Taken from: HOLY ABANDONMENT
Rt. Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R.
Original Pub. 1934, Dublin
THE OBJECT OF HOLY ABANDONMENT
TWO MEMORABLE EXAMPLES
BEFORE concluding this study of abandonment in the midst of interior pains, we shall cite two memorable examples, eminently well calculated to instruct and encourage us. We shall learn therefrom how God treats the greatest souls and how their trials serve to sanctify them.
"Towards the end of the year 1604, St. Jane de Chantal found herself attacked by horrible temptations against the faith, doubts concerning the most sacred mysteries, and in particular concerning the Divine authority of the Church. Whenever these temptations disappeared for a short time, it was only to give place to obscurity, impotence, great aridities, a complete absence of relish and devotion in the practice of virtue. Vainly she applied herself to prayer: her intellect, so keen for all other business, remained shrouded in darkness. She endeavoured to elicit acts of the love of God, but her heart seemed to have turned to marble. The very name of God was enough to chill her. The result was desolations impossible to describe." This dolorous state lasted for more than forty years. But during the last nine years, it redoubled its intensity, and became" a terrible agony which ceased only a month before her death. Her soul was abandoned to so many and such cruel interior pains that she could no longer recognise herself. She did not dare turn her eyes upon her interior or raise them to God. Her soul seemed to her all soiled with sins, black with ingratitude, disfigured, horrible to behold. The more good works she accomplished for God's greater glory, the more her sanctity dazzled the eyes of the world, so much the more did she see herself stripped of all virtue, despoiled of all merit. If we except impure images with which she was never troubled, her mind was invaded by evil thoughts of every description, and actions the most detestable were presented to her imagination, in which doubts relating to the most adorable mysteries, blasphemies against the most merciful attributes of God, and the most abominable suspicions of her neighbours contended for the mastery. No wonder the great tears rolled down her cheeks when she spoke of her interior trials. During the night she could be heard moaning as one sick unto death. In the daytime she would forget to take food or drink. And the most terrible affliction of all was the thought, coming in the midst of her temptations, that God had finally abandoned her, that He regarded her no more, no longer occupied His mind with her. In her utter desolation she called to Him, but it was as if she had stretched out her arms in the darkness to a loved one gone for ever. Or rather God was more than absent to her. He seemed to have become her enemy. He repulsed her. It was in vain she endeavoured, in order to calm her fear, to represent Him to herself under the images of the Good Shepherd, the Spouse, the loving Friend; for she immediately saw Him appearing as an irritated Judge, as a Master despised and demanding vengeance. Little by little, all the exercises concerned with God became a burden to her. Trembling took hold of her whenever she had to apply herself to prayer, and particularly when she approached for Communion. For then the thought of her crimes on the one hand and of the Divine sanctity on the other pierced her heart like a two-edged sword."
This was an exceedingly sublime but terribly purifying contemplation. "Hitherto, she had retained all her lights for the direction of others. Now this was no longer the case. Such direction became for her a source of fearful temptations. She could not hear anyone speak of a pain without suffering from it herself, nor hear a sin mentioned without believing herself guilty of it."
"Here is a spectacle worthy of eternal meditation," exclaims her historian. "This strong woman, gifted with a powerful and noble intelligence: behold her crushed, annihilated, incapable of guiding herself, obliged to grope her way along this path of the spiritual life which she knows so well for the direction of others, but when there is question of her own can no longer see! It was thus God produced and preserved her humility. It was thus He preserved the humility of the great Saints whom we admire in history, who raised the dead and predicted the future, and concerning whom we sometimes ask with trembling how they could have been humble. Whilst the crowds carried them in triumph and reverently kissed their feet, God humbled them in the centre of their souls; He allowed them to be afflicted with shameful buffets, and in the innermost recesses of their hearts caused them to undergo such an agony as made them insensible to all the honours of the world."
St. Jane de Chantal was therefore reduced to such a state that nothing on earth could afford her any comfort, excepting the thought of death. "It is now forty-one years that temptations have been overwhelming me," she said one day. "Ought I therefore to lose courage? No! I am determined to hope in God even though He should kill me and annihilate me for ever." And she added these humble and magnificent words: " My soul was a piece of iron so rusted with sin that it needed this fire of divine justice to burnish it a little."
"In this state of abandonment," writes St. Alphonsus, "her one rule of conduct was simply to look at God and allow Him to act. She always exhibited a cheerful countenance, was pleasant in conversation, and kept her eyes continually fixed on the Lord, reposing in the bosom of His adorable will. St. Francis de Sales, her director, knowing how beautiful this soul was in the sight of God, compared her to a deaf musician who produces exquisite music, yet can derive no pleasure therefrom. And he wrote to her as follows: ' You must manifest an invincible loyalty towards the Saviour, serving Him not alone without satisfaction but under the cruel oppression of sadness and fear.' Later on, Mother de Chatel gave her this prudent and virile counsel: 'Never speak of your troubles either to God or to yourself. Don't scrutinise them. Keep looking at God, and if you can speak to Him, speak to Him only of Himself.' Other persons will have need to speak of their sufferings to God in prayer and to His minister for the purpose of direction. But how good it is to detach souls from themselves, to teach them to look less at self and more at God, to be much preoccupied with His interests and very little with their own, and to extinguish thus the interior pains as one extinguishes a fire by withdrawing from it the fuel."
And the same author adds: "It is thus we attain to sanctity. In the spiritual edifice, the Saints are the chosen stones which, wrought into shape with hammer and chisel, that is to say, by means of temptations, fears, darkness, and other afflictions, interior and exterior, have become worthy to crown the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem, or in other words, to occupy the most exalted thrones in the kingdom of God." 1
St. Alphonsus speaks thus from his own experience. "For God's sake he had abandoned all things, crucified his flesh, faced the fatigues of a hard apostolate, suffered cruel persecutions with patience, and even the ignominy of being expelled from his Congregation. All this had bruised his heart a thousand times over. However, one treasure still remained to him of which no power on earth could deprive him: he still possessed God, Who consoled him in his sorrows and often drew him to His heart in sweet raptures. Having Jesus, he could no longer feel lonely, and his little cell became a paradise."
But now, all of a sudden, the paradise disappeared. God, the very Sun of his soul, ceased to shed His light upon him. A night more horrible than that of the tomb enveloped the poor solitary. He saw himself forsaken by all, forsaken by God, and on the very brink of the precipice.
Turning his gaze back over his past life, he could see nothing there but sin. All his labours, all his good works, were only tainted fruit, disgusting to the eyes of God. His conscience, tormented with scruples from morning till night, the sport of every illusion, converted into mortal sins his simplest and even his holiest actions. Thus he, the great moralist, who had given his views, and with perfect discernment, on all kinds of cases of conscience, who had directed thousands of Christians in the ways of perfection, reassured multitudes of sinners by reminding them of the infinite mercy of God, comforted so many souls a prey to anxieties: he himself has now to grope his way, like a poor blind man skirting the mouth of the abyss, incapable of making a single step without the support of a stranger's arm.
"In this condition of trouble and desolation, he no longer dared receive Holy Communion. His love for Jesus Christ drew him towards the altar, but fear prevented him from opening his mouth for the Sacred Host," until the words of his director or his superior reassured him. "At the height of his troubles, he sought the relief to be found in prayer. But it seemed to him that an insurmountable wall had risen up to separate him from God. Then, his darkness growing always denser, he had a feeling that the heart of God was closed against him and Paradise lost to him for ever. In his unspeakable anguish, he contemplated the crucifix, and, his eyes streaming with tears, he implored the help of the Blessed Mother, implored the Saviour's mercy: 'My Jesus, do not allow me to be damned. My God, do not send me to Hell, because in Hell I could never again love Thee. Punish me as I deserve, but do not banish me from Thy sight forever.'
"To the scruples which made life insupportable for him were soon added, for good measure, the most violent temptations against all the virtues. Doubts arose in his mind with regard to every article of the Creed. And as his darkened conscience could no longer distinguish between sentiment and consent, it seemed to him that faith was dead in his soul. But he clung to the truth with the most desperate tenacity, he multiplied acts of faith, he cried out with all the earnestness of his soul: 'I believe, O Lord; yes, I believe: I am resolved to live and die a child of Holy Church.' " The demon received power to obsess him even in visible form. He made use of this power to fill his soul with temptations and desolations, to subject him to furious assaults and to invent for his ruin a thousand perfidious artifices. He endeavoured by all means to excite in him a sentiment of complacency in his writings. Failing in this, he sought to awaken the passion of lust, and so to destroy this angel of purity, who to extreme old age had preserved unsullied the white robe of his Baptismal innocence. For more than a year Alphonsus experienced the terrible effects of Satan's power over the imagination and the senses. "I am eighty-eight years old," he said one day, "and I still feel within me all the fire of youth." The assaults occasionally grew so very violent that he would break out into sobs and groans, and stamp the floor with his foot, uttering such cries as: "My Jesus, rather let me die than offend Thee. O Mary, unless thou speedest to my aid, I shall become a worse criminal than Judas." He would then appeal for help to his director or superior. For in this frightful hurricane, which lasted eighteen months, his only comfort was obedience. Incapable of judging for himself, he accepted blindly the decisions of his director or any other priest, in spite of his uneasy feelings and the arguments to the contrary suggested to him by the demon. "My head," he used to say, " does not want me to submit." Often he could be heard uttering words like these: "Lord, grant that I may learn to conquer myself and make myself submissive. No, I do not wish to contradict my directors, I do not wish to depend upon myself." And obedience triumphed over all his temptations. "Now, if we ask why the Lord permits His dearest friends to be afflicted with trials so terrible, we shall find the solution of the mystery in the cross. It is necessary that the Saints, living members of Jesus Christ, should accomplish in themselves His bitter Passion. Then, when humiliations and sufferings have purified and transfigured them, God will bring them out of the purgatory where He had confined them, their darkness will give place to light, joy will superabound where sorrow abounded; and soon the world shall admire an ecstatic or a thaumaturgus in the man who heretofore seemed to be abandoned by Heaven. At least this is what happened in the case of St. Alphonsus, after the distressing trial of which we have just spoken, and even in the midst of his bitter tribulations. His ecstasies and raptures became more frequent than ever." 2 God does not lead all souls to perfection by the one path. But at any rate these interior sufferings, generously endured, will always yield an immense harvest of merit and growth in the spiritual life.
1. Bougaud, Hist. de Ste. Ch., cc. vii et xxiii; St. Lig., Am. env., c. xiii.
2 . Berthe, St. Alph. de Lig., I, vi, c. viv.