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.

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.”

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.

A Prayer for Blind Self-Abandonment

My God, if this truth were once for all well known, with what blind self-abandonment should we not submit ourselves to thy divine Providence.  What peace and tranquility of heart we should enjoy in every circumstance, not only regarding external events, but also with reference to our interior states of soul.  Even in cases where the painful vicissitudes through which God makes us pass are a punishment for our infidelities, we should say to ourselves that God has willed it thus by his permissive will,  and we must humbly submit; we should detest our fault and accept its painful and humiliating consequences, as St. Francis de Sales so often advises us.

How many troubles and useless anxieties injurious to our peace of heart and spiritual advancement would not this one principle, rightly understood, dispel!  Shall I never succeed with the help of grace in instilling into your mind and still more into your heart this great principle of faith, so sweet, so consoling, so loving and so pacifying?  -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 121-122 (emphasis mine)

I certainly don’t claim to be an expert or to have mastered blind self-abandonment, however, God has brought me a long way since I began. In the beginning, certain passages would resonate with me, and I would to commit to practice them. Often, though, life got in the way, and it was difficult to practice those habits.

Of course, everything — including self-abandonment — that we try fails when we attempt it on our own.

The turning point came when I began to write passages from the book on a prominent place that I would look to all day.  I’d read the passage, often a prayer, several times a day. We need to ask for the grace of self-abandonment and to be reminded that we are not in control.

Here is one such prayer from Fr. de Caussade:

My God, may all thy most holy intentions be accomplished in me and never my own; may they be accomplished because while infinitely just in themselves, they are also infinitely advantageous for me.  I know that thou canst will only the greatest good of thy creatures so long as they remain submissive to thy orders.  May my own will never be accomplished except when it is in perfect agreement with thine, because otherwise it can only be harmful to me.  If ever, my God, it should happen through ignorance or passion that I persist in desires contrary to thine, may I be disappointed and punished, not by thy justice, by thy pity and great mercy. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 122 (emphasis mine)

This prayer not only asks God to help us surrender our lives to him, but it should also instill in us a great confidence in God. For even when we walk through suffering, we must know that God only allows it for the good of our souls.