THE MANNER IN WHICH WE MUST ABANDON OURSELVES TO PROVIDENCE
Taken from PROVIDENCE, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur and Imprimi Potest, 1937
We have said that it is because of the wisdom and goodness of providence that we should put our trust in it and abandon ourselves completely to it; and further, that, provided we fulfill our daily duties, this self-surrender should then embrace everything, all that concerns both soul and body, remembering that if we are faithful in small things grace will be given us to be faithful in what is greater.
Now let us see what forms this confidence and self-abandonment must take according to the nature of events as these do or do not depend on the will of man; let us see what spirit should animate it, what virtues should inspire it. On the various ways of abandoning oneself to providence according to the nature of the event. 1
In order to have a proper understanding of the doctrine of holy indifference, it is well to point out, as spiritual writers frequently do, 2 that our self-abandonment must be in different ways in so far as events independent of the human will call for a type of self-abandonment different from that required by the injustice done to us by men, or our personal sins and their consequences.
Where it concerns events independent of the human will (such as accidents impossible to foresee, incurable diseases), our self-abandonment cannot be too absolute. Resistance here would be useless and would only serve to make us more unhappy; whereas, by accepting them in the spirit of faith, confidence and love, these unavoidable sufferings will become very meritorious. 3 In times of affliction, as often as we say, "Thy will be done," we acquire new merit, and thus what is a real trial becomes a means of great sanctification. Moreover, even in trials that may come upon us, but which perhaps will never materialize, self-abandonment is still of great profit. In preparing to sacrifice his son with perfect self-abandonment, Abraham gained much merit, even though in the event God ceased to demand it of him. By the practice of self-abandonment trials present and to come thus become means of sanctification, the more so as it is inspired by a more intense love for God.
Where it concerns sufferings brought upon us through the injustice of men, their ill will, their unfairness in their dealings with us, their calumnies, what must our attitude be?
St. Thomas, 4 speaking of the injuries and undeserved reproaches, the insults and slanders that affect only our person, declares we must be ready to bear them with patience in compliance with our Lord's words: "If one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other" (Matt. 5: 39). But, he continues, there are occasions when some answer is called for, either for the good of the person who injures us, to put a stop to his insolence, or to avoid the scandal such slanders and calumnies may cause. If we do feel bound to retaliate and offer some sort of resistance, let us put ourselves unreservedly in God's hands for the success of the steps we take. In other words, we must deplore and reprove these acts of injustice not because they are wounding to our self-love and pride, but because they are an offense against God, endangering the salvation of the guilty parties and of those who may be led astray by them.
So far as we are concerned, we should see in the injustice men do to us the action of Divine justice permitting this evil in order to give us an opportunity of expiating other and very real failings, failings with which no one reproaches us. It is well also to see in this sort of trial the action of Divine mercy, which would make of it a means to detach us from creatures, to rid us of our inordinate affections, our pride and lukewarmness, and thus oblige us to have immediate recourse to a fervent prayer of supplication. Spiritually these acts of injustice are like the surgeon's knife, very painful at times but a great corrective. The suffering they cause must bring home to us the value of true justice; not only must it lead us to be just in our dealings with our neighbor, but it must give birth in us to the beatitude of those who, as the Gospel says, hunger and thirst after justice and who shall indeed have their fill.
And so, instead of upsetting and embittering us, men's contempt for us may have a very salutary effect, by impressing us with the utter vanity of all human glory and with the sublimity of the glory of God as the saints have understood it. It is the way leading to that true humility which causes us to accept contempt and to love to be treated as objects worthy of contempt. 5
Lastly, what is to be our attitude regarding all those vexations of every kind that are the result not of the injustice of others, but of our own failings, our own indiscretions and weaknesses?
In these failings of ours and their consequences, we must distinguish the element of disorder and guilt from the salutary humiliations resulting from them. Whatever our self-love may have to say, we can never regret too keenly any inordinateness there may have been in our actions, on account of the wrong it has done to God, and the harm it has done to our own soul and, as an almost invariable consequence, to the soul of our neighbor. As for the salutary humiliation resulting from it, we must accept it with complete self-abandonment according to the words of the Psalm (118: 71-77): "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me: that I may learn Thy justifications. The law of my mouth is good to me, above thousands of gold and silver. ... I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are equity: and in Thy truth Thou has humbled me. O let Thy mercy be for my comfort. ... Let Thy tender mercies come unto me, and I shall live: for Thy law is my meditation."
These humiliations resulting from our personal failings are the true remedy for that exaggerated estimate of ourselves to which we so often cling in spite of the disapproval and contempt others show for us. It even happens that pride hardens us to humiliations from a purely external source, and causes us to offer to ourselves the incense others refuse us. This is one of the most subtle and dangerous forms of self-love and pride, and, to correct it, the Divine mercy makes use of those humiliations which are the result of our own failings; in its loving kindness it makes those very failings contribute to our progress. Hence, while laboring to correct ourselves, we should accept these humiliations with perfect self-abandonment. "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, O Lord." It is the way leading to a practical realization of those profound words of the Imitation, so fruitful to one who has really understood them: "Love to be unknown and accounted as nought." By this doctrine we must live according as the occurrences do or do not depend on ourselves.
The spirit that should animate our self-abandonment to Providence
Is it a spirit that. depreciates 'Our hope of salvation on the plea of advanced perfection, as the Quietists claimed? Quite the contrary: it must be a spirit of deep faith, confidence, and love.
The will of God, as expressed by His commandments, is that we should hope in Him and labor confidently in the work of our salvation in the face of every obstacle. This expressed will of God pertains to the domain of obedience, not of self-abandonment. This latter concerns the will of His good pleasure on which depends our still uncertain future, the daily occurrences in the course of our life, such as health and sickness, success and misfortune. 6
To sacrifice our salvation, our eternal happiness, on the plea of perfection, would be absolutely contrary to that natural inclination for happiness which, with our nature, we have from God. It would be contrary to Christian hope, not only to that possessed by the common run of the faithful, but also to that of the Saints, who in the severest trials have hoped on "against all human hope," to use St. Paul's phrase (Rom. 4: 18), even when all seemed lost. Nay, to sacrifice our eternal beatitude in this way would be contrary to charity itself, by which indeed we love God for His Own sake and desire to possess Him that we may eternally proclaim His glory.
The natural inclination we have from God which leads us to desire happiness is not a disorder, for it already contains the initial tendency to love God the sovereign good more than ourselves. As St. Thomas has pointed out, 7 in our own organism the hand naturally tends to prefer the interests of the body to its own and to sacrifice itself, if necessary, for the safety of the body. And our Lord Himself says that the hen instinctively gathers her little ones under her wing, ready to sacrifice herself if necessary to save them from the hawk, the reason being that, all unconsciously, she prefers the welfare of the species to her own. In a higher form this same natural tendency is to be found in man: in loving what is highest in himself He loves his Creator even more; to cease to desire our perfection and salvation would be to turn our back upon God. 8 There can be no question, therefore, of our sacrificing the desire for salvation and eternal happiness, as the Quietists imagined, on the plea of advanced perfection.
Far from it: self-abandonment involves the exercise in an eminent degree of the three theological virtues, faith, hope, and charity, as it were fused into one. 9
It is nevertheless true to say that God purifies our desire from the self-love with which it may be tinged by leaving us in some uncertainty about it and so inducing us to love Him more exclusively for His Own sake. 10 We should abandon ourselves to God in the spirit of faith, believing with St. Paul (Rom. 8: 28) that "all things work together unto good" in the lives of those who love God and persevere in His love. Such an act of faith was that made by holy Job who, when deprived of his wealth and his children, remained submissive to God, saying: "The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away. ... Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1: 21).
In the same spirit Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son in obedience to God's command, abandoning himself in the deepest faith to the Divine will of good pleasure in all that concerned the future of his race. Weare reminded of this by St. Paul when he tells us in the Epistle to the Hebrews (11: 17): "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son (to whom it was said: in Isaac shall thy seed be called), accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead." Far less exacting are the trials we have to endure, though on account of our weakness they sometimes seem to weigh heavily upon us.
At any rate, let us believe with the Saints that whatever the Lord does He does well, when He sends us humiliations and spiritual dryness as when He heaps honors and consolations upon us. As Father Piny remarks, 11 nowhere is there a deeper or more lively faith than in the conviction that God arranges everything for our welfare, even when He appears to destroy us and overthrow our most cherished plans, when He allows us to be calumniated, to suffer permanent ill-health, and other afflictions still more painful. 12 This is great faith indeed, for it is to believe the apparently incredible: that God will raise us up by casting us down; and it is to believe this in a practical and living way, not merely an abstract and theoretical way. We find verified in our lives these words of the Gospel: "Everyone that exalteth himself [like the Pharisee] shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself [like the publican] shall be exalted" (Luke 18: 14). Also we find verified these words of the Magnificat: "He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich He hath sent empty away" (Luke 1: 52). Everyone of us must by humility be numbered among these little ones, among those that hunger for Divine truth which is the true bread of the soul.
While fulfilling our daily duties, then, we must abandon ourselves to almighty God in a spirit of deep faith, which must also be accompanied by an absolutely childlike confidence in His fatherly kindness. Confidence (fiducia or confidentia), says St. Thomas, 13 is a steadfast or intensified hope arising from a deep faith in the goodness of God, Who, according to His promises, is ever at hand to help us - Deus auxilians. 14
As the Psalms declare: "Blessed are they that trust in the Lord" (2: 12); "They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Sion: he shall not be moved forever that dwelleth in Jerusalem" (124: 1); "Preserve me, O Lord, for I have put my trust in Thee" (15: 1); "In Thee, ) Lord, have I hoped, let me not be confounded" (30: 1).
St. Paul (Rom. 4: 18) reminds us how Abraham, in spite of his advanced years, believed in the Divine promise that he would be the father of many nations, and adds: "Against hope, he believed in hope. ... In the promise also of God he staggered not by distrust: but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God: most fully knowing that whatsoever He has promised, He is able to perform."
We, too, while fulfilling our daily duties, should look to our Lord for the realization of these words of His: "My sheep hear My voice: and I know them, and they follow Me ... and no man shall pluck them out of My hand" (John 10: 27). As Father Piny notes, 15 to do one's duty in all earnestness and then to resign oneself with entire confidence into our Lord's hands is the true mark of a member of His flock. What better way can there be of hearkening to the voice of the good Shepherd than by constantly acquiescing in all that He demands of us, lovingly beseeching Him to have pity on us, throwing ourselves confidently into the arms of His mercy with all our failings and regrets? By so doing, we are at the same time placing in His hands all our fears for both. the past and the future. This holy self-abandonment is not at all opposed to hope, but is childlike confidence in its holiest form united with a love becoming ever more and more purified.
Love in its purest form, in fact, depends for its support upon the will of God, after the example of our Lord who said: "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, that I may perfect His work" (John 4: 34); "Because I came down from Heaven, not to do My Own will, but the will of Him that sent Me" (John 5: 30). Thus no more perfect or nobler or purer way of loving God can be found than to make the Divine will our own, fulfilling God's will as expressed to us and then abandoning ourselves entirely to His good pleasure. For souls that follow this road, God is everything: eventually, they can say in very truth: "My God and my all." God is their center; they find no peace but in Him, by submitting all their aspirations to His good pleasure and accepting tranquilly all that He does. At times of greatest difficulty St. Catherine of Siena would remember the Master's words to her: "Think of Me and I will think of thee."
Rare indeed are the souls that attain to such perfection as this. And yet it is the goal at which we all must aim. St. Francis de Sales says:
Our Lord loves with a most tender love those who are so happy as to abandon themselves wholly to His fatherly care, letting themselves be governed by His Divine providence, without any idle speculations as to whether the workings of this providence will be useful to them, to their profit, or painful to their loss, and this because they are well assured that nothing can be sent, nothing permitted by this paternal and most loving heart, which will not be a source of good and profit to them. All that is required is that they should place all their confidence in Him. 16 ...When, in fulfilling our daily duties, we abandon everything, our Lord takes care of everything and orders everything. ... The soul has nothing else to do but to rest in the arms of our Lord like a child on its mother's breast. When she puts it down to walk, it walks until she takes it up again, and when she wishes to carry it, she is allowed to do so. It neither knows nor thinks where it is going, but allows itself to be carried or led wherever its mother pleases. So this soul lets itself be carried when it lovingly accepts God's good pleasure in all things that happen, and walks when it carefully effects all that the known (expressed) will of God demands. 17
Then it can truly say with our Lord: "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me" (John 4: 34). Therein it finds its peace, which even now is in some sort the beginning of eternal life within us - inchoatio vitae aeternae.
1 Cf. St. Francis de.Sales, The Love of God, Bk. VIII, chap. 5; Bk. IX, chaps. 1-7.
2 Cf. St. Francis de Sales, loco cit., and Spiritual Conferences, II, xv; De Caussade, Abandon, 11,279 (App. 2). Cf. also Dom Vital Lehodey, Holy Abandonment, Part III: "On abandonment in the natural goods of the body (health and sickness)," pp. 166 ff.; "on abandonment of those of the mind (the unequal distribution of these gifts)," pp. 191 ff.; "on abandonment of one's own good estimation in others (humiliations and persecutions)," pp. 207 ff.; "on abandonment in the spiritual varieties of the common way (failures and faults, trials and consolations)," pp. 244 ff.; "abandonment in. the spiritual varieties of the mystical way," pp. 244 ff.
3 There are instances where a life has been completely changed by trials, as may be seen from the biography of Abbe Girard, entitled, Vingt-deux ani de martyr. After receiving the diaconate, this saintly priest contracted tuberculosis of the bones and for twenty-two years was confined to his bed in the cruelest suffering, which he offered up each day for the priests of his generation. Here was one who to his great grief was never able to celebrate Mass, and yet he was daily united to our Lord's sacrifice perpetuated on the altar. Far from breaking up his vocation, sickness transfigured it.
4 Cf. St. Thomas, IIaIIae, q.72, a. 3; q.73. a.3 ad 3um.
5 Cf. St. Thomas, "On the degrees of humility," IIaIIae, q. 161, a.6.
6 ct. St. Francis de Sales, The Love of God, Bk. IX, chap. 5, and Bossuet, Etats d'oraison, Bk. VIII, chap.
7 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 60, a. 5.
8 That such is the teaching of St. Thomas, we have shown at length elsewhere. Cf. L'Amour de Dieu et /a Croir de Jesus, I, 77-150.
9 Certain authors have spoken of the virtue of self-abandonment. In reality the act of self-abandonment has its source not in a special virtue, but in the three theological virtues combined with the gift of piety.
10 Cf. Piny, Le plus parfait, chap. 7.
12 In the lives of many Saints we see how the appalling calumnies they had to endure became, by God's permission, the occasion of a marvelous increase in their love for Him.
13 Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 129, a. 6.
14 We are especially reminded of this, the formal motive of hope, in the name of Jesus, which means Savior, and in various titles given to the Blessed Virgin: Help of Christians, Refuge of Sinners, Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
15. Cf. Piny, Le plus parfait, chap. 8.
16 Read, for instance, the life of Blessed Cottolengo. There it will be seen what a tender love God had for this soul so admirably resigned to providence, and how almighty God blessed his piccola casa in Turin, where assistance is given daily to ten thousand poor. Here is one of the most striking instances of God's goodness to us. If the stars in the heavens chant the glories of God, much more do works of mercy such as this.
17 St. Francis de Sales, Spiritual Conferences. tr. by Mackey, O.S.B., Conference II, p. 25. The interior conviction expressed in this passage, as proceeding from the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, far surpasses any theological speculation.
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