Last month, I shared with you two excerpts (9/20, 9/22) from a book I’ve been reading off on on for a while. Thy Will Be Done! is a collection of letters written by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Doctor of the Church, author of Introduction to the Devout Life, and one of my personal faves. I share with you today another letter from St. Francis to St. Jane de Chantal – this one about patience. Some of the points made in his writing jumped off the page, and so, I thought to share it with you. It is rather long. For that, I apologize, but it is rich and deep and worth the read. I pray it bears fruit in your life.
St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, pray for us! Anne
In Patience You Possess Your Soul
To Jane de Chantal, on patience and on bearing temptations
…I praise God for the constancy with which you bear your tribulations. I still see in it, however, some little disquiet and eagerness, which hinders the final effect of your patience. “In your patience,” said the Son of God, “you shall possess your souls.” (Lk 21:19) To possess fully our souls is then the effect of patience; and in proportion as patience is perfect, the possession of the soul becomes more entire and excellent. Now, patience is more perfect as it is less mixed with disquiet and eagerness. May God then deign to deliver you from these two troubles, and soon afterward you will be free altogether.
Good courage, I beseech you, my dear sister. You have only suffered the fatigue of the road three years, and you crave repose. But remember two things. The first one is that the children of Israel were forty years in the desert before arriving in the country of rest that was promised them, and yet six weeks might easily have sufficed for all this journey. But is was not lawful to inquire why God made them take so many turns, and led them by ways so rough, and all those who murmured died before their arrival. (Num 14:36-37) The other thing is that Moses, who was the greatest friend of God in all the multitude, died on the borders of the land of repose, seeing it with his eyes, and not able to have the enjoyment of it. (Deut 34:4-5)
Oh, might it please God that we should little regard the course of the way we tread, and have our eyes fixed on Him who conducts us, and on the blessed country to which it leads! What should it matter to us whether it is by the deserts or by the meadows we go, if God is with us and we go into Paradis? Trust me, I pray you, cheat your trouble all you can: if you feel it, at least do not look at it, for the sight will give you more fear of it than the feeling will give you pain. For just this reason the eyes of those who are going to suffer some painful application of the iron are covered. I think you dwell a little too much on the consideration of your trouble.
And as for what you say, that it is a great burden to will and to be unable. I will not say to you that we must only will what we can achieve, but I do say it is a great power before God to be able to will. Go further, I beg you, and think of that great dereliction which our Master suffered in the Garden of Olives and see how this dear Son, having asked consolation from His good Father, and knowing that He willed not to give it Him, thinks of it no more, strives after it no more, seeks it no more; but, as if he had never thought of it, executes valiantly and courageously the work of our redemption.
After you have prayed to the Father to console you, if it does not please Him to do it, think of it no more, and stiffen your courage to work out your salvation on the Cross, as if you were never to descend from it, and as if you would never more see the sky of your life clear and serene.
What do you want? You must see and speak to God amid the thunders and the whirlwinds. You must see Him in the bush and amid the thorns; and to do this, the truth is that we must take off our shoes, and make a great abnegation of our wills and affections. But the divine goodness has not called you to the state in which you find yourself without strengthening you for all this. It is for Him to perfect His work. True, it takes quite a while, because the matter requires it; but patience.
In short, for the honor of God, acquiesce entirely in His will, and by no means believe that you can better serve Him otherwise; for He is never well served save when He is served as He wills.
Now he wants you to serve Him without relish, without sentiment, with repugnances and convulsions of spirit. This service gives you no satisfaction, but it contents Him. It is not to your pleasure, but it is to His.
Suppose you were never to be delivered from your troubles, what would you do? You would say to God, “I am Yours; if my miseries are agreeable to You, increase their number and duration.” I have confidence in God that you would say this, and think no more of them; at least you would no longer excite yourself. Do the same about them now, and grow familiar with your burden, as if you and it were always to live together. You will find that when you are no longer thinking of deliverance, God will think of it; and when you are no longer disquieted, God will be there…
Courage, I beseech you; let nothing move you. It is still night, but the day approaches; yes, it will not delay. But, meantime, let us put in practice the saying of David: “Lift up your hand to the holy places in the night, and bless the Lord.” (Ps 133:2) Let us bless Him with all our heart, and pray Him to be our guide, our bark, and our port.
I do not intend to answer your last letter in detail, save in certain point which seem to me more pressing.
You cannot believe, me dearest child, that temptations against the Faith and the Church come from God. But who ever told you that God was the author of such things? [God permits] much darkness, much powerlessness, much being tied to the perch, much dereliction and loss of vigor, much disorder of the spiritual stomach, and much bitterness in the interior mouth (which makes bitter the sweetest wine in the world) – but suggestions of blasphemy, infidelity, disbelief? Oh no, they cannot come from our good God; His bosom is too pure to conceive such objects.
Do you know how God acts in this? he allows the evil maker of such wares to come and offer them for sale, so that by our contempt of them we may give witness to our affection for divine things. And for this, my dear sister, my dearest child, are we to become disquieted, are we to change our attitude? Oh God, no, no! It is the Devil who goes all around our soul, raging and fuming, to see if he can find some gate open. He did so with Job, with St. Anthony, with St. Catherine of Siena, and with an infinity of good souls that I know, and with mine, which is good for nothing, and which I know not. And for what? For all this, my good daughter, must we grow troubled? Let the Devil rage; keep all the entrances closely shut. he will tire at last, or if he does not tire, God will compel him to lift the siege.
Remember what I told you once before. It is a good sign when the Devil makes so much noise and tempest round about the will; it is a sign that he is not within. And courage, my dear soul; I say this word with great feeling and in Jesus Christ. My dear soul, courage, I say. So long as we can say with resolution, even if without feeling, Vive Jésus!, we must not fear.
And do not tell me that you say this with cowardice, without force or courage but as if by a violence that you do yourself. Oh God! There is then, the holy violence that bears Heaven away. (Mt 11:12)
Look, my child, this is a sign that all is taken, that the enemy has gained everything in our fortress except he keep, which is impregnable, unseizable, and which cannot be ruined except by itself. finally, it is free will that, quite naked before god, resides in the supreme and most spiritual part of the soul, that depends on no other than God and itself. When all the other faculties of the soul are lost and subject to the enemy, free will alone remains itself so as not to give its consent.
Now, do you see souls afflicted because the enemy, occupying all the other faculties, makes in them his clamor and most extreme hubbub? Scarcely can one bear what is said and done in this superior will. The superior will has indeed a voice more clear and telling than that of the inferior will; but this latter has a voice so harsh and so noisy that it drowns out the clearness of the other.
Lastly, note this: while a temptation displeases you there is nothing to fear; for why does it displease you, save because you do not will it! In a word, these burdensome temptation come from the malice of the Devil; but the pain and suffering that we feel come from the mercy of God, who against the will of the enemy, draws from his malice holy tribulations, by which He refines the gold that He would put into His treasures.
I sum up my remarks in this way: your temptations are from the Devil and from Hell, but your pains and afflictions are from God and Paradise. The mothers are from Babylon, the daughters from Jerusalem. Despise the temptation; embrace the tribulations.
I will tell you one day when I have plenty of leisure, what evil it is that causes these obstructions of spirit; it cannot be written in a few words.
Have no fear, I beg you, of giving me trouble; for I protest that it is an extreme consolation to be pressed to do you and service. Write to me then, and often, and without order, and in the most simple way you can; I shall always have an extreme contentment in it.
I am going in an hour to the little hamlet where I am to preach, God will to employ me both in suffering and in preaching. May His name be forever blessed!
You cannot have too much confidence in me, who am perfectly and irrevocably yours in Jesus Christ, whose dearest graces and benediction I wish you a thousand and a thousand times a day. Let us live in Him and for Him. Amen.
Your most assured and very devoted servant in our Lord,