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



IN employing the word "obedience" to express the accomplished of the signified will of God, and "conformity" to designate submission to the Divine good-pleasure, we are following, it seems to us, the more general usage. It must be admitted, however, that writers are far from being in agreement on this point. St. Alphonsus in particular often makes use of the one term "conformity" in reference to both the signified will and the will of good-pleasure. The reader, therefore, must examine the context to ascertain the sense in which each author understands these expressions.

Just as all the other virtues, conformity to Divine Providence, or submission to the good-pleasure of God, contains numerous degrees of perfection, whether we consider the greater or lesser generosity in the adhesion of the will, or the greater or lesser nobility in the motives of this adhesion.

-----If we take as our principle of gradation the generosity wherewith we conform our wills to the will of God, we shall have, according to Rodriguez, the following three degrees:

"First degree: so far from desiring or loving contrarieties or afflictions, we avoid them as much as possible; nevertheless we should be willing to endure them if they could not be avoided save by the commission of some fault. This is the lowest rung, the first step in conformity, the simple accomplishment of a rigorous duty. We may be saddened by the evils we suffer, we may groan and complain under the oppression of sickness, we may lament the death of relatives and friends, and still be resigned to the holy will of God.

"Second degree: In our hearts we do not wish for pains and sufferings, yet when they come we accept and endure them willingly, because we know such afflictions enter into God's designs with regard to us. Here there is love of tribulation resulting from love of God, and this is what distinguishes the present degree from the preceding. When we have arrived at this point in resignation, we are ready to undergo the most bitter trials, not only with patience, but with a certain joy, as a sacrifice which we know to be pleasing to God. In the first degree we suffer patiently; in the second, we smile at affliction, and welcome it eagerly as a heaven-sent guest.

"Third degree: In this degree, which is the most perfect of all, we are not content with just accepting and suffering cheerfully, for the love of God, all the trials He may send us; but in the ardour of our love we long for these trials and rejoice at their advent, because we know they come from the hand of God and are ordained by His adorable will." 1 It was thus the Apostles "rejoiced that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus" (Acts v, 41), and St. Paul "abounded with joy in all his tribulation" (2 Cor. vii, 4).

May we venture the remark with respect to this gradation that the love whence comes the second degree may very well be the love of hope, and that the difference between this and the third degree could be more exactly
defined? However, the three-grade arrangement is generally received. Authors vary in matters of detail, but on the main point there is unanimity. Even in so early a writer as St. Bernard we find the same division, and it seems to us that none has been happier than he either in distinguishing the degrees or in assigning their respective motives. He commences by recalling the three classic ways of the beginner, the proficient and the perfect, and to each of them assigns its distinctive motive
-----fear, hope, or love. Then he adds: "The beginner, influenced by fear, endures with patience the Cross of Christ; the proficient, animated by hope, bears it willingly; whilst he that is perfect in charity embraces it with the ardour of love." 2

-----If we consider the motive of our conformity to the good-pleasure of God, it will be necessary to distinguish that which comes from pure charity and that which originates from some other supernatural source.
According to St. Bernard, beginners as a rule have only resignation derived from fear; proficients bear the
cross with a willing heart, a more generous conformity begotten of hope; the perfect embrace the cross with ardour, which complete conformity is the fruit of holy love. It is easy to understand how fear suffices to produce simple resignation. But in order that submission may grow in generosity, that it may become even joyous, there is need of a more thorough detachment, a more lively faith, and a firmer confidence in God. Such joyous submission is not, however, necessarily the offspring of pure love, for the desire of eternal happiness would be quite competent to produce it. A soul enamoured of Heaven will regard as the gifts of good fortune the little trials and even the grievous tribulations that befall her, penetrated as she will be with the alluring promises of the Apostle: "The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us" (Rom. viii, 18), "for that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. iv, 7).

There is finally the conformity inspired by pure love which in itself is the most perfect; for nothing can be so sublime, so delicate, so generous, so persevering as Divine charity. Now, since all are commanded to love God supremely, it seems to follow that each of the faithful has the power to produce acts of this perfect conformity, at least from time to time. But we produce them better and with greater energy of the will in proportion as we
grow in charity. And a day will come when, as we have made pure love the dominant influence in our lives, so it shall be by pure love we shall conform ourselves to the dispositions of Providence, habitually at any rate. Yet just as the soul, no matter how advanced, can always make further progress in charity, in the same way she can perfect herself ever more and more in this conformity which is born of love.

And now, amongst all the degrees of conformity, where do we find holy abandonment? It occupies the summits. If we regard the generosity of submission, abandonment appears to have no place except in the highest degree. The first degree, that of simple resignation, certainly falls short of it: such submission may suffice for a life simply Christian, but not for the perfect life: it does not imply that complete detachment, that unreserved donation of the will which holy abandonment means. There is more generosity in the second degree. Nevertheless, it seems to us that the soul has not yet attained to the detachment required in order to make herself indifferent to everything and to deliver up her will absolutely into the hands of Providence.

Considered in its determining motive, abandonment is a conformity from love, exhibiting the particular shades which give it an accentuated character of filial confidence and total self-surrender. In short, as we shall see more clearly further on, it is the perfection of love and conformity.

We have no desire to depreciate simple resignation and the conformity which does not proceed from pure love. On the contrary, we should like to emphasise their importance and merit. But our present purpose is to treat explicitly of holy abandonment alone, and we shall begin by describing it, exactly and minutely, according to the teaching of St. Francis de Sales. We hope, however, that even souls less advanced in conformity will be able to follow our expositions with profit, and find much of what we shall have to say applicable, in due proportion, to their own particular state.

1. Pref. Chrét., 8e tr., c, xii.
2. I Serm. S. Andr.