Taken from: HOLY ABANDONMENT
Rt. Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R.
Original Pub. 1934, Dublin
Introductory Letter of His Paternity, the Most Rev. Dom Herman-Joseph Smets, Abbot-General of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance
DEAR SON IN CHRIST,
Allow me to congratulate you most sincerely on the successful completion of the heavy task imposed on you by holy obedience. You have done your part, a modest part indeed but very meritorious, with commendable skill and thoroughness, thereby establishing a further claim to the gratitude of our Order.
The work of translation was assuredly very laborious, and withal very wearisome, as lacking that helpful interest which attaches to original compositions; but at the same time it has been, as we may hope, very conducive to the glory of God and the good of souls, hence eminently worthy of your best efforts. There can be no manner of doubt that in making accessible to English readers the sound and sublime doctrine of Saint Abandon you have once more rendered signal service to the sacred cause of Religion. In the realisation of this you must find your reward.
Saint A bandon, as you know, is the third of the important books given to the world by the Abbot emeritus of Notre Dame de Grace, the venerable Dom Vital Lehodey. His first book, entitled Voies de I' Oraison M entale, was published in 1907, and took its place immediately amongst the classical treatises on mental prayer. It has run through many editions in many languages, winning the highest eulogies from pastors of souls in various countries, even from the Sovereign Pontiff himself. The English translations of this and of the same author's second work, the Directoire Spirituel, are also due to the zeal of the scholarly sons of Mount Melleray, and, as I am happy to learn, have been received with general acclamation. I have every confidence that your version of Saint Abandon will meet with the like success.
At first sight, the word "abandonment" would seem to suggest something undesirable: the utter abdication of one's dignity as a man and the lowering of oneself to the level of a mere irresponsible automaton. To renounce the exercise of judgment and free choice: what follows from this but the slothful inertia of the fatalist? And can there be either merit or nobility in the futile existence of a withered leaf blown helplessly about by all the winds of heaven? Surely it were a better, a nobler thing to exercise to the fullest the faculties we possess, to assert oneself as a determining force instead of acting the part of a puppet in this universe of warring elements, to fight the good fight for one's place in the sun? It is a specious argument, but it proceeds surely upon a false assumption.
Abandonment, as here understood, holy abandonment has nothing whatever in common with fatalistic passivity. Instead of renunciation, it calls for the most active and uninterrupted exercise of our multifarious energies. Holy abandonment means the constant, complete, and loving union of our wills with the will of God in such sort that "we do nothing but what He wills and as He wills, and will nothing but what He does." It means perfect obedience to the commands, counsels, inspirations of His signified will, perfect conformity to the decrees of His good pleasure. We disregard our own delusive lights and inclinations to follow blindly the guidance of an infallible Providence, as a little child surrenders itself with absolute confidence to its mother's care, as if it had neither eyes, nor ears, nor feet of its own. This is a comparison often used; it is sufficiently apt, but there are important points of disparity: omne simile claudicat. The child is really passive and from physical necessity, whereas in holy abandonment one makes and keeps oneself so by constant, always laborious, and often extremely painful efforts of the will. It is no easy task to hold the different powers of the sensitive and rational order in due subordination to the Divine Will. Inertia, therefore, has no place in abandonment. With regard to the question of dignity, could the human intellect be more honourably employed than in seeking to ascertain and to second the designs of Infinite Wisdom and Goodness? Or the human will than in conforming itself to the living rule of all righteousness? Thereby our faculties are not renounced but ennobled. The conformity of abandonment must not be confounded with the Nirvana of Buddhism, for so far from extinguishing, it rather intensifies our personal life and activity. Conformity implies not a unity but a union.
A very suitable sub-title for Saint Abandon would be, I think: "How to be happy." It would truly describe the nature of abandonment, and would show thereby the importance of the book and the universality of its appeal. For happiness is a subject in which all must acknowledge an interest. The yearning for it is so deeply and strongly implanted in our human nature, so inseparably interwoven with the innermost fibres of our being, that it can be neither eradicated nor resisted. It does not come within the province of free choice at all: we may freely choose to seek our happiness in this particular way or that, but to seek it in some way is a matter not of choice but necessity. It is a tendency analogous to the force of gravity in bodies, not alone as being universal and irresistible, but also in that it is the ultimate root and mainspring of all our particular tendencies.
The pursuit of happiness is therefore a necessity; so much all will be ready to admit. But have we any hope of attaining the object of our quest? None, replies the Pessimist. That which we pursue so eagerly, so inevitably, is nothing but a will-o'-the-wisp, a phantom, a mocking mirage. Tantalus in his pond truly typifies the fate of humanity. Surely of all the mad systems put forward in the name of Philosophy Pessimism is the maddest.
Others answer in the affirmative, and seek their happiness in those earthly goods and enjoyments which intoxicate the sense and leave the heart empty. They spend their lives endeavouring to gather grapes from thorns and figs from thistles. And their cry of disillusionment and despair is ever in our ears: vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas et afflictio spiritus. One of the disillusioned has given us the explanation: "Thou hast made our hearts for Thyself, O Lord, and never shall they rest until they rest in Thee."
The Christian knows that happiness, true happiness, is attainable, yet only in God in the immortal life to come. Our one business here below is to merit it by penance, self-denial, and all manner of cross-carrying. But is there any kind or degree of happiness possible in this world? Most certainly, and the secret lies in holy abandonment. We call him happy who has it always in his power to gratify all his desires, contrary to whose will nothing ever occurs or can occur. This obviously is true of God alone, the Sovereign Ruler and Master of all events. But if we could only make His will ours by perfect conformity, it would also, in a secondary sense, be true of us. Is such conformity possible? Yes, to the man of strong and vivid faith. With such a faith we shall realise that whatever befalls us, joy or sorrow, pleasure or pain, success or failure, has been chosen and specially designed for us by our Heavenly Father, Who is infinite in power, wisdom, and goodness, and loves each one of us with a love inexpressible, and consequently, no matter about appearances, must be for our greatest advantage, just what we would wish for ourselves, had we full understanding of our highest interests. Every occurrence shall thus appear to us as an effect of omnipotent, omniscient Love, designed either to cure our maladies or multiply our merits, and so shall become the object of our free volition. We shall feel intimately convinced, we shall know that, so far as we personally are concerned, everything happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds. This is the optimism of St. Paul: Diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum, which explains another inspired oracle: "Whatever befalls the just man it shall not make him sad." For our wills being merged, absorbed, so to speak, in the Divine Will, nothing can be or occur otherwise than as we would have it. So shall we be happy.
The life of abandonment, happy as it is, may be and inevitably must be a life of suffering: the more sublime the spiritual state the more deeply is it marked with the Sign of the Cross. For suffering is not incompatible with essential happiness which depends not on the feelings but on the will. Our Saviour was essentially happy during His Passion, and St. Laurence on his gridiron; and the same happiness is enjoyed by the Holy Souls amid the ardours of the Purgatorial flames. Do we not hear the great Apostle declaring that he abounded with joy in all his tribulations? We have here the paradox of Christianity. When we are weak, then are we strongest, we mount by descending, we save our life by losing it, mourning is our blessedness, and poverty our wealth. This is the secret hidden from the wise and prudent, but revealed to the little ones, that is, to souls who by holy abandonment have reduced themselves to nothingness so that God may be all in all. No littleness can be less than nothing.
Is it necessary to observe that the abandonment here described differs toto coelo from the proud apathy affected by the Stoic and the equally proud passivity of the Quietist? No man leads a more strenuous life than he who practises Christian abandonment. He must be constantly suppressing his natural feelings and inclinations, and bringing them into harmony with the will of God. And who does not know that we have to exert ourselves much more in resisting our propensities than in yielding to them?
Holy abandonment, in the orthodox sense, sounds quite simple and easy. No doubt, in a state of innocence, where the passions would be entirely subject to reason and reason to God, it would be in practice just as simple as it sounds. But in our fallen condition the case is far otherwise. We must remember that abandonment is the loftiest of the spiritual states. Heavily handicapped as we are with all kinds of evil instincts and inclinations, we cannot hope to reach the summit of spirituality at a single bound, but have to advance slowly and painfully, from simple resignation to willing acceptance, and therefrom to the goal of perfect conformity. It is a narrow, steep, and rugged way, flanked all along with frightful precipices, beset at every turn with manifold dangers and difficulties. Woe to him who undertakes to travel it without the help of a good road-map or an experienced guide! Happy he who, possessing such an advantage, perseveres in his purpose unto the end! He shall enjoy as close an approximation as is possible to a heaven upon earth.
It seems to me that nobody has ever more fully and carefully mapped out this tortuous path, from its beginning in the low-lying valley to its ending on the towering heights, than Dom Lehodey in the present treatise. Assuredly he was well equipped for his task. Thoroughly grounded in the scholastic philosophy and theology, widely and intimately acquainted with the masters of the spiritual life, he brought to the work in addition the great advantage of long experience in the conduct of privileged souls. And in reference to this life of holy abandonment, he might appropriate the words of the angelic guide to Tobias: "I know it and I have often walked all the ways thereof" (Tob. iv, 8).
Two things in particular will strike the reader of this book: first, the emphasis laid upon obedience as the touchstone of true virtue and the foundation of all sanctity; second, the prominence given to the cross. Nothing could be better suited to the times in which we live, times characterised beyond all others by the love of independence and the passionate pursuit of pleasure. Judging, perhaps, by the ever-increasing mildness of Lenten Pastorals, Christians apparently have come to imagine that penance nowadays is not so necessary as heretofore, that the way to salvation and sanctity has been in some measure asphalted or at least steamrolled. But Dom Lehodey makes us realise that, whatever may have been done to facilitate our earthly journeys, the journey to Paradise still remains as laborious as ever.
With regard to your translation, dear Son, it appears to be accurate and fluent enough. The Censors also have reported upon it favourably. It should, therefore, have a wide circulation through out the English-speaking world, and so become the means of incalculable good. May the Divine Author of all good bring this hope to realisation, and bless you with His choicest gifts in time and eternity. To the Same, the King of Ages, immortal and invisible, be honour and glory for
ever and ever.
DOM HERMAN-JOSEPH SMETS,
ROME, October 7th, 1934.