We Must Continually Renew Our Commitment to Practice Self-Abandonment

To wish to give up your concern in yourself in order to be concerned only with God, and yet to come back continually to self is, I admit, a temptation as persistent as gnats in autumn; we must, therefore, drive this temptation away as persistently as we drive the gnats away, never becoming wearied in our efforts yet making them gently and without grief or vexation, by humiliating ourselves before God, as we do in similar troubles. We ourselves constrain God to afflict us with this wretchedness that we may be reduced to humility and a greater measure of self-scorn. If, despite this, we reveal so little humility and so much esteem of ourselves, how would it be if we were exempt from such wretchedness?-from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 382-383 (emphasis mine)

As we practice self-abandonment, we may find that we continually fail to make such practice a worthy one. Or we may find that we more often seek holiness for our own sake rather than seeking God himself. However, were God not to allow such temptations,– that often tend to spur us on to renew our commitment to him evermore — then, Fr. de Caussade writes, we would surely be mired even more in the wretchedness of our self-love.

So we should not be discouraged if we fail time and again in this holy practice of offering all to God, for he allows it only insomuch as we grow closer to him. Praise God in his mercy and draw near to him in all things, for even when we succumb to temptation, God burns with a love and desire for us to be wholly united with him. We need only rest again in his peace by admitting our extreme weakness and with contrite hearts, ask for forgiveness and the grace to soldier on in union with him.

At first, it may be difficult to admit that we are weak. And even though we admit it, our self-love may prevent us from really believing it. But if we remain faithful, God will reward us by increasing in us the virtue of humility. And when this happens, there is great freedom in admitting our weakness. The burdens of self-reliance, failure and shame are all lifted, and the freedom we find is the freedom from the bonds of sin. This does not mean that we no longer sin, only that when we do, we are not slaves to it; we are free to practice virtue once again because of his infinite mercy and forgiveness.

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Our True Self is God

In fact, why be so concerned with self? The true self is God, since he is far more the life of my soul than my soul is the life of my body. God has created me only for himself: let our thought then be of him, and his thought shall be of us, while he will provide for everything far better than ourselves. When we fall, let us humiliate ourselves, pick ourselves up, and continue our way in peace. That way is at all times to ponder upon the true self which is God — God in whom we must plunge and lose ourselves, rather as we shall find ourselves plunged and lost in heaven, in the everlasting duration of eternity’s great day. — Amen! Amen!”from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 430-431

If our very self is God as we are made in his image and likeness, should not our very core — our soul — be wholly united to our creator?  We were not made for our own glory or our own path; for as Fr. de Caussade writes, our creator made us for his own glory that sets us on a path which, if we follow — or at the very start, desire to follow — will bring us wholly in union with him alone.

This path includes detachment from all created things for Christ is begotten, not made; it includes suffering as we unite with our sinless Christ who suffered for us, who deserve only hell; it includes persecution as we stand for truth, of which there is only one found in our Lord Jesus Christ. But it is only on this path that we  find true happiness, everlasting peace, and eternal life.

For if we do not renounce all that comes between us and God, we will always be searching for the only thing we desire. I would venture that most do not recognize what will bring them lasting peace. But whether we recognize it or not, the only thing we truly desire is full union with God since our very selves are God.

God calls us to a greater life, even though we are wholly unworthy. We would only settle for the lesser things of this world if we do not know him.

Distinguishing What is God’s from What is Ours

You will be tranquil only when you learn how to distinguish what is God’s from what is the self’s, and to separate what  belongs to him and what is your own.

“You ask: Why cannot you teach me that secret? As to that, you do not know what you are asking. Certainly I can teach it to you forthwith; yet you can practice it interiorly only on condition that you are peacefully conscious of your own pitifulness. I specify peacefully so that grace may have its opportunity of working.

“Bear in mind the saying of St. Francis de Sales: You do not put on perfection as you put on a dress. In this secret you ask of me is to be found for the seeking. Impress it thoroughly upon yourself that your longing may sink slowly into your soul. Everything good in you originates in God; everything evil, spoilt, and corrupt originates in yourself.  Set aside, then, nothingness and sin, evil habits and inclinations, abysmal weakness and wretchedness. These are your portion; these originate in, and unquestionably belong to, you. Everything else — the body and its senses, the soul and its energies, the modicum of good you have performed — are God’s portion. It so manifestly belongs to him that you realize you cannot claim one whit of it as yours, nor feel one grain of complacency, without being guilty of theft and larceny against God. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 196-197 (bold emphasis mine)

Fr. de Caussade writes that we can obtain peace with the pride in ourselves only when we can distinguish what is God’s from what is self’s. He tells the secret for how to do this yet, ultimately, as with every spiritual milestone, it is a grace that God alone must work in us. He does ask us, however, to impress the following upon our hearts repeatedly so that our ‘longing may sink into our souls’: “Everything good in you originates in God; everything evil, spoilt, and corrupt originates in yourself.”

Unshakeable Trust in God

When we have reached the lowest depths of our nothingness, we can have no kind of trust in ourselves, nor in any way rely upon our works; for in these are to be found only wretchedness, self-love, and corruption. Such complete distrust and utter scorn of the self is the one source from which originate those delightful consolations of souls wholly surrendered to God–their unalterable peace, their blessed joy and their unshakeable trust in none but God. Ah, would that you knew the gift of God, the reward and the merit and the power and the peace, the blessed assurances of salvation that are hidden in this abandonment; then would you soon be rid of all your fears and anxieties! -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 207 (emphasis mine)

In a culture that emphasizes rugged individualism and self-reliance, ideas such as the one Fr. de Caussade posits here is quite counter to how we may normally process our thoughts. For those of us beholden to ourselves, i.e. our pride, we may find that it sounds disingenuous to renounce any good of our own making and to give all such glory to God.

However, if we but practice this renunciation of self-love, little by little, God will reward us with the finest grace of humility, and it will become easier until at once it is second nature, and we can rest peacefully in our wretchedness without feeling duplicitous.

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.

A Prayer When We Are Suffering

‘O God, you have allowed this to be; may your adorable desires and decrees be accomplished in all things: I make you a sacrifice of this difficulty and all its consequences; it shall take whatever form it pleases you: you are the Master; may you be blessed for all things and in all things. Fiat!

‘For love of you, with all my heart I pardon the person who is the cause of my suffering; and, to show the sincerity of my feelings towards her, I beseech you to grant her every kind of grace, blessing and happiness.’  When your heart cries out against this, say: ‘O God, you see my wretchedness; at least I long to have all these feelings, and I implore you for your grace.’  Once you have done this, think no more of it; if unworthy sentiments continue to torment you, resign yourself to endure that torment and so comply with the divine will that allows it, contenting yourself with renewing your offering in the depths of your soul. This is a noble means of sharing in the chalice of our good Master, Jesus Christ. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 310 (emphasis mine)

This is such a beautiful prayer, but how often does our impatience, fear of failure, or vexations about others who may have wronged us drive out such sentiments? If we were to remain focused on Jesus and his passion, we could more readily accept our own suffering. Prayers like this repeated again and again can help us grow to trust in God and his perfect plan to bring about our salvation.

When We Feel That We Are Abandoning Ourselves to God Poorly

You love, you say, meanly and poorly–blessed be the poor in spirit. This is but an evidence of your interior humility and holy self-hatred.–Your life, you say too, has no props; that is to say it is lived in pure spirit and pure faith.–What happier state than that, though its happiness be hidden from the soul?–You walk blindly and at hazard, you remark.–In this lies pure self-abandonment: you do not feel it; you are not even aware of it, since if you felt and were aware of it, it would be not self-abandonment but the firmest guarantee of your salvation that you could desire. For what greater assurance could you have than the knowledge that throughout time and eternity you are surrendered to God? Self-abandonment is a virtue whose full merit can be acquired only in so far as you are ignorant of the existence of the merit. Live then at peace in the midst of your fears, your difficulties and your obscurities. Let your trust, which must ask neither to see nor to feel be altogether in God, in and through Jesus Christ. I pray that he may be always with you. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 267-268 [Fr. de Caussade responding to Sr. de Bousmard ] (emphasis mine)

We don’t know exactly what Sr. de Bousmard wrote to Fr. de Caussade, but perhaps she was lamenting how she did not  feel she was advancing in the spiritual life. Fr. de Caussade notes to her that God may well be hiding any progress that she is making so that she clings to Him all the more.

God may keep us from knowing the true extent of our piety also to save us from our pride. We will know we are growing in virtue by whether we are moving toward God. Knowing our state in the spiritual life, save for sin, is not as important as seeking God and his holy will in all things.

The Illusion of Self-Reliance

From the time when it is God’s pleasure to impart this clear knowledge of himself in combination with the humility which his blessed grace inspires, we expect nothing further from self but everything from him. We rely no more upon our good works but upon God’s mercy and upon the infinite merits of  Jesus Christ. There you have the true Christian hope which saves our souls. Every other spiritual state, every other spiritual inclination, involves much grave risk to salvation; whereas to hope only in God, to rely only upon God, in and through Jesus Christ, is the hard rock, the firm and lasting foundation that no illusion, self-love or temptation can threaten. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 264-265 (emphasis mine)

When we rely on ourselves, we are not serving God, rather we are serving ourselves. Self-reliance causes us to focus on ourselves, hope in our own talents, and work in vain toward a goal that is self-serving. In contrast, we would do better by focusing on God, giving glory to him for our talents, and working always toward his will.

We must firmly commit to renouncing reliance on ourselves. We can do this by seeking God alone instead of pursuing our own goals. If we remain securely fixed on him, we will accomplish all that he desires. Only then shall we know true happiness in this life.

Accepting Our Suffering

…our life is like the wanderings of the Israelites through the desert with their countless tribulations and well-merited punishments at the hands of divine justice. Let us emulate the righteous Jews in recognizing God’s equity in the punishments he imposes upon us; let us look upon our afflictions, whether general or particular, as God’s work and not man’s injustice. God, St. Augustine said, would permit no evil that his power and his goodness could not avail to turn to the great advantage of his elect.  Let us, then, make use of present ills to avoid those that are everlasting and to deserve the rewards promised to faith and to patience. The time will come and that shortly, when we shall say with David: ‘We have rejoiced for the days in which thou has humbled us: for the years in which we have seen evils.’ -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg 194 (emphasis mine)

As long as we are in this life, we will suffer; some of us, it may seem, suffer more than others. But God knows each of us intimately, and invites us to accept his love in different ways. Although it seems counter-intuitive, suffering is one of the ways that God brings us closer to himself. Rather than try to eradicate our suffering through extraordinary means, we would do well to accept it as a sacrifice to God.

We not only practice humility when we peacefully accept suffering, but also when we forfeit understanding of why we must suffer. For who are we to reject the hardships or joys that God offers us? Who are we to question the most high God? We must trust that God allows what will ultimately be for our good.

A well-known analogy is one of God as a tapestry weaver. On the underside of his tapestry, the threads criss-cross chaotically, the colors are unmatched, and the picture is indiscernible. However, when the right side of the tapestry is viewed, the threads are woven  into a magnificent picture that exhibits beauty and order.  Our interconnecting lives and circumstances are the underside of the tapestry. Underneath, some threads are threads of suffering; some of joy. They don’t always make sense. But God, the magnanimous weaver, uses each thread to draw us ever nearer to himself, if we would allow him to weave us as he wills.

Sin and God’s Will

Writing to Sr. Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil, Fr. de Caussade counsels her regarding sin:

You cannot, you say, report anything to me, other than your wretchedness. I can well believe you, since, as long as we are in this life, we can but find ourselves for ever most wretched and imperfect. Do you desire a remedy that will effectively cure all this wretchedness?  Here you have it: while abominating the sins which are the cause of them, cherish, or at least accept, their consequences, namely, the self-abjection and self-scorn which follow them. Yet in every case do so without vexation or grief, anxiety or discouragement. Do not forget that God, though he does not desire sin, makes a very useful instrument of it to keep us at all times in abjection and self-scorn.  But for this bitter remedy we should soon give way to the intoxication of self-love. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 357 (emphasis mine)

We must realize that we can do nothing to draw nearer to God by our own merits, other than cooperating with his grace. It is God who will give us the grace to be freed from our sins. Gods needs only our desire–the surrendering of our own will–to perfect us.  If we remain fixed on him, desiring to be perfect as he is perfect, he, who is the consummate healer, will free us from iniquity.

Psalm 51:17 A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.