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:
DARKNESS, INSENSIBILITY, ETC.
ARTICLE I.------DARKNESS OF MIND
Being "children of light," we ought to love the light. Never shall we have too great a mastery of the science of the saints. Never shall our faith be too much enlightened: it must always remain more or less obscure whilst we live here below, must always lack the clarity of vision. Nevertheless, the shadows gradually lose their density and the light increases with the progress of study and prayer, and particularly in proportion as the soul becomes purer and more intimately united to God. Similarly, in matters of conduct, we naturally prefer to walk in the light, so that we can see our duties clearly. It is so sweet and so encouraging to feel assured that we are doing the will of our Father.
But the Lord does not will that we shall always enjoy this consolation. "Today," says the Venerable Louis de Blois, "the Sun of Justice illumines your soul with His rays. He dissipates your darkness, calms the storms within you, and makes you happy and tranquil. But should He will to withhold His light from you, what can compel Him to shine upon you again? Now, be assured He will sometimes cause His brightness to suffer an eclipse in your soul. Look out, therefore, for those seasons of obscurity when the divine illuminations will no longer appear, and you will find yourself once more in darkness, trouble and agitation." 1 Spiritual dryness, when prolonged, can of itself involve the soul in darkness, according as pious thoughts become more rare and the affections more arid. But God has many other ways of producing this darkness and of intensifying it at His pleasure, when there is question either of our own interior life or of the conduct of our neighbour. The poor soul, frightened and bewildered, asks herself perhaps if He has not forsaken her in His anger. It seems to her that she is labouring in vain, that she can no longer make any progress in prayer or in virtue. Possibly the demon will avail himself of her desolate condition to deliver his fiercest assaults. And whilst "on the one side," says St. Alphonsus, "she has to encounter the most violent temptations inspired by the demon, with the help of her excited concupiscence j on the other, plunged in this blinding obscurity, whatever may be the resistance of her will, she cannot know with sufficient clearness whether she resists as much as she ought, or whether she does not actually consent to the evil suggestions j she becomes more and more afraid of having lost her God, and of finding herself, as the just chastisement of her infidelities in the combat, totally abandoned by Him." 2 If such trials are repeated or prolonged, the soul will experience the cruellest anxieties even on the subject of her eternal salvation.
Souls of good-will, wherefore these fears? God Whose gaze penetrates to the depths of the heart, knows quite well that you are all for Him alone and that your one desire is to please Him. Has He ceased to be Goodness Itself? Behind this exacting severity, do you not see His passionate tenderness, holily jealous of your hearts and determined to possess them without reserve or division? When He punishes your least infidelities, when He sends you trial after trial, remember that it is always His heart of a Father that governs His hand. But His love for you is wise and strong; it prefers eternity to time, and Heaven to earth; it designs to conduct you as far as is possible in the ways of true sanctity. Consequently in His very rigours you have a proof of His love. They are also a mark of His confidence in you. Whilst you were as yet weak, He attracted you by His caresses and took a thousand precautions. But you would never have died to yourself in the midst of so much sweetness and with such delicate handling. Therefore He ceased to employ those means as soon as you had acquired a little strength. "He deprived you of His consolations in order to emancipate you from the coarseness of sensibility, and to unite you to Himself in a manner more excellent, more intimate, and more secure, by means of the pure faith and the pure spirit. To complete your purification, He has been obliged to add sufferings to privations, at least interior sufferings, such as temptations, anxieties, impotence, which sometimes produce a sort of agony in the soul. But it all contributes powerfully to deliver her from the toils of self-love." 3 After this general observation, we proceed to examine the principal trials of this nature. There is, first of all, the incertitude we feel about the value of our prayers: they seem to us worth very little indeed. Whilst this feeling lasts, we should simply endeavour to keep our minds on God, and do the best we can. He will be able to understand what we are not able to say to Him. Our good-will cannot fail to please Him, and with that He will deign to be satisfied. What He demands from us is effort, not success. A prayer made in this manner is without consolation, but not without fruit, since it suffices to keep us resolutely attentive to all our duties. It enlightens and sustains us, too, more than we imagine. Besides, says De Caussade, "experience has taught me that all persons of good-will who thus complain really know how to pray better than others, because their prayer is more simple and humble, and because by reason precisely of its simplicity it escapes their reflection." 4 There is also the incertitude about the value of our acts of virtue. But, says St. Alphonsus, " it is one thing to perform a good act, such as to repulse temptation, to make an act of hope or charity or conformity with the Divine will, and quite another thing to be conscious of having really performed the good act. This second point, or the knowledge that we have practised some virtue, affords us satisfaction, but our merit consists in the first, that is to say, in the actual execution of the good work. Now, God contents Himself with the execution of the act and deprives the soul of the consciousness thereof which adds nothing to her merit; and it is our merit that counts with Him, not our momentary satisfaction." 5 When St. Jane de Chantal was suffering terribly from this trial, St. Francis de Sales consoled her with the following reflection: "The most perfect practice of our holy religion is to content ourselves with naked, dry, insensible acts, elicited by the energy of the superior will alone. We should adore Divine Providence and throw ourselves into its amiable arms, into its bosom. Lord, if it by Thy good-pleasure that I should feel no relish in the practice of the virtues which Thy grace has given me, I resign myself absolutely, although against the natural inclination of my will. I want to experience no more satisfaction from the possession of my faith, my hope, or my charity than to be able to say with truth that I would rather die than give up my faith, my hope or my charity." 6
Another incertitude concerns our victory over temptation. This is more trying than the combat itself, even though the latter has been as violent and persistent as an obsession. But let souls of good-will take courage. In the senses and the imagination many things can happen which are not voluntary acts, and consequently not sins. We have really resisted as we should, but the enveloping darkness prevents us from seeing distinctly what has taken place. The will, however, has undergone no change. Experience will soon show that. Let us meet an occasion of offending God by a simple deliberate venial sin, and we shall scrupulously abstain from it: we should prefer to die a thousand times. It ought to be enough for us to know that we have watched and prayed and generously struggled. There is no necessity that we should have a clear consciousness of victory won. It is even sometimes better for us to be without such knowledge, as the incertitude can be very profitable to our humility. God wills to make us realise by painful experiences, frequently repeated, the fund of corruption we bear within ourselves, and which, without the assistance of His grace, would lead us infallibly into the worst disorders. The evidence of victory would diminish the humiliation, might even expose our humility to danger. He therefore leaves us in doubt, in order to deepen the humiliation and so safeguard our humility. It is a bitter trial, but it renders us the magnificent service of solidly establishing our souls in a virtue which is the groundwork of perfection. Under such circumstances, we may even feel doubtful as to the state of our souls. Have we succumbed to the force of the temptation? Are we still in the grace of God? We must not be over-anxious to reassure ourselves on this point.
"You desire to know for certain that God loves you?" asks St. Alphonsus." But at the moment He does not will to impart to you this knowledge. He wills that you should just humble yourself, trust in His goodness, and resign yourselves wholly to His good-pleasure. Besides, it is a maxim, received as incontestable by all the masters of the spiritual life, that when a person of timorous conscience is in doubt as to whether he has lost the grace of God, it is certain that he has not lost it. For no one can lose God without being fully aware of the fact. Moreover, according to St. Francis de Sales, the resolution you have, at least, in the depths of your heart, to love God and not to cause Him the slightest displeasure by deliberate purpose, is a manifest sign that you are still in His grace. Abandon yourself, therefore, into the arms of Divine mercy, protest that you desire nothing but God alone and His good-pleasure, and banish every fear. Oh, how agreeable to the Lord are the acts of confidence and resignation we make in the midst of this terrifying darkness." 7
Of all these incertitudes, the most afflicting is that which concerns our eternal future. Without a special revelation, no one can know, with absolutely certain knowledge, whether he is at the moment worthy of love or hatred, much less whether he will persevere in justice or come to an unhappy end. God wills it so. Had we full certitude on these points, we might perhaps lull ourselves to sleep in slothful indolence, or expose ourselves to danger with foolish temerity. God, therefore, employs the doubt to maintain us in a humble distrust of ourselves and in an ever-watchful zeal; to assert His sovereign dominion and to remind us of our absolute dependence; to make us realise our perpetual need of prayer, mortification, and multiplied acts of virtue; to give additional lustre and value to our faith, our confidence, our abandonment. Let us adore, then, this salutary disposition of Divine Providence, and instead of allowing ourselves to be oppressed with inordinate fear which would only disquiet and discourage us, let us rather cultivate the filial fear that stimulates our activity and keeps us on our guard against dangers. The best way to ensure the future is to sanctify the present. The author of the Imitation shows us a man preoccupied with the thought of his eternity, and distraught with anxiety and agitation. "He often wavered between fear and hope. One day, oppressed with sadness, he went to the church, and prostrating himself before one of the altars, revolved in his mind the thoughts which tormented him. 'Ah, if I only knew that I should persevere to the end!' Immediately he heard in his soul the answer from God: 'And if you did know this, what would you do? Do now what you would then do and you shall be very secure.' Thereupon, consoled and strengthened, he abandoned himself to the Divine good-pleasure and his anxious wavering ceased. He no longer desired to search curiously into what would befall him in the future, but rather sought to discover what was at present the will of God, well-pleasing and perfect, determined to undertake all kinds of good works and to bring them to consummation." 8 He was a wise man. Let us likewise think of nothing else but the need we have to pray with confidence, to be assiduous in the discharge of our duties, to live in humility, renunciation, obedience, and holy love. And God Who is Goodness itself, the sweet Saviour Who gave His life for His enemies, the Good Shepherd Who runs after the rebellious and obstinate sheep: Jesus will never allow a soul of good- will to finish a holy life by an unhappy death. Besides, let us never cease to implore the crowning grace of final perseverance, and let us ask it through the intercession of our Mother in Heaven. A soul truly devoted to Mary cannot be lost.
Spiritual obscurity can be of many kinds. We are endeavouring to see things clearly when the light fails us, either in what regards our own interior life or the conduct of our neighbour. By God's permission, we find ourselves surrounded with darkness. But whatever be its nature or the degree of its density, it can never rob us of the lights of reason and faith: to the secular priest and the faithful must always remain the infallible teaching of the Church, the Gospel, good books, and spiritual direction, whilst the religious will have in addition his rule and his superiors. And is not that all we really require to direct us securely towards the haven of a happy eternity? This trial, consequently, takes from us only special, radiant, and consoling lights, which indeed contribute a very desirable supplement to our spiritual strength, but which also are very liable to abuse. In any case, they are not indispensable. And if God deprives us of them without any fault on our part, He will know how to make us find abundant compensation by holy abandonment to His will and by our own personal efforts. Let us allow Him to conduct us as best pleases Him, even though it should be through darkness and desolation. Let us have confidence in our Father, so infinitely good and wise, and have no other care than to accomplish with filial love whatsoever He shall require of us.
So acted St. Therese of the Child Jesus: "I thank my Jesus," she wrote, "for making me walk the ways of darkness. I am enjoying a profound peace in them. I would willingly consent to pass my whole religious life in this subterranean obscurity into which He has brought me. My sole desire is that my darkness may obtain light for sinners. I feel happy, yes, very happy at being left without consolation." 9
1. Spec. relig., c. vi.
2. Am. env., c. xiii.
3. De Caussade, Abandon. 2e P., iv. 2.
5. Am. env., c. xiii.
6. Lettre, 490.
7. Refl. pieuses, xxxix. et Peines intér., 2.
8. I, 1, c. xxv.
9. Lettre, 4 à la R. M. Agnès et Souv.
The image of Christ is believed to have been painted by the artist Zabateri, 1859-1945.