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The Best of Fenelon

Words of wisdom from a "friend of God" who, like Madame Guyon, Michael Molinos, and St. John of the Cross, went to jail for his beliefs and teachings. Quotes are from The Complete Fenelon; Spiritual Progress: Francois Fenelon, Madame Guyon, Pere Lacombe; and The Seeking Heart.

   "Strict as God seems to be in his dealings with us, he never inflicts any suffering solely to give us pain. He always has purification of the soul in view. The severity of the operation is caused by the depth of the malady to be cured. God would not cut if there were no sore. He only probes the ulcerated flesh. So, after all, it is our own destructive self-will that is the cause of what we suffer, and God's hand deals as gently as possible with us. But how deep our malady, how malignant our souls must be, since all the time he spares us so tenderly, yet puts us to such grievous pain."

   "In his love, he takes away even his purest gifts if we are using them wrongly; and the purer those gifts the more jealous he is that we should not reckon them as our own or take credit to ourselves for them."

   "And so all our good things need purifying, so that they will not foster a merely natural life in us. Our corrupt nature finds a very subtle food in the graces that are most opposed to nature. Self-love is fed, not merely by humiliation and austerities, by fervent prayer and mortification - but even by the fullest self-renunciation and utter sacrifice. There is an infinite amount of moral strength in the thought that we have no strength at all and that amid such a horrible trial we are still yielding ourselves up unreservedly. And so, to make the sacrifice real, we must give up even our satisfaction in our sacrifice."

   "The only way to find God truly is in this readiness to part with all his gifts, this through sacrifice of self and of all inward resources. God's exceeding jealousy exacts it, and you can easily see how we never lose ourselves in him until all else fails. A man who is falling into an abyss is not completely cast down as long as he can clutch hold of the sides. And self-love, even when God overthrows it, clutches in its despair at every gleam of hope, like a drowning person grasping at straws."

   “We are hardly to be persuaded of the goodness of God in loading those whom He loves with crosses. Why, we say, should He take pleasure in causing us to suffer? Could he not render us good without making us miserable? Yes, doubtless, He could, for all things are possible with God. He holds in his omnipotent hands the hearts of men, and turns them as He will; as the skill of the workman can give direction to the stream on the summit of a hill. But able as He is to save us without crosses, He has not chosen to do so; as he has not seen fit to create men at once in the full vigor of manhood, but has suffered them to grow up by degrees amid all the perils and weaknesses of infancy and youth. In this matter, He is the Master; we have only to adore in silence the depths of His wisdom, without comprehending it.”

   [Paul Brunton spoke this way:

   “Why does not the Overself show its existence and display its power once and for all? Why does it let this long torment of man, left to dwell in ignorance and darkness, go on? All that the ego is to gain from undergoing its varied evolution is wrapped up in the answer...The Overself waits with deepest patience for him - man - to prefer it completely to everything and everyone else. It waits for the time when longings for the soul will leave the true aspirant no rest, when love for the divine will outlast and outweigh all other loves.” Vol. 12, Part Two, 1.76 ]

   “The work of grace, in detaching us from self and destroying our self-love, could not be otherwise than painful, without a miracle. Neither in His gracious nor providential dealings does God work a miracle lightly. It would be as great a wonder to see a person full of self become in a moment dead to all self- interest and all sensitiveness, as it would be to see a slumbering infant wake in the morning a fully developed man. God works in a mysterious way in grace as well as in nature, concealing his operations under an imperceptible succession of events, and thus keeps us always in the darkness of faith.”

   “God renders the working of grace slow and obscure, then, that He may keep us in the darkness of faith..All this dealing appears perfectly natural, and it is by this succession of natural means that we are burnt as by a slow fire. We should like to be consumed at once by the flames of pure love, but such an end would scarce cost us anything; it is only an excessive self-love that desires thus to become perfect in a moment and at so cheap a rate.”

   "You must learn to realize the necessity of this deprivation of all God's gifts, which he gradually works out. There is no gift, however precious, that, after having been a help, will not become a snare and a hindrance to the soul that rests in it; and so God often takes away what he has given. However, he does not take it away completely. He often deprives us of something only in order to restore it more fully and without the evil spirit of self-satisfaction that had unconsciously gained possession of us. The self-satisfaction is overthrown by the loss, and then he restores the gift a hundred times over. Then the soul loses sight of the gift and sees only God."

   "I cannot help admiring the goodness of the cross. We are worth nothing without it. It makes me tremble and convulses me as soon as I begin to feel it. All that I have said of its helpful operations vanishes away before the agony it brings to my inmost heart. But as soon as it gives me time to breathe, I open my eyes again and I see that it is worthy of praise. Then I am ashamed to have been overwhelmed by it. The experience of this inconsistency is a deep lesson for me.

   “Do you want to experience true happiness? Submit yourself peacefully and simply to the will of God, and hear your sufferings without struggle. Nothing so shortens and soothes your pain as the spirit of non-resistance to your Lord. As wonderful as this sounds, it still may not stop you from bargaining with God. The hardest thing about suffering is not knowing how great it will be or how long it will last.You will be tempted to want to impose some limits to your suffering. No doubt you will want to control the intensity of your pain. Do you see the stubborn and hidden hold you have over your life? This control makes the cross necessary in the first place. Do not reject the full work that the people owed of the cross could accomplish in you.”

   "The love of God is full of consideration, forbearance, voluntary descent from one's rank, and tenderness. It adapts itself, waits, and never moves more than one step at a time. The less self-love we have, the more we know how to adapt ourselves to curing our neighbor's failings of that kind; we learn better never to lance without applying plenty of healing ointment to the wound, never to purge the patient without feeding him, never to risk an operation except when nature indicates its safety. We learn to wait years before giving a beneficial warning. We learn to wait till providence prepares suitable external circumstances, and grace opens the heart. If you persist in gathering fruit before it is ripe, you simply waste your labor."

   “There comes a time, when God, having completely stripped us, having mortified the flesh as to the creatures to which it flung, commenced an interior work for the purpose of forcing from us our hold upon Self. External objects are now no longer the subjects of his spoliations: he would tear us from the I which is the center of our self-love. It was only for the sake of this I that we loved all the rest; and now He pursues it relentlessly and without cessation. Trim up the branches of a tree, and far from killing it, you even add to its vigor, and it shoots out again on every side; but attack the trunk, wither the root, and it fades, languishes and dies. It is the good will of God towards us, thus to make us die to self...It is no longer the strength of the soul that is then employed against the things without, but its weakness that is turned against itself. It looks at self; it is shocked at what it sees; it remains faithful, but it no longer beholds its own fidelity. Every defect in its previous history rises up to view, and often new faults, of which it had never before even suspected the existence. It no longer finds those supports of fervor and courage which formerly nourished it. It faints, like Jesus, it is heavy even unto death. All is taken away but the will to retain nothing, and to let God work without reservation.”

   “The last operations, though not always the greatest, are, nevertheless, the most severe. Though the outside garments may be more costly than those within, yet the removal of the latter is more painful than that of the former. During the first, we are consoled by reflecting upon what is left us; during the last, nought remains but bitterness, nakedness, and confusion. I shall perhaps be asked, in what these deprivations consist; but I cannot say. They are as various as the characters of men. Each man suffers according to his necessity, and the designs of God. How is it possible to know what will be taken off from us, when we do not know what we have on?We cling to an infinity of things which we should never suspect; we only feel that they are a part of us when they are snatched away...These spoliation are not commonly such as could have been anticipated. That which we expect, finds us prepared, and is scarce proper to hasten the death of self. God surprises us in the most unlooked for quarters. They are nothings, but nothings which desolate us and crucify self-love...Others see nothing great, and the person himself discovers within, only what seems natural, weak, and feeble; but he would rather a hundred times, fast all his life on bread and water, and practice the greatest austerities, than suffer what is going on within him...He finds in the pliability which God requires in an infinity of little things, more of self-abandonment and death than there would be in great sacrifices.”

   "God, in his desire to strip the soul for its own perfection, causes it really to pass through these trials of self, and never leaves it alone until he has put an end to its love of self-concern and support. There is nothing so jealous, so exacting, and so searching as this pure love of God. It cannot abide a thousand things that were unnoticed in our previous state. What other Christians might consider insignificant seems a vital point to the soul that is intent on the death of the old self. As with gold in the furnace, the fire consumes all that is not gold, so it seems necessary that the heart should be melted with fervent heat in order for the love of God to be rendered pure. Those being purified in this way are thankful to God for whatever he does in them solely because he does it for his own glory.“

Very important passage:

   “God does not pursue every soul in this way in the present life. There are many truly good persons whom he leaves in some degree under the sway of self-love. These remainders of self support them in the practice of virtue and serve to purify them to a certain degree. There would be almost nothing more harmful or dangerous than to deprive such persons of the contemplation of the grace of God in them as leading to their own personal perfection. This second group is also grateful, but partly because their own perfection is secured at the same time. If the first group should try to deprive the second of this interior comfort they have in reference to grace, they would cause them as much injury as they would an infant by weaning it before it was able to eat. To take away the breast would be to destroy it. We must never seek to deprive a soul of the food that still contains nourishment for it, and that God allows to remain as a stay to its weakness. To forestall or hinder grace would be to destroy it."

   “On the other hand, the second group should not condemn the first because they do not see them as much concerned as they themselves are about their own perfection. God works in everyone as he pleases. The wind blows wherever it pleases, and as it pleases. Forgetfulness of self is a state in which God can do with us whatever most pleases him.”

   “The important point is that those who are still supported somewhat by self should not be too anxious about those who are in pure love, nor should the latter try to make the former pass through new trials before God calls them to it.

   “Whose hand is it that must pluck you out of the mire? Your own? Alas! you are buried deeper than thought, and cannot help yourself; and more, this very slough is nothing but self; the whole of your trouble consists in the inability to leave yourself, and do you expect to increase your chances by dwelling constantly upon your defects, and feeding your sensitive by a view of your folly? You will in this way only increase your difficulties, while the gentlest look towards God would calm your heart. It is his presence that causes us to go forth from self, and when He has accomplished that, we are in peace. But how are we to go forth? Simply by turning gently towards God, and gradually forming the habit of so doing, by a faithful persistence in it, whenever we perceive that we have wandered from Him.”

   “The most perfect preparation for this future, whatever it may be, is to die to every will of our own, and yield ourselves wholly up to his...When we are thus prepared for every event, we begin to feel the Rock under our feet at the very bottom of the abyss; we are ready to suppose every imaginable evil of themselves, but we throw ourselves blindly into the arms of God, forgetting and losing everything else. This forgetfulness of self is the most perfect denouncement of self and acceptance of God; it is the sacrifice of self-love; it would be a thousand times more agreeable to accuse and condemn ourselves, to torment body and mind, rather than to forget.”

   “Such an abandonment is an annihilation of self- love, in which it no longer finds any nourishment. Then the heart begins to expand; we begin to feel lighter for having thrown off the burden of self, which we formerly carried; we are astonished to behold the simplicity and straightness of the way. We thought there was a need of strife and constant exertion, but we now perceive that there is little to do; that it is sufficient to look to God with confidence, without reasonable either upon the past or the future, regarding Him as a loving Father, who leads us every moment by the hand.”

   “Let us pray to God that he would root out of our hearts everything of our own planting, and set out there, with his own hands, the tree of life, bearing all manner of fruits.”