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.

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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.

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.

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.

On Practicing the Habit of Peace

As for peace of heart, you must make a habit of seeking, finding and enjoying it in the upper part of the soul, in the apex of the spirit, in spite of the perturbation, rebelliousness and restlessness of the lower and less spiritual part. The latter must be held of no account, since God ignores what happens in it. In St. Teresa’s words it may be called the courtyard of the soul’s inner castle [Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila]. Profit from this precept which all the saints have adopted. Act like a man who, finding himself among the unclean animals and vermin of his castle yard, ascends hastily to the upper rooms with their beautiful decorations and cultured people. You also must ascend into the sanctuary of the soul, and endeavour never to leave it, since it is there God has made his permanent dwelling-place. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 273 (bold emphasis mine)

These words from Fr. de Caussade should give us pause for reflection as we set upon practicing the habit of peace. And we really must make our peaceful state a habit, for if we don’t, all too often, our emotions will overwhelm our senses and we may be inclined, because of our pride, to move away from God.

Whenever we feel the “perturbation, rebelliousness and restlessness” of which Fr. de Caussade writes, we can practice the habit of a peaceful state by praying the following prayer:

My divine king, my great sovereign, it is you who will, or do not will, this thing. For me that is enough: bless you for all things and in all things. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 194, footnote about Sister Anne-Catherine de Preudhomme, who prayed this prayer whatever befell her.

How Do We Know That We Are Doing God’s Will?

The acquiescence, submission and union of our will with that of God effect our perfection to such a degree that nothing remains for us to do except to hold steadfastly to these in all things, through all things and for all things. This accomplished, all is accomplished. Without this, prayers, austerities, works (even heroic works) and sufferings are nothing in God’s sight, since the one way of pleasing him is in all things to wish only for what he wills. The more involuntary opposition this complete resignation encounters in us, the more merit it has, because of the greater effort and more thorough sacrifice required.  -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 272-273 (emphasis mine)

St. Augustine is quoted as saying, “Love God and do what you please!” When we love God, we desire to do what pleases him.  But how can we always know what is pleasing to God? After all, we may have to make a decision between two good things. But when we desire God’s will, we need not worry whether we are doing his will as long as we are peacefully accepting all that he offers us in our lives. If God is giving us the choice between two good things, then let us pick what we want, for either choice will move us toward God, which is the direction toward which our hearts should be moving.

This may be quite a foreign idea to those of us who like to do the right thing, to be in control, or to not make mistakes. But even here, we can find encouragement in that when our surrender is more difficult, it is also more meritorious.

When We Can Do Nothing Else, We Can Desire God Alone

For you must know that in God’s sight our desires are, in the words of St. Augustine, true prayer. This leads Bossuet to say that a cry confined in the depths of the heart has as much worth as a cry raised to heaven, since God perceives our most secret desires and the very inclinations of our hearts. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 272 (emphasis mine)

It is worth noting again that our feelings do not necessarily represent a peaceful state. Feelings can be deceiving; we may not be happy about a particular struggle, but happiness does not equal peace. Peace is an unshakable confidence in God knowing that he is always working toward the good of our souls and that he will never abandon us.

And so, if we find ourselves in a particular situation where we feel that we can give nothing to God, we need only desire that his will be done in our lives. Should we feel weak even in our desires, we can take hope in Fr. de Caussade’s words, “…God perceives our most secret desires and the very inclinations of our hearts.” 

Rest in God. He knows how weak we are, and he does not ask for more than his grace provides.

Surrendering Our Ideals

Not a few of the devout, wedded to their own ideas, headstrong in their supposed renunciation, far from mortified in their mortifications, are driven to commit many faults through ignorance or forgetfulness of this truth. What illusion they harbour not to realize that self-love spoils and corrupts the most holy of practices! Whoever, out of love of God, shall once renounce will, judgement and ideas shall make great progress in the ways of true and lasting perfection. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence , pg. 223 (emphasis mine)

Are we hanging on to our ideals? In other words, are we clinging to what we think our lives should look like? Or are we accepting all the circumstances that God offers us in an effort to trust in him more completely?

Fr. de Caussade goes on to explain how we can renounce our own desires:

Henceforth use your intelligence and your reason solely to learn what is required of you, and do it with ready cheerfulness, utter trust in God and complete surrender to his mercy. This trust will come to you easily as soon as your one ambition is to do his holy will. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg 223-224 (emphasis mine)

When our lives don’t look like we think they should, we may become discouraged. Unfortunately, discouragement can unwittingly foster our self-love if we try to “fix” things ourselves.

But God is not only asking us to accept our present circumstances as difficult as they may be, but he also asks us to be at peace about our weakness and sin. This is not a license to become complacent about our piety, but rather an opportunity to recognize our wretchedness which causes us to grow in humility.

And so to completely “surrender to his mercy”, we must peacefully lay our feelings of inadequacy at the feet of Jesus, confident in his love and trusting in his desire to heal us in his perfect time.

Humility

The one cure for repeated unfaithfulness is to lament it, to be peacefully humble over it, and to turn again to God as soon as may be.  Until we die life’s difficulties and humiliations will be with us because of our besetting ingratitude and unfaithfulness. Yet provided that this is the result of our weakness of nature without affection of the heart, all is well. For God recognizes our weakness; he is aware of our wretchedness and our powerlessness to shun all unfaithfulness.  He perceives, further, that it is for our good to be reduced to that pitiful state since, failing it, we should be unable to resist the assaults of presumptuous pride and of secret trust in ourselves. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 198 (emphasis mine)

Hopefully these words give us great peace. When we realize that we are powerless “to shun all unfaithfulness” toward God, the burden to rely on ourselves is lifted, and what we are left with is humility.

Father de Caussade continues and explains that we will always have our imperfect natures unto death, but by embracing our shortcomings, Jesus cannot refuse us:

O God! How insidious is self-love!  Go in dread of this accursed self-love, remembering that, despite every effort of yours, it will die finally and irretrievably only in that last moment of your life. Offer no resistance, therefore, but allow the self to be abased, humiliated and destroyed.  there is nothing more calculated to purify the soul, nor can you bring to Holy communion a frame of mind more harmonious with that state of obliteration to which Jesus Christ is reduced in that mystery.  He will be unable to repulse you when you come into his presence with abysmal wretchedness and in humility verging on self-annihilation. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 199 (emphasis mine)