On the Continuation of Trials, and Fear of the Anger of God, by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Letter I – On Temptations

On temptations and the fear of giving way to them.

I acknowledge, my dear Sister, that the trial to which our Lord is subjecting you at this moment, is worse than any through which you have hitherto passed. To a soul that loves God, the fear of offending Him is worse than any other. Nothing is more frightful than to have the mind filled with bad thoughts, and to feel the heart carried away to some extent, against one’s will, by the violence of the temptation; but that which is, to you, a subject of cruel anguish is, to your directors, a subject for satisfaction. The stronger are your fears, and the greater the horror these temptations cause you, the more evident is it that your will has given no consent to them, and that, far from doing you harm they only serve to increase your merit. In this even more than in other things you ought blindly to follow the advice of those who direct you. Besides, and I say it without the least hesitation, all these fearful temptations, these interior revolts which agitate you, the discouragement which makes you despond, that kind of despair which seems to separate you from God irreparably; all this takes place in the inferior part of your soul without any express and formal consent of the superior part. The latter also, it is true, is often so troubled, and so blinded that it cannot discern what it has, or has not, done; or whether or not it has consented. It is this that makes this trial so painful; but take courage! it is then that you must cast yourself, as well as you can, at the feet of Jesus Christ crucified, humbling yourself and being overcome at the extent of your weakness, but quietly and without vexation, imploring the help of God through His divine Son our Saviour and our Advocate, through the intercession of Mary our sweet mother, and firmly believe that He Who pursues us when we flee from Him will never permit us to be separated from Him against our will.

Letter II – The Fear of Temptation

To Sister de Lesen, a Religious of the Annunciation. On the fear of temptations.

My dear Sister,

It is an illusion to have too great a fear of combats. Never shrink from the occasions afforded you by God of acquiring merit, and of practising virtue, under the pitiful pretext of avoiding the danger of committing sin by avoiding the struggle. Do soldiers who fight for their king act in this way! and do we not know that we are soldiers of Jesus Christ and that our whole life is nothing but a continual struggle, and that only he who has fought valiantly will win the crown. Blush for your cowardice, and when you find yourself contradicted or humiliated say that now is the time to prove to your God the sincerity of your love. Put your trust in His goodness and the power of His grace, and this confidence will ensure you the victory. And even should it happen that you should occasionally commit some fault, the harm it will do you will be very easily repaired. This harm, besides, is almost nothing compared to the great good that will accrue to your soul either by your effort to resist, or the merit resulting from victory, or even by the humiliation these slight defects occasion you. And if your temptations are altogether interior; if you fear to be carried away by your thoughts and ideas, get rid of that fear also. Do not resist these interior temptations directly; let them fall, and resist them indirectly by recollection and the thought of God; and if you are not able to get rid of them in this way, endure them patiently. The distrust that makes you try to avoid temptations that are sent to you by God, will cause others more dangerous of which you have no suspicion, for, what temptation could be more evident and plain than the thought which you express when you say that you will never succeed in the spiritual life. What! are not all Religious called to this life and you in particular? Even this weakness so clearly revealed to you by your trial, and your inability to make any serious progress in perfection, or of enjoying any peace except in this way of life, is not this a magnificent sign that God calls you to it more especially than others? Open your eyes then and recognise the fact that all these thoughts that discourage, trouble, and weaken you, can only emanate from the devil. He wishes to deprive you of that spiritual strength of which you have need in order to overcome the repugnance that nature feels. I implore you not to fall into this trap, and not to continue to look upon the revolt of the passions as a sign of being at a distance from God. No, my dear daughter, it is, on the contrary, a greater grace then you can imagine. Becoming persuaded of your own feebleness and perversity, you will expect nothing from anyone but God and will learn to depend upon Him entirely. God alone ought to suffice to the soul who knows Him.

Letter III – The State of One Tempted

An explanation of the state of a soul in temptation and of the designs of God in regard to it.

One would imagine, my good Sister, that you had never meditated on those numerous texts of holy Scripture in which the Holy Spirit makes us understand the necessity of temptation, and the good fruit derived from it by souls who do not allow themselves to become disheartened. Do you not know that it has been compared to a furnace in which clay acquires hardness, and gold is made brilliant; that it has been put before us as a subject of rejoicing, and a sign of the friendship of God; an indispensable lesson for the acquirement of the science of the saints? If you were to recall to mind these consoling truths you would not be able to give way to sadness. I declare to you in the name of our Saviour that you have no reason to fear. If you liked you could unite yourself to God as much or more than at the times of your greatest fervour. For this you have but one thing to do in your painful state, and this is to suffer in peace, in silence, with an unshaken patience, and an entire resignation, just as you would endure a fever or any other bodily ailment. Say to yourself now and then what you would say to a sick person to induce him to bear his pain with patience. You would represent to him that by giving way to impatience, or by murmuring he would only aggravate the evil and make it last the longer. Well! this is what you ought to say to yourself. I greatly approve of the order you have received to go to Holy Communion without taking any notice of your temptations. Your confessor is right, and would have made a great mistake if he had listened to what you said on the subject. “But,” you will say, “if I have consented to the temptation, and have committed a mortal sin, what a misfortune!” It is not for you to judge about it, but to obey blindly; and this opinion is founded on the great principle that even should the confessor be mistaken, the penitent cannot be misled in obeying in good faith in the sight of God, those who are in the position of guides. “But,” you say again, “I should like to know how my confessor can understand better than I what takes place in my soul during temptation?” Useless curiosity! It is not a question of knowing how this or that but it is so, and you must obey without reasoning or replying. Nevertheless, as I wish to be kind and gentle towards souls but little accustomed to the spiritual warfare, I will reply to your unexpressed question, and this reply will teach you some important things. You must know first that in each of us there are, as it were, two souls, or two persons; one, animal, sensitive, and earthly which is called the inferior part, the other spiritual, in which the free will resides, and this is called the superior part. Secondly, that all that takes place in the inferior and animal part, such as imaginations, feelings, disorderly movements, are in us, but not of us, and by their own nature are indeliberate and involuntary. All these can tempt us, but cannot compel the will to give free and voluntary consent without which there can be no sin. When the temptation is not strong it is easy to recognise for oneself and to feel that, far from giving consent to it, one rejects it; but when God permits the temptation to become strong and violent then, on account of the great involuntary agitation taking place in the inferior part, the superior has great difficulty in discerning its own movements, and remains in great perplexity and fear of having consented. Nothing more is wanting to occasion in these good souls the most terrible trouble and remorse which is a further trial permitted by God to prove their fidelity. Confessors who judge calmly and without difficulty, easily discern the truth; and the great distress the poor soul experiences, and its excessive fear of having consented, are to the confessor proof positive that there has been no full and deliberate consent. In fact we know by experience, that those who consent and give way to temptation do not suffer from these troubles and fears. The greater the temptation and the pain and fear that result, the more certain is the verdict in favour of the person tempted. I join therefore in the opinion of your confessor, and this is the rule I lay down.

1st. Neither examine, nor accuse yourself as a rule about these things.

2nd. Bear peacefully your humiliation and interior martyrdom which, I assure you, is a great grace from God, but a grace which you will not be able to understand properly till after the trial is over.

3rd. This is the interior petition which you ought to make incessantly to God. “Lord, deign to preserve me from all sin, especially in this matter; but, as for the pain which mortifies, and ought to cure my self-love, and the humiliation and holy abjection which gall my pride and ought to destroy it, I accept them for as long as You please, and I thank You for them as for a grace. Grant, Lord, that these bitter remedies may take effect and that they may cure my self-love and vanity, and help me to acquire holy humility and a low opinion of myself which will form a solid foundation for the spiritual life, and for all perfection.” I find you very ignorant on the subject of temptation. It is true that it does not come from God, Who does not tempt anyone, as Saint James says. It comes, therefore, either from the devil, or our own temperament and imagination; but since God permits it for our good, we ought to adore His holy permission in all things except sin which He detests, and which we also ought to detest for love of Him. Be careful, then, not to allow yourself to get troubled and harassed by these temptations, for this trouble is much more to be feared than the temptations themselves.

You tell me that you are travelling along the path that is very dark. That is exactly what is meant by “the way of pure faith.” It is always obscure, and necessitates a complete abandonment to God. What could be more natural or more easy than to abandon yourself to so good and merciful a Father Who desires our welfare more than we do ourselves? “But,” you add, “I am always in trouble and extremely afraid of having sinned; this makes life very miserable, and prevents me possessing the peace of the children of God.” It is so for the present, I know, but I also know that by these continual terrors the salutary fear of God takes root in the soul, and is followed by love of Him. It is thus that God endeavours to make us disgusted with this life and with its false goods in order to attach us to Himself alone. Know that none can enjoy the peace of the children of God who have not shared their trials. Peace is only purchased by war, and is only enjoyed after victory. If you could only see as I do the advantages and good to be derived from the state in which God has permitted you to be; instead of repining as you do about it you would be making continual acts of thanksgiving. You are, you say, as deeply involved as the greatest sinners. Oh! my dear daughter, this is just what galls your pride. And what are we in truth but great sinners? Do we not carry about with us an amount of misery and corruption, which, without God’s grace, would lead us into the gravest disorders? This is what God wishes to make us understand by personal experience without which we might live and die without ever attaining to a knowledge of our nothingness, the foundation of humility. Let us thank God for having solidly laid this foundation, necessary for the salvation of our souls, and also for the perfection of our state.

The thought and fear of the justice of the judgments of God is a great grace, but do not spoil it by carrying this fear so far as to be troubled and rendered uneasy by it; because the true and right fear of God is always peaceful, quiet, and accompanied with confidence. When contrary effects are produced, reject them as coming from the devil who is the author of trouble and despair. “If I had made myself,” you say, “I would have done it in such a way that – -” Oh! what are you saying here? One must never wish to be other than what God wills. Do you not know that to be able to bear one’s miseries, weaknesses, caprices, spiritual defects, follies, and extravagancies of the imagination, is the effect of heroic virtue? What treasures have not these same miseries enabled a crowd of saints of both sexes to acquire! In using them as subjects and matter for interior combats they have served for victories and for the final triumph of grace. You say again, “Of what use can it be to me for my heart to be emptied of one object if it becomes filled by another, and God has no place in it?” Know, daughter, that the heart is so full that it cannot be emptied all at once. It is a work of time, and as the space is enlarged God fills it gradually; but we shall not experience what Saint Paul calls the plenitude of God until we are completely empty of all else. This will take a long time, and will require many trials to accomplish the work. Be patient and faithful. Have confidence and you will see the gift of God, and will experience His mercy.

Letter IV – Different Temptations

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. On different temptations.

I see clearly by your letter, my dear Sister, that in the midst of your interior troubles and trials, you have made unknowingly very solid progress.

1st. To understand the value of the interior life, and of peace of mind, and to endeavour to acquire them through all your perplexities and drawbacks, is a good step in advance, the rest will follow in time and will be the result of your gentleness towards yourself and others. Let us accustom ourselves to accept everything in a right spirit from the hand of divine Providence, and to bless Him in all things, and for all things, whatever they may be. If we do this we shall find that what causes us most grief will, in the end, be most advantageous to us. Let us trust God and never be wanting in confidence; if necessary let us make more sacrifices, and thus we shall obtain continually fresh graces from Him, and shall increase our riches in Heaven.

2nd. Thoughts and feelings against our neighbour, if not consented to interiorly, nor shown outwardly, are matter for merit, and are not sinful. Guard carefully the virtue of charity and gradually all this will subside and come to an end. If some interior or exterior fault should escape you, be content to humble yourself before God without trouble, but peacefully, and generously repair whatever pain you may have caused, or bad example you may have given. You will gain more by this apology than you have lost by the fault.

3rd. Hardness and want of feeling in the reception of the Sacraments is certainly very painful; bear it with patience and humility; do what is in pour power gently in the spirit of pure faith; it is the greatest penance that God allots to any soul to purify it from self-seeking and the satisfactions of self-love.

4th. Try during the day to make of everything a help for raising the heart to God, but without effort or eagerness. Observe the most filial submission to the different arrangements of divine Providence about everything; you will gain more by doing so than by all the spiritual exercises that you perform to please yourself. Above all make your perfection consist in willing exactly what pleases God, and in the way it pleases Him. His good pleasure is, in fact, the rule of all good will, and the principle of all perfection whether in Heaven or on earth.

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.

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 rather 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 God 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 deeply 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!

Letter VI – Fear Caused by Self-Love

To Sister Marie-Henriette de Mahuet (1731). How the fear of displeasing God may be caused by self-love.

My dear Sister,

On re-reading your letter to which I have not been able to reply sooner, I remarked two things in it: many graces of God, and many very evident marks of self-love. Your pain and distress are, you say, made worse by your uneasiness. Pain and distress are graces from God which serve to purify and to elevate the soul; uneasiness is an effect of self-love which is agitated and complaining under this interior cross by which God desires to put an end to it in order that you may live a new life in Him. You experience a miserable inability to make your mind act, so that all reasoning and reflexion are a weariness to you. Another sign that God would have you feel that He wishes to do away with your own petty and miserable operations and to substitute the divine operation without which your progress would be very slow and painful. But, at the same time you are very much afraid of wasting time. Another effect of self-love always seeking for certainty on which to place reliance, while God wills you to rely entirely upon Him. Books and directors say enough to reassure you completely as concerns those foolish fears of wasting time, suggested by self-love or the devil, in the position you hold. You always feel confused and in a state of abstraction that makes you seem stupid, and on account of this you believe yourself to be under an illusion. God grant that it may not be a mistake to believe that you are in that state of abstraction which is one of the greatest graces that God could bestow on a soul. If you are actually, as you say, in this state I congratulate you; far from being an illusion, what you call abstraction can be nothing else but a profound recollection leading to everything good by the constant feeling of the presence of God, and by an intimate union already formed, or about to be formed in your soul. You are in great peace: another grace; but you do not dare to think so: another effect of self-love. Do you not know that the solid peace established by God in a soul subject to trials, is always without sensible sweetness? and besides, does not God necessarily deprive a soul of sensible sweetness when it would only make use of it to nourish its self-love? Could He do us a greater favour than to kill this domestic enemy by depriving it of its most essential sustenance, such as sensible spiritual sweetness. It would indeed be very unjust to complain of this God of infinite mercy, Who alone knows how to purify your soul, a thing you would never have been able to do yourself. Your very complaints prove that you would never have had the courage to put an end to your self-love which alone impedes the reign of divine love in your heart. Bless our Lord then for sparing you the trouble and because He only asks you to allow Him a free hand to accomplish this work in you. You fear, you say, that your past unfaithfulness may prevent the operations of God in your soul. No, my dear Sister, neither your past infidelities, nor yet your present miseries, darkness, and weakness ought to terrify you. The only obstacles to the divine operations are your want of submission and your voluntary annoyance in times of spiritual poverty, obscurity and weakness. Poverty, darkness and weakness patiently endured without anxiety would, on the contrary, only facilitate the divine action. You have nothing to fear but your own fears. However, if you wish to know how you ought to act during these interior trials I will tell you. You ought to keep an attitude of peaceful silent waiting, submissive, and entirely abandoned to the divine will, as one would wait under shelter until the storm had passed, leaving to God the task of calming the elements let loose. The difference between outward and inward storms is that patience in the former case could not prevent the greatest disasters resulting, while in the latter case it would produce the greatest good in the soul.

Your excessive fears about your past confessions are another result of self-love which desires certainty about everything. God, on the contrary, wills that we should be deprived of the absolute certitude so pleasing to our self-love. We must then make a sacrifice of it to our sovereign Master Who has willed it so to keep us in humiliation and complete dependence. When you do violence to yourself you imagine that it does not please God on account of the imperfection of your interior dispositions. Another very dangerous illusion of the devil by which he hopes either to prevent you from doing good, or else to throw you into a state of uneasiness and trouble after having done so. In the one case, as in the other, he would deprive you of a great deal of your merit. Do not, I beg of you, be trapped in such a palpable snare.

What causes me pleasure is, that in spite of mistakes caused by your inexperience I find in your soul, by the grace of God, the two dispositions most essential to the divine operations, namely, a firm resolution to belong to God without reserve whatever it may cost you, and a firm and constant will to avoid the smallest deliberate fault. Persevere in these dispositions, keep more on your guard than you have done hitherto against the secret seekings of self-love, and you will find that the reign of God will be re-established within you.

Letter VII – The Want of Good-Will

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil (1738). On the fear of being deficient in good-will.

Yes, my dear Sister, in spite of the fears which haunt you and cause you ceaseless agitation you should apply yourself with all the energy of which you are capable to the practice of an entire and filial abandonment into the hands of God.

1st. Your greatest mistake as well as your deepest affliction is the conviction that you are wanting in that good-will which is the essential condition of the friendship of God. Yes, doubtless you are wanting in a good-will that you can feel and know that you possess; but there is a certain settled will that God preserves in the centre of your soul, and which I clearly perceive in you in spite of your contrary opinion. Therefore let my decision tranquillize you. Return thanks to God that in depriving you of those gifts which are sensible, and which would only serve as food for self-love, He preserves in you, by a singular effect of His grace the far more precious gifts of the Spirit. Your abandonment in the midst of the apparent absence of good-will should serve in a powerful way to purify and to augment this imperceptible good-will which is in your soul. This is quite certain. Keep firmly to this belief and in the end you will be convinced of its truth by your own experience.

2nd. What I have just said about the absence of good-will I say also about the lack of power which forms the other subject of your fears. What is this want of power about? It prevents you from making recognized acts in turning towards God. These acts would give you pleasure; but, from the moment that God does not require them you would do wrong to force yourself to make them. This is an infidelity for which you pay dearly by a great increase of lassitude and desolation. What then is to be done? What you can do, and for which you will never lack power. This is to form a simple desire of good, for God sees all the actions you would wish to perform in this sincere disposition to act rightly. Cease then to distress yourself and to lament over your weakness. Rather say “Fiat, fiat.” This will be of infinitely more value than anything that you could say or do according to your own ideas, or to please yourself. I allow you, however, on account of your weakness, to say to yourself from time to time, “I know that usually I must wish to turn to God, but I am not able to do so. I know also that God sees this desire, and that this desire is all that He requires of me even though it be at once arrested, and as it were, stifled. I ought then to remain in peace and to depend on His love.” “But,” I hear you say to me, “sometimes it seems as if I had lost this desire,” and my answer to this is, “why do you experience so much anxiety about this supposed deficiency?” The privation of an object causes pain only in proportion to the affection you entertain for it; if you had no desire for it you would experience no pain at being deprived of it. Are you in great distress about the want of riches, honours, beauty, etc.? No, because these things do not affect you, and you simply do not think about them. It would be the same about the desire for God if the desire itself were, in truth, absent from your mind. If then this apparent absence afflicts you it shows plainly that it is not a real absence. You are only suffering from this dearth of strength and grace because at present God requires no more from you; but you do not experience any want of good desires, since you feel so much sorrow at being unable to form them. Remain therefore in peace in your great spiritual poverty. It is a real treasure if you know how to accept it for the love of God. I see plainly that you have never understood in what true poverty and the nudity of the spirit consists, by which God succeeds in detaching us from ourselves and from our own operations to purify us more completely, and to simplify us. This complete deprivation which reduces us to acts of bare faith and of pure love alone, is the final disposition necessary for perfect union. It is a true death to self; a death very inward, very crucifying, very difficult to bear, but it is soon rewarded by a resurrection, after which one lives only for God and of God through and with Jesus Christ. Understand then your blindness in grieving for what is the surest guarantee of your spiritual progress. After the soul has mounted the first steps in the ladder of perfection, it can scarcely make any progress except by the way of privation and nudity of spirit, of annihilation and death of all created things, even of those that are spiritual. Only on this condition can it be perfectly united to God Who can neither be felt, known or seen. Oh! daughter of little faith, of little intelligence, and of little courage, who afflict yourself and are in despair about what ought to console and rejoice you! Despise your self-love, tell it that it may despair as much as if it found itself struck to the heart, but that your soul will rejoice in God over its despair, even should it be torn with vexation.

3rd. As to the violent desire you sometimes feel to belong entirely to God, and as to what you feel directly after, as though you were being repulsed by an invisible hand, assuredly you have no reason to conclude from this that you are cast away. These spiritual vicissitudes ought to inspire you with an absolutely contrary conviction because this two-fold feeling is an infallible sign of the action of the Holy Spirit who works in us by this inward crucifixion the death of self. But what am I saying! if God allowed you to understand it as I do this would cease to be a trial, but would be changed into an ineffable joy. Happy daughter that you are without knowing it, cease to increase your distress by reflexions quite contrary to the truth of God.

4th. But what can be done you ask when you can no longer make an act of abandonment? Abandon then even this abandonment by a simple “fiat” which then becomes the most perfect abandonment. Oh! grand idea! how it will charm the heart of God, and what an act of the most perfect love it contains! Earthly lovers sometimes come to this through the excess of their insane love. It is your state of privation and sacrifice which has gradually led you to this holy excess of despairing love, and is precisely what God intends to effect by these privations, sufferings and interior weaknesses.

5th. God almost always allows a soul to imagine that this sort of affliction will never end. Why? In order to give occasion for a more complete abandonment without end, without limit, without measure; it is in this that pure and perfect love consists.

6th. Once more; you are only powerless to do those things that God does not wish you to do and that it would not be expedient for you to do if you were able. God effects then within you something so excellent that if you could understand it you would fall prostrate in thanksgiving. Fortunate weakness which prevents you interfering by your wretched and petty operations with those which the Holy Spirit effects in you almost invisibly, but which I can plainly perceive, and for which I return thanks to God for you, poor blind creature that you are.

7th. It is quite unnecessary to explain your troubles and doubts; they are not sins, but simply spiritual crosses, which it is only necessary to bear with unlimited submission. It is on this account that God has made it impossible for you to speak about them, or even to have distinct ideas about them because nothing sanctifies pain so much as silence both exterior and interior. What a great sacrifice the “fiat” becomes then, especially if it is hidden in a simple desire that can scarcely be discerned! God, however, sees all the greatness and extent of this sacrifice. This desire tells Him all that we wish Him to know without allowing us to enjoy the least consolation, nor giving us any certainty. From this there results a terrible agony which drives self-love to despair and assures in us at the same time the triumph of divine charity.

Letter VIII – The Love of Creatures and of God

To the same Sister. On the fear of loving creatures more than God.

I am delighted, my dear Sister, that God has made use of my letter to reassure you and to make you understand the reason of the difference between the love that we have for God and that which we feel for creatures, about which you have been so terrified. It is true that if we were more holy our love for God would be more ardent, and more tender. The want of this sensible tenderness is well calculated to humiliate us but ought not to trouble us. It is another misery in addition to so many others which will become for us a source of grace and merit when we understand how to endure it in peace without any vexed feelings of self-love and pride. For, to regard all these miseries in peace and humility, trying all the time to diminish them with the help of God’s grace by perpetual vigilance and tranquil prayer is, so to say, no longer to have them, in the sight of God. Allow yourself to become thoroughly imbued with this truth, as certain as it is but little known. But I add, this coldness we feel towards God ought not to trouble us, because it by no means proves that we are deficient in real love. Recall the words of our Lord to Saint Catherine of Siena: “My daughter, I leave to you and all creatures the love which is tender and sensible, and reserve for myself the love of preference which is purely spiritual.” This love resides in the apex of the soul; that impregnable citadel, the key of which is held by free will which governs the whole. As long as charity has not been driven from this citadel, even if the greatest indifference invades the feelings, nothing is yet lost; and should this sensible coldness be only a painful trial and not an effect of your own negligence, it will help to increase the merit of this genuine love. As an instance a Christian mother would weep and be inconsolable at the death of her beloved children; but how great soever her sorrow she would not have them return to life at the price of one single venial sin; do you not see that for this mother the horror of sin is the more heroic in being in opposition to a love that is more sensibly felt? It is the same with contrition, and all acts of the love of God. These acts are produced in the higher faculties of the soul, and are spiritually accomplished as if without our knowledge, and it is a great advantage to us that it should be so. During this life we are such miserable creatures that every gift that we recognize is changed into poison by our self-love. This is what in a measure compels God to hide the graces He bestows upon us. If we understood our own interests properly we should look upon this salutary blindness as the most precious of all graces, and like holy job we should never kiss His hand more lovingly than when it seems to weigh most heavily upon us.

Letter IX – The Love of Creatures and of God

To Sister Marie-Antoinette de Mahuet. On the fear of displeasing God, and deceiving others.

Madame and very dear Sister,

I can only bless God for prolonging your trial, and for renewing those interior sufferings that you experienced in prayer because I find you are acquiring so much profit therefrom and practising so well the virtues I recommended to you, namely, the complete sacrifice of everything, and a total abandonment to the good pleasure of God.

Far from wishing to see you lose these occasions of amassing invaluable merit, I can only congratulate you and exhort you to persevere. Prayer made under such circumstances is indeed very painful, but at the same time it is the most fruitful and meritorious. If this great fear of displeasing God were anything else but a trial I could very easily dispel it. It will suffice to ask you from whence comes this fear, as your conscience is free from any serious matter, and as you feel and even know that usually to please God you would not hesitate to undertake things that are hardest to nature. You clearly perceive that your terrors are nothing but idle imaginations. Therefore if God does not wish you to be entirely delivered from them, you have nothing to do but to drop them like a stone in the water. Take no more notice of them than flies that pass backwards and forwards buzzing in your ears. Despise them and have patience. It is very surprising that after all I have said to you, and all that you have read you still recur to the interior changes and vicissitudes that you experience. It is just as if you imagined yourself obliged to note down all the variations of the atmosphere, and to make known to me that after a few fine days the weather had become stormy and that a hard winter had followed a very beautiful autumn. It is the rule established by God, and these are merely the vicissitudes of a life in which nothing is stable; it is what all the saints have experienced. In fine weather you must prepare for bad times, and when they come as they infallibly will, you must bear them patiently and let the storms blow over and wait for the return of better weather. Instead of all the violent and forced acts you compel yourself to make it would be much better, as I have already told you, to keep yourself in the presence of God in an interior silence of respect, humility, submission, and abandonment. But self-love is always anxious to feel and to enjoy; this cannot be, however, God does not wish it, so you must give in with a good grace. It occurs to your mind, I am aware, that you are deceiving everybody, but you know perfectly well yourself that you do not intend to deceive, and that ought to be enough for you. If it came into your head to kill yourself or to throw yourself from a height you would say at once, “What folly! I know well that I shall not do it.” Put a stop then in the same way to the follies and absurdities of the human mind and particularly of the imagination. These thoughts are like tiresome flies; put up with them patiently. When these have gone others will come and must be endured in the same spirit of patience and resignation.

I bless God for the holy interior dispositions of sacrifice, abandonment, death to self, and complete annihilation with which He inspires you. How can you for one moment imagine that God, Who is so good, would abandon you, when by such a singular change He accomplishes in you such wonderful operations, and favours you as He favours the saints? Indeed, what could He give you more in conformity with the holy Gospel, more sanctifying, or in any way better. Ecstasies and revelations are nothing compared to these interior dispositions of abjection, because it is precisely in these that sanctity and perfection consist. I can only urge you to let nothing be lost of these precious gifts by contrary acts, but when God is pleased to deprive you, apparently, of them, in taking away all these feelings, allow Him to do it. Let Him give, take away, and give again. Is He not Master of His gifts? His holy name be always equally praised.

Letter X – Fear of Making No Progress

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. On the fear of making no progress, and of not doing enough penance.

Do not be astonished, my dear Sister, at making apparently so little progress. One does not ever advance in spiritual as one does in visible works. The business of our sanctification and perfection ought to be the work of our whole life-time. I notice that your natural vivacity and eagerness intrude into everything, and from this proceed anxieties, discouragement, and troubles which lead you astray in causing you distress. Here is the remedy! As long as you feel a sincere good-will to belong to God, a practical appreciation for everything that leads you to God, and a certain amount of courage to rise after your little falls, you are doing well in the sight of God. Have patience with yourself then; learn to bear with your own weaknesses and miseries gently, as you have to put up with those of your neighbour. Be satisfied to humble yourself quietly before God, and do not expect to make any progress except through Him. This hope will not be disappointed, but God will realise probably by a hidden operation which will take place in the centre of your soul, and this will cause it to make considerable progress without your knowledge.

You are uneasy about your penance. Oh! my dear daughter, how could you perform a better penance, and one in which there is less of your own will than to bear patiently the crosses that come from God? Besides, all our crosses come certainly from Him when they are the necessary, natural, and inevitable consequences of the state in which divine Providence permits us to be settled. These are the heaviest crosses, but also the most sanctifying because they all come from God. Crosses from our heavenly Father, crosses from divine Providence, how much easier to bear they are than those we fashion for ourselves, and embrace voluntarily. Then love yours, my dear Sister, since they have been prepared for you by God alone for each day. Let Him do this; He alone knows what is suitable for each one of us. If we remain firm in this, submissive and humbled under all the crosses sent by God, we shall find in them, at last, rest for our souls. Thus we shall enjoy an unshaken peace when, by our submission, we shall have merited from God to be made to feel that divine unction which belongs to, and is a part of the cross since Jesus Christ died upon it for us. But you ask how the spiritual life can be compatible with this state of trouble and darkness. Ah! my dear daughter, how many are mistaken about this! Do not you share their delusion. The spiritual life, gentle, and tranquil as I have always described it to you to inspire you with a taste for it, is only to be found in two sorts of persons; first, in those who are entirely separated from the world and have nothing to do with its affairs; secondly, sometimes, but more rarely, in persons living in the world, when by dint of having overcome themselves, and detached themselves from everything, they live in the world, but are not of it; that is to say they belong to it outwardly, but not in mind and heart. But this absence of business and of care if far from constituting the essential part of the spiritual life, or from forming its merit. There is another sort of interior life, which, devoid of sweetness, is on this account all the more meritorious, and it is to this that you must conform yourself; the other may follow later. This interior life may also be divided under two heads, first, the generous fulfilment of the divine will whenever manifested to us either by the precepts it has itself laid down for us, or by our Rule, or by the commands or desires of our Superiors; secondly, to receive everything as coming from the hand of God, whether business affairs, adversity, illness, difficulties, or annoyances. Sometimes, however, one forgets oneself. You must expect this to happen. What is to be done then? You know what, return quietly to yourself, regain your tranquillity with submissiveness, humble yourself gently before God, never be discouraged nor disheartened, and above all take good care, according to the teaching of Saint Francis of Sales, not to be grieved at having been grieved, nor to be angry at having been angry, nor worried at having been worried, because this would be to go from bad to worse, and would augment still more the interior trouble. This is the rock ahead of lively persons.

Letter XI – On Fears About Confession

I can only repeat today, my dear Sister, what I have so often told you before. God wishes to make you do penance and to sanctify you by the endurance of personal offences that wound you, by interior crosses, and more especially by troubles of conscience. I only ask you in all these trials for a little submission and resignation such as you practice in the different circumstances of life, such as losses, illnesses, infirmities, etc. I forbid you to dwell voluntarily on the uneasiness that torments you with regard to your confessions. Be at peace. Blind obedience can never deceive you. As for contrition which is the only thing that you might have some reason to fear about; if you mention in each confession a sin of your past life without going into details you will have absolutely nothing to fear. The best sign of having true contrition is to fall no more into grave sins, and to do your best to get rid of those that are lighter. Therefore remain in peace on this point, enduring patiently the different returns of these troubles. As you are infirm these troubles will do instead of fasting or taking the discipline, or wearing a hair shirt, but with this difference, that whereas in these latter penitential exercises self-love can be met with again and satisfied, in the former penances sent by our heavenly Father to men and women for whose salvation He has a special desire, there is only the pure will of God.

Letter XII – Rules to Free Oneself from these Fears

It depends on yourself, my dear Sister, to free yourself once and for all from the fears which torment you on the subject of your confessions. It only requires a grain of faith and of docility in following the perfectly safe rules that I will outline for you.

1st. Never ask to be freed from this trouble, because God has made it perfectly clear to you why He permits it. It is because He wishes to be your only support, your sole consolation, and to have your complete confidence so that no other sensible motive may interfere to spoil the singleness of your love. Finding that you had not the courage to attain to this purity of love by making heroic sacrifices like the saints, He leads you gradually to it by less painful means. Return thanks to Him for so much condescension, and compel yourself to submit to His merciful designs.

2nd. Prepare for your confessions in the following manner. After a quarter of an hour at the very utmost for the examen, and without taking too much trouble but doing it as you best can, you will say to yourself, “By the mercy of God I live in a state of habitual contrition since I would not commit a mortal sin for anything this world could give me. I even feel a horror of venial sin, although, unhappily, I have not yet left off committing it; therefore I only have to make an act of contrition as best I can, and as He has put it into my heart by His grace.” That will not take long, a few minutes will suffice, and the best way to make acts of contrition is to pray that God will Himself produce them in you.

3rd. “But what if it should be impossible to remember any distinct fault?” This is what you must say: “Father, I have not light enough to see my ordinary faults but I accuse myself in general of all the sins of my past life, and particularly of such and such a sin of which I ask pardon of God from the bottom of my heart.” After that accept tranquilly the penance that your confessor gives you, and do not have any doubt whatever that the absolution he pronounces confers on you all the graces attached to this sacrament.

What on earth, I ask you, could be easier or more consoling? If you adopt this method you will be delivered from all the anxieties that have so much harassed you up to now. I should like this little rule to be known and practised by most of the members of your community who experience the same difficulty as yourself, and who, like you, could so easily be set right.

Letter XIII – On Fears About Contrition

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil.

You desire the impossible, my dear Sister, you want to feel what is not perceptible by the senses, and to enjoy a certainty that we cannot possess during this life. True contrition which remits sin is, of its nature, entirely spiritual and consequently above the senses. It is true that with certain persons and on certain occasions it becomes sometimes sensible, and then it is much more consoling to self-love, but is not on that account either more efficacious, or more meritorious. This tenderness of feeling does not in any way depend upon us, neither is it by any means essential for obtaining the remission of our sins. A great number of souls truly devoted to God hardly ever experience this tenderness, and the fear inspired in them by this deprivation is the best proof that they are not responsible for it. The coldness they feel, far from depriving them of true repentance is, on the contrary, one of the best penances they could offer to God. What I now say on the subject of contrition in general, I say in particular about the sovereignty of this sorrow, a quality that is usually the one least felt. It must be asked of God and you must wait till He produces it Himself in your heart by His grace. To persist in tormenting yourself after this would be to allow yourself to fall into the devil’s trap. Nothing should astonish us less than to be sometimes touched and affected, and at others to find ourselves callous and insensible to everything. This is one of the inevitable vicissitudes of the spiritual life. Fiat! fiat! resignation is the only remedy. It is certain that God always gives what is necessary to those souls who fear Him. The gifts He bestows on them are not always the most apparent to the senses, nor the most agreeable, nor the most sought after, but the most necessary and solid; all the more so, usually, in being less felt and more mortifying to self-love; for that which helps us most powerfully to live to God is what best enables us to die to self.

Letter XIV – On General Confession

To Sister Marie-Antoinette de Mahuet. On general confession.

My dear Sister,

Your fears have no reasonable foundation, and you ought to reject them as dangerous temptations. When, in the course of one’s life one has made a general confession in good faith; all the ideas and anxieties that follow are so many idle scruples which the enemy makes use of to trouble the peace of the soul, to make one lose time, and to weaken and diminish one’s confidence in God. Do not let us foolishly fall into this trap; let us abandon all the past to the infinite mercy of God, all the future to His fatherly Providence, and think only of profiting by the present. The “fiat” formed in the mind by repeated acts and gradually reduced to an habitual disposition, leads to all that perfection which ignorant and mistaken people seek far and wide in all sorts of ways. For the rest, do not imagine that you tire me by speaking of your miseries. By dint of seeing nothing but poverty and misery in oneself, one is not surprised at finding the same in others. But if, in peace and humility they annihilate themselves before God and ask for grace, working with His assistance to diminish their faults and to overcome themselves, they may be considered, in a way, not to have these faults. This is what Fénélon thought. May it sink deeply into your heart as well as this sentence which I find in the same author, and which I copy for you because I think it is exactly what will console and encourage you. “We are obliged to live and to die in the deepest uncertainty, not only as to the judgments of God about us, but also as to our own dispositions.” “We must,” says Saint Augustine, “have nothing of our own to present to God but our own miseries, but then we have His very great mercy which is our only title to His love, through the merits of Jesus Christ.” Often reflect on these beautiful sayings in which you will find peace for your mind, abandonment, confidence, and the greatest certainty in the very midst of doubt.

Letter XV – Different Fears

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. On the same subject – Different fears.

My dear Sister,

As neither my advice nor my efforts can deliver you from your fears about your confessions I can see nothing for you but to resign yourself to them. Regard these troubles as a penance sent you by your heavenly Father, but never stop to think about them voluntarily because I am convinced that in your general confession you mentioned everything; or, at any rate, you had a sincere desire to say everything; that is enough. I do not hesitate to assure you, before God, that in this confession no omission of any importance could have been made, therefore remain in peace about it.

You are still distressed that certain sublime states that you admire in others, you can neither dare to ask for, nor even to desire for yourself. Here are two remedies to alleviate your trouble and to make you derive advantages from your weakness. Firstly, to humble yourself, and to lament interiorly, but without vexation, at beholding yourself so far from such holy dispositions. Secondly to desire interiorly to have the wish for them. This desire to desire is the first degree from which one passes gradually to a real desire, and this in its turn by dint of being renewed and of dwelling in the heart gets stronger and finally takes root. Try to recall often to your mind this great rule: God has placed me in this world only to know, love and serve Him, and could not have created me for any other purpose, therefore I will attain this end to the best of my power. For the rest He may do with me what best pleases Him, I abandon myself entirely to His holy will which can only will my salvation and eternal happiness in the life to come. It is for this only that He makes me endure so many interior and exterior afflictions. May he be blessed for ever!

Letter XVI – Hatred of Sin

On the same subject. Different fears.

My dear Sister,

In all that forms the subject of your letter I see no reason for alarm. You are not pleased, you say, about your want of submission and of patience during suffering. Provided that this discontent does not turn to vexation, trouble, or discouragement, it will inspire you with a sincere interior humility, a profound self-contempt which will please God better and enable you to make more progress than a patience and submission that you felt that you possessed, which would perhaps have only served to feed self-love by almost imperceptible satisfactions. You cannot yet, you say, make known to me anything else but miseries. I can well believe it, since as long as we are in this life we cannot find anything in ourselves but what is imperfect and miserable. Do you want a remedy for all these miseries? It is this: While detesting the sins that are the cause of them, love, or at least accept their consequences which are the feeling of abjection and a contempt for yourself; but do so without trouble, vexation, uneasiness or discouragement. Remember that God, without willing sin, has made of it a very useful instrument for keeping us always in a state of abjection and self-contempt. Without this bitter remedy we should succumb to the enticements of self-love. Believe me, you must always keep cheerful, steadfast and tranquil in the midst of your miseries, making at the same time efforts to diminish them; as you advance further you will constantly discover fresh ones. It was this clear knowledge of their own weakness and nothingness, which, becoming ever more distinct, increased the humility of the saints; but this humility by God’s grace is always joyful and peaceful. It goes so far as to make them love spiritual poverty which in this way becomes a real treasure. Learn that under this heap of refuse God hides the gifts He bestows on us to conceal them from the satisfactions of self-love and foolish esteem. I do not blame your tears but I wish that while you are shedding them over your pains you would do so before God and for His sake. In this way instead of feeling their bitterness you would discover in them a hidden sweetness which would tend to increase interior peace by producing an entire submission to the divine will.

As for the supposed want of contrition which distresses you, you need see in it only a trap laid for you by the devil to destroy your peace. Do you not know that an apparently bitter contrition accompanied by torrents of tears is not the best, and that God by no means exacts such from you? With all these beautiful signs true contrition may be wanting; and, on the contrary, without any feelings of the sort one can have the contrition that justifies. This consists in the will to hate and to avoid sin, and resides in the superior faculties of the soul and consequently is not to be felt as it is purely spiritual. Remain then in peace and do not attend to your self-love which wants to feel and to enjoy this contrition so as to be certain of possessing it. God does not desire this for several reasons, but above all to keep us always in holy humility, and in a certain fear which helps towards our salvation. Enter into His designs, and when you feel no regret for your sins humble yourself profoundly. Offer to God in a spirit of penance this keen dread of not possessing the requisite sorrow; make a sacrifice of this trouble of mind to God, and abandon yourself entirely to His mercy; He intends to lead you by the way of obscurity and fear, to Heaven. The greatest saints themselves have no exemption from this law but, more faithful than we, they abandoned themselves entirely to God and, by placing their whole confidence in Him kept themselves always in peace. As for the review of conscience that souls careful of their state are in the habit of making at least every year, one must remember that it is not a matter of obligation but a work of devotion and humility. Each person gives to this examination as long a time as he desires, with the advice of the confessor, and one can always be certain of saying more than is necessary. At the hour of death there is no necessity to make a general confession. One can accuse oneself of the graver sins in a general way out of compunction, or in a spirit of penance, but without too much introspection. It is much better to occupy the time in making more meritorious acts of religion, of faith, hope, contrition and love of God, of resignation, abandonment, and confidence in the merits of Jesus Christ, and of union with Him. Finally the most solid preparation for death is that which we make every day, by a regular life, a spirit of recollection, of annihilation, of abnegation, patience, charity, and union with our Lord.

I do not like to find you attaching so much importance to the little comforts that are given you in your illnesses, such as getting up a little later, having your bed warmed, eating a little more at the collation. Follow in all this, with the greatest simplicity, discretion and obedience and without thinking too much about yourself, what you feel and judge to be necessary. Provided also that the interior passions are thoroughly overcome, and that you are not wanting in patience, submission and a total abandonment to God, in gentleness and humble forbearance with your neighbour, for these are the most essential virtues and more sanctifying than any exterior mortifications. People who are rather pious are not wanting in outward practices; usually, their great mistake is to make their whole sanctity consist in external works, leaving the enemy, namely, self-love and the passions, alone. They make a great to-do about having eaten a few mouthfuls extra on a feast-day but will not attend to these essential things. Such piety is like that of the Jews who had a scruple about entering Pilate’s house because he was a pagan, yet thought nothing of putting Jesus to death. Would to God that these deplorable illusions were never found among Religious. At any rate do you, my dear Sister, avoid them, and without neglecting what is external, give your principal attention to the interior.

Letter XVII – Remorse and Rebellion

To Sister Marie-Anne-Thérèse de Rosen. On remorse of conscience and the rebellion of the passions.

Do all you can to calm your soul on the subject about which you have consulted me, first because the motives which you believe you have to make you uneasy have no foundation in fact. The only danger lies in the uneasiness itself.

When the reproaches of your conscience, however well merited they may be, throw you into a state of trouble and depression; when they discourage and upset you, it is certain that they come from the devil who only fishes in troubled waters, says Saint Francis of Sales. The first care of a soul experiencing these troubles ought to be to prevent them, to stifle them, or better still to despise them. Let it say with Saint Teresa, “What my weakness finds impossible, will become easy with the help of the grace of God, and this He will give me in His own good time. For the rest, I desire neither perfection, nor to lead a spiritual life, except as far as it should please God to give them to me and at the time He has appointed to do so.” You must try to acquire a habit of making these two acts by a constant repetition of them in your heart. The second will contribute marvellously to reproduce entire abandonment, which is the special attraction of souls desiring to belong unreservedly to God.

2nd. The rebellion of the passions, and that excessive sensitiveness which causes one to be put out beyond measure on the slightest provocation ought not to disquiet, nor to discourage anyone suffering from them, nor to make her think that her desire of sanctification is not sincere. This mistake and the discouragement it occasions are more harmful than all the other temptations. To get rid of them, or to overcome them we must be well persuaded that these rebellions, and this extreme sensitiveness are sent to us by God to be the ground of our combats and victories; and that these little falls are permitted to help us to practise humility. Looked upon in this light our falls will be incomparably more useful to us than victories spoilt by vain self-complacency. This is a very certain and a very encouraging truth. We must be convinced, thoroughly convinced that our miseries are the cause of all the weakness we experience, and that God, in His mercy, allows them for our good. Without them we should never be cured of a secret presumption and a proud confidence in ourselves. Never should we be able to rightly understand that all that is bad is ours, and that all that is good is from God alone. To acquire a habit of thinking thus it is necessary to pass through a great number of personal experiences, and there is a greater necessity for this the more deeply rooted these vices are, and the greater the hold they have on the soul.

3rd. You must never feel surprised at finding that a day of great recollection is followed by one full of dissipation; this is the usual condition in this present life. These changes are necessary, even in spiritual things, to keep us in humility, and a state of dependence on God. The saints themselves have passed through these alternations, and others still more troublesome. Only try not to give rise to them yourself; but should this, unfortunately, happen, then humble yourself peacefully and without vexation, which would be a worse evil than the original one; then endeavour to regain self-control, and to return to God; doing so quietly without over-eagerness, and by means of a total holy abandonment to God’s ways.

4th. Your present method of prayer is good; continue to practise it. The humble feelings of the heart, the submissive attitude of the soul before God are worth more than a multitude of formal acts constantly reiterated; they are acts straight from the heart, stronger and more efficacious with God although not always so sensibly felt, nor as clearly perceived, nor as consoling as the former. God takes from us this multiplicity to give us instead something better, more simple and better calculated to unite us to Him.

5th. The person of whom you speak is not wanting in the love of God. She has as much as is necessary, but God has deprived her of the knowledge of it for fear that she should pride herself on it, and in order to prevent her preferring the sensible pleasure of it, to Him who ought to be its sole object. Let her be consoled about this, while at the same time she should always desire to love Him more without wishing to know it, or to be able to be certain of it.

6th. The opposition and perpetual contradiction between your thoughts and feelings is nothing else than that inner strife spoken of by the Apostle when he says, “the spirit wars against the flesh, and the flesh against the spirit.” None of the saints have been exempt from this rule. It is true that this interior war is more violent with some people, and about some things more than others, and also at a certain age, or time or occasion, but whether more or less violent, no harm is done to a soul that fights with a determination never to be beaten nor discouraged. On the other hand, the greater the violence of the attacks the more serious are the combats, and consequently, the more glorious the victories. The greater the merit, the higher the sanctity, and the grander the recompense. These happy results are all the more certain the less they are felt, and especially if a more profound humiliation is experienced.

Oh! if only this interior abjection were accepted, loved and valued, no one would consent to be without it, because it brings the soul nearer to God. This great God has, in fact, declared that He draws near to those who humble themselves and who love to be humiliated. If it is good for us to be humbled in the sight of others it is no less useful to be annihilated in our own eyes, in our pride and self-love which are put an end to in this way. It is thus, in fact, that they are gradually extinguished in us, and for this purpose does God permit so many different subjects for interior humiliation. It only remains to know how to profit by them, by following the advice of Saint Francis of Sales, and practising acts of true humility, gently and peacefully; and this will drive out false humility which is always in a state of vexation and spite. Vexation and spite under humiliation are so many acts of pride, just as worry and irritation during suffering are so many acts of impatience. Let us not forget this, and let us take good care not to look upon the want of feeling we experience for the things of God as callousness; it is simply dryness, and a trial as inevitable and ordinary as distractions. If it is constant it is a still better sign, because it is in this way that God prepares the soul to proceed by pure faith, the most sure and meritorious way.

One should repeat continually to anyone in this state, “Peace, peace, remain in peace, and keep retired within your soul.” Preserve a constant desire of the interior life. This single attraction ought to suffice to make you live within yourself, and in constant communication with God. The results will follow in their own time. Guard above all against anything likely to withdraw you from this good disposition; avoid all occasions of losing it; humble yourself when you have failed about it, but do not ever worry yourself, nor distress yourself about anything whatever, nothing could harm you more than that.

Letter XVIII – God Alone Can Remove These Trials

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. God alone can remove these trials.

1st. To alleviate your troubles and regrets, my dear Sister, I have only two things to say to you. Everything comes from God, and, on our part, all merit consists in acquiescing in the will of God. Whether willingly or by compulsion it will always be accomplished; let us unite ourselves to it with all the strength of our own will, and thus we shall have nothing to fear. Anguish of the heart, and involuntary rebellion only augment the merit of submission. If you fear lest you do not possess this virtue, ask God to grant it to you, saying to Him interiorly, “Lord, I desire and will to have this entire submission and I offer you the anguish by which I am tormented in union with the agony of Jesus Christ Your beloved Son in the garden.”

2nd. Try to avoid all useless reflexions which only embitter the heart. When, in spite of yourself, you feel irritated, bear this trouble patiently, and when you feel impatient, then is the time to make greater efforts to have patience in enduring this impatience itself, and to resign yourself to the want of resignation.

3rd. Read in the book of the “Holy Ways of the Cross,” the chapters which bear upon your present state. You will find therein all the instruction, support, and consolation which you can possibly require, but do not expect to find in them what no one on earth can possibly give you. God alone can remove this trial from you, wait His time with patience. You have always counted too much on human help; God has taken it away from you to compel you no longer to depend on anyone but Him alone, by abandoning yourself entirely to His paternal care. The more painful and violent your trial is, the more certain do I become about your salvation and perfection. You will be able to understand this later just as I do.

4th. As Jesus Christ crucified is our only model, and as He wishes to save us by making us like to Himself, He strews crosses in the path of each one of us in order to keep us in the way of salvation. If we are faithful the reverses that cross our lives will form our riches. And see how great is the mercy of our loving Saviour; after having passed through the most severe trials, and accomplished the most painful sacrifices, what is left seems hardly to count, and the heaviest crosses begin to seem quite light. Oh! happy experience, as sweet in its effects as, at first, is appeared difficult to nature.

Letter XIX – On Relapses

To the same Sister. On the same subject and on relapses.

My dear Sister,

The recital you have given me of your troubles, and, above all of your faults and interior revolts, has inspired me with the most lively compassion; but, as to a remedy I really know of no other than that which I have so often pointed out to you; each time you have a fresh proof of your misery to humble yourself, to offer all to God, and to have patience. If you fall again do not be any the more disquieted or troubled the second time than the first, but humble yourself yet more profoundly and do not fail to offer especially to God the interior suffering and confusion caused by the revolts and faults to which your weakness has given rise. Even if fresh occasions occur, return each time to God with an equal confidence, and endure as patiently as possible the renewed remorse of conscience and these interior trials and rebellions, and continue to act in this way. If you always do so you must understand that you will hardly lose anything, there will be much even gained in these involuntary interior rebellions from which you are suffering. Whatever faults occur, provided you endeavour always to return to God and also to yourself in the manner I have just explained, it is impossible that you should not make great progress. Oh! how little are solid virtue and true interior abnegation known! If once for all you would learn to humble yourself sincerely for your least faults, and would rise directly by confidence in God with peace and sweetness, that would prove to you a good and certain remedy for the past, and a powerful help, and efficacious protection for the future.

I greatly approve of your keeping away from discussions and arguments, and of your dislike of them. There certainly is, as a rule, a great amount of petty illusions and self-love about such things, for this wretched self-love, says Saint Francis of Sales, mixes with everything, intrudes everywhere, spoils everything. This is the effect of human misery to which we are all more or less subject. When we recognise it in others there are two things we have to do; first we must find excuses for those whom we notice to have been led away by it, and secondly to fear for ourselves and watch over our own conduct so that we may not in our turn be subjects of scandal to our neighbour.

Letter XX – Depression Under Trials

To the same Sister (1738). On depression during trials, distractions and resentment.

1st. You would be mistaken, my dear Sister, to reproach yourself too much for your want of resignation, because I do not consider it at all voluntary. Great afflictions are inevitably followed by a certain depression; but those souls that are faithful to God rise again quietly by their confidence and filial abandonment to divine Providence. It seems, sometimes, as if it were impossible to do this, or at any rate to do it properly, but one must not be discouraged on this account. Better indeed to make of this weakness itself a subject for renewed acts of resignation to the divine goodness and to remain peacefully and patiently in one’s own nothingness. Thus we shall fulfil the designs of God who permits us to fall into this state of depression and weakness to make us better understand and feel our misery. He wills that there should not be in us the least atom of confidence in ourselves, but that we should rely solely on His all-powerful grace.

2nd. I ought to tell you that for a long time past I have remarked in you a great grace to which you pay no attention. You seem to me to become ever more deeply convinced of your miseries and imperfections. Now that happens only in proportion to our nearness to God, and to the light in which we live and walk, without any consideration of our own. This divine light as it shines more brightly makes us see better and feel more keenly the abyss of misery and corruption within us, and this knowledge is one of the surest signs of progress in the ways of God and of the spiritual life. You ought to think rather more of this, not to pride yourself on it, but to be grateful for it. Nothing more is necessary at present but to strive to love holy abjection, poverty, and horror of yourself which begins in this deep knowledge experienced by you. When you have attained this you will have taken a fresh step still more decided towards your spiritual advancement. See then how great is the goodness of God! He makes use of the sight that you have of your poverty to enrich you. This poverty becomes a treasure to those who understand, accept, and love it, because it is the will of God. This joyful acquiescence in our misery does not exclude, however, the desire of finding a remedy for it, because, if we ought to love the abjection which is the result of our defects, we ought at the same time to hate the defects themselves, and to make use of the most energetic means of getting rid of them.

3rd. Urgent occupations and the interruptions of worldly business are, in the sight of divine Providence who wills and permits them, of equal value as quiet recollection and silence. Instead of the prayer of quiet you then make a prayer of patience, of suffering and of resignation. “But one sometimes loses patience”; well, this is the distraction of this prayer, and you must try to regain it, and to get calm with the thought that God wills or permits what upsets you, and causes you pain; but above all take great care not to lose your temper at feeling impatient, or to get worried at being upset. By humbling yourself quietly you will gain more than you have lost.

4th. I need not enter into minute details as regards the keen pain you describe. I understand all the different distressing thoughts that fill your mind and all the heart-ache they cause, but here again, my dear daughter, is an excellent prayer more sanctifying than any ecstasies, if you know how to make use of it. How can you do so? In this way.

(1) Often pray for the person who is the cause of your trouble.

(2) Keep perfectly silent, do not speak about it to anyone to relieve your pain.

(3) Do not voluntarily think about it but turn your thoughts to other subjects that are holy and useful.

(4) Watch over your heart that you may not give way in the very least bit to bitterness, spite, complaints, or voluntary rebellion.

(5) Try to speak well of the person, cost what it may, to regard her favourably, to act about her as if nothing had happened. I realise, however, that you will find it difficult in future to treat her with the same confidence without being a saint, which you are not yet.

(6) But at least do not fail to render her a service when occasion arises and to wish her all possible good.

Letter XXI – On Humble Silence and Patience During Trials

Take courage, my dear Sister, and do not imagine that you are far from God; on the contrary you have never been so near Him. Recall to your mind the agony of our Lord in the Garden of Olives, and you will understand that bitterness of feeling and violent anguish are not incompatible with perfect submission. They are the groanings of suffering nature and signs of the hardness of the sacrifice. To do nothing at such a time contrary to the order of God, to utter no word of complaint or of distress, is indeed perfect submission which proceeds from love, and love of the purest description. Oh! if you only knew how in these circumstances to do nothing, to say nothing, to remain in humble silence full of respect, of faith, of adoration, of submission, abandonment and sacrifice, you would have discovered the great secret of sanctifying all your sufferings, and even of lessening them considerably. You must practise this and acquire the habit of it quietly, taking great care not to give way to trouble and discouragement should you fail, but at once return to complete silence with a peaceful and tranquil humility. For the rest, depend with unshaken confidence on the help of grace, which will not be refused to you. When God sends us great crosses and finds that we sincerely desire to bear them well for the love of Him, He never fails to support us invisibly, and in such a way that according to the greatness of the cross will be the amount of resignation and interior peace, sometimes indeed even greater, so immense is the bounty of Jesus Christ, our Master, and of the spiritual graces He has merited for us. Let us conclude with this – that nearly everything consists in having a good will; and to make our spiritual progress assured God will mercifully do the rest. Knowing the full extent of our weakness, misery, and incapacity for doing anything good, He sustains and fortifies us, working this good in us Himself by His divine Spirit. The practice of accepting at each moment the present state in which God places us, can keep us in peace of mind and cause us to make great progress without undue eagerness. Besides this it is a very simple practice. We should adhere to it strongly but nevertheless with an entire resignation to whatever God requires about it.

A great sign that we are not deceived about our love of God is: Firstly, when we desire all that pleases Him, and secondly when we have a great horror of sin, even the least, and strive never to commit any deliberately. Since God has given you the grace to take my favourite maxims to heart concerning submission, abandonment and sacrifice, be assured that He will enable you to practise them, however imperfectly. But as you are so impetuous about everything, you want to attain at one bound to the highest perfection in these virtues. That cannot be, you must attain to them gradually and even while committing many small faults which will serve to humble you, and to make you realise your great weakness before God. Interior rebellion in these circumstances does not prevent submission in the higher part of the soul. Read often the 57th letter in the third book by Saint Francis of Sales. This letter has always charmed me. It will make clear to you the distinction between the two wills in the soul, the exact knowledge of which is an essential point in the spiritual life.

Letter XXII – To Bear With Oneself

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. On the realisation of her misery and on exterior difficulties.

I might say to you, my dear Sister, what our Lord said to Martha! Why so much solicitude and trouble? How can you still confound, as you do, the care that God commands you to take about your salvation, with the uneasiness that He reproves? As you try to abandon your temporal affairs to divine Providence while taking care at the same time not to tempt God; do the same for your spiritual progress, and, without neglecting the care of it, leave the success to God, hoping for nothing except from Him. But do not ever dwell on such diabolical thoughts as: I am always the same, always as little recollected, as dissipated, as impatient, as imperfect. All this afflicts the soul, overwhelms the heart and casts you into sadness, distrust and discouragement. This is what the devil desires; by this pretended humility and regret for your faults he is delighted to deprive you of the strength of which you have need for the purpose of avoiding them in future, and of repairing the harm they have done you. Bitterness spoils everything and on the contrary gentleness and sweetness can cure everything. Bear with yourself therefore patiently, return quietly to God, repent tranquilly, without either exterior or interior impetuosity but with great peace. If you act thus you will gradually become calm, and this practice will cause you to make more progress in the ways of God than all your agitations could possibly effect. When one feels a little peace and sweetness interiorly it is a pleasure to enter into oneself and one does so willingly, constantly, without any trouble, almost without reflexion.

Believe me, my dear Sister, and place your whole confidence in God through Jesus Christ; abandon yourself more and more entirely to Him, in all, and for all, and you will find by your own experience that He will always come to your assistance when you require His help. He will become your Master, your Guide, your Support, your Protector, your invincible Upholder. Then nothing will be wanting to you because, possessing God you possess all, and to possess Him you have but to apply to Him with the greatest confidence, to have recourse to Him for everything great and small without any reserve, and to speak to Him with the greatest simplicity in this way: “Lord, what shall I do on such an occasion? What shall I say? Speak, Lord, I am listening; I abandon myself entirely to You; enlighten me, lead me, uphold me, take possession of me.”

I am sorry for the difficulties and worries of which you tell me, but recollect that patience and submission to God in the midst of annoyances that are permitted by His providence will enable you to make more progress than the quietest and most recollected life. The latter always tends to flatter self-love; the former, on the contrary, afflicts and crucifies it, and thus makes us attain true peace of mind by union with God. When you find yourself in such utter dejection that you cannot make a single act of any virtue whatever, beware of tormenting yourself by violent efforts but keep simply in the presence of God in a great silence of utter misery, but with respect, humility and submission like a criminal before his judge who sentences him to a chastisement he has well merited: and understand that the interior silence of respect, humility and submission are worth more and purify better than all the acts that you, uselessly, force yourself to make, and which only serve to increase the trouble of the soul. The character of the person to whom you allude is very good, I own; but while praising God for all the good gifts He has bestowed upon her you ought not to despise the share He has given to you. On the contrary, by your submission to, and respect for the designs of God you must wish to be such as He wishes you to be, without, however, neglecting to correct yourself. The greatest improvement I desire to see in you is, that your mind may never get embittered for any reason whatever, and that you always treat yourself gently. Is it not true that you behave thus towards your neighbours? You are not always reproaching them bitterly and continually about their characters, but you try gently to induce them to reform. Do the same to yourself, and if gradually this spirit of gentleness should take root in your heart you would soon make progress in the spiritual life and without so much trouble. But if the heart is continually filled with feelings of harshness and bitterness, nothing much can be achieved and everything costs great effort. I insist greatly in this matter because it is an essential one for you, and in your place I should apply myself seriously to acquire a great interior and exterior gentleness in all things just as if there were no other virtue to practise; for this will, in your case, bring all the others in its train. I appeal to your own experience about it. After having worked at it for some time very quietly, without the interruption of those impetuosities and hurries which drive away all sweetness and prevent you gaining the victory, you should be able to recognise the fact, that in this way much more is gained without half the fatigue.

Letter XXIII – On Past Sins

To the same Sister. Alby, July the 23rd, 1733.

My dear Sister, and very dear daughter in our Lord.

May the peace of Jesus Christ be always with you!

1st. I have never said anything with the meaning that you impute to me, but have only written as to a poor beginner whom God is afflicting in His mercy, in order to purify her and to prepare her for union with Him. The terrible ideas you have about your past disorders are at present what you are called to and you must bear with them as long as God pleases, just as one keeps to attractions that are full of sweetness. This keen realisation of your poverty and darkness gives me pleasure, because I know it is a sure sign that divine light is increasing in you without your knowledge and is forming a sure foundation of true humility. The time will come when the sight of these miseries which now cause you horror, will overwhelm you with joy, and fill you with a profound and delightful peace. It is not till we have reached the bottom of the abyss of our nothingness, and are firmly established there that we can, as Holy Scripture says, “walk before God in justice and truth.” Just as pride, which is founded on a lie, prevents God from bestowing favours on a soul that is otherwise rich in merit, so this happy condition of humiliation willingly accepted, and of annihilation truly appreciated, draws down divine graces on even the most wretched of souls. Therefore do not desire any other condition either during life or at the hour of death. It is in this state of voluntary annihilation that you should have taken refuge, to escape the fears that assailed you during your recent illness. Do not fail to do so if Satan ever tries to catch you in the same trap. Self-love desires to have, at the last hours, some sensible support in the recollection of past good works; let us, however, desire no other support than that given us by pure faith in the mercy of God and in the merits of Jesus Christ. From the moment that we wish to belong entirely to God this support will be enough for us, all the rest is nothing but vanity.

2nd. I approve, for the rest, of your interior and exterior conduct during your illness. I perceive that God, in His wisdom, hid what little good He enabled you to gain from it because unless He had done so, a thousand vain thoughts of self-complacency would have spoilt all. I know better than you all that took place and I bless God for it. He supported you well in your weakness; you have only to thank Him for doing so without reflecting so much as to whether everything has really been supernatural. Leave that to God; only try to forget yourself and to think only of Him.

3rd. What business have you to find so many excuses for your melancholy disposition? Let everyone think what he likes about it, you have only to please God and whatever He permits others to think or to say about you is of no moment to you; therefore do not indulge in reflexions on the subject. All that sort of thing only serves to increase self-love and vanity.

4th. I am charmed that you find peace where you would least expect it; it is a sign that God wills you to enjoy peace only in the accomplishment of His holy will, which is a very great grace. If I have not been able to pity you in your illness it is because I do not look upon the sufferings of the body as real evils since they procure so many blessings for the soul.

5th. You are convinced that you do nothing, that you merit nothing; and thus you are sunk in your nothingness. Oh! how well off you are! because from the moment you are convinced of your own nothingness you become united to God Who is all in all. Oh! what a treasure you have found in your nothingness! It is a state you must necessarily pass through before God can fill your soul; for our souls must be emptied of all created things before they can be filled with the Holy Spirit of God; so that what troubles you and makes you uneasy is the very thing that ought to pacify you and fill you with a holy joy in God.

6th. Accepting everything without reserve, both present and future, is one of the most perfect sacrifices we could offer to God. This habitual act alone is worth all else that you could possibly do, therefore your best and only practice must be to adhere constantly to all the imaginable arrangements of Providence, whether exterior, or interior. Do nothing but this, and God will, gradually, operate all the rest in your soul. This is a most simple practice, and exactly in accordance with your attraction.

7th. I am not much affected about the reserved manners of your companion. You must also make this sacrifice to God. She was not so much to blame as you in what put you out so much; God has permitted this to humble you by making you understand what you really are when He leaves you to your own devices. Humble yourself without vexation or worry. You know what Saint Francis of Sales says about such circumstances.

8th. God requires of us the fulfilment of our duties, but He does not require us to find out if there has been any merit in this or not. You think too much about yourself, and under the pious pretext of advancing in the ways of God you are too much occupied about yourself. Forget yourself to think only of Him and abandon yourself to the commands of divine Providence, and then He will Himself lead you on, purify you and safely raise you, when and as it pleases Him, to the degree of sanctity He wills for you. What have we to do except to please Him, and to desire in all things and everywhere what He wills? We search far and wide after perfection, and yet it is almost within our grasp. It is to unite our will in all things to the will of God and never to follow our own inclinations. But to arrive at this we must renounce ourselves and sacrifice, if needs be, our dearest interests. This is what we have no wish to do; we want God to sanctify and make us perfect according to our own ideas and tastes. What folly! What pitiable blindness!

Letter XXIV – Results of Imprudence

To the same Sister. On the vexatious results of imprudence.

I have already told you very often, my dear Sister, that nothing should trouble you, not even your faults, and certainly far less should you allow yourself to be cast down by those trying consequences of acts which are not sins, although they imply some imprudence on your part. There is hardly any trial more mortifying to self-love, and consequently hardly any more sanctifying than this. It does not cost nearly so much to accept humiliations that come to us from without and that we have not had any hand in drawing upon ourselves. One can resign oneself much more easily to the confusion caused by faults very much graver in themselves provided they do not appear outside. But one simple imprudence that entails annoying results that everyone can see; this is decidedly of all humiliations the very worst; and therefore, as a natural consequence, an excellent occasion for the mortification of self-love. Then it is that we can say over and over again the “fiat” of perfect abandonment; we must even go further and make an act of thanksgiving, adding for this purpose “Gloria Patri” to our “fiat.”

One single trial, accepted thus, causes a soul to make more progress than any number of acts of virtue. I hope I have made this clear to you and that you will no longer distress yourself about the consequences that are likely to follow the mistake of which you have been the innocent cause. Remain in peace with the intention of taking what steps are necessary at a convenient time to bring about peace, and a union of hearts; then abandon to God all the success, whatever it may be. It is well to get accustomed to act in this way in all the troublesome events of this miserable life; thus we shall enjoy peace, and shall have made merit in the sight of divine Providence. Without this submission and total abandonment we can expect no rest during the course of our sad pilgrimage. Think only of pleasing God, of satisfying God, of sacrificing all to God. Let all the rest go, and keep nothing back. Provided that God dwells within you, you will never lose anything. Take good courage and all will go well; do not be so uneasy, nor so surprised at these rebellions of your nature: I assure you that they will be no impediment to the submission of your higher faculties, and that God only hides this submission for your own good. In the most violent attacks try just to say these few words, “It is but just that a creature should be submissive to her Creator, therefore I desire and pray to become so.” Read the chapter on “Progress” in the “Interior Life” by Father Guilloré; it is an inspired chapter, and I hope you will derive great benefit from it.

For God’s sake do not sadden yourself, and try to preserve peace during even the most terrible tempests. If you do this all will go well. In fact I see nothing but good in everything that you have confided to me, but a good that would cease to be so if you saw it as plainly as I do.

When a number of different thoughts enter my head which makes the least thing assume monstrous proportions, I recall to mind the advice I have given to others in similar circumstances. I abandon myself to divine Providence in all things and about all things. When the worst comes to the worst, I defy it like Saint Paul, to separate me from the charity of Jesus Christ. I know that without the grace of this divine Saviour I could do nothing; but I know also that with His grace I can do all things; I beg Him therefore to keep me in all my temptations from all sin, from all that could displease Him; but as for the bitterness of soul, the interior crucifixion, the holy abjection and even the confusion before others, I accept them with all their consequences for as long as it pleases His sovereign Majesty. I desire the accomplishment of His holy will, and not my own in all things, and I implore Him not to allow me either to say or to do anything that might place any obstacle to the least thing that He wills. And if, through weakness, error, or malice I should undertake anything of the kind, I implore Him not to allow it to succeed.

I recognise the fact that His holy will is, in all things, not only holy and adorable, but infinitely salutary and beneficent towards those who are humbly submissive; and that mine, on the contrary, is always either blind or ill-regulated. Therefore I subscribe to all that the eternal Father decrees, and would do so a hundred times no matter at what cost to myself. This dear and good Father has commanded it, that is enough, and what have I to fear? From this, two conclusions can be drawn, firstly that during these tempests and storms often raised by trifles I retain such a profound peace that I am surprised at it myself. Secondly that I consider myself very fortunate to have to endure these interior tortures, temptations and trials. Then I say to myself, this is worth more than all my own miserable arrangements. I feel my soul becoming stronger by this abandonment to divine Providence, so much so, that all my personal desires and attachment to my own will are consumed and annihilated.

Letter XXV – Interior Suffering

To Sister Marie-Anne Thérèse de Rosen. Rules to follow during trials.

You know as well as I do, my dear Sister, that in order to raise souls to a state of perfection God is wont to make them bear all kinds of crosses and interior pains to prove their fidelity, to purify them, and to detach them from all created things. The most grievous of these crosses are those in which we may have been to blame ourselves, and where the poor soul severely reprimanded by others, and even more severely by itself, does not hear either outwardly or inwardly anything but a sentence of death. The person of whom you speak is in this state, therefore there is nothing to fear about her; all that you tell me proves on the contrary that God has particular designs with regard to her. When you write to her speak of nothing but patience, submission to God, and total abandonment to divine Providence, as one does to people in the world who are afflicted with temporal necessities. Above all make her try, by means of the most filial confidence in God, to repulse energetically all trouble and voluntary uneasiness. I repeat, voluntarily, because the poor souls to whom God sends this trial cannot master the troubles and anxieties by which they are obsessed. This is the subject of their greatest pain, and the most afflicting part of that state of humiliation in which for a certain time God retains them. Therefore they have nothing else to do but to submit to God about these paroxysms of interior suffering as well as about all the rest. Say to this poor soul that her best prayer will be to remain always in silence at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ, repeating like Him, and with Him, “Fiat.” “Oh heavenly Father, may Your will, not mine, be done in all things. It is You who arrange all our afflictions for the good of our souls. You would not act thus unless it were for my greater good and eternal salvation. Do with me what You will; I adore and submit.” I think that your friend does quite right not to examine her thoughts; an examination of that kind would only confuse her mind still more. She must leave all to God and despise these thoughts and the pretended cries of her conscience, and go forward without taking any notice of them, directly there is nothing absolutely bad in the act she wishes to perform. These vain scruples are a device of the devil to deprive her of peace, and thus to prevent her making progress in virtue; for trouble is to the soul a most dangerous malady which makes it too languid for the practice of virtue, as a sick person who is weak and languid is incapable of bodily exertion.

If she succeeds in preserving peace of mind she will gradually recover, just as an infirm and languid person recovers health by taking rest and good nourishment. I will give three methods by which to hasten her recovery.

1st. To repulse quietly from her mind all that troubles her and makes her anxious, looking upon this sort of thought as coming from the devil; because all that comes from God is peaceful and sweet, and helps to establish confidence in Him. It is in peace that He dwells and that He infuses those different virtues that bring souls to perfection.

2nd. Frequently to raise the mind and heart to God, with acts of submission, abandonment, and confidence in His paternal goodness, which only afflicts her at present to sanctify her.

3rd. To choose for her reading those books most likely to contribute to calming her mind and to inspiring her with confidence in God; such as “The Treaty,” by Mgr. Languet, the book on “Christian Hope,” the “Letters” of Saint Francis of Sales. For the rest let her go on as usual without making any change in her conduct, making her confessions and communions as she is accustomed to, because the devil, to deceive her, and to weaken her still more, will very likely use every artifice to inspire her with dislike and an excessive fear of confession, of communion, and of all other spiritual exercises. She ought not to lend an ear to these evil inspirations but always to follow the light of faith and the holy practices of the Christian religion like a true and good daughter of holy Church. Amen.

Letter XXVI – On Different States of Resignation

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil. On the same subject. Alby, 1733.

My very dear Sister,

1st. I cannot do otherwise than congratulate you on the efforts you are making to keep always in a state of perfect resignation and of entire abandonment to the will of God. In this, for you, consists all perfection. But on this point as on all others you must learn how to distinguish between the appearance and the reality, the feeling of consent and the working of the will. There are two kinds of resignation; one that can be felt and that is accompanied by sensible pleasure and a quiet repose; the other unfelt, dry, without pleasure, even accompanied by feelings of repugnance, and by interior revolt. It is this latter that I understand you to possess. The first is good, very agreeable to nature, and for this reason rather dangerous, because it is natural to become strongly attached to that which one enjoys. The second, which to self-love seems absolutely painful and unpleasant, is more perfect, more meritorious, and less dangerous since there is no pleasure to be found in it except through bare faith and perfect love. Compel yourself to act with these solid motives. When you have succeeded in doing so your union with God will be proof against every vicissitude, but if you accustom yourself only to act according to sensible attractions you will do nothing when these come to an end. Besides, we cannot prevent them from often failing us, while the motives of faith never fail. It is only in order to induce us to act, gradually, from these spiritual motives that God so often takes away sensible devotion and pleasure. If He were not to act thus we should always remain in a state of spiritual infancy. You should not therefore be surprised at the weariness and the revolts of which you speak; God permits them for your good. Nevertheless, if you fear that human motives are mixed with the mortifications you inflict on yourself say these two things to yourself

(1) “I am not at present in a fit state to judge but will reflect about it when I feel peaceful and calm.

(2) If there is still some human element in it, God allows it that He may help my weakness. When it shall have pleased Him to render me less imperfect I shall be able to act in a more perfect manner.” On this matter be calm, and do not indulge in the least voluntary trouble.

2nd. I can easily understand how your dislike of your duty should materially add to your trials; but consider how the martyrs won their crowns by enduring much worse tribulations than yours.

3rd. In this state it is usual to feel an inclination for a solitary life, but a life of obedience is of greater value, it is a continual sacrifice, and even if there is more cause for being bored, there are also many subjects for meriting. Continue as you are with great fortitude and even scruple to utter a word against your state, or that could detach you from the cross of Jesus Christ.

4th. The best way of bearing these disagreeables is to look upon them as crosses sent by God, just as you do illness and other misfortunes of life. If God were to send you exterior afflictions that you could feel, you would bear them patiently; bear then with equal patience your interior trials.

5th. Look upon all these miseries of our earthly existence as so much treasure for the spiritual life, since they afford you such powerful means of acquiring humility and self-contempt. With this aim in view love every humiliation, and its consequent abjection, as Saint Francis of Sales counsels. You ask me if it would not be better to hide your miseries for fear of causing disedification. With all my heart. Try simply and very quietly to manage so that these feelings may not appear externally, but if they should appear and you are not greatly to blame for it, try to accept this little humiliation pleasantly. Even should it occur by your own fault, then embrace the abjection which it brings you. In this way you will mortify your self-love very meritoriously, for this seeks to avoid outward faults, not because they are an offence against God, but on account of the humiliation they entail. Do not dwell on the pain that the difficulty you experience in concentrating your thoughts causes you. Remind yourself that the habitual desire of recollection alone will serve equally well, and that all that is necessary is to desire unceasingly to think of God, to please God, to obey God, in order to please and to obey Him in reality.

6th. You say that the more you desire to learn to pray the less you know how to do so. This may very possibly be because your desire is not accompanied by a sufficient submission and purity of intention. Always have the intention of pleasing God when you pray, and not of enjoying sensible devotion. Pray in a spirit of sacrifice and accept all that God pleases to send you during your prayer; and I must tell you that the prayer of recollection is one of those things, that leaves you if you are eager to retain it, and remains if you learn how to keep yourself in a state of indifference about it; this is the doctrine of Saint Francis of Sales.

7th. Often recall to mind this great rule, that spiritual poverty recognised, felt, and loved on account of its abjection, is one of the greatest treasures that a soul can possess here below; because this feeling keeps it in a state of profound humility; but to imagine yourself lost because you do not find in yourself lively enough feelings of faith and charity, and to be distressed, uneasy, or discouraged about it, is a dangerous illusion of self-love which always wants to see things plainly, and to take pleasure in itself. When you experience this temptation you must say to yourself, “I have been, I am, and I shall be whatever God pleases, but according to my reason and the higher faculties of my soul I desire to belong to Him and to serve Him no matter what happens to me in this world and the next.”

8th. You cannot describe to me what you are suffering; but I will tell you what it is; it is for one thing all kinds of rebellions, pains, and temptations in the inferior part of your nature, and a perpetual confusion of feelings excited by the devil and your own self-love. On the other hand, in the superior part, a little ray of light and of faith that is almost imperceptible on account of the tumultous emotions in the inferior part. And with only this slender support you are immovable, because the finest thread in the hands of God is as strong as a cable, and a mere hair is stronger than an iron chain.

9th. It is a temptation and a false humility to keep away from the sacraments. What others do ought never to affect you who know nothing about their ideas nor motives, nor the cause of their keeping away.

10th. You say that God often deprives you of the feeling of being in a state of grace. To whom among His dearest friends has He given continually this sensible support? Do you aspire by any chance to be so highly privileged than so many saints whom He has deprived of it for a much longer time than you? What had they to depend upon then save only the light of faith, and of a faith the same as ours which seems like darkness? And amidst the darkness of their temptations and the tumult of their passions they knew no more than we do whether God was satisfied with them. Faith teaches us that, unless by particular revelation, the saints themselves were not able to be perfectly certain about it; and you complain because you do not possess this certainty. See how far this unhappy self-love goes. To satisfy it God would have to work miracles. Of all the miseries that humble you so much this is certainly the greatest, and the best calculated to humiliate you.

11th. To wish to be occupied with God and not with yourself, and then to fall back continually on yourself is, I must own, a temptation as troublesome as the flies in autumn; but then you must drive away this temptation as you have continually to drive away the flies, without ever leaving off this work; quietly however, without distress or annoyance, humbling yourself before God as you do in other miseries. It is we, ourselves, who compel God to overwhelm us with miseries to make us humble and to increase our self-contempt. If, in spite of this, we have so little humility and so much self-esteem, what would it be if we found ourselves free from these trials? Believe me, you have appeared to be for some time past so penetrated with the knowledge of your miseries that I believe this feeling alone is one of the greatest graces that God could bestow upon you. Love then everything that helps to preserve it.

I remain yours in our Lord.

I feel very tired of so much writing and before reading to the end of your letter I had the same idea as you, to divide my answers. I do not, however, regret having now placed you in a condition to understand at a single glance the general drift of the direction you ought to follow in order to gather all the fruit of the trial to which God is subjecting you.