Taken from: HOLY ABANDONMENT
Rt. Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R.
Original Pub. 1934, Dublin
ON THE OBJECT OF HOLY ABANDONMENT
ON ABANDONMENT IN THE SPIRITUAL VARIETIES OF THE COMMON WAY:
"FOR a soul that loves Jesus Christ," says St. Alphonsus Liguori, "temptations are the greatest of all trials. Other trials, when accepted with resignation, help her to unite herself more intimately to God. But temptations expose her to the danger of losing Jesus Christ, and are consequently the cruelest afflictions that can befall her." 1
Not all temptations come from the demon. "Everyone is tempted by his own concupiscence, which draws and seduces him" (James, i, 14), and this evil fire is fanned into flame by the scandals of the perverse and imperfect. The majority of men expose themselves to peril of their own free choice, or they precipitate one another into it. The demon has little more to do than to fold his arms and watch them performing his bad work for him; but he labours unceasingly for the ruin of souls that belong to him no longer. Thus, one of the fathers of the desert saw Satan tranquilly seated at the gate of Alexandria, whilst whole legions of his satellites were fiercely assaulting the hermits in their solitude.
"The demon attacks us in different ways," writes the Venerable Louis de Blois. "Sometimes he comes to us secretly, pretending no harm, or even under the specious appearance of piety, in order the more surely to entangle us in his snares. At other times he sets upon us with open violence in the hope of overpowering our resistance by the energy of his attack, or at least by the numberless blows he showers upon us. Sometimes, again, he makes his approach in the gliding, imperceptible manner of the serpent, endeavouring to lead us into grave faults through the contempt of little ones, or to a false and obdurate conscience through the ignoring of certain feelings of remorse or certain doubts. And there are occasions when, dispensing with disguise and diplomacy, he presents himself before us in all his ugliness, and suddenly proposes the perpetration of some most heinous crime. On still other occasions, he will try to use our spiritual consolations to fill us with pride, and our interior pains to discourage us; our temporal prosperity to foster a love of ease, and our temporal adversity to drive us to despair. . . . How shall I describe the assaults made upon you by the spirits of evil? Like the never-ceasing billows of a raging sea, they beat constantly on your hearts with violent impact, so that at every instant you believe yourselves on the point of shipwreck. Perhaps the temptation will be so horrible that the thoughts it suggests will appear to you such as could only enter the minds of the already damned. You will think that the whole of Hell has conspired against you, that the Lord in His anger has delivered you over to Satan. Often you will even lack the power to open your lips in prayer, or to sing the praises of God. These attacks, so afflicting in themselves, become doubly so through their long continuance and their frequent renewals. For the demon will not be satisfied with a single assault, or with several. Plunged and plunged again into this furnace, you will pass your days in affliction, constantly oppressed with sufferings, now more, now somewhat less terrible, but always cruel." 2 St. Francis de Sales, after citing two memorable examples, makes this encouraging remark: "Such terrific assaults, such mighty temptations God never permits except in the case of souls whom He designs to elevate to a particularly pure and excellent love." 3
Temptation launches its fiercest attacks upon us sometimes at the beginning, sometimes during the progress, and sometimes towards the consummation of the spiritual life. Under certain circumstances, it may have a decisive influence, for example, when the particular object of attack is our faith or our vocation. We may have to endure very special and extraordinary trials, such as temptations to blasphemy, or to hatred of God, or persistent doubts against the articles of our belief. The character of the persons we meet, the office entrusted to us, the most casual circumstance can be the occasion of temptations. But they will have their principal root in our own temperament and character, and in the weak points of our own souls, viz., our predominant failings. And since the whole man consists of body and soul, so that he is at the same time an angel and a beast, we shall have particularly to combat the passions of pride and sensuality, for these are our most dangerous and inveterate enemies.
Even the holiest persons have had to support these painful combats. To confine ourselves to temptations against the angelic virtue, some of the Saints were entirely exempt from these; for instance, St. Teresa the Elder, St. Rose of Lima, St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Others suffered the humiliation of them only in a passing way: St. Madeleine de Pazzi during nine days, St. Margaret-Mary for a few hours. Several, after one decisive victory, were thenceforward preserved altogether from them, as our holy father, St. Benedict and St. Thomas Aquinas. But a very large number had to bear with the bitterness of this most afflicting trial during long years, or even to the end of their lives. The Apostle of the Gentiles, St. Frances of Rome, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Benedict Labre, and so many others, were cruelly buffeted by this angel of Satan. In the case of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, the temptation lasted seven years, St. Mary of Egypt suffered from it seventeen years, and the Venerable Caesar de Bus twenty-five years. It attacked with terrible violence, and during the space of more than twelve months, the illustrious St. Alphonsus de' Liguori, an angel in innocence, when he was in the eighty-eighth year of his age. The Blessed Angela of Foligno moves us to compassion when she tells the story of her trials. But there will be many other temptations, sometimes very unexpected ones. The lives of the Saints furnish examples in abundance.
With regard to ourselves, when may we expect our principal trials? At the beginning, or in the middle, or at the end of our course? Perhaps we shall be kept constantly in the crucible? On what side shall we have to sustain the fiercest onslaught? What shall be its intensity and duration? God alone can fully answer these questions; but we can guess the answer to some of them ourselves. The powers of Hell are a pack of furious dogs that would tear us to pieces.
Each of them, however, has a chain to its neck, and God leads them about as He pleases. Against His good-pleasure, they are powerlessness itself. He allows them no liberty to tempt, or He leaves them some latitude, more or less, as He judges fit, with regard to what persons He pleases, in the manner and for the time that He considers best. So the choice of the temptation, the time, the degree of its violence, and the period of its duration: all are in the hands of God, our Father, our Saviour, our Sanctifier. This surely ought to encourage us. With the assistance of grace, we can prevent many temptations, we can repel the fiercest attacks of the enemy, and we can never fall save by our own full and free consent. The demon may bark at us, threaten us, entice us; but he can only bite those that want to be bitten. But, alas! we have in our free will the awful power of yielding in spite of grace, of neglecting to solicit the help of grace, and even of exposing ourselves to temptation. And this is what should keep us in perpetual self-distrust. In last analysis, therefore, the danger lies in ourselves. We are ourselves the enemy we have most cause to fear.
There is here a combination of God's good-pleasure and His signified will. This latter requires of us to "watch and pray that we enter not into temptation."
That is to say, we must prevent temptation so far as it depends upon us, or by petition obtain the grace to resist it. But when temptation comes, in spite of our watching and praying, the signified will demands further that we combat it like valiant soldiers of Jesus Christ. The means to be employed are known to everybody. But, according to St. Alphonsus, "the most efficacious and the most necessary of all means is to invoke the help of God, and to continue praying for as long as the temptation lasts.
The Lord often grants victory, not to the first petition, but to the second, the third, or the fourth. We must convince ourselves, in short, that all our good depends upon prayer. On prayer depends the change of life, on prayer depends the triumph over temptations, on prayer depends the grace of Divine love, of perfection, of perseverance, of eternal salvation. Experience proves this. He who has recourse to God in temptation triumphs, he who has not, suffers defeat: particularly in temptations to incontinence." 4
But whilst watching, praying, and combating, we must accept the necessity of having to fight, because such is the
good-pleasure of God. "I would have you know," says our holy father, St. Bernard, "that no one can live free from temptation. When one temptation disappears, you may look with assurance for another. Why do I say 'with assurance'? Rather must it be with fear. You should pray to be delivered from them, but never promise yourselves complete repose and perfect liberty whilst you live 'in this body of death.' Consider, however, with what goodness God treats us: He allows us to be frequently attacked by certain temptations, in order that we may escape others more dangerous; He delivers us promptly from some, so that we may be tried by others which He knows to be more useful for us." 5
We should place all our confidence in God. Whatever may be the immediate cause of the temptations, "is it not always He Who permits them for our good? And should we not adore His holy permissions in everything, apart from the formal sin which He detests and which we should likewise detest?" 6 Moreover, as the Venerable Louis de Blois says: "You should consider that your temptations, in God's merciful design, are but trials well calculated to make your love for Him appear to best advantage, lessons to teach you compassion for those who, like yourself, are a target for the shafts of the enemy, means to expiate your past sins and to prevent fresh faults in the future, a pledge of more abundant graces; lastly, a remedy against pride, because they bring home to you the truth that without the grace of God you can do nothing." 7
What a lesson in humility! "When a soul," writes St. Alphonsus, "has been favoured by God with interior consolations, she easily believes herself capable of repulsing every attack of her enemies, and of carrying through to a successful issue every enterprise which concerns His glory. But when strongly tempted, when she sees herself on the brink of the precipice, on the point of succumbing, ah! then she realises her misery, and her powerlessness to resist unless God comes to her aid." 8 Brilliant lights on the excellence of humility would possibly result in swelling her with pride. But temptation gives her a full and vivid consciousness of her misery. Perhaps she has been intoxicated with heavenly gifts and favours: temptation will prevent her from lifting herself aloft, or will force her down again even to the bottom of her nothingness. Some of the Saints would have been lost through pride had not Providence furnished them with the antidote of temptation. God buried them in an abyss of humiliations in order to exalt them to the summit of sanctity. Thus, the great Apostle, after being rapt up into the third heaven, was buffeted by an Angel of Satan. St. Catherine of Sienna after intimate communings with Our Lord, and St. Joseph of Cupertino after astonishing ecstasies, felt the cruel and humiliating sting of the flesh. St. Alphonsus, that incomparable teacher, was more tormented with scruples than the least of his disciples.
"It is necessary," says our holy father, St. Bernard, "that temptations come, for we cannot lawfully claim the crown unless we have been exposed to the combat." 9 In peace-times we are disposed to relax our efforts, but on the field of battle we must either conquer or die. To escape utter ruin, we have to apply ourselves to vigilance, to prayer, to obedience and mortification, and to do a hundred times more than when out of danger. The demon attacks us from hatred, but he really helps us by stimulating our zeal and obliging us to hasten our steps. So, despite his malice, he becomes a very important contributor to our spiritual advancement. This explains, says St. Alphonsus, why God often permits the souls most dear to Him to be tried by temptation: 10 because thus they would acquire more merits on earth and a greater degree of glory in Heaven. Seeing themselves assaulted by so many enemies, they become detached from the present life, and sigh eagerly for death in order to fly to God and to be no longer exposed to the danger of losing Him. When, therefore, we have to support temptation, provided we do our duty, instead of fearing that we are in disfavour with God, we ought rather to believe ourselves specially beloved by Him.
Nor should we be troubled or unduly fearful because the temptation is frequent and violent. "If the Lord is almighty, and if the demons are but His slaves: why should I fear to combat, with the assistance of His grace, all the powers of Hell? Taking the crucifix in my hand, I should feel that with it as my only weapon I could conquer single-handed and easily the whole army of demons. Sometimes they have appeared to me, and I have been hardly in any degree afraid of them. They, on the contrary, seemed to be struck with terror at the sight of me. In fact, I have found them to be great cowards. When they see themselves despised, all their courage evaporates. But if we voluntarily give them a hold on us by attachment to honours, to riches, or to pleasures, they conspire with us against ourselves, and we put arms into their hands to be employed for our destruction. Such blindness cannot be sufficiently deplored. One venial sin can do us more harm than all the powers of Hell combined." 11 So speaks St. Teresa the Elder.
The pious Bishop of Geneva addressed St. Jane de Chantal in very similar terms: "So your temptations against the faith have come back, and are tormenting you. What I have to say is this: You think too much about them, you are too much afraid of them, too apprehensive of the evil that may result from them. You are unduly sensitive to the temptations. You love the faith, and would wish that not a single thought against it could occur to your mind. It seems to you that everything injures it. Nonsense! You shouldn't mistake the rustling of the leaves for the rattling of arms. Our enemy is a mighty blusterer. But don't let him frighten you. He has raised many an uproar and many a tumult around the Saints; but for all that, you see how they now occupy the place which he, miserable one, has lost forever. Let us pay no heed, then, to his fanfares, for he can do us no harm. That is why he wishes at least to terrify us, and by this terror to disturb our peace, and by this disturbance to weary us, and by this weariness to make us give up. Let us have no fear but of God, and even of Him only a loving fear. Let us keep the gates securely closed, and the walls of our resolutions in good repair, and then let us live in peace." 12
Nevertheless, temptation is a horrible thing; it makes an impression on you; you actually feel an inclination for the evil suggested. No matter. The impression is only a sentiment. It humbles you, but it does not make you guilty. To be sensible of evil is not to consent to it. All that happens in the inferior part of the soul: imaginations, memories, feelings, irregular motions, etc. : all that is in us, but not from us. Of itself, it is indeliberate and involuntary. It can only become sin by our free consent. As for the inclination we feel towards evil, that is but an infirmity of our fallen nature, not a disorder of the will. Vicious pleasure solicits to evil and constitutes a danger. But it is not imputable to us unless the will freely entertains or accepts it. However strong may be the suggestions of the demon, in whatever form appear the phantoms that flit through the imagination, so long as your will rejects them, instead of soiling your soul, they rather make it more pure and more pleasing to God. You experience a profound interior affliction in the temptations to impurity, hatred, aversion, and such-like. The fear of having succumbed to them disturbs and distresses you. That is an evident sign that you have a great fear of God, a horror of sin, and the will to resist. Now, it is morally impossible for a soul in such dispositions to change suddenly so far as to give a full and entire consent to mortal sin without being clearly aware of it. At most, it may happen that, considering the force and frequency of the temptation, there has been some little negligence, a moment of surprise, for instance, a half-formed desire of vengeance, semi-voluntary feelings of complacency. But as for full, entire, and deliberate consent, that is impossible with such a disposition of soul. Or at least the passage from a sovereign hatred of mortal sin to a full and free acceptance of it would be easily observed. 13
We must not, however, desire temptations, in spite of the great advantages to be drawn from them; for they are actual incitements to evil and consequently a danger to our souls. Rather we must implore of God to preserve us from them, particularly from those to which He foresees we should succumb. Nevertheless, as we have already remarked, we should be resigned to endure temptation, if such be God's good-pleasure; but at the same time we should be resolved to do all that is required by His signified will to prevent or to overcome it. Then, without ever losing courage, we should put our trust in God, abandon ourselves to His sweet Providence, and fear nothing. Let us pray, let us struggle; and, since it is He Who exposes us to the combat, He will never forsake us or permit us to fall.
Assuredly, holy abandonment does not forbid a moderate desire to be delivered from these perilous trials; it only excludes uneasiness and desires that are excessive. "With regard to your old temptations," wrote her wise director to St. Jane de Chantal, "don't be over-anxious to be set free from them, nor allow yourself to be terrified by their attacks. With God's help, you will soon obtain deliverance. I shall pray to Him for that, but rest assured it shall be with full resignation to His good-pleasure: I mean, gentle and cheerful resignation. You desire most ardently that God would leave you in peace in this respect, whereas it is my desire that God Himself should be left in peace in all respects: that none of our desires should be in opposition to His. I would not have you desire by voluntary act such a peace as would be unprofitable and possibly prejudicial. I wish you would not torment yourself with such desires, or with any others. Our Lord will give us His peace when we have humbly resigned ourselves to live meekly in a state of war. Be of good courage. Our Lord will help us, and we shall love Him dearly." 14
Besides, on condition that we watch and pray, He will be always in the boat with us. He may seem to slumber, but the tempest has broken only by His permission, and at one word from Him will again subside .
1. Am. env., c. xiii.
2. Op. cit., c. vi.
3. Vie dévote, P. IV, cc. iv-v.
4. Am. env., c. xiii.
5. Serm. V. in Ps. xc.
6. De Caussade, op. cit., P. II, vi, 3.
7. Blosius, Spec. relig., c. vi.
8. Am. env., c. xiii.
9. Serm. V. in Quadr.
10. Loc. cit.
11. Vie, c. xxv.
12. Lettres, 397, 400, 427.
13. De Caussade, op. cit., P. II, vi, 3-5.
14. Lettre, 428.