Taken from: HOLY ABANDONMENT
Rt. Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R.
Original Pub. 1934, Dublin
ON THE OBJECT OF HOLY ABANDONMENT
ON ABANDONMENT IN THE SPIRITUAL
VARIETIES OF THE COMMON WAY:
FAILURES AND FAULTS
ARTICLE II.------THE WANT OF SUCCESS IN WHAT CONCERNS OUR OWN SANCTIFICATION
The same applies to the work of our sanctification. Progress in virtue and the correction of our shortcomings demand at the same time the action of God and our co-operation therewith. Now, grace has been promised to prayer and fidelity. Nevertheless, the Lord remains always Master of His gifts, both as regards their measure and as to their time and other circumstances.
Nothing can be more precious to us than the sanctification of our souls. Our Father in Heaven also has this very much at heart. So far as depends upon us, we should entertain very ambitious desires in this respect and conceive the loftiest aspirations. Why should we not count upon Our Lord, Who gave His life for us upon the Cross, Who offers Himself daily for us upon our altars, and Who has chosen for us a vocation so rich in promise? Provided our good-will rests not upon ourselves, but on Him, the only fear we need have is the fear of not desiring enough, or of allowing Divine grace to remain unproductive. Let us, consequently, desire, pray, labour with due order and method; when necessary, let us reanimate our fervour, and never grow remiss in this sacred work. But let us abandon the issue to our heavenly Father. Or rather let us leave to Him all that regards the measure, the time, the form, and the other circumstances of success. This will enable us to banish disquietude, over-eagerness, and all such defects in our pursuit of our ultimate end.
As to what concerns our progress in the virtues, "let us omit nothing," says St. Francis de Sales, "that might help to secure success in this holy enterprise. . . . But when we have planted and watered, it is from Divine Providence we must expect the fruit of our desires and our labours. If we do not feel ourselves making such progress in the devout life as we should wish, let us not be troubled about that, let us preserve our souls in peace and let tranquillity always reign in our hearts. Our business is to cultivate our souls properly, and to this work, therefore, we must faithfully apply ourselves. But as for the abundance of the harvest, we must leave the care of that to Our Lord. The husbandman cannot reasonably be blamed for not having a good crop, provided he has not neglected to till the ground and to sow the seed. Nor should it worry us if we see ourselves always as novices in the practice of the virtues. For in the monastery of the devout life, we should all of us and always esteem ourselves novices: our whole life here is intended to be a probation. And in fact there is no clearer indication that one is really a novice still, and a novice deserving of expulsion, than to imagine oneself professed. . . . In fine, the obligation of serving God and advancing in His holy love must continue until the last moment of our lives." 11
The same holy Doctor put St. Jane de Chantal on her guard against "certain desires which tyrannise over the heart. They would have our projects encounter no opposition; they cannot endure darkness, but wish to be always in the fullness of light; they are not satisfied with refusing consent to temptations, they want us not even to feel them." This prudent director desired for his spiritual daughter "a great courage, which would not be over-sensitive, which would be indifferent as to sweet or bitter, light or darkness, which would advance bravely in the essential, strong, and inflexible love of God, regardless of the flitting phantoms of temptation." 12
Besides, ill-success in this matter must very often be more apparent than real. For it is impossible that we should not be continually advancing, even without our being conscious of the fact, so long as we do all that depends upon ourselves, that is to say, so long as we have the good-will to make progress and prove this good-will by serious efforts. Our holy father, St. Bernard, has given us the consoling assurance that "the constant will to advance and the steady pursuit of perfection are accounted perfection." 13 But let it be carefully noted that the Saint speaks not of sentiment but of pursuit. Provided the will remains firmly attached to duty, repugnances can be despised. The great Apostle himself experienced opposition from the old man, but he ignored it and went calmly on his way. Sentiment is an equally unreliable criterion. Since the virtues belong to the spiritual order, we may possess them without feeling their presence. It is by their fruits we have to judge. For instance, this person abounds in consolations and at prayer pours out his heart in tender effusions; but he remains wanting in generosity and cannot support trials: his love is still in its infancy. Here is another whose heart is as dry as the desert; but he is always at the post of duty, satisfied with having to bear the cross, receiving reprimands and contradictions with a smiling countenance: is not his love a hundred times more real and solid? St. Jane de Chantal shed hot tears in the conviction that she had neither faith, hope, nor charity. And to console her, St. Francis de Sales wrote the following: "That is a mere bluntness of sensibility which deprives you only of the enjoyment of your virtues. You really possess them, all the same, and in a flourishing condition, too. But God wills that you should not feel their comforting presence in your soul." 14
Observe finally that, in addition to grace and good-will, we must have time. Just as time is necessary for the full development of our bodies and our faculties, for intellectual culture or the acquisition of the arts, so is it requisite for the attainment of lofty virtue. Happy the Saints who, labouring with an almost furious zeal, never resting or relaxing, have thus accumulated an immense fortune of virtues and merits! And happy shall we also be, in our lesser measure, if, not being able to carryon so extensive a business, we manage to realise even a fourth or one-half of their gains, if we are not found to have fallen too far short of our models! There is one thought that should serve as a constant goad to our spiritual activity: the reward will be proportionate to the labour, and the Divine Master will take account of both quantity and quality.
With regard to our passions and failings, we should maintain the same attitude of truceless war and peaceful abandonment. "God," says St. Francis de Sales, "permits the rebellions of the sensitive appetite, both in the matter of anger and lust, to continue in us. He does so to discipline us, in order that by the resistance we make we may exercise spiritual valour. These represent the Philistine foes whom the true Israelites have always to combat without ever being able to crush: they can be weakened, indeed, but never annihilated. For the passions only die with ourselves: their life is as long as our own. Their motions are undoubtedly to be hated and detested, because they proceed from sin and perpetually tend to sin. . . . The Church has condemned the error of certain solitaries who said that in this world we can be entirely free from the passions of anger, lust, fear and the like. . . . However, we should not be troubled at feeling their presence, because our perfection consists in combatting them, and we cannot combat them unless we feel them, or conquer without encountering them. Our victory depends not on being insensible to their suggestions, but on refusing consent to them. And if, for the preservation of our humility, it is necessary that we sometimes suffer wounds in this spiritual warfare; on the other hand, we cannot be conquered so long as we do not lose either our life or our courage." 15
We must, therefore, make up our minds to carry on the struggle with patience and perseverance, but in tranquillity and peace of soul. When we have fully accomplished all that lies in our power, we have discharged our whole duty; the rest belongs to Providence. But considering the persistence and pertinacity of these conflicts, always beginning and never coming to an end, "the poor soul is troubled, afflicted, agitated, and believes she does well in yielding to sadness, as if such sadness were caused by the love of God. And yet, Theotime, it is not Divine love that produces this melancholy, for Divine love is saddened by nothing except sin; it is rather our own self-love which would have us exempt from the labour involved in resistance to our passions. It is really the trouble of making the necessary effort that disquiets us" 16------unless it be the humiliation and shame caused by our experiencing certain evil motions.
"But still," someone may say, "if I know that my multiplied faults have prevented my progress in virtue, and that my negligence is responsible for the persistence of my defects: how can I help being troubled?" In this way: implore forgiveness of God, detest your faults, accept humbly the pain and confusion arising from them; then without losing your time, your peace, and your courage in useless regrets, strive with all diligence to make better progress in the future. But you must preserve your tranquillity of heart: trouble is not a remedy for evil, but a new evil in itself, and discouragement is of all plagues the worst. Moreover, even our very faults are no obstacle to our progress if we rise from them promptly, and without scruple or disquietude proceed on our way. They impart to us, according to St. Gregory, "the very uncommon perfection which consists in knowing that we are not perfect." They are the veil under which God conceals our virtues from us in order to preserve us from pride. They give us occasion for the renewal of a humble vigilance over ourselves and of fervour in prayer. They also serve to instruct us in what we need to know, and urge us as a goad to quicken our steps. Finally, the faults themselves can become a source of profit, for him who knows how to turn them to account.
11. Ibid., I, x, c. vii; Entret., vii.
12. Lettre. 429.
13. Epist., 254.
14. De Chaugy, Vie de Ste. J. de Chant., P. III. c. xxvi.
15. Am. de Dieu. I, ix. c. vii.
16. Id., Ibid.