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 III.-----IMPOTENCE OF THE WILL
Perhaps the difficulty comes from physical exhaustion. If so, the remedy is, obviously, to restore our bodily strength.
Souls less advanced in spirituality, the tepid and the sinful, are much impeded in their activities by their passions, great and small. Let them practise penance and interior mortification, and little by little they will succeed in disengaging themselves from their toils.
A soul that is completely devoted to God, but has not yet been called out of the common way, may be afflicted with the profound aridity of feeling, with the interior darkness and insensibility of which we have spoken. This will suffice to make her experience a certain powerlessness in the practice of the virtues, and particularly in prayer.
In the case of such a soul, the impotence in the practice of the virtues is only relative, in fact, more apparent than real. It is chiefly the lack of power to practise them with feeling. From the fact that she has no feeling of love, or contrition, or the other virtues, she imagines that the virtues themselves are wanting to her, and that she is quite powerless for good. But she labours under an illusion. We have already remarked that it is one thing to elicit good acts and quite another to feel a sensible impression of them. God demands the works, He does not demand the sentiment. What is more: if we remain faithful to our duties without the support of sensible consolations and sweetnesses, the good-will we manifest shall be only the more pleasing to Him and the more meritorious for ourselves, because it implies more of the spirit of sacrifice. There is perhaps another source of illusion. We have formed magnificent projects, dreamed of extraordinary virtues, caressed some chimerical ideal, and of course the result has come far short of our anticipations. Thereby we have lost a good many vain hopes and perhaps a little of our pride. But instead of being downcast, we should rather bless God for having kept us humble and brought us back to realities. In spite of all such deceptions and illusions, one thing must always remain quite possible to us, the one thing, indeed, that is the foundation of all sanctity, that is to say, the observance of the laws of God and His Church, and the loyal discharge of our daily duties. A religious will always be able to keep his vows, to love his rule, to obey his superiors, to live in peace with his brethren, to control his passions, to offer all his actions to God, to endure his troubles with patience, and so to accumulate an inestimable treasure of virtues and merits. What needs he more? Here is the direct road to perfection. It is absolutely safe, and besides it affords ample scope for the most generous zeal.
It is particularly with regard to interior acts and prayer that the impotence shows itself. But here also it is only relative. "The soul," says St. Alphonsus, "feels herself incapable of rising towards God, and of producing any act of charity, contrition, or resignation. What matter! For it suffices to make the attempt, even though it should only be with the fine point of the will. Then, although such acts are without fervour or relish, and even imperceptible to us, God will accept them with pleasure. However, in the midst of all this obscurity, one thing remains always within our power: we can always annihilate ourselves before God, confess our utter misery, and throw ourselves into the arms of His mercy. And then let us not forget that we must pray in whatever condition we may find ourselves. Whether we be in darkness or in light, we must never omit to say to God: 'Lord, lead me by whatever way Thou pleasest. Only grant that I may do Thy will: I desire nothing else.' " 13 And if we hardly know how to express our desires by words or sentiments, we can at least hold ourselves in the presence of God in the spirit of faith, with a real desire to receive His grace according to our needs. And this will be a true prayer, because God Who "sees the preparation of our hearts" will understand what we have not the power to tell Him. In a word, we are only impotent for that which God does not demand of us at the moment. And consequently it would not be even expedient for us to have the power or facility we so much desire.
Perhaps our good Master wills simply to try us, in order to establish us more solidly in humility, detachment, and holy abandonment. He will then withdraw His sensible consolations and spiritual sweetnesses, replacing them with obscurity, insensibility, and even with disgust. In that case, we must remain loyally attentive to all our duties, be assiduous at prayer, and courageously support the weight of our cross, lightening it as far as possible with the help of a good book and other means which experience will suggest. Or it may be that God wills to make us pass from the common into the mystical ways. If so, He will gradually suppress discursive, methodic, complex and varied acts, in order to lead us to the prayer of simple regard made with short and more uniform acts or even in a silence full of love. This Divine operation is a most precious grace. So far from opposing it, we should rather yield ourselves to it with confident docility. But we shall have to seek in some reliable book, and especially in the instructions of an experienced director, the light and guidance of which we shall then stand in most particular need.
Whatever may be God's motive in sending us this trial, it affords us a splendid opportunity for advancing in virtue and practising holy abandonment. "Believe me," writes De Caussade, "you are very far from losing your time in this prayer. A more tranquil prayer might indeed be possible for you, but you could not have one that is more beneficial and meritorious. For the prayer of suffering and humiliation, as it is the most crucifying of all, is therefore that which best purifies the soul, and makes her most quickly die to herself in order thenceforward to live exclusively in God and for God. Oh, how I love those prayers in which you keep yourself as a dumb beast before God, insensible to everything, and overwhelmed with temptations of all kinds! What can be better qualified to humble, to confound, to annihilate your soul in presence of the Divine Majesty? This is what He has been aiming at, this has been the purpose of all your apparent miseries. . . . As for the insensibility you complain of, if it does not prevent you from discharging your duties, observing your rules, acquitting yourself of all your exercises of piety, you should regard it as a trial from God, a trial which is common to you with all the saints. Only be faithful! By accepting it you will be practising patience, submission, and interior humility in the most meritorious manner. It will prove prejudicial only to self-love, which it will gradually put to death, and more efficaciously extinguish than any exterior mortifications. . . . You can never attain to a complete distrust of self and perfect confidence in God alone without first passing through these different states of utter insensibility and absolute impotence. Happy states, in truth, which yield such marvellous results! . . . On the other hand, there is no sacrifice so pleasing to God as this entire oblation of a crushed and bleeding heart. It is a true holocaust of most sweet savour. The most unctuous and fervent prayers, the most severe of voluntary mortifications have nothing comparable to it, nothing at all approaching
its excellence." 14
St. Francis de Sales wrote as follows to St. Jane de Chantal: " 'Woman, why weepest thou?' (John, xx, 15). But you must not remain a woman, you must have the heart of a man. And provided you have a firm purpose to live and die in the service of God, you must not worry about the darkness, or the impotence, or the other obstacles to your advancement. We cannot avoid such obstacles here on earth, but in paradise we shall have none to encounter. . . . It is God's will that our misery should be the throne of His mercy, our impotence the seat of His omnipotence." 15 The holy Bishop then goes on to exhort his spiritual daughter to remain humble, tranquil, meek, and confident in the midst of her helplessness and obscurity. He would have her to avoid all impatience and agitation, to resign herself to the darkness of her soul, and to embrace the cross courageously, generously, and resolutely.
13. Relig. Sanct., c. xiv.
14. Abandon, P. II, iv, 1, 6; et vii, 2.
15. Lettres, 417 et 530.