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Letter XI.—For the Time of Retreat.

To the same Sister. Before the Retreat. Nancy, 1734.

The way in which you should make your Retreat is most simple, but cannot fail to be painful on account of the interior state in which God is pleased to keep your soul at present.

1st. Do not forget, my dear Sister, that after having passed through the first degrees of the spiritual life our further progress is affected entirely by the 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 either 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. Do not then occupy yourself in any other duty than that of receiving whatever your sovereign Lord and Master chooses to give you; since, after 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, 361pleasure 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 the 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 in this state.

2nd. In this state of despoilment you should never force your inclination by means, or about subjects that do not suit you. Simply meditate, as far as you are able, on the life and mysteries of Jesus Christ. Read the works of St. Francis of Sales, and a few of St. Jane de Chantal’s letters; those which treat of states of suffering and privation. Read especially some of the lives of saints of both sexes that are to the point, or an account of the virtues of your holy Rev. Mother or Sisters. You will derive instruction and consolation from such reading.

3rd. During the day keep yourself spiritually united to God, receiving and accepting from His fatherly Providence all the different circumstances that occur with an entire abandonment and total surrender of yourself. In this way you will practise true recollection in which there is no fear of slothfulness.

When you feel more attraction or facility in forming acts or colloquies with God or our Lord, quietly follow these impressions of grace, but without effort or eagerness. Follow the advice of St. Francis of Sales, who desires that these acts should flow, or be as though distilled by the higher faculties of the soul. The moment it becomes necessary to make some effort to continue these acts leave them off at once and humbly resume your former state.

Keep yourself in repose in the depths of your heart, detached from all thoughts of exterior things, as Fénélon advises; I mean voluntary thoughts; as for those that pass through the mind, take no notice of them; however, if you find that you are obsessed by them in spite of yourself, then have patience, be at peace, and abandon yourself.

Unquestionably you must be very faithful and particular in accomplishing the exercises marked out for the time of Retreat.

If you observe these rules you need not fear wasting your time; fear only that miserable terror which is the outcome solely of self-love. Do not allow yourself to be distracted from simple recollection by this trouble, but guard and preserve it as a precious treasure however slight, dry, and barren it may be. For with regard to you nothing could be more important than this recollection in God, without which it would be impossible for Him to 362accomplish in you His divine work. If you keep yourself united to Him you may be assured that He will act in you, although it may be in an imperceptible manner, and the result of His action should be, at this time, to impoverish and despoil you more and more, rather than to enrich and replenish you. When you become, by grace, insupportable to yourself, and find not the least satisfaction in your good works, nothing remains but to put up with yourself and to use towards yourself the same kindness and charity that you employ towards your neighbour; it is St. Francis of Sales who gives us this advice. Happy is he who by dint of having destroyed self-love, which is the false love of oneself, no longer retains any estimation of himself, nor any love except that of pure charity, the same that he has for his neighbour, or even his enemies, in spite of a sort of contempt and horror that he feels towards himself. Many more trials will be necessary before arriving at that degree of perfection in which self-love ceases to exist, and is replaced by the real love of pure charity. I pray God with all my heart to give you this grace.

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