Taken from: HOLY ABANDONMENT
Rt. Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R.
Original Pub. 1934, Dublin
THE FOUNDATION OF HOLY ABANDONMENT
THE prerequisite condition for perfect conformity is perfect detachment. For if our wills have strong attachments, if they are bound and riveted to earthly objects, when we want to unite them to the will of God we shall meet with violent opposition. Even when the attachment is slight, resistance must be experienced. There shall be inevitable struggles and strain, and we shall be very far from prompt and easy conformity, very far especially from perfect abandonment, and that for two reasons. First, because holy abandonment is a complete union, a sort of identification of our wills with the Divine, so that we are ready beforehand for whatever God may ordain, and lovingly welcome all that He does. Before the event it is a peaceful and confident expectation; after the event it is a filial and affectionate submission. From this we can see what thorough detachment it presupposes. Second, because such detachment must be as universal as it is thorough. Is it God's will that we should be rich or poor, ill or well, enjoying consolations or enduring trials, honoured or despised, loved or hated? Since He is our Sovereign Master, He has the right to dispose of us as He pleases. According to His pleasure, He can make us suffer in our external goods, in the goods of the body or of the mind, or in our reputation, just as He thinks proper and without consulting us. And as a rule He strikes without warning. Our wills, therefore, in order to hold themselves in readiness to welcome with love all the Divine ordinances, must be detached from created goods of every kind: from riches, from relatives and friends, from health, from ease, from comfort, from their own prejudices, from science, from consolations, from esteem and affection. With regard to all these and such-like things they require to be completely indifferent, seeking only God and His all-holy will. Then, no matter how unexpectedly the Divine good-pleasure may manifest itself, no matter under what form, we shall always embrace it with courage and ease.
All who desire to reach holy abandonment must hold in high esteem Christian mortification, by whatever name it may be called, whether abnegation or renunciation, the spirit of sacrifice, or the love of the cross. They will have to practise it to the best of their power, and with untiring perseverance, in order to attain thereby to perfect abandonment and to maintain themselves constantly therein. Father Roothaan had good reason to say: "It would be useless without mortification to endeavour to reach indifference, because it is by means of mortification alone, or chiefly, that we can make ourselves and prove ourselves indifferent." 1 And Father Le Gaudier remarks with equally good reason: "It is no easy thing to add to the observance of the commandments the voluntary contempt of riches and external goods. It is much more difficult to add to these the contempt of honour and reputation, and more difficult still to despise one's own life, one's own body, one's own will. But the greatest difficulty of all is to subordinate to the will and glory of God our natural gifts, our consolations, spiritual attractions, virtues, grace, in fine, and even glory." 2 Hence it is clear that the way to abandonment is a long way and very arduous. And we have here the reason why so few mount to such a height of conformity, why the majority rest content with lower degrees, or even with simple resignation. They all indeed would be happy to attain to perfect abandonment, but are unwilling to pay the price. God only asks us to empty our vessels that He may fill them with His gifts. Unfortunately, because the effort costs something, we fail to empty them thoroughly. And here applies the beautiful expression of Thauler which savours so strongly of St. Francis de Sales: "When asked where he found God, 'there,' he replied, 'where I lost myself, and where I found myself I lost God.' " 3
But amongst all the different forms of renunciation we should like to emphasise two which are particularly difficult and particularly indispensable, viz., obedience and humility. Who doubts that inordinate self-love and attachment to our own wills are the last refuge of hard-pressed nature, and the greatest obstacle to progress in perfection and peace of soul? When we have sacrificed everything else, the external goods of fortune and those of the body, we remain too often entangled in the double cord of pride and self-will. Therefore, in order to complete our emancipation we must appeal to obedience and humility, two sister-virtues which cannot exist apart. Happy the soul that endeavours with persevering zeal to detach herself from her own will, to obey in all things and always, to practise patience in hardships, contradictions, and humiliations, turning a deaf ear the while to the protests of nature! Still happier she that is content to live in utter abjection and extreme necessity, regarding herself even after the fulfillment of the work enjoined her as a wicked and unworthy servant, and goes so far as to call herself and consider herself sincerely in her innermost heart the least and vilest of all! 4
The soul firmly grounded in obedience and humility will escape thereby many a rude shock coming from the lack of virtue. Nevertheless, she will have to endure many afflictions. Nor, assuredly, will she be insensible to their bitterness; but she is prepared to welcome them, and her humility disposes and inclines her to perfect abandonment. With the poignant thought of her past sins ever present to her memory, as happens in the case of all pure and humble souls, she renders homage to the infinite justice which exacts what is due to it, and she accepts with gratitude the punishment of her faults.
Whenever any fresh trial befalls her, she says: "I must suffer this in expiation. Thanks, O my God, for chastising me less than I deserve." And were she not afraid of her weakness, she would willingly add: "More suffering, Lord, send me still more, so that I may satisfy Thy justice." Or at least, considering the evil inclinations that still dwell in her, and how little is required to disturb her peace, she realises the pressing need she has of sufferings and humiliations, and welcomes, as a piece of good fortune, every occasion of dying to herself. Sometimes, forgetting her own pain and thinking only of the outrages committed against God, she exclaims with Gemma Galgani: "Poor Jesus, in my selfishness I have spoken too much to Thee of my own sorrows. But forgive me, forgive me and come back." 5 Or with another generous soul: "What causes me more pain than all my interior trials, and is a veritable torment, is the offences offered to my Beloved One and the suffering He has to endure." Despite their innocence and their virtues, these souls, inundated with heavenly light, see themselves as unworthy to appear before God's infinite sanctity, and in their ardent desire to please Him, they willingly accept the most excruciating purifications. This shows how much humility helps to render submission easy, and how powerfully it disposes to holy abandonment.
On the contrary, a soul imperfectly established in obedience and humility exposes herself on that very account to numberless trials, and is hardly in a disposition to welcome them. Whether our troubles come from God or from men, unless we recognise that we have deserved them and have need of them, we consider ourselves misunderstood, assume the air of victims; we resist or we pout. And God's favours will be abused not less than His punishments. Relative to this, Our Lord has declared: "Humility is as necessary to a soul replenished with graces as is water to a flower. In order to expand and to keep herself fresh and beautiful, this soul must be steeped In humility and continually moistened with its salutary water. If she were always exposed to the ardours of the sun, she would quickly dry up, wither and fall."
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus strongly recommends a way of spiritual infancy, a way full of confidence and love. She makes humility its foundation, for there can be none other. Her practice and teaching can be summed up as follows: Love God and offer Him many little sacrifices; abandon yourself to His arms like a little child, and, in order to that, obey like a little child and be humble as a little child. She therefore made herself the servant of her sisters, tried to render obedience to all without exception, and had no fear but the fear of following her own will. She knew well how to keep herself from being lifted up by pride, and how to remain always little through humility, so little that she was content that nobody should think of her, that all should trample her under their feet, that the Divine Infant should treat her as a toy of no value. What death to self, what humility above all did she not require to bring her to such a degree of perfection! It is nothing surprising, then, that God has glorified a soul so generous and humble and has made her the great wonder-worker of our times.
Mgr. Gay, speaking of this spiritual infancy, exclaims:
"Oh, how perfect a way it is! More perfect than the love of suffering, for nothing demands such a sacrifice of a man as to remain sincerely and tranquilly little. Pride is the first amongst the capital sins. It is the source of all concupiscence and the essence of the poison poured out upon the world by the old serpent. The childlike spirit destroys it more surely than the spirit of penitence. A man's pride can easily find its account in the struggle with tribulation. He may regard himself as a great penitent or victim and become lost in self-admiration. But the true childlike spirit is the despair of self-love. . . . Press as you please this fruit of holy infancy: you can never make it yield anything except the nectar of abandonment to the will of God. A child surrenders itself without defence and abandons itself without resistance. What does it know? What can it do? What does it comprehend? What does it pretend to know, or to be able to do, or to comprehend? It is a being of which one is absolute master. Hence it is treated with such care and made the recipient of so many caresses. Do we ever see the same love and tenderness lavished on such as prefer to manage their own affairs?" 6
1. Exer. spiro de S. Ign., med. fond., iv.
2. De perf. vitae spir., P. I, S. I, c. xiv.
3. St. Francis de Sales, Esprit., iii, 50.
4. St. Benedict's Rule, vii.
5. Gem. Gal., xv.
6. Abandon, ii.