Preserve Your Confidence in God
It is not rare in the spiritual life to see souls who are trying generously to advance in virtue fall — by reason of their desire to cultivate a delicate conscience and to avoid all deliberate venial sin — into the extremity of inquietude and perturbation, get involved in a thousand perplexities and scruples, and eventually grow cold in their trust in our Lord. All of these occurrences spell the death of devotion.
The following short reflections are given to help avoid this dangerous shoal. Hence, I do not tire of repeating to all generous souls: Be as delicate as you can with our Lord. Watch your conduct most carefully to avoid all venial sins. But, for the love of God, let this be done without losing confidence and peace.
This recommendation I exalt to such a degree that, were it necessary to lose these two goods, confidence and peace, in order to arrive at this exquisite delicacy, I maintain that it would be preferable to restrain one’s efforts for a while, because peace of soul and confidence in God are more necessary goods, and consequently, they should be preferred.
Nor are they to be preferred only so far as they pertain to ourselves, that is, in saving us pains, for no generous soul ought ever to refuse any sacrifice. But they are to be preferred in the very interest of our Lord. For, with the very holy and very right aim of sparing our Lord the slight wound that a venial sin causes Him, one deprives Him of the great satisfaction and pleasure He experiences in the progress of a soul in its sanctification when it trusts in Him and lives at peace.
Let us give an example so that we may explain our meaning better. A fervent soul has the misfortune to commit a venial sin, an occurrence that is not rare, considering our innate frailty. Just as soon as this soul has fallen, he recalls everything that he has read and reflected on concerning venial sin, and forthwith he becomes disturbed, overwhelmed with sorrow and suffering. Confidence in God grows cold. The soul withdraws from Him. He leaves off prayer or makes it badly. All his exercises of piety no longer are made with their customary regularity.
After many hours of inquietude, he recovers peace of mind, but only by dint of much effort and many consultations. Is it not true that our Lord has lost more during all these hours of perturbation than He has gained? For the soul deprived Him of the joy that he could have given Him in his prayer and in his acts of worship; he failed in trust in Him, a thing that saddens His divine Heart; and he lost time by impeding the advancement of his sanctification.
Let us not act in this manner. Rather, let us consider how we can perfectly reconcile the grief caused by our sins with confidence in God and peace of soul.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus expresses this reconciliation very well when she says:
This I know very well: although I should have on my soul all the crimes that could be committed, I would lose none of my confidence; rather, I would hasten, with my heart broken into pieces by sorrow, to cast myself into the arms of my Savior. I know how greatly He loved the prodigal son; I have marked His words to Mary Magdalen, to the adulterous woman, to the Samaritan. No, no one could make me afraid, because I know to whom to cling by reason of His love and His mercy. I know that all this multitude of offenses would disappear in the twinkling of an eye, as a drop of water cast into a roaring furnace.
Let us note this well: a heart broken into pieces by sorrow, and yet undiminished confidence — these two go together in such a way that, although St. Thérèse might have been laden with all the sins of the world, she would have flung herself into the arms of Jesus with complete confidence.
No doubt someone will say, “How is it possible to feel that keen grief for one’s offense against God, and yet have the confidence necessary to cast oneself, without any misgivings, without any reserve, into the arms of our Lord?” I am going to attempt an explanation.
The foundation of our confidence does not rest in us, but in God. Hence, we trust in our Lord, and we draw near to Him, tranquil and sure, not because of what we are, but because of what He is. We can be ingrates, wretches, criminals; and still our ingratitude, our wickedness, and our crimes should not diminish by one jot the trust that we should have in our Lord, for the simple reason that our trust is based, not on ourselves, but on Him; and Jesus is the same forever, ever good, ever loving, ever merciful. I was the one who changed, but these changes in no wise affect my confidence, since my confidence is based on God, not on myself.
We are trying to judge of God in a human manner. We wish to measure His divine Heart with the yardstick of our petty heart, and it is not God’s yardstick. We, of course, conduct ourselves with everyone according to his merits: we are good toward those who treat us well; we are indifferent toward strangers; and only virtue can keep us from being hostile toward our enemies. In order that our heart may love, it must always take into account that which resides in others, for our love has its basis in the things that we love: in the goodness that they possess, or seem to possess. But this basis is not true with God. The measure and the reason of His love do not reside in things or in us; they are in Him and in Him alone.
The first thing that many souls do, as soon as they have had the misfortune to commit an offense, is to withdraw from our Lord. What a strange thing! They withdraw from our Lord, and when do they plan to return to Him? Perhaps after their confession.
But how can one make a confession without drawing near to Jesus? Who washes them? Who cleanses them? No doubt they will say to me that our Lord does so, but through the medium of His minister; and, they will add, it is less difficult for them to go to him. This is the same thing as one person, who is offended at another, but from whom he needs a favor, not daring to ask it directly, but employing an intermediary. What an aberration! How is it possible to have more trust in the priest, no matter how holy he may be, than in Jesus Himself?
Thus, if He is the only one who can cleanse us, if He is the only one who can pardon us, to whom shall we have recourse but to Him? Consequently, whenever we may have the misfortune to commit an offense, no matter what kind, venial or mortal, the first thing we should do is cast ourselves into the arms of our Lord, filled with grief, but also filled with confidence.
Our nothingness and our misery constitute the force that attracts our Lord. Oh, foolish people that we are, who believe that it is our natural talents, our good works, and our virtues that attract our Lord; and who, therefore, often wish to parade all this when we present ourselves before Him.
If I may be pardoned the expression, I would say that all this is a species of “spiritual show.” As village maids think that putting on showy ribbons is the way to be elegant and the way to attract attention in society, so souls who suffer from this “spiritual show” — and they are legion — wish also to bedeck themselves with showy ribbons and to present themselves before our Lord gaudily attired with their pretended virtues and good points.
This is the fault that the Pharisee in the Gospel suffered from when he came before God and, standing, began to say, “I fast twice in the week; I give tithes. I am not like the rest of men.” Spiritual show! We already know our Lord’s judgment of the Pharisee, and His commendation of the poor publican.
The Most Holy Virgin gives us this same teaching when she says that God did great things in her, “because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid.”* Perhaps we think that the Blessed Virgin says this out of humility. There is no doubt about it whatever; but precisely because she is humble, she speaks the truth. And it is the truth that even in her our Lord met with that alone which He cannot help but meet with in all creatures: lowliness and nothingness.
Perhaps we believe that what attracted our Lord to the Most Holy Virgin was her purity and her humility. No. Purity, humility and all the graces that the Blessed Virgin received were posterior to the love of God. God first became enamored of her, and because He did become enamored of her, He enriched her with so many graces. Hence, what He saw in Mary before all these virtues, graces, and spiritual riches is what He sees in all creation, which of itself is nothing more than lowliness and nothingness: “because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid.”
A soul that abases itself is all-powerful before God. Whenever we fall or perceive our misery and our nothingness more keenly, then, in a certain sense, our Lord manifests more tenderness and mercy toward us; for our fall forces us to bring into the light our nothingness and to show forth our misery, and thus God feels more attracted toward us and appears to love us more. Hence, if our Lord loves us in spite of our miseries and even of our sins, this means that even when we have the misfortune to fall, we must not lose confidence and peace.
This article is from a chapter in the book Worshipping a Hidden God by Archbishop Luis M. Martinez available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art: Detail of Jesus im Garten Gethsemane [Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane] by Richard Mayer, 6 January 2013, own work, CCA-SA 3.0 International, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of Worshipping a Hidden God, used with permission.