Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,
Once again we return to Mother Mectilde de Bar and the recent publication in English of her correspondence offering spiritual counsel to Marie de la Guesle—the Countess of Châteauvieux. These letters offer us, three centuries after they were written, guidance that is rare in our day both in its psychological insight and practical mysticism. To the modern mind the counsel offered here is sorely needed but deeply resisted. The following letters describe the constancy of mind and heart we are to have in the embrace of God's will and the desire to give Him glory. Such a path, regardless of one's station in life, requires the setting aside of one's ego and a willingness to allow oneself to be guided by God in order to please Him over and above ourselves and others. So often we can treat virtue and the works of virtue as a commodity; something that we choose in accord with our sensibilities and desires. We may spend years along a particular path and engaging in acts of piety not having died to self or become more perfect because we failed to discern the will of God and the direction of His Spirit. God guides us along paths in accord with His wisdom and for our sanctification. Such guidance may completely elude us or we may consciously or unconsciously seek to elude it when it requires being reduced to nothing and the humble obedience of the Son. How many of us seek to give ourselves to God in the manner in which He calls us? Mother Mectilde tells the Countess and all of us: "Faith teaches you that the greatest and most noble glory you can give Him is to be perfectly submissive to His good pleasure, to be the prisoner of His love, to be without choice, without life, and without any will; because when you are of this kind He is glorified in you perfectly." Perhaps most of us would shrink from viewing our life and relationship with God so soberly. For to allow the divine will to operate so powerfully in us that it is omnipotent in our souls is crucifying to the self. There is always some secret satisfaction that creeps in to lead us away from the path that is salutary. "Simplify your mind in all things, especially with regard to what you have neither order nor obligation to examine or know; in this way your soul will remain free and detached." Can we have such confidence in God, such a deep trust in His love, that we so detach ourselves looking to others or ourselves and abandon ourselves to the divine Teacher alone to guide and instruct us? Do we fear losing ourselves and given as prey to the spirit and grace of Jesus - to fall in to the hands of the Living God? Mectilde responds with sharp clarity: "You have nothing which has not cost His Blood, but He desires that you labor with Him to reduce yourself to nothing, to submit yourself, and to give yourself to His cause; you owe this to Him through a thousand kind of rights and obligations."
The Path of Anéantissement is the one which gives the most glory to god
My dearest daughter, I do not know if Our Lord will agree to give me the grace to say a few words to you about the constancy you must have in your path, without your being either occupied with or full of pride regarding the path of others. Daniel was told to remain in his degree in order to show you that each soul must remain in its own path and stay within its degree, without wanting to enter into those that appear to us fine and pleasing in other people.
It is a great fault in the interior life and particularly in the way of anéantissement to enter by affection or desire into an arrangement to which God does not call you, to want to do good works in which God does not imply you. And under the pretext that you see the external acts of piety to be good and holy, your pride wants to include everything, without discerning if God desires this of you or not. Most often, with this way of acting, you do good deeds through the choice and inclination of your mind, without the order or prompting of grace, and thus it happens that after very long practice of these works of piety, you are not any more dead to self or more perfect. Therefore, it is necessary to do them through the direction of God’s spirit.
Second, you must beware of being occupied with all the good things you see done; because what God asks of one souls He does not ask of all. Some He appoints to charity and the service of their neighbor; others, to the consolation of the afflicted; others to humility; others to poverty; others to penance and austerity, and so on. It does not follow that all should do the same thing. Sometimes there is a similarity in the exterior works but a very great difference in the ground of the soul, because of the difference of the [spiritual] paths. In this what appears, in an entirely marvelous manner, is the power and wisdom of God who has given to each one according to His good pleasure, for the sanctification of His chosen ones, without any of the paths being alike.
O, the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God, who will be able to understand the sublimity and sanctity of Your ways? Within the variety of paths from God, we find those who are dedicated to honoring the hidden and reduced-to-nothing life of Jesus Christ; and these, having a powerful attraction which draws them away from all that has renown, retreat into the abyss of their nothingness, in order to have no life among creatures. It seems to me, according to the insight it pleased Our Lord to give me about your soul, that you are among the number of these and that you owe it an inviolable fidelity.
Now it is not a small grace to know your path: for, knowing it, you can no longer go wrong except through an infidelity which can never be excused. You must give yourself to God in the manner in which He calls you. Therefore, if in your path you owe Him honor through the imitation of the hidden and reduced-to-nothing life of God’s Son, you must lead a life withdrawn from creatures, a life of silence, of humble obedience, in short, a life of death, a life which no longer looks like your life, but a life hidden in Jesus Christ, as the Apostle teaches you.
You must take delight in the path in which God placed you. It is not you who chose it, but eternal Wisdom chose it for you and requires you to give yourself to it without being anxious that you are doing nothing great or excellent for the glory of Our Lord. Faith teaches you that the greatest and most noble glory you can give Him is to be perfectly submissive to His good pleasure, to be the prisoner of His love, to be without choice, without life, and without any will; because when you are of this kind He is glorified in you perfectly. In that state, you glorify Him more perfectly than if you were to build a thousand hospitals and if you were to do many other good works from which your self-love took life on account of your good action. Whereas, in the path where God’s goodness leads you, everything tends toward nothingness and the destruction of yourself. Your way is guaranteed; do not doubt that Our Lord calls you by this route: you receive too much grace and understanding it is to doubt. I confess that this way is more crucifying than the other; but it is more certain because there is less of ourselves and it gives us to God in a purer way.
Therefore, from now on be at peace when you see your neighbor who does the good works you do not do. Do not leave your path in order to enter into a foreign one and one that is not your own. And what must console you and give you peace is the union you have as a Christian with the Church. And as your form one body with all Christians who are members of Jesus Christ, all the good works that one Christian does, you share in and contribute to in a certain fashion; because you are united to that member as forming the same body. Through this sacred tie, you are charitable, humble, and patient along with your neighbor. You, in your path, should not want to do what they do. You must not say, “I would like this or that,” because the divine will must operate so powerfully in you that it is omnipotent in your soul, without allowing your self-love to wish [to do], or to be anxious about not doing, as much good as many others. If God does not want those works from you, then why do you want to do them? It is a vestige of the wickedness we received from Adam to always want to be and to do something that to us makes a show, in order to take a secret satisfaction in it. We cannot take hold of anéantissement; the thought of this tortures us and nevertheless it is our salvation. God desires you to be in this state; it is for you to desire another? Is not God’s will more holy than all the rest? What God has chosen for you, is it not more salutary for you than all the good and good works you could do? Oh, my daughter, would we be so presumptuous as to give laws to God? For myself, I confess to you that I have so much respect for His good pleasure that I would prefer to pick up straws from the ground, by His order, than to convert the whole universe by the ardor of my own will.
Let us love this divine good pleasure; let us take our delight in being attached to it. The blessed do not have any other happiness, and the satisfaction they have in the accomplishment of the divine will comprised their beatitude. You also see certain souls on earth who being completely dead to themselves, enjoy an anticipated happiness. For having lost their own will in the divine will, they are always completely content, seeing nothing on earth outside of God’s good pleasure. O my daughters when shall we be in that blessed death, which will give life to the good pleasure of God in us? It is indeed necessary to work toward the renunciation of ourselves. We must destroy our own satisfaction.
I do not know if you truly understood what I want to tell you regarding the good actions which are done by others. I am telling you that just as your pray with all Christians because of the union [in the Mystical Body], you act with them too. All the first Christians had only one will, just as they had only one faith, one law, and one baptism, as you observe in the Acts of the Apostles; all Christians have only one will in Jesus Christ, and all have one desire to glorify Him. (At least, they could not have any other intention in their actions, or they would not act in a Christian way). Remaining, therefore, within the intention of your good mother, the Church, you honor God in all the good works which are done by her children, because, as I already told you, your form only one body.
Here is the disposition your must have in your heart to share in these: first, consent to all the good works performed in the whole Church; second, be glad that God is glorified in many ways according to His good pleasure. And when you see a good work done, offer it to God by a simple elevation, rejoicing inwardly to see souls who do God’s work which you are not worthy to do. Do not regard your own path as better and more elevated than the paths of others. Be very reserved on this point; especially since you do not see each person’s degree of grace and it does not belong to you to judge of it.
Remember that each souls has its way: the one that belongs to another is not yours. God gave to each one what is proper. If you were to enter into someone else’s path, you would perish in it; and if another entered yours, it would not bring about his salvation. Therefore, let all souls do what they do and if they go astray, you will not answer for it. Be faithful in yours, and beware of focusing on this one of that one. Remain detached from creatures. Do not condemn what you cannot understand. And especially since sometimes you will find souls whose ways and modes of acting are offensive to your feelings and even often to your reason, keep yourself from judging or blaming them. God does not give you any order or authority to condemn them; leave them to His judgement and do not be polluted by rash judgements. If there were souls under your direction, there would be something more to tell you; but since this is only in passing and in encounters with certain devout people, you must restrain your mind, which goes a little too fast on this subject.
Be very circumspect, then, for fear the your might reject what God accepts and disapprove of what He approves. And although the path of death and true anéantissement may be the most genuine, the most holy, and the most secure in the Church, you must respect the grace of Jesus Christ in souls and the differences of each. For it is in the sight of Our Lord as it is in the sight of a king who has all his officers: his court is comprised of different persons where each has a different function, and the ones that the king intends to be continually in his chamber and enjoy his presence must not dawdle in the kitchen. Each one must fulfill his responsibility and his office; otherwise there would be nothing but confusion.
Remain in your degree, and since the king, Jesus Christ, your all, does you the honor of keeping you in His holy presence and desires this fidelity from you, do not lower your arrow in order to be occupied with creatures, not even angels. When God keeps you busy with Himself, leave all creatures in God to be what God desires them to be. And you, my daughter, hide yourself in God Himself, in His divine essence which surrounds you; do not leave Him, if possible, at least voluntarily. Simplify your mind in all things, especially with regard to what you have neither order nor obligation to examine or know; in this way your soul will remain free and detached.
Learn a truth which surprises you so often: this is when I tell you that N. is in the lowest and smallest path in the Church. Meanwhile, we are assured, and Holy Scripture teach edit by the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself, that the path of anéantissement is the holiest in the Church. And God’s servants say that it is the most elevated, most pure, and most sanctifying. As or me, by God’s mercy, I see it in its excellence, according to my ability; but with all its holiness, I find it disparaged beneath all the paths in a certain way.
1. It is without renown.
2. It is almost unknown, and few persons make it their true state.
3. A soul who follows this path understands herself to be so small and so much lower than everything that she cannot see in herself anything but nothingness.
4. She does not compare herself even to devils.
5. She sees herself as unworthy of all rejection, insult, and shame; so that she in infinitely beneath everything.
6. She has nothing of lights or gifts from God; she has no share in anything except nothingness.
Now is there anything less than nothing? There, she is the lowest in herself and in creatures: she sees herself as nothing in everything. See, then, how low this path is. The souls who is brought here, can she raise herself for anything? If she were to do miracles and convert the whole world, she would never leave her nothingness. It is her life, her happiness, and her delight to be immersed in it and to be so low that she can no longer be found. O blessed loss! O holy and sacred anéantissement, what happiness and benediction your produce in the souls that has you!
See, then, that it is not without reason that I tell you that this path is low. It is the narrow and hidden path which Our Lord tells us leads to the true life, since it leads you into God Himself, where you will receive a new life; but a life of grace, a life of love, divine life, life which cannot be understood except by those who experience it, a life so holy, a life so noble that all one says to expound its excellence demeans it infinitely below what it is. Oh how good it is to live with this life! How happy and a thousand times happy is the soul who allows herself to be led into it!
I want to keep silent, then, about the sanctity of this path and about its privileges and excellence, which it takes from Jesus. It does not belong to me to speak about such noble matters, poor and worthless runt that I am. It is not at all the affair sinners like me to speak about the favors and graces which the divine Spouse grants to faithful souls. I retreat into my nothingness and into the silence which I must eternally observe.
I think I am obliged to leave you some time to ruminate on what Our Lord wanted me to show you, although I am very unworthy. You will make use of it as will please Him, and you will learn to detach yourself entirely from everything and to purify and simplify your mind so greatly that the virtues of others will not be vices to you.
Our Lord says to you, “Let the dead bury the dead.” Leave creatures among creatures, and you, my daughter, retreat into God, in whom you must make your continual dwelling. Do not voluntarily leave Him to waste time among creatures. Do not leave the All for the nothing.
Farewell, my daughter, I think I will be unable to write to you for some time. I withdraw into my center to leave you with God. He is your divine Teacher, and I pray Him that He will instruct you, and pardon me all the infidelities I commit in not receiving with the purity that I owe them the truths which He makes me understand so as to express them to you; I diminish their grace and this is what makes me wish that you received [them] from God without any mediation. This will be when it will please Him.
Each soul has a different path for giving glory to god
Oh, the ingratitude of the human heart! Oh, the blindness of our mind which, being so full of its own interests, cannot be separated from them to make room for those of Jesus Christ!
I confess that it is a blessing to be innocent: but who can assure you that you have this? And if you do have it, are you sure you will persevere in it? Oh! How uncertain is the salvation of a soul when it relies upon its life or dispositions, or on I-know-not-what inner habit which produces neither good nor evil! Compare these souls to the happiness of a soul who tends toward God, seeks Him, and loves Him. The difference is almost infinite. The souls who lives in a slack way never receives divine communications, it does not taste God, it does not know Him, it does not glorify Him, it is like one dead, or to put it better: in a sickness which tends toward death; and little is needed for these souls to fall into mortal sin.
Let us leave the proofs of this truth until our meeting (it would take too long now), in order for me to tell you that I feel inwardly urged to reprove you for your meanness and sloth with respect to God. See from your attitude—at least based on what you tell me in you letter—how full you are of your own interests, and the impurity of your depths in reflecting on yourself and telling you that you ask no more than to be assured of your salvation. Oh! How unfaithful you are after the promises you made to Jesus Christ, and which you renewed with so much ardor! Where are the resolutions to be purely God’s out of reverence for God Himself? Where is that profession of Jesus Christ that you made in baptism, to live from His life and to be animated by His Spirit? See how well you are imitating your Head, and if you are, like Him, clothed with the interests of His Father’s glory. The Son of God never acted for Himself as a man. His heavenly Father’s glory was His perpetual and constant motive, in all His dispositions, and in all His actions. But you are satisfied with the certainty of being saved, wanting to abandon the rest without working anymore! This is a thought from temptation, which comes from your impure ground, and from your pride’s secret fear of one day being stripped of yourself and clothed in Jesus Christ. You fear losing yourself and being given as prey to the spirit and grace of Jesus.
“The one who loves his life will lose it and the one who hates it in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” It is Jesus Christ who speaks this truth to you, in St. John. Do you want to be assured of your salvation? Be stripped of your own interests, even about your salvation, and abandoning yourself to the guidance of God, go forward in poverty, seeking no other interest than to please God.
Are you not very miserable to esteem so little God’s gifts and mercies? You noticed how He desires you to be entirely His—and you are so unfaithful that you do not want to give yourself to His love which wants to permeate you, or to His holiness which wants to sanctify you? You want only to be assured of your salvation, without caring about the operations or the other particular effects of grace? I cannot understand such ingratitude or rather, such blindness—to esteem God so little that you do not want to consider the interests of His glory!
“The one to whom much is given, of him will much be required,” says Our Lord. One soul will be saved with a small grace and another will perish in having an equal one. The matter of our salvation is in God’s control and within His view and eternal designs. If He wants you in a perfect state even in this life, necessarily you must enter it and give yourself to His grace. For this reason, do not waste time considering the path of others, but consider and weigh your own correctly. Another person will be saved through a very ordinary life, and you, you would be shipwrecked there. We must give ourselves to God’s designs and enter into the purity of the paths by which He calls us if we do not want to perish eternally. It is a great secret of the interior life to know one’s path and to walk faithfully in it. Another’s path is not your path, which is why you do not control the work of your sanctification: each one must follow what God desires of him. Understand this matter rightly and you will live in more peace and be more faithful.
In support of your position, you say that God, being essentially glorious in Himself, has no need of accidental glory. It is true that God was as glorious in Himself as He is now, before the creation of the world. However, He was pleased in His wisdom to create the universe and to fashion creatures in order to manifest His greatness and His divine perfections, and at the same time to oblige us to adore them. He delights in His works, He is glorified in them, and He requires us to glorify Him according to what is possible for us.
1. Because He is our creator: He drew us out of nothingness, we owe Him our being, and that being must glorify Him; it was created for this reason. But there are many ways to glorify Him, and each soul has an obligation and an inner path through which God desires to be glorified in it. And the soul must show here submission and reverence.
2. A king’s glory increases by having many servants and persons subject to his greatness, and who render homage to his crown. Likewise (but without any comparison), God desires to have subjects who extol His supreme authority, who are obliged to render Him homage and are sacrificed to His greatness in order to teach us that He is King and that He must be revered; that He is God and must be adored; that He is our Master who must be respected; that He is our Judge who must be feared; that He is our Spouse who must be loved, and that He is our Father and our all, who must be obeyed and honored. In brief, He has obliged us to give Him glory, and it is His delight. There is nothing to say about this: it is for this He created us and it is for this He keeps us in being, and gives us His graces and so on.
O presumption of the human heart which says, “Why should we give ourselves so much trouble when we think we are in [a state of] grace, and Jesus Christ having completely atoned for our sins, we have only rest left, without [the need of] bothering ourselves further?” “God created you without you, but He will not save you without you,” said a Church Father. Jesus Christ repaired all the glory that sin took away from His Father, and merited for you the grace to cooperate in your salvation. You have nothing which has not cost His Blood, but He desires that you labor with Him to reduce yourself to nothing, to submit yourself, and to give yourself to His cause; you owe this to Him through a thousand kind of rights and obligations.
Mother Mectilde of the Most Blessed Sacrament
The Breviary of Fire