The Letters of St. Paul of the Cross: ‘Live Abandoned’

“This is a very important point: great perfection is found in resigning yourself in all things to the divine will; an even greater perfection is to live abandoned, with complete indifference to the divine good pleasure; still the pinnacle of perfection is to nourish yourself on the divine will in a spirit of pure faith and love—remember this loving Savior said to his beloved disciples that his food was to do the will of his Eternal Father.” (The Mysticism of the Passion in St Paul of the Cross,  Ignatius Press, p. 283)

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.

John 4:34

But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

1 Cor 12:31

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

1 Cor 13:1-3

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Philippians 1:9-14

To be resigned to the will of the Lord is to be given over to Love Itself.  The Lord is Love and to be given over to God is to have manifest Philippians 1:9 that “love may abound still more and more…”.  The Apostle makes clear that his resignation to the will of God—though it meant chains for him—resulted in the “furtherance of the gospel…”.  In Paul’s letter to Corinth, he makes it clear in chapters 12 and 13 that this will of the Lord is ALL about LOVE and our resignation to the will of God in our lives is assured of eternal fruitfulness.

For this reason, St Paul of the Cross speaks of “holy indifference.” Holy indifference is none other than the resignation to the divine will of God in all situations. Circumstances may look good or bad. Circumstances are not the measuring rod that has proven accuracy unless you can see with eyes that have been enlightened (Eph 1:18).  Enlightened eyes see every trial, hardship, and indeed all suffering, as a good sign of God’s favor. Responding to trials with enlightened eyes and resignation to the divine will produces an eternal weight of glory.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

2 Cor 4:16-18

Holy indifference causes us to continually submit our will to the divine will in all situations. What may seem like a setback in ministry or in life situations can only work in our favor if our will comes into agreement with the divine will. This struggle with our flesh is a daily denial and goes against what we think is right and good most of the time. This denial is none other than the working of the cross in our lives. Only the cross being worked out in our life proves to be the source of true fruitfulness and the increase of true Love abounding in us and through us.

Therefore, St Paul of the Cross could have a “holy indifference” about whether his order increased in numbers both in people and in retreat centers. He trusted God for the order that the Lord allowed him to start, whether that order would die out quickly without numbers or expansion and seemingly fail miserably, or whether it would increase in number and apparent fruitfulness in this life.  He had a resignation such that even when the whole city was entreating him to come and set up a retreat center fully paid for—he still gave this idea completely back into the hands of God and didn’t presume this to be the will of God.

This confidence to put back into the hands of God all things and to not presume anything is a pleasing submission to the Lord that He will honor and surely let His will be known over time with convincing evidence and many confirmations. Let this attitude of holy indifference be our aim. For if we have a certain strong desire, how do we know whether or not this desire is of the Lord or of ourselves? Only when we submit ALL back into His hands and watch Him prove Himself to us with strong convincing proofs do we know His will and can move forward with humility and confidence in God alone.

Never worry when duties of love take you away from prayer; it will only increase your prayer gift.

-Dr. Anthony Lilles

This post was originally published on Upper Garden and is reprinted here with permission.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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