Rt. Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R.
 Original Pub. 1934, Dublin





We commit many faults that are only too real. The time comes when God impresses upon our souls a very lively sense of our sins and miseries on the one side, and of His own infinite sanctity and just judgments on the other. Then, as we have already said, trembling with fear in presence of the all-holy Majesty, we ask ourselves, in torturing anxiety, what is to become of us? Shall we even be saved? When prolonged and frequently renewed, this penetrating trial is at once a very precious grace and a severe purgatory. The way to soften it and to use the light to best advantage is to conform ourselves with all confidence and generosity to the designs of God. Now, He wills through this affliction to produce in our souls three equally desirable effects of grace, which are: perfect purity, profound humility, heroic abandonment.

And first He designs to complete our purification by the anguish caused to self-love. For a long time now we have been recounting our past sins in the bitterness of our souls, we have been busy effacing them, expiating them, curing ourselves of their ill-consequences. There are at present no more habitual faults; even the slightest negligences are combated. Already the soul has attained to purity of a high degree. And nevertheless the just and holy God plunges her again and again in the bath of repentant love that thus she may be still more perfectly purified and healed. So great is the purity required in one who is to be admitted to intimacy with the Divine Master! Besides, even when we have been purged from our sins, there still remain in us vicious tendencies which we hardly notice, a subtle self-seeking even in the holiest things; for example, an aversion for sacrifice, a hunger for the delicate and delectable pleasures of devotion, fear of humiliations, complacency in our merits, self-confidence, etc. Sad relics of self-love, and an evil so much the more pernicious for that it is extremely artful in disguising itself, and even in making itself loved. Who will discover it to us and cure us of it? Our daily practices of contemplation and penance have begun the work. In order to bring it to completion, God, Who loves us with a most firm and enlightened love, deprives us repeatedly of the sense of His sweetness, and subjects us in addition to a régime of interior sufferings and humiliations chosen and measured with infallible wisdom. He makes liberal use of obscurities of mind, insensibility of heart, impotence of will, and even if necessary of the most humiliating temptations. Finally, there are these rays of penetrating light which He projects, if it so pleases Him, upon our sins and His justice, our miseries and His sanctity. We begin then to know ourselves and to know God. And that which we see so distinctly is, in ourselves, an abyss of corruption and in Him an abyss of purity. Who can describe the emotions of the poor soul at this spectacle: her shame and terror at perceiving herself to be so utterly despicable; her urgent longing to cast herself, all trembling and full of repentant sorrow, at the feet of the thrice-holy God; with what sincerity she acknowledges her faults; with what submission she accepts the penalties due to them; and how grateful she feels to the good Master Who condescends, in spite of everything, to support her still, and even to honour her with His jealous tenderness? For she knows as if by instinct that He still loves her. However angry He may appear, He attacks only her miseries. He tries to deliver her from them, so that she may become all-beautiful in His sight and His very own. If He makes her suffer, it is only in order to cure her. His very rigours have their source in His ardent love for her, and but manifest His holy jealousy. This mysterious severity of Providence is in truth an anticipated purgatory, exceedingly painful and exceedingly salutary, where our sins and imperfections are consumed like chaff in the furnace.

God wills to conduct us in this way to the height of humility, to the sublimity of that rare and infinitely desirable virtue. Our holy father, St. Benedict, assures us that humility will bring us soon to the perfect love which banishes fear, to that happy state where the virtues become so familiar that one practises them naturally, as it were, in the joy of the Holy Spirit. But we have twelve steps to mount, and some of them are very difficult. Should we ever reach the summit if God did not give us His special assistance? That special assistance He offers us in these spiritual pains, particularly in the penetrating light which illumines His justice and sanctity on the one side, and on the other our sins and shortcomings. When He makes us experience the bitterness of aridities and failures, when He delivers us up to darkness, insensibility, and impotence, when He permits us to be attacked by the most horrible temptations, when He impresses on our souls a vivid sense of His justice and our sins, of His sanctity and our corruption: then it becomes very easy to receive contradictions and humiliations in silence, to be content in any and every kind of abjection, to regard oneself as an unprofitable servant, to prefer oneself to none, to put oneself promptly and without comparison in the last place. The most beautiful meditations on humility, and all the divine consolations we could experience, would perhaps never have given the death-blow to our pride; they might rather have left us too well pleased with ourselves. But the trials and illuminations whereof we are speaking inspire us, as if naturally, with fear, contempt and horror of ourselves. This is why the Saints, in the very consummation of their virtues, considered themselves as the reproach of men, the off-scouring of the world, instruments only qualified to damage God's work, sinners capable of calling down the vengeance of heaven on the cities which sheltered them. Often the good Master lifted them up and flooded their souls with His consolations. But whenever He thought it needful He would again depress them, reduce them to nothingness in their own eyes and even in the eyes of the world. When we have passed repeatedly through these bitter humiliations, when we have contemplated sufficiently that abyss of misery which we are, we can hardly any longer take complacency in ourselves, or put our confidence in our own lights and merits. Rather we shall make ourselves very small, as by instinct, under the eyes of God. We shall feel the necessity of supporting ourselves on His infinite goodness, of plunging headlong into the abyss of His mercy, which incomparably surpasses the abyss of our misery. Here we have the triumph of humility, and, as an unlooked-for result, the triumph of true confidence also, not that which is founded upon ourselves, but that which rests entirely on God alone.

It is God's will to conduct us to this perfectly pure and, I may add, heroic confidence. Nothing is easier than to throw ourselves into the arms of God when He showers His favours upon us and overwhelms us with the marks of His tenderness. But it requires great courage to behave thus in the condition of which we are speaking, which appears so wretched and so little reassuring. In fact we need a superabundance of faith, of confidence, and of love to say to God in spite of our terrors: "Thy justice and sanctity, O Lord, overpower me with fear. But I know the infinite goodness of Thy heart, Thy inexhaustible patience, Thy boundless mercy which I have already so often experienced. My soul and my eternal destiny are the two things most dear to me in the world. I entrust them both to Thee. They will be a thousand times more secure in Thy hands than in mine: for I fear nothing so much as my own weakness." Oh, how such filial confidence will touch the heart of God! Never does abandonment honour and rejoice Him more. And never, let us add, is abandonment more fully justified. Is it not true that the real foundations of our confidence remain unshaken in the midst of all our troubles and commotions? For what else are they but the goodness and power and promises of God, and the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ? The sanctity of our own good works is not the motive of our confidence, but only the requisite condition. And never surely has that condition been so well fulfilled. For these terrible trials, these penetrating lights have purified our souls and caused them to advance to the degree of humility necessary as a preparation for the Divine action. In last analysis, it is the lack of confidence and the discouragement it inspires, that constitute the main obstacle to the designs of God. They are even the only danger we have to fear, yet a very serious danger; for they are capable of precipitating us into the abyss of despair, or at least delivering us up to pusillanimity. But confidence and abandonment dry up this poisoned source of fear, trouble, agitation and depression. By the very fact that they unite us holily to the good-pleasure of God, they preserve our peace of soul, our tranquillity of mind, and our strength of will; they also alleviate the sharpness of our trials and cause them to yield an abundant harvest of the most beautiful virtues.

Whatever may be the bitterness and duration of these trials, we must support them in such a manner that they will serve to purify us more and more, and ground us more firmly still in humility. Therefore, we must be scrupulously careful to persevere steadfastly in confidence and abandonment, whether God Himself directly inspires us with such holy sentiments, or leaves it to ourselves, with the assistance of His grace, to produce and preserve them. Since His adorable will ought to be the rule and measure of our desires, even the holiest, we should try to be always content with whatever He ordains or permits. It should be sufficient for us that He is satisfied, and He will always be satisfied so long as we are perfectly submissive. There is no necessity that we should be satisfied with ourselves. Indeed," the most certain sign of our advancement is the conviction of our misery. We become wealthy in proportion as we deem ourselves poor, in proportion as we are interiorly humbled, distrustful of ourselves, and disposed to place our confidence in God alone." Far from being confounded by our trials, if only we remain submissive, confident, and generous, we shall rather bless God for them. "For they are really a wonderful grace, much more precious and reliable than the consolations to which they have succeeded. Do not resist. Suffer yourself to be brought down, humiliated, annihilated. Nothing is better calculated to purify your soul. And you cannot bring to Holy Communion a disposition more in harmony with the state of annihilation to which Jesus Christ has reduced Himself for you in this mystery. He cannot repulse you when He sees you approaching so humbled and overwhelmed under the crushing weight of your many miseries." Thus speaks De Caussade. And he continues: "I have never yet encountered anyone afflicted with these penetrating and humiliating lights for whom they have not turned out to be singular graces from God, and who has not found in them, along with true self-knowledge, that solid humility of heart which is the groundwork of all perfection .  .  . You tremble at the state to which you find yourself reduced, and I, in your behalf, bless God for it. There is only one change I should like you to make: I should like to see you adding peace, submission, confidence and abandonment to your self-annihilation. Then I shall have no longer any fears in your regard." 8

8. Abandon, P. II, iii, 2, 4.