1. We should recognize and adore the will of God in everything that happens to us. The malice of men, nay of the devil himself, can cause nothing to befall us except what is permitted by God. Our divine Lord has declared that not a hair of our heads can fall unless by the will of our Heavenly Father.
2. Therefore in every condition painful to nature, whether you are afflicted by sickness, assailed by temptations, or tortured by the injustice of men, consider the divine will and say to God with a loving and submissive heart: Fiat voluntas tua—Thy will be done: O my Savior, do with me what Thou willest, as Thou willest, and when Thou willest.
3. By this means we render supportable the severest pain and the most trying circumstances. “Do you not feel the infinite sweetness contained in that one sentence, the will of God?” asks Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi. Like unto the wood shown to Moses, that drew from the water all its bitterness, it sweetens whatever is bitter in our lives.
4. Without this practice, so conformable to faith, and without the light and strength that result from it, the pains and afflictions of life would become unbearable. This is what Saint Philip de Neri meant when he said: It rests with man to place himself even in this life either in heaven or in hell: he who suffers tribulations with patience enjoys celestial peace in advance; he who does not do so has a foretaste of the torments of hell.
5. Not only is it God who sends or permits our troubles, but He does so for the good of our souls and for our spiritual progress. Do not, then, make a matter of complaint that which should be a motive for gratitude.
6. Saint Francis de Sales says that the cross is the royal door to the temple of sanctity, and the only one by which we can enter it. One moment spent upon the cross is therefore more conducive to our spiritual advancement than the anticipated enjoyment of all the delights of heaven.
The happiness of those who have reached their destination consists in the possession of God: to suffer for the love of Him is the only true happiness which those still on the way can expect to attain. Our Lord declared that those who mourn during this exile are blessed, for they shall be consoled eternally in their celestial fatherland.
7. Notice that I say, to suffer for the love of God, for, as Saint Augustine remarks, no person can love suffering in itself. That is contrary to nature, and moreover, there would no longer be any suffering if we could accept it with natural relish.
But a resigned soul loves to suffer, that is she loves the virtue of patience and ardently desires the merits that result from the practice of it. A calm and submissive longing to be delivered from our cross if such be the will of God, is not inconsistent with the most perfect resignation.
This desire is a natural instinct which supernatural grace regulates, moderates, and teaches us to control, but which it never entirely destroys. Our divine Savior Himself, to show that He was truly man, was pleased to feel it as we do, and prayed that the chalice of His Passion might be spared Him.
Hence you are not required to be stolidly indifferent or to arm yourself with the stern insensibility of the Stoics; that would not be either resignation, or humility, or any virtue whatsoever. The essential thing is to suffer with Christian patience and generous resignation everything that is naturally displeasing to us. This is what both reason and faith prescribe.
*The Redeemer of the World seems to wish to show us in His Agony the degree of perfection which the weakness of human nature can attain amidst the anguish of sorrow. In the inferior portion of the soul where the faculty of feeling resides, instinctive repugnance to suffering, humble prayer for relief if it please God to accord it; and in the superior portion of the soul where the will resides, entire resignation if this consolation be denied.
A desire for more than this, unless called to it by a special grace, would be foolish pride, as we should thus attempt to change the conditions of our nature, whereas our duty is to accept them in order to combat them and to suffer in so doing. (See Imitation, B. III., Ch. XVIII-XIX.)
In the following terms Saint Francis de Sales proposes to us this same example of our Savior’s resignation during His agony: “Consider the great dereliction our Divine Master suffered in the Garden of Olives. See how this beloved Son, having asked for consolation from His loving Father and knowing that it was not His will to grant it, thinks no more about it, no longer craves or looks for it, but, as though He had never sought it, valiantly and courageously completes the work of our redemption.
Let it be the same with you. If your Heavenly Father sees fit to deny you the consolation you have prayed for, dismiss it from your mind and animate your courage to fulfill your work upon the cross as if you were never to descend from it nor should ever again see the atmosphere of your life pure and serene.” (Read The Imitation. B. III., Chapters XI and XV.)
The same Saint also gives us some sublime lessons in resignation applied to the trials and temptations that beset the spiritual life. He draws them from this great and simple thought that serves as foundation for the Exercises of Saint Ignatius, namely, that salvation being the sole object of our existence, and all the attendant circumstances of life but means for attaining it, nothing has any absolute value; and that the only way of forming a true estimate of things is to consider in how far they are calculated to advance or retard the end in view.
Accordingly, what difference does it make if we attain this end by riches or poverty, health or sickness, spiritual consolation or aridity, by the esteem or contempt of our fellow-men? So say faith and reason; but human nature revolts against this indifference, as it is well it should, else how could we acquire merit?
Hence there is a conflict on this point between the flesh and the spirit, and it is this conflict that for a Christian is called life.
“Would to God,” he says elsewhere, speaking on the same subject, “that we did not concern ourselves so much about the road whereon we journey, but rather would keep our eyes fixed on our Guide and upon that blessed country whither He is conducting us.
What should it matter to us if it be through deserts or pleasant fields that we walk, provided God be with us and we be advancing towards heaven?… In short, for the honor of God, acquiesce perfectly in his divine will, and do not suppose that you can serve him better in any other way; for no one ever serves him well who does not serve him as he wishes.
Now he wishes that you serve him without relish, without feeling, nay, with repugnance and perturbation of spirit. This service does not afford you any satisfaction, it is true, but it pleases Him; it is not to your taste, but it is to His…. Mortify yourself then cheerfully, and in proportion as you are prevented from doing the good you desire, do all the more ardently that which you do not desire.
You do not wish to be resigned in this case, but you will be so in some other: resignation in the first instance will be of much greater value to you…. In fine, let us be what God wishes, since we are entirely devoted to him, and would not wish to be anything contrary to his will; for were we the most exalted creatures under heaven, of what use would it be to us, if we were not in accord with the will of God?…”
And again: “You should resign yourself perfectly into the hands of God. When you have done your best towards carrying out your design He will be pleased to accept everything you do, even though it be something less good.
You cannot please God better than by sacrificing to him your will, and remaining in tranquility, humility and devotion, entirely reconciled and submissive to His divine will and good pleasure. You will be able to recognize these plainly enough when you find that notwithstanding all your efforts it is impossible for you to gratify your wishes.
For God in His infinite goodness sometimes sees fit to test our courage and love by depriving us of the things which it seems to us would be advantageous to our souls; and if He finds us very earnest in their pursuit, yet humble, tranquil and resigned to do without them if He wishes us to, He will give us more blessings than we should have had in the possession of what we craved.
God loves those who at all times and in all circumstances can say to him simply and heartily: Thy will be done.”*
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