“Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” St. Francis de Sales’ words encompass the core of the spiritual life because they urge us to always remain not only in a state of grace, but also to constantly keep our hearts patiently awaiting God’s word. We must maintain inner peace if we want to advance in the love of God.
This peace does not arise from participating in the so-called “meditation,” which is quite popular in today’s society. These and other practices search for peace from the self or from the world. But that true inner peace which the world cannot give comes from God alone (cf. Jn 14:27). With this peace we do not permit evil thoughts to assail us. We are like soldiers ready to hear the Lord’s command and do it.
We lose this inner peace if we commit mortal sin; we must go contritely to confession before regaining it. However, we can lose this peace while remaining in a state of grace when we ruminate on our sins, particularly when attempting to discern whether or not we consented mortally to some sin. But if we try to examine our conscience when its waters are muddied, we will never gain clarity. Rather, in these moments, we ought to simply stop thinking about sin, divert our attention away from ourselves, and turn to God. Our Lord commanded us to do exactly this through Servant of God Dolindo Ruotolo, when He revealed the Surrender Novena to him. If we confidently turn our attention away from sin and ourselves and toward God, the devil has no way of infiltrating our reasoning and emotions. By maintaining an inner docility to the Holy Spirit, we allow Him to guide us to do His will.
In the case of those battling with scrupulosity, or those who otherwise lack sincere trust in God, acquiring and maintaining this inner peace can be far more difficult. If we examine our consciences when we think we have at least some clarity and we think we have committed no mortal sin, then we can trust that we have not committed any. These temptations, though, as well as temptations to despair, can keep afflicting us day after day. But this should not trouble us in the least. In fact, the Lord enables those whom He wants to bring to deeper communion with Him to experience these trials, so that they will attach themselves to Him alone. “The Lord scourges those who draw near to him, in order to admonish them” (Jdt 8:27).
For all of us, then, but especially for the scrupulous, we lose our inner peace when we are attached to something other than God. In some cases, these attachments are easily identifiable: food, sexual pleasure, money, praise. But in other instances, they can be subtler. For example, the scrupulous person may be obsessed with having clarity about his soul’s state so that he can feel spiritually confident. However, even this desire is an attachment to something other than God, and therefore can cause us to lose inner peace. Maintaining true peace, then, goes hand in hand with detaching ourselves from everyone and everything earthly, to the point that we do not rely on anyone but the Lord.
In moments of severe temptation, no matter how frequent or for how long they occur, we often try to give ourselves peace of mind and heart – something we cannot do. For this inner peace which we seek “surpasses all understanding,” and thus is solely God-given (Phil 4:6). Hence we should not strive to attain it by ourselves, especially in moments of temptation, when our emotions and even our reason may be compromised. Rather, we should resist these temptations the best we can, surrender our struggles to the Lord and Our Lady, Queen of Peace, and then move on. If the devil cannot induce us to sin directly, he will try to get us to fall by anxiety over having some temptation, then by having anxiety over having had anxiety about the temptation, and so on. We cannot break this vicious cycle on our own. That requires a genuine surrender of our will to God’s, and a wholehearted trust in His mercy.
St. Ignatius of Loyola speaks of fallacious reasoning, by which we often deceive ourselves. While we should not be purposefully ignorant, we can and should humbly acknowledge our frailty, and that all right reason comes from the Lord alone. He outlines the three reasons why God might allow us to experience spiritual desolation: First, because we have grown tepid and slothful in exercises of piety; second, because God wishes to try us to prove our faithfulness; third, because God wishes us to rely totally on Him and understand that “apart from [Him], [we] can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). In all three possible causes, we need to persevere in receiving the sacraments and attending Holy Mass frequently. If we do this, coupled with having a firm resolve to always do God’s Will, we should trust that we are pleasing to Him.
Of course, we must not grow proud because of our struggles, lest we think we are already saints, for this is yet another way the devil will try to get us to fall. But true peace yet again conquers these fears. The peaceful soul follows the way of peace by persevering in surrender to God, through Mary, and does not fret. Then, when understanding that the Lord has willed it to suffer trials to bring it closer to Him, the soul realizes that this is not because of its own worth (for it deserves Hell), but rather because of God’s inestimable love for it, and therefore because of His overflowing desire to show it mercy. This realization, in turn, humbles the soul because it realizes that it is a creature of an extravagantly loving Father.
The devil is “the accuser,” and will always try to lead us to sin (Rev 12:10). Pay no attention to him, but only to God and Mary. If we have committed sin, especially mortal sin, we must go to Confession. If we have done someone harm which it makes sense to repair physically, we should repair it. If we are facing a trial, we must persevere to the end. But in all things, we must maintain our inner peace. This does not mean that we can prefer even the least venial sin to death. We must love death before sin. But it does mean that we ought never to despair. Instead let us recite always in our hearts: “Jesus, I trust in You.”
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