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Letter XXI.—Things Painful to Nature.

To Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil (1731). Things painful to nature are good for the soul.

You need not to remind me to pray for you. I never forget to do so, especially since I became aware that you are in a state so painful to nature, although so good for your soul. However, I assure you I have never thought of asking God to grant you anything but patience, submission, resignation to His holy will, and total abandonment to His kind providence; and I do this through the conviction I have of the great grace God is giving you, and the great need you are in of these virtues; a need all the greater because you do not acknowledge it. When this storm is past you will understand these two things so keenly and distinctly that you will not know how, sufficiently, to thank God for having been so good as to put His own hand to the work, and to operate within your soul in a few months, what with the help of ordinary grace would have taken you, perhaps, twenty years to accomplish, namely, to get rid of a hidden self-love, and of a pride all the more dangerous in being more subtle and more imperceptible. From this poisonous root grows an infinite number of imperfections of which you are scarcely conscious; useless self-examinations, still more useless self-complacency, idle fears, fruitless desires, frivolous little hopes, suspicions unfavourable to your neighbour, little jokes at her expense, and airs full of self-love. You would have run a great risk of remaining for a long time subject to all these defects, filled, almost without suspecting it, with vanity and self-confidence without either power or will to sound the profound abyss of perversity and natural corruption that you had within your soul. It is 265this collection of miseries that God now makes you feel, not in particular, for if you experienced them in this way one by one, it would not affect you, but by viewing them in general, in a heap, and in a confused manner. This mass of imperfections is like an overwhelming weight. Do not search your conscience, therefore, for the great sin that you imagine must be there; what is actually there is still more alarming, and this is a chaotic mass of interior miseries, weakness, imperfections, and little faults which are almost imperceptible and continual and are produced by that amount of self-love of which I am speaking. God has given you a great grace in giving you light to recognise this, for never would you have been able to discover it yourself, not even from its consequences, being in this respect as blind and callous as are vicious men in regard to certain gross sins the habit of which renders them hardened to their gravity. You also were unconscious of that leaven of corruption that was within you and which spoilt and poisoned all your works, even those which had their origin in grace.

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 with 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. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, annihilate yourself without ceasing and allow this work to be accomplished. Do not lose sight for one moment of the contempt and horror of yourself with which your present state inspires you. Think only of your infidelities and ingratitude. When you look at yourself let it not be in the flattering mirror of self-love, but in the truth-telling one that God, in His mercy, presents to your eyes to show you what you really are. This sight so frequently presented produces a forgetfulness of self, humility, and respect for your neighbour. “Come and see,” the Holy Spirit says to you, which means, come to our Lord and behold by that new light with which He has enlightened you what you have been, what you are, and what you would, infallibly, have become. Be careful never to give up prayer and Holy Communion, for it is in these that you find help and defence. 266As for sin, you do not commit any, at any rate, none that are serious. As long as you fear, as you do now, to offend God, this fear should reassure you; it is a gift from that same hand which invisibly supports you in your trials. Have patience! you will be consoled in good time, and your consolation will last, while the time of trial passes very rapidly. Poor human nature in its dislike of suffering looks longingly for the end. The important matter is to gather the fruit of the Cross. Let us pray, then, and sigh for that power which we do not possess and should never find within ourselves. 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 yet attained to it without having passed through many trials and great spiritual labour. In order to arrive at this much-desired goal you must learn to love those labours which alone can lead you to it. The more generous you are the sooner the end of these trials will come and the more fruit will they produce.

Continue your way, then, courageously. Rejoice every time you discover a new imperfection. Look forward to the happy moment in which the full knowledge of this abyss of misery completes within you the destruction of all self-confidence and foolish self-satisfaction. Then will it be that, flying in horror from the putrefaction of this tomb you will enter with joyful transports the bosom of God. It is after having completely cast off self that God becomes the sole thought, the only joy; that on Him alone you will rely, and that nothing will give you any pleasure out of Him. This is the new life in Jesus Christ, this is the life of the new man after the old has been destroyed. Hasten then to die like the caterpillar, so that you may become like a beautiful butterfly, flying in the air, instead of crawling on the ground as you have hitherto done.

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