Sacrificing Our Dearest Interests

God requires us to perform our duties, but he does not require us to be curious as to whether we are deserving or not. You give too much thought to yourself; you are too greatly concerned with yourself under the pious pretext of seeking advancement in the way of God. Forget yourself, to think only of him, and abandon yourself to the decrees of his divine Providence. For then he will himself make you progress, will purify and exalt you without a doubt, exactly as, when and in the degree, it shall please him. For what have we to do but to give him pleasure, and in all things and in all places to desire what he desires? We range far and wide in pursuit of perfection, while we have it almost at our door: namely, in our longing to do God’s will everything and never our own. Yet to reach this state of affairs we must renounce and sacrifice what, in one sense, are our dearest interests, and it is this that we are unwilling to do; for we would have God sanctify and perfect us in accordance with our own ideas and inclinations. What wretched, pitiful blindness! –from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 374, (emphasis mine)

Note here that Fr. de Caussade does not implore us to accomplish all that God desires, but only to desire all that God desires.   Is it not easy for us to get caught up in our checklists of life and to become discouraged when we inevitably do not finish all that we begin or complete it perfectly?  Desiring God’s will is much easier than completing the plans that we have designed for our own holiness. (Matthew 11:30). After all, it is God alone who makes us holy; our only credit to holiness is utter submission to his holy will, but even that is not done without the fantastic grace of God.

Even when we desire to surrender to God’s will, there remains attachments to our own vision of how to become as holy as we ought. But do we really know how holy we ought to become? Do we, in our blindness, really know how God intends to sanctify us? Do we let go all our “dearest interests” of what we think will be good for us, or do we allow God to lead us down a path that looks nothing like the one we had designed for ourselves?

It is no doubt difficult to let go of those things that we see as good, but surely we are not God, and we do not know the future. And so letting go of even those things that are good, requires a blind trust in the One that is all good, all-knowing, indeed Love himself.                (‎1 Corinthians 13:8-9, 13)

Violent Temptations to Despondancy

As for the terrifying temptation of which your letter gives me an account, I confess that it would be difficult to imagine one more dreadful, either in itself or in the particular circumstances. Take good care, nevertheless, not to allow yourself to despond. Realize in the first place that these, the most sorrowful of all ordeals, are those which God usually constrains those he most loves to undergo.

Your need, in truth, is to be forever afraid, yet showing neither grief nor dejection, and leaning far more towards trust. Never forget that the Almighty, who furthers his plans in his hidden ways, at such times possesses himself of the soul’s recesses and divinely uphold it, unperceived by ourselves.

Plainly your terror-inspiring conception of God’s justice and the anguish and interior bitterness that comes of it are another of God’s ordeals. It is as plain that the peace and tranquility which go with these sorrowful feelings of yours spring from the submission which God maintains in your soul’s depths. Such peace and the interior conviction that all you do in no way serves to bring you nearer heaven are less difficult to understand than you imagine…That peace is of God; it dwells in the depths of the soul, or as St. Francis de Sales says, in the apex of the spirit…

That terrifying conviction is no more than the spirited assault the demon is allowed to make upon the soul’s lower part, or, to express it differently, upon its exterior and sense-conscious part. It is the diabolical assault that constitutes the soul’s martyrdom; while it is the submission God grants it that ensures a peace that owes nothing to the senses. Say unceasingly with a firm will: “God will make of me all that it pleases him, yet in the meantime my constant wish is to love and serve him as best I may, and to put my hope in him; I would keep that hope even though I saw myself at the very gates of hell.”

It is a matter of faith that God never forsakes those who surrender themselves to him and who put their full trust in him. Repeat, therefore: “He is the God of my salvation, and never shall my salvation be more assured than when I entrust it to his hands by placing my full trust in his infinite goodness, since of myself I am capable only of coming to perdition and spoiling everything.” -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 401-403 (all emphasis mine.)

Our senses, which reside in the lower part of our soul, are really quite strong. They allow us to perceive the presence of God in our lives. They can also hide the presence of God in our lives. When the latter happens, we may feel a strong temptation to despond of God’s grace. However, when God allows our senses — in the lower part of our soul — to hide his providential care, he invariably increases our faith, making it inconceivable to us that God has abandoned us.

Therefore, while we do not sensually perceive God’s presence, our faith, which God has freely given and placed in the higher part of our soul, will not allow us to believe that he is anywhere but carrying us along the path that he has chosen for our good.

We must continually return to abandoning ourselves through an act of the will, which has more merit than an act of desire catapulted alone by the consolation of God’s presence.

An Offering of Ourselves to God

…take the case, he [St. Francis de Sales] said, of the worst sinner in the world who with his dying breath makes ungrudging offering of his life to God by the complete surrender of himself to God’s divine purpose and his beneficent Providence. No matter how great that sinner’s crimes, God would in no case condemn him. I, too, believe this, since such an offering is a perfect act of love, able, like baptism or martyrdom, of itself to wipe away all sins. Let us then frequently perform these acts of love by restoring to God’s custody all that he has lent us since he could not give it to us in our own right. And since in the language of Jesus Christ we must once more become as children, let us emulate those little ones whose father, as part of their training, asks them to return one or more of the toys and the sweets which he has given them. Only silliness or selfishness will prevent us from saying to him: dear Father, take what you want–they’re all yours. Actually the child gives what is not his to give. Yet his father’s heart is moved by these small indications of a lovable disposition. He calls the little one his dear and beloved child, he kisses it; from that time onward, towards that child he is even more generous than before. When God gives us the opportunity of making an offering to himself, this is the attitude he in his kindness adopts towards us. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 186-187 (emphasis mine)

All suffering is difficult, but physical illness may be especially challenging because it is hard to see with the eyes of God when we are distracted by our own pain. As a result, we turn inward, nursing our wounded pride that such an assault would dare be upon us. In short, we feel sorry for ourselves.

Physical suffering limits our ability to do great things or even simple things — at least physically. But when we get mired in our own selves and what we are now unable to do, we fail to realize that all that God asks from us is a simple fiat: a surrender of ourselves — our whole, physical selves — to him. Short of this, he doesn’t ask us to do anything else; that is a charge that we put upon ourselves to serve our own pride.

It would do us well to remember that we are not entitled to good health necessarily. This, too, is something God gives and takes away as he wills. And if we freely offer to him what is not even ours to give (our whole selves), God is moved to look upon our feeble offering kindly and with a generous heart.

Spiritual Dryness

I am no more in love with the restless pursuit of alleviations of spiritual than of physical poverty and wretchedness. This arises from overmuch tenderness towards oneself. I long for strong and courageous souls able to endure the apparent absences of the heavenly Spouse–those signed to detach us from mere feelings, even from spiritual consolation. For God’s gifts are not God. He alone is all; he alone is worth all; he alone must be all for us. – from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 195 (emphasis mine)

Sometimes we may feel that God has abandoned us because we don’t experience joyful consolation. Sometimes we may feel like not praying because we just can’t find any words that seem to convey adequate praise toward God. (Truth be told, even on our best days of prayers, our words are most likely not adequate for our Most High Lord.)

Certainly God may remove consolation from us for various reasons. One of the reasons may be to test our faithfulness. Do we trust God even when life challenges us? Do we accept our suffering, trusting that God, in his goodness, will bring about good from it? Are we patient, waiting on God’s perfect timing to heal us? If we cannot answer yes to all of these questions, God may remove consolation so that we come to rely solely on him and not the the good feelings or circumstances that he provides for us.

God wants only the best for his children. Then why, if he himself is so much greater than his gifts, would he grace us with something less than himself? And maybe the better question to ask is why would we lower our dignity to accept something less than God offers?

God never abandons us. It is we who walk away from him. If we are feeling spiritually dry, let us yet remain with him, knowing that he has reason and that this too shall pass.

A God Who Cannot Refuse Us

Again, even if in certain circumstances you are in considerable doubt, ought that to make you despond? You must lift your heart to God who cannot refuse to give you guidance now that he has taken all other guides from you. Without hesitation you must make up your mind as to what in good faith you believe most expedient and most useful for souls, and most in accordance with God’s will. Whatever may happen afterwards, you will know that you have acted wisely, since you could not do better in the circumstances. You surely do not imagine that God asks the impossible? Our infinitely good God loves uprightness and simplicity; he is content when we do what we can, having previously and trustfully implored his divine guidance. –from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 311 (emphasis mine)

If we feel as though we are failing in a particular area of our lives, we should ask ourselves whether we have actually asked God for help. Often God may wait on the solution as he waits patiently for us to approach him.

However, maybe we have prayed and no answer was forthcoming — what then? Fr. de Caussade answers quite confidently that, “God…cannot refuse to give you guidance now that he has taken all other guides from you.” And so we soldier on in “good faith”, trusting that God does not ask the impossible of us.

Fixing Our Eyes On God

Seek to be guided not by human judgement which is weak, narrow and blind, but by the divine wisdom which is sure, righteous and infallible. So shall we make all things serve our edification, yet leave untroubled the peace of our heart and mind. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 310-311

There is great immorality in our world. It is easy to focus on the evil and corruption and grieve for what we are losing. But of course, the crux of all of these problems stems from our turning  away from God. I don’t presume to know why God is permitting evil to reign in many areas of our culture and world, but perhaps it is to bring us to our knees so that we return to him. God loves us so very much and wants us to turn to him with all of our problems.  And so, let us fix our eyes and our thoughts on our Almighty Savior and ask for the grace to remain with him always.

Faith

“Let it be our custom to see everything from the great standpoint of faith. Then all that happens in this world, whether it inspires fear or desire, will scarcely affect us…In future, then, do not forget this: a simple fiat said of your present troubles and of those which you fear, whether for yourself or for others, will be enough to secure you a rich treasure of peace, calm and tranquility upon this earth. Though this practice does not give you perfect peace at once, at least it will fill you with joy, and will bring you lasting comfort in all your troubles and in all your fears.” -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg 301-302 (emphasis mine)

What does Father de Caussade mean when he talks about faith here? Faith that God is with us. Faith that God will take care of us. Faith that God is allowing this or that for love of us. We must have faith to say, “Yes, Lord, yes. I accept all that you offer and all that you ask of me. You are my King; I am your creature.”

When we firmly believe in our hearts (not just in our heads) that God is acting in our best interest in every moment, in every circumstance, we can have this faith of which Father de Caussade speaks. 

How does this heart knowledge come to us? Only through God’s grace. We can and should pray for it if we struggle to trust in God in this way.