Nothing troubles us so much as self-love and self-regard. Should our hearts not grow soft with the sentiment we desire when we pray and with the interior sweetness we expect when we meditate, we are sorrowful; should we find some difficulty in doing good deeds, should some obstacle oppose our plans, we are in a dither to overcome it, and we labor anxiously. Why is this? Doubtless because we love our consolations, ease, and comfort. We want to pray as though we were bathing in comfort and to be virtuous as though we were eating dessert, all the while failing to look upon our sweet Jesus, who, prostrate on the ground, sweat blood and water from the distress of the extreme interior combat he underwent (Mark 14:35; Luke 22:44).
Self-love is one of the sources of our anxiety; the other is our high regard for ourselves. Why are we troubled to find that we have committed a sin or even an imperfection?
Because we thought ourselves to be something good, firm, and solid. And therefore, when we have seen the proof to the contrary, and have fallen on our faces in the dirt, we are troubled, offended, and anxious. If we understood ourselves, we would be astonished that we are ever able to remain standing. This is the other source of our anxiety: we want only consolations, and we are surprised to encounter our own misery, nothingness, and folly.
There are three things we must do to be at peace: have a pure intention to desire the honor and glory of God in all things; do the little that we can unto that end, following the advice of our spiritual father; and leave all the rest to God’s care. Why should we torment ourselves if God is our aim and we have done all that we can? Why be anxious? What is there to fear? God is not so terrible to those who love him. He contents himself with little, for he knows how little we have. Our Lord is called the Prince of Peace in the Scriptures (Isaiah 9:6), and because he is the absolute master, he holds all things in peace. It is nevertheless true that before bringing peace to a place, he first brings war (cf. Matt. 10:34-36) by dividing the heart and soul from its most dear, familiar, and ordinary affections.
Now, when our Lord separates us from these passions, it seems that he burns our hearts alive, and we are embittered. The separation is so painful that it is barely possible for us to avoid fighting against it with all our soul. Peace is not lacking in the end when, although burdened by this distress, we keep our will resigned to our Lord, keep it nailed to God’s good pleasure, and fulfill our duties courageously. We may take for example our Lord’s agony in the garden, where, overwhelmed by interior and exterior bitterness, he nonetheless resigned himself peaceably to his Father’s divine will, saying, “not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42, Douay-Rheims). And he maintained this peace when admonishing three times the disciples who failed him (Matt. 26:40-45). At war with sin and suffering bitterly, he remained the Prince of Peace.
We can draw the following lessons from this consideration. The first is that we often mistakenly think that we have lost our peace when we are bitter. If we continue to deny ourselves and desire that everything should be done in accord with God’s good pleasure, and if we fulfill our duties in spite of our bitterness, then we preserve our peace.
The second is that it is when we are suffering interiorly that God rips off the last bits of skin of the old man in order to renew in us the “new man that is made according to God” (cf. Eph. 4:22-24). And so we should never be disturbed by such sufferings or think that we are disgraced in our Lord’s eyes.
The third is that all the thoughts that give us anxious and restless minds are not from God, who is the Prince of Peace; they are, therefore, temptations from the enemy, and we must reject them.
We must in all things remain at peace. Should interior or exterior pains afflict us, we must accept them peacefully. Should joys come our way, they must be received peacefully, without transport. If we must flee evil, we must do so calmly, without being disturbed; otherwise we may fall in our flight and give the enemy the chance to kill us. If there is good to be done, it must be done peacefully, or we will commit many faults through haste. Even penance must be done peacefully. “See,” says the penitent, “that my great bitterness is in peace” (cf. Isa. 38:17).
As to humility, this virtue sees to it that we are neither troubled by our imperfections, nor in the habit of recalling those of others, for why should we be more perfect than our brothers? Why should we find it strange that others have imperfections since we ourselves have so many? Humility gives us a soft heart for the perfect and the imperfect: for the former out of reverence and for the latter out of compassion. Humility makes us accept pains with meekness, knowing that we deserve them, and good things with gratitude, knowing that we do not. Every day we ought to make some act of humility, or speak heartfelt words of humility, words that lower us to the level of a servant, and words that serve others, however modestly, either in our homes or in the world.
Jesus in Our Heart
How happy you will be if while you are in the world you keep Jesus Christ in your heart! Remember the principal lesson he left to us, and in only a few short words, so that we would be able to remember it: “Learn of me, for I am meek, and humble of heart” (Matt. 11:29, Douay-Rheims). It is everything to have a heart that is meek toward our neighbor and humble toward God. At every moment give such a heart to our Savior, and let it be the heart of your heart. You will see that to the extent that this holy and considerate friend takes up a place in your mind, the world with its vanities and trifles will leave you.
Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from St. Francis de Sales’ Roses Among Thorns and is available from Sophia Institute Press.