Monday, February 1, 2016

The (Ordinary) Path of Sanctification

The past couple of months has been active in many ways:  our daughter's wedding, Advent, Christmas, New Year's, Epiphany, and our own wedding anniversary (26 years!); but along the way there has been time to sit, read, and meditate.  I was attracted to a small book that I had never heard of before entitled "Abandonment to Divine Providence" written by an obscure 18th century French priest by the name of Jean-Pierre De Caussade.  A paragraph from the introduction written by John Beevers sums up the message of the book quite well:

"This is the idea of 'the sacrament of the present moment'.  Like many ideas, it is the most obvious one -- the moment we learn of it.  It is simply this:  most of us are very ordinary creatures with humdrum lives, work to be done, and with every day filled with a multiplicity of trivial decisions and tasks.  Our lives are made up of a stream of petty affairs, some pleasant, many boring, and a lot unpleasant and often tragic.  We must not exaggerate.  There is a great deal of pleasure, even delight, in life.  But there is also much that is irritating and tedious.  Caussade says that everything in life is to be welcomed as the expression of the will of God, so we must "accept what we very often cannot avoid, and endure with love and resignation things which could cause us weariness and disgust.  This is what being holy means."  And, "for most people the best way to achieve perfection is to submit to all that God wills for their particular way of life."  Caussade tells us:  "God speaks to every individual through what happens to them moment by moment."  He goes on:  "The events of each moment are stamped with the will of God . . . we find all that is necessary in the present moment."  Again:  "We are bored with the small happenings around us, yet it is these trivialities -- as we consider them -- which would do marvels for us if only we did not despise them."  A key sentence in Caussade is:  "If we have abandoned ourselves to God, there is only one rule for us:  the duty of the present moment.""

Now here are various paragraphs selected (and edited to make this article more readable) from the first chapter of Caussade's little book that I have appreciated and have been trying to incorperate into my life's perspectives:

"If the work of our sanctification presents, apparently, the most insurmountable difficulties, it is because we do not know how to form a just idea of it. In reality, sanctity can be reduced to one single practice, fidelity to the duties appointed by God. Now this fidelity is equally within each one’s power whether in its active practice, or passive exercise. The active practice of fidelity consists in accomplishing the duties which devolve upon us whether imposed by the general laws of God and of the Church, or by the particular state that we may have embraced. Its passive exercise consists in the loving acceptance of all that God sends us at each moment.'

"Would to God that kings, and their ministers, princes of the Church and of the world, priests and soldiers, the peasantry and laborers, in a word, all men could know how very easy it would be for them to arrive at a high degree of sanctity. They would only have to fulfill the simple duties of Christianity and of their state of life; to embrace with submission the crosses belonging to that state, and to submit with faith and love to the designs of Providence in all those things that have to be done or suffered without going out of their way to seek occasions for themselves."

"This is the spirit by which the patriarchs and prophets were animated and sanctified before there were so many systems of so many masters of the spiritual life.  This is the spirituality of all ages and of every state. No state of life can, assuredly, be sanctified in a more exalted manner, nor in a more wonderful and easy way than by the simple use of the means that God, the sovereign director of souls, gives them to do or to suffer at each moment."

"The designs of God, the good pleasure of God, the will of God, the operation of God and the gift of His grace are all one and the same thing in the spiritual life. It is God working in the soul to make it like unto Himself. Perfection is neither more nor less than the faithful co-operation of the soul with this work of God, and is begun, grows, and is consummated in the soul unperceived and in secret."

"The designs of God and his divine will accepted by a faithful soul with simplicity produces this divine state in it without its knowledge, just as a medicine taken obediently will produce health, although the sick person neither knows nor wishes to know anything about medicine. As fire gives out heat, and not philosophical discussions about it, nor knowledge of its effects, so the designs of God and His holy will work in the soul for its sanctification, and not speculations of curiosity as to this principle and this state."

"When one is thirsty, one quenches one’s thirst by drinking, not by reading books which discuss this condition. The desire to know only serves to increase this thirst. Therefore, when one thirsts after sanctity, the desire to know about it only drives it further away. Speculation must be laid aside, and everything arranged by God as regards actions and sufferings must be accepted with simplicity, for those things that happen at each moment by the divine command or permission are always the most holy, the best and the most divine for us."

"Those duties received from God are the clearest manifestation of His will and nothing should take their place; in them there is nothing to fear, nothing to exclude, nor anything to be chosen. The time occupied in the fulfillment of these duties is very precious and very salutary for the soul by the indubitable fact that it is spent in accomplishing this holy will. The entire virtue of all that is called holy is in its approximation to this order established by God; therefore nothing should be rejected, nothing sought after, but everything accepted that is ordained and nothing attempted contrary to the will of God."

"God makes saints as He pleases, but they are made always according to His plan, and in submission to His will. This submission is true and most perfect abandonment.""

"Duties imposed by the state of life and by divine Providence are common to all the saints and are what God arranges for all in general. They live hidden from the world which is so evil that they are obliged to avoid its dangers: but it is not on this account that they are saints, but only on account of their submission to the will of God. The more absolute this submission becomes the higher becomes their sanctity."

"Each has to follow his appointed path. Perfection consists in submitting unreservedly to the designs of God, and in fulfilling the duties of one’s state in the most perfect manner possible. To compare the different states, as they are in themselves, can do nothing to improve us, since it is neither in the amount of work, nor in the sort of duties given to us that perfection is to be found." 

"If self-love is the motive power of our acts, or if it be not immediately crushed when discovered, our supposed abundance will be in truth absolute poverty because it is not supplied by obedience to the will of God. However, to decide the question in some way, I think that holiness can be measured by the love one has for God, and the desire to please Him, and that the more His will is the guiding principle, and His plans conformed to and loved, the greater will be the holiness, no matter what may be the means made use of."

"I believe that if those souls that tend towards sanctity were instructed as to the conduct they ought to follow, they would be spared a good deal of trouble. I speak as much of people in the world as of others. If they could but realize the merit concealed in the actions of each moment of the day (I mean in each of the daily duties of their state of life), and if they could be persuaded that sanctity is founded on that to which they give no heed as being altogether irrelevant, they would indeed be happy."

"If, besides, they understood that to attain the utmost height of perfection, the safest and surest way is to accept the crosses sent them by Providence at every moment, that the true philosopher’s stone is submission to the will of God which changes into divine gold all their occupations, troubles, and sufferings, what consolation would be theirs! What courage would they not derive from the thought that to acquire the friendship of God, and to arrive at eternal glory, they had but to do what they were doing, but to suffer what they were suffering, and that what they wasted and counted as nothing would suffice to enable them to arrive at eminent sanctity: far more so than extraordinary states and wonderful works."

"Oh! all you that read this, it will cost you no more than to do what you are doing, to suffer what you are suffering, only act and suffer in a holy manner. It is the heart that must be changed. When I say heart, I mean will. Sanctity, then, consists in willing all that God wills for us. Yes! sanctity of heart is a simple “fiat,” a conformity of will with the will of God."

"What could be more easy, and who could refuse to love a will so kind and so good? Let us love it then, and this love alone will make everything in us divine."

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Brother Nathan

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