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 IV.------SPIRITUAL POVERTY
What else but spiritual poverty can be the outcome of darkness, insensibility, and impotence? So reasons he who groans under the oppression of this trial. He deceives himself, however. As long as the superior part of the soul remains attached to the Divine will and faithful to duty, the darkness, insensibility, and impotence cannot rise above the inferior part; and consequently the poverty he feels is but an illusion of the imagination. This afflicting trial, as a matter of fact, is rather the source of great spiritual wealth, solidly founded upon obedience and humility, and securely guarded against the ravages of self-love.
Perhaps there is here a misunderstanding. God governs us in His own way, and we have been expecting something different. This is the source of our trouble. To get rid of it we must have a truer comprehension of the Divine purposes and enter into them more fully.
We have no intention-----God forbid!-----of discouraging generous souls. We merely wish to prevent them from running well in the wrong direction. As a rule, our ambitions are too modest. Many of our graces remain unused, with the result that we fall far short of the sublime sanctity and glory destined for us by God. We should, therefore, allow our aspirations after spiritual perfection to take a lofty flight. But let us not forget that they must find their support in God alone, and be regulated in accordance with His good-pleasure, so that we should will our perfection only as He wills it. The desire thus formed can be full of holy ardour, but it will remain always calm and submissive, because it has its principle in grace and its rule in the Divine will. There is another way of desiring perfection which does not come from God. Self-love has been more or less its inspiration, and to some extent at least it follows the guidance of self-will. It betrays itself, consequently, by anxiety, agitation, and over-eagerness. And it deserves to be watched quite as much as the grace-given desire merits confidence. We must, then, strive with all ardour to reach the goal of perfection, and at the same time be constantly on our guard against the inspirations of self-love.
Happily, God comes to our aid by means of those trials of which we are now speaking. Through them He confers on us two benefits, equally precious and necessary: He seconds our desire of advancement by powerfully supporting us with His invisible grace, and He safeguards us against the onslaughts of self-love by leaving us a vivid impression of our poverty. We should, therefore, thank Him for this double effect of His goodness, in adding to our spiritual fortune, and in placing that fortune under the safe guardianship of humility. We shall now enter more into details, with the view of setting forth in clearer light a truth so consoling.
Is there question of our sins and imperfections? Let us say to God from the bottom of our hearts: "I detest my faults and my miseries. By the help of Thy grace I am resolved to do all in my power to get rid of them." He will come to our assistance, yet in such a manner that whilst securing to us the victory, He will foster in us the feeling of self-contempt. Perhaps vain complacency would take hold of us if we found ourselves possessed of courage and strength. He will give us the grace to triumph humbly-----that is to say, with a sense of our weakness, and consequently with becoming modesty. Instead of being intoxicated with pride, we shall only think of our abjection and nothingness. Such self-contempt will make us very pleasing to God. And, on the other hand, when we have progressed so far that now our only pleasure is to please God, nothing more can ever trouble us.
"So long as we live here below," says De Caussade, "we cannot but find ourselves very imperfect and miserable. Now, would you like to have an efficacious remedy for all our evils? Here it is: Whilst detesting the sins which are the source of them, love, or at least accept, the consequences of your sins; that is to say, the feelings of abjection and self-contempt they excite in you: yet without trouble, without bitterness, without disquiet or discouragement. Remember that God, without willing sin, nevertheless employs it as a very useful instrument for keeping us in abasement. It is this knowledge of their nothingness, growing always clearer, which made the saints so profoundly humble. But the humility that is according to God is perpetually joyous and peaceful. You have a lively sense of your faults and imperfections. This can only be in proportion as God draws near to us, in proportion as we live and walk in His light. For the Divine light, as it increases in brilliancy, enables us to see better into our interior and to discover there an abyss of misery and corruption. Hence such self-knowledge is one of the surest signs that we are making progress in the ways of God." 16
Is there question of our progress in the virtues? Let us say to God: "Lord, I wish only to please Thee. I desire the gift of prayer, the spirit of mortification, all the virtues. I ask them of Thee with all the earnestness at my command, and I am resolved to labour indefatigably for their acquisition. Nevertheless, Thy adorable will shall always be the rule of my desires, however lawful and holy. I have my sanctification very much at heart, because such is Thy will, but only in the measure, the manner, and the time that are pleasing to Thee." God, in His infinite wisdom and goodness, cannot but approve the desire of advancement with which His grace has inspired us. Consequently, He will grant our petition. But in order to protect our progress, our patience, humility, love, abandonment, and all the other fruits of grace against the usurpations of pride, He conceals them so well from us that sometimes we cannot refrain from weeping over our imaginary destitution of all virtues. We have much more reason to be thankful for the illusion. For there is no gift, however excellent, which, after serving as a means of advancement, cannot become a snare through the artifices of self-complacency and the attachments which stain the soul. That is why God has to withdraw His own gifts from us. But He withdraws them only to restore them a hundred-fold, when He has purified us of that vicious tendency we have to appropriate, even without our knowledge, what does not belong to us. Therefore, even whilst we labour with a pious avarice to enrich our souls with virtue, we should say to the Lord: "My God, I am content to be deprived, so far as may be pleasing to Thee, of the knowledge that Thou hast granted me the graces and progress I pray for. For I am so miserable that for me to know Thy gifts to me would be enough to convert them into a poison; and the accursed complacency of self-love spoils the purity of all my good works almost without my advertence and in spite of my vigilance. Thus, O Lord, it is I myself who tie Thy hands, and I implore Thee, of Thy goodness, to conceal from my gaze whatever gifts and graces Thou mayest be moved by Thy mercy to bestow upon me." Is there question of the means of sanctification? Let us put our trust in God. He will know best how to choose, for faithful souls, not the most glorious means, or the means most in accord with their desires and anticipations, but the means which will enable them to advance most securely and will establish them most solidly in detachment and humility. What more would you have? In what does the service of God consist, if not in abstaining from evil, keeping the commandments, and employing our powers to the best advantage and according to the Divine will? And when you can do all this, "wherefore desire, with impatient eagerness, spiritual illuminations, devout sentiments, interior sweetnesses, a facility for recollection and prayer, and every other gift of God, if it be not His will to communicate them to you yet awhile? Would not this be to desire your perfection in the manner that suits yourself, not in that which is in accord with His good-pleasure, to follow your own will in preference to His, to have more regard for what pleases yourself than for what pleases Him; in a word, to wish to serve your own fancy rather than the Divine will? Ought I then to resign myself to pass the remainder of my mortal existence a prey to my poverty, my weakness, my miseries? Certainly, if such be the will of God." 17 Besides, the poverty is only apparent. It is wealth in reality. For "to be precisely that which God wills us to be is to be very rich," and it is high perfection to accept with a good heart whatsoever He is pleased to assign us. Do you not know that it is even a mark of heroic virtue to be able to support patiently and constantly our miseries, weaknesses, spiritual poverty, interior darkness, insensibility, distractions, follies, extravagances of mind and imagination, whilst at the same time we are doing our best to advance? It is this that made St. Francis de Sales declare that when we aspire to perfection we have as much need to practise patience and meekness towards ourselves as towards our neighbours. Let us bear with ourselves, then, in our miseries, in our imperfections and shortcomings, just as God wills us to bear with similar defects in others.
Therefore, the feeling of our spiritual poverty should not distress us, with regard to the present, so long as we have a truly good will. "You are advancing securely," says St. John of the Cross. "Allow yourself to be led and be content. You have never been as good as you are now, because you have never been so humble and submissive. You have never thought so little of yourself and of all worldly things. Never have you believed yourself so evil. Never have you so realised the goodness of God, or served Him with such disinterestedness and purity of intention. Never have you so completely renounced the imperfections of your will and your own personal interests, which perhaps you inordinately pursued in former times." 18 With regard to the future, it only remains for you to try even to love the holy abjection, the contempt and horror of self which come from the vivid consciousness of your spiritual poverty. When you can do this, you will have made a further and a decisive step on the road that leads to perfection. Your apparent poverty, rightly understood and humbly supported, is one of the richest treasures that can be acquired here below, because the: sense of it produces a profound humility. By means of it, God prevents the soul from resting her confidence and her complacency on herself, and from slumbering in an idle tranquillity. He obliges her to work out her salvation! with fear and trembling. And, consequently, she seeks her support in Him alone; she distrusts herself, she watches and prays, and practises mortification, and she stimulates her spiritual activity, in order to make her calling and election sure.
16. Abandon, P. II, iv, 17.
17. De Caussade, op. cit., P. II, iv, 14.
18. Lettre, 13.
The image of Christ is believed to have been painted by the artist Zabateri, 1859-1945.