This is from the small, but excellent book Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Father Jacques Phillipe. Our priest made this book available to all of us a few years ago and I am very grateful as it is an excellent meditation on how important peace of heart is in the spiritual life. It is full of practical advice on how to avoid the pitfalls and work toward keeping that most necessary quality of peace in our hearts!
From Father Philippe:
I stated that disquietude, in the face of some evil that threatens or overcomes our own person or those who are dear to us, is the most frequent reason why we lose our interior peace.
And the response: confident abandonment into the Hands of God, Who delivers us from all evil, or Who, if He allows it, gives us the strength to endure it and makes it turn to our advantage.
This response will remain valid for all the other causes for losing our peace, with which we will now interest ourselves and which are specific cases.
Nevertheless, it is good to speak of it because though abandonment may be the sole rule, the practice of abandonment takes diverse forms according to what is at the origin of our troubles and our anxieties.
It often happens that we lose our peace not because suffering affects us or threatens to affect us personally, but rather because of the behavior of an individual person or group of persons who hurt us or preoccupy us.
It is thus something that is not directly ours – but which, nonetheless, concerns us – that is in question: for example, the good of our community, of the church or the salvation of a particular person.
A woman is perhaps distressed because she does not see a much desired conversion of her husband being realized. A superior of a community may lose his sense of peace, because one of his brothers or sisters does the contrary of that which he expects. Or, more simply, in every day life, one becomes irritated, because one close to him behaves in a way that he imagines he should not behave.
How many nervous tensions are due to this type of situation! The response is the same as previously indicated: confidence and abandonment. I must do what occurs to me relative to aiding others to improve themselves, peacefully and tenderly, and put everything else in the Hands of the Lord, Who knows how to draw benefit from all things.
But, relative to this, we would like to express a general principle that is very important in our daily spiritual life which is the point at which we usually stumble in the cases cited above. In addition, its area of application is much larger than the question of patience when confronted with the faults of others.
Here is the principle: not only must we be careful to want and desire good things for their own sake, but also to want and desire them in a way that is good. To be attentive not only to that which we want, but also to the way in which we want them.
In effect, we very frequently sin in this fashion: we want something which is good, and even very good, but we want it in a way that is bad. In order to understand, let us take one of the examples mentioned above.
It is normal that the superior of the community should watch over the sanctity of those in his care. It’s an excellent thing and conforms to the will of God. But if the superior gets angry, irritated or loses his peace over the imperfections or the lack of fervor of his brothers, this is certainly not the Holy Spirit that is animating him.
And we often have this tendency. Because the thing that we want is good, even seeing as desired by God, we feel justified in wanting it with that much more impatience and displeasure if it is not realized. The more a thing seems good to us, the more we are agitated and preoccupied to realize it!
We should, therefore, as I have said, not only verify that the things we want are good in themselves, but also that the manner in which we want them, the disposition of heart in which we want them, are good. That is to say that our wanting must always be caring, peaceful, patient, detached and abandoned to God. It should not be an impatient wanting, hurried, restless, irritated, etc.
In the spiritual life it is often there that our attitude is defective. We are no longer among those who want bad things that are contrary to God. Instead, from now on we want only those things that are good, in conformity with the will of God. But, we want them in a manner that is still not “God’s Way,” that is to say the way of the Holy Spirit, which is caring, peaceful and patient.
We want them in the human way, tense, hurried and discouraged if we do not immediately achieve the desired goal.
All of the Saints insist on telling us that we must moderate our desires, even the best of them. Because, if we desire in the human way that we have described, that will trouble the soul, make it uneasy, destroy its peace and thereby disturb God’s actions in it and in others.
This applies to all things, even to our own sanctification.
How many times do we lose our peace because we find that our sanctification is not progressing rapidly enough, that we still have too many faults. But this does nothing but delay things!
St. Francis de Sales goes so far as to say that “Nothing retards progress in a virtue so much as wanting to acquire it with too much haste!”
To conclude, let us keep this in mind: as far as all our desires and our wishes are concerned, the sign that we are in accordance with truth, that our desire is in accord with the Holy Spirit, is not only that the thing desired is good, it is also that we are at peace.
A desire that causes us to lose peace, even if the thing desired is excellent in itself, is not of God. It is necessary to want and desire, but in a free and detached way in abandoning to God the realization of these desires, as He desires and when He wishes.
To educate our own heart in this sense is of great importance for our spiritual progress. It is God who converts us and causes us to grow, not our nervousness, our impetuosity and our impatience.
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