The Best of J.P. deCaussade
On Self-Abandonment and the Will

By Peter Holleran

   “There is no intelligence nor power in the world capable of wresting from the hand of God a soul He has seized in the rigour of His mercy to purify it by suffering.”

   Just who was Jean-Pierre deCaussade, and why is he important? First and last, his writings speak directly to the heart. He had an acute and penetrating understanding of the fine points of the spiritual path. de Caussade was a Christian Priest and spiritual confessor to many nuns in the eighteenth century. His writings are in the vein of St. John of the Cross and St. Francis de Sales, and they for the better part deal with interior purgation preceding the Christian mystical goal of divine union. More personal than St. John, deCaussade’s masterpiece, Abandonment to Divine Providence, accompanied by Spiritual Counsels, provides many letters of advice and guidance he wrote to the nuns of the Visitation at Nancy under his care. Many of these deal with the surrender of, and divine transformative action on, the personal will. A central tenet of deCaussade and the Christian fathers in general is that such a task is a cooperative one between the soul and God, but that the final hand is played by the Divine Providence active within the soul - the faithful soul who is judged ready for further dealings with the Lord, who will now take an active role in its perfection.

   The Christian path is well enunciated by Evelyn Underhill in her classic work, Mysticism, into several stages, a novitiate, purgation, illumination, and union. A "first kiss" or "honeymoon" stage may occur between the novitiate and purgation, while the most extreme forms of a dark night of the soul occur between the stages of illumination and union (with a lesser form during purgation), according to St. John of the Cross. The subject and concept of union is much debated in philosophic circles, some saying it is union of the person with the divine Soul, and not with God, or the One, per se, with others denying such a thing exists at all, arguing liberation is non-dual and does not admit of two separate things to be united! Suffice it to say that in any case hints are given here and there by most teachers and texts that the personal will must go as a predominating influence, and usually not without much travail. Even with various forms of awakening at the level of the mind and heart, it is said that the personal will, described by some as a deep clenching or grasping in the gut, or contraction of the heart, must still be undone or transformed. In the Lankavatara Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism, we hear of “a turnabout in the deep seat of understanding,” but also of “the inconceivable transformation death of the Bodhisattva’s individualized will-control.” [This is in keeping with the "avatar of Sri Lanka's" disdain for the pratyekabudhas and others who were only concerned with their personal salvation, and not the greater realization which consists of that of the Whole.] In addition, Jesus said, “the Father is greater than I”; “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself.” Plotinus called the souls’s fall as due to “audacious self-will.” Fixing this is not something that someone can easily do on his own; this is why the company and transmission of those who are stably living such a condition has been highly recommended.

   The Christian path is not without hints of a cognitive shift in one’s perspective or forms of awakening. Indeed, deCaussade said that God “can neither be known or felt.” St. John speaks of seeing the familiar world in an entirely new way. But union of the personal will with that of the divine is a major part of the Christian mystic path. Because of our great self-love, purgative trials and sufferings caused by grace within the soul are considered more or less inevitable to bring about the longed for union. Even non-dualist Douglas Harding of “headlessness” fame spoke of going through a personal dark night of the soul years after an initial awakening, and reflected that such a passage may be what the Christian mystics speak of as necessary for union. deCaussade, in fact, was a favorite of Harding.

   The Christian mystics, thus, do speak of illuminations of the head and heart, but emphasize much more the surrender of the will. Since this is not something one can actively do with a high degree of success, the Divine-Being must step in and play a role. Active and passive fidelity to the divine action in the soul is the Christian way. It often entails, in its advanced purgative stages, a degree of suffering. On this topic deCaussade speaks brilliantly and clearly on many aspects of the divine grace. His advice is inspirational, consoling, and practical, still fresh and not entirely out of date, although the modern reader may need to read between the lines on some of his language. A sampling for ones ongoing contemplation is as follows, beginning with his earlier letters and progressing to the most austere and frightening trials of a soul. For now please hold all doubts in abeyence and drink in the words of this noble saint:


   “You need neither be surprised nor pained at the destruction of all that is dear to self-love; it would not be self-love if it did not fear this. Only those souls that are already detached from self are free from the fear of this death; and not only do they not fear it, but they desire and beg it of God without ceasing.”

   “Encourage yourself with these two obvious and invariable principles: first, that God will never abandon any who have abandoned themselves entirely to Him, and who trust completely in his infinite mercy. Secondly, that nothing happens in this world that is not according to the decrees of Providence who turns all things to the advantage and greater profit of souls that are submissive and resigned.”

   “To feel so keenly your weakness, and need of sensible support, and as it were, always on the edge of a precipice is, in truth, a very humiliating trial, but a very salutary one, since it leads infallibly to a total distrust of self, and to the most perfect confidence in God. This is the only way to leave the realm of the sense, and to enter the life of pure faith and love which is wholly spiritual.”

   “It is only when we begin to be cured that we recognize the evil...you need fear no danger, as long as you hold by Fenelon’s great rule: despair entirely of yourself, and put not an atom’s confidence in anything but God alone, Who, from the very stones can raise up children to Abraham.”

   “It is true that by the very fact that these consolations were felt that they were extremely pleasant to nature which always desires to see, know, and feel; but the more according to nature is the state, the less is it adapted for the requirements of divine love. This is the reason that God quickly withdraws a soul from this state; and the more quickly, the more faithfully it responds to His grace.”

   “Can anyone be more certain of possessing pure love, than those who resign themselves willingly to all that is most mortifying to that most sensitive form of self-love, spiritual self-love? Believe me, my dear Sister, the soul that regards its poverty in this light need not envy even those souls which are most greatly enriched with the gifts of God.”

   "Like all beginners, you attach too much importance to feelings of devotion. Nevertheless, it is an understood fact that in the order of supernatural operations of grace what is most sensible is least perfect and least safe, while that which is most spiritual and most hidden is by far the best.”

   “The Holy Spirit knows how to make martyrs of divine love by the suffering caused by His apparent absences, and by many kinds of crucifying operations.”

   “This good Master always begins by making Himself known and loved in sensible devotion, and afterwards deprives the soul of these consolations to withdraw it from the earthliness of the sense, in order to unite it to Himself in a far more excellent way, more intimate and solid, by pure faith entirely spiritual. To make this purification complete, suffering has to be added to privation, at least interior suffering, interior rebellion, diabolical temptations, anguish, weakness, and repugnance for all that is good which sometimes rises to a sort of agony. Divine love is a two-edged sword, and strikes self-love until it is killed and destroyed. Great sorrow in these trials proceeds from the strong resistance of our cursed love of self which is loth to relinquish the empire it has gained over our hearts, and to allow the love of God to reign in its stead.”

   “It is most difficult indeed to love God in happiness without any admixture of self, or of vain self-complacency, but in the time of crosses, and of interior spiritual privations, all that is needful in order to be certain of the purity of our love, is to endure them patiently, and to abandon ourselves sincerely....God may possibly allow you to think that this painful state is going to last you your life-time, in order to give you an opportunity of making Him a more complete sacrifice. Do not waver, do not hesitate for a single moment, sacrifice all! abandon yourself without reserve, without limitation to Him, by Whom you imagine yourself abandoned, and keep yourself always in this interior state which is, at present, the most essential for you.”

   “Dryness and powerlessness are graces equally precious, and make you participate very meritoriously in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. “But,” you say,”this powerlessness prevents me asking God for necessary helps.” At any rate, it does not prevent you wishing to ask for them, and you ought to know that with God, our desires are real prayers, according to St. Augustine. Ths made Bossuet say that a cry pent up in the depths of the heart was of the same value as a cry that reached the skies, because God sees our most secret desires, and even the first simple movement of the heart.”

   "The only way in which we can please Him is by conforming our wills to His.”

   “Do not worry yourself to try and feel submissive; a feeling has nothing to do with this business; it is enough if you are willing to submit, for this is practised by the higher part of the soul.”

   “You must remember that in almost everyone there is such a depth of self-love, weakness and misery, that it would be impossible for us to recognize any gift of God in ourselves without being exposed to spoil and corrupt it by imperceptible feelings of self-complacency. In this way we appropriate as our own the graces of God, and are pleased with ourselves for being in such or such a state. We attribute the merit to ourselves, not, perhaps, by a distinct and studied thought, but by the secret feelings of the heart. Therefore, God, seeing the innermost recesses of the heart, and being infinitely jealous of His glory, is obliged, in order to maintain it, and to protect Himself against these secret thefts, to convince us, by our own experience, of our utter weakness. It is for this purpose that he conceals from us nearly all His gifts and graces. There are hardly more than two exceptions to this rule; on the one hand beginners who require to be attracted and captured through their sense, and on the other hand great saints who, on account of having been purified of self-love by innumerable interior trials are able to recognize in themselves the gifts of God without the least feeling of self-complacency, nor even a glance at themselves.”

   “You would understand this still better, perhaps, if you were to consider what Fenelon said on this subject, “There is not a single gift so exalted but that after having been a means of advancement, cannot become, in the sequel, a snare and an obstacle to the soul, by the instinct of possession, which sullies it.” On this account God withdraws what He had given, but he does not take it away to deprive us of it absolutely. He withdraws it to give it back in a better way, after it has been purified from this malicious appropriation made by us without our perceiving it. The loss of the gift is returned a hundredfold.”

   “I have always thought, without mentioning it to you, that the time would come when God, desiring to be the only support of your soul, would withdraw from you these sensible props without even allowing you to learn in what way he could supply all that of which He had deprived you. This state I must own is terrible to nature, but in this terrible state, one simple “Fiat,” utterred very earnestly in spite of the repugnance experienced in the soul, is an assurrance of real and solid progress. Then there remains nothing but bare faith in God, that is to say, an obscure faith despoiled of all sensible devotion, and residing in the will, as St. Francis de Sales says.”

   "But never make this sweet repose your object; always go further and aim at the possesson of Him Who bestows it upon you, and value it only as a means of uniting you more closely to God Who is your centre, your life, and your all. Never forget that you may, possibly, find yourself bereft of everything in the most complete spiritual poverty, and left to the simple practice of bare faith for the extinction of self-love. This death of self hardly ever occurs without a depravation of all things, and at the mere thought of this one’s very nature shudders. It is then that one seems lost indeed, without any support, and left in the most cruel abandonment.”

   "The heavenly Physician has therefore treated you with the greatest kindness in applying an energetic remedy to your malady, and in opening your eyes to the festering sores which were gradually consuming you, in order that the sight of the matter which ran from them would inspire you with horror. No defect caused by self-love or pride could survive a sight so afflicting and humiliating. I conclude from my knowledge of this merciful design that you ought neither to desire nor to hope for the cessation of the treatment to which you are being subjected until a complete cure has been effected. At present you must brace yourself to receive many cuts from the lancet, to swallow many bitter pills, but go on bravely, and excite yourself to a filial confidence in the fatherly love which administers these remedies.”

   “This is a fundamental truth of which you have an entire conviction based on your own experience; and it is for this reason that God prolongs your trial until you become so thoroughly convinced that the memory of it may never be effaced from your mind. You speak of pure love; no soul has ever attained it without having passed through many trials and great spiritual labor...Look forward to the happy moment in which the knowledge of this abyss of misery completes within you the destruction of all self-confidence and foolish self-satisfaction. Then it will be that, flying in horror from the putrefaction of this tomb you will enter with joyful transports the bosom of God.”

   “One simple “fiat” during your exterior and interior pains will be enough to make you acquire true sanctity. Remind yourself of what St. Francis of Sales said to one of his penitents, “My daughter, repeat often during the day, ‘Yes, my heavenly Father, yes, and always yes.’” It is a very short and easy practice; nothing further is required to attain perfection. We need not go far to attain it, since we can easily do so without seeking it outside our own souls.”

   “There is no intelligence nor power in the world capable of wresting from the hand of God a soul He has seized in the rigour of His mercy to purify it by suffering.”

   “Even as God, for the conversion and sanctification of people in the world often sends them purely temporal afflictions such as illness, loss of goods, reverses of fortune, etc., so, likewise, for the purification and sanctification of the souls that belong to Him more entirely, especially in the Religious life, He sends spiritual trials and purely interior afflictions....to souls in pain and interiorly crucified we preach nothing but abandonment into the hands of God.”

   "Do you not know that the solid peace established by God in a soul subject to trials, is always without sensible sweetness? and besides, does not God necessarily deprive a soul of sensible sweetness when it would only make use of it to nourish its self-love?”

   “It would indeed be very unjust to complain of this God of infinite mercy, Who alone knows how to purify your soul, a thing you would never have been able to do yourself. Your very complaints prove that you would never have had the courage to put an end to your self-love which alone impedes the reign of divine love in your heart. Bless our Lord then for sparing you the trouble and because He only asks you to allow Him a free hand to accomplish this work in you.”

   “The time will come when the sight of these miseries which now cause you horror, will overwhelm you with joy, and will fill you with a profound and delightful peace. It is not till we have reached the bottom of the abyss of our nothingness, and are firmly established there that we can, as Holy Scripture says, “walk before God in justice and truth.”

   “Self-love desires to have, at the last hours, some sensible support in the recollection of past good works; let us, however, desire no other support than that given us by pure faith in the mercy of God and in the merits of Jesus Christ. From the moment that we wish to belong entirely to God this support will be enough for us, all the rest is nothing but vanity.”

   “You are convinced that you do nothing, that you merit nothing; and thus you are sunk in your nothingness. Oh! how well off you are! because from the moment you are convinced of your own nothingness you become united to God Who is all in all. Oh! what a treasure you have found in your nothingness! It is a state you must necessarily pass through before God can fill your soul; for our souls must be emptied of all created things before they can be filled with the Holy Spirit of God.”

   “You say that God often deprives you of the feeling of being in a state of grace. To whom among His dearest friends has He given continuously this sensible support? Do you aspire by any chance to be so highly priviledged than so many saints whom He has deprived of it for a much longer time than you? What had they to depend upon save only the light of faith, and of a faith the same as ours which seems like darkness? And amidst the darkness of their temptations and the tumult of their passions they knew no more than we do whether God was satisfied with them. Faith teaches us that, unless than by particular revelation, the saints themselves were not able to be perfectly certain about it; and you complain because you do not possess this certainty. See how far this unhappy self-love goes. To satisfy it God would have to work miracles. Of all the miseries that humble you so much this is certainly the greatest, and the best calculated to humiliate you.”

   “It is we, ourselves, who compell God to overwhelm us with miseries to make us humble and to increase our self-contempt. If, in spite of this, we have so little humility and so much self-esteem, what would it be if we found ourselves free from these trials? Believe me, if you have appeared to be for some time past so penetrated with the knowledge of your miseries that I believe this feeling alone is one of the greatest graces that God could bestow upon you. Love then everything that helps to preserve it.”

   "God hidden in his veils gives himself with his grace in an altogether unknown way, for the soul feels nothing but feebleness under its crosses, disgust with its obligations, while its attractions are only to very commonplace exercises. The idea which it has formed of sanctity reproaches it internally with these low and contemptible dispositions. All the saints lives condemn it. It knows nothing with which to defend itself; it has light to see a sanctity which, however, brings it desolation, for it has no strength to rise to it, and does not recognize its weakness as divine order, but as its own cowardice....Experience shows us that nothing so much as this apparent loss inflames the desire of the soul for union with the divine will. What profound sorrow for the soul!...no consolation is possible....To ravish God from a heart longing for nothing but God, what a secret of love!

   "It is indeed a great secret, for by this way and by this way only are pure faith and pure hope established in the soul...Everything one does seems the fruit of chance and natural inclination. Everything that happens humiliates the soul...Others are always admired, but we feel miles below them and put to confusion by their every action....The divine action seems to keep us far from virtue only to plunge the soul into a profound humility. But this humility does not seem to be such to the soul, it thinks it is suffering from the rigours of pure justice."

   "The most remarkable thing about this is that in the eyes of those whom God does not enlighten concerning its path, the soul seems animated by quite contrary feelings such as obstinacy, disobedience, contempt and indignation that cannot be cured, and the more the soul tries to reform these disorders, the worse they become, for they are the most proper means to detach it from itself and fit it for divine union. From this painful trial comes the principal merit of self-abandonment. In the duty of the present moment everything is of a nature to draw the soul away from its path of love and simple obedience. It needs heroic courage and love to stand firm in its simple, active fidelity and sing its part with assurance, while grace sings its own with different melodies and in different keys which do nothing but convince the soul that it is deceived and lost."

THE LAST TRIALS. AGONY AND MYSTICAL DEATH. THE FRUIT THEREOF.

   “The state of stupidity and dullness that you depict, the chaotic mass of misery and weakness, what else can this be but the gift of God, and this is what has gradually produced in your soul different spiritual operations of grace...I acknowledge that, at first, I was somewhat astonished that God should treat you like one advanced in the spiritual life, because this state is usually the fruit of long years of combat and effort. The soul finds itself entering it when God, satisfied with the diligence with which it has labored to die to all things, sets His own hands to the work to make it pass through that death to which the total privation of all things created leads. He strips it thus of all pleasure, even to that which is spiritual, of all inclination, of all light, to the end that, thus it may become freed from the senses, dull, and as though annihilated. When God bestows this grace on a soul, it has hardly anything else to do than endure in peace this harsh operation, and to bear this gift of God in the profound interior silence of respect, adoration, and submission. This is your task; in one sense a very easy one, since it means nothing more than to act as a sick person confined to his bed, and in the hands of his doctor and surgeon. He will suffer quite patiently in the expectation of a complete cure. You are in the same kind of position in the hands of the great and charitable physician of our souls, and with a better founded certainty of a cure.”

   “You are right to have no particular desire to make a Retreat; you are no longer in a position to desire, but rather in that of having to abandon yourself unreservedly to all that the Holy Spirit wishes to effect in you. It is for Him to determine the time, the duration, the manner, and the results of His operations, and for you to endure with submission, love, and gratitude.”

   “The loss of hope causes you the more grief than any other trial. I can well understand this, for, as during your life you find yourself deprived of everything that could give you the least help, so you imagine that at the hour of your death you will be in a state of fearful destitution. Ah! this is indeed a misery, and for this I pity you more than for your other sufferings. Allow me, with the help of God’s grace, to endeavor to set this trouble in its true light and so to cure you. What you want, my dear Sister, is to find support and comfort in yourself and your good works. Well, this is precisely what God does not wish, and what He cannot endure in souls aspiring after perfection. What! lean upon yourself? count on your works? Could self-love, pride, and perversity have a more miserable fruit? It is to deliver them from this that God makes all chosen souls pass through a fearful time of poverty, misery and nothingness. He desires to destroy in them gradualy all the help and confidence they derive from themselves, to take away every expedient so that he may be their sole support, their confidence, their hope, their only resource...but you will only attain to this hope when God shall have completely destroyed your self-confidence, root and branch; and this cannot be effected without retaining you for some time in the utmost spiritual poverty.”

   "What if you are not certain that this deprivation comes from God? As it is now a question of cutting off self-love, which for its own sake seeks an impossible certainty in everything, this is the answer that should be given. It is certain that without a special revelation God does not let us have any assurance about what concerns our eternal salvation. Why so? To make us walk in darkness, and thus to render our faith more meritorious on account of the obscurity in which it leaves the reason. And to keep us in the most absolute dependence and the most complete abandonment to his will, not only with regard to our temporal existence, but also in regards our eternal destiny. This is what makes religion apparently most terrible, but it has another aspect that is sweet and consoling: no sooner do we submit, while trembling, to the sovereign dominion of God, and to His incomprehensible judgements, than we experience the greatest consolation. This is because in His mercy He gives us, instead of certainty, a firm hope which is of equal value, without depriving us of the merit of abandonment, so glorious to God, and for us deserving of so great a reward."

   ”This is the true mystical death which ought necessarily to precede the supernatural life of grace. You would never arrive at that entirely spiritual and interior life to which you aspire with so much ardour, if God did not find in you this second death; death to spiritual consolations. These consolations are, in fact, so delightful, that if God did not detach us from them by severe trials we should become more attached to them than to any worldly pleasures, and that would be an insurmountable obstacle to perfect union.”

   “The crushing weight that you feel on your heart is one of the most salutary operations of the crucifying love which does in your heart what fire does to green wood. Before the flame can make its way the wood crackles, smokes, and gives out all the damp with which it is saturated; but when it is perfectly dry it burns quietly, diffusing all around it a brilliant light. This will be the case after your heart has been purified by many crosses, and particularly by these crucifying spiritual operations.”

   “What most delights the heart of God is that you should hope against all hope; that is to say, against the apparent impossibility of seeing what you hope for realised.”

   “For the time that these crucifying operations continue, the understanding, the memory and the will are in a fearful void, in nothingness. Love this immence void since God deigns to fill it; love this nothingness since the infinitude of God is there.”

   “The bitterest part of your trials, those ideas of being separated from God, which plunges you into a kind of hell, is the most divine of all the operations of divine love in you; but the operation is completely hidden beneath altogether contrary appearances. It is the fire which seems to destroy the soul while purifying it of all self-love, as gold is refined in the crucible...It is our weakness, oh my God, it is our wretched self-love, it is our pride that prevent You giving us great graces without hiding them from us, or, in other words, without our knowledge, for fear that we should corrupt your gifts by appropriating them to ourselves in foolish, secret, and imperceptible self-satisfaction...God is with you and in you, you have nothing to fear even if you were in hell in the midst of unchained devils. Nothing can happen to you save by the permission of God, and he will permit nothing that will not turn to your advantage; therefore you are perfectly safe as long as you confide in the goodness of so faithful a friend, so tender a Father, so powerful a protector, so passionate a lover and spouse. You are right to have no particular desire to make a Retreat; you are no longer in a position to desire, but rather in that of having to abandon yourself unreservedly to all that the Holy Spirit wishes to effect in you. It is for Him to determine the time, the duration, the manner, and the results of His operations, and for you to endure with submission, love, and gratitude.”

   “To begin with you must know that these trials, which are more grievous than any others, are those which God usually makes those souls whom He most loves undergo. At this time I have under my direction some who, in this respect, are in an indescribable state, the mere account of which would horrify you. The entire interior nature is encompassed with darkness, and buried in mud. God retains and upholds the free will, that higher faculty of the soul, without affording it the slightest feeling of support. He enlightens it with the entirely spiritual light of pure faith in which the senses have no part; and the poor soul, abandoned, as it appears, is reduced to a most frightful desolation, and endures a real martyrdom.”

   “The poor soul feels as if it would become utterly annihilated, but for all that, it is only nearer the true life. In fact the more we realize our nothingness the nearer we are to truth, since we were made from nothing and drawn out of it by the pure goodness of our Lord....Nothing is more pleasing to God than this homage, nothing would make us more certain of His friendship. It is a holocaust in which it is completely consumed by the fire of divine love. You must not then be surprised at the violent resistance it offers, especially when the soul experiences mortal anguish in receiving the death-blow to this self-love. The suffering one feels then is like a person in agony, and it is only through this painful agony and by the spiritual death which follows it that one can arrive at the fullness of divine life and an intimate union with God.”

   “The bitterest part of your trials, those ideas of being separated from God, which plunges you into a kind of hell, is the most divine of all the operations of divine love in you; but the operation is completely hidden beneath altogether contrary appearances. It is the fire which seems to destroy the soul while purifying it of all self-love, as gold is refined in the crucible.”

   “My very dear daughter, I well understand the state in which it pleases God to place you is very painful to nature, but am rather surprised that you should not yet comprehend that in this way God desires to effect in you a death that will make you live henceforth a life wholly supernatural and divine. You have asked Him a hundred times for this mystical death, and now that he has answered you, the more your apparent misery increases, the more certain you may be that God is effecting that nudity and poverty of spirit of which mystics speak...But you are going to ask me what you should do. Nothing, nothing, my daughter, but to let God act, and to be careful not to obstruct by an inopportune activity the operation of God...Remain like a block of wood, and you will later see the marvels that God will have worked during that silent night of inaction. Self-love, however, cannot endure to behold itself thus completely despoiled, and reduced to nothing. Read again and again what Guillore says about this nothing, and you will bless God for putting you in possession of this treasure. As for me, I also know that there are very few whom God gives the grace of passing through a state of such great deprivation.”

   “Remember that God sees in the depths of your heart all your most secret desires. This assurance should be sufficient for you; a cry hidden is of the same value as a cry uttered, says the Bishop of Meaux. Leave off these reflections and continual self-examinations about what you do, or leave undone; you have abandoned yourself entirely to God, and given yourself to Him over and over again; you must not take back your offering. Leave the care of everything to Him. The comparison you make is very just; God ties your hands and feet to be able to carry on His work without interference; and you do nothing but struggle, and make every effort, but in vain, to break these sacred bonds, and to work yourself according to your own inclination. What infidelity! God requires no other work of you but to remain peacefully in your chains and weakness.”

   “Do not forget, my dear Sister, that after having passed through the first few degrees of the spiritual life our further progress is affected entirely by way of losses, destruction, and annihilation. To arrive at a spiritual life it is necessary, by the grace of God, to die to all created things, to all things sensible and human. Consequently you must expect during this retreat not to enjoy any sensible lights, or spiritual pleasures, or an increased desire for God, and for divine things; but, on the contrary, to fall into a state of greater darkness, an increased distaste, and a more complete apathy....Having abandoned yourself entirely to Him, you should regard your soul as ground that no longer belongs to you but to Him alone in which to sow whatever seed He pleases; light or darkness, pleasure or disgust, in a word, all that he pleases; or nothing at all if such should be His will. Oh! how terrible to self-love is this nothing! but how good and profitable for the soul is this grace, and this life of faith. God does not complete His work in us perfectly, unless we become firmly established, by our will, in the conviction of our own nothingness, because the measure of our resistance, and the impediments we place to the divine operations, is the measure also of the acquiescence of our will to this state.”

   “You know what I think of about a keen feeling of your weakness and powerlessness. Fenelon says that this is a grace to make us despair of ourselves in order that we may hope only in God. It is then, he adds, that God begins to work marvels in a soul. But usually he performs His work in a hidden manner and without the soul’s knowledge, to preserve it from snares of self-love.”

   “You feel as if you had neither faith, hope, charity; that is because God has deprived you of all perception of these virtues, and retained them in the highest part of the soul. He thus affords you an opportunity of making a complete sacrifice of all satisfaction, and this is better than anything. Of what then do you complain? It is disconsolate nature which grieves because it feels nothing but troubles, dryness, and spiritual anguish. These are its death, a necessary death in order to receive the new life of grace, a life altogether holy and divine. I am acquainted with some whose souls frequently pass through the most terrible agonies, so that it seems to them, as to you, as if every moment would be their last...”

   “God remains always, and when nothing else is left to you, you will be able to love Him with greater purity.”

   “You cannot follow the path of perfection in reality except through losses, abnegation, despoilment, death to all things, complete annihilation, and unreserved abandonment. We need not be astonished when we experience afflictions, when even our reason totters, that poor reason so blind to the ways of faith; for it is a strange blindness which leads us to aspire after perfection by a way of illumination, of spiritual joy and consolation, the infallible result of which would be to revive ever more and more our self-love and to enable it to spoil everything.”

   “Neither in your present circumstances, nor during the whole time that your trial lasts must you expect to receive any other consolation than it please God to give you; for not even an angel from heaven could draw a soul out of the crucible in which God keeps it, to purify it more and more. Moreover, it is certain that the interior crucifixion is so much greater the greater the degree of love and union with him to which God intends to raise the soul.”

   “It is the usual way by which God conducts His chosen spouses to the perfection He destines them to attain; and I have known very few whom He has not judged it necessary along this path when they give themselves up entirely to Him. Why then are there such painful states? Why this heaviness of heart which takes the pleasure out of everything? and this depression which makes life insupportable? Why? It is to destroy, in those souls destined to a perfect union with God, a certain base of hidden presumption; to attack pride in its last retreat; to overwhelm with bitterness that cursed self-love which is only content with what gives it pleasure; until at last, not knowing where to turn, it dies for want of food and attention, as a fire goes out for want of fuel to feed it. This death, however, is not the work of a moment; a great quantity of water is required to extinguish a great conflagration.”

   “Self-love is like a many-headed hydra, and its heads have to be cut-off successively. It has many lives that have to be destroyed one after the other if one wishes to be completely delivered. You have, doubtless, obtained a great advantage by making it die to nature and the senses; but do not dream that you are entirely set free from its obsessions. It recovers from this first defeat and renews its attacks on another ground. More subtle in future, it begins again on that which is sensible in devotion; and it is to be feared that this second attempt, apparently much less crude, and more justifiable than its predecessor, is also much more powerful. Nevertheless, pure love cannot put up with the one any more than the other. God cannot suffer sensible consolations to share a heart that belongs to Him. When will that happen? If less priviledged souls are in question, for whom God has not such a jealous love, He allows them a peaceful enjoyment of these holy pleasures, and contents Himself with the sacrifice they have made of the pleasures of sense. This is, in fact, the ordinary course with devout persons, whose piety is somewhat mixed with a certain amount of self-seeking. Assuredly God does not approve of their defects; but, as they have received fewer graces, He is less exacting in the matter of perfection. These are the ordinary spouses of an inferior rank, whose beauty needs not to be so irreproachable, for they have not the power to wound His divine heart so keenly; but He has far other requirements, as He has quite other designs with regard to His chosen spouses. The jealousy of His love equals His tenderness. Desiring to give Himself entirely to them, He wishes also to possess their whole heart without division. Therefore He would not be satisfied with the exterior crosses and pains which detach from creatures but desires to detach them from themselves, and to destroy in them to the last fibre that self-love which is rooted in feelings of devotion, is supported and nourished by them, and finds its satisfaction in them. To effect this second death He withdraws all consolation, all pleasure, all interior help, insomuch that the poor soul finds itself as though suspended between Heaven and earth, without the consolations of the one, nor the comforts of the other. For a human being who cannot exist without pleasure and without love, this seems a sort of annihilation. Nothing then remains for him but to attach himself - not with the heart which no longer feels anything, but with the essence of the soul - to God alone, whom he knows and perceives by bare faith in an obscure manner. Oh! it is then that the soul, perfectly purified by this two-fold death, enters into a spiritual alliance with God, and possesses Him in the pure delights of purified love; which never could have been the case if its spiritual taste had not been doubly purified.”

   “But I am not sure that I do love, all that I know is that I try to love.” Well, that is all that God requires of you. It is a received axiom in theology that God never refuses grace to him who does all that is in his power to acquire it. Try then to love Him, and if these efforts are not the fruit of love, they will obtain for you the grace of charity. God already gives you a great favour in inspiring you with the desire to love Him. Some day, I hope, He will lead you further, and satisfy this desire.”

   “Interior privation, or death to self, is the most difficult renunciation of all; it is as though we were torn away from ourselves, or were flayed alive. The excruciating pain experienced by self-love, and the cries it utters, are an index to the power of the links which attach us to the creature, and to the necessity of this renunciation; for, the deeper the knife of the surgeon penetrates to the quick, the keener the pain; and the greater the vitality one has, the stronger is the resistance to this death. The soul, therefore, cannot arrive at this happy death and perfect detachment except by way of privations and interior renunciation.”

   “But what about interior rebellion? It must be put up with and no attention paid to it. But if one feels that one is not bearing this state of deprivation properly? This additional trial must be endured like that of despoilment, peacefully without voluntary trouble. But what if you are not certain that this deprivation comes from God? As it is now a question of cutting off self-love, which for its own consolation seeks impossible certitude in everything, this is the answer that should be given:

   “God felt, enjoyed, and giving pleasure, is truly God; but He bestows gifts for which the soul flatters itself; but God in darkness, in privations, in destitution, in unconsciousness, is God alone, and as it were, naked. This, however, is a little hard on self-love, that enemy of God, of our own souls, and of all good; and it is by the force of these blows that it is finally put to death in us. Shall we fear a death that produces within us the life of grace, the divine life? But it is very hard to have to pass one’s life this way! What does it matter? A little more or less of sweetness during the short moments of life? It is indeed a small matter for one who has before his eyes an eternal kingdom. But I suffer all this destitution so imperfectly, so feebly! Another unfelt grace; God preserve you from suffering with great courage, and a strength that can be realized. What an amount of secret complacency, of idle reflexions about yourself, would result to spoil the work of God! An invisible hand supports you enough to render you victorious, and the keen sense of your weakness makes you humble even in victory....Let us admire the wisdom and the goodness of God, who so well knows how to mix and proportion all things for our profit and advantage; whereas if he arranged matters to our liking all would be spoiled, corrupted, and, possibly, lost.”

   “In spite of your darkness, want of feeling, and stupidity, your faith does not lack an immovable, although unfelt, support; since, following the example of Jesus Christ, you have a great desire to abandon yourself to the very One by whom you believe yourself to be abandoned and forsaken. This is an evident sign that in the midst of your supposed destitution and apparent abandonment, you recognise by pure faith interiorly that you have never been, in the main, less forsaken, nor less friendless than now.”

   “To feel no surprise at one’s miseries is a good beginning for a humility founded on self-knowledge; but to feel no trouble at the keen and habitual recollection of them is a very great grace, and the source of a complete distrust of self, and of a true and perfect confidence in God.”

   “I end where I began, by blessing God for the graces He has bestowed on you, and by begging Him to continue them to you. On no account..leave off this total self-forgetfulness to which I have so often exhorted you, and which the divine goodness has effected in you. In fact, why should one be so engrossed in oneself? The true self is God, since He is more completely the life of the soul than the soul is the life of the body. God created us for Himself alone; let us think of Him, and He will think of us, and provide for us much better than we can for ourselves. When we fall, let us humble ourselves, and rise again, and go on our way in peace, and think always of our true self which is God, in whom we shall lose ourselves and be engulfed, in the way in which we shall find ourselves absorbed and engulfed in heaven during the infinite duration of the great day of eternity. Amen! Amen!"



   Contemplation