The Great Secret of Enduring Dislike of Our Work

“I can easily realize that the dislike of the work you do makes your ordeal the heavier; yet recollect the rewards of the martyrs, who have undergone ordeals far more sorrowful.

In such a state it is natural to feel an increased zest for the solitary life. Yet the life of obedience is of greater worth: it is one long sacrifice, and if there be more causes for vexation in it, there are also many opportunities of acquiring merit. Persist in being altogether steadfast in it, until you reach the state when you hesitate to say one word that may detach you from the cross of Jesus Christ.

The great secret of enduring wretchedness with patience is to look upon it as God’s cross, to be ranked with sickness and other afflictions of this life.  Were God to send you these exterior and perceptible maladies you would endure them patiently. Do you then endure your interior ordeals with the same patience.” – from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 380 (emphasis mine)

As I was typing the above quote from the book, I was interrupted about ten times by my children. When I wasn’t interrupted, I was treated to the cacophony of sounds emitting from my three oldest boys as they ate their lunch. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to find one’s writing voice amidst the noise. Now, as I just got the three big boys quietly settled, the baby has awoken, and my peaceful afternoon of dishes and laundry will be spliced between feedings, diaper changes, and baths. And so it goes.

There are days in my life where the cloister greatly appeals to me. Raising four boys in the north where winter is prominent six months out of the year is a noisy business and not for the faint of heart who may swoon at every fight among boys. There are many moments when I just want to retreat into myself and forget the responsibilities surrounding me. However, this is only a testament to how tightly I hold onto my own self-love.

In this passage, Fr. de Cassaude is urging us to recognize the sameness between exterior and interior trials. Of course, if we fall ill, we have no control over that; it is God’s business to sanctify us through the illness, and we may rightly surrender that exterior trial. But do we also surrender those wants and desires of our hearts interiorly? Do we surrender the ideals that live deep within us? Or are we constantly fighting against the life that God has laid out for us?

Fr. de Caussade tells us that the great secret to enduring wretchedness in this life is to patiently accept everything. But what is everything? It is anything that we find difficult, monotonous, or physically painful. It is anything that insults our ideal for this life; it’s any imperfect part of our life that we haven’t yet accepted and offered to God.

And so, while a blog post about God may be a very good thing indeed, I must patiently endure the interruptions, the noise, and accept that God is giving me the opportunity to cooperate with him as he peels off yet another layer of self-love. I am giving up what I would like to do, in order to better serve Him who sustains all that I do.

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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.

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.

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.

Bearing with Oneself

A soul to which God has revealed its shortcomings is far more of a burden to itself than its neighbour can be.  For, however near he be, that neighbour is not always by our side, while in no case is he within us.  We are our own burden, on the other hand; we cannot escape ourselves for a single moment, nor lose ourselves from sight and feeling, nor cease from trailing everywhere we go our imperfections and our failings.  The supreme manifestation of God’s infinite goodness lies in the fact that the sorrow and the shame these failings cause us, cure us of them, always provided that the shame does not become vexation and that the sorrow is inspired by love of God and not by self-love. Sorrow born of self-love is full of perturbation and bitterness: far from healing our soul’s wounds it serves only to pour poison into them. On the contrary, sorrow springing from love of God is serene and full of abandonment. While it abhors the fault, it delights in the humiliation which is its sequel: as a consequence it gives all the credit to the humiliation, thus making loss itself an opportunity for gain. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 188-189 (emphasis mine)

When we practice patience with our faults, not only do we gain peace, but humility as well. Knowing that we fall far from God’s perfect nature, knowing that we are mere creatures of the most high God should release us from the burden to be flawless. As with any virtue, patience is a habit that we must practice. Reflecting on God’s gentleness and mercy can help us to be patient with ourselves.  For if God, who never makes mistakes, is patient with our faults, who are we to do any less?

No longer, then, torment yourself on account of your failings and of the imperfection of your works.  Make God an offering of the sorrow that imperfection brings you, and allow his merciful Providence to redeem these small infidelities by small afflictions and troubles of every kind.  Let patience be your one weapon; after a fall pick yourself up as speedily as possible, lamenting the tumble only with meek and tranquil humility. God wills it thus. Moreover, by such unwearied patience, you render him more glory and yourself make more progress than you could ever do by the most violent effort. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 189 (emphasis mine)

To Suffer Humbly

Know…that you are to thank God, as though for a grace, for what you suffer meanly and weakly, that is to say, without much courage.  At such times you feel overcome by your ills, upon the verge of giving way to them, inclined to grumble about them and to yield to the rebelliousness of your human nature.  Indeed, this is a true grace and a great grace at that, since to suffer this is to suffer with humility and with no great spirit.  If, instead, you feel a measure of courage, a measure of strength and conscious resignation, your heart is puffed up by these, and you become, yourself unaware, full of trust in yourself, interiorly proud and presumptuous. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg 298 [Fr. de Caussade is writing to Sr. Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil] (emphasis mine)

God is so good to us! Where at once we are inclined to condemn ourselves because we do not suffer with quiet humility as the Saints did, we can take comfort in God that he would keep us from the sin of pride were we to laud the accomplishment of suffering well.

Fr. de Caussade continues to encourage Sr. de Vioménil:

In such a state as yours, however, we draw near to God, altogether weak, humiliated and disconcerted at having suffered so feebly.  This truth is sure and comforting, essentially interior, and little known.  Remember it on all those occasions upon which, feeling more keenly the weight of your tribulations and sufferings, you feel your weakness also, looking always inward in peace and simplicity to all that God wills; for this is the most satisfying way of suffering. You must apply this rule in every painful ordeal, and recall it particularly in the midst of those daily difficulties that come your way through the person you find trying, and at all times when you feel antagonistic towards others. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 298-299 (emphasis mine)

Fr. de Caussade describes this truth as “little known”.  To save us from our wretched self-love, God mercifully works in and through us though we do not perceive it.

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)

Quest for Perfection

Uphold yourself in this blessed longing [to be rid of your sin]; offer up your prayers; be patient in your petitions; above all humiliate yourself before God: he it is who will complete the work he has begun in you; there is none other able to perform it.  -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 198 [Fr. de Caussade is writing to a nun] (emphasis mine)

The nun to whom Fr. de Caussade was writing, Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil, may have lamented her weakness and sin, which he responded by saying that only God can work out our perfection, and only God can satisfy all of our desires. While it is a pious practice to remind ourselves of our wretchedness, if we are not at peace waiting on God’s perfect timing to heal us, it can serve our self-love or pride.

Just as our deplorable self-love feeds on praise, it also feeds on fault-finding. If we bemoan our sin and weakness without being in a peaceful state, it only fuels our depraved pride and keeps the focus on ourselves instead of on God. This is what Fr. de Caussade is advising when he offers to Sr. de Vioménil to “offer up…prayers”, “be patient in…petitions”, and “humiliate [herself] before God”.

It is not easy for prideful persons, or human beings, to be in a peaceful state when thinking about our faults. But when we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and know that he is with us always, God will offer the grace that we need to wait patiently on him, who is sole healer of all.