will be saved by the good will which God sees in your heart. Each of us has a particular path to follow, according to his light. Try to make use of your present circumstances and of your sadness, to place your whole confidence in God, both for time and eternity. The present calamities of which you paint so sad a picture, will, if only for the sake of your own peace, place you under the necessity of making incessantly, very meritorious sacrifices to God. Public misfortunes are great, but the part you can take about them is great also. The lives of sinful men, and that we all are, ought to be passed entirely in works of penance and mortification, and God shows His mercy by giving us this remedy with His own hand. The chalice is bitter, it is true, but how infinitely more bitter would be the pains of hell, or of purgatory; and since we must drink this chalice whether we like it or not, let us, as the proverb says, make a virtue of necessity. In this way all our difficulties will be smoothed away. As you say, interior sufferings are much harder to bear, but they are also more meritorious and purifying, and after having been made to endure these purifications and detachments, everything else seems easy. Then it will be much more easy to give oneself up to a perfect abandonment and a filial confidence in God through Jesus Christ. The reflexions you make on this subject are reasonable and true, but too human. We should always revert to abandonment and hope in divine Providence, for what can man do, exposed as he is to continual vicissitudes? Let us depend then on God alone, for He never changes, and knows better than we do what is necessary for us, and, like a good father, is always ready to give it. But He has to do with children who are often so blind that they do not see for what they are asking. Even in their prayers, that to them seem so sensible and just, they deceive themselves by desiring to arrange the future which belongs to God alone. When He takes away from us what we consider necessary, He knows how to supply its place imperceptibly, in a thousand different ways unknown to us. This is so true that bitterness and heaviness of heart borne with patience and interior silence, make the soul advance more than would the presence and instruction of the holiest and cleverest director. I have had a hundred experiences of this, and am convinced that, at present, this is your path, and the only things that God asks of you are submission, abandonment, confidence, sacrifice, and silence. Practice these virtues as well as you can without too violent efforts.

Letter XVIII – Will of God to be Preferred

To the same Sister.

Believe me, my dear Sister, and put an end to all your fears and entrust all to divine Providence who makes use of hidden but infallible means of bringing everything to serve His ends. Whatever men may say or do, they can only act by God’s will or permission, and everything they do He makes serve for the accomplishment of His merciful designs. He is able to attain His purposes by means apparently most contrary, as to refresh His servants in the midst of a fiery furnace, or to make them walk on the waters. We shall experience more sensibly this fatherly protection of Providence if we abandon ourselves to Him with filial confidence. Quite recently I have had experience of this, therefore I have prayed to God with greater fervour than ever to grant me the grace never to have my own will which is always blind, and often dangerous, but always that His which is just, holy, loving, and beneficent may be accomplished. Ah! if you only knew what a pleasure it is to find no peace or contentment except in accomplishing the will of God which is as good as it is powerful, you would not be able to desire anything else. Never look upon any pain, no matter of what kind, as a sign of being far from God; because crosses and sufferings are, on the contrary, effects of His goodness and love. “But,” say you, “what will become of me if . . . ?” This is indeed a temptation of the enemy. Why should you be so ingenious in tormenting yourself beforehand about something which perhaps will never happen? Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. Uneasy forebodings do us much harm; why do you so readily give way to them? We make our own troubles, and what do we gain by it? but lose, instead, so much both for time and eternity. When we are obsessed in spite of ourselves by these worrying revisions let us be faithful in making a continual sacrifice of them to the sovereign Master. I conjure you to do this, as in this way you will induce God to deal favourably with you and to help you in every way. You will acquire a treasure of virtue and merit for Heaven, and a submission and abandonment which will enable you to make more progress in the ways of God than any other practice of piety. It is, possibly, with this view that God permits all these troublesome and trying imaginations. Profit by them then, and God will bless you. By your submission to His good pleasure you will make greater progress than you could by hearing beautiful sermons, or reading pious books. If you only understood this great truth thoroughly, you would enjoy great peace of mind, and advance rapidly in the ways of God. Without this submission to His good pleasure no spirituality counts for much. As long as people restrict themselves to exterior practices, they can but have a very thin veneer of true and solid piety which consists essentially, and in reality, in willing in everything what God wills, and in the manner in which He wills it. When you have attained to this, the Spirit of God will reign absolutely in your heart, will supply for all else, and will never fail you in your need if you call with humble confidence for His help. This is of faith, but is known to very few souls who are otherwise pious. Thus, for the want of this disposition we see them kept back and obstructed in the ways of God. What a pitiful blindness! All the business and complicated affairs in which we are immersed by God’s will and by the decrees of His divine Providence, are equal to the most delightful contemplation, if one says from the bottom of one’s heart, “My God, this is Your will, and, therefore, also mine.” Although this is said only in the higher part of the soul without the will seeming to take any share in it, still the sacrifice is no less agreeable to God, and meritorious for oneself. Keep with a firm determination to this practice and you will soon experience its excellent results. If you could also combine with it a certain peace and quietness of mind, a certain gentleness of manner towards others and also towards yourself, without ever showing signs of annoyance, worry, or vexation, what great and meritorious sacrifices you will have made! At least humble yourself gently after all your faults, and return to God with confidence as if nothing had happened, as the “Spiritual Combat” teaches. As we can never enjoy happiness or peace in this miserable world except in proportion as we blindly submit to the decrees of divine Providence, I shall continue to speak to you about it untiringly. Believe me and rely on divine Providence alone, and abandon everything to His care absolutely and without reserve. Do with simplicity what you believe you ought to do under the circumstances, so as not to tempt God, but do it gently, quietly, and without effort, trouble, excitement, or eagerness; as Saint Francis of Sales advises. Of how many anxieties, disappointments and forebodings should we not rid ourselves, if we could only act in this reasonable and Christian manner.

Letter XIX – The Happiness of Resignation

On the happiness of souls that abandon themselves to God in their afflictions.

It does not astonish me, my dear Sister, that you find it difficult to understand the ways of divine Providence. Neither do I understand them any better than you, but what I know and what you know as well as I, is that God arranges and disposes of all things as He pleases, and makes use of whom He will to carry out His designs at the time and moment He has decided upon. Let us learn then to resign ourselves in all and everything with submission and confidence in Him Who can do all things, and Who disposes of all things according to His own plans. If we could only attain to this state of holy submission we should wait patiently for things to happen at the appointed time, instead of at the time that, in our impatience, we expect them. Abandonment to God’s holy providence binds Him, in a way, to find a remedy for everything, and to provide for and console us in all our needs. Remind yourself of this great saying, “Everything passes away, God alone remains.” Abandon yourself and all who are dear to you, therefore, to His loving care. In public disasters as in all others we should, by our confidence, glorify His infinite goodness, and then we shall be able to say with David, “We have rejoiced for the days in which thou hast humbled us; for the years in which we have seen evils.” Suffering patiently endured, is the lot and the seal of the elect; let us say also with the same prophet, “I was dumb, and I opened not my mouth, because thou hast done it.” There is no greater consolation in our trials than a lively faith in the goodness of Him Who sends them, an expectation of that eternal happiness these trials have merited for us, the remembrance of our sins that they help to expiate, and the contemplation of the sufferings that Jesus Christ underwent for love of us. Impatience would only serve to aggravate the evil, while patience has the great power of lightening them. God has different chastisements for each country and these are like so many different rods with which He threatens us and punishes our sins, but always with a fatherly love, since He only threatens and punishes us in this world in order to be able to save us with greater certainty. May He be blessed for ever!