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)

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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.

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.

We Must Rely on God, Not Others

A mind enlightened by faith inclines the heart to submit to the plans of divine Providence who allows good men to cause each other suffering that they may be detached from one another. On such occasions we have only resignation and self-abandonment to God in which to find our strength. For both of these leave us unaffected by the apparent reasons we have for being perturbed. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 308-309

God wants us to rely solely on him. Not others. Not ourselves. Not this world. He is a jealous God loving us so much and desiring to give us only good things. He wants us with him so very much that he allows his children to suffer — painful as it is for him — so that at the end of this life, we may join him for all eternity in Paradise.

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.

Relinquishing Our Fears

You must not harbour the slightest doubt that God, who never abandons those who abandon themselves to him, will fail to inspire her whose duty it is to reveal God’s will to you as to what is most needful for yourself. One of three things will inevitably happen: either you will be given relief; or God will preserve and strengthen you; or he will allow you to die, taking you to himself from out this miserable life. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 266 [Fr. de Caussade is writing to Sr. Marie-Henriette de Bousmard advising her that since God has inspired her superior, she need not fear her orders.] (emphasis mine)

When we are fearful may be the most difficult time to abandon ourselves to God. When we can see no solution to an inevitable problem, it is painful to let go and be unafraid.

However, God does not want us to abandon ourselves to him only when it is easy. He wants us to trust in him even when we don’t know where the road ahead will lead. But we do have a map: as Fr. de Caussade writes, God will deliver us from our fear, strengthen us in our trials, or remove us from this miserable life. We know that God will do one of three things for those who abandon themselves to him, so we need only wait on him and his perfect timing.

Trusting in God Instead of Our Merits

The fear of death and the judgement is good, provided it does not go so far as to trouble and disturb you; if it did so it would be an illusion of the devil.  After all, why should you be troubled?  Because you have not yet done what you have not been able to do?  Does God demand the impossible?  Beware here; the point is a very delicate one, for it looks as if there were a desire to acquire merits in order to trust in them.  That is not true confidence which can only be founded on the mercy of God and the infinite merits of Jesus Christ.  Any other confidence would be vain and presumptuous, being based on our own nothingness and I know not what wretched good works that are worthless in the eyes of God.  Without counting in any way on ourselves, we must try to accomplish all that he asks of us and hope only in his goodness and the merits of Jesus Christ his Son.  -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 176 (emphasis mine)

Our works are not our own, save for sin. The things that we are unable to accomplish are not about our abilities or lack of, as much as they are about God working in our lives in a unique and particular way. It is God who gives or takes away talent and ability. He does this not to make us unhappy, but rather to draw us nearer to him. The closer we are to God, the more we focus on him.  He desperately wants us to join him in Heaven, but he knows that we must first seek his kingdom.

 

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.

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.

Surrendering Our Wills

O holy detachment! It is this that makes room for God.  O purity, O blessed annihilation, O submission without reserve!  This is what attracts God into the depth of the heart.  Let my faculties be what they will, thou, Lord, art all my good.  Do what thou wilt with this little creature: that he should act, that he should be inspired, that he should be the subject of thy impressions is all one, for all belongs to thee; all, indeed, is thee, from and for thee.  I have nothing more to say to it or to do. Not a single moment of my life is of my own ordering; all belongs to thee, I have neither to add nor subtract, to inquire or reflect: sanctity, perfection, salvation, direction, mortification, is all thy affair, Lord.  Mine to be content with thee and to choose for myself no action or condition, but to leave all to thy good pleasure. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 50 (emphasis mine)

The exercise of our free will to abandon ourselves to God renders the heart capable of receiving and accepting the most holy will of God, wherein we will find our most true and lasting happiness. When, by our free will we abandon ourselves, God directs all of our other faculties, and we can let go of our worries trusting in an all-good God working in and through us for our eternal salvation.

Self-abandonment also moves us to focus on God instead of ourselves. When we are not concerned about our own lives, we can find our purpose in serving others, and by doing so, love God all the more.