18. Providence And Prayer
When we reflect on the infallibility of God’s foreknowledge and the unchangeableness of the decrees of providence, not infrequently a difficulty occurs to the mind. If this infallible providence embraces in its universality every period of time and has foreseen all things, what can be the use of prayer? How is it possible for us to enlighten God by our petitions, to make Him alter His designs, who has said: “I am the Lord and I change not”? (Mal. 3: 6.) Must we conclude that prayer is of no avail, that it comes too late, that whether we pray or not, what is to be will be?
On the contrary, the Gospel tells us: “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Matt. 7: 7). A commonplace with unbelievers and especially with the deists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this objection in reality arises from an erroneous view as to the primary source of efficacy in prayer and the purpose for which it is intended. The solution of the objection will show the intimate connection between prayer and providence, since (1) it is founded upon providence, (2) it is a practical recognition of providence, and (3) it co-operates in the workings of providence.
Providence, the primary cause of efficacy in prayer
We sometimes speak as though prayer were a force having the primary cause of its efficacy in ourselves, seeking by way of persuasion to bend God’s will to our own; and forthwith the mind is confronted with the difficulty just mentioned, that no one can enlighten God or prevail upon Him to alter His designs.
As clearly shown by St. Augustine and St. Thomas (IIa IIae, q. 83, a. 2), the truth is that prayer is not a force having its primary source in ourselves; it is not an effort of the human soul to bring violence to bear upon God and compel Him to alter the dispositions of His providence. If we do occasionally make use of these expressions, it is by way of metaphor, just a human way of expressing ourselves. In reality, the will of God is absolutely unchangeable, as unchangeable as it is merciful; yet in this very unchangeableness the efficacy of prayer, rightly said, has its source, even as the source of a stream is to be found on the topmost heights of the mountains.
In point of fact, before ever we ourselves decided to have recourse to prayer, it was willed by God. From all eternity God willed it to be one of the most fruitful factors in our spiritual life, a means of obtaining the graces necessary to reach the goal of our life’s journey. To conceive of God as not foreseeing and intending from all eternity the prayers we address to Him in time is just as childish as the notion of a God subjecting His will to ours and so altering His designs.
Prayer is not our invention. Those first members of our race, who, like Abel, addressed their supplications to Him, were inspired to do so by God Himself. It was He who caused it to spring from the hearts of patriarchs and prophets; it is He who continues to inspire it in souls that engage in prayer. He it is who through His Son bids us, “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7: 7).
The answer to the objection we have mentioned is in the main quite simple in spite of the mystery of grace it involves. True prayer, prayer offered with the requisite conditions, is infallibly efficacious because God has decreed that it shall be so, and God cannot revoke what He has once decreed.
It is not only what comes to pass that has been foreseen and intended (or at any rate permitted) by a providential decree, but the manner also in which it comes to pass, the causes that bring about the event, the means by which the end is attained.
Providence, for instance, has determined from all eternity that there shall be no harvest without the sowing of seed, no family life without certain virtues, no social life without authority and obedience, no knowledge without mental effort, no interior life without prayer, no redemption without a Redeemer, no salvation without the application of His merits and, in the adult, a sincere desire to obtain that salvation.
In every order, from the lowest to the highest, God has had in view the production of certain effects and has prepared the necessary causes; with certain ends in view He has prepared the means adequate to attain them. For the material harvest He has prepared a material seed, and for the spiritual harvest a spiritual seed, among which must be included prayer.
Prayer, in the spiritual order, is as much a cause destined from all eternity by providence to produce a certain effect, the attainment of the gifts of God necessary for salvation, as heat and electricity in the physical order are causes that from all eternity are destined to produce the effects of our everyday experience.
Hence, far from being opposed to the efficacy of prayer, the unchangeableness of God is the ultimate guaranty of that efficacy. But more than this, prayer must be the act by which we continually acknowledge that we are subject to the divine governance.
Prayer, an act of worship paid to Providence
The lives of all creatures are but a gift of God, yet only men and angels can be aware of the fact. Plants and animals receive without knowing that they are receiving. It is the heavenly Father, the Gospel tells us, who feeds the birds of the air, but they are unaware of it. Man, too, lives by the gifts of God and is able to recognize the fact. If the sensual lose sight of it, that is because in them reason is smothered by passion. If the proud refuse to acknowledge it, the reason is that they are spiritually blinded by pride causing them to judge all things not from the highest of motives but from what is often sheer mediocrity and paltriness.
If we are of sound mind, we are bound to acknowledge with St. Paul that we possess nothing but what we have received: “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4:7.) Existence, health and strength, the light of intelligence, any sustained moral energy we may have, success in our undertakings, where the least trifle might mean failure —all these are the gifts of Providence. And, transcending reason, faith tells us that the grace necessary for salvation and still more the Holy Ghost whom our Lord promised are pre-eminently the gift of God, the gift that Jesus refers to in these words of His to the Samaritan woman, “If thou didst know the gift of God” (John 4: 10).
Thus when we ask of God in the spirit of faith to give health to the sick, to enlighten our minds so that we may see our way clearly in difficulties, to give us His grace to resist temptation and persevere in doing good, this prayer of ours is an act of worship paid to Providence.
Mark how our Lord invites us to render this daily homage to Providence, morning and evening, and frequently in the course of the day. Recall to mind how He, after bidding us, “Ask and it shall be given you” (Matt. 7: 7), goes on to bring out the goodness of Providence in our regard: “What man is there among you, of whom if his son shall ask bread, will he reach him a stone? Or if he shall ask him a fish, will he reach him a serpent? If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” (Matt. 7: 7, 9-11.) Our Lord’s statement carries its own proof. If there is any kindness in a father’s heart, does it not come to him from the heart of God or from His love?
Sometimes indeed God might be said to reverse the parts, when through His prevenient actual graces He urges us to pray, to render due homage to His providence and obtain from it what we stand most in need of. Recall, for instance, how our Lord led on the Samaritan woman to pray: “If thou didst know the gift of God and who He is that saith to thee: Give me to drink: thou perhaps wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water… springing up into life everlasting” (John 4: 10, 14). The Lord entreats us to come to Him; He waits for us patiently, always eager to listen to us.
The Lord is like a father who has already decided to grant some favor to His children, yet prompts them to ask it of Him. Jesus first willed that the Samaritan woman should be converted and then gradually caused her to burst forth in heartfelt prayer; for sanctifying grace is not like a liquid that is poured into an inert vessel; it is a new life, which the adult will receive only if he desires it.
Sometimes God seems to turn a deaf ear to our prayer, especially when it is not sufficiently free from self-interest, seeking temporal blessings for their own sake rather than as useful for salvation. Then gradually grace invites us to pray better, reminding us of the Gospel words: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice: and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6: 33).
Indeed at times it seems that God repulses us as if to see whether we shall persevere in our prayer. He did so to the Canaanite woman. The harshness of His words to her seemed like a refusal: “I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel… It is not good to take the bread of the children and to cast it to the dogs.” Inspired undoubtedly by grace that came to her from Christ, the woman replied: “Yea, Lord: for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.” “O woman, “ Jesus said, “great is thy faith. Be it done to thee as thou wilt” (Matt. 15: 23, 26-28). And her daughter was delivered from the demon that was tormenting her.
When we really pray, it is an acknowledgment, a practical and not merely abstract or theoretical acknowledgment, that we are under the divine governance, which infinitely transcends the governance of men. Whether our prayer takes the form of adoration or supplication or thanksgiving or reparation, it should thus unceasingly render to providence that homage which is its due.
Prayer co-operates in the divine governance
Prayer is not in opposition to the designs of Providence and does not seek to alter them, but actually co-operates in the divine governance, for when we pray we begin to wish in time what God wills for us from all eternity.
When we pray, it may seem that the divine will submits to our own, whereas in reality it is our will that is uplifted and made to harmonize with the divine will. All prayer, so the Fathers say, is an uplifting of the soul to God, whether it; be prayer of petition, of adoration, of praise, or of thanksgiving, or the prayer of reparation which makes honorable amends.
One who prays properly, with humility, confidence, and perseverance, asking for the things necessary for salvation, does undoubtedly co-operate in the divine governance. In stead of one, there are now two who desire these things. It is God of course who converted the sinner for whom we have so long been praying; nevertheless we have been God’s partners in the conversion. It is God who gave to the soul in tribulation that light and strength for which we have so long besought Him; yet from all eternity He decided to produce this salutary effect only with our co-operation and as the result of our intercession.
The consequences of this principle are numerous. First, the more prayer is in conformity with the divine intentions, the more closely does it co-operate in the divine governance. That there may be ever more of this conformity in our prayer, let us every day say the Our Father slowly and with great attention; let us meditate upon it, with love accompanying our faith. This loving meditation will become contemplation, which will ensure for us the hallowing and glorifying of God’s name both in ourselves and in those about us, the coming of His kingdom and the fulfilment of His will here on earth as in heaven. It will obtain for us also the forgiveness of our sins and deliverance from evil, as well as our sanctification and salvation.
From this it follows that our prayer will be the purer and more efficacious when we pray in Christ’s name and offer to God, in compensation for the imperfections of our own love and adoration, those acts of love and adoration that spring from His holy soul.
A Christian who says the Our Father day by day with gradually increasing fervor, who says it from the bottom of his heart, for others as well as for himself, undoubtedly cooperates very much in the divine governance. He co-operates far more than the scientists who have discovered the laws governing the stars in their courses or the great physicians who have found cures for some terrible diseases. The prayer of St. Francis, St. Dominic, or, to come nearer to our own times, St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, had an influence certainly not less powerful than that of a Newton or a Pasteur. One who really prays as the saints have prayed, co-operates in the saving not only of bodies but of souls. Every soul, through its higher faculties, opens upon the infinite, and is, as it were, a universe gravitating toward God.
Close attention to these intimate relations between prayer and providence will show that prayer is undoubtedly a more potent force than either wealth or science. No doubt science accomplishes marvelous things; but it is acquired by human means, and its effects are confined within human limits. Prayer, indeed, is a supernatural energy with an efficacy coming from God and the infinite merits of Christ, and from actual grace that leads us on to pray. It is a spiritual energy more potent than all the forces of nature together. It can obtain for us what God alone can bestow, the grace of contrition and of perfect charity, the grace also of eternal life, the very end and purpose of the divine governance, the final manifestation of its goodness.
At a time when so many perils threaten the whole world, we need more to reflect on the necessity and sublimity of true prayer, especially when it is united with the prayer of our Lord and of our Lady. The present widespread disorder must by contrast stimulate us constantly to reflect that we are subject not only to the often unreasoning, imprudent government of men, but also to God’s infinitely wise governance. God never permits evil except in view of some greater good. He wills that we co-operate in this good by a prayer that becomes daily more sincere, more humble, more profound, more confident, more persevering, by a prayer united with action, in order that each succeeding day shall see more perfectly realized in us and in those about us that petition of the Our Father: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” At a time when Bolshevism is putting forth every effort against God, it behooves us to repeat it again and again with ever deepening sincerity, in action as well as in word, so that as time goes on God’s reign may supersede the reign of greed and pride. Thus in a concrete, practical way we shall at once see that God permits these present evils only because He has some higher purpose in view, which it will be granted us to see, if not in this world. at any rate after our death

19. Why And In What Matters We Should Abandon Ourselves To Providence
The doctrine of self-abandonment to divine providence is a doctrine obviously founded on the Gospel, but it has been falsely construed by the Quietists, who gave themselves up to a spiritual sloth, more or less renounced the struggle necessary for the attainment of perfection, and seriously depreciated the value and necessity of hope or confidence in God, of which true self-abandonment is a higher form.
But it is possible also to depart from the Gospel teaching on this point in a sense entirely opposite to that of the Quietists with their idle repose, by going to the other extreme of a useless disquiet and agitation.
Here as elsewhere the truth is the culminating point lying between and transcending these two extreme conflicting errors. It behooves us therefore to determine exactly the meaning and import of the true doctrine of self-abandonment to the will of God if we are to be saved from these sophistries, which have no more than a false appearance of Christian perfection.
We shall first see why it is we should practice this self-abandonment to Providence, and then in what matters. After that we shall see what form it should take and what is the attitude of Providence toward those who abandon themselves completely to it.
We shall get our inspiration from the teaching of St. Francis de Sales, [50] Bossuet, [51] Pere Piny, O.P., [52] and Pere de Caussade, S.J. [53]
Why we should abandon ourselves to divine providence
The answer of every Christian will be that the reason lies in the wisdom and goodness of Providence. This is very true; nevertheless, if we are to have a proper understanding of the subject, if we are to avoid the error of the Quietists in renouncing more or less the virtue of hope and the struggle necessary for salvation, if we are to avoid also the other extreme of disquiet, precipitation, and a feverish, fruitless agitation, it is expedient for us to lay down four principles already somewhat accessible to natural reason and clearly set forth in revelation as found in Scripture. These principles underlying the true doctrine of self-abandonment, also bring out the motive inspiring it.
The first of these principles is that everything which comes to pass has been foreseen by God from all eternity, and has been willed or at least permitted by Him.
Nothing comes to pass either in the material or in the spiritual world, but God has foreseen it from all eternity; because with Him there ii no passing from ignorance to knowledge as with us, and He has nothing to learn from events as they occur. Not only has God foreseen everything that is happening now or will happen in the future, but whatever reality and goodness there is in these things He has willed; and whatever evil or moral disorder is in them, He has merely permitted. Holy Scripture is explicit on this point, and, as the councils have declared, no room is left for doubt in the matter.
The second principle is that nothing can be willed or permitted by God that does not contribute to the end He purposed in creating, which is the manifestation of His goodness and infinite perfections, and the glory of the God-man Jesus Christ, His only Son. As St. Paul says (I Cor. 2: 23), “All are yours. And you are Christ’s. And Christ is God’s.”
In addition to these two principles, there is a third, which St. Paul states thus (Rom. 8:28) : “We know that to them that love God all things work together unto good: to such as, according to His purpose, are called to be saints” and persevere in His love. God sees to it that everything contributes to their spiritual welfare, not only the grace He bestows on them, not only those natural qualities He endows them with, but sickness too, and contradictions and reverses; as St. Augustine tells us, even their very sins, which God only permits in order to lead them on to a truer humility and thereby to a purer love. It was thus He permitted the threefold denial of St. Peter, to make the great Apostle more humble, more mistrustful of self, and by this very means become stronger and trust more in the divine mercy.
These first three principles may therefore be summed up in this way: Nothing comes to pass but God has foreseen it, willed it or at least permitted it. He wills nothing, permits nothing, unless for the manifestation of His goodness and infinite perfections, for the glory of His Son, and the welfare of those that love Him. In view of these three principles, it is evident that our trust in Providence cannot be too childlike, too steadfast. Indeed, we may go further and say that this trust in Providence should be blind as is our faith, the object of which is those mysteries that are non-evident and unseen (fides est de non visis) for we are certain beforehand that Providence is directing all things infallibly to a good purpose, and we are more convinced of the rectitude of His designs than we are of the best of our own intentions. Therefore, in abandoning ourselves to God, all we have to fear is that our submission will not be wholehearted enough. [54]
In view of Quietism, however, this last sentence obliges us to lay down a fourth principle no less certain than the principles that have preceded. The principle is, that obviously self-abandonment does not dispense us from doing everything in our power to fulfil God’s will as made known in the commandments and counsels, and in the events of life; but so long as we have the sincere desire to carry out His will thus made known from day to day, we can and indeed we must abandon ourselves for the rest to the divine will of good pleasure, no matter how mysterious it may be, and thus avoid a useless disquiet and mere agitation. [55]
This fourth principle is expressed in equivalent terms by the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, cap. 13), when it declares that we must all have firm hope in God’s assistance and put our trust in Him, being careful at the same time to keep His commandments. As the well-known proverb has it: “Do what you ought, come what may.”
All theologians explain what is meant by the divine will as expressed: expressed, that is, in the commandments, in the spirit underlying the counsels, and in the events of life. [56] They add that, while conforming ourselves to His expressed will, [57] we must abandon ourselves to His divine will of good pleasure, however mysterious it may be, for we are certain beforehand that in its holiness it wills nothing, permits nothing, unless for a good purpose.
We must take special note here of these words in the Gospel of St. Luke (16: 10) : “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater.” If every day we do what we can to be faithful to God in the ordinary routine of life, we may be confident that He will give us grace to remain faithful in whatever extremity we may find ourselves through His permission; and if we have to suffer for Him, He will give us the grace to die a heroic death rather than be ashamed of Him and betray Him.
These are the principles underlying the doctrine of trusting self-abandonment. Accepted as they are by all theologians, they express what is of Christian faith in this matter. The golden mean is thus above and between the two errors mentioned at the beginning of this section. By constant fidelity to duty, we avoid the false and idle repose of the Quietist, and on the other hand by a trustful self-abandonment we are saved from a useless disquiet and a fruitless agitation. Self-abandonment would be sloth did it not presuppose this daily fidelity, which indeed is a sort of springboard from which we may safely launch ourselves into the unknown. Daily fidelity to the divine will as expressed gives us a sort of right to abandon ourselves completely to the divine will of good pleasure as yet not made known to us.
A faithful soul will often recall to mind these words of our Lord: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me” (John 4: 34). The soul finds its constant nourishment in the divine will as expressed, abandoning itself to the divine will as yet not made known, much as a swimmer supports himself on the passing wave and surrenders himself to the oncoming wave, to that ocean that might engulf him but that actually sustains, him. So the soul must strike out toward the open sea, into the infinite ocean of being, says St. John Damascene, borne up by the divine will as made known there and then and abandoning itself to that divine will upon which all successive moments of the future depend. The future is with God, future events are in His hands. If the merchants to whom Joseph was sold by his brethren had passed by one hour sooner, he would not have gone into Egypt, and the whole course of his life would have been changed. Our lives also are dependent on events controlled by God. Daily fidelity and trusting self-abandonment thus give the spiritual life its balance, its stability and harmony. In this way we live our lives in almost continuous recollection, in an ever-increasing self-abnegation, and these are the conditions normally required for contemplation and union with God. This, then, is the reason why our life should be one of self-abandonment to the divine will as yet unknown to us and at the same time supported every moment by that will as already made known to us.
In this union of fidelity and self-abandonment we have some idea of the way in which asceticism, insisting on fidelity or conformity to the divine will, should be united with mysticism, which emphasizes self-abandonment.
In what matters we should abandon ourselves to divine Providence
Once we have complied with the principles just laid down, when we have done all that the law of God and Christian prudence demand, our self-abandonment should then embrace everything. What does this involve? In the first place, our whole future, what our circumstances will be tomorrow, in twenty years and more. We must also abandon ourselves to God in all that concerns the present, in the midst of the difficulties we may be experiencing right now; even our past life, our past actions with all their consequences should be abandoned to the divine mercy.
We must likewise abandon ourselves to God in all that affects the body, in health and sickness, as well as in all that affects the soul, whether it be joy or tribulation, of long or brief duration. We must abandon ourselves to God in all that concerns the good will or malice of men. [58] Says St. Paul: [59]
If God be for us, who is against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not also, with Him, given us all things?… Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulations? Or distress? Or famine? Or nakedness? Or danger? Or persecutions? Or the sword?… I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Could there be a more perfect self-abandonment in the spirit ; of faith, hope, and love? This is an abandonment embracing all the vicissitudes of this world, all the upheavals that may convulse it, embracing life and death, the hour of death, and the circumstances, peaceful or violent, in which we breathe forth our last sigh.
The same thought has been expressed in the psalms: “Fear the Lord… for there is no want to them that fear Him. The rich have wanted, and have suffered hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good (Ps. 33: 10) ; “0 how great is the multitude of Thy sweetness, O Lord, which Thou hast hidden for them that fear Thee! Which Thou hast wrought for them that hope in Thee…. Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy face from the disturbance of men. Thou shalt protect them in Thy tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues” (Ps. 30:20-21).
And again Job: “I have not sinned: and my eye abideth in bitterness. Deliver me, O Lord, and set me beside Thee and let any man’s hand fight against me” (17:3).
Thus, as recorded in the Book of Daniel (13:42), the daughter of Helcias, the worthy Susanna, abandoned herself to God under the vile calumnies of the two ancients.” O eternal God, “ she cries, “who knowest hidden things, who knowest all things before they come to pass, Thou knowest that they have borne false witness against me: and behold I must die, whereas I have done none of these things which these men have maliciously forged against me.” It is recorded in the prophecy how the Lord heard the prayer of this noble woman: “And when she was led to be put to death, the Lord raised up the holy spirit of a young boy whose name was Daniel. And he cried out with a loud voice: I am clear of the blood of this woman. Then all the people, turning themselves toward him, said: What meaneth this word that thou hast spoken?” Inspired by God, the young Daniel then showed how her two accusers had borne false witness. Separating them one from the other, he questioned them apart in the presence of the people, and thus all unintentionally they showed by their contradictory statements that they had lied.
What is our practical conclusion to be? It is this, that in doing our utmost to carry out our daily duties we must for the rest abandon ourselves to divine providence, and that with the most childlike confidence. And if we are really striving to be faithful in little things, in the practice of humility, gentleness, and patience, in the daily routine of our lives, God on His part will give us grace to be faithful in greater and more difficult things, should He perchance ask them of us; then, in those exceptional circumstances, He will give to those that seek Him exceptional graces.
In psalm 54: 23 we are told: “Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall not suffer the just to waver forever…. But I will trust Thee, O Lord.”
Imbued with these same sentiments, St. Paul writes to the Philippians (4: 4) : “Rejoice in the Lord always: again, I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Again, in order to exhort us to have confidence, St. Peter tells us in his First Epistle (5: 5): Be ye humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the time of visitation: casting all your care upon Him, for He hath care of you. Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith: knowing that the same affliction befalls your brethren who are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us into His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will Himself perfect you and confirm you and establish you.
“Blessed are they that trust in Him” (Ps. 2: 13).” They that hope in the Lord, “ says Isaias, “shall renew their strength…. They shall walk and not faint” (40: 31).
We have a perfect model of this abandonment to divine providence in St. Joseph, in the many difficulties that beset him at the moment of our Lord’s birth at Bethlehem, and again when he heard the mournful prophecy of the aged Simeon, and during all the time that elapsed from the flight away from Herod into Egypt until the return to Nazareth.
Following his example, let us live our lives in that same spirit, fulfilling our daily duties, and the grace of God will never be wanting. By His grace we shall be equal to anything He asks of us, no matter how difficult it may sometimes be.

20. The Manner In Which We Must Abandon Ourselves To Providence
We have said that it is because of the wisdom and goodness of providence that we should put our trust in it and abandon ourselves completely to it; and further, that, provided we fulfil our daily duties, this self-surrender should then embrace everything, all that concerns both soul and body, remembering that if we are faithful in small things grace will be given us to be faithful in what is greater.
Now let us see what forms this confidence and self-abandonment must take according to the nature of events as these do or do not depend on the will of man; let us see what spirit should animate it, what virtues should inspire it.
On the various ways of abandoning oneself to providence according to the nature of the event [60]
In order to have a proper understanding of the doctrine of holy indifference, it is well to point out, as spiritual writers frequently do, [61] that our self-abandonment must be in different ways in so far as events independent of the human will call for a type of self-abandonment different from that required by the injustice done to us by men, or our personal sins and their consequences.
Where it concerns events independent of the human will (such as accidents impossible to foresee, incurable diseases), our self-abandonment cannot be too absolute. Resistance here would be useless and would only serve to make us more unhappy; whereas, by accepting them in the spirit of faith, confidence and love, these unavoidable sufferings will become very meritorious. [62] In times of affliction, as often as we say, “Thy will be done, “ we acquire new merit, and thus what is a real trial becomes a means of great sanctification. Moreover, even in trials that may come upon us, but which perhaps will never materialize, self-abandonment is still of great profit. In preparing to sacrifice his son with perfect self-abandonment, Abraham gained much merit, even though in the event God ceased to demand it of him. By the practice of self-abandonment trials present and to come thus become means of sanctification, the more so as it is inspired by a more intense love for God.
Where it concerns sufferings brought upon us through the injustice of men, their ill will, their unfairness in their dealings with us, their calumnies, what must our attitude be?
St. Thomas, [63] speaking of the injuries and undeserved reproaches, the insults and slanders that affect only our person, declares we must be ready to bear them with patience in compliance with our Lord’s words: “If one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other” (Matt. 5: 39). But, he continues, there are occasions when some answer is called for, either for the good of the person who injures us, to put a stop to his insolence, or to avoid the scandal such slanders and calumnies may cause. If we do feel bound to retaliate and offer some sort of resistance, let us put ourselves unreservedly in God’s hands for the success of the steps we take. In other words, we must deplore and reprove these acts of injustice not because they are wounding to our self-love and pride, but because they are an offense against God, endangering the salvation of the guilty parties and of those who may be led astray by them.
So far as we are concerned, we should see in the injustice men do to us the action of divine justice permitting this evil in order to give us an opportunity of expiating other and very real failings, failings with which no one reproaches us. It is well also to see in this sort of trial the action of divine mercy, which would make of it a means to detach us from creatures, to rid us of our inordinate affections, our pride and luke-warmness, and thus oblige us to have immediate recourse to a fervent prayer of supplication. Spiritually these acts of injustice are like the surgeon’s knife, very painful at times but a great corrective. The suffering they cause must bring home to us the value of true justice; not only must it lead us to be just in our dealings with our neighbor, but it must give birth in us to the beatitude of those who, as the Gospel says, hunger and thirst after justice and who shall indeed have their fill.
And so, instead of upsetting and embittering us, men’s contempt for us may have a very salutary effect, by impressing us with the utter vanity of all human glory and with the sublimity of the glory of God as the saints have understood it. It is the way leading to that true humility which causes us to accept contempt and to love to be treated as objects worthy of contempt. [64]
Lastly, what is to be our attitude regarding all those vexations of every kind that are the result not of the injustice of others, but of our own failings, our own indiscretions and weaknesses?
In these failings of ours and their consequences, we must distinguish the element of disorder and guilt from the salutary humiliations resulting from them. Whatever our self-love may have to say, we can never regret too keenly any inordinateness there may have been in our actions, on account of the wrong it has done to God, and the harm it has done to our own soul and, as an almost invariable consequence, to the soul of our neighbor. As for the salutary humiliation resulting from it, we must accept it with complete self-abandonment according to the words of the psalm (118: 71-77) : “It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me: that I may learn Thy justifications. The law of my mouth is good to me, above thousands of gold and silver…. I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are equity: and in Thy truth Thou has humbled me. O let Thy mercy be for my comfort…. Let Thy tender mercies come unto me, and I shall live: for Thy law is my meditation.”
These humiliations resulting from our personal failings are the true remedy for that exaggerated estimate of ourselves to which we so often cling in spite of the disapproval and contempt others show for us. It even happens that pride hardens us to humiliations from a purely external source, and causes us to offer to ourselves the incense others refuse us. This is one of the most subtle and dangerous forms of self-love and pride, and, to correct it, the divine mercy makes use of those humiliations which are the result of our own failings; in its loving kindness it makes those very failings contribute to our progress. Hence, while laboring to correct ourselves, we should accept these humiliations with perfect self-abandonment.” It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, O Lord.” It is the way leading to a practical realization of those profound words of the Imitation, so fruitful to one who has really understood them: “Love to be unknown and accounted as nought.” By this doctrine we must live according as the occurrences do or do not depend on ourselves.
The spirit that should animate our self-abandonment to Providence
Is it a spirit that depreciates our hope of salvation on the plea of advanced perfection, as the Quietists claimed? Quite the contrary: it must be a spirit of deep faith, confidence, and love.
The will of God, as expressed by His commandments, is that we should hope in Him and labor confidently in the work of our salvation in the face of every obstacle. This expressed will of God pertains to the domain of obedience, not of self-abandonment. This latter concerns the will of His good pleasure on which depends our still uncertain future, the daily occurrences in the course of our life, such as health and sickness, success and misfortune. [65]
To sacrifice our salvation, our eternal happiness, on the plea of perfection, would be absolutely contrary to that natural inclination for happiness which, with our nature, we have from God. It would be contrary to Christian hope, not only to that possessed by the common run of the faithful, but also to that of the saints, who in the severest trials have hoped on “against all human hope, “ to use St. Paul’s phrase (Rom. 4: 18), even when all seemed lost. Nay, to sacrifice our eternal beatitude in this way would be contrary to charity itself, by which indeed we love God for His own sake and desire to possess Him that we may eternally proclaim His glory.
The natural inclination we have from God which leads us to desire happiness is not a disorder, for it already contains the initial tendency to love God the sovereign good more than ourselves. As St. Thomas has pointed out, [66] in our own organism the hand naturally tends to prefer the interests of the body to its own and to sacrifice itself, if necessary, for the safety of the body. And our Lord Himself says that the hen instinctively gathers her little ones under her wing, ready to sacrifice herself if necessary to save them from the hawk, the reason being that, all unconsciously, she prefers the welfare of the species to her own. In a higher form this same natural tendency is to be found in man: in loving what is highest in himself He loves his Creator even more; to cease to desire our perfection and salvation would be to turn our back upon God. [67] There can be no question, therefore, of our sacrificing the desire for salvation and eternal happiness, as the Quietists imagined, on the plea of advanced perfection.
Far from it: self-abandonment involves the exercise in an eminent degree of the three theological virtues, faith, hope, and charity, as it were fused into one. [68]
It is nevertheless true to say that God purifies our desire from the self-love with which it may be tinged by leaving us in some uncertainty about it and so inducing us to love Him more exclusively for His own sake. [69]
We should abandon ourselves to God in the spirit of faith, believing with St. Paul (Rom. 8: 28) that “all things work together unto good” in the lives of those who love God and persevere in His love. Such an act of faith was that made by holy Job who, when deprived of his wealth and his children, remained submissive to God, saying: “The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away…. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
In the same spirit Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son in obedience to God’s command, abandoning himself in the deepest faith to the divine will of good pleasure in all that concerned the future of his race. We are reminded of this by St. Paul when he tells us in the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:17) : “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son (to whom it was said: in Isaac shall thy seed be called), accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead.” Far less exacting are the trials we have to endure, though on account of our weakness they sometimes seem to weigh heavily upon us.
At any rate, let us believe with the saints that whatever the Lord does He does well, when He sends us humiliations and spiritual dryness as when He heaps honors and consolations upon us. As Father Piny remarks, [70] nowhere is there a deeper or more lively faith than in the conviction that God arranges everything for our welfare, even when He appears to destroy us and overthrow our most cherished plans, when He allows us to be calumniated, to suffer permanent ill-health, and other afflictions still more painful. [71] This is great faith indeed, for it is to believe the apparently incredible: that God will raise us up by casting us down; and it is to believe this in a practical and living way, not merely an abstract and theoretical way. We find verified in our lives these words of the Gospel: “Every one that exalteth himself [like the Pharisee] shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself [like the publican] shall be exalted” (Luke 18: 14). Also we find verified these words of the Magnificat: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich He hath sent empty away” (Luke 1: 52). Every one of us must by humility be numbered among these little ones, among those that hunger for divine truth which is the true bread of the soul.
While fulfilling our daily duties, then, we must abandon ourselves to almighty God in a spirit of deep faith, which must also be accompanied by an absolutely childlike confidence in His fatherly kindness. Confidence (fiducia or confidentia), says St. Thomas, [72] is a steadfast or intensified hope arising from a deep faith in the goodness of God, who, according to His promises, is ever at hand to help us—Deus auxilians. [73]
As the psalms declare: “Blessed are they that trust in the Lord” (2: 12) ; “They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Sion: he shall not be moved forever that dwelleth in Jerusalem” (124: 1) ; “Preserve me, O Lord, for I have put my trust in Thee” (15: 1) ; “In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me not be confounded” (30: 1).
St. Paul (Rom. 4: 18) reminds us how Abraham, in spite of his advanced years, believed in the divine promise that he would be the father of many nations, and adds: “Against hope, he believed in hope…. In the promise also of God he staggered not by distrust: but was strengthened in faith,, giving glory to God: most fully knowing that whatsoever He has promised, He is able to perform.”
We, too, while fulfilling our daily duties, should look to our Lord for the realization of these words of His: “My sheep hear My voice: and I know them, and they follow Me… and no man shall pluck them out of My hand” (John 10: 27). As Father Piny notes, [74] to do one’s duty in all earnestness and then to resign oneself with entire confidence into our Lord’s hands is the true mark of a member of His flock. What better way can there be of hearkening to the voice of the good Shepherd than by constantly acquiescing in all that He demands of us, lovingly beseeching Him to have pity on us, throwing ourselves confidently into the arms of His mercy with all our failings and regrets? By so doing, we are at the same time placing in His hands all our fears for both the past and the future. This holy self-abandonment is not at all opposed to hope, but is childlike confidence in its holiest form united with a love becoming ever more and more purified.
Love in its purest form, in fact, depends for its support upon the will of God, after the example of our Lord who said: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, that I may perfect His work” (John 4:34) ; “Because I came down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 5: 30). Thus no more perfect or nobler or purer way of loving God can be found than to make the divine will our own, fulfilling God’s will as expressed to us and then abandoning ourselves entirely to His good pleasure. For souls that follow this road, God is everything: eventually, they can say in very truth: “My God and my all.” God is their center; they find no peace but in Him, by submitting all their aspirations to His good pleasure and accepting tranquilly all that He does. At times of greatest difficulty St. Catherine of Siena would remember the Master’s words to her: “Think of Me and I will think of thee.”
Rare indeed are the souls that attain to such perfection as this. And yet it is the goal at which we all must aim. St. Francis de Sales says:
Our Lord loves with a most tender love those who are so happy as to abandon themselves wholly to His fatherly care, letting themselves be governed by His divine providence, without any idle speculations as to whether the workings of this providence will be useful to them, to their profit, or painful to their loss, and this because they are well assured that nothing can be sent, nothing permitted by this paternal and most loving heart, which will not be a source of good and profit to them. All that is required is that they should place all their confidence in Him. [75]… When, in fulfilling our daily duties, we abandon everything, our Lord takes care of everything and orders everything…. The soul has nothing else to do but to rest in the arms of our Lord like a child on its mother’s breast. When she puts it down to walk, it walks until she takes it up again, and when she wishes to carry it, she is allowed to do so. It neither knows nor thinks where it is going, but allows itself to be carried or led wherever its mother pleases. So this soul lets itself be carried when it lovingly accepts God’s good pleasure in all things that happen, and walks when it carefully effects all that the known (expressed) will of God demands. [76]
Then it can truly say with our Lord: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me” (John 4: 34). Therein it finds its peace, which even now is in some sort the beginning of eternal life within us—inchoatio vitae aeternae.

21. Providence And The Duty Of The Present Moment
“All whatsoever you do in word or in work, all things do ye in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Col. 3: 17). To understand more clearly how we should live from day to day trusting in God, and in a spirit of self-abandonment, it is well to pay close attention to the duty of the present moment and the graces offered us to fulfil it.
We will speak first of the duty which presents itself at every moment, as the saints have understood it, and then we will clarify their attitude from the teaching of Scripture and theology, which is applicable to us all.
The duty of the present moment as the saints understood it
The duty at any given moment conveys, frequently under a modest exterior, the expression of God’s will regarding ourselves and our individual lives. Thus it was our Lady lived her life of union with God, by accomplishing His will in the daily routine of duties of her simple life, a life outwardly commonplace like that of any other person in her lowly rank. Thus, too, did the saints live, doing the will of God as it was revealed to them from one moment to the other, without allowing themselves to be upset by unforeseen reverses. Their secret consisted in submitting constantly to the divine action in the shaping of their lives. In that action they recognized all they had to do and suffer, duties to be accomplished, crosses to be borne. They were persuaded that what is happening at the moment is a sign that either God wills or permits it for the good of those seeking Him. Even the evil they experienced taught them something: by taxing their patience it showed them by contrast what must be done to avoid sin and its disastrous consequences. Thus the saints see in the sequence of events a sort of providential schooling. Moreover, they are convinced that behind the succession of external happenings runs a parallel series of actual graces which are continually being offered to enable us to draw great spiritual profit from these events, whether painful or pleasing. The sequence of events, if looked at in the right perspective, is an instructive course on the things of God, a sort of extension of revelation or application of the Gospel truths continuing down to the end of time.
A distinction is made in almost every sphere between theoretical, abstract teaching and practical or applied teaching. The same holds good in the spiritual order, where, in His own way, almighty God imparts these two kinds of instruction, the one in the Gospel and the other in the course of our lives.
This important truth about life is often completely disregarded. As a rule, no sooner do we meet with contradictions and reverses than we utter nothing but complaints and murmurings. We find that this illness has come upon us just when there is so much to be done; that something indispensable is denied us; that someone is depriving us of the necessary means, or placing insurmountable obstacles in our way as regards the good we must accomplish or the apostolate to which we have devoted ourselves.
In these or even more painful circumstances the saints would confess that fundamentally the one thing necessary is to do the will of God from day to day. God never commands the impossible. Each moment has a duty which God makes really possible for every one of us and in the fulfilment of which He appeals to our love and generosity.
If, then, as a result of our failings, something happens to distress us, it is a providential lesson which we must accept in all humility and thus derive some profit from it. If, through no fault of our own, God permits us to be deprived of certain help, this is because that help is not really necessary for our sanctification and salvation. The saints find that in a sense nothing is wanting to them unless it be a greater love for God. If only we knew the inner meaning of those incidents we call hindrances, contradictions, reverses, disappointments, misfortunes, and failures, we should of course deplore any disorder they might involve (and the saints deplored it, were pained by it far more than we), but we should also reproach ourselves for complaining and give more consideration to the higher purpose God is pursuing in all that He wills and even in His divine permission of evil. [77]
Should we wonder that the ways of providence are some times mysterious and that reason is disconcerted at the mystery? “The just man liveth by faith” (Rom. 1: 17), says the Scripture, and in particular he lives by the mystery of providence and its ways. Eventually he realizes that, far from being contradictory, the mystery cannot be rejected without every phase of our life becoming a contradiction.
More than once the Scripture declares: “The Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to hell and bringeth back again.” [78]
The more the divine action makes us die to sin and its consequences, the more it detaches us from all that is not God Himself, and the more it vivifies us. It has been said that sometimes grace is a destroyer; yet, in its workings within us, it does not destroy, but perfects any good there is in nature, restoring and sublimating it. We may say of grace as was said of God: “It killeth and maketh alive” (I Kings 2: 6).
As Pere de Caussade remarks, when explaining these ways of Providence, [79] “The more obscure the mystery is to us, the more light it contains in itself”; for its obscurity is due to a radiance too intense for our feeble vision.
Moreover, what happens to each of us personally from one moment to the other by the will and permission of Providence, is of greater instruction for us. Therein we may see the expression of the divine will in our regard at the present moment. In this way, too, within us is formed that experimental knowledge of God’s dealings with us, a knowledge without which we can hardly direct our course aright in spiritual things or do any lasting good to others. [80] In the spiritual order more than anywhere else real knowledge can be acquired only by suffering and action. Though our Lord’s holy soul from the moment of His coming into the world enjoyed the beatific vision and an infused knowledge, yet He willed also to have an experimental knowledge, that knowledge which is acquired from day to day and enables us to view things under that special aspect which contact with reality gives when they have been infallibly foreseen. We foresee that a very dear friend who is sick has not long to live, yet when death does come and if our eyes are open to see, it will provide a new lesson in which God will speak to us as time goes on. This is the school of the Holy Ghost, in which His lessons have nothing academic about them, but are drawn from concrete things. And He varies them for each soul, since what is useful for one is not always so for another. Although we must not be superstitious and think we see a deep meaning in what is merely accidental and of no significance, let us in all simplicity listen to what Providence has to say to each one of us personally in these concrete lessons it gives. We must not treat this doctrine in a purely material and mechanical way; it is a question of being supernaturally-minded in everything, in all simplicity and without disputings or foolish questionings.
The author just quoted says: [81]
The will of God in the present moment is an ever bubbling source of sanctity…. All you who thirst, learn that you have not far to go to find the fountain of living waters; it gushes forth quite close to you right now; therefore hasten to find it. Why, with the fountain so near, do you tire yourselves with running about after every little rill?… O unknown Love! It seems as though Your wonders were finished and nothing remained but to copy Your ancient works, and to quote Your past discourses. And no one sees that Your inexhaustible activity is a source of new thoughts, of fresh sufferings and further actions… of new saints.
The heart of Jesus is a “source of graces ever new.”
As age succeeds age the saints have no need to copy the lives or writings of those who have gone before; they need only to live their lives in continuous self-abandonment to God’s secret inspirations. In this they and their predecessors are alike, in spite of differences peculiar to the age and the individual. Could we but see the divine light it contains, the present moment would remind us that everything may contribute to our spiritual advancement in the love of God, as means or instrument, or at least as occasion, by way of trial or by way of contrast. In the order intended by Providence this present moment is in some way related to our last end, to the one thing necessary; and thus each instant of fleeting time has some sort of relation with the unique instant of unchanging eternity.
Could we but grasp this truth, then not only the time of mass or our hours of prayer and visits to the Blessed Sacrament would be a source of sanctification to us, but every hour of the day would take on a supernatural significance and remind us that we are on our way to eternity. Hence the pious practice of blessing each hour as it begins, calling down the divine benediction upon it. At every moment we should be at God’s service; there is no moment of the day that has not some duty for us to fulfil, some duty toward God or our neighbor, the duty at least of patiently waiting when external action is no longer possible. Every minute must find us hallowing the name of God as though there were nothing more to keep us here in time, as though the next moment must see our entry into eternity.
In the World War this was the attitude of the more spiritually-minded when under gunfire. In those three-minute intervals before firing recommenced, they would say to themselves: “One moment, perhaps, and then death, “ and they would live the present moment as though it were the prelude to eternity.
This, too, was the attitude of the saints, not only in exceptional circumstances, but in the ordinary routine of their lives: they never lost the sense of God’s presence. Now light is thrown on this attitude of theirs by the Gospel principles we mentioned and which are as applicable to us as to them.
The teaching of Scripture and theology on the duty of the present moment
In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote (10: 31) : “Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all for the glory of God”; and to the Colossians he said (3: 17) : “All whatsoever you do in word or in work, all things do ye in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.”
Our Lord Himself said (Matt. 12:34-36) : “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of a good treasure bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of an evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say to you, that every idle word that men speak, they shall render an account of it in the day of judgment.”
The full significance of this doctrine is elucidated by St. Thomas (Ia IIae, q. 18, a. 9), who teaches that in the concrete, hic et nunc, no deliberate act is morally indifferent; every one of our deliberate acts is either good or bad. The reason is that every deliberate act in a rational being should itself be rational or directed to a morally good end, and in the Christian every deliberate act should be directed at least virtually to God. If this is done, then the act is good, otherwise it is bad; no other alternative is possible. Our very recreations and amusements, the walks we take, all must have some morally good purpose. To take a walk is of course indifferent when considered in the abstract; to walk in one direction rather than in another may also be indifferent. But our walk must have in view a rational purpose: for example, to repair or renew our strength so as to apply ourselves once again to our appointed task. And thus our very amusements assume a moral significance and value in our lives as rational beings.
To adopt the metaphor of a well-known preacher, our deliberate acts are like drops of rain falling on a mountain peak at the watershed. Some water flows to the right into one river and so eventually to the ocean; the rest flows to the left to join another river flowing down to another sea far off in the opposite direction. So also it is with our deliberate acts: they are either directed to what is good and so eventually to God, or they are directed to evil. Not one of these acts, when presented in the concrete reality of life, is indifferent.
This teaching may at first sight appear severe. That is not so: a virtual or implicit intention is all that is needed, renewed each morning at prayer-time and as often as the Holy Ghost inspires us to lift up our hearts to God.
Nay more, it is a consoling doctrine, for it follows that in the lives of the just every deliberate act that is not sinful is at once morally good and meritorious, whether it be easy or difficult, trivial or heroic.
Again, when rightly understood and really lived, this doctrine is a source of sanctification. It leads to the reflection that what God does at any particular moment is well done and is a sign of His will. Thus Job, deprived of all things, saw in this the will of God trying Him for his sanctification; thus instead of cursing this most painful episode of his, he blessed the name of the Lord. Let us, then, learn to recognize in what is happening every moment something positively intended by God, or at any rate divinely permitted, and always directed to some higher good purpose. In this way, no matter what happens, we shall always be at peace.
The whole doctrine is summed up by St. Francis de Sales in these few words: “Every moment comes to us pregnant with a command from God, only to pass on and plunge into eternity, there to remain forever what we have made it.”
To see thus constantly in the duty of the present moment the expression of the divine will comes principally from the gift of wisdom, which enables us in a manner to see in God, the first cause and last end, every event whether painful or pleasing. That is why, as St. Augustine says, this gift corresponds to the beatitude of the peacemakers: that is, the beatitude of those who preserve their peace where many an other will be troubled and who will often restore to those who are in deep trouble the peace they have lost.” Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”. (Matt. 5: 9).

22. The Grace Of The Present Moment And Fidelity In Little Things
We were saying that the duty we must accomplish with every succeeding hour is the expression of God’s will for each one of us individually hic et nunc and thus conveys a certain practical instruction very valuable for sanctification. It is the Gospel teaching as applied to the various circumstances of our lives, a real object-lesson imparted by almighty God Himself.
If we could only look on each moment from this point of view, as the saints did, we should see that to each moment there is attached not only a duty to be performed, but also a grace to be faithful in accomplishing that duty.
The spiritual riches contained in the present moment
As fresh circumstances arise, with their attendant obligations, fresh actual graces are offered us in order that we may derive the greatest spiritual profit from-them. Above the succession of external events that go to make up our life, there runs a parallel series of actual graces offered for our acceptance, just as the air comes in successive waves to enter our lungs and so make breathing possible.
This succession of actual graces which we either agree to make use of for our spiritual benefit, or, on the other hand, neglect to do so, constitutes the history of each individual soul as it is written down in the book of life, in God, to be laid open some day for our inspection. It is thus that our Lord continues to live in His mystical body, and especially in His saints, in whom He continues a life that will know no end, a life that at every moment requires new graces and new activities.
Our Lord has said:
I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, nor knoweth Him: but you shall know Him; because He shall abide with you, and shall be in you…. He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you (John 14:16, 26).
To those who will listen, the Holy Ghost is in all things their guide from day to day, and by His grace He engraves the law of God upon the soul, doing this either directly Himself or through the preaching of the Gospel. St. Paul tells the Corinthians: “Do we need (as some do) epistles of commendation to you or from you? You are our epistle… being manifested, that you are the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, and written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God: not in tables of stone, but in the fleshy tablets of the heart” (II Cor. 3: I-3). And thus in the souls of men is being written the interior history of the Church, to be continued down to the end of time. It is this history which is set out symbolically in the Apocalypse, and only at the last day will it be read with clarity of perception.
This is how Pere de Caussade puts it in the following remarkable passages:
Oh, glorious history! grand book written by the Holy Spirit in this present time! It is still in the press to turn out holy souls. There is never a day when the type is not arranged, when the ink is not applied, when the pages are not printed. We are still in the dark night of faith. The paper is blacker than the ink…. It is written in characters of another world, and there is no understanding it except in heaven…. If the transposition of twenty-five letters is incomprehensible as sufficing for the composition of an almost infinite number of different volumes, each admirable of its kind, who can explain the works of God in the universe?… Teach me, divine Spirit, to read in this book of life. I desire to become Thy disciple and, like a little child, to believe what I cannot understand and cannot see. [82]
What great truths are hidden even from Christians who imagine themselves most enlightened!… To effect this union with Him, God makes use of the worst of His creatures as well as of the best, and of the most distressing events as well as of those which are pleasant and agreeable. Our union with Him is even the more meritorious as the means enabling us to maintain it are the more repugnant to nature. [83]
The present moment is ever filled with infinite treasures; it contains more than you have capacity to hold. Faith is the measure. Believe, and it will be done to you accordingly. Love also is the measure. The more the heart loves, the more it desires; and the more it desires, so much the more will it receive. The will of God presents itself to us at each moment as an immense ocean that no human heart can fathom; but what the heart can receive from this ocean is equal to the measure of our faith, confidence and love. The whole creation cannot fill the human heart, for the heart’s capacity surpasses all that is not God. The mountains that are terrifying to look at, are but atoms for the heart. The divine will is an abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. Plunge into this abyss and you will always find it infinitely more vast than your desires. Do not flatter anyone, nor worship your own illusions; they can neither give you anything nor take anything from you. You will receive your fullness from the will of God alone, which will not leave you empty. Adore it, put it first, before all other things…. Destroy the idols of the senses…. When the senses are terrified, or famished, despoiled, crushed, then it is that faith is nourished, enriched, and enlivened. Faith laughs at these calamities as the governor of an impregnable fortress laughs at the futile attacks of an impotent foe. [84]
When the will of God is made known to a soul, and has made the soul realize His willingness to give Himself to it—provided that the soul, too, gives itself to God—then under all circumstances the soul experiences a great happiness in this coming of God, and enjoys it the more, the more it has learnt to abandon itself at every moment to His most adorable will. [85]
God is like the ocean, sustaining those who in all confidence surrender themselves to Him and do everything in their power to follow His inspirations as a ship will respond to a favorable breeze. This is what our Lord meant when He said: “The spirit breatheth where he will and thou hearest his voice: but thou knowest not whence he cometh and whither he goeth. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit (John 3: 8).
How sublime is this doctrine! As the present minute is passing, let us likewise bear in mind that what exists is not merely our body with its sensibility, its varying emotions of pain and pleasure; but also our spiritual and immortal soul, and the actual grace we receive, and Christ who exerts His influence upon us, and the Blessed Trinity dwelling within us. We shall then have some idea of the infinite riches contained in the present moment and the connection it has with the unchanging instant of eternity into which we are some day to enter. We should not be satisfied with viewing the present moment along the horizontal line of time, as the connecting link between a vanished past and an uncertain temporal future; we ought rather to view it along that vertical line of time which links it up with the unique instant of unchanging eternity. Whatever happens, let us say to ourselves: At this moment God is present and desires to draw me to Himself. In one of the most painful moments of St. Alphonsus’ life, when the beloved congregation he had just founded seemed all but lost, he heard these words from the lips of a lay friend of his: “God is always present, Father Alphonsus.” Not only did he renew his courage, but that hour of pain became one of the most fruitful of his life.
Let us in all reverses give heed to the actual graces offered us with each passing minute for the fulfilment of present duty. We shall thus realize more and more how great must be our fidelity in little things as well as in great.
Fidelity in little things
Our Lord tells us (Luke 16: 10) : “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater.” Again, in the parable of the talents He says to each of the faithful servants: “Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt. 25: 21). We have here a most important lesson on the value of trivial things, one very often ignored by those who are naturally high-minded, who take the first step on the wrong path when their sense of dignity degenerates into pride. We cannot lay too much stress on this point in considering the fidelity we ought to show to the grace of the present moment.
As often noted, in many cases where souls have given themselves to God in all sincerity and have made generous, even heroic efforts to prove their love for Him, a critical moment comes when they must abandon a too personal way of judging and acting—though it may be of a high order—so as to enter upon the path of true humility, that “little humility” which loses sight of self and looks henceforward on God alone.
At that moment two widely different courses are possible: either the soul seeks for itself the course to take and pursues it, or it fails to do so, sometimes going so far astray in its upward path as to go back again without being altogether aware of it.
To see this path of true humility is to discover in our everyday life, from morning to night, opportunities of performing seemingly trivial acts for the love of God. But the frequent repetition of these acts is of immense value and leads to a delicacy of attitude to God and our neighbor which, if constant and truly sincere, is the mark of perfect charity.
The acts then demanded of the soul are very simple and pass by unnoticed. There is nothing in them for self-love to take hold of. God alone sees them, and the soul thinks it is offering Him, so to speak, nothing at all. And yet these acts, St. Thomas says, [86] are like drops of water continually falling on the same spot: eventually they bore a hole in the rock. The same real effect is gradually produced by the assimilation of the graces we receive. They penetrate the soul and its faculties, at the same time sublimating them and gradually bringing everything to the required supernatural focus. Without this fidelity in little things actuated by the spirit of faith and love, humility, patience and gentleness, the contemplative life will never penetrate the active, the ordinary everyday life. Contemplation will be confined, as it were, to the summit of the intellect, where it is more speculative than contemplative; it will fail to permeate our whole existence and manner of life and will remain almost completely barren whereas it should become every day more fruitful.
This is a matter of supreme importance. St. Francis de Sales more than once speaks of it. [87] St. Thomas says the same thing in another way when he teaches, as we have already seen, that in the concrete reality of life no deliberate act is hic et nunc morally indifferent. [88] In a rational being every deliberate act should be rational, should have an “honorable” end in view, and in the Christian every act should be directed at least virtually to God as to the supreme object of love. This truth brings out the importance of the multifarious actions we have to perform day by day. Perhaps they are trivial in themselves, nevertheless they are of great importance relative to God and the spirit of faith and love, of humility and patience that should actuate us in performing them and offering them to Him.
This critical moment of which we are speaking marks a difficult crisis in the spiritual life of many fairly advanced souls, who then run the risk of falling back again.
If a soul that has shown itself generous or even heroic, after reaching this point is still far too personal in its manner of judging and acting and does not see the need of a change, it continues on its way with a merely acquired impetus, and its prayer and activities are no longer what they should be. There is a real danger here. The soul may become stunted and its development arrested like one dwarfed through some deformity. Or it may take a false direction. Instead of true humility, it may almost unawares develop a sort of refined pride, which scarcely appears at first except in the small details of daily life. For that reason this will remain unknown to a spiritual director living apart from those he directs. This pride will steadily take the form of an amused condescension, and subsequently develop into an acerbity of manner in our relations with our neighbor, permeating the whole life of the day and thus stultifying everything. This acerbity may lead to rancor and contempt for our neighbor, whom nevertheless we should love for God’s sake.
A soul that has come to this pass will not easily be led to make those holy considerations which are necessary for it to return to the point whence it went astray. Such a soul should be recommended to our Lady’s care; in many cases she alone can lead it back into the right path. [89]
The remedy for this evil is to make the soul very attentive to the grace of the moment and faithful in trivial things.
To quote Pere de Caussade once more:
Actions are not determined by ideas or by a confusion of words which by themselves would only serve to excite pride…. We must make use only of what God sends us to do or to suffer, and not forsake this divine reality to occupy our minds with the historical wonders of the divine work instead of gaining an increase of grace by our fidelity. The marvels of this work, which we read about for the purpose of satisfying our curiosity, often only tend to disgust us with things that seem trifling but by which, if we do not despise them, the divine love effects very great things in us. Fools that we are! We admire and bless this divine action in the writings that relate its history; and when it is ready to continue this writing on our hearts, we keep moving the paper and prevent it writing by our curiosity, that we may see what it is doing in and around us…. For love of Thee, O my God, and for the discharge of my debts, I will confine myself to the one essential business, that of the present moment, and thus enable Thee to act. [90]
This is what is meant by the common saying, Age quod agis. And so, if we are really doing our utmost day by day to be faithful to God in little things, He will certainly give us strength to be faithful to Him in difficult and very painful circumstances, if through His permission that should be our lot. Thus will be realized the words of the Gospel: “Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof”; [91] “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater.” [92]

23. The Attitude Of Providence Toward Those Who Abandon Themselves Completely To It
Fidelity to daily duty by docile correspondence to the graces offered us every moment, soon receives its reward in that special assistance which Providence gives to those who practice this childlike self-surrender. This assistance, it may be said, is shown mainly in three ways, which it will be well to emphasize: thus Providence gives special guidance to those souls in their darkness; it defends them against whatever is hostile to their spiritual welfare; and it intensifies their interior life more and more.
In what way God guides those souls that abandon themselves to Him
He enlightens them through the gifts of wisdom and understanding, knowledge and counsel, which with sanctifying grace and charity we received in baptism and to a greater degree in confirmation. In imperfect souls these gifts, together with those of piety, fortitude, and filial fear, are, so to speak, shackled by more or less inordinate inclinations, so that such souls are living but a superficial life, which prevents them from being attentive to the inspirations of the Master of the interior life.
These gifts have been likened to the sails of a boat by which it readily accommodates itself to the least stir of a favorable wind. In imperfect souls, however, the sails are furled and will not respond to the breeze. On the other hand, when the soul does what it can to fulfil its daily obligations and steer its bark as it should, abandoning itself to God, He visits it with His inspirations, at first latent and confused, which if well received, become more and more frequent, more insistent and luminous.
Then, amidst the joyful and painful events of life, the clash of temperaments, in times of spiritual dryness, amidst the snares of the devil or of men, their suspicion and their jealousies, the soul in its higher regions at any rate remains always at peace. It enjoys this serenity because it is intimately persuaded that God is guiding it and, in abandoning itself to Him, it seeks only to do His will and nothing more. Thus it sees Him everywhere under every external guise and makes use of everything to further its union with Him. Sin itself, by its very contrast, will recall the infinite majesty of God.
Then is increasingly realized the words of the Apostle St. John to the faithful for whom he wrote his First Epistle: “Let the unction you have received from God abide in you. And you have no need that any man teach you: but as His unction teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie” (I John 2:27).
The soul has then less need of reasonings and methods in its prayer and meditation, or for its guidance; it has become more simplified in its mode of thought and desire. It follows rather the interior action of God in its soul, which makes itself felt not so much by the impression of ideas, as through the instinct or the necessity imposed by circumstances where only one course is possible. It perceives at once the depth of meaning in some phrase from the Gospels which has not previously impressed it. God gives it an understanding of the Scriptures such as He gave to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. The simplest sermons are a source of enlightenment and it discovers treasures in them; for God makes use of these means that He Himself may enlighten the soul, just as a great artist may use the most ordinary implement, the cheapest pencil, to execute a great masterpiece, a wonderful picture of Christ or the Blessed Virgin.
In God’s dealings with souls that abandon themselves to Him, much remains obscure, mysterious, disconcerting, impenetrable; but He makes it all contribute to their spiritual welfare, and some day they will see that what at times to them was the cause of profound desolation was the source of much joy to the angels.
Moreover, God enlightens the soul by means of this very darkness and just when He appears to blind it. When the things of sense, which once so charmed and fascinated us, are obliterated, then the grandeur of spiritual things begins to be seen. A fallen monarch, like Louis XVI after losing his throne, sees more clearly than ever before the sublimity of the Gospel and of the many graces he has received in the past. Formerly he scarcely gave them a thought, being too absorbed in the external splendors of his kingdom. And now it is the kingdom of heaven that is revealed to him.
An important law in the spiritual world is that the transcendent darkness of divine things is in a sense more illuminating than the obviousness of earthly things. We have an illustration of this in the sensible order. Surprising as the truth may at first appear, we see much farther in the darkness of the night than in the light of day. The sun, in fact, must first be hidden before we can see the stars and have a glimpse of the unfathomable depths of the sky. The spectacle presented to us on a starry night is sometimes incomparably more beautiful than anything to be seen on even the sunniest day. In the daytime, doubtless, our view may extend far over the surrounding country, and even to the sun itself, though its light takes eight minutes to reach us. But in the darkness of the night we see at a single glance thousands of stars, although the light from even the nearest requires four and a half years to reach us. From the spiritual point of view the same holds true: as the sun prevents our seeing the stars, so in human life there are things which by their glare obstruct our view of the splendors of the faith. It is fitting, then, that from time to time in our lives Providence should subdue this glare of inferior things so as to give us a glimpse of something far more precious for our soul and our salvation.
Indeed, in the spiritual order, as in the physical, there is often an alternation of day and night; it is mentioned more than once in the Imitation. If we are saddened at the approach of twilight, God could well answer us by saying: How can I otherwise reveal to you all those thousands of stars which can be seen only at night?
Thus is verified the truth of our Lord’s words when He said: “He that followeth me walketh not in darkness” (John 8:12). The light of faith dispels the lower darkness of ignorance, sin, and damnation, says St. Thomas. [93] Moreover, since this divine darkness is owing to a higher light which is too intense for our feeble vision, it does enlighten us in its own fashion and gives us a glimpse into the abyss of the heavens, into the deep things of God, into the mystery of the ways of Providence. St. Paul says: [94]
We speak wisdom among the perfect: yet not the wisdom of the world, neither of the princes of this world that come to nought. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory: which none of the princes of this world knew. For if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard: neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him. But to us God hath revealed them by His Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
God has His own way of enlightening souls concerning His intimate life and the secrets of His ways. Sometimes He seems to blind them, yet, in reality, just when an inferior light disappears, then it is that He gives them a more sublime light. For the saint, the darkness of death is followed immediately by the light of glory. Those around him are saddened to see this present life coming so quickly to an end; he is happy to see it drawing to its close, for it means his entry into everlasting life.
If at times in our lives everything seems desperate, and, as Tauler says, the masts have gone overboard and the ship is reduced to a mere hulk in the midst of the tempest, then is the moment to abandon ourselves to God fully and completely, without reserve. If we do so with all our heart, God will at once take into His own hands the immediate direction of our lives, for He alone can save us.” The Lord leadeth the just by right ways and showeth him the kingdom of God” (Wis. 10: 10).
The soul that abandons itself to God is defended by Him against the enemies of its spiritual welfare
This is what St. Paul tells us in the Epistle to the Romans (8: 31) : “If God be for us, who is against us? He that spared not even His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not also, with Him, given us all things.” The Book of Wisdom says of the just who in confidence abandon themselves to God: “With His right hand He will cover them, and with His holy arm He will defend them” (5: 17).
All things are controlled by Providence; the least circumstance, however insignificant, is in its hands. With Providence there is no such thing as chance; and so by some little unforeseen incident it can easily upset the cunning calculations of those hostile to spiritual good. We have an example of this in the life of Joseph, who was sold by his brethren. Had not the Ismaelite merchants, by chance apparently, passed by just when his brothers had decided to put him to death, he would have been left there in the cistern where they had thrown him. But it was then and not an hour later, as was ordained by God from all eternity, that the merchants arrived on the scene, and Joseph was thus sold into slavery. And so, being led into Egypt, he was later to be a benefactor to those who had wished to destroy him. Let us recall also the story of Esther, of the prophet Daniel, and of many others. j Similar and more striking are the circumstances surrounding the birth of our Lord. Herod had organized all the forces at his disposal to put the Messias to death and had then requested the wise men from the East to obtain for him precise information about the child. But, “having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way to their own country” (Matt. 2: 12).” Then Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men,… sending, killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem and in all the borders thereof” (ibid., 2: 16), but an angel, appearing in sleep to Joseph, commanded him to save the child from the king’s wrath and flee into Egypt.
In the lives of the just it is not miraculous that their guardian angels intervene at God’s command to inspire some holy thought in them, whether they be asleep or awake; it is a providential occurrence by no means rare in the lives of those who abandon themselves completely to God. In the Book of Psalms (90: 10) we are told: “There shall be no evil come to thee: nor shall the scourge come near thy dwelling. For the Lord hath given His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” We must not tempt God, of course; but in the fulfilment of our daily duties we must resign ourselves humbly into His hands, and those who thus abandon themselves to Him, He will protect as a mother protects her children. If He allows persecution, often bitter persecution, to come upon them, as He did in the case of His own Son, nevertheless He will not allow the just to lose courage, but will sustain them in invisible ways and, if in a moment of weakness they should fall, as Peter did, He will raise them up again and lead them on to the haven of salvation.
The soul that abandons itself to God instead of resisting its enemies, so the saints tell us, finds in them useful allies. Says Pere de Caussade: [95]
There is nothing that is more entirely opposed to worldly prudence than simplicity; it turns aside all schemes without comprehending them, without so much as a thought about them…. To have to deal with a simple soul is, in a certain way, to have to deal with God. What can be done against the will of the Almighty and His inscrutable designs? God takes the cause of the simple soul in hand. It is unnecessary to study the intrigues of others against it…. The divine action makes the soul adopt such just measures as to surprise even those who wish to take it by surprise. It profits by all their efforts…. They are the galley-slaves who bring the ship into port with hard rowing. All obstacles turn to the good of this soul…. All it has to fear is lest it should take part in a work and so disturb it… in which it has nothing to do but peacefully to observe the work of God, and follow with simplicity the attractions He gives it…. The soul in the state of abandonment can abstain from justifying itself by word or deed. The divine action justifies it.
Thus it is in the lives of the saints, and, in due proportions, the way they have followed ought to be ours also.
Not infrequently we hear people who are beset by difficulties say in a flippant sort of way: “Why worry?” That is a sheer materialistic and egotistic conception of the doctrine we are here considering. The animating principle of this doctrine is a trustful self-abandonment to Providence. If this trustful self-abandonment is no longer present, as in such recipes for life as that “why worry?” then nothing is left but a body without a soul, a formula of no greater value than the moral energy of the person who utters it. When one has departed from this way of salvation, all that is left of the noblest maxims on life is a dead formula that will serve as an excuse for anything. Yet to all is offered the light of life in the Gospel. The consecrated host elevated every morning on our altars is offered up for all, and all can unite themselves with this oblation. In place of that confidence in God which should accompany our daily task, for us to substitute an arrogant assurance based on purely human calculations is a tremendous misfortune. Man then sets himself up in the place of God; he destroys the theological virtues within him. He is poles asunder from the doctrine we are considering here, which is pre-eminently that of life.
God quickens more and more the interior life of souls that abandon themselves to Him
Not only is He their protector and guide, but He quickens them by His grace, by the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and also through the fresh inspirations He is continuously sending them. Moreover, He is quickening them even when He appears to strip them, even to death itself, according to these words of St. Paul: “To me to live is Christ: and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). For many life consists in sport or art or some intellectual activity, such as science or philosophy. But for such souls as we are speaking of, life is simply Christ, or as St. Paul says, union with Christ. Christ is their life, says St. Thomas, [96] in the sense that He is the constant motive of their most profound vital activity. It is for Him they live and act continuously; not for any human purpose but in very truth for the Lord, who quickens them more and more, making this life of theirs depend upon just those things that apparently must destroy them, even as Christ Himself made of His cross the most potent instrument of our salvation.
This profound teaching was expressed with remarkable clearness by a seventeenth century Dominican, Pere Chardon, in his book, La Croix de Jesus. [97] He points out that the divine action, in gradually detaching us from all that is not God, sometimes in most painful ways, tends by that very detachment to unite us more and more closely to Him. Loss is thus turned into gain. As grace increases within us, it becomes at once a source of separation and of union; the progressive separation is simply the reverse side of the union. Says Chardon:
For fear lest a too frequent enjoyment of consolations should arrest the soul’s inclination to Himself, God interrupts the flow of the stream in order to make the soul yearn more ardently for the source…. He withdraws His graces to give Himself instead. He steals gently through the soul, making Himself master of the faculties and all their concerns that He may cause it to rejoice in the one necessary good, which must be loved only in that same solitude in which the supremacy of its being is isolated from all else.
Thus with the disappearance of an inferior light and life, another light appears, to illuminate our life in a way far more sublime.
When an apostle is struck down with paralysis in the midst of his apostolate and in the prime of life, people often imagine that his influence is at an end, whereas it ought to be, as it often is, the beginning of something higher, the direct external apostolate giving place to that hidden yet profound apostolate which exerts its influence on souls through prayer and self-immolation in Christ and thereby causes to overflow upon them the chalice of superabounding redemption.
Act of self-abandonment
This whole doctrine is beautifully summed up in the following anonymous prayer inspired by St. Augustine:
O my God, I leave myself entirely in Thy hands. Turn and turn again this mass of clay, as a vessel that is fashioned in the potter’s hand (Jer. 18: 6). Give it a shape; then break it if Thou wilt: it is Thine, it has nothing to say. Enough for me that it serves all Thy designs and that nothing resists Thy good pleasure for which I was made. Ask, command. What wouldst Thou have me to do? What wouldst Thou have me not to do? Lifted up, cast down, in persecution, in consolation, in suffering, intent upon Thy work, good for nothing, I can do no more than repeat with Thy holy Mother: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”
Give me that love which is beyond all loves, the love of the cross—not those heroic crosses with a glory that might foster self-love, but those ordinary crosses which we bear with so much distaste—those daily crosses with which our life is strewn and which at every moment we encounter on our way through life: contradictions, neglect, failures, opposition, false judgments, the coldness or impulsiveness of some, the rebuffs or contempt of others, bodily infirmities, spiritual darkness, silence and interior dryness. Only then wilt Thou know that I love Thee, even though I neither know nor feel it myself; and that is enough for me.
This is truly holiness of a high order. Were there but a few such moments of great affliction in our lives, we should then have reached the topmost heights and have come very nigh to God. Now every moment God is inviting us to live this way and lose ourselves in Him. Especially at such moments as these it can be truly said: “The Lord leadeth the. just by right ways and showeth him the kingdom of God” (Wis. 10: 10).

24. Providence And The Way Of Perfection
If one thing more than another should interest us in the providential plan, it is the way of perfection traced out by God from all eternity. The itinerary of this ascent has been described by all the great spiritual writers, but some have given special consideration to its relations with Providence. Among these is St. Catherine of Siena. We propose to give here the main outlines of her testimony on this subject, which she received from on high.
If we choose St. Catherine’s testimony in preference to that of other saints, this is because she has a broad view of concrete realities, and thus we can easily apply what she says to the spiritual needs of persons in every state of life. Moreover, her style, though never descending from the sublime, is so realistic and practical that it is suited to every type of mind. It almost attains to the loftiness and simplicity of the Gospels.
It has often been remarked how perfect is the harmony between the teaching of St. Thomas and that expounded by St. Catherine in her ecstasies and written down by her secretaries, in that book which has been called the Dialogue.
Nowhere is this doctrinal harmony more striking than on this subject of Christian perfection and the path which, in the designs of Providence, must lead to it. As evidence of this we shall consider the following points:
1) In what especially does perfection consist?
2) Is perfection a matter of strict precept or is it simply a matter of counsel?
3) Is the light of faith sufficient for Christian perfection, or is there also required the light which comes from the gift of wisdom? And is this light normally in proportion to our degree of charity, of our love for God?
4) In the designs of Providence, what purifications are necessary for us to arrive at perfection? Can we acquire it without passing through the so-called passive purifications, the patient and loving endurance of the crucifixion of the senses and the spirit?
5) Is every interior soul called by Providence to an infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith illumined by the gift of wisdom, and to that union with God which is the result of this contemplation and which is widely different from such extraordinary graces as revelations and visions? In other words, according to the providential plan is the highest point reached normally in the development of the life of grace here on earth (the normal prelude to our heavenly life), of the ascetical order, or does it pass to the mystical order? Is our own activity under the influence of grace its distinctive characteristic, or is it rather our docility in responding to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost?
In reply to these questions we will quote from the Dialogue certain passages that deal expressly with this subject.
In what Christian perfection especially consists
Does it consist mainly in bodily mortifications or in practices of piety or in the knowledge of divine things? St. Catherine of Siena replies with St. Thomas (IIa IIae, q. 184, a. 1) that Christian perfection consists principally in charity, primarily in the love of God and secondarily in the love of our neighbor.
This doctrine is very clearly expressed in the Dialogue (chapter 11) [98] where we read:
Some time ago, if thou remember, when thou wert desirous of doing great penance for my sake, asking, “What can I do to endure suffering for Thee, O Lord?” I replied to thee, speaking in thy mind, “I take delight in few words and many works.” I wished to show thee that he who merely calls on me with the sound of words, saying: “Lord, Lord, I would do something for Thee, “ and he who desires for my sake to mortify his body by many penances, but does not renounce his own will, was wrong in thinking this to be pleasing to me…. I, who am infinite, seek infinite works, that is, unlimited surgings of the heart. [99] I wish therefore that the works of penance, and of other corporal exercises, should be observed merely as means, and not as the fundamental perfection of the soul. For if the principal affection of the soul were placed in penance, I should receive a finite thing like a word, which, when it has issued from the mouth, is no more, unless it has issued with affection of soul, which conceives and brings forth virtue in truth. It is by means of this interior virtue that the finite operation, which I have called a word, is united with the affection of love.
If it is otherwise we shall have no more than the material side of perfection; the soul and inspiration of the interior life will no longer be there. In the same passage she tells us: “We must not make our final end to consist in penance, or in any external act; these, as I have said, are finite works…. It is good at times for us to discontinue them, whether this arise from necessity or from obedience (whereas there must never be any interruption in that life which consists in the love of God)…. The soul ought therefore to adopt them as means, and not as an end… they please when they are performed as the instruments of virtue, and not as a principal end in themselves.” This last sentence brings out the necessity of avoiding the opposite extreme in neglecting bodily mortification as practiced by all the saints.
Merit consists in the virtue of love alone, directed by the light of true discretion, without which the soul is worth nothing. Discretion gives me this love endlessly, boundlessly, since I am the supreme and eternal truth. The soul can therefore place neither laws nor limits to her love for me; but her love for her neighbor, on the contrary, is ordered in certain conditions. It is within the scope of charity not to cause the injury of sin to self so as to be useful to others; for if one single sin sufficed for the production of an act of great consequence, it would not be a charity dictated by prudence to commit it.
Holy discretion ordains that the soul should direct all her powers unreservedly to my service with a manly zeal and that her love for her neighbor be such that she would lay down a thousand times, if it were possible, the life of her body for the salvation of souls, prepared to endure whatever torments so that her neighbor may have the life of grace.
This, then, is what Christian perfection consists in especially, principally in a generous love for God, and secondarily in a love for our neighbor which is not just affection, but translates itself into action.
This is why St. Catherine of Siena loves to speak of charity as giving life to all the virtues, [100] as rendering their acts meritorious of eternal life. [101] It is the mother of them all; it is the bridal garment of God’s servants; [102] it is like a tree which, when planted in the soil of humility, lifts high to the heavens its blossoms and its abundance of fruit, the fruit of eternal life. [103] The saint frequently insists on the impossibility of separating love for our neighbor from the love of God, the love of our neighbor being simply the radiation of the love we have for God, its sure sign and token. [104] The love of our neighbor, she adds, cannot be really efficacious unless we love him in God and for His sake. It is compared to a vessel filled at a fountain: “If a man carry away the vessel and then drink from it, the vessel becomes empty, but if he keeps his vessel standing at the fountain while he drinks, it always remains full.” [105]
If you wish friendship to endure, if you would continue long to refresh yourself from the cup of friendship, then leave it to be filled continuously at the fount of living water, otherwise it will no longer be capable of satisfying your thirst.
We find precisely the same teaching in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas. For him, too, perfection consists principally in charity, which gives life to all the virtues and unites us to our last end, to God the author of grace; for by charity we love God more than ourselves, more than all else, and for His sake everything that is at all worthy of love.
Without charity nothing is of any value for eternal life. No knowledge, not even the knowledge of divine things can bear any fruit unless it is united with the love of God. Such knowledge, says the saint, may be infected with the poison of pride, [106] and frequently it will obtain far more light from prayer than from study, that light of life, at once simple yet sublime, the source of contemplation, by which knowledge is unified and rendered fruitful.
Perfection and the precept of love
Does this perfection, consisting in a high degree of charity, come under the commandments or is it merely a matter of counsel?
The teaching of St. Thomas is that this perfection comes under the supreme commandment, not however as something to be realized immediately but as the ideal at which all Christians must aim, each according to his condition, some in the religious life, others in the world. [107] The Angelic Doctor declares explicitly that Christian perfection consists essentially in a generous fulfillment of the commandments, especially of those two commandments that concern the love of God and of our neighbor; the actual practice of the three counsels, poverty, chastity, and obedience is only accidental, enabling us to arrive at a perfect love for God more readily and more surely. Such perfection, in fact, is still attainable even in the married state and in the midst of worldly occupations, as is evidenced in the lives of a number of the saints. [108]
This same teaching we find in St. Catherine of Siena. In her Dialogue she points out that the supreme commandment has no limits, as its phrasing shows: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind” (Luke 10: 27). This law of love is not binding merely up to a certain degree beyond which charity becomes simply a matter of counsel; every Christian is bound to aim at perfection in love. We read in the Dialogue: “Thou seest how discreetly every soul… should pay her debts, that is, should love me with an infinite love and without measure.” [109] Indeed, St. Catherine distinctly states that, although it is possible to observe the commandments without the actual exercise of the three evangelical counsels, nevertheless the perfect fulfilment of the commandments is impossible without the spirit animating the counsels, that spirit of detachment from creatures which is simply one aspect of the love of God and which must always increase in us.
This point is well expressed by the saint in God’s words to her:
Inasmuch as the counsels are included in the commandments, no one can observe the latter who does not observe the former, at least in spirit, that is to say, that they possess the riches of the world humbly and without pride, as lent to them and not their own; for they are only given to you for your use, through My goodness, since you only possess what I give you and can retain only what I allow you to retain. I give you as much of them as I see to be profitable for your salvation, and in this way should you use them, for a man, so using them… observes the counsels in spirit, having cut out of his heart the poison of disordinate love and affection. [110]
As St. Paul said, we should use these things as though we used them not. This means “to possess the things of this world not as their servants but as their lords, “ and not be enslaved by them as a miser by his wealth. [111] Thus in every state of life we shall so walk as to gain eternal life, advancing daily in charity as the supreme commandment requires, and as Eucharistic communion enables us to do by strengthening the soul in the measure of its desires. [112]
By following this path the soul may reach the perfection of charity even in this world, may reach such a pure and mighty love for God and souls that it will be prepared to accept insults, contempt, affronts, ridicule, persecution, everything, for the honor of our Lord and the salvation of one’s neighbor. [113]
Perfection and the light which the gift of wisdom imparts in prayer: the visitation of the Lord
To attain this high degree of charity in which Christian perfection principally consists, are the light of faith and the use of vocal prayer sufficient? Must we not have recourse besides to mental prayer, in which the Holy Ghost illuminates the soul by the light of His gifts?
Prayer, the saint tells us, is one of the great means of arriving at perfection. [114] True prayer, founded in the knowledge of God and of self, consists in the fervor of desire. [115] Vocal prayer must be accompanied by mental prayer, or it will be like a body without a soul. [116] Again, we must abandon vocal for mental prayer when God invites us to do so. We read in the Dialogue:
The soul should season the knowledge of herself with the knowledge of My goodness, and then vocal prayer will be of use to the soul who makes it, and pleasing to Me, and she will arrive, from the vocal imperfect prayer, exercised with perseverance, at perfect mental prayer; but if she simply aims at reciting a certain number of stereotyped phrases, and for vocal prayer abandons mental prayer, she will never arrive at it…. Let her be attentive when I visit her mind sometimes in one way and sometimes in another, in a flash of self-knowledge or of contrition for sin, sometimes in the broadness of My charity, and sometimes by placing before her mind, in diverse ways, according to My pleasure and the desire of the soul, the presence of My truth…. The moment she is aware of My imminent presence she must abandon vocal prayer; then, My visitation past, if there should be time, she can resume the vocal prayers, which she had resolved to say… of course provided it were not the divine office which clerics and religious are bound and are obliged to say…. If they at the hour appointed for saying it should feel their minds drawn and raised by desire, they should so arrange as to say it before or after My visitation…. And so, by practice and perseverance, she will taste prayer in truth and the food of the blood of My only begotten Son, and therefore I told thee that some communicated virtually with the body and blood of Christ, although not sacramentally; that is, they communicate in the affection of charity, which they taste by means of holy prayer, little or much, according to the affection with which they pray. They who proceed with little prudence and without method taste little, and they who proceed with much, taste much. For the more the soul tries to loosen her affection from herself, and fasten it in Me with the light of the intellect, the more she knows; and the more she knows, the more she loves and, loving much, she tastes much. [117]
St. Catherine shows clearly how those who have reached the state of union have their understanding illumined by an infused supernatural light.
“The eye of the intellect, “ she says, [118] “is lifted up and gazes into My Deity, when the affection behind the intellect is nourished and united with Me. This is a sight which I grant to the soul, infused with grace, who, in truth, loves and serves Me.” It is in this sense that we say generally that St. Thomas received much more enlightenment in prayer than from study. [119] It is that infused contemplation which we shall find St. John of the Cross speaking of later on and which usually, he says, is granted to the more advanced and to the perfect. [120] St. Catherine continues:
The doctors, confessors, virgins, and martyrs, all of them had this infused knowledge and received their inspiration therefrom, each in a different way, according to the demands of their own or their neighbor’s salvation…. This supernatural light is given by grace to the humble who are desirous of receiving it… but the proud blind themselves to this light, because their pride and the cloud of self-love prevents them from seeing this light. Wherefore, in examining the books of the Scripture, they interpret it merely in a literal sense. They get not to the marrow of it, because they have deprived themselves of the light by which the Scripture was written and is interpreted. [121]
We see it to be the general rule, as St. Thomas already declared, [122] that this vital illumination proceeding from the gift of wisdom is bestowed to a degree corresponding to that of charity. Hence St. Catherine continues: “Under the guidance of this light we love, because love follows the intellect. The greater the knowledge, the greater the love, and the greater the love, the greater the knowledge. Thus the one feeds the other.” [123] If those who write about Raphael or Michelangelo let nothing pass in the effort to exhaust their subject, then surely we should neglect nothing that will enable us to probe more deeply into the Gospel and really live by the holy mass.
“The tongue is at a loss to recount the joy felt by him who goes on this, the true road, for even in this life he participates in that good which has been prepared for him in eternal life.” [124] As St. Thomas says: “It is a certain commencement of eternal life.” [125]
This state of union is described in chapter 89, where it is distinguished absolutely from the visions and revelations spoken of in chapter 70. In this state are combined an experimental knowledge of our own poverty and a quasi-experimental knowledge of God’s infinite goodness; they are, says the saint, like the lowest and the highest points on a circle that will continue to expand until we enter heaven. [126] This graceful image brings out clearly the intimate connection between these two kinds of experimental knowledge, and shows the great difference between them and that knowledge which is purely abstract and speculative. We have here the very essence of the spiritual life.
In the same chapter we read:
Growing, and exercising herself in the light of self-knowledge, she (the soul) conceives displeasure at herself and finally perfect hatred, at the same time acquiring a true knowledge of My goodness, and thereby being inflamed with love. She begins to unite herself to Me, and to conform her will to Mine, and experiences a joy and a compassion hitherto unknown. The joy she experiences is that of loving Me;… at the same time she lovingly grieves at the offense committed against Me, and at the loss of her fellow-creature…. She is in a state of desolation at not being able to give glory as she would wish, and in the agony of her desire she finds it delightful to satiate herself at the table of the holy cross. [127]
This brings us to the very center of the mystery of redemption.
The contemplation involved in this union with God distinctive of the Christian life in its full perfection is evidently an infused contemplation, for in chapters 60 and 61 we read:
If My servants are confused at the knowledge of their imperfection, if they give themselves up to the love of virtue, if they dig up with hatred the root of spiritual self-love… they will be so pleasing to Me… that I will manifest Myself to them…. My charity is manifested in two ways; first, in general, to ordinary people. The second mode of manifestation… is peculiar to those who have become My friends…. When I reveal Myself to her it makes itself felt in the very depths of the soul, by which such souls taste, know, prove and feel it. Sometimes I even reveal Myself to the soul by arousing in her sentiments of love, and endowing her with the spirit of prophecy. [128]
But, as is evident from chapter 70, this last favor is no longer normal but extraordinary.
Providential trials and union with God
Obviously the union with God we have been considering presupposes mortification or active purification, which we must impose upon ourselves in order to extinguish within us the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life. But, over and above this, does it presuppose passive purifications or the patient and generous acceptance of crosses?
Most certainly it does. Nothing could be more definite than St. Catherine’s teaching on this point when she speaks of temptation, of the trials of the just, and of the different sorts of tears, which must be carefully distinguished according as they proceed from the love of self or from pure love.
When faced with temptation, the soul can always resist in virtue of the merits of the blood of the Savior; God never commands the impossible. These temptations, when they are resisted, bring a deeper knowledge of ourselves and of God’s goodness and strengthen us in virtue. [129]
Again, God sends trials to purify us from our failings and imperfections, and to put us to the necessity of growing in His love when there is no longer air to breathe but in Him. [130] The way the soul welcomes these trials is the test of its perfection. [131] Then, after shedding the unfruitful tears of self-love and those caused by servile fear which dreads the punishment rather than the sin, the soul by degrees comes to experience the tears of pure love. Thus in chapter 89 the saint tells us:
Inasmuch as she (the soul) has not yet arrived at great perfection, she often sheds sensual tears, and if thou askest Me why, I reply: because the root of self-love is not sensual love, for that has already been removed (by mortification and the preliminary trials)… but it is a spiritual love with which the soul derives spiritual consolations or loves some creature spiritually…. Therefore, when such a soul is deprived of the thing she loves, that is, internal or external consolation (the former coming from Me, the latter from the creature), and when temptations and the persecutions of men come on her, her heart is full of grief. And, as soon as the eye feels the grief and suffering of the heart, she begins to weep with a tender and passionate sorrow, pitying herself with the spiritual compassion of self-love…. But growing, and exercising herself in the light of self-knowledge, she conceives displeasure at herself and finally perfect self-hatred…. Immediately her eye… cries with hearty love for Me and for her neighbor, grieving for the offense against Me and her neighbor’s loss…. Her heart is united to Me in love…. This is the last stage in which the soul is blessed and sorrowful. Blessed she is through the union which she feels herself to have with Me, tasting the divine love; sorrowful through the offenses which she sees done to My goodness and greatness, for she has seen and tasted the bitterness of this in her self-knowledge, by which self-knowledge, together with her knowledge of Me, she arrived at the final stage. Yet this sorrow is no impediment to the unitive state. [132]
We are reminded by it how our Lord’s own afflictions were ever united to a perfect peace, even on the cross. [133]
The purifications leading up to this state of union are plainly those same passive purifications which are treated of later on at such great length by St. John of the Cross. In proof of this it will be sufficient to read chapter 24: “How God prunes the living branches united to the stem in order to make them bear abundant fruit”; chapter 43: “Of the advantage of temptations”; chapter 45: “Who those are whom the thorns germinated by the world do not harm”; and finally chapter 20: “How, without enduring trials with patience, it is impossible to please God.”
Conclusion: the general call
What conclusion are we to come to? The passages we have just quoted, lead to the following conclusions: This union with God which normally constitutes the full perfection of the Christian life is something more than a purely active union, the result of our own personal activity under the influence of grace; it is also a passive union, the result of our docility to the Holy Ghost and the divine inspirations we receive through His sevenfold gifts, and these again normally increase with charity.
Thus the soul will normally arrive at the contemplative way in prayer, in reading the Scriptures and in assisting at mass, contemplating ever more profoundly the infinite value of the sacrifice of the altar, which perpetuates in substance the sacrifice of the cross. It will arrive also at the contemplative way of exercising the apostolate, in which, far from losing its union with God, it will preserve that union so that others may acquire it.
Is every interior soul called to this state of union? St. Catherine gives the answer to this question when she explains, in chapter 53, these words of our Lord: “If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink…. Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). The Dialogue says:
You were all invited generally and in particular, by My Truth, My Son, when, with ardent desire, He cried in the temple, saying: “Whosoever thirsteth, let him come to Me and drink.” [134]…So that you are invited to the fountain of living water of grace, and you must come to Me, therefore, through My Son, with perseverance, keeping by Him who was made for you a bridge, not being turned back by any contrary wind that may arise, either of prosperity or of adversity, and to persevere until you find Me, who am the giver of the water of life, by means of this sweet and amorous Word, My only begotten Son…. The first condition required is for you to have thirst, because only those who thirst are invited: “Whosoever thirsteth, let him come to Me and drink.” He who has no thirst will not persevere, for fatigue causes him to stop, persecution frightens him and no sooner does it begin to assail him than he retreats. He is afraid because he is alone…. You must then have thirst…. A man who is full of love and that of his neighbor, suddenly finds himself the companion of many royal virtues. Then the appetite of the soul is disposed to thirst. Thirst, I say, for virtue, and the honor of My name and salvation of souls…. Wherefore then he follows on with anxious desire, thirsting after the way of truth, in which he finds the fountain of the water of life, quenching his thirst in Me, the ocean of peace. [135]
St. Catherine expresses the same idea under another symbol in chapter 26, where the Father bids her pass over the bridge that binds earth to heaven, which is none other than Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.” These pierced feet of the Savior are steps by which thou canst arrive at His side, which manifests to thee the secret of His heart…. Then the soul is filled with love, seeing herself so much loved. Having passed the second step, the soul reaches out to the third, that is, to the mouth, where she finds peace.”
Lastly, what is the sign by which we may recognize that the soul has arrived at perfect love? The Lord explains this to Catherine from chapter 74 to chapter 79:
It now remains to be told thee how it can be seen that souls have arrived at perfect love. This is seen by the same sign that was given to the holy disciples after they had received the Holy Spirit, when they came forth from the house, and fearlessly announced the doctrine of My Word, My only begotten Son, not fearing pain, but rather glorying therein. Those who are enamored of My honor, and famished for the food of souls, run to the table of the Holy Cross.
Their only ambition is to suffer and endure untold hardships in the service of their neighbor. They run eagerly in the path of Christ r crucified, for it is His doctrine they accept, and they slacken not their pace on account of the persecutions, injuries, or pleasures of the world. They pass by all these things with fortitude and tranquil perseverance, their heart transformed by charity, tasting this sweetness of this food of the salvation of souls and ready to endure all things. This proves that the soul is in perfect love, loving without consideration of self…. If these souls love themselves, they do so for My sake, caring only for the praise and glory of My name…. In the midst of injuries it is patience that is resplendent, asserting her royal prerogative…. Such as these do not feel any separation from Me, whereas in the case of others, I come and go, not that I withdraw from them My grace, but the feeling of My sensible presence. I do not act thus to these most perfect ones who have arrived at a very high degree of perfection and are entirely dead to their own will, but I remain continually with them by My grace, giving them that feeling of My sensible presence.
Here obviously we have the exercise of charity and the gift of wisdom, each in an eminent degree, through which, St. Thomas says, [136] we are given a quasi-experimental knowledge of God present within us. This, surely, is the mystical life, the culminating point of the life of grace as it normally develops and the prelude to the heavenly life.
Those acquainted with the spiritual teaching of St. Thomas will realize how closely it agrees with the ascetic utterances of St. Catherine of Siena. In our opinion they are the expression of the traditional doctrine, which is content to lay stress on the right points in the reading of the Gospels and Epistles.” He that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in Him” (I John 4:16) ; “His unction teacheth you of all things” (ibid., 2:27) ; “The Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8: 16-17) ; “For you are dead: and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4).
Have we forced the sense of these passages from the Dialogue? On the contrary, it is better to acknowledge that they cannot be comprehended fully. As Raphael was wont to say, “to comprehend is to equal, “ and to grasp the full meaning of the passages quoted, the same spirit of faith, the same exalted charity would be necessary as was possessed by St. Catherine of Siena.
Such, according to this witness, is the way of perfection God has traced out from all eternity in His providential plan to lead souls to their final destiny. It is the way that leads to the fountain of living water.” If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink…. Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water”; “He that shall drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst forever” (John 7:37-38;4:13).

25. Providence And Divine Justice
Now that we have spoken of providence in itself and its attitude to souls, we may suitably consider it in its relations with divine justice and with divine mercy. As in us prudence is connected with justice and the rest of the moral virtues, which it directs, so also in God providence is united with justice and mercy, these being the two great virtues of the love of God in our regard. Mercy has its foundation in the sovereign good in so far as it is of itself diffusive and tends to communicate itself externally. Justice, on the other hand, is founded in the indefeasible right of the sovereign good to be loved above all things.
These two virtues, says the psalmist, are found combined in all the works of God: “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth” (Ps. 24: 10). But, as St. Thomas remarks, Cf. St. Thomas, [137] in certain of the divine works, as when God inflicts chastisement, justice stands out the more prominently, whereas in others, in the justification or conversion of sinners, for example, it is mercy that is more apparent.
This justice, which we attribute analogically to God, is not that commutative justice which regulates mutual dealings between equals: we cannot offer anything to God that does not belong to Him already. It is a distributive justice, analogous to that which a father shows toward his children or a good monarch toward his subjects. Thus, by reason of this justice of His, God first of all sees to it that every creature receives whatever is necessary for the attainment of its end. Secondly, He rewards merit and metes out punishment to sin and vice, especially if the sinner does not ask for mercy.
We shall do well to consider how providence directs the action of justice (1) during the course of our earthly existence, (2) at the moment of death, and (3) after death.
Providence and justice in the course of our earthly existence
Providence and justice combine in this present life to give us whatever is necessary to reach our true destiny: that is, to enable us to live an upright life, to know God in a supernatural way, to love and to serve Him, and so obtain eternal life.
There is a great inequality, no doubt, in circumstances, natural and supernatural, among men here on earth. Some are rich, others are poor; some are possessed of great natural gifts, whereas others are of a thankless disposition, weak in health, of a melancholy temperament. But God never commands the impossible; no one is tempted beyond his strength reinforced by the grace offered him. The savage of Central Africa or Central America has received far less than we have; but if he does what he can to follow the dictates of conscience, Providence will lead him on from grace to grace and eventually to a happy death; for him eternal life is possible of attainment. Jesus died for all men, and among those who have the use of reason only those are deprived of the grace necessary for salvation who by their resistance reject it. Since He never commands the impossible, God offers to all the means necessary for salvation.
Moreover, not infrequently providence and justice will make up for the inequality in natural conditions by their distribution of supernatural gifts. Often the poor man in his simplicity will be more pleasing to God than the rich man, and will receive greater graces. Let us recall the parable of the wicked rich man recorded in St. Luke (16: 19-31) :
There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores, desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. And no one did give him: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. And the rich man also died…. And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham… and he cried and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me…. And Abraham said to him; Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted and thou art tormented.
This is to declare in effect that, where natural conditions are unequal, providence and justice will sometimes make up for it in the distribution of natural gifts. Again, the Gospel beatitudes tell us that one who is bereft of this world’s enjoyments will in some cases feel more powerfully drawn to the joys of the interior life. This is what our Lord would have us understand when He says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…. Blessed are the meek… that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [138]
The love of Jesus goes out to those servants of His nailed to the cross, because then they are more like Him through the effective oblation they make of their entire being for the salvation of sinners. In them He continues to live; in them He may be said to prolong down to the end of time His own prayers and sufferings, and above all His love, for perfect love consists in the complete surrender of self.
For some there comes a time when every road in life is barred against them; humanly speaking, the future holds out no prospect whatever to them. In some cases this is the moment when the call comes to something higher. Some there are who spend long years confined to a bed of pain; for these henceforth there is no way open but the way of holiness. [139]
And so providence and justice, while giving to each one what is strictly necessary, will often make up for any disparity in natural conditions by the bestowal of grace. They reward us, even in this life, for the merits we have gained, reminding us, too, of our solemn duties by salutary warnings and well-deserved corrections, which are no more than medicinal punishments for the purpose of bringing us back into the right path. In this way will a mother correct her child if she loves it with a really enlightened, ardent love. When these salutary corrections are well received, we make expiation for our sins, and God takes the opportunity of inspiring us with a more sincere humility and a purer, stronger love. There is a sharp distinction between souls according to their willingness or unwillingness to listen to these warnings from God.
Providence and justice at the moment of death
As a general rule those who have paid heed during life to the warning of God’s justice and to the indefeasible right of the sovereign good to be loved above all things are not taken unawares when death comes, and in that supreme moment they find peace. Wholly otherwise is it usually with those who have refused to give ear to the divine warnings and who during life have confounded hope with presumption.
If there is one thing that is dependent on Providence, it is the hour of our death.” Be ye also ready, “ says our Lord, “for at what hour you think not the Son of man will come” (Luke 12: 40). The same is true of the manner of our death and the circumstances surrounding it. It is all completely unknown to us; it rests upon Providence, in which we must put all our trust, while preparing ourselves to die well by a better life.
Looked at from the point of view of divine justice, what a vast difference there is between the death of the just and that of the sinner! In the Apocalypse (20: 6, 14) the death of the sinner is called a “second death, “ for he is already spiritually dead to the life of grace, and if the soul departs from the body in this condition it will be deprived of that supernatural life forever. May God preserve us from that second death. The unrepentant sinner, says St. Catherine, [140] is about to die in his injustice, and appear before the supreme Judge with the light of faith extinguished in him, which he received burning in holy baptism (but which he has blown out with the wind of pride) and with the vanity of his heart, with which he sets his sails unfurled to all the winds of flattery. Thus did he hasten down the stream of the delights and dignities of the world at his own will, giving in to the seductions of his weak flesh and the temptations of the devil.
The remorse of conscience (which is not to be confused with repentance) is then aroused with such lively feelings, that it gnaws the very heart of the sinner, because he recognizes the truth of what at first he knew not, and his error is the cause of great confusion to him…. The devil torments him with infidelity in order to drive him to despair. [141]
What are we to say of this struggle which finds the sinner disarmed, deprived of his living faith now extinguished in him, deprived also of a steadfast hope, which he has failed to foster as he ought by committing himself daily to God and laboring for Him? The wretched sinner has placed all his hopes in himself, not realizing that everything he possessed was but lent and must one day be accounted for. He is deprived, too, of the flame of charity, of the love of God which he has now utterly lost. He finds himself alone in his spiritual nakedness, bereft of all virtue. Having turned a deaf ear to the many warnings given during life, now, whichever way he turns, he sees nothing but cause for confusion. Due consideration was not given to divine justice during life; now it is the full weight of that justice which makes itself felt, while the enemy of all good seeks to persuade the sinner that for him henceforth there is no mercy. How we should pray for those who are in their agony! If we do, then others will pray for us when our last moment comes.
In those last moments mercy still accommodates itself to the sinner, as it did to Judas when our Lord said at the last supper (Matt. 26: 24) : “Woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed. It were better for him, if that man had not been born.” Our Lord has not yet said who it is that is about to betray Him: He is too tender-hearted to reveal it. And then, the Gospel continues, “Judas that betrayed Him answering said: Is it I Rabbi? He saith to him: Thou hast said it.” In delaying to put the question until the rest of the Apostles had done so, Judas feigns innocence, as if that were possible with one who even in this world reads the secrets of the heart. Notice, says St. Thomas commenting on these words, with what gentleness Jesus continues to call him friend and answers: “Thou hast said it”; as if to say, “It is you, not I, who say so, who are revealing it.” Once again our Lord shows Himself full of compassion and mercy, closing His eyes to the sins of men so as to give them one more salutary warning and lead them to repentance. In Him are realized those touching words of the Scripture: “The Lord is compassionate and merciful” (Ps. 102: 8) ; “overlooking the sins of men for the sake of repentance” (Wis. 11: 24) ; “Let the meek hear and rejoice” (Ps. 33: 3).
In view of these final warnings from God, we may well ask how the sinner dare accuse God of being a tyrant. No, it is the sinner who is his own tyrant; it is the sinner who has no consideration for himself; and none for God either, since he refuses Him the joy of applying to him what He said of the prodigal: “This my son was lost and is found” (Luke 15: 24).
If the sinner will only disburden his conscience by a sincere confession, making acts of faith, of confidence in God, and contrition, at the last moment the divine mercy will enter in to temper justice and will save him. By reason of God’s mercy every man may cling to hope at death if he so wills, if he offers no resistance. Remorse will then give place to repentance.
Otherwise the soul succumbs to remorse and abandons itself to despair, a sin far more heinous than any of the preceding, as in that neither infirmity nor the allurements of sensuality can excuse, a sin by which the sinner esteems his wickedness as outweighing God’s divine mercy. And once in this despair, the soul no longer grieves over sin as an offense against God, it grieves only over its own miserable condition, a grief very different from that which characterizes attrition or contrition.
Blessed is the sinner who like the good thief then repents, reflecting that, as St. Catherine says, [142] “the divine mercy is greater without comparison than all the sins which any creature can commit.”
Happier still is the just soul that throughout life has given due thought to the loving fulfilment of duty and, after the merits won and the struggle sustained here on earth, yearns for death in order to enjoy the vision of God, even as St. Paul desired “to be dissolved and to be with Christ” (Phil. 1: 23).
As a rule a great peace fills the soul of the just in their last agony, a peace the more profound the greater their perfection; and this is often most true of those who during life have had the greatest dread of the divine justice. For them death is peaceful because their enemies have been vanquished during life. [143] Sensuality has been reduced to subjection under the curb of reason. Virtue triumphs over nature, overcoming the natural fear of death through the longing to attain their final end, the sovereign good. Being conformed to justice during life, conscience continues tranquil, though the devil seeks to trouble and alarm it.
At that moment, it is true, the value of this present time of trial, which is the price of virtue, will be more clearly seen, and the just soul will reproach itself for not having made better use of its time. But the sorrow it then experiences will not overwhelm it; it will be profitable in inducing the soul to recollect itself and place itself in the presence of the precious blood of our Savior, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In the passage from time to eternity there is thus an admirable blending of God’s mercy and justice. In his dying moments the just man anticipates the bliss prepared for him; he has a foretaste of his destiny which may sometimes be seen reflected in his countenance.
God’s providence and justice in the next life
After death God’s providence and justice intervene forthwith in the particular judgment. Revelation tells us so in the parable of the wicked rich man and the beggar Lazarus, whose souls were judged once and for all the moment they quitted this earth. Equally clear is St. Paul’s teaching in more than one passage: “We must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether good or evil”; [144] “I have a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ”; [145] “I have finished my course…. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love His coming”; [146] “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment.” [147]
It was the universal belief of the early Church that the martyrs entered at once into heaven and that unrepentant sinners, like the bad thief, received their punishment immediately after death.
The nature of this particular judgment is to be explained from the condition of the soul when separated from the body. Once the body has been left behind, the soul has direct vision of itself as a spiritual substance, in the same way that the pure spirit has direct vision of itself, and in that instant it is made aware of its moral condition. It receives an interior illumination rendering all discussion useless. God passes sentence, which is then transmitted by conscience, the echo of God’s voice. The soul now sees plainly what is its due according to its merits and demerits, which then stand out quite distinctly before it. This is what the liturgy expresses symbolically in the Dies Irae: Liber scriptus proferetur, in quo totum continetur. The soul will see whatever has been written down in the book of life concerning it. [148]
Justice will then mete out condign punishment for sins committed, to last for a time or for eternity. Mortal sin still unrepented at the moment of death will be henceforth like an incurable disease, but in something that cannot die, the immortal soul. The sinner has turned his back unrepentantly on the sovereign good, has in practice denied its infinite dignity as the last end, and has failed to revoke this practical denial while there was yet time. It is an irreparable disorder and a conscious one. Remorse is there, but without repentance; pride and rebellion will continue forever and with them the punishment they deserve. But above all it involves the perpetual loss of the divine life of grace and the vision of God, of supreme bliss, the sinner clearly realizing that through his own fault he has failed forever to attain his destined end. [149]
Here the justice of God is seen to be infinite; it is a mystery that surpasses our understanding, as does the mystery of His mercy.
Here on earth the concepts or ideas we are able to have of divine justice and the rest of God’s perfections must always remain limited, confined, and that in spite of the correction we apply in denying all limitation. These concepts represent the divine attributes as distinct from one another, though we did say that there is no real distinction between them. It follows that these restricted ideas harden the spiritual features of God somewhat, as the human features are hardened when we attempt to reproduce them in little squares of mosaic. Our concept of justice being distinct from that of mercy, divine justice appears to us not only infinitely just but absolutely unyielding, and His mercy appears to be sheer caprice.
In heaven, however, we shall see how the divine perfections, even those to all appearances directly opposed, are intimately blended, identified in fact, yet without destroying one another in the Deity, in God’s intimate life, of which we shall then have distinct and immediate knowledge.
We shall then see that nowhere but in God do justice and mercy exist in their pure state, free from all imperfection, and that just as in us the cardinal virtues are interconnected and inseparable, so also in Him justice cannot exist unless it is united with mercy, and conversely there can be no such thing as mercy apart from justice and providence. [150]
This is what is revealed to the saints from the moment of the particular judgment, which is immediately followed by their entry into glory.
There will be another manifestation of justice in the general judgment after the resurrection of the body, according to the words of the Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ… who shall come to judge the living and the dead.” Our Lord tells us (Matt. 24: 30-46) : “All tribes of the earth… shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty. And He shall send His angels with a trumpet and a great voice: and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them.” If Jesus had not been the Son of God, how could He, a poor village artisan, have uttered such words as these? It would have been the height of foolishness, whereas everything goes to show that it is the essence of wisdom.
This general judgment is evidently expedient, because man is not merely a private person, but is a social being, and this judgment will reveal to all men the rectitude of Providence and its ways, the reason also of its decisions and their outcome. Divine justice will then appear in all its sovereign perfection in contrast to the frequent miscarriage of human justice. Infinite mercy will be revealed in the case of repentant and pardoned sinners. Every knee will bend before Christ the Savior, triumphant now over sin, the devil, and death. Then will appear also the glory of the elect: he who was humbled will now be exalted, and the kingdom of God will be established forever in the light of glory, in love and in peace. [151]
This is the kingdom we long for when day by day we say in the Our Father: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will [signified to us in Thy precepts and in the spirit of the counsels] be done on earth as it is in heaven.” [152]
26. Providence And Mercy
We have been considering the relations between providence and divine mercy in the distribution of the means necessary for all to attain their end, in rewarding merit and chastising sin and wickedness. It now remains for us to speak of providence in its relation to divine mercy. God’s mercy seems at first sight to differ so widely from His justice as to be directly contrary to it; it appears to set itself up in opposition to justice, intervening in order to restrict its rights. Yet in reality there can never be any opposition between two divine perfections; however widely they may differ from each other, the one cannot be the negation of the other. As we have already seen, they are so united in the eminence of the Deity, the intimate life of God, as to be completely identified.
Far from setting itself up in opposition to justice and putting restrictions upon it, mercy unites with it, but in such a way as to surpass it, as St. Thomas says. [153] In psalm 24: 10, we read: “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth (i. e., justice), “ but, adds St. James, “Mercy exalteth herself above judgment [justice].” [154] In what sense is this to be understood? Says St. Thomas: [155]
In this sense, that every work of justice presupposes and is founded upon a work of mercy, a work of pure loving kindness, wholly gratuitous. If, in fact, there is anything due from God to the creature, it is in virtue of some gift that has preceded it…. If He owes it to Himself to grant us grace necessary for salvation, it is because He has first given us the grace with which to merit. Mercy (or pure goodness) is thus, as it were, the root and source of all the works of God; its virtue pervades, dominates them all. As the ultimate fount of every gift, it exercises the more powerful influence, and for this reason it transcends justice, which follows upon mercy and continues to be subordinate to it.
If justice is a branch springing from the tree of God’s love, then the tree itself is mercy, or pure goodness ever tending to communicate, to radiate itself externally.
We shall best understand this by a consideration of our own lives. Our best course will be to proceed, as we did with justice, by considering the relations between providence and mercy first of all in this present life, then at the moment of death, and lastly in the next life.
Providence and mercy in the course of our present life
If in this present life divine justice gives to each of us whatever is required for us to live rightly and so attain our end, mercy, on the other hand, gives far beyond what is strictly necessary, and it is in this sense that it surpasses justice.
In creating us, for example, God might have established us in a purely natural condition, endowing us with a spiritual, immortal soul, but not with grace. Out of pure goodness from the very day of creation He has granted us to participate supernaturally in His intimate life by bestowing on us sanctifying grace, the principle of our supernatural merits.
Again, after the fall, He might have left us in our fallen condition so far as justice is concerned. Or He might have raised us up from sin by a simple act of forgiveness conveyed through the mouth of a prophet after we had fulfilled certain conditions. But He has done something infinitely greater than this: out of pure mercy He gave us His only Son as a redeeming victim, and it is possible for us at all times to appeal to the infinite merits of the Savior. Justice loses none of its rights, but it is mercy that prevails.
Once Jesus had died for us, all we needed was to be guided by interior graces as well as by the preaching of the Gospel; but divine mercy has given us far more than this: it has given us the Eucharist, in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated in substance on our altars and the fruits of that sacrifice are applied to our souls. [156]
Finally, those of us who have been born into Christian and Catholic families have received incomparably more from the divine mercy than the bare essentials God has given to the savage of Central Africa. With those essentials God has given to the savage, provided the first prevenient graces are not resisted, the savage will receive whatever further graces are required for salvation; but we have received much more than this from our very childhood. When we consider the matter, we realize that we have been led on by the invisible hands of Providence and Mercy, preserving us from many a false step and raising up each one of us individually when we have fallen.
Again, if divine justice rewards the merits we have acquired even in this life, the gifts of mercy go far beyond anything we have deserved.
In the collect for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost we pray: “Almighty and eternal God, who in the abundance of Thy goodness dost surpass the merits and even the desires of Thy suppliants: pour out Thy mercy upon us, forgive us the things our conscience must fear, and grant us what we cannot presume to ask. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, etc.” [157]
The grace of absolution from mortal sin is not something that can be merited, it is a gratuitous gift. And how often has that grace been granted us!
Again, by no merit of ours could we obtain the grace of communion; it is the fruit of the sacrament of the Eucharist, which of itself produces that grace within us, even daily if we wish. And how many communions has not the divine mercy granted us! Let us bear in mind that if we are faithful in fighting against all attachment to venial sin, each successive communion becomes substantially more fervent than the last, since each successive communion must not only preserve but increase charity within us, thus disposing us to receive our Lord on the morrow with a substantial fervor, a readiness of desire not merely the same but more intense.
This law of acceleration governing the love of God in the souls of the just must, if we are alive to it, arouse our admiration. It will be seen that, just as the stone falls more rapidly as it approaches the earth which is attracting it, so is it with the souls of the just: the more nearly they approach to God and therefore the greater the force of His attraction, the more rapid must their progress be. We then grasp the meaning of these words of the psalm (32: 5) : “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.” Even the sinner can say with the psalmist: “Return, O Lord,… we are filled in the morning with Thy mercy: and we have rejoiced, and are delighted all our days” (Ps. 89: 14).
If we could only see the whole span of our life as it is written down in the book of life, how many instances should we find where providence and mercy have intervened to piece together again the chain of our merits which again and again perhaps we have broken by our sins! But at the final moment mercy intervenes in a manner no less gracious.
Providence and mercy at the moment of death
If at that moment justice alone were to enter in, all those who had led a life of sin would die as they had lived. After so many warnings from Providence had been neglected, the final warning would receive no better response; remorse would not give place to a salutary repentance. Thanks to the mercy of God, however, this last appeal is more insistent. If His justice inflicts the punishment due to sin, here again His mercy will outstrip it by pardoning. To pardon means to “give beyond” what is due. The rights of justice are safeguarded, but mercy outweighs it by constantly inspiring the sinner, as death approaches, to make a great act of love for God, and of contrition, which will wipe away sin and the eternal punishment mortal sin incurs. And so, through the intervention of mercy, through the infinite merits of the Savior, through the intercession of Mary refuge of sinners, and of St. Joseph patron of the dying, for many persons death is something very different from the way they lived. These are the laborers of the eleventh hour whom the Gospel parable speaks of (Matt. 20:9) ; they receive eternal life, as do the rest, in proportion to the few meritorious acts they have per formed before death, when already in their agony. Such was the death of the good thief who, touched by the loving kindness of Jesus dying on the cross, was converted, and he had the happiness of hearing from the Savior’s lips: “This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23: 43).
These interventions of mercy at the moment of death are one of the sublimest features of the true religion. This was often clearly enough shown during the World War, when a man, dying a tragic death after absolution, was saved, who in ordinary circumstances, in the midst of his occupations and pleasures, would perhaps have been lost.
So, too, where there are Catholic hospitals, many a poor soul, heeding the warning that the disease from which he is suffering is soon to carry him off, there prepares himself for a happy death. He listens to some sister speaking to him on this subject and then to the priest who finally reconciles him to God after thirty or forty years of a life spent practically in indifference, a life that has left much to be desired.
The divine mercy extends appealingly to every one of the dying. Jesus said: “Come to Me, all you that labor and are burdened: and I will refresh you” (Matt. 11:28). He dies for all men: as the beautiful prayers for those in their agony remind us, He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
The death of the repentant sinner is one of the greatest manifestations of divine mercy. Some striking examples of it are given us in the life of St. Catherine of Siena written by her confessor, Blessed Raymund of Capua. [158] Two condemned criminals, who were being tortured with hot pincers, were blaspheming ceaselessly, and then through her prayers the unhappy wretches received a vision of our Lord, who appeared covered with wounds, inviting them to repent and promising them forgiveness. At that same moment they begged earnestly for a priest and with heartfelt contrition confessed their sins. Thereupon their blasphemies were turned to praise, and they went joyfully to their death as to the gateway of heaven. Those who witnessed the incident were struck with amazement and could assign no reason for such a sudden change in their interior dispositions.
On another occasion the saint herself was present at the execution of the young nobleman, Nicholas Tuldo, who had been condemned to death for criticizing the government. When she saw how desperately he clung to life, refusing to accept what seemed to him so unjust a punishment, she herself prepared his soul to appear before God. Her account of the death-scene is given in a letter to her confessor, Raymund of Capua:
Seeing me at the place of execution, he began to smile, and wanted me to make the sign of the cross upon him. I did so and then I said to him: “On your knees, sweetness my brother. You are going to the marriage feast. You are about to enter into everlasting life.” He prostrated himself with great gentleness, and I stretched out his neck; and bending over him, I reminded him of the blood of the Lamb. His lips said nought save “Jesus’, and “Catherine. ‘, And so saying, I received his head in my hands, closing my eyes in the divine goodness, and saying, “I will.”
Then I saw, as might the clearness of the sun be seen, the God-man, the wound in His side being open. He was permitting a transfusion of that blood with His blood, and adding the fire of holy desire given to that soul by grace to the fire of His divine charity. [159]
But if the death of the sinner is a manifestation of the divine mercy, far more beautiful is the death of the saint who has always remained faithful. His last moments are, as a rule, peaceful because he has vanquished his enemies during life and his soul is now prepared for the passage to eternity. Uniting himself with all the masses then being celebrated, he makes of his death a last sacrifice of reparation, adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication to obtain thereby that last grace of final perseverance which carries with it the assurance of salvation.
Providence and mercy after death
Mercy and justice, the Scripture tells us (Ps. 24: 10), combine in every one of God’s works; but whereas mercy is the more prominent in some, as in the conversion of the sinner, in others justice predominates, as in the case of punishment due to sin.
Thus it is that, as St. Thomas says, [160] after death “mercy intervenes on behalf of the reprobate, in the sense that the punishment they receive is less than they deserve.” Were justice alone to enter in, they would suffer still more. St. Catherine of Siena is of the same mind. [161] Mercy is there to temper justice even for those who have fomented hatred among others, between class and class, nation and nation, even for the most perverse, for monsters like Nero, who have shown a refinement of malice, an obstinacy of will that spurned all advice.
Obviously, with the souls in purgatory divine mercy is still more active, inspiring them with the loving desire to make reparation, which tempers a little that keen purifying pain they are undergoing and confirms them in their assurance of salvation.
In heaven divine mercy shines forth in the saints according to the intensity of their love for God. Our Lord will greet them with the words recorded in St. Matthew (25: 34) :
Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took Me in: naked, and you covered Me: sick, and you visited Me: I was in prison, and you came to Me. Then shall the just… answer Him saying: Lord, when did we see Thee hungry… thirsty… and came to Thee? And the King answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me.
What joy will be ours in that first instant of our entering into glory, when we shall receive the light of glory in order to see God face to face, in a vision that will know no end, whose measure will be the unique instant of changeless eternity.
How consoling is the thought of this infinite mercy, which transcends all wickedness and is inexhaustible. For this reason no relapse into sin, however shameful, however criminal, should cause a sinner to despair. There can be no greater outrage against God than to consider His loving kindness inadequate to forgive. As St. Catherine of Siena tells us, “His mercy is greater without any comparison than all the sins which any creature can commit.” [162]
In this matter we should keep before our minds these words from the psalms, words that the liturgy is constantly putting before us:
The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever…. For Thou hast said: Mercy shall be built up forever in the heavens. Thy truth shall be prepared in them…. Thou art mighty, O Lord, and Thy truth is round about Thee, Thou rulest the power of the sea…. Thou hast humbled the proud one….
The Lord is compassionate and merciful: longsuffering and plenteous in mercy. He will not always be angry: nor will He threaten forever…. For according to the height of the heaven above the earth, He hath strengthened His mercy toward them that fear Him…. As a father hath compassion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on them that fear Him: for He knoweth our frame. He remembereth that we are dust.
Man’s days are as grass: as the flower of the field so shall he flourish. For the spirit shall pass in him, and he shall not be…. But the mercy of the Lord is from eternity and unto eternity, upon them that fear Him. [163]
May the Lord deign that these words be revealed in us also, that we may glorify Him forever.
Rarely have the relations between mercy, justice, and providence been better expressed than in the Dies Irae. [164]
Day of wrath and doom impending, David’s word with Sibyl’s blending! Heaven and earth in ashes ending!
O, what fear man’s bosom rendeth, When from heaven the Judge descendeth, On whose sentence all dependeth!
Death is struck, and nature quaking, All creation is awaking, To its Judge an answer making.
Lo! the book exactly worded, Wherein all hath been recorded; Thence shall judgment be awarded.
When the Judge His seat attaineth, And each hidden deed arraigneth, Nothing unavenged remaineth.
King of Majesty tremendous, Who dost free salvation send us, Fount of pity, then befriend us!
Think, kind Jesu! my salvation Caused Thy wondrous incarnation; Leave me not to reprobation.
Faint and weary Thou hast sought me, On the cross of suffering bought me; Shall such grace be vainly bought me?
Righteous Judge! for sin’s pollution Grant Thy gift of absolution, Ere that day of retribution.
Through the sinful woman shriven, Through the dying thief forgiven, Thou to me a hope hast given.
Low I kneel, with heart submission, Crushed to ashes in contrition; Help me in my last condition!
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him! Lord all-pitying, Jesu blest, Grant them Thine eternal rest. Amen.
Let us acquire the habit of praying for those in their last agony, that the divine mercy may incline to them. Then others will assist us when the moment of our own death arrives. Where or how we shall die, we know not; it may be quite alone; but if we have prayed frequently for the dying, if again and again we have said with attention and from our hearts: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, “ then at the supreme moment mercy will incline to us also. [165]
27. Providence And The Grace Of A Happy Death
One of those vital questions that should be of the deepest interest to every soul, no matter what its condition, is the question of a happy death. On this subject St. Augustine wrote one of his last and finest works, the Gift of Perseverance, in which he gives his definite views on the mystery of grace.
By the Semi-Pelagians on the one hand and Protestants and Jansenists on the other, this vital question has been understood in widely different, even fundamentally opposite, senses. These two contrary heresies prompted the Church to define her teaching on this point more precisely and to declare the truth in all its sublimity as the transcendent mean between the extreme errors.
A brief summary of these errors will give us a better appreciation of the truth and a clearer understanding of what the grace of a happy death really is. We shall then see how this grace may be obtained.
The doctrine of the Church and the errors opposed to it
The Semi-Pelagians maintained that man can have the initium fidei et salutis, the beginning of faith and a good desire apart from grace, this beginning being subsequently confirmed by God. According to their view, not God but the sinner himself takes the first step in the sinner’s conversion. On the same principles the Semi-Pelagians maintained that, once justified by grace, man can persevere until death without a further special grace. For the just to persevere unto the end, it is enough, they said, that the initium salutis, this natural good will, should persist.
It amounted to this, that God not only wills all men to be saved, but wills it to the same extent in every case; and further, that precisely the element which distinguishes the just from the wicked—the initium salutis and those final good dispositions which are to be found in one and not in another, in Peter and not in Judas—is not to be referred to God as its author; He is simply an onlooker.
It meant the rejection of the mystery of predestination and the ignoring of those words of our Lord: “No man can come to Me, except the Father, who sent Me, draw him” (John 6: 44), words that apply both to the initial and to the final impulse of our hearts to God.” Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15: 5), our Lord said. As the Second Council of Orange recalled against the Semi-Pelagians, St. Paul added: “Who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4:7) ; “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God” (II Cor. 3: 5). If this is true of our every thought, still more true is it of the least salutary desire, whether it be the first or the last.
St. Augustine, too, pointed out that both the first grace and the last are in an especial way gratuitous. The first prevenient grace cannot be merited or in any way be due to a purely natural good impulse, since the principle of merit is sanctifying grace, and this, as its very name implies, is a gratuitous gift, a life wholly supernatural both for men and for angels. Again, the final grace, the grace of final perseverance, is, as St. Augustine pointed out, a special gift, a grace peculiar to the elect, of whom our Lord said: “No one can snatch them out of the hand of My Father” (John 10: 29). When this grace is granted, he added, it is from sheer mercy; if on the other hand it is not given, it is as a just chastisement for sin, usually for repeated sin, which has alienated the soul from God. We have it exemplified in the death of the good thief and that of the unrepentant one.
For St. Augustine the question is governed by two great principles. The first is that not only are the elect foreseen by God, but they are more beloved by Him. St. Paul had said: “Who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4:17.) Later on we find St. Thomas saying that “since the love of God is cause of whatever goodness there is in things, no one thing would be better than another, if God did not will a greater good for one than for the other” (Ia, q. 20, a. 3).
The other principle, formulated by St. Augustine in express terms, is that God never commands the impossible, though in commanding He admonishes us to do what we can and to ask for grace to accomplish what we ourselves cannot do: Deus impossibilia non jubet, sed in jubendo monet et facere quod possis et petere quod non possis. These words, taken from his De natura et gratia, [166] are quoted by the Council of Trent [167] and bring out how God desires to make it really possible for all to be saved and observe His precepts, and how in fact He does so. As for the elect, He sees to it that they continue to observe His precepts until the end.
How are these two great principles, certain and beyond dispute, to be intimately reconciled? Before receiving the beatific vision, no created intellect, of men or of angels, can perceive how this can be. It must first be seen how infinite justice, infinite mercy, and a sovereign liberty are reconciled in the Deity, and this requires an immediate vision of the divine essence.
As we know, these principles laid down by St. Augustine against Semi-Pelagianism were in substance approved by the Second Council of Orange. Thus it remains true that the grace of a happy death is a special grace peculiar to the elect.
At the opposite extreme to Semi-Pelagianism, Protestantism and Jansenism distorted the first principle formulated by St. Augustine by rejecting the second. On the pretext of emphasizing the mystery of predestination, they denied the all embracing character of God’s saving will, maintaining also that in some cases God commands the impossible, that at the moment of death it is not possible for all to be faithful to the divine precepts. We know what the first proposition of Jansenius was, [168] that certain of God’s commandments are impossible for some even among the just, and this not merely when they are negligent or have not the full use of reason and will, but even when they have the desire to carry out these precepts and do really strive to fulfil them: justis volentibus et conantibus. Even for them the carrying out of certain precepts is impossible because they are denied the grace that would make it possible.
Such a proposition must drive men to despair and shows how wide is the gulf separating Jansenism from the true doctrine of St. Augustine and St. Thomas: Deus impossibilia non jubet. This grave error involves the denial of God’s justice and hence of God Himself; a fortiori it denies His mercy and the offering of sufficient grace to all. Indeed it means the rejection of true human liberty (libertas a necessitate), so that finally sin becomes unavoidable and is sin no longer, and hence cannot without extreme cruelty be punished eternally.
From the same erroneous principles, Protestants were led to declare not only that predestination is gratuitous, but that good works, in the case of adults, are not necessary for salvation, faith alone sufficing. Hence that saying of Luther’s: Pecca fortiter et crede fortius: sin resolutely, but trust even more resolutely in the application of Christ’s merits to you and in your predestination. This is no longer hope, but is an unpardonable presumption. Jansenism and Protestantism, in fact, oscillate between presumption and despair, without ever being able to find true Christian hope and charity.
Against this heresy the Council of Trent defined [169] that “Whereas we should all have a steadfast hope in God, nevertheless (without a special revelation) no one can have absolute certainty that he will persevere to the end.” The Council quotes the words of St. Paul: “Wherefore, my dearly beloved (as you have always obeyed…), with fear and trembling work out your salvation…. For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish according to His good will” (Phil. 2: 12) ; “He that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed, lest he fall” (I Cor. 10: 12). He must put all his trust in the Almighty, who is alone able to raise him up when he has fallen and keep the just upright in a corrupt and perverse world.” And he shall stand: for God is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14: 4).
And so the Church maintains the Gospel teaching in its rightful place above the vagaries of error, above the extreme heresies of Semi-Pelagianism and Protestantism. On the other hand, the elect are more beloved of God than are others and, on the other hand, God never commands the impossible, but in His love desires to make it really possible for all to be faithful to His commandments.
It remains true therefore, as against Semi-Pelagianism, that the grace of a happy death is a special gift [170] and, as against Protestantism and Jansenism, that among those who have the use of reason they alone are deprived of help at the last who actually reject it by resisting the sufficient grace offered them, as the bad thief resisted it, and that in the very presence of Christ the Redeemer. [171]
This being so, how are we to obtain this immense grace of a happy death? Can we merit it? And if it cannot be merited in the strict sense, is it possible for us at any rate to obtain it through prayer? What are the conditions that such a prayer must conform to?
These are the two points we wish to develop, relying especially on what St. Thomas has written about them in Ia IIae, q. 114, a. 9.
Can we merit the grace of a happy death?
Are we able to merit it in the strict sense of the term “merit, “ which implies the right to a divine reward?
Final perseverance, a happy death, is no more than the continuance of the state of grace up to the moment of death, or at any rate it is the coincidence or union of death and the state of grace if conversion takes place at the last moment. In short, a happy death is death in the state of grace, the death of the predestinate or elect.
We now see why the Second Council of Orange declared it to be a special gift, [172] why, too, the Council of Trent declared the gratuitous element in it by saying that, “this gift cannot be derived from any other but from the One who is able to establish him who standeth that he stand perseveringly, and to restore him who has fallen.” [173]
Whatever we are able to merit, though it comes chiefly from God, is not from Him exclusively; it proceeds also from our own merits, which imply the right to a divine reward. Hence we feel that the just must humbly admit that they have really no right to the grace of final perseverance.
St. Thomas demonstrates this truth by a principle as simple as it is profound, one that is now commonly received in the Church [174] (cf. Ia IIae, q. 114, a. 9). We may profitably pause to consider it for a moment; it will serve to keep us humble.
“The principle of merit, “ says St. Thomas, “cannot itself be merited (principium meriti sub merito non cadit) “; for no cause can cause itself, whether it be a physical cause or moral (as merit is). Merit, that act which entitles us to a reward, cannot reach the principle from which it proceeds. Nothing is more evident than that the principle of merit cannot itself be merited.
Now the gift of final perseverance is simply the state of grace maintained up to the moment of death, or at least at that moment restored. Furthermore, the state of grace, produced and maintained by God, is in the order of salvation the very principle of merit, the principle rendering our acts meritorious of an increase in grace and of eternal life. Apart from the state of grace, apart from charity whereby we love God with an efficacious love, more than ourselves, with a love founded at least on a right estimation of values, our salutary acts have no right to a supernatural reward. In such case these salutary acts, like those preceding justification, bear no proportion to such a reward; they are no longer the actions of an adopted son of God and of one who is His friend, heir to God and coheir with Christ, as St. Paul says. They proceed from a soul still estranged from God the last end, through mortal sin, from one having no right as yet to eternal life. Hence St. Paul writes (I Cor. 13: 1-3) : “If I have not charity, I am nothing… it profiteth me nothing.” Apart from the state of grace and charity, my will is estranged from God, and personally therefore I can have no right to a supernatural reward, no merit in the order of salvation.
Briefly, then, the principle of merit is the state of grace and perseverance in that state; but the principle of merit cannot itself be merited.
If the initial production of sanctifying grace cannot be merited, the same must be said of the preservation of anyone in grace, this being simply the continuation of the original production and not a distinct divine action. So says St. Thomas (Ia, q. 104, a. 1 ad 4um) : “The conservation of the creature by God is not a fresh divine action, but the continuation of the creative act.” Hence the maintenance of anyone in the state of grace can no more be merited than its original production.
To this profound reason many theologians add a second, which is a confirmation of it. Strictly condign merit (meritum de condigno) or merit founded in justice presupposes the divine promise to reward a certain good work. But God has never promised final perseverance or preservation from the sin of final impenitence to one who should keep His commandments for any length of time. Indeed it is precisely this obedience until death in which final perseverance consists; hence it cannot be merited by that obedience, for otherwise it would merit itself. We are thus brought back to our fundamental reason, that the principle of merit cannot be merited. Moreover, with due reservations, the same reason is applicable to congruous merit (meritum de congruo), that merit which is founded in the rights of friendship uniting us to God, the principle of which is again the state of grace. [175]
What it all comes to is this, that God’s mercy, not His justice, has placed us in the state of grace and continues to maintain us therein.
The just, it is true, are able to merit eternal life, this being the term, not the principle of merit. Even so, if they are to obtain eternal life, it is still required that the merits they have won shall not have been lost before death through mortal sin. Now no acts of charity we perform give us the right to be preserved from mortal sin; it is mercy that preserves us from it. Here is one of the main foundations of humility.
Against this doctrine, now commonly accepted by theologians, a somewhat specious objection has been raised. It has been said that one who merits what is greater can merit what is less. Hence, since the just can merit eternal life de condigno and since this is something more than final perseverance, it follows that they can merit final perseverance also.
To this St. Thomas replies (ibid., ad 2um et 3um) : One who can do what is greater can do what is less, other things being equal, not otherwise. Now here there is a difference between eternal life and final perseverance: eternal life is not the principle of the meritorious act, far from it; eternal life is the term of that act. Final perseverance, on the other hand? is simply the continuance in the state of grace, and this, as we have already seen, is the principle of merit.
But, it is insisted, one who can merit the end can merit also the means to that end; but final perseverance is a means necessary to obtain eternal life and, therefore, like eternal life, can be merited.
Theologians in general reply by denying that the major premise is of universal application. Merit, indeed, is a means of obtaining eternal life, and yet it is not itself merited: it is enough that it can be had in other ways. Similarly, the grace of final perseverance can be obtained otherwise than by merit; it may be had through prayer, which is not directed to God’s justice, as merit is, but to His mercy.
But, it is further insisted, if final perseverance cannot be merited, neither can eternal life, which is only the consequence of this. From what has already been said, we must answer that anyone in the state of grace may merit eternal life only on condition that the merits he has gained have not been lost or have been mercifully restored through the grace of conversion. Hence the Council of Trent states (Sess. VI, cap. 16 and can. 32), that the just man can merit eternal life, si in gratia decesserit, if he dies in the state of grace.
We are thus brought back to that saying of St. Augustine and of St. Thomas after him: where the gift of final perseverance is granted, it is through mercy; if it is not granted, it is in just chastisement for sin, and usually for repeated sin, which has alienated the soul from God.
From this we deduce many conclusions, both speculative [176] and practical. We shall draw attention only to the humility that must be ours as we labor in all confidence to work out our salvation.
What we have been saying is calculated from one point of view to inspire dread, but what we have still to say will give great consolation.
How the grace of a happy death may be obtained through prayer
What are the conditions to which this prayer must conform? If, strictly speaking, the gift of final perseverance cannot be merited, since the principle of merit does not merit itself, it may nevertheless be obtained through prayer, which is directed not to God’s justice but to His mercy.
What we obtain through prayer is not always merited: the sinner, for example, who now is in the state of spiritual death, is able with the aid of actual grace to pray for and obtain sanctifying or habitual grace, which could not be merited, since it is the principle of merit.
It is the same with the grace of final perseverance: we cannot merit it in the strict sense, but we can obtain it through prayer for ourselves, and indeed for others also (cf. St. Thomas, ibid., ad Ium). What is more, we can and indeed we ought to prepare ourselves to receive this grace by leading a better life.
Whatever the Quietists may have said, failure to ask for the grace of a happy death and to prepare ourselves to receive it argues a disastrous and stupid negligence, incuria salutis.
For this reason our Lord taught us to say in the Our Father: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”; and the Church bids us say daily: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Can our prayer obtain this grace of a happy death infallibly? Relying on our Lord’s promise, “Ask and you shall receive, “ theology teaches that prayer made under certain conditions is infallible in obtaining the gifts necessary for salvation, including therefore the final grace. What are the conditions required that prayer shall be infallibly efficacious? “They are four, “ St. Thomas tells us (IIa IIae, q. 83, a. 15 ad 2um) : “We must ask for ourselves, the things necessary for salvation, with piety, with perseverance.”
We are, in fact, more certain of obtaining what we ask for ourselves than when we pray for a sinner, who perhaps is resisting grace at the very moment we are praying for him. [177] But even though we ask for the gifts necessary for salvation, and for ourselves, prayer will not be infallibly efficacious unless it is made with piety, humility, and confidence, as well as with perseverance. Only then will it express the sincere, profound, unwavering desire of our hearts. And here once again together with our own frailty, appears the mystery of grace; we may fail to persevere in our prayer as we may fail in our meritorious works. This is why we say before communion at mass: “Never permit me, O Lord, to be separated from Thee.” Never permit us to yield to the temptation not to pray; deliver us from the evil of losing the relish and desire for prayer; grant us that we may persevere in prayer notwithstanding the dryness and the profound weariness we sometimes experience.
Our whole life is thus shrouded in mystery. Every one of our salutary acts presupposes the mystery of grace; every one of our sins is a mystery of iniquity, presupposing the divine permission to allow evil to exist in view of some higher good purpose, which will be clearly seen only in heaven.” The just man liveth by faith” (Rom. 1: 17). We need help to the very end, not only that we may merit, but that we may pray even. How are we to obtain the necessary help to persevere in prayer? By bearing in mind our Lord’s words: “If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you. Hitherto you have not asked anything in My name” (John 16: 23-24).
We must pray in the name of our Savior. That is the best way of purifying and strengthening our intention, and will do more than the sword of Brennus to turn the balance. We must ask Him besides to make personal intercession on our behalf. This intercession of His is continued from day to day in the holy mass, wherein, as the Council of Trent says, through the ministry of His priests He never ceases to offer Himself and apply to us the merits of His passion.
Seeing that the grace of a happy death can be obtained only through prayer and not merited, we should turn to that most excellent and efficacious of all prayers, the prayer of our Lord, principal Priest in the sacrifice of the mass. It was for this reason Pope Benedict XV, in a letter to the director of the Archconfraternity of Our Lady For a Happy Death, earnestly recommended the faithful to have masses offered during life for the grace of a happy death. This is indeed the greatest of all graces, the grace of the elect; and if at that last moment we unite ourselves by an intense act of love with Christ’s sacrifice perpetuated on the altar, we may even obtain remission of the temporal punishment due to our sins and thus be saved from purgatory.
Therefore, to obtain this grace of final perseverance, we should frequently unite ourselves with the Eucharistic consecration, the essence of the sacrifice of the mass, pondering on the four ends of sacrifice: adoration, supplication, reparation, and thanksgiving. Let us bear in mind that in this continuous oblation of Himself, our Lord is offering, as well the whole of His mystical body, especially those who suffer spiritually and thereby share a little in His own sufferings. This is a path that will carry us far if only we follow it perseveringly. [178]
This practice of uniting ourselves with the sacrifice of the mass, with the masses that all day long are being celebrated wherever the sun is rising upon the earth, is the best preparation for a happy death, the best preparation for that hour when for the last time in our lives we shall unite ourselves with the masses then being celebrated far and near. United then with the sacrifice of Christ perpetuated in substance upon the altar, our death will itself be a sacrifice of adoration both of God’s supreme dominion, who is master of life and death, and of the majesty of Him who “leadeth down to hell and bringeth up again” (Tob. 13: 2). It will be a sacrifice of supplication to obtain the final grace both for ourselves and for those who are to die in that same hour. It will also be a sacrifice of reparation for the sins of our life, and a sacrifice of thanksgiving for all the favors we have received since our baptism.
The sacrifice we thus offer with a burning love for God may well open to us forthwith the gates of heaven, as it did for the good thief dying there by the side of our Lord as He brought to its close the celebration of His bloody mass, the sacrifice of the cross.
Before this last hour of our life comes, we should cultivate the practice of praying for the dying. At the door of some chapels may be seen the little inscription: Pray for those who are to die while holy mass is being offered. A certain French writer was one day much struck by this inscription and thereafter every day prayed for the dying while he was attending mass. Later on he was overtaken by a serious illness, which lasted for years; unable any longer to go to mass, he offered up his sufferings each morning for those who were to die in the course of the day. He thus had the joy of obtaining a number of unexpected conversions in extremis. [179]
Let us also pray for the priests who assist the dying. It is a sublime ministry to assist a soul in its agony, in that last struggle. Pray that the priest may arrive in time and, if the sick man is already sunk in profound torpor, that he may obtain from heaven the necessary moment of consciousness. Pray that the priest may be able to prompt the sick man to make the great sacrifices God demands of him and that by his priestly prayer, offered in the name of Christ, in the name of Mary and of all the saints, he may obtain for him the final grace, the grace of graces.
As the priest is giving this assistance to the dying, he sometimes has the immense consolation of looking on, as it were, and watching our Lord save the soul as it suffers in that last moment. Hitherto perhaps he has prayed for a cure, but now that he sees the soul well prepared for death he ends by reciting confidently and with great peace that beautiful prayer of the Church:
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison…. Proficiscere, anima christiana, de hoc mundo, in nomine Dei Patris omnipotentis, qui te creavit, in nomine Jesu Christi Filii Dei vivi, qui pro te passus est, in nomine Spiritus Sancti, qui in te effusus est (“Go forth from this world, O Christian soul, in the name of God the Father Almighty, who created thee; in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who suffered for thee; in the name of the Holy Ghost, who was poured out upon thee; in the name of the holy and glorious Virgin Mary, Mother of God; in the name of Blessed Joseph, predestined spouse of the Virgin; in the name of the angels and archangels… ; in the name of the patriarchs and prophets; in the name of the Apostles and the Evangelists; in the name of the holy martyrs and confessors; and of all the saints of God. May thy place be this day in peace and thy abode in holy Sion, through Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The mystery of salvation
And so for us a holy death throws light on the mystery of predestination, that terrible and yet gracious mystery which concerns the choice of the elect.
We now have a better grasp of those two great principles formulated by St. Augustine and St. Thomas which we quoted at the beginning of the chapter.
On the one hand, “since God’s love is the cause of things, no one thing would be better than another, if God did not will a greater good for one than for the other.” [180] No one thing would be better than another by reason of some salutary act, whether it be the first or the last, easy or difficult, in its inception or continuance, were he not more beloved of God. This is what our Lord refers to when He says of the elect, that “no man can snatch them out of the hand of My Father” (John 10: 29). He was speaking here of the efficacy of grace, which also led St. Paul to ask, “Who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4:7.) Could we find anywhere a more profound lesson in humility?
On the other hand, God never commands the impossible, but love constrains Him to make the fulfilment of His precepts really possible for all, and especially for the dying; final grace is denied them only when they reject it by resisting the final appeal.
And therefore, say St. Augustine and St. Thomas, when the grace of final perseverance is granted, as it was to the good thief, it is through mercy; if it is not granted, it is as a just chastisement for sin and usually for repeated sin; it is a just chastisement, too, for the final act of resistance, as it was with the impenitent thief, who was lost even as he hung dying by the side of his Redeemer.
In the words of St. Prosper quoted by a council of the ninth century, “If some are saved, it is the gift of Him who saves; if some perish, it is the fault of them that perish.” [181]
Absolutely certain as are these two great principles when considered apart—the efficacy of grace and the possibility for all to be saved—how are they infinitely reconciled one with the other? Here is St. Paul’s answer: “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways!” (Rom. 11: 33.) No created intellect can perceive this intimate reconciliation before receiving the beatific vision. To perceive that is to perceive also how infinite justice, infinite mercy and a sovereign liberty are united and identified without any real distinction in the Deity, the intimate life of God, in precisely what is unutterable in Him, in that perfection which is exclusively His own and naturally incommunicable to creatures—in the Deity as it transcends being, unity, truth, goodness, intelligence, and love. For in all these absolute perfections creatures can participate naturally, whereas participation in the Deity is possible only through sanctifying grace, which is a participation in the divine nature not simply as intellectual life, but as a life strictly divine and the principle of that immediate vision and of that love which God has for Himself. [182]
That we may perceive how the two principles of which we are speaking are intimately reconciled with each other, we must have immediate vision of the divine essence.
The more certain we are of the truth of these two principles, the more striking by contrast is the obscurity, the light-transcending obscurity, enveloping the heights of God’s intimate life in which they are united. They are like the two extremities of a dazzling are disappearing above into what the mystics call the great darkness, which is none other than that light inaccessible in which God dwells (I Tim. 6: 16).
This, though very imperfectly expressed, is to our mind the subject of Augustine’s speculation, or rather let us say of his contemplation, and it is the constant source of inspiration to St. Thomas in these difficult questions. The divine obscurity here mentioned is far beyond the reach of speculative theology; it is the proper object of faith (fides est de non visis), of faith illumined by the gifts of understanding and wisdom (fides donis illustrata).
From this higher standpoint, the contemplation of this terrible yet gracious mystery brings peace. Penetrated through and through with this doctrine, Bossuet writes as follows to one tormented with all sorts of ideas about predestination:
When such thoughts come into the mind, when all our efforts to dissipate them have proved vain, we should end by abandoning ourselves to God, with the assurance that our salvation is infinitely more secure in God’s hands than in our own. Only thus shall we find peace. All teaching about predestination should end in this; this should be the effect produced in us by our sovereign Master’s secret, a secret we should adore without pretending to sound its depths. We must lose ourselves in the heights and impenetrable depths of God’s wisdom, must cast ourselves into the arms of His immense loving kindness, looking to Him for everything, yet without unburdening ourselves of that care for our salvation which He demands of us…. The result of this tormenting must be the abandonment of yourself to God, who by reason of His loving kindness and the promises He has made will then be bound to watch over you. This, while the present life lasts, must be the final solution to all those questions about predestination which beset you; henceforth you must find your repose not in yourself but solely in God and His fatherly loving kindness.” [183]
Bossuet, speaking in the same strain in one of the finest chapters of his Meditations sur l’Evangile (Part II, 72d day), says:
The proud man fears that unless he retains his salvation in his own hands, it is rendered too insecure; but in this he deceives himself. Can I find any security in myself? O my God, I feel my will escaping me at every moment, and even wert Thou willing to make me the sole master of my fate, I should refuse a power so dangerous to my weakness. Let it not be said that this doctrine of grace and predilection will bring pious souls to despair. How can anyone imagine he will give me greater assurance by throwing me back upon myself, by delivering me up to my own inconstancy? No, my God, I will have none of it. I can find no security except in abandoning myself to Thee. And this security is the greater when I reflect that those in whom Thou dost inspire this confidence, this complete self-abandonment to Thee, receive in this gentle prompting the highest mark of Thy loving kindness that can be had here on earth.
As we have shown elsewhere, [184] this to us seems to be the true mind of St. Augustine at its loftiest, when finally he soars above all reasoning, and comes to rest in the divine obscurity where the two aspects of the mystery, to all appearances diametrically opposed, must at last be reconciled. As formulated in the two principles—God never commands the impossible; no one would be better than another, were he not more beloved of God—these two aspects of the mystery are as two stars of the first magnitude shining brightly in the dark night of the spirit, yet wholly inadequate to reveal to us the uttermost depths of the firmament, the secret of the Deity.
Until we are given the beatific vision, grace by a secret instinct allays all our fears as to the intimate reconciliation of infinite justice and infinite mercy in the Deity, and this it does because it is itself a participation in the Deity, the light of life far surpassing the natural light of either the angelic or the human intellect.
Doubtless the whole of our interior life, every one of our actions, are shrouded in mystery; for every salutary act presupposes the mystery of grace from which it proceeds, and all sin is a mystery of iniquity, presupposing the divine permission that evil shall exist in view of some higher good purpose which will often escape us and will be clearly seen only in heaven. But in this obscurity characteristic of faith and also of contemplation here on earth, we are reassured when we remember that God’s will is to save, that Christ has died for us, that His sacrifice is perpetuated in substance on the altar, and that our salvation is more secure in His hands than it would be in ours, since we are more certain of the rectitude of the divine intentions than of our own, even the best of them.
Let us abandon ourselves in all confidence and love to His infinite mercy: there can be no better way of ensuring His condescending mercy toward us at this moment and above all at the hour of our death.
Let us frequently call to mind those beautiful words of the psalm, recurring each week in Thursday’s office of Tierce: “Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall not suffer the just to waver forever” (Ps. 54: 23).
Let us call to mind the beautiful canticle of Tobias: “Thou art great, O Lord, forever, and Thy kingdom is unto all ages. For Thou scourgest, and Thou savest: Thou leadest down to hell, and bringest up again. He hath chastised us for our iniquities: and He will save us for His own mercy” (Tob. 13: 1).
In this self-abandonment we shall find peace. As our Lord hung dying for us, He experienced in His holy soul the keenest suffering our sins had caused, yet likewise the profoundest peace. So, too, in every Christian death, as in that of the good thief, there is suffering, a holy fear and trembling before the infinite justice of God, and a profound peace, a most intimate union prevailing between them. Nevertheless it is peace, the tranquillity that comes of true order, which predominates, as is apparent from these words of our Lord as He died: ‘It is consummated…. Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23: 46).

28. Providence And Charity Toward Our Neighbor
In the preceding chapter we saw how one of the greatest means in the workings of providence is charity toward our neighbor, by which all men should be united for their mutual aid in their progress toward the common goal, eternal life.
This subject is always of the greatest interest and we should often revert to it, especially in this age when charity toward others is summarily rejected by individualism in all its forms and completely distorted by the humanitarianism of the communist and internationalist.
Individualism aims at nothing higher than the search for what is useful and pleasurable to the individual or at most to the restricted group to which the individual belongs. Hence the bitter strife arising sometimes among members of the same family, but especially between classes and races or nations. Hence arise jealousy and envy, discord and hatred, and the most profound disruptions. It implies a complete disregard for the common good in its different degrees and an almost exclusive assertion of individual or particular rights.
In opposition to this, communist and internationalist humanitarianism lays so much stress on the rights of humanity as a whole, which in some degree is identified with God in a pantheistic sense, that the rights of individuals, families, and nations disappear altogether. On the pretext of promoting unity, harmony, and peace, the way is prepared for appalling confusion and disorder, like that which has prevailed in Russia since the revolution. To desire that all the parts in an organism shall have the perfection of the head, or to do away with the head because it is more perfect than the members, is to destroy the organism altogether.
Obviously the truth lies within these two extreme errors, yet transcends them. Equally remote from both individualism and communism, it affirms the rights inherent in the individual, in families, and in nations, and at the same time the claims of the common good, which is above every particular good. Thus a right estimation of things will safeguard the welfare of the individual through two kinds of justice: commutative, regulating the mutual dealings between one private party and another, and distributive, which sees to a fair distribution of general utilities and burdens. Also it will safeguard the common good through legal justice providing for the enactment of just laws and their observance, and again through equity, which looks to the spirit of the law in those exceptional cases where the letter of the law cannot be applied.
Admirably differentiated by Aristotle and well developed by St. Thomas in his treatise De justitia (IIa IIae, q. 58, 61, 120), these four kinds of justice (commutative, distributive, and legal or social justice, and equity) suffice in a way to preserve the just mean between the opposing errors of individualism and communist humanitarianism. St. Thomas’ teaching on this question is too little known and might well be made the subject of a series of interesting and useful studies.
However perfect this fourfold justice may become, even when enlightened by Christian faith, it can never attain the perfection that distinguishes charity toward God and our neighbor, the formal object of which is incomparably on a higher plane.
Let us recall what the primary object of charity is and what is its secondary object. We shall then see how we are to practice charity toward our neighbor and what part it plays in the fulfilment of the plan of Providence.
The primary object and formal motive of charity
The primary object of charity is something far above the distinctive good of the individual, far above the good of the family, of country, even of humanity. It is God, to be loved above all things, even more than ourselves, since His goodness is infinitely greater than our own. That is the first commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind” (Luke 10: 27).
To this supreme commandment, all the other commandments and all the counsels are subordinate. Though it belongs to the supernatural order, nevertheless it corresponds to a natural inclination, to the primordial inclination of nature both in ourselves and in a certain sense in every creature.
Of course, innate in us is the instinct for self-preservation, the instinct, too, for the preservation of the species, the inclination to defend family and country, to love our fellows. But deeper still, as St. Thomas has shown (Ia, q. 60, a. 5) in our nature is the inclination prompting us to love more than ourselves God the very author of our nature. Why should this be? Because whatever by its very nature belongs to another, as the part belongs to the whole, the hand to the body, is naturally inclined to love that other more than itself: thus the hand will voluntarily sacrifice itself to protect the body. Now every creature, and in all that it is, is necessarily dependent upon God the Creator and Conserver of our being; hence every creature is inclined naturally, each after its own fashion, to love its Creator more than itself.
Thus the stone tends toward the center of the earth for the cohesion, for the very welfare of the universe, which is itself a manifestation of God’s goodness radiating externally. Again, to use our Lord’s own illustration, we know that the hen will gather her chickens under her wings to defend them from the hawk, sacrificing her own life if necessary for the welfare of the species, which in its turn contributes to the good of the universe.
In men and angels this primordial natural inclination is illumined by the light of intelligence, and thus we are led to love God the author of our nature more than ourselves, but with a love in some degree conscious.
No doubt this natural inclination has been enfeebled by original sin; but in spite of this weakening it persists, imperishable as is this spiritual faculty, our will.
This natural inclination is sublimated by the supernatural or infused virtue of charity, of an order infinitely transcending nature, whether of men or of angels. Illumined by infused faith, charity inclines us to love God more than self, more than all else, but now as the author of grace and not simply of our nature. This is God who “hath first loved us” (I John 4: 10) by bestowing on us over and above existence, life, and intelligence, the supreme gift of sanctifying grace, the germ of eternal life, a germ that one day is to flower into the immediate vision of the divine essence and a most holy, supernatural love which nothing thenceforth shall be able to destroyer diminish.
Such is the primary object of charity: God who has first loved us and has communicated to us a share in His own intimate life. For this reason charity is a friendship between God and us.
The formal motive why we must love God, is His own infinite goodness, a goodness infinitely greater than ours, infinitely greater than any gift He can confer upon us.
If we do not constantly dwell upon this, the primary object of charity and its formal motive, we shall not in the least understand the sort of love that must be given to its secondary object.
There are not two virtues of charity, one relating to God, the other to our neighbor. It is one and the same theological virtue from which these two acts of love proceed, one being essentially subordinated to the other.
Charity can desire nothing except in relation to God and for the love of God, as the power of vision cannot be exercised except through color and in relation to color, as the power of hearing can hear nothing except sound and what emits sound. For the love of God we are bound to love everything that is in any way related to Him.
The secondary object of charity
Expressed for us in the second commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself for the love of God, “ it includes first of all ourselves, in the sense that we must love self with a holy love, desiring salvation that we may give glory to God eternally. It includes in the second place our neighbor, to be loved as we love ourselves, for God’s sake; which means that we must desire for our neighbor all the gifts necessary for salvation and salvation itself, so that with us also he may give glory to God eternally. This love of our neighbor the Savior puts before us as the necessary consequence, the radiation and the sign of our love for God: “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 35). And St. John himself tells us: “If any man say: I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar” (I John 4: 20).
Evidently this charity toward our neighbor is infinitely removed from that natural inclination which prompts us to do good in order to please, to love our benefactors, to hate those who do us any harm, and to remain indifferent to the rest of men. Natural love makes us love our neighbor for his naturally good qualities and the benefits we receive from him. The motive that inspires charity is something quite different, the proof being that we must “love our enemies, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate us” (Matt. 5: 44; Luke 6: 27, 35).
Charity, too, surpasses justice, not only commutative and distributive justice, but also that legal justice and equity which command respect for the rights of others out of love for the common good of society.
Charity constrains us to love our neighbor, even our enemies, for the love of God and with the same supernatural, theological virtue of love we have for Him. But how is it possible for us to have for men a love that is divine, when for the most part they are so imperfect and in some cases sinners?
Theology replies with a very simple illustration which St. Thomas explains in this way: One who has an intense love for a friend will love with the same love his friend’s children; he will love them because he loves their father and will wish them well for his sake. Again, for the sake of his friend he will, when necessary, come to the assistance of these and, if he is offended, will forgive them. If, then, all men are the children of God, are at least called to be so, we must love them all, even our enemies, in the measure that we love their common Father. [185]
But that we may love our neighbor with this supernatural love, we must look on him with the eyes of faith and say to ourselves: Here is one very different from me perhaps in temperament and character, who yet is “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, “ but like myself is “born of God” (John 1: 13), at least is called to be so and to participate in the same divine life, in the same beatitude. This is how members of the same family should regard one another, those too who are united in the same society and are citizens of the same country. This truth applies especially to all those who are of the Church universal which, while respecting the legitimate and inevitable differences between one country and another, unites them all in order to bring their children into the kingdom of God.
And so we can and indeed should say of everyone with whom we live, even of those with whom we are not naturally in sympathy: Here is a soul which, even if it is not in the state of grace, has undoubtedly been called to be God’s child, or to become His child once again, to be the temple of the Holy Ghost and a member of Christ’s mystical body. Perhaps it is nearer to the heart of our Lord than I am, a living stone upon which He is working, more elaborately, it may be, than upon others, in order to fit it into its place in the heavenly Jerusalem.
This being so, how is it possible for me not to love that soul if in very truth I love my God? And if in fact I do not love this person, if in fact I have no desire for his welfare and his salvation, then my love for God is a lie. On the other hand, if, in spite of differences in temperament, character, and upbringing, I really do love him, this is a sign that I really love God. I can truly give to that person the same essentially supernatural and theological love I have for the three divine Persons, because my love for him is directed to that participation in the intimate life of God which he either possesses already or is at least called to receive. And my love is directed to the realization of the divine plan that presides over his destiny, and to the glory he has been called to render to God.
But the unbeliever raises an objection. Is this really to love men, he asks? Is it not simply to love God and Christ in man, as a diamond is admired in its setting? Man wants to be loved for his own sake; in that case he cannot ask for a love that is divine. It was by way of reaction against this egoistic tendency that Pascal uttered what was intentionally a paradox: “I have no desire to be loved by anyone.”
In reality it is not only to God-in-man that the love of charity is directed, but to man-in-God: man is loved in himself but for God’s sake. After all, charity loves what man is destined to be, an imperishable member of Christ’s mystical body, and it does everything possible to bring heaven within his reach. It loves besides what man is already by grace, and if grace is absent it will love his very nature, not precisely as fallen nature, wounded and hostile to grace, but as capable of receiving it.
It is indeed to man himself that charity is directed, but for God’s sake, for the sake of the glory he is called to render to God, a glory which is nothing less than the manifestation, the radiation of the divine goodness.
Charity toward our neighbor, or fraternal charity, is in essence the love of God extended so as to embrace all whom God Himself loves.
From this consideration we derive the characteristics of fraternal charity. It must be universal, knowing no limits whatever. None may be excluded, whether on earth, in purgatory, or in heaven. It stops only at hell. Only the damned we cannot love, for no longer is it possible for them to become God’s children, nor have they the slightest wish to be raised up again; pride and hate smother the very thought of asking for pardon. But apart from those whose damnation is certain—and who can be certain that a soul is lost?—all have a claim on our charity, which knows no limits but those imposed by that love which is seated in the very heart of God.
Here is something incomparably sublime, and the more profound the gulf that, humanly speaking, separates souls, the more sublime does charity appear. Once during the World War a little French soldier as he lay dying was unable to finish the Hail Mary he was reciting and it was finished for him by a young German who was himself dying there by his side. Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin brought these two brethren together at the very moment when the rupture between their two countries was complete. Such are the mighty victories won by charity.
For charity to be universal, it need not necessarily be given everywhere in the same degree. It respects and sublimates the order dictated by nature itself. We must love God in the first place more than all else, even more than ourselves, and with a love founded at least on a right estimation of values (appretiative). Though we may not always experience for God the sensible yearning of our hearts, nevertheless our love for Him should ever be increasing in intensity. Next after God we should love our own souls, destined to give glory to Him eternally, then our neighbor, and lastly our bodies, for these must be sacrificed where the salvation of a soul is at stake, especially when it is our bounden duty to watch over its welfare. Among our fellows greater love should be given to those who are holier and nearer to God, to those, too, who are nearer to us by blood, by marriage, by vocation, or by friendship. The nearer a soul is to God, the more it deserves our esteem; the closer the ties that bind it to us, the more sensible is our love for it, and the more whole-hearted should be the devotion we show in all that concerns family, country, vocation, and friendship. [186] Thus, instead of destroying patriotism, charity exalts it, as we see in the case of St. Joan of Are or St. Louis.
This, then, is the order to be observed in charity. God desires to reign in our hearts, but He excludes no affection that can be subordinated to what is due to Himself. On the contrary, He exalts and quickens it, inspiring it with a greater dignity and generosity. This is the way we must love even the enemies of the Church and pray for them. But, on pretext of showing a certain pity, to have for the Church’s enemies a greater love than for certain of her children who are laboring side by side with us, and of whom perhaps we are a little jealous, is completely to reverse the order dictated by charity.
Lastly, fraternal charity, like the love we have for God, must be effective, not simply affective, must be beneficent as well as benevolent.” Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13: 34), our Lord tells us, and He has loved us even to the death of the cross. Him the saints have imitated, and their lives are one continuous act of radiant charity, bringing great peace and a holy joy. Such is fraternal charity, an extension of that charity we must give to God.
The practice of fraternal charity and the watchfulness of Providence
In the Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena often notes the wide diversity of qualities which Providence has bestowed on one and another. Thus we have opportunities to promote one another’s welfare and perfection, and we have abundant occasions to practice fraternal charity.
Nor have we far to seek for opportunities of failing in this respect. Even where a deeply Christian spirit prevails we have to acknowledge that, side by side with admirable virtues, there is notable moral weakness. Even if we could rid ourselves of all our shortcomings, the possibility of discord and irritation would persist owing to differences of temperament and character, differences also in intellectual bent, inclining some to speculation and others to more practical things, for some opening wide views, while inspiring in others an attention to detail rather than to general effect. Again, there arise further occasions of friction through the influence of him who loves to create divisions in order to spoil God’s work, to frustrate especially those things that are most sublime, most divine, and most beautiful. Only in heaven will all occasion of friction disappear, for there, illumined by a divine light, each one of the blessed sees in the Word what his desires and wishes must be.
Surrounded as we are with all sorts of difficulties, how are we to practice fraternal charity? In two ways. In the first place by benevolence, viewing our neighbor in the light of faith, so as to discover in him the life of grace, or at any rate a certain aspiration to that life. And secondly, by beneficence, by giving our service, by bearing with the failings of others, even returning good for evil, by avoiding jealousy, and by frequently asking God to effect the union of minds and hearts.
First of all benevolence. We must be clear-sighted and keen to discover in our neighbor, sometimes beneath a coarse exterior difficult to penetrate, the presence of a divine life, or at least certain latent aspirations to that life, the fruit of prevenient actual graces which every man receives at some time or other. But, to look thus into the soul of our neighbor, we must be detached from self.
Very often what provokes and irritates us in him is not some serious fault in the sight of God, but simply a defect in temperament, a twist of character, which is quite compatible with very real virtue. We would be ready enough perhaps to tolerate a sinner utterly estranged from God, but of a lovable nature, whereas a soul that is fairly advanced we will sometimes find trying. We must be careful, then, to regard those with whom we live in the light of faith, so as to detect in them just what makes them pleasing to God, and love them as He does.
The great obstacle to this benevolence is rash judgment. This is something more than a simple impression; it consists in affirming the presence of evil on nothing more than slight evidence. People make things out to be twice as bad as they are, usually through pride. If the matter is grave and there is full deliberation and consent, a judgment of this sort is a serious failure in justice and charity; a failure in justice, because our neighbor has a right to his good reputation, a right which, after that of doing his duty, is one of the most sacred he has, far more so than the right to his property. There are many who would not think of stealing five dollars, yet they will rob their neighbor of his good reputation by rash judgments without any solid foundation in fact. More often than not, the judgment is false. How are we to estimate truthfully the interior intentions of one whose doubts, difficulties, temptations, good desires, and repentance are unknown to us? And even if the rash judgment is true, it falls short of justice, since in thus passing sentence we arrogate to ourselves a jurisdiction that does not belong to us. God alone can judge of the intentions of the heart so long as they are not made sufficiently clear externally.
Rash judgment is also wanting in charity, because it proceeds from ill will, though often framed under a mask of kindliness, a few faint praises leading up to that characteristic “but…” Instead of looking on our neighbor as a brother, we regard him as an adversary, a rival to be supplanted. For this reason our Lord tells us: “Judge not that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye?” (Matt. 7: I.)
But supposing the sin is patent. Does God mean us to delude ourselves? He does not; but He does forbid that murmuring which springs from pride. In some cases, in fact, He imposes on us in the name of charity the obligation of fraternal correction to be carried out with kindliness, humility, gentleness, and discretion. Where this private correction is impossible or has been unsuccessful, it may be necessary humbly to refer the matter to the superior whose duty it is to watch over the welfare of the community. In any case, as St. Catherine of Siena says, where the sin is evident the perfect way consists not in murmuring, but in showing compassion before God, laying the blame to some extent at least upon ourselves, after the example of our Lord who took upon Himself the sins of us all and who has bidden us “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13: 34). This is one of the sublimest features of the providential plan.
Therefore, to check rash judgment, we must acquire the habit of looking upon our neighbor in the light of faith.
But we must love him, too, with a love that is real, efficacious, practical: our charity must be beneficent, not merely benevolent. In what way? By giving our service where necessary and when it is in our power to do so. By bearing also with our neighbor’s failings, this being one way of rendering him service and leading him to self-correction. In this connection we should remember that frequently what most irritates us in our neighbor is not a serious fault in the sight of God, but a defect in temperament. This may be a certain nervousness, for instance, which makes him slam doors, a certain narrowness in his views, a way of generally doing the wrong thing, a constant eagerness to push himself forward, and other like failings. Let us in all charity bear with one another and not become irritated at what after all is simply an evil permitted by God to humble the one and try the patience of the other. We must not allow ourselves to develop a bitter zeal, and if we must complain of others, we should never imagine that we ourselves have reached the ideal. Our prayer must not be the prayer of the Pharisee.
Again, we must be able to recognize the right moment to put in a kindly word—another means Providence has put in our way of helping others. A religious who is overwhelmed with difficulties will often take fresh courage through a few simple words from a superior wishing him many consolations in his ministry and just enough trouble to enable him to undergo purgatory here on earth.
Needless to say, if we are to love our neighbor effectively, we must be careful to avoid jealousy, and therefore, as Bossuet somewhere remarks, we must take a holy delight in the good qualities God has bestowed on others and which we ourselves do not possess. Thus there has been a distribution of labor and functions in the Church, for the beauty of the Church and of religious communities. As St. Paul says, the hand is not jealous of the eye; the light which the eye receives is for the benefit of the hand also. So should it be with us: far from being jealous of one another, we should rejoice in the good qualities we find in our neighbor, for they are also ours; we and our neighbor are all members of the same mystical body, in which everything should contribute to the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
Not only must we bear with one another and avoid jealousy, we must also return good for evil, by prayer, by good example, and by mutual help. One way of entering into St. Teresa’s good graces, it is said, was by causing her to suffer. She thus put into practice the counsel given by our Lord: “If a man will take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him” (Matt. 5: 40). Prayer for our neighbor at a time when we are suffering because of him is of special efficacy. Such was the prayer of St. Stephen the first martyr and of St. Peter Martyr for their executioners.
And lastly, for the proper practice of fraternal charity we must often ask God that minds and hearts be in unison. The first Christians in the infant Church “had but one heart and one soul” (Acts 4: 32). Men said of them, “See how they love one another.” Our Lord had declared: “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples” (John 13: 35), and by the light of faith every Christian family, every Christian community should recognize here that charity so characteristic of the Christians in the infant Church. Then will be forever realized the prayer of Christ: “Not for them only [the Apostles] do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in Me. That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. And the glory which Thou has given Me, I have given to them: that they may be one, as We also are one” (John 17: 20-22).
Thus, mightily yet sweetly charity contributes to the working out of the providential plan: thus human beings truly help one another as they journey on to eternal life. Herein also is a proof of the divine origin of Christianity, for obviously charity such as this cannot come from a world that builds upon egoism, self-love, and divided interests; its own particular associations quickly fall asunder, those high-sounding words, solidarity and fraternity, being often no more than a cloak to cover the deepest jealousy and hatred. [187]
The Savior alone can deliver us, and it was for this He came.” Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…. And He was made man” (Nicene Creed).

29. Providence And The Communion Of Saints
Nowhere is the kindliness and majesty of Providence and the divine governance more clearly seen than in the communion of saints. We have already said that although Providence disposes all things, even the least of them, immediately, yet in the divine governance, in the execution of the providential plan, its action extends to the lower orders of beings through the higher, [188] and thus it is that through the angels and saints in heaven it assists men in their journey to eternity and the souls that are in purgatory. This is clearly brought out in the dogma of the communion of saints: “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints” (Apostles’ Creed).
This dogma expresses the communion or mutual relations existing between the various members of the Church militant, suffering, and triumphant, and their participation in the merits of Christ and the saints. There is a reciprocal communication of the merits of the just.
Protestants have attacked this dogma as being an alien growth. Some have even maintained that, by giving worship to the saints, Catholics look upon them as so many gods and thus fall into a sort of polytheism. Others have chosen to see in this reciprocal communication of the merits of the just a mere mechanical system whereby sinners may be justified without any co-operation on their part.
A clear statement of the dogma suffices to show what a travesty of it such an interpretation is. It is not an alien growth, but a synthesis of the principal truths of faith: the dogmas on the Trinity and the indwelling of the three divine Persons in the souls of the just, the dogmas relating to Christ the head of the Church militant, suffering, and triumphant: the dogmas on grace, on works of merit and satisfaction, and on prayer. Let us see in what this communion of saints consists according to the Scripture, and then consider in particular what are the relations souls have with God and Christ, and with one another.
The communion of saints according to Holy Scripture
This dogmatic truth may be expressed as follows: There is a communion of saints whereby all the members of Christ are closely united through Him and in Him, participating in varying degrees in the same spiritual gifts.
The Gospels make this point clear when they speak of the kingdom of God. This kingdom is something more than the external visible society of the Church militant instituted for the salvation of souls; it is a spiritual society embracing, besides the faithful on earth, the holy souls of the departed and the saints and angels in heaven, all united through Christ with God, living by the same truth, the same charity. Charity is presented as the bond of perfection, that spiritual bond which unites one soul with another by uniting them all with God.
What the Gospel says on this point is clear. Our Lord, after declaring His intentions and preparing the way, at length establishes the kingdom of God, in which all the members, united through charity, are to form one family with God as their Father. To that family the angels also belong, for the Gospel speaks of their joy at the conversion of sinners.
It will be enough to recall Christ’s words as recorded in St. Matthew and as a rule in St. Mark and St. Luke also.
First, St. John the Baptist admonishes his hearers to “do penance, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” [189]
Later on, the Savior, before sending forth His Apostles to preach the Gospel, tells them: “He that receiveth you, receiveth Me: and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me.” [190]
And a little later He says: “If I by the Spirit of God cast out devils, then is the kingdom of God come upon you.” [191]
All the faithful are brethren, since all are the children of God and in their prayer are to address Him as “Our Father, who art in heaven.” [192] Again, our Lord tells us: “Pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, and who maketh His sun to rise upon the good and bad.” [193]
This dogma is expressed even more clearly in our Lord’s sermon after the last supper as recorded in St. John: “I am the vine: you the branches. He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing.” [194] A little further on He says: “Not for them only [the Apostles] do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in Me. That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee.” [195] It is with this in mind that St. John says in his First Epistle (1:3) : “That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you: That you also may have fellowship with us and our fellowship may be with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Here we have the true doctrine of the communion of saints.
St. Paul declares it again and again, and explains it by showing how the risen and ever-living Christ is the head of a mystical body of which we are the members. [196]
The relation of the members with Christ the Mediator and with God
As in our own organism there is a physical influence exerted by the head upon the members, communicating their appropriate movements to them through the nervous system, so also in the mystical body virtue goes out from our Lord’s humanity upon all the faithful, upon all the members composing this body, imparting to them the life of grace, of faith, hope, and charity, and at the same time giving to the blessed in heaven that consummation of grace which we call glory and which can never be lost. In this way our Savior applies the fruits of His merit to us, passing on all the graces He has obtained for us on the cross. This transmission of graces is effected through His humanity as an instrument inseparably united to His divinity, the source of all grace, and again through the sacraments as detached instruments vibrating as it were at Christ’s touch and so able to affect and quicken our very souls. But first and foremost this communication of graces is made daily through the holy mass perpetuating in substance the sacrifice of the cross, applying the merits of that sacrifice to us and permitting us to participate in it by holy communion. Souls are thus able to grow daily in the life of grace as they journey toward eternity.
The supernatural influence exerted upon us by God and Christ is principally one of illumination and love, since to the faithful on earth and the souls in purgatory it imparts the light of faith and the gifts of the Holy Ghost together with the love of charity, while to the blessed in heaven it communicates the light of glory which is the source of the beatific vision, and a love of charity that nothing henceforth can destroy or diminish.
The supernatural life which the members of the mystical body thus receive by this supernatural inpouring of illumination and love must be made to ascend once again to the Most High, being the same supernatural life, the same knowledge and love, praising the glory of God by acknowledging His infinite goodness.
And so from the souls of all the just on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven there ascends to God a love in which the sovereign good is preferred to all else. In the faithful on earth this act of love illumined by faith inspires a homage of adoration, supplication, thanksgiving, and reparation, especially during the time of-mass. These are the four ends of sacrifice.
Thus the supernatural influx of illumination and love coming down from God through Christ the Redeemer upon the souls of men on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven, ascends again to God as a hymn of grateful acknowledgment and brings them peace by keeping them there within the radiance of the divine goodness. There lies the purpose of Creation; almighty God has created all things for the manifestation of His goodness, and His glory is simply this goodness radiating externally.
The relations of the members with one another
Such being the ties binding the souls of the just upon earth, in purgatory, and in heaven to Christ the Mediator and to God, the ultimate source of all grace, we are given the explanation of the relations existing between one member and another, and particularly between the Church triumphant on the one hand and the Church militant and suffering on the other.
The blessed in heaven intercede for the faithful here on earth and the souls in purgatory, and to that intercession we may have recourse in all confidence, especially to the intercession of Mary Mediatrix, as the Church constantly does in the Hail Mary and the Litany of Loreto. As St. Paul wrote to the Hebrews (12: 22) : “You are come to Mount Sion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the company of many thousands of angels, and to the Church of the first-born who are written in the heavens, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Testament, and to the sprinkling of blood which speaketh better than that of Abel.”
Every one of the saints in union with Christ, makes intercession for us when we invoke them. [197] The angels also come to our assistance, for they too are subject to Christ. St. Paul delights in telling the Colossians how even the most exalted of creatures are subject to the Word made flesh: “In Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by Him and in Him…. And He is the head of the body, the Church” (1: 16). To the Church triumphant the angels also belong, inferior only to Jesus and Mary in the intensity of their charity and the light of glory.
But there are also close ties linking the Church militant with the Church suffering. It is our duty to pray for the souls in purgatory, to have masses said for their deliverance, to gain indulgences for them, which means that we obtain for them the application of the fruits of our Savior’s merits and the merits of the saints. And the works of charity we perform in their behalf (the prayers we offer for them, the crosses we take upon ourselves to alleviate their sufferings) God will certainly reward. The Church has always prayed for the dead: in the Second Epistle to Timothy (1:8) we read of St. Paul begging God’s mercy for the repose of the soul of his friend Onesphorus.
And lastly, no less intimate are the ties that bind the faithful on earth with one another. They can assist one another by prayer and good works, works of merit and satisfaction. One who is in the state of grace can merit in the wide sense for his neighbor also, and in the same sense can make satisfaction for him, can take upon himself the penalties due to his neighbor’s sin. United as they are with Christ, God regards the merits and sufferings of the just and has mercy on the sinner. God said to Abraham: “If I find in Sodom ten just within the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake” (Gen. 8: 26, 32).
It is to these spiritual relations existing between the faithful on earth that St. Paul is referring when he tells us:
There are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all. [198]
One body and one Spirit: as you are called in one hope of your calling…. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all. [199]
For the body also is not one member, but many. If the foot should say: Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body: is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say: Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body: is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing?… The eye cannot say to the hand: I need not thy help. Nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you…. And if one member suffer anything, all the members suffer with it: or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ and members of member. [200]… Bear ye one another’s burdens: and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ…. Whilst we have time, let us work good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith. [201]
Were we to behold the mystical body as we behold a multitude of persons, we should discern an immense gathering of men, women, and children, and within them a hungering for God more or less intense, more or less conscious, temptation too, and pain. Here are souls very generous in their sufferings, there are the humdrum Christians; lower down the line are souls on the point of yielding to the temptations of the senses, others about to lose their faith, and there are the aged who are near the grave. Then we should realize how true Christians living by prayer must have the same attitude toward souls as a mother bending over the cradle of her child.
Further, let us remember that, as St. Thomas says (Ia IIae, q. 89, a. 6), when a child, even though not baptized and still in unbelief, comes to the full use of reason, he is bound to choose between the right and the wrong road, between duty and pleasure, between the true last end, though but vaguely recognized, and whatever is opposed to it. If there is no resistance to the grace then offered him, he loves above all things God thus vaguely recognized and is thereby justified, so as to enter into the mystical body.” If he then direct himself to the due end, he will, by means of grace, receive the remission of original sin” (loc. cit.).
Now the precious blood of our Savior has been put at our disposal that with Him we may offer it up for the many souls who as yet know Him not or who have turned their backs upon Him.
Among all the faithful, therefore, charity should reign, which is the bond of perfection, uniting us with God and with Christ the Redeemer and with Mary.
In this age of revolt, no longer confined to Europe but worldwide, when atheistic “Leagues of the Godless, “ the spawn of Russian Bolshevism, are multiplying throughout the nations and the way is being prepared for a terrible conflict between the spirit of Christ and the spirit of the Evil One, now more than ever must we live by this mystery of the communion of saints.
We feel the urgent need of rising above the violent opposition that prevails between an international communism, materialist in its inspiration, which tramples underfoot the dignity of the human person, of family and country, and a nationalism which, when no longer simply for defense but for offense, develops in one way or other into an idolatrous nation-worship. Though we should entertain a real and if necessary heroic love for our country, it is absolutely imperative for us to direct our thoughts even more to that City of God which has its beginnings here on earth, to be consummated in that heavenly and enduring country in which the peoples of all nations should one day be united.
Believers living in the different countries of Europe and throughout the world must unite without delay in fervent prayer, especially in the holy sacrifice of the mass, that the peace of Christ may reign among the nations.
It is the same body and blood of the Savior that is offered on every altar throughout the world, in Rome and in Jerusalem, in every Catholic church of the five continents. It is the same interior, ever living oblation in the heart of Jesus that animates all the thousands of masses celebrated daily wherever the sun is rising.
We must pray and pray with all earnestness that the kingdom of God may come, placing our petitions in the hands of Mary Mediatrix to present to her Son, to whom at the beginning of this century His Holiness Leo XIII consecrated the whole human race.
Embracing as it does those who are still in unbelief, this consecration of the whole human race brings down upon them new graces. It is by living this mystery of the communion of saints more intensely and above all by having masses said for the conversion of unbelievers, that the way is prepared for the missionary apostolate. As Pere de Foucauld realized, we must prepare for the apostolate by bathing, so to speak, the souls of unbelievers in the blood of Christ, which has been given to us and which we are able to offer daily with Him.
Through the communion of saints the chalice of superabundant redemption is put into our hands, that by our prayers and sacrifices it may be made to overflow upon souls that, all unconsciously perhaps, are hungering for God and are dying far from Christ.
To the doctrine we are explaining here, this objection has been raised: How is it that, with so many thousands of saints in heaven, confirmed now in grace, more sinners are not converted by them?
A certain contemplative has correctly answered:
Though inseparable, heaven and the Church on earth are nevertheless distinct. Although there is enough heat in a single star to melt every particle of ice on the earth, yet we have still to submit to the rigors of winter. To raise a heavy weight with a powerful lever, we still need a fulcrum. Similarly, it is God’s will that every action exerted from heaven on this world shall have its fulcrum here below. That fulcrum is to be found in the saints who are still pursuing their pilgrimage in this life. The incomprehensible might of heaven will not have its full efficacy on earth except through one who is really in communion with Christ, through one who is in immediate contact with Calvary and the cross.
As Pere de Foucauld wrote, “Has not a man riches enough, happiness enough, when he possesses Jesus?” Though all abandon him, he still has the one thing necessary, which by prayer and sacrifice he is able to pass on to others.
The practical consequences of this mystery of the communion of saints are numberless. Bossuet has given us a summary of them in his Catechisme de Meaux. [202] Every spiritual gift is the common property of all the faithful: the graces each one receives and the good works each one performs are for the benefit of the whole body and every other member of the Church, by reason of their close union. And so, when one member of the Church possesses some gift or other, let the others rejoice instead of giving way to jealousy; when one member suffers, all should show their compassion instead of closing their hearts to him. What are the vices incompatible with the communion of saints? They are all enmities and jealousies. Those who entertain jealousy, sin against this article of the Creed, the communion of saints.
Finally, we realize why in this dogma the faithful are called saints: because they are called to be holy, because, too, they have been consecrated to God through baptism.
Who are they to whom the term “saint” is especially applicable? The term applies to those who in perfect faith lead also a holy life.
From this we see what a misfortune it is to be deprived of the communion of saints; so the Church by her excommunication deprives notorious sinners of the sacraments, the source of their life, until such time as. they show a sincere desire to repent.
This mystery of the communion of saints shows with special clearness how the Christian life is the beginning here on earth of life eternal, since it is primarily by sanctifying grace and charity that we have in very truth the seed of glory within us. Thus we are given a wonderful insight into the supreme end and purpose to which all things have been ordered by Providence, and the meaning and implications of these words in our Lord’s sacerdotal prayer: “That they who believe in Me may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee” (John 17: 21). [203]

30. The End And Purpose Of The Divine Governance
We have said it is the divine governance that presides over the execution of the providential plan, its purpose being to manifest the divine goodness, which bestows upon the just and maintains within them forever a life that is eternal. Concerning this end and purpose, let us see what the Old Testament with its incomplete revelation has to tell us, and then we shall be able to appreciate better the full light given us in the Gospels. This was the method used by St. Augustine, particularly in his work on providence or the divine plan: the City of God, its progressive building up here on earth and its full development in eternal happiness.
The incomplete intimation
In the Old Testament the ultimate purpose of the divine governance was expressed in a manner as yet imperfect, often merely symbolic. The Promised Land, for instance, was the symbol of heaven. The whole system of worship with its sacrifices and varied rites, and in a greater degree the prophecies, proclaimed the coming of the promised Redeemer, who was to bring light and peace and reconciliation with God.
The announcement of the future Redeemer thus contained in a vague way the promise of eternal life, which was to be given us through Him. That in the Old Testament, prior to the fullness of light contained in the Gospels, so little enlightenment should have been given on this matter of eternal beatitude, is easily explained; it was because, until Christ had suffered and died, the souls of the just had to wait in limbo for the gates of heaven to be opened to them by their Savior. [204]
Nevertheless, as we have already seen, the Prophets occasionally contain sublime and most significant passages on the magnificent reward God has in store for the just in the next life, passages that state more clearly what was already said before them. [205]
Thus the psalmist said: “As for me, I will appear before Thy sight in justice: I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear.” Job spoke in a similar strain. [206]
Speaking of the New Jerusalem, Isaias said (60: 19) : “The Lord shall be unto thee for an everlasting light, and thy God for thy glory. Thy sun shall go down no more. For the Lord shall be unto thee for an everlasting light: and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.”
Daniel wrote (12:3) : “But they that are learned [in the things of God, and are faithful to His law] shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that instruct many to justice, as stars for all eternity.” Nor is it a question here of the just who will appear on earth in the years to come; the reference is to those still living or who have already died: the reward promised them is eternal.
More explicit still, as we have seen, is the Second Book of Machabees (7: 9), where we are told how with his last breath one of the martyrs addressed his executioners: “Thou, indeed, O wicked man, destroyest us out of this present life: but the King of the world will raise us up, who die for His laws, in the resurrection of eternal life.”
Again, it is of eternal bliss that the Book of Wisdom speaks when it says:
The souls of the just are in the hands of God: and the torment of death shall not touch them…. The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. They shall judge nations, and rule over people: and their Lord shall reign forever… for grace and peace is to His elect…. The just shall live for evermore: and their reward is with the Lord, and the care of them with the most High (3: I; 5: I ff.).
Eternal life according to the New Testament
In the fullness of revelation contained in the New Testament, eternal bliss is spoken of in terms within the reach of all. Indeed, Christ has now been given us. Whereas everything that preceded Him pointed to His coming, henceforth He Himself proclaims to all peoples the establishment of the kingdom of God and leads souls to eternal life.
This is expressed again and again in our Savior’s sermons recorded in the first three Gospels. There it is said of the reward in store for the just: “Neither can they die any more: for they are equal to the angels and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection” (Luke 20: 36) ; “The just shall go into life everlasting” (Matt. 25: 46; Mark 10: 30). It is not merely the future life spoken of by philosophers like Socrates and Plato, but an everlasting life, a life participating in God’s eternity, transcending time, past, present, and future.
Elsewhere, in a passage recalling the prophecy of Daniel (12: 13), Jesus exclaims: “Then shall the just shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13: 43).” Then shall the king [the Son of man] say to them that are on His right hand: Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Here we have truly the ultimate purpose of the divine governance.” For I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took Me in: naked, and you covered Me: sick, and you visited Me” (Matt. 25: 34).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said: “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God…. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven” (Matt. 5: 8-12). Here indeed is the true Promised Land of which the Old Testament scarcely spoke except in symbols. The souls of men were too conscious of their profound need of redemption to be ready for the full enlightenment.
In the Gospel of St. John, Christ speaks of eternal life more frequently still. Thus to the Samaritan woman: “If thou didst know the gift of God…. He that shall drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst forever. But the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of living water, springing up into life everlasting” (John 4: 10-14).
Several times in the Fourth Gospel Jesus repeats the phrase: “He that believeth in Me hath everlasting life” (cf. 3: 36; 6: 40, 47). That is, one who believes in Me with living faith combined with the love of God has already within him the beginnings of eternal life. And why? Because, as He tells us later in His sacerdotal prayer, “this is eternal life: that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (John 17: 3) ; “Father, I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me: that they may see My glory which Thou hast given Me, because Thou hast loved Me from the creation of the world” (ibid., 17: 24). To look upon Christ in His glory we must be there where Christ was even then present in the higher regions of His holy soul: that is, in heaven, as He Himself said: “No man hath ascended into heaven, but He that descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven” (John 3 :11-13).
In the same sense Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you: If any man keep My word, he shall not see death forever” (John 8: 51). And again at the tomb of Lazarus He said: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, although he be dead, shall live: and everyone that liveth and believeth in Me shall not die forever” (John 11: 25-26).
Here is the fullness of that revelation heralded in the distant past by Job and the psalmist, by Isaias, by Daniel, in the Book of Machabees, and again in the Book of Wisdom. Then it was no more than a little stream; now it is a vast river moving onward and losing itself in the infinite ocean of the divine life.
Elsewhere Jesus speaks of the narrow gate and the strait way (of self-abnegation) that leads to life, [207] that immeasurable way that leads to God. The Lord calls all men to labor in His vineyard, giving them as recompense, even to the laborers of the eleventh hour, His own eternal happiness (Matt. 20: 1-6). The recompense He gives is Himself, though according to the merits and degree of charity each one has attained, for “in His Father’s house there are many mansions” (John 14: 2).
Our Lord’s teaching is still more clearly expounded in the Epistles of St. Paul and of St. John.
St. Paul refers to eternal happiness when he says (I Cor. 2:9) : “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard: neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him. But to us God hath revealed them, by His Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”
Still more distinctly St. Paul says in another passage of the same Epistle (13: 8) :
Charity never falleth away: whether prophecies shall be made void or tongues shall cease or knowledge [imperfect knowledge] shall be destroyed. For we know in part, and prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away…. We see [God] now through a glass in a dark manner: but then face to face. Now I know in part: but then I shall know [Him] even as I am known [by Him] , with a knowledge that is immediate and perfectly distinct; I shall behold Him as He beholds Himself, face to face, and no longer as in a mirror, obscurely, confusedly.
St. John speaks in the same sense in his First Epistle (3: 2) : “Dearly beloved, we are now the sons of God: and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that when He shall appear we shall be like to Him: because we shall see Him as He is.” The Church has defined that this revealed teaching must be understood of an immediate vision of the divine essence with no created thing intervening as medium previously known. [208] In other words, through intellectual vision we shall see God more clearly than we see with our bodily eyes the persons with whom we are conversing, for we shall see Him distinctly as something more intimately present to us than we are to ourselves. Here on earth our knowledge of God is in the main confined to what He is not. We say that He is not material, not subject to change, not limited or confined. Hereafter we shall see Him as He really is, in His Deity, in His infinite essence, in that intimate life of His, common to the three Persons, of which grace, and especially its consummation in glory is a participation, since it is through grace that it will be granted to us to see and love God as He sees and loves Himself, and thus we shall live by Him eternally.
Such is the teaching of revelation on eternal life as the manifestation of the divine goodness and the ultimate purpose of God’s governance. Let us now glance briefly at what theology has to add, haltingly always, in an endeavor to give us a better understanding of the mystery.
The beatific vision and the love for God of which it is the source
Theology throws a certain amount of light on this subject by contrasting a purely natural happiness with that happiness which only grace in its consummation can bring.
Had God created us in a purely natural state, with a mortal body and an immortal soul but without the supernatural life of grace, our final destiny, our happiness, would still have consisted in knowing God and loving Him above all things, for our intellect was made to know truth and above all the supreme truth, our will was made to love and desire the good and beyond all else the sovereign good.
Had we been created without the supernatural life of grace, the final reward of the just would indeed have been, so to say, from without, through the reflexion of His perfections in creatures, as the great philosophers of antiquity knew Him. This would have been a knowledge more certain than theirs, and without any admixture of error, but still an abstract knowledge, obtained through the medium of things, in the mirror of things created. We should have had a knowledge of God as the first cause of spiritual and corporeal beings, we should have numbered His infinite perfections as they are known analogically from their reflexions in the created order. Our ideas of the divine attributes would still have been like tiny bits of mosaic, incapable of reproducing without hardening the spiritual features of God.
Similarly we should have loved God as the author of our nature, doubtless with a love of admiration, reverence, and gratitude, but without that gentle, simple familiarity which God’s children experience in their hearts. We should have been the servants of God, not His children.
Such a destiny, however, would still have been of a very high order. It could never have palled upon us any more than our eyes can ever tire of beholding the blue skies. It would have been a spiritual destiny, moreover, and unlike material things the spiritual can be enjoyed fully by each one without detriment to the enjoyment of others and the consequent risk of jealousies.
But in this abstract and indirect knowledge of God, many obscurities would have remained, particularly as to the manner in which the divine perfections are reconciled with one another. We should always have been asking how an omnipotent goodness can be reconciled with the divine permission of evil, how infinite mercy can be intimately harmonized with justice.
The human mind would have been forced to exclaim: “Would that I might behold this God, the fount of all truth and of all goodness, whence steals forth the life of creation, the life of intellect and of will!”
But what reason even at its highest cannot discover, has been made known to us through revelation. Here we are told that our final destiny consists in beholding God immediately, face to face, and as He really is, in knowing Him no longer simply from without, but intimately, even as He knows Himself; that it consists also in loving Him even as He loves Himself. It tells us that we are now predestined “to be made conformable to the image of His Son: that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). In creating us, God was not bound to have us partakers with Himself in His intimate life, to invite us to this immediate vision of Him, but it was in His power to do so by making us His adopted sons, and this out of pure loving kindness He has willed to do.
It is our destiny therefore to see God not merely as mirrored in creatures, no matter how perfect, not even in that radiation of Him in the angelic world, but to behold Him immediately, without any creature intervening, and more distinctly than we behold ourselves with the eyes of sense. Being wholly spiritual, God will be intimately present to our intellect, illuminating and invigorating it and so giving it strength to look upon Him. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 12, a. 2.)
This exclusion of any intermediary between God and ourselves extends even to the idea. No created idea could ever represent, as it really is, that purely intellectual and eternally subsisting flash which is God. No word of ours, not even an interior word, will be adequate to express what we are contemplating: thus even now when we are absorbed in gazing at some sublime spectacle, we cannot express what we see. Only one word can utter what God really is in Himself-His own eternal, substantial Word.
This vision of God face to face infinitely surpasses the most sublime philosophy. No longer will there be mere concepts of the divine attributes, these concepts reminding us of tiny bits of mosaic. Part of the destiny to which we are called is to behold all the divine perfections intimately reconciled, nay, identified in their common source, the Deity, the intimate life of God; to behold how the tenderest mercy and an absolutely inflexible justice proceed from one and the same infinitely generous and infinitely holy love that possesses a transcendent quality in which these apparently conflicting attributes are in fact identified; to behold how justice and mercy combine in all the works of God. Part of our destiny is to behold how this love, even when the freest good pleasure, is yet identified with pure wisdom, how in this love there is nothing that is not all-wise and in this wisdom nothing that is not transformed into love. Our destiny is to behold how this same love is identified with the sovereign good forever loved from all eternity, how divine wisdom is identified with the supreme truth forever known, and how all these perfections are but one with the essence of Him who is.
Our destiny is to contemplate in God this transcendent simplicity of His, absolute in its purity and holiness; to behold the infinite fecundity of the divine nature flowering in three Persons; to contemplate the eternal generation of the Word, “the brightness of the Father’s glory and the figure of His substance” (Heb. 1: 3) ; to behold the ineffable spiratio of the Holy Ghost, the term of the mutual love between Father and Son, uniting them eternally in this most exhaustive outpouring of themselves.” Goodness is essentially diffusive of itself” in God’s interior life, and freely it scatters its riches abroad.
No one can express the joy begotten of such a vision, or the love that will spring from it, a love so mighty, so perfect, that nothing henceforth shall be able to weaken, far less destroy it. It is a love born of admiration and reverence and gratitude, but of friendship most of all, with all the simplicity and holy familiarity that friendship implies. Filled with this love, we shall rejoice first and foremost that God is God, with His infinite holiness, His infinite justice, His infinite mercy; we shall adore every decree of His providence, whose sole purpose is the manifestation of His goodness. And in all things we shall be subject to Him.
Wholly supernatural, such a knowledge and love will be made possible only through grace sublimating our faculties, and there at the very root of them, in the very essence of the soul, remaining a divine engrafting that can nevermore be lost to us. This consummation of grace, which we call glory, will in very truth be an enduring participation in the very nature of God, in His intimate life, since it will enable us to behold Him and to love Him even as He beholds and loves Himself.
Such, though very imperfectly expressed, is eternal life, a life to which we may all aspire, since through baptism we have already received it in germ, in sanctifying grace, which is the semen gloriae.
Herein lies the purpose of the divine governance, to show forth that divine goodness which is one day to bestow an eternal happiness upon us and maintain it forever within us. Then indeed will these words be realized: “God hath predestined us to be made conformable to the image of His Son: that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8: 29), that He who is Son by His very nature might be the first-born among many brethren, the children of God by adoption. It will be the perfect fulfilment of these words of Jesus: “Father, I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me: that they may see My glory which Thou hast given Me, because Thou hast loved Me before the creation of the world” (John 17: 24). Christ’s glory is the supreme manifestation of the divine goodness, for Him and for us unending happiness, the measure of which is the measure of God’s own happiness, which is something transcending time, being no less than the unique instant of changeless eternity.
Let us conclude with St. Paul: “For which cause we faint not: but though our outward man is corrupted, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory” (II Cor. 4: 16-17) [209]

1 God, His Existence and His Nature, tr. by Dom Bede Rose, O.S.B., 2 vols.
2 Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, articles: Providence, Predestination, Premotion.
3 Sertillanges, Les Sources de la croyance en Dieu, p. 65.
4 We here reproduce the substance of a study we have developed at greater length in another work entitled: Le réalisme du principe de finalité, Part 11, chap. 5, “La finalité de la volonté: le désir naturel du bonheur prouve-t-il l’existence de Dieu?
5 St. Thomas, la, q. 3, a. 7, and De Potentia, q. 3, a. 5.
6 Cf. Summa Theologica, Ia IIae, q. 2, a. 8.
7 Cf. ibid., la IIae, q. 1, a. 4: “Is there an ultimate end to human life?” “Absolutely speaking, it is impossible in a series to continue to infinity in any direction…. Were there not an ultimate end, nothing would be desired, no action would have a term, nor would the inclination of the agent find repose.
8 If, instead of considering simply the end of this natural desire, we consider its ordering to that end—and this demands an efficient, regulating cause (ordinans vel imperans movet ut agens, non ut finis)—then the argument pertains to the fifth way of St. Thomas, which is that based upon the presence of order in the world: “All design presupposes a designer.” In this sense the passive ordering of our will to the bonum honestum or moral good, superior alike to the delectable and to the useful, presupposes a supreme regulator. Or again, moral obligation, which is displayed in remorse of conscience and in the peace that comes from duty accomplished, presupposes a supreme lawgiver. Of this we will speak in the next chapter.
9 Cf. Cajetan, Commentary on Ia IIae, q. 2, a. 7.
10 In favor of this view it is said that since sanctifying grace is a participation in the divine nature ordered essentially to the beatific vision, it is a participation in that nature in so far as it is intellectual life. It would seem, then, that the divine nature is fundamentally the supreme intellectual life, eternally subsistent thought, rather than being itself. To this we reply that sanctifying grace is a participation in the divine nature as it is in itself and not simply as our imperfect mode of knowledge conceives it. It is a participation in the Deity, whose formal signification transcends even that of being and intellection. Conceived simply as subsistent being, God contains only implicitly, actu implicite, the rest of the divine perfections deducible from it; whereas the Deity as it is in itself and as contemplated by the blessed in heaven contains all the divine attributes explicitly, actu explicite. The blessed behold them immediately in the Deity and have no need to deduce them.
11 See preceding note.
12 Pascal, Pensees (Havet Ed.), art. 18.
13 It must be noted, however, that the act of creation, being a free act, cannot be deduced from the divine nature; neither can the exercise of mercy and justice with respect to creatures.
14 Although our happiness in heaven will have a beginning, it will be rightly called eternal life, for it will have as its measure a participated eternity. The beatific vision, in fact, is an ever-unchanging act, far transcending the continuous time of our earthly life, and that discrete time marking the thought succession of the angel. This is the element of truth in Plato’s allegory of the cave.
15 This is the element of truth in Plato’s allegory of the cave.
16 Scripture more often speaks of that lower darkness in which the soul perishes; but it also speaks of the higher obscurity of faith, corresponding to the “light inaccessible” where God abides. Of the lower darkness it is said: The wicked man “shall not depart out of darkness” (lob 15: 30). The nations before the coming of Christ “sat in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Ps. 106:10). It was in the midst of this darkness that the Light of salvation descended from on high: “To the righteous a light is risen up in darkness” (Ps. 111: 4) ; “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light’, (Is. 9: 2; Matt. 4: 16) “For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord” (Eph. 5: 8; “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness” (I John 1: 5). But sometimes, relatively to us, God is spoken of as a divine darkness: “Clouds and darkness are round about Him…. His lightnings have shone forth in the world” (Ps. 96: 2, 4) ; “And the glory of the Lord dwelt upon Sinai, covering it with a cloud six days: and the seventh day He called him out of the midst of the cloud’, (Ex. 24:16: cf. Ex. 19: 9; 20: 21).
17 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 12, a. 4; q. 56, a. 3.
18 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 12, a. 2.
19 Cf. St. Thomas. Ia. q. 12, a. 1.
20 Cf. Comment. 5. Thomae in Job, chaps. 4, 6, 8.
21 John 8:12.
22 Cf. St. Thomas. Ia. n. 12. a. 1.
23 Cf. John 8:12.
24 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 19, a. 9.
25 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 19, a. 11, 12.
26 Cf St. Thomas, Ia, q. 19, a. 11.
27 Treatise on the Love of God, Bk. VIII, chap. 3; Bk. IX, chap. 6.
28 Etats d’oraison, Bk. VIII, 9.
29 See Part I. chap. 2: “On the order in the world.”
30 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 79, a. 1, 2.
31 Physical evils, sickness, for instance, are not willed by God directly, but only in an accidental way, insomuch as He wills a higher good of which physical evil is the necessary condition. Thus the lion depends for its existence on the killing of the gazelle, patience in sickness presupposes pain, the heroism of the saints presupposes the sufferings they endure. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 19, a. g; q. 22, a. 2 ad 2um.)
32 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 83, a. 1 ad 3um: “God, by moving voluntary causes, does not deprive their actions of being voluntary, but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them.” Cf. also, Ia, q. 103, a. 5-8; q. 105, a. 4, 5; q. 106, a. 2; Ia IIae, q. 10, a. 4 ad Ium et ad 3um; q. 109, a. 1, etc.
33 The free mode in our choice consists in the indifference that dominates our will in its actual process of tending to a particular object presented as good under one aspect and not good under another, and consequently as unable to exert an invincible attraction upon it (Ia IIae, q. 10, a. 2). This free mode in our choice is still within the sphere of being, of reality, and as such comes under the adequate object of the divine omnipotence. On the contrary, this cannot be so with the disorder of sin. God, in His causation infallible, can no more be the cause of sin than the eye can perceive sound (Ia IIae, q. 79, a. 1, 2).
34 Cf. also Daniel 13: 42: The prayer of Susanna.
35 Ps. 36: 10-15: “Yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: and thou shalt seek his place, and shalt not find it. But the meek shall inherit the land: and shall delight in abundance of peace. The sinner shall watch the just man: and shall gnash upon him his teeth. But the Lord shall laugh at him: for He foreseeth that His day shall come. The wicked have drawn out the sword: they have bent their bow. To cast down the poor and needy, to kill the upright of heart. Let their sword enter into their own hearts: and let their bow be broken.” Ps. 33: 22: “The death of the wicked is very evil: and they that hate the just shall be guilty.”
36 In certain difficult problems presented by the spiritual life in a concrete case to decide, for example, whether one who at times is in close union with God but is gravely ill, is being inspired by God in certain courses—the outcome of the enquiry will be obscure, but whether the obscurity is from above or from below will depend upon the method pursued.
37 One of the councils of the Church says the same with St. Prosper: “That some are saved is the gift of Him who saves; that some perish is the fault of them that perish” (Council of Chiersy, Denzinger, n. 318).
38 Cf. Dictionnaire de la Bible, art. Job. The brief summaries given of the long discourses of lob and his friends are taken from Crampon’s translation.
39 Cf. the Commentary of St. Thomas on the Book of Job, chaps. 4, 6, 8, 9 (lesson in its entirety), 19, 28. Again St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 87, a. 7, 8; De Malo, q. 5, a. 4; and the Commentary on St. John, 9: 2.
40 The author has followed Crampon’s translation of the discourses of Job and his friends. The reading of Job 3: 26 is that of the Revised Version. The Douay Version, following the Vulgate, has: “Have I not dissembled? Have I not kept silence? Have I not been quiet?” [Tr.]
41 Dictionnaire de la Bible, art. Job, col. 1560
42 Le Hir.
43 Cf. Dictionnaire de la Bible, art. Job, col. 1574.
44 Some of the expressions God uses here to describe the strength with which He has endowed these monsters recall what theology has to say about the nature of the devil. As nature, as reality and goodness, he is still loved by God, for he is still His work. We are reminded, too, that, as St. Thomas says, the devils continue of their nature to love existence as such (as prescinding from their unhappy condition), and life as such; and therefore they continue of their very nature to love the author of their life, Him whom as their judge they hate. Nevertheless, rather than exist in their miserable state they would prefer not to exist at all. (Cf. St. Thomas. Ia. q. 60 a. 5, ad sum.)
45 We are reminded of Moses rescued from the waters and the constant assistance given to him by the Lord.
46 After the death of the just of the Old Testament, they had to await in limbo the coming of the Redeemer who was to open to them the gates of paradise.
47 This is explained by St. Thomas, Ia, q. 22, a. 2: “We must say, however, that all things are subject to divine providence, not only in general, but even in their own individual selves. This is made evident thus. For since every agent acts for an end, the ordering of effects toward that end extends as far as the causality of the first agent extends…. But the causality of God extends to all being, not only as to the constituent principles of species, but also as to the individualizing principles; not only of things incorruptible, but also of things corruptible. Hence all things that exist in whatsoever manner are necessarily directed by God toward some end; as the Apostle says: ‘Those things that are of God are ordained by Him’ (Rom. 13: 1). Since providence is nothing less than the type of the order of things to an end, we must say that all things are subject to it. ‘, St. Thomas also says, Ia, q. 22, a. 3: “God has immediate providence over everything, even the smallest; and whatsoever causes He assigns to certain effects, He gives them the power to produce these effects. As to the execution of this order of providence, God governs things inferior by superior, not on account of any defection in His power, but in order to impart to creatures (especially to those of the higher order), the dignity of causality.” Thus to men has been given dominion over domestic animals which, by their docile obedience, are of assistance to him in his labors. What St. Thomas says in the Ia, q. 22, a. 4, may be summed up as follows: Providence does not destroy human liberty, but has ordained from all eternity that we should act freely. The divine action not only directs us to act, but directs us to act freely; it extends to the very free mode of our acts, which it produces in us and with our co-operation, insomuch as it is more intimately present to us than we are to ourselves. Cf. Ia, q. 19, a. 8.
48 That is the mystery St. Paul speaks of in the Epistle to the Romans, 9: 6.
49 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 20, a. 3: “Since God’s love is the cause of goodness in things, no one thing would be better than another, if God did not will a greater good for it than for the other.”
50 Treatise on the Love of God, tr. by Mackey, O.S.B., Bk. VIII, chap. 3: “How we are to conform ourselves to the divine will which is called the signified will.” Again, chaps. 4-7 and chap. 14: “A short method to know God’s will”; Bk. IX, chap. 1: “Of the union of our will with that divine will which is called the will of good pleasure.” Again, chaps. 2-6 and chap. 15. See also Spiritual Conferences, tr. by Mackey, O.S.B., Conference II, “On Confidence,” and Conference XV, “On the Will of God.”
51 Discours sur l’acte d’abandon a Dieu; also Etats d’oraison, Bk. VIII, chap. 9.
52 Le plus parfait, ou Des voies intérieures la plus glorifiante pour Dieu et la plus sanctifiante pour l’ame, published in 1683, new edition with notes by Pere Noble, O.P. The author shows how this interior way involves the practice of the liveliest faith, the most confident hope, and the purest love; he shows, too, that it is a way which is suited to every interior soul.
53 Abandonment to divine providence, new edition, including the letters of the author and revised with the addition of appendices by Pere H. Ramiere, 2 vols. Abridged Ed.. I vol. English translation E. J. Strickland.
54 By the gift of fear, hope is prevented from turning to presumption, as magnanimity is prevented by humility from degenerating into pride. Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 19, 10; q. 160, a. 2; q. 161, a. l; q. 129, a. 3 ad 4um. They are complementary virtues which, by their interconnection, balance and strengthen one another, and thus they increase together.
55 Cf. St. Francis de Sales, The Love of God, Bk. VIII, chap. 5: “Of the conformity of our will with that will of God which is made known to us by His commandments”; Bk. IX, chap. 1: “Of the union of our will with that divine will which is called the will of good pleasure.” So also chaps. 2-6. Bossuet, Etats d’oraison, Bk. VIII, chap. 9, says: “Christian indifference being out of the question where the expressed will of God is concerned, we must restrict it, as St. Francis de Sales does, to certain events controlled by His will of good pleasure, whose sovereign commands determine the daily occurrences in the course of life.”
Dom Vital Lehodey, Holy Abandonment, tr. by Luddy, O. Cist., p. 123, says: “In short, the good pleasure of God is the domain of abandonment, His expressed will, of obedience.”
56 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 19, a. 11, 12: “On the will of expression in God.” Certain events, such as the death of another, have great significance. As St. Thomas points out (ibid.), sins also are permitted by God—personal sins, like the threefold denial in St. Peter’s life, which God permitted so as to make him more humble; sins also that others commit against us, acts of injustice which God permits that we may derive spiritual profit from them, as He permitted the persecutions against the Church.
57 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 19, a. 10: “Whether it is necessary for the human will, in order to be good, to be conformed to the divine will, as regards the things will?”
58 Pere de Caussade, L’abandon, Vol. II, App. I, p. 279
59 Rom. 8: 31-39
60 Cf. St. Francis de Sales, The Love of God, Bk. VIII, chap. 5; Bk. IX, chaps. 1-7
61 Cf. St. Francis de Sales, loc. cit., and Spiritual Conferences, II, XV; De Caussade, Abandon, II, 279 (App. 2). Cf. also Dom Vital Lehodey, Holy Abandonment, Part III: “On abandonment in the natural goods of the body (health and sickness)”, pp. 166 ff. ; “on abandonment of those of the mind (the unequal distribution of these gifts)”, pp. 19l ff.; “on abandonment of one’s own good estimation in others (humiliations and persecutions)”, pp. 207 ff.; “on abandonment in the spiritual varieties of the common way (failures and faults, trials and consolations)”, pp. 244 ff. ; “abandonment in the spiritual varieties of the mystical way,” pp. 244 ff.
62 There are instances where a life has been completely changed by trials, as may be seen from the biography of Abbé Girard, entitled, Vingt-deux ans de martyr After receiving the diaconate, this saintly priest contracted tuberculosis of the bones and for twenty-two years was confined to his bed in the cruelest suffering, which he offered up each day for the priests of his generation. Here was one who to his great grief was never able to celebrate mass, and yet he was daily united to our Lord’s sacrifice perpetuated on the altar. Far from breaking up his vocation sickness transfigured it.
63 Cf St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 72, a. 3; q. 73, a. 3 ad 3um.
64 Cf. St. Thomas, “On the degrees of humility, “ IIa IIae, q. 161, a. 6
65 Cf. St. Francis de Sales, The Love of God, Bk. IX, chap. 5, and Bossuet, Etats d’oraison, Bk. VIII, chap. 9
66 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 60, a. 5
67 That such is the teaching of St. Thomas, we have shown at length elsewhere. Cf. L’Amour de Dieu et la Croix de Jesus, I, 77-150
68 Certain authors have spoken of the virtue of self-abandonment. In reality the act of self-abandonment has its source not in a special virtue, but in the three theological virtues combined with the gift of piety.
69 Cf. Piny, Le plus parfait. chap. 7.
70 Ibid.
71 In the lives of many saints we see how the appalling calumnies they had to endure became, by God’s permission, the occasion of a marvelous increase in their love for Him
72 Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 129, a. 6
73 We are especially reminded of this, the formal motive of hope, in the name of Jesus, which means Savior, and in various titles given to the Blessed Virgin: Help of Christians. Refuge of Sinners. Our Lady of Perpetual Help
74 Cf. Pinv. Le plus parfait chap. 8
75 Read, for instance, the life of Blessed Cottolengo. There it will be seen what a tender love God had for this soul so admirably resigned to providence, and how almighty God blessed his piccola casa in Turin, where assistance is given daily to ten thousand poor. Here is one of the most striking instances of God’s goodness to us. If the stars in the heavens chant the glories of God, much more do works of mercy such as this
76 St. Francis de Sales, Spiritual Conferences, tr. by Mackey, O.S.B., Conference n, p. 25. The interior conviction expressed in this passage, as proceeding from the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, far surpasses any theological speculation
77 In the Second Book of Kings it is related how Semei, a kinsman of Saul, reviled the prophet David, casting stones at him and cursing him. When one of David’s officers would have gone out to slay the reviler, David said: “Let him alone and let him curse: for the Lord hath bid him curse David. And who is he that shall dare say, Why hath he done so?… Let him alone that he may curse as the Lord hath bidden him. Perhaps the Lord may look upon my affliction and the Lord may render me good for the cursing of this day” (II Kings 16: 6 ff.) This reminds us of our Lord’s words during His passion when, counseling Peter to be calm, He allowed Himself to be led away by the armed soldiery with Judas at their head and healed Malchus, whom Peter had wounded with his sword. We meet with many such incidents in the lives of the saints, where the unforeseen opportunity is seized upon so soon as it presents itself.
78 See I Kings 2: 6; Deut. 32:39; Tobias 13:2; Wis. 16: 13
79 Abandonment to Divine Providence. Bk. 1. chap. 2. p. 25.
80 Herein is the explanation of all that supernatural good which saints like the Curé of Ars have done for souls. With no great theological learning, he nevertheless had the deepest insight into God’s dealings with souls of every condition, and thus, with very little time for reflection, he would in one day give to hundreds of persons the sound counsel which their immediate needs required
81 Ibid.. p. 27.
82 Abandonment to Divine Providence, Bk. I, chap. 2, sec. 5, p. 23.
83 Ibid. sec. 3, p. 26. At least this is often the case, though an act that is in no way disagreeable may often be very meritorious, such as the prayer of a saint in times of consolation.
84 Ibid. sec. 3, p. 19
85 Ibid.
86 Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 24, a. 6 ad 2um
87 Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, chap. 1: “Opportunity is seldom given for the exercise of fortitude, magnanimity, or munificence but meekness temperance, modesty, and humility are virtues wherewith all the actions of our life should be tempered. There are other virtues more excellent, it is true, but the practice of these is more necessary. Sugar is more excellent than salt, but salt is more necessary and more general in its use. Therefore we should always have a goodly supply of these general virtues ready to hand, since we need them almost continually.” In the exercise of the virtues we should always prefer that which is most conformable with our duty, not that which is most agreeable to our taste…. Each one should practice those virtues in particular which are most required for the state of life to which he is called.” Of the virtues that have no immediate connection with our particular duty, we must prefer the more excellent to the more ostentatious. Comets usually appear greater than stars and to our eyes occupy far greater space, whereas in reality they are not to be compared with the stars either in magnitude or quality…. Hence it is that the ordinary run of men usually prefer corporal alms to spiritual… bodily mortifications to meekness… modesty and other mortifications of the heart, though these are far more excellent.” Ibid. chap. 2: “Yea, Philothea, the King of glory does not reward His servants according to the dignity of the offices they hold, but according to the love and humility with which they exercise them.”
88 Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 18, a. 9.
89 If by God’s grace such a soul recovers itself and begins to follow the way of true humility, it may resume its upward course from the point it had already reached, without being obliged to start again from the beginning. The reason is that even after mortal sin, the soul whose repentance is proportionate to the offense will recover the grace it has lost in the same degree as it had reached before the fall. Cf. St. Thomas, IIIa, q. 89, a. 2, c. et ad 2um; a. 5 ad 3um.
90 Abandonment to Divine Providence, Bk. I chap. 2, sec. 12, p. 35.
91 Matt. 6: 34
92 Luke 16: 10
93 S. Thomas, in Joann. 8: 12
94 See I Cor. 2: 6.
95 Abandonment to Divine Providence, pp. 81-83.
96 Comment. in Epist. ad Philipp. 1:21.
97 See 3e Entretien, chaps. 8 ff
98 The Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin Catherine of Siena, tr. by Algar Thorold, pp. 22-23
99 In us an act of the love of God, being the act of a creature, must always be finite, but is infinite by reason of its object and motive.
100 Dialogue, chaps. 5 and 7; pp. 10, 13, 14.
101 Ibid. chaps. 3 and 4: pp. 4, 8
102 Ibid, chap. 1; p. 2. 103 Ibid., chap. g; p. 20
104 Ibid., chaps. 6, 7, 89, 90; pp. 10, 13, 16, 169 f. 105 Ibid, chap. 64; p. 117
106 Ibid., chaps. 85 and 96; pp. 158-160, 186 f.
107 Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 184, a. 3, c. et ad 2um
108 Ibid.
109 Dialogue, chap. 11; p. 25
110 Ibid., chap. 47; p. 89
111 It is in this spirit that St. Francis drank in the beauty of an Umbrian landscape; thus, too, the great contemplatives of the Netherlands, like Ruysbroeck, delighted in the indefinable charm of Flanders and its wide, silent plains with their tender and varied verdure, to be seen nowhere else, and their avenues of poplars waving in the breeze. Thus do the people of the East delight in the beauty of the starry skies at night and follow the course of the planets among the fixed stars, counting out the hours on this great clock of the skies.” The heavens show forth the glory of God” (Ps. 18: 1).
112 Dialogue, chaps. 2, 110; PP. 3, 218
113 Ibid., chaps. 76, 77, 140; PP. 142, 144, 319
114 Ibid., chap. 65; p. 120.
115 Ibid., chap. 66; PP. 121, 125
116 Ibid., chap. 66; p. 122
117 Ibid., pp. 124 f.
118 Ibid., chap. 84; p. 157
119 This does not mean that St. Thomas acquired through prayer a knowledge of new conclusions, new theses; it means that among the principles he habitually contemplated there were some that stood out in prayer in all their transcendence as the crown and summit of doctrine illuminating all the rest. It was in prayer, for instance, that he saw clearly the transcendence and universality of the principle he formulates in Ia, q. 20, a. 3: “Since the love of God is the cause of goodness in creatures, none would be better than another, were it not more beloved of God.” In this principle is virtually contained the whole treatise on predestination and grace, which is no more than a corollary drawn from it
120 St. John of the Cross, Dark Night, Bk. I, chap. 14 (init.) : “Progressives and proficients are in the illuminative way; there God nourishes and strengthens the soul by infused contemplation.”
121 Dialogue, chap. 85; pp. 158-159.
122 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 68, a. 5. : There is a connection between the gifts and charity, and thus they develop together. Especially intimate is the relation between the gift of wisdom and charity (cf. IIa IIae, q. 45, a. 2-5).
123 Dialogue, chap. 85; p. 160
124 Ibid., chap. 28; p. 54
125 Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 24, a. 3 ad 2um
126 Dialogue, chaps. 89, 4, 72; pp. 166, 6, 135
127 Ibid.,. chap.. 89; p. 166
128 Ibid., chaps. 60 and 61; pp. 111-112
129 Ibid., chaps. 43, 59, 146; pp. 78, 108, 336
130 Ibid., chaps. 24, 45; pp. 47, 85
131 Ibid., chap. 95; p. 183
132 Cf. Dialogue, chap. 89; pp. 166f. Cf also chap. 91 on the tears of fire, those wholly interior tears the saints shed at the sight of souls being lost; they cannot weep sensible tears, which would bring them some relief. There are thus five sorts of tears (cf. chap. 88; p. 164) : (a) the tears of worldlings over the loss of the things of this world; (b) the tears of slaves who are wholly dominated by servile fear and weep over the chastisement they have incurred; (c) the tears of mercenary servants who do indeed weep over sin, but also over the loss of consolations; (d) the tears of the perfect who weep over the offense given to God and the loss of souls; (e) the tears of the absolutely perfect who weep besides over their exile, which deprives them of the vision of God and an indissoluble union with Him.
133 Cf. St. Thomas, IIIa, q. 46, a. 8
134 The reference here is to an individual call, not merely a general one. For many, however, the call remains remote; it becomes an immediate call only for those who are prepared to listen
135 Cf Dialogue, chaps. 53, 54; pp. 100-103
136 Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q45, a. 2
137 Ia, q. 21, a. 4
138 Cf. The Canticle of Anna, I Kings 2:1-10, and the Magnificat
139 We have an instance of this in recent years in the saintly Abbé Girard of Coutances, whose life of suffering is described by Miriam de Girard in Vingt-deux ans de martyr. In other cases, atrocious calumnies have been the occasion of immense spiritual progress. During the pontificate of Pius X there lived in Rome a deeply Christian man, Aristides Leonori, an architect, who was responsible for a number of beautiful churches in various countries. In Rome he had established a work for the protection of young orphans. One of them falsely accused him before the civil courts of a most vile offense, having been bribed to do so by those hostile to this charitable work. Leonori, his hair whitened in a single night, appeared before the court and listened to the accusation now made publicly against him by this youth for whom he had done so much. When he had ended, Leonori looked steadily at him and simply said: “What could have induced you to say such things, my friend, after all I have done for you since you were a child?” At this the youth could no longer restrain his emotion and burst into tears, confessing that he had been paid to bring this lying charge against Leonori and thus destroy his work. There most decidedly Leonori found the royal road of the cross. He was a great friend of Pius X and died in the odor of sanctity
140 Dialogue, chap. 36; p. 67.
141 Ibid., chap. 132; p. 288
142 Ibid., p. 290.
143 Ibid., chap. 131; p. 284
144 See II Cor. 5: 10
145 Phil. 1: 23
146 See II Tim. 4: 8
147 Heb. 9: 27
148 Immediately after the death of Gerontius, Newman puts these words into the mouth of the angel guardian:
“When then – if such thy lot – thou seest thy Judge, The sight of Him will kindle in thy heart All tender, gracious, reverential thoughts. Thou wilt be sick with joy, and yearn for Him That one so sweet should e’er have placed Himself At disadvantage such, as to be used So vilely by a being so vile as thee. There is a pleading in His pensive eyes, Will pierce thee to the quick, and trouble thee, And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself; for, though Now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinned As never thou didst feel; and wilt desire To slink away, and hide thee from His sight; And yet wilt have a longing eye to dwell Within the beauty of His countenance. And those two pains, so counter and so keen-The longing for Him, when thou seest Him not; The shame of self at thought of seeing Him Will be thy veriest, sharpest purgatory. It is the face of the Incarnate God Shall smite thee with that keen and subtle pain; And yet the memory which it leaves will be A sovereign febrifuge to heal the wound; And yet withal it will the wound provoke, And aggravate and widen it the more.” The Dream of Gerontius, 710-39.
149 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 87, a. 3
150 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 65, a. 1-3
151 Then will be realized those words from the Canticle of Anna, I Kings 2: 1-lo: “The bow of the mighty is overcome: and the weak are girt with strength. The Lord killeth and maketh alive: He bringeth down to hell and bringeth back again. The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich: He humbleth and He exalteth…. He lifteth up the poor from the dunghill: that he may sit with princes, and hold the throne of glory.” Here in the Old Testament is the prelude to the Magnificat
152 A young Jew, the son of an Austrian banker, who knew little of the Gospel beyond the Our Father, was one day given an opportunity of revenging himself on an enemy. But at the very moment the opportunity presented itself, there came to his mind the words, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Instead of carrying out his revenge, he forgave his enemy completely with all his heart, and immediately his eyes were opened: he saw the Gospel ill all its majesty and most firmly believed. He became a good Catholic and afterwards a priest and religious of the Order of St. Dominic. The kingdom of God was revealed to him the very moment he forgave.
153 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 21, a. 4
154 James 2:13
155 Loc., cit.
156 Cf. St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, chap. 30
157 Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui abundantia pietatis tuae et merita supplicum excedis et vota; effunde super nos misericordiam tuam: ut dimittas quae conscientia metuit, et adjicias quod orationem praesumit, Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium, etc.
158 Life, chap. 7 (Bollandists, April 30, p. 918).
159 Letters of 5t. Catherine of Siena, tr. by Scudder, p. 113
160 See St. Thomas, Ia, q. 21, a. 4 ad Ium
161 Dialogue, chap. 30
162 Dialogue, chap. 32.
163 Ps. 88: 2 ff. ; Ps. 102: 8-17
164 Tr. by Irons; cf. The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal
165 In that fine book of his, Le Docteur Angelique, J. Maritain has set down this profound reflection: “How reconcile two apparently contradictory facts: the fact that modern history appears to be, as Berdyaev says, on the threshold of new Middle Age in which the unity and universality of Christian culture will be recovered and extended this time to the whole universe, and the fact that the general trend of civilization seems to be toward the universalism of Antichrist and his iron rod rather than toward the universalism of Christ and His emancipatory law, and in any event to forbid the hope of a unification of the world in one universal Christian empire.” As far as I am concerned, my answer is as follows: I think that two immanent tendencies intersect at every point in the history of the world… one tendency draws upward everything in the world which participates in the divine life of the Church, which is in the world but not of the world, and follows the attraction of Christ, the head of the human race.” The other tendency draws downward everything in the world which belongs to the prince of the world…. History suffers these two internal strains as it moves forward in time, and human affairs are so subjected to a distension of increasing force until the fabric in the end gives way. So the cockle grows up along with the wheat; the capital of sin increases throughout the whole course of history and the capital of grace increases also and superabounds. Christian heroism will one day become the sole solution for the problem of life…. Then we shall doubtless see coincident with the worst condition in human history a flowering of sanctity.” English tr. by J. F. Scanlan, St. Thomas Aquinas, Angel of the Schools, p. 86
166 Chap. 43, n50.
167 Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, n. 804
168 Aliqua Dei praecepta hominibus justis volentibus et conantibus, secundum praesentes quas habent vires, sunt impossibilia, deest quoque illis gratia qua possbilia fiant. Denzinger, n. 1092
169 Sess. VI, cap. 13, and canon 16: Denzinger, nn. 806, 826
170 The Council of Trent defined, Sess. VI, can. 22 (Denz. n. 832) : “If anyone saith that the justified either is able to persevere without the special help of God in the justice received; or that with that help he is not able: let him be anathema.” (Cf. nn. 804, 806.) The terms of the Council—”the grace of final perseverance is a special assistance”—must be rightly understood if all ambiguity is to be avoided. There is no necessity for a new action on the part of God, for, as will be pointed out shortly, conservation in grace is simply the continuation of its original production, not a new action. So also from the point of view of the soul, it is enough for the habitual grace to be preserved; there is no need for even one new actual grace, as happens in the case of the child that dies soon after baptism without ever making an act of the love of God. But, according to the Councils of Orange and Trent, what is a special gift, one granted to some and not to others, is the coincidence of the state of grace with death: the fact that grace is preserved up to that moment instead of God’s permitting a fall. This coincidence of the state of grace with death is a great favor and is from God: when it is granted, it is the divine mercy that grants it, and in this sense it is a special gift.
171 The Council of Trent says again, Sess. VI, cap. II, 13 (Denzinger, nn. 804, 806) : “God commands not impossibilities…. All ought to place and repose a most firm hope in God’s help. For God, unless men be themselves wanting to His grace, as He has begun the good work, so will He perfect it (in them), to will and to accomplish” (Phil. 2: 13).
172 Adjutorium Dei etiam renatis et sanctis semper est implorandum, ut ad finem bonum pervenire vel in bono possint opere perdurare (Denzingce, n. 183).
173 Quod quidem (donum) aliunde habere non potest, nisi ab eo qui potens est eum qui stat statuere ut perseveranter stet, et eum qui eadit restituere (Denzinger n. 806).
174 Because of their exalted character, in the things of God the simplest are at the same time the most profound; but it is a simplicity wholly different from that which Voltaire spoke of when he said: “I am limpid as a brook because I have little depth.”
175 It is a matter of discussion among theologians whether the gift of final perseverance can be the object of this congruous merit, which is founded not in justice but in the charity uniting us with God, in jure amicabili, in the rights of friendship existing between God and the just. The best commentators of St. Thomas, relying on the principles formulated by him, state in reply that final perseverance cannot be the object of strict congruous merit, since the principle of this merit is a continued state of grace, and the principle of merit, as we have seen, cannot be merited. Moreover, congruous merit strictly so-called, founded as it is in the rights of friendship, in jure amicabili, obtains infallibly the corresponding reward. God never refuses us what we have merited in this way, at any rate for ourselves personally. From which it would follow that, once come to the use of reason, all the just by their acts of charity would merit the gift of final perseverance and would in fact persevere to the end, which is not the case. Nevertheless it remains true that the grace of a happy death may be the object of congruous merit understood in a wide sense, this being simply the impetratory value of prayer, which is founded not in justice or the rights of friendship, but in the liberality and mercy of God
176 Since the grace of final perseverance is not merited, it is not because God has foreseen our merits that He bestows it upon us; from which it follows that predestination to glory is also gratuitous: it is not ex praevisis meritis as St. Thomas says (Ia, q. 23, a. 5). If anyone wishes to maintain that it is ex praevisis meritis, then at least he must say that it is not “from merits foreseen as persisting unto the end apart from a special gift”, ex praevisis meritis absque speciali dono usque in finem perdurantibus.
177 Nevertheless, if many of us are praying for the conversion of the sinner, or if our prayer continues not merely for days but for months and long years, it becomes more and more probable that God desires to hear us, since it is He who makes us persevere in our prayer
178 This point is well brought out in an excellent work recently published Sept retraites de la Mere Elizabeth de la Croix (foundress of the Carmelite convent at Fontainebleau). In these retreats, the subject is simply the union of the soul that has consecrated itself to Jesus crucified for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Constantly we meet with such passages as these: “Our Lord revealed to me the sentiments of His Sacred Heart and communicated them to me…. He said to me: ‘The two chief motives that led Me to acquiesce in Pilate’s condemnation of Me were the will and glory of My Father and a hunger for the salvation of men. Your whole life, in its smallest details, should be dominated by these two sentiments. Take upon yourself My own sufferings…. During this retreat, for yourself nothing, all for Me. My cross is to be found in pride, in sin; give Me a little help in carrying that cross. The fruit of My carrying the cross for you is that you desire nothing here below, that you be prepared to suffer always, that you desire all that the divine will desires, that you make expiation for the sins of men, of My priests and spouses especially, that you complain of nothing, that you keep your soul fast to My own, that your heart be occupied solely with love for Me’ (pp. 181 ff.). ‘In this (when loaded with the cross) I am your model. ‘… At the offering of the bread and wine at mass our Lord Jesus Christ said to me: ‘I offer you to My Father as victim embracing all that I intend in your regard… the needs of My Church… the perils in which souls are plunged and the ardor of My appeals. ‘ At holy communion He said: ‘I shall be your strength always. ‘ My cross: that is the sign and token of the love I have for souls, of the love also that souls have for Me. You I have invited to share in the folly of the cross, to refuse to be bound to earth by a single thread… to follow Me through pain, insults, and ignominy… to be My spouse crucified unto death. ‘ Again He said to Me: ‘It was through calumny that I was condemned to be crucified…. The more your sufferings closely resemble Mine, the happier will you be:… it is the proof that you are loved more than others. Be kind of heart toward those who will bring or have already brought the cross to you. ‘… ‘Suffer with Me in reparation for the glory of My Father and for the ransom of souls’ “ (pp. I 84 ff.).
179 We recommend on this point two books by Adolphe Retté: Jusqu’a la fin du monde, a living commentary on that sentence of Pascal’s: “Jesus will continue in His agony until the end of the world, ‘, and Oraisons du silence, This latter work, from the fine passages it contains on solitude, poverty, detachment, suffering, peace, and the love of God, will prepare us for a happy death. It closes with these words: “May the rhythm of the hours yet remaining in my life here below be regulated solely by the sacred doxology, Gloria Patri et Filio…. Invocation full of strength, which makes me glad to have suffered and to go on suffering in Thy service, O Lord. Each time that I utter it with a contrite heart and with a right mind, I know that Thy grace will flow in upon my soul…. Grant that I may be crucified like the good thief on Thy right hand. Remember me, too, in Thy kingdom of heaven as Thou didst remember him.” That prayer was heard. Adolphe Retté died a holy death.
180 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 20, a. 3: Cum amor Dei sit causa bonitatis rerum, non esset aliquid alio melius, si Deus non vellet uni majus quam alteri. Ibid., a. 4: Ex hoc sunt aliqua meliora, quod Deus eis majus bonum vult. Here is the principle of predilection.
181 Council of Quiersey, A. D. 853 (Denzinger, 318) : Deus omnipotens omnes homines sine exceptione vult salvos fieri (I Tim. 2: 4), licet non omnes salventur. Quod autem quidam salvantur, salvantis est donum; quod autem quidam pereunt, pereuntium est meritum
182 By their very nature both human souls and angels participate in the intellectual life and as such bear an analogical resemblance to God in so far as He is intelligent. Sanctifying grace, however, is a resemblance to God not simply as He is intelligent, but precisely as God; it is a participation in the Deity as such, or, if you will, in the divine intellectuality as it is divine. This is our reply to a question put to us by Père Gardeil in his excellent work, La structure de l’ame et I’expérience mystique, (I, 388), where he treats of the relation between sanctifying grace and the formal constituent of the divine nature. Sanctifying grace is a participation in the divine nature considered not simply as being or as intellectual, but as strictly divine; grace is a physical and formal, though analogical participation in the Deity as such, whose formal concept transcends in its absolute eminence the concepts of being, unity, etc., in all of which it is possible for creatures to participate naturally. So also says Cajetan in his commentary on Ia, q. 39, a. 1 (n. 7) : Deitas est super ens et super unum, etc. We have explained ourselves at some length on this point elsewhere (God, His Existence and His Nature, tr. by Dom Bede Rose, O.S.B., Vol. II, chap. I, n. 42; chap. 3, n. 54). Père Gardeil himself speaks in the same sense (I, 246, 287).
183 Lettres de direction (Oeuvres, XI, 444).
184 “La volonté salvifique chez S. Augustin”, in Revue Thomiste, 1930, pp. 473-487. Also Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, art.” Prédestination”, conclusion.
185 See in the Summa of St. Thomas (IIa IIae) the two great questions 25 and 26 on the extent of charity and the order it should observe. They will be summed up in what follows
186 Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 26, a. 8
187 This is the place to recall those words of Pascal’s to be found equivalently in St. Augustine and St. Thomas: “The infinite distance between matter and mind symbolizes the infinitely more infinite distance between mind and charity; for charity is supernatural…. The whole universe of matter and mind, with all their products, cannot equal in value the least movement of charity, which belongs to an order infinitely more exalted.” Pensées, Ed. E. Havet, pp. 266, 269
188 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 22, a. 3
189 Matt. 3: 2.
190 Matt. 10: 40
191 Matt. 12: 28
192 Matt. 6: 9
193 Matt. 5: 44
194 John 15: 5
195 John 17: 20
196 Rom. 12: 4, 5; I Cor. 12: 12-27; Ephes 1: 22; Col. 1: 18; 2: 19
197 If we ask holy persons here on earth to pray for us, as people used to ask the Curé of Ars, then surely, whatever Protestants may say, it is right to ask the saints in heaven to intercede for us. These are now in the fullness of light and know better than we do what may rightly be asked on our behalf
198 See I Cor. 12: 4-6
199 Ephes. 4: 4-6
200 See I Cor. 12: 14, 26-27
201 Gal. 6: 2-10.
202 Oevres completes, XII, 417
203 In connection with Providence and the communion of saints, we should notice that in order to undertake any sort of work in the Church it is necessary to have a mission and to preserve the spirit of that mission, a point well brought out by Père Clerissac, O.P., in that excellent work, Le Mystere de l’Eglise, chap. 7, “La Mission et l’esprit.” Thus it was with the founders of the religious orders. A striking example of this law in the order of grace is to be found in the Life of Mother Cornelia Connelly, Foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, 1809-1879. Formerly a Protestant, married to a Protestant, and the mother of a family, she was converted to Catholicism at the same time as her husband. When later on her husband recognized that he had a vocation to the priesthood and was ordained, Mother Connelly herself, following the advice given her by Gregory XVI, founded a religious congregation in America. Unfortunately her former husband took it for granted that he would have the direction of this congregation, a task for which he had no mission whatever. This lost him the grace of his own vocation and he left the Church, while Mother Connelly, in the midst of incredible difficulties, finally succeeded in carrying through the work almighty God had entrusted to her.
204 Cf. St. Thomas, IIIa, q. 52, a. 5.
205 Gen. 5: 24; 17: 8; 26: 24; 35: 29; 47: 9; 49: 18, 29-33; Num. 20: 24; 27: 13; Deut. 25: 8, 17; 32: 50
206 Job. 14: 13-25; 19: 25-27; cf. also Ps. 11: 7; 15: 10-12; 48: 15 ff. ; 72: 24; Prov. 10: 30; 11: 7; Ecclus. 1: 11: 11: 28; 18: 24, etc
207 Matt. 7: 14
208 Benedict XII (Denzinger, n. 530) : “we define… that… even before the resurrection of their bodies and the general judgment… the souls of all the saints… in whom, when they departed this life, there was nothing to be cleansed… behold the divine essence with intuitive vision, face to face, in such wise that nothing created intervenes as object of vision, but the divine essence presents itself to their immediate gaze, unveiled, clearly and openly.” Cf. also the Council of Florence (Denzinger n. 693).
209 In times of great affliction not a few interior souls have found peace and even joy, though circumstances continued to give immense pain, when through God’s inspiration they have conceived the idea of making a vow of self-abandonment to Providence. When a soul is prompted by grace to make such a vow and is firmly resolved not to divorce self-abandonment from fidelity to daily duties, the following form may be used. It should be renewed daily during the prayer of thanksgiving:
“Whenever the will of God is expressed in a cross, I will yield myself to it entirely and with a note of joy, paying no regard to what was instrumental in bringing it about. In difficulties that in any way distress me I will avoid all self-probing, introspection, and idle preoccupations; I will steep myself more deeply in confidence, and seek to solve my difficulties through the action of grace. I will take up this attitude of mind and heart and plunge myself in God the instant something occurs to wound me. And all this I will do with an exceeding great love.”
This self-abandonment should be accompanied by close fidelity to grace and the illuminations received in prayer.

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