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:
INTERIOR TRIALS IN GENERAL
We have already considered temporal goods and evils, the essentials of the spiritual life, and its more external manifestations. Our next task is to study the pains proper to the interior life, at first in a general way, then some of them in particular: such as temptations, aridities, obscurities, etc. It is here, especially, that we shall have occasion to practise abandonment. For such trials are inevitable and very frequent. According to St. Alphonsus, "they are the bitterest of all possible pains." 1
"One day is never exactly like another," says St. Francis de Sales. "This day is cloudy, the next is rainy, the next comes dry, and the following windy. It is the same with men. Human life glides along as a river, fluctuating and undulating in a perpetual diversity of movements, now elevating itself with hope, anon sinking through fear; here turning to the right in consolation, there bending to the left in affliction. It never continues in the same state. . . . We should like to encounter no difficulties, no contradictions, no afflictions, but always to enjoy consolations without aridities, repose without labour, peace without trouble. Who does not recognise how great a folly this is? It is to desire the impossible. Such uniformity of state can be found only in Paradise and in Hell: in Paradise, good, repose, consolation without any admixture of evil, trouble or affliction; in Hell, evil, despair, trouble, and unrest, without any admixture of good, hope, tranquillity or peace. But in this perishable life, the good is never found entirely separated from evil, or repose without labour, or consolation without affliction." 2
The interior life is subject to the same general law. Vicissitudes and trials are there inevitable. Our own misery and the demon's malice may be immediately responsible for them, but their primary cause is always God. When they originate from ourselves, they are due to ignorance of mind, or impressionability of heart, to disorder of our imagination, or perversity of our natural desires, etc. But is it not by God's design we have been born children of Adam? And is it not by His will we have these infirmities to support in order to secure our sanctification? Can the demon do anything against us without the Divine permission? King Saul was attacked by temptations of jealousy and hatred against David; and the Holy Scripture tells us that "an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him" (1 Kings, xvi, 14). But if this spirit came from the Lord, how could it be evil? If evil, how could it have come from the Lord? It is evil by the bad intention it has to afflict men in order to ruin them; and it is from the Lord, because He has permitted it to afflict men for the purpose of saving them. Very often the Lord tries souls by His Own direct action, which He diversifies according to their strength and requirements, and the designs He has conceived with regard to them. The Venerable Louis de Blois describes in vivid language "the admirable conduct of the heavenly Spouse towards a soul consecrated to Him. In the beginning, when the bonds of betrothal have scarcely been formed, He visits, fortifies, illumines her, and wins her heart by making her experience nothing but delight in her service. He binds her securely to Him by the sweetness of His attractions. He manifests Himself to her continually in order to hold her by the charms of His presence. In a word, with the object of supporting her weakness, He allows her to taste only joy and consolation. Later on, however, He will no longer feed her with the milk of babes, but will nourish her instead with the solid food of affliction. He will open her eyes and make her see how much suffering awaits her in the future. And behold! Heaven, earth and Hell now conspire against her. Enemies without and temptations within; outside, tribulations and darkness, and aridity and desolation in the centre of her heart: all contribute to her martyrdom. The Spouse disappears from her gaze; He returns after a time, but only to abandon her again. Now He leaves her amidst the darkness and horrors of death; and now He recalls her to the light of life, so that she may realise the truth of the oracle: It is He that bringeth us down to the tomb and leadeth us back again." 3
How explain this conduct on the part of Divine Providence? It is because there are really two people in each of us. "Divine love and self-love live in our hearts, as Jacob and Esau in the womb of Rebecca. These two are irreconcilably opposed to each other, and are always in conflict. 'Thou hast two nations in thy womb,' said the Lord to Rebecca, 'and two peoples shall be divided out of thy womb, and one people shall overcome the other, and the elder shall serve the younger' (Gen., xxv, 23). The soul similarly has two loves in her heart, and consequently two distinct colonies of movements, affections and passions. And just as Rebecca's two infants, by the contrariety of their movements, caused their mother painful convulsions, so the two loves in the soul keep our hearts in a state of trouble and unrest. But it is necessary, here also, that the elder shall serve the younger, that is to say, that sensual love shall be subjected to the love of God." 4
Self-love manifests itself by the horror of suffering, the seeking after enjoyment, and particularly by pride. Hence arises that intestine war of which the Apostle complains, a war that is always fierce and persistent, but more violent in the case of certain persons, or with regard to certain objects, or at certain ages, certain times, or on certain occasions. Even in those who have made some progress in spirituality there is usually a hidden fund of self-love, a delicate, almost imperceptible pride, whence issue a swarm of imperfections of which they are hardly conscious: vain self-complacencies, vain fears, vain desires, conceited manners, suspicions and criticisms of others, an entire world of miseries, weaknesses, and peccadilloes. What, then, is the remedy? Assuredly, Christian mortification. To this, therefore, we must devote ourselves, and we must practise it with perseverance and method, relying on the assistance of grace. But sometimes we shall not have sufficient light, and sometimes our courage will fail us; and we shall never completely vanquish this almost invisible foe, which forms a part of ourselves, unless God comes to our aid by the action of His Providence.
He has two ways of doing this: the way of sweetness and the way of holy severity. When a soul begins to give herself to Him, He favours her with an abundance of sensible consolations, in order to draw her to Himself and to wean her away from worldly pleasures. She detaches herself little by little from creatures and clings to God, but in an imperfect manner. For it is the common failing of such unformed souls to seek their own satisfaction in everything they do. And Divine consolations are precisely the most delicate nourishment both of pride and of spiritual gluttony. By the subtle artifices of self-love, we appropriate the gifts of God; we are happy to be in this or that state; and instead of thanking therefore God's infinite mercy, we attribute our happiness to our own merit, at least in the secret sentiments of our hearts. Therefore, in order to complete the destruction of self-love, God Himself must deal it many a hard blow through interior trials. These blows will be painful, indeed, but infallibly effective.
In this way, God humbles and instructs us. Jealous of His glory, to prevent our hearts from stealing it, He conceals from our eyes nearly all His graces and favours. To this rule there are only two exceptions: beginners, who require to be drawn and held by sensible and perceptible gifts; and the perfect, who have been purified of self-love by a thousand interior trials, can now be safely trusted with the sight of God's graces in their souls without the least danger of self-complacency. Generally, He hides so well from souls the virtues and graces wherewith He endows them, that they can see neither their humility, nor their patience, nor their progress, nor their charity. Hence they are sometimes almost unable to refrain from weeping over the supposed loss of these virtues and over their lack of generosity in suffering. At the same time, they are made to realise the profound abyss of corruption we have within us, which heretofore they had neither the power nor the wish to fathom. Now they have to contemplate it at their leisure, not by the light of glorifying illuminations, but by bitter experiences a thousand times renewed. There can be nothing so fatal to self-love as this most afflicting and humiliating spectacle. To be conscious of our weakness at every instant, and to find ourselves standing on the brink of the precipice: is not this a trial eminently well calculated to bring us to an absolute distrust of self and an absolute confidence in God alone? If it is good for us to be confounded before others, it is also and equally good for us to be annihilated in our own estimation. It is experiences of the latter kind, especially, that will gradually cause the death of pride in us. And here we have the reason why God permits us to endure so many interior humiliations. The instruction they give us they make dazzlingly clear. And they continue it so long that we learn it well, so well, indeed, that it can never be forgotten. It only remains for us to profit by it to establish ourselves in true humility which is gentle and peaceful, and which will drive out from our hearts the bitterness and vexation of false humility. Bitterness and vexation at what humbles us are simply the workings of pride, just as bitterness and vexation at what hurts us are the fruits of impatience. 5
By means of these interior trials God completes our detachment. Self-love is a many-headed hydra, and all its heads have to be cut off one by one. First, we had to sacrifice our attachment to the world, to earthly goods, to the pleasures of sense, to health, etc. And to assist us in our task, God mingled a wholesome bitterness with our worldly joys, wounded us in the persons and objects that were dear to us, and abandoned our bodies to different infirmities. By faithful co-operation with His action, we have already achieved considerable progress. But self-love, beaten on one ground, awaits us on another and more delicate. It seizes on what is sensible in piety. And this attachment is the more to be feared for that it is less gross, and apparently even quite lawful. Nevertheless, perfect love cannot suffer even an attachment to spiritual consolations to divide our hearts with God. What, then, is going to happen? If there is question of souls that are less privileged, for whom God does not entertain a particularly jealous tenderness, He will just leave them in the undisturbed enjoyment of these holy sweetnesses, and content Himself with the sacrifice they have made of the pleasures of sense. This is the ordinary state of devout persons, whose piety contains an admixture of self-seeking. God, undoubtedly, does not approve of their failings; but as He bestows on them less grace, He does not expect from them very high perfection. He has loftier designs with regard to other more privileged souls, and is consequently with them more exacting. The jealousy of His love is as great as its tenderness. As He desires to give Himself absolutely to those chosen ones, so does He desire to possess their hearts wholly, without the least reserve or division. He cannot, therefore, be satisfied with the exterior crosses and afflictions which would suffice to detach them from creatures. He wills to detach them even from themselves, and to destroy in them the last roots of that self-love which fastens on the sentiment of devotion, and finds therein its support, its nourishment, and its enjoyment. In order to bring about this second death, He withdraws every consolation, every sweetness, every sense of support; and He tries the soul by aridities, repugnances, insensibilities and other afflictions, until she finds herself in a state of annihilation, so to speak.
The action of God has not always the same degree of intensity. He increases or diminishes it according to the designs of His love, and according to the strength and generosity of different souls. If He does not judge it well to treat them all with a constant holy severity, at least He makes them pass through alternate seasons of consolation and desolation, peace and combat, light and obscurity. By means of such continual vicissitudes, He renders them pliable and docile to all His motions. For, owing to repeated changes in her interior state, the soul finally loses her attachment to every condition and is ready to welcome all at the will of the Holy Spirit Who breathes where He pleases and as it pleases Him.
In short, by means of all these trials, says the venerable Louis de Blois, "God purifies, humbles, instructs our souls and renders them pliable to His will; everything defective, everything deformed, everything disagreeable to His sight, He removes from them, and at the same time embellishes them with all the ornaments which can make them pleasing in His eyes. And when He finds them faithful, full of patience and good-will; when the long endurance of tribulations has brought them, with the assistance of His grace, to such a degree of perfection that they suffer with tranquillity and joy all manner of temptations and afflictions: then He unites them most intimately to Himself, confides to them His secrets and His mysteries, and communicates Himself to them without reserve." 6
These are the days of pure love, since therein we serve God exclusively for His own sake and at our own expense. Ah! how hard it is to love Him purely in seasons of consolation, with no subtle self-seeking, no vain complacency! But in times of affliction and interior privation, properly accepted, we have no longer to fear that self-love will insinuate itself into our relations with God, because in these relations it can find nothing but bitterness. oh, how well qualified is this assurance to console him who understands the value of pure love! we have here the reason why some of the Saints preferred privations and sufferings to consolations and enjoyments, why they loved the former so passionately and could scarcely support the latter.
It is during the period of interior trials that we can gather the richest harvest for Heaven, because it is only then we are capable of good works that are absolutely pure and disinterested. "In the time of consolation," says St. Alphonsus, "we do not need great virtue to renounce sensual pleasures, or to endure injuries and adversities. A soul thus favoured can suffer everything. But often her patience comes rather from the consolations which delight her than from the strength of her love for God." 7 On the contrary, it is an evident proof of high virtue, to be able to endure patiently the keen sense of our own miseries, weaknesses, humours, caprices, and all the other trials which Providence employs for our purification. When these interior afflictions have thoroughly detached and purified the soul, she easily ascends to perfect abandonment, to a filial confidence in God alone. In other words, the loftiest virtues have become in a sense natural to her. And, on this head, what spiritual riches have not their miseries and trials brought the Saints, by furnishing the material for their interior combats, for their victories, and for the triumph of grace! On the other hand, it is only when we have been completely emptied of ourselves that we arrive at the state in which we no longer think of anything but God, relish anything but God, seek support in anything but God, rejoice in anything but God. Here now is the new life in Jesus Christ, the building up of the new man after the destruction of the old. Let us, then, each of us, make haste to die, like the silkworm, so as to become a beautiful butterfly and live henceforth in the pure light and air of Heaven, instead of ignobly creeping on the earth.
But self-love is not easy to kill, and only dies after a long and terrible agony. The soul that is still imperfect resembles green wood which perspires and groans, suffers contortions and convulsions, before taking fire. Or we may liken her to a statue under the sculptor's chisel, or to a stone which the mason is hammering into shape. Temptations, aridities, and other trials deal us hard and cruel blows. But without them, we should remain like the unformed block, we could never acquire a resemblance to Jesus, suffering, humiliated, crucified. It is only by multiplied despoliations we can attain to perfect love; and the more we desire to advance in the ways of prayer, in union with God, and true sanctity, the more necessary for us is emancipation and detachment from all affection to creatures. We should cherish the consolations of God as much as the God of consolations, if we had not been taught to serve Him in the most terrible abandonment. In a word, He deprives us of His sweetness, not necessarily to punish our faults, but because He loves us. Possibly, we shall enjoy less consolation in religion than in the world. For God purifies with more unsparing rigour those whom He destines for more intimate union with Himself.
The chalice, no doubt, is bitter, but not so bitter as Hell. God shows us great mercy by substituting the comparatively mild purgatory of the present life for the more terrible one ahead. Besides, since, whether we like it or not, we have to drink this salutary cup, let us make a virtue of necessity: it is the only way to sweeten its bitterness. Everything will become easier to us according as affliction has purified and detached us. Indeed, when our detachment is perfect, we shall scarcely feel any suffering at all, except by God's appointment, except also in moments of fatigue or particularly grave trials. For keen suffering is mainly due to the strong opposition set up by self-love, which refuses to die or to abdicate. Divine love would scarcely produce any but sweet and delightful feelings in our hearts, if it there found nothing to resist it. But after all, would it be proper to desire a heaven here upon earth, and a path strewn with roses, whilst we see our adorable Master burdened with His Cross and falling in agony? Heaven is well worth all the sacrifices demanded of us. Besides, fervent souls have not by any means the monopoly of suffering. Their afflictions are lightened by love and hope; and, taken all in all, it costs less to run after sanctity than to languish in tepidity under the crushing weight of unmortified passions.
This being so, we must be careful to put no obstacle to the Divine favours. But should it please God to deprive us of those sunny days when we experienced such sensible sweetness in prayer and at Communion, when our relations with our Well-Beloved were full of charm and delight: let us not lament the loss. God has withdrawn His favours without any fault on our side. Consequently, they have done their work, and would be of no further use to us. Oh, how much more precious are the martyrdom and the agony of the present time! If we only knew how to accept, esteem, and love this happy interior desolation, we should desire to feel it always, to live in it always, because we should thus live closer to God.
Many of the Saints, urged by a special inspiration, have said to God in their sufferings: "More, O Lord, still more!" According to De Caussade, it is often presumption and a dangerous illusion to desire to follow such an example. He considers that we are too small spiritually and too feeble to mount so high, unless we have moral certitude that this is God's will for us. He never desired, still less solicited, such tribulations and afflictions for Himself. He forbade one of His disciples to pray for more or fewer of them than Providence provides. God, he says, knows better than we do the exact measure necessary for us; the sufferings which He sends us are sufficient, and there is no need that we should either wish or procure any more for ourselves. Let us rather wait for and prepare for sufferings: that is the surest means of having the strength and courage to accept them when they come.
We must also arm ourselves with patience and humility. If we have a somewhat intractable disposition, and if God sends us more afflicting trials to tame it, the violence and persistence of the combat will not injure the soul that fights with the resolution of never losing courage. True, the ferocity of the attacks will add to the fatigue and the peril; but with God's help it will also add to the glory of the victories and bring an increase of sanctity, merit, and reward.
Whilst the heavenly Physician freely uses the lancet on us and plies us with bitter potions, let us contemplate ourselves, not in the distorting mirror of self-love, but in the faithful mirror of truth. And let us never lose sight of our miseries. Then we shall humble ourselves, almost naturally, under the mighty hand of God; and instead of finding fault with His justice and His love, we shall realise that He has done us a wonderful favour, and that even in His severity He is our most merciful Father still.
Above all, we must establish ourselves in a holy indifference. "Whether the ship floats in the trough or on the swell, whether she sails to south or to north, in whatever direction the wind wafts her, never does the needle cease to point towards the pole and the guiding star. In the same way, although everything within and around us should be turned upside down, whether our souls be in sadness or in joy, in sweetness or in bitterness, in peace or in trouble, in light or in darkness, in temptation or in repose, in appetite or disgust, in aridity or in tenderness, whether the sun parches them or the dew refreshes them, it is necessary, nevertheless, that the fine point of our spirits, of our hearts, of our superior wills, which is the compass of the soul, should look incessantly and tend perpetually towards the love of God." 8 The inferior part of our soul may be in trouble and agitation; but the will must remain always peaceful in the midst of the storm, keeping itself turned to God and seeking only Him. And never should we allow anything to separate us from His love, whether it be tribulation, or anguish, or present affliction, or fear of evils to come. To love God and to do His holy will: is not this the only essential thing and even our ultimate end?
Everything besides is but a way leading to this, consolations as well as aridities, peace as well as war, light as well as darkness. Which way will be the best for us? We cannot tell. But God knows, and He loves us tenderly. Let us therefore permit Him to dispose of us according to His beneficent designs. Our happiness is a thousand times safer in His hands than it would be in our own. In any case, He will not give us the choice: He remains always Sovereign Master. Let us, then, second His action with willing hearts. It is from Him our trials come, and He will sustain us in the ordeal. The Saints had a preference for suffering, because we profit more by patient endurance than by action. And let us remember that holy abandonment is the shortest and surest road to sanctity.
Alvarez offered to God this admirable prayer: "Dispose of me, I entreat Thee, according to Thy good-pleasure; it is all I desire. I ask of Thee no other faith, no other means, neither more favours, nor less sufferings. I only want to remain in the state wherein Thou hast put me and to be treated as I have deserved. I shall be satisfied with whatever consolations Thou art pleased to grant me, and I shall not complain of the desolations Thou mayest send me. Fulfill Thy designs regarding me with perfect liberty. It is only thus my heart can find the peace which it longs for." 9
When sufferings assail us with cruelty and persistence, let us abandon ourselves unreservedly to Him by Whom perhaps we believe ourselves abandoned, and let us say courageously: "Thou wilIest these afflictions, O Lord, and I also will them; I will them as Thou willest them, and for so long as 'Thou mayest will them." During such times, the best thing we can do is to keep repeating our fiat, gently and without effort, at prayer, in choir, at Mass and Holy Communion; and often throughout the day, as St. Francis de Sales recommends, we should make short acts of acquiescence, as: " May Thy will be done, O heavenly Father; may Thy will be done, now and forever," and so try to maintain ourselves in a habitual disposition of complete abandonment. Here is a short and very simple practice, and yet nothing more is necessary for the acquisition of that perfection which perhaps we often go far afield in search of. The mere fiat, repeated in all our exterior and interior tribulations, will suffice to bring us to the perfection of sanctity.
Certainly, we have a right to ask God to alleviate our sufferings or to remove them. But we are not obliged to do so. We should rather implore Him to increase our patience, for that will contribute better to His glory and to our profit. St. Alphonsus teaches us to say: "Lord, I am completely at Thy disposal. If Thou willest that I should remain all my life in desolation and affliction: give me only Thy grace and Thy love, then do with me whatever pleases Thee best." Let us at least shun the agitation and over-eagerness which manifest an inordinate desire. Let us suffer in peace without begging consolation from creatures. To avoid indulging in self-pity, we should speak of our sufferings as little as possible, nor should we allow them to occupy too much of our thoughts. But let us seek counsel and encouragement from a man of God. Above all, let us have recourse to prayer, in order to obtain the strength to accept our cross, keeping our eyes fixed affectionately on our well-beloved Jesus, Who hath loved us and delivered Himself for us. For now, if ever, it is necessary to persevere in prayer, to invoke the aid of the Lord, and to rely on Him alone.
1. Am. de J.C., c. xiii.
2. Vie dévote, 4e P., c. xiii.
3. Spec. relig., c. vi.
4. St. Francis de Sales, Am. de Dieu, I, xi, c. xx.
5. De Caussade, op. cit., 2e P., iv, 4-22; vi. 17; vii, 14.
6. Spec. relig., c. vi.
7. Am. env., c. xiii.
8. St. Francis de Sales, Vie dévote, 4e P., c. xiii.
9. Du Pont, op. cit., c. 1.