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




"THE human will is so amazingly suspicious that as a rule it trusts none but itself, and it is always in fear of prejudice to itself from the will and power of others. Anything we possess of particular value, our fortune, our honour, reputation, health, life itself, we refuse to commit to the care of another unless we are sure we can depend on him. For the practice of charity and of holy abandonment we must therefore have the fullest confidence in God." 1 Hence, perfect abandonment, as a habit, cannot be found outside the unitive way, because there alone confidence in God attains its highest development.

Human wisdom is very short-sighted, and the human will very weak, changeable, and subject to a thousand failings. Consequently, instead of trusting to our own lights and distrusting all others, even God, we should rather supplicate and importune Him to cause His will to be done and not ours. For "His will is good, good in itself and beneficent to us, good as the good God and, I dare to say it, necessarily beneficent." 2

Who is He That watches over us with solicitous love and disposes of us by His Providence? It is the good God. He is so good that He is essential Goodness and Charity Itself, and in this sense "none is good but God alone" (Luke xviii, 19). There have been Saints who participated to a wonderful degree in the Divine goodness. Nevertheless, even the very best of men have possessed only a rill, or a stream, or at most a river of goodness, whereas God is the ocean of all goodness, goodness limitless and inexhaustible. When He has poured out upon us benefits almost innumerable, let no one think Him either wearied from giving or impoverished by His munificence. He has still an entire infinitude of goodness to dispense. In truth, the more He gives away the richer He becomes, for He gains the glory of being better known, loved, and served, at least by generous hearts. He is good to us: "He maketh His sun to rise upon the good and the bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust" (Matt. v, 45). He never ceases from giving us proofs of His goodness, opposing to the multitude of our sins "the multitude of His tender mercies" in order by His goodness to conquer our malice. Sometimes He has to punish, because He is not alone infinitely good but infinitely just also, yet "even in His anger He is not unmindful of His mercy" (Hab. iii, 2).

This God, so infinitely good, is our Father Who is in Heaven. Just as He delights in this title of "the good God," and recalls to us His ancient mercies over and over again; in the same way He loves to proclaim Himself our Father. Because He is so great and holy and we so little and sinful, we might well have been afraid to approach Him. Therefore, to win our confidence and our affection He never tires of repeating in Sacred Scripture that He is our Father and the Father of mercies. It is "from Him all paternity in Heaven and earth is named" (Ephes. iii, 15), and there is no father like our Father in Heaven. He is a father in His devotedness, a mother in His tenderness. There is nothing on earth comparable to a mother's heart for self-forgetfulness, profound affection, and inexhaustible mercifulness; hence, nothing that inspires so much confidence and abandonment. And yet God's tenderness for us immeasurably surpasses that of the best of mothers. "Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet will not I forget thee" (Is. xlix, 15). What can He refuse us "Who hath so loved the world as to give us His Only-begotten Son?" (John iii, 16). He knows well, much better than we, what we require for soul and body; and He commands us to ask it of Him, and only reproves us for not asking enough. Nor will He give a stone to His child when he asks Him for bread. And if He sometimes has to exercise severity in order to prevent us from ruining ourselves, it is always the love of the Father that wields the rod. He measures the force of each blow, and when He judges the chastisement sufficient dries our tears and pours soothing balm into our wounds. Let us have confidence in God's love for us, and never doubt His Heart of a Father.

He Who watches over us is our Redeemer. He is more than brother, more than the dearest and best of friends, for He is the physician of our souls, our own official Saviour. He is come to "save His people from their sins" (Matt. i, 21), to cure their spiritual maladies, to bring us "life and a more abundant life" (John x, 10), to enkindle on earth the fire of Divine charity (Luke xii, 49). To save us: there is His task, His mission, His essential purpose. To succeed in this mission and purpose: there is His glory, His happiness. Can He be otherwise than interested in us? His life of hardships and humiliations, His Body furrowed with wounds, His Soul saturated with sorrow, Calvary and the Altar: everything about Him shows to what follies His love for us has led Him. Assuredly He has bought us at a great price (1 Cor. vi, 20). How could we have cost Him more? And in whom, then, shall we put our trust if not in our sweet Saviour, without Whom we should be lost? Is He not besides the Spouse of our souls? Devoted, tender, and merciful towards everyone, He cherishes with a special predilection those who have left all things in order to attach themselves to Him alone. He makes it His delight to keep them near Him in the tabernacle, and to live with them in the sweetest of intimacies.

"When you find yourself in affliction," says De la Colombiere, "remember that the cause of your trouble is He Who willed to pass His whole life in pain in order to save you from eternal pains; He Whose Angel is always at your side, by His order watching over your ways; He Who on our altars prays without ceasing and sacrifices Himself a thousand times a day in your interest; He Who comes to you in the Sacrament of the Eucharist with so much goodness; He Who has no greater pleasure than to unite Himself with you, to converse with you. But you will say: 'He smites me cruelly and lays His hand heavily on me.' How can you feel afraid of a hand that has been pierced for you and permitted itself for your sake to be fastened to the Cross? 'He makes me walk along a thorny path.' If there was no other path leading to Heaven, would you rather perish for eternity than suffer for a time? Is not this the same path which He has travelled before you and for love of you? Do you find in it a single thorn that has not been crimsoned with His Blood? 'He offers me a chalice full of bitterness.' Yes, but remember it is your Saviour Who offers it. Loving you so dearly, how could He have the heart to treat you with this severity unless He saw it was immensely profitable to you or urgently necessary?" 3

Being so good and holy, He never exercises His influence upon us except for the noblest and most beneficent objects. His end is and must immutably remain the glory of God. " 'The Lord hath made all things for Himself and His Own glory' (Prov. xvi, 4), as Sacred Scripture tells us. But let us not complain of that, because the glory of God is nothing else than His joy in giving us eternal joy, His happiness in making us eternally happy . . . The universe having for its primary end the glorification of God through the beatification of the rational creature, it follows that the secondary end of all things, at least on the earth, is the Catholic Church, as the Mother of Salvation. All terrestrial events, all, even persecutions, are willed or permitted by God for the benefit of the Church. And in the Church herself everything is regulated with a view to the profit of the elect, since here on earth the glory of God is identified with man's salvation. Hence we must conclude that a further end of the evolutions and revolutions occurring here below is the attainment by the elect of their eternal destiny. And perhaps we shall see in Heaven how whole countries have been put in commotion for the salvation of some of the elect.  . . . Is it not wonderful to contemplate God governing the universe with the exclusive object of making us happy and rejoicing in our joy?" 4

Therefore, God's will is the sanctification of souls. Always and everywhere, this is the work that exclusively occupies Him. It is the purpose underlying all the occurrences, great and small, which agitate in different ways nations, families, and the lives of individuals. It explains why God wills that I should be sick today, contradicted, humbled, forgotten; why He has prepared this happy event for me, faced me with this difficulty, caused me to hurt my foot against this stone, exposed me to this temptation. It is His love for me, His desire of my happiness that regulates all His actions. With what confidence and docility we should submit and correspond to His guidance if we better understood His merciful ways! The more so when we remember that He has always infinite power and infinite wisdom employed in the service of His paternal goodness. He knows the particular end appointed for each soul, the degree of glory He has destined for her in Heaven, the measure of sanctity He has prepared for her. In order that she may attain her end and become perfect, He knows what paths she must follow, what trials she must endure, what humiliations undergo. His Providence has control of the myriad events which make up the course of our earthly existence, and directs them all to the appointed end. On the side of God, with Whom rests ultimately the disposal of all things, there is nothing but light, wisdom, grace, love and salvation. Now, by reason of His infinite power He can do whatever He wills. He is the Sovereign Master "Who holdeth the power of life and death, Who leadeth down to the gates of death and bringeth back again" (Wisdom xvi, 13). We experience alternations of sunshine and shadow, times of peace and times of affliction, prosperity and adversity: all this comes from Him. There is no event whatsoever over which His will does not preside as sovereign mistress. Everything falls out in accordance with His free ordinances. When He decrees to save Israel there is none who can resist His will, none who can make Him alter His purpose. For "against the Lord there is no wisdom, there is no prudence, there is no counsel" (Prov. xxi, 30).

It is true that in disposing of His rational creatures He respects their liberty. They have consequently the power to oppose their own wills to His will and apparently to thwart it. But in reality he has foreseen from all eternity the resistance of some and the submission of others, and He has formed His designs in the light of that prescience. In the infinite resources of His omnipotent wisdom He easily finds a way to change hindrances into helps, and to make the plots which demons and wicked men contrive for our ruin a means to our progress in virtue. "My counsel shall stand," so He speaks through Isaias, "and all My will shall be done" (Is. xlvi, 10). Your efforts, proud rebels, are all in vain, for God's will must be accomplished. He allows you in your actions to follow your free-will, until the time comes to render to everyone according to His works. But all the means you employ to frustrate His designs, He will know how to make subservient to their accomplishment. "Of what, then, can we be afraid? Rather what should we not hope for, being the children of so good a Father Who loves us and desires to save us, Who knows so well how to provide the most suitable means to that end and how best to put them in practice, Who manifests so much goodness in His ordinances, so much wisdom in His dispositions, so much prudence in the execution of His designs?" 5


THE Lord tells us by the Prophet Isaias that His thoughts are not as our thoughts, and that as the heavens are exalted above the earth so are His ways above our ways and His thoughts above our thoughts (Is. lv, 8-9). Hence it comes about that Providence is very often misunderstood by the man of weak faith and imperfect mortification. We now proceed to specify four immediate causes of such misunderstandings.

I.-----Providence remains in the shadow so as to give us the opportunity and the merit of exercising our faith, whereas we want to see. God hides Himself behind secondary causes; the more these become manifest, the less does He appear. Without Him they can do nothing, they could not even exist. We know this well enough. And nevertheless, instead of ascending to Him, we make the mistake of confining our attention to the external phenomenon, agreeable or otherwise, and more or less enveloped in mystery. He does not enlighten us as to the particular end He pursues, the paths whereby He is conducting us thither, or the way already traversed. And we, far from putting blind confidence in Him, are anxious for this knowledge, and almost venture to ask Him for explanations. Would a little child be impatient to know where its mother is taking it, or why she chooses one road rather than another? Does not the patient go so far as to entrust his health, his life, the integrity of his members, to his physician or surgeon? This latter is only a man, but we have confidence in him on account of his devotion to his science and his professional skill. Should we not, then, impose infinitely more confidence in God, the almighty Physician, the incomparable Saviour? But at least when all is dark around us and we know not where we are, how we should welcome a ray of light! Ah, if we had even the assurance that this is in truth the operation of grace, and that so far all goes well! As a rule, however, it is only when the Divine Artist has completed His work that we are in a position to appreciate it. God wills us to be content with pure faith and, putting our trust in Him, to preserve our hearts in peace, despite the enveloping darkness. And this is the first cause of our misunderstandings.

II.-----Providence has views very different from ours regarding both the end to be pursued and the means of attaining it. So long as we have not entirely renounced the spirit of the world, we desire to discover a heaven here below, or at least a path of roses conducting us to Paradise. Therefore we become unduly attached to the esteem of good people, to the love of our relatives and friends, to the consolations of piety, to tranquillity of soul, etc. Therefore also we feel such a repugnance for humiliations, contradictions, sicknesses, and trials of every description. Consolation and success seem to us, at least in some degree, the reward of virtue, aridity and adversity the chastisement of vice. We are astonished when we behold the sinner often prospering in this life, and the just man undone. God, on the other hand, has no intention of giving us a heaven on earth; He desires that we should merit our Heaven, and as beautiful a one as possible. If the sinner is obstinately determined to ruin himself for eternity, it is necessary that he should receive in time the recompense of whatever little good he may do. With regard to the elect, their reward is reserved for them in Paradise. Meanwhile, the essential thing is that they be purified and sanctified ever more and more, and made richer and richer in merits. Tribulation serves admirably as a means to these ends. God, therefore, deaf to everything but the voice of His austere and wise affection, labours to reproduce in us Jesus crucified, so that hereafter we may reign with Jesus glorified. Who does not know the Beatitudes enumerated by the Divine Master? The cross, accordingly, is the present He most willingly offers to His friends. "Look at My whole life, full of suffering," He said to St. Teresa the Elder, "and be persuaded that they whom My Father loves most dearly shall receive from Him the heaviest crosses. The measure of His love is also the measure of the suffering He sends. How could I better prove My affection for you than by desiring for you that which I desired for Myself?" 6 Language supremely wise, yet how little understood! Here we have the second cause of our misunderstandings.

III.-----Providence smites us severely, and poor nature complains. Our passions boil over, our pride seduces us, our wills allow themselves to be carried away. Grievously wounded by sin, we resemble one afflicted with a gangrened member. We realise clearly enough that nothing but an amputation can save us. Yet we have not the courage to carry out the operation ourselves. Therefore God, Whose love has no weakness in it, determines to render us this painful service. As a consequence, He sends us these unforeseen difficulties, this destitution, this contempt, these humiliations, this loss of external goods, this illness which is wasting our strength. All are the instruments wherewith He binds and squeezes the diseased member, strikes on the sound part, wounds and cuts to the quick. Nature cries out in pain. But God pays no heed, because this severe treatment is necessary for our cure and the preservation of our lives. Those tribulations which come to us from outside are sent as a remedy for the evil within us: to restrain our liberty that is so apt to wander, and to bridle the passions that carry us away. We have here the reason why God permits obstacles to our designs to appear from every quarter, why He ordains that our employments should be so full of troubles, that we can never enjoy the peace we so long for, that our superiors are so often opposed to our desires.

This also explains why our nature is subject to so many infirmities, why our occupations are so tiresome, why men seem so unjust and so annoyingly variable in temper. We have to endure assaults on every side from a thousand different opponents, so that our wills, only too free, being thus exercised, harassed, and exhausted, may at last detach themselves from themselves, and for the future have no other desire except to be conformed to the will of God. But our wills refuse so to die to themselves, and this is the third cause of our misunderstandings.

IV.-----Providence sometimes employs means which disconcert us. The judgments of God are incomprehensible. We can neither penetrate their motives nor recognise the ways whereby He chooses to bring them to effect. "God begins by annihilating those whom He entrusts with any enterprise. Death is the ordinary way by which He leads to life. Nobody understands the road on which he is travelling." 7 Neither do we understand how the Divine action will turn to the advantage of souls. It seems to us not seldom to tend in the opposite way. But let us adore the sovereign wisdom which has disposed all things most perfectly. Let us be convinced that even what appear to be obstacles shall serve it as means, and that from the evils it permits it will be able to draw the good it has invariably in view, viz., the glory of God through the progress of the Church and the salvation and sanctification of souls.

Consequently, if we look at the question in the light of God we shall be forced to the conclusion that very often in this world what are called evils are not really such, nor is everything good which appears so to us. There are failures wherewith Providence blesses us, and there are successes which it sends us in punishment of our faults.
Of the countless examples on record, let us cite just a few. God promised to make Abraham the father of a great people, and that all nations should be blest in his seed. And then He commanded him to immolate the son through whom this promise would have to be fulfilled!

Had He forgotten His word? Certainly not. But He willed to put to the test the faith of His servant, designing at the proper moment to stay his hand. He purposes to make the kingdom of the Pharaos subject to Joseph, and begins by abandoning him to the malice of his brethren. The poor boy was thrown into a well, led into Egypt, sold as a slave, then languished many years in prison. His career seemed to be ruined beyond hope. And yet it was through this series of calamities that God conducted him to his glorious destiny. Gideon was miraculously chosen to deliver his country from the yoke of the Madianites. He assembled a hastily levied army, which scarcely amounted to a fourth of the opposing force. But instead of increasing the numbers, the Lord dismissed nearly all. He retained only three hundred, and arming these with trumpets and lamps in earthen pitchers, He led them forth to what seemed more likely to be a butchery than a battle. And yet with this unpromising host He won for His people an astonishing and decisive victory. But let us leave the Old Testament. After the triumph on Palm Sunday, Our Lord was betrayed, arrested, abandoned, denied, judged, condemned, buffeted, scourged, crucified, robbed of His reputation. Was it thus God the Father secured to His Son the nations of the earth as His inheritance? Hell was triumphant and all seemed lost. Nevertheless, it was precisely through this apparent defeat that Christ victoriously achieved our salvation. Again, He chose what was weak to confound the strong. With a dozen fishermen, ignorant and unknown, He went forth to conquer the world. They could do nothing of themselves, but He was with them. During three centuries He permitted His Church to be exposed to violent persecution, which indeed, according to the prophetic word, shall never wholly cease; but so far from being destroyed by the rage of her enemies, she was rather invigorated. The blood of Martyrs has always been the seed of Christians, and it is so still, even in our own times. In vain the impiety of philosophers and the sophistries of heresiarchs endeavoured to extinguish the lights of heaven: their efforts only served to render the faith more definite and luminous. The kings and nations of the earth raged "against the Lord and against His Christ" (Acts iv, 26), Who nevertheless was their real support; but in His own good time the Son of the Carpenter, the Galilean, always victorious, has brought His persecutors down to the dust and cited their souls to His judgment seat. Whilst a never-ceasing succession of revolutions shake and convulse the world, the cross alone remains standing, luminous and indestructible, above the ruins of thrones and empires.

There are still other means, unlikely means, which God chooses to save a people, or to stir the multitudes, or to establish religious institutes. He once exercised in this way wonderful mercy in favour of the kingdom of France: in order to save it from total and imminent ruin, He raised up, not powerful armies, but an innocent child, a poor shepherdess, and it was by means of this feeble instrument He delivered Orleans, and brought the king in triumph to Rheims, where he was to be crowned. In quite recent times, He aroused whole nations by the voice of the Cure of Ars, an humble country priest, with but little resources apart from his sanctity.
God has in many ways proved His love for the Cistercian Order. He gave it three Saints for founders, and prepared for it the most abundant benedictions. Nevertheless, he allowed persecution to try our fathers at Molesme and to pursue them to Citeaux. St. Robert was obliged by obedience to leave his work unfinished. St. Alberic, during the whole time of his administration, St. Stephen for many years received hardly a single novice. Death, meanwhile, was busily emptying the stalls. Half the little community was carried off by an epidemic. The survivors began to ask themselves with troubled hearts if they would ever have successors, or if their work was destined to die with them. Was it, therefore, the will of Providence to bring to naught their pious undertaking? On the contrary, it gave them the assurance of success, but in its own way: it accomplished the sanctification of the founders, it caused the rule to be rigorously obeyed in all its prescriptions, and it established on a secure basis regular observance and the interior life. Then, when the hive was fully prepared, it brought the bees in swarms.

God watched over the Blessed Marie-Madeleine Postel, who was to found, amidst many tribulations, a community destined to be the most numerous in the diocese of Coutances. Yet, during a period of thirty years He seemed to be occupied only in efforts to prevent her success. We see her "conducted by obscure ways, subjected to trials of every description, thwarted by events, afflicted by repeated failures." 8 Had the Lord forgotten His promises? On the contrary, it was just in this way that He brought them to complete fulfillment, by raising the foundress to the loftiest heights of holiness, and by impressing deeply upon the infant Congregation the spirit in which it ought to live. St. Alphonsus de' Liguori, the illustrious founder of the Redemptorists, saw himself in his declining years shamefully accused before the Sovereign Pontiff by two of his disciples. He was condemned, removed from his office as superior-general, and even expelled from the Order to which he had given existence. He found consolation in reading the Life of St. Joseph de Calasanza, founder of the Ecoles-Pies who, like himself, had been persecuted, driven from his Institute, which was suppressed and later re-established by the Holy See. But St. Alphonsus predicted that God, having willed the establishment of his Congregation in the kingdom of Naples, would know how to maintain it there, and that, like Lazarus, it would issue forth from the tomb full of life, when he should be no more. "God has permitted this division," he declared, "for the purpose of multiplying our communities in the Pontifical States." And in fact, when the aged Saint had drunk even to the dregs the chalice of humiliations and sufferings, when he had endured his martyrdom with unalterable patience, the schism, through the merits of this martyrdom, ceased as if by miracle, and the Congregation, more flourishing than ever, extended its branches into all countries. Thus, the terrible tempest, which seemed destined to annihilate this Institute, was chosen by God to be the means of propagating it throughout the whole world, and served at the same time to perfect the founder in sanctity. And the time came when the Saint's persecutors were the most zealous, according to his prediction, in striving to put an end to the schism. So much did their momentary success embarrass them and fill their lives with deception and remorse. 9

Whenever there is question of the sanctification of an individual, God follows the same course, always austere, sometimes puzzling. Our holy father, St. Bernard, had a passionate love for his desert home, so full of God, "his happy solitude and sole happiness." The only thing he asked of the Lord was the grace of being allowed to pass therein the remainder of his life. Alas! the Divine will dragged him repeatedly from the pious exercises of the cloister, plunged him into the midst of the world which he abhorred, and involved him in the tumult of a thousand affairs, foreign to his profession and contrary to his desires for repose in God. No longer was he able to give himself entirely to his Well-Beloved, to the business of his own and his brethren's sanctification. It troubled him. "My life," he exclaimed, "is a monster, and my conscience suffers agony. I am the chimaera of my age, living neither as a cleric nor as a layman. A monk by my habit, it is a long time since I have led the life of a monk. Ah, Lord, let me rather die, but let it be in the midst of my brethren." God, however, refused to grant his prayer, at least under this form; and the world has good reason to bless Him for it. For the Saint became " the counsellor of popes, the peace-maker of kings; he converted whole provinces, put a stop to schisms, extinguished heresies and preached a crusade." And in the midst of all his triumphs and prodigies, he preserved his humility; he knew how to make a solitude in his soul, he practised all the virtues of the perfect monk, and never came back to his monastery without a multitude of new disciples. In very truth he was, not the chimaera, but the wonder of his age.

Under the oppression of public affairs, St. Peter Celestin[e] used to sigh for his dearly-loved solitude; finally, in order to return to it he resigned the pontifical office. God granted his desire, but in a way he never expected, for He caused him to be confined in a prison cell. "Peter," said the holy ex-pontiff, addressing himself, "you now possess here in this prison what you longed for so ardently: solitude, silence, a little cell, an enclosure, and darkness. Therefore bless God at all times, because He has given you the desire of your heart, in a way much more secure and more agreeable to His will than that which you contemplated. God wants you to serve Him in His own way, not in yours." The Chevalier of Loyola, wounded under the walls of Pampeluna, must have thought his career at an end. But this is the moment for which God has been waiting in order, through so happy a misfortune, to bring about his conversion and thus give rise to the Society of Jesus. Is it not so that, day by day, the hand of God hurts us in order to heal us? Death diminishes our numbers and removes from us those on whom we depended. Inexplicable reports misrepresent our aims and actions; we lose thereby, at least in part, the confidence of our superiors; we are full of interior pains; our health becomes enfeebled; difficulties multiply within, and without the menace hangs constantly over our heads. In our distress we cry to the Lord, and we do well. Perhaps we implore Him to remove the bitter chalice. But He, as a tenderly loving Father, infinitely wiser than we, will not be so cruelly compassionate as to heed our supplications, if He sees that they are opposed to our best interests. Rather will He keep us attached to the cross, and help us to die thereon more completely to ourselves, and through this happy death to pass to a new life of faith, love, abandonment, and true sanctity.

To sum up, let us never doubt God's love for us. Let us put unfailing trust in the wisdom and power of our Father Who is in heaven. No matter how numerous our difficulties, no matter how alarming events may be, let us pray, let us do all that prudence prescribes; but let us accept in advance whatever trials God may will, abandoning ourselves with confidence to the care of this good Master. Then everything, everything without exception, shall contribute to the profit of our souls. The great obstacle, that which alone can frustrate God's loving designs in our regard, is lack of confidence and submission: for He will not do violence to our liberty. If we by our resistance disappoint the purposes of His mercy, He will always have the final word, at least in the hour of judgment, and will infallibly obtain His glory at the last. As for us, we shall have lost irrevocably the increase of eternal happiness which He meant us to acquire.

1. Le Gaudier, De perf. vitae spirit., p. iii, s. ii, c. xvii.
2. Gay, op. cit., i.
3. Serm. sur la soum. à la vol. de Dieu.
4. Desurmount, op. cit., c. iii.
5. St. Francis de Sales, Am. de Dieu, i, iv, c. viii.
6. Vie, addit.
2. Gay, op. cit., ii.
8. Legoux, La Bse. Marie-Madeleine Postel, cc. xi, xxvi, etc.
9. Berthe, St. Alph. de Lig., I, vi, cc. x, xi, xii.