It is very important in our spiritual life that we should be able to distinguish clearly between what God actually asks of us and what we ought to ask of God. For the want of clear discernment in these two things, we often fall into trying doubts and perplexities about our state. We complain of the designs of Providence and murmur against them unjustly. In the end, we commit many faults and expose ourselves to the danger of giving up everything.
Let us try, then, by the light of truth, to distinguish between these two things and to fix each one clearly in our minds, so that we may be able to make of them afterward the rule of our judgments and the guide of our conduct.
God asks us to be ever attentive to His grace
God asks from us only what it depends on ourselves to give. Now, only one single thing depends on us, and that is the good use of our liberty, according to the actual measure of grace that is enlightening our mind and exciting our will.
God, then, asks of us a constant attention to what is passing in our own hearts and to His voice, which speaks to us there. This constant attention is not so difficult as we might think, if we love God sincerely and are determined to please Him in all things.
He asks of us that we shall never give ourselves up to anything that can distract us from this attention. He also asks that when we notice that anything in particular has the power to distract us from this attention to the voice of grace, we shall at once give up that thing and put it away from us.
But we must not imagine that either the duties of our state of life, or domestic troubles, or the ordinary events of every day, or the courtesy we owe to society can of themselves injure this interior recollection; we can preserve it in the midst of all these things.
And, besides, after we have used a little violence toward ourselves for a time, this recollection becomes so natural that we scarcely perceive it, and seldom or ever lose it.
God asks us to be faithful to Him
God asks of us that when we have given ourselves to Him, we shall never take ourselves away from Him in anything; that we shall never act on our own responsibility, but always consult Him in everything, and also those guides whom He has given us to direct us, especially when we wish to do anything extraordinary. He asks that we shall remain submissive to His will in any state in which it pleases Him to place us; that we shall never do anything of ourselves to go out of this state, on the pretext that it is too painful for human nature and that we cannot bear it any longer. We must not ask Him to deliver us from a temptation, or a humiliation, or an interior trial, if He wills that we should be tempted, or humiliated, or tried for our greater purification; but we must ask of Him the courage and strength to bear it to the end.
God asks us to abandon ourselves to Him
What God asks of us, above all things, is the entire resignation and abandonment of ourselves to Him — a resignation of all without exception and forever. But as this abandonment has its degrees, and goes on increasing, until in the end we lose ourselves utterly in Him, we have simply to keep ourselves in a general disposition to sacrifice to Him each thing as He asks it of us and, when the occasion presents itself, to make the actual sacrifice.
There is, then, no necessity to anticipate anything or to imagine ourselves in circumstances where, perhaps, we shall never be or to exhaust our strength beforehand by wondering if we could bear such and such a trial. All this is useless and even dangerous — useless, because we never can foresee the future or form a just idea of any situation, whether interior or exterior, in which we may be placed; and dangerous, because by such thoughts we expose ourselves to presumption or to discouragement. Entire resignation of self leaves to God the care of the future, and occupies itself only with the present moment.
God does not ask of us either sensible devotion or those great lights and fine sentiments on which self-love feeds too much. These graces depend on Him alone; He gives them and takes them away when He pleases. There is, then, no necessity for being desolate and miserable if we have no sensible devotion at prayer or Holy Communion — if we are dry, heavy, or incapable of any pious feeling. Still less must we think that prayer and Communion made like this is worth nothing. Self-love might so judge, but God judges differently.
God does not ask that we keep our imagination captive in such a manner that we are absolutely masters of our thoughts. This does not depend on us; but it does depend on us never willfully to dwell on thoughts that disturb our peace, to despise them, not to allow them to trouble and torment us, and in this, as in all else, to be guided by the decisions of our spiritual director.
It does not depend on us, either, to be free from temptations against purity, against faith or hope. These are temptations that God may permit for our greater advancement. We may ask submissively, as St. Paul did, to be delivered from them; but if God answers us, as He answered St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee,” we must bear these temptations with humility and fight against them as well as we can, using the means prescribed by obedience.
In those events that depend on Providence or the will of others, God asks of us entire submission and that we should try to draw from them as much profit as possible, for His glory and our own sanctification, being persuaded, as St. Paul says, that “all things work together for good to them that love God.”
Ask God for what will lead to your salvation
As to what we must ask of God, it is quite certain that we are not fit judges as to what is best for us or what would harm us, and we cannot do better than to leave it entirely to God. Our best plan is, then, to keep in general to what the law teaches that we must necessarily ask for and to observe a holy indifference with regard to all those things which are not absolutely necessary to our perfection.
One thing we must ask is that we may know God and know ourselves; what He is and what we are; what He has done for us and what we have done against Him; what He deserves and what He has a right to require of us; the value of His grace and the importance of making good use of it.
We must ask for a perfect and entire trust in Him, a trust that will reach so far as to make us say with holy Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
We must ask that we may love and serve God, at the expense of any sacrifice of ourselves, without the slightest regard for our own interest, solely for His glory and the accomplishment of His good pleasure.
We must ask for the spirit of faith, which will raise us above all testimony, above all assurance, above all reason; that is to say, our faith will rest, not on human testimony, not on any mere feeling of assurance, not on mere reason, but simply and solely on the will of God, as revealed to His Church. And this simple faith will sustain us in the most obscure darkness, in the deprivation of all sensible support, and will keep us in profound peace, although we may feel as if suspended between Heaven and Hell.
We must ask for a spirit of blind obedience, which will make us die to our own judgment and our own will, which will make us act against what appears to be reason and our own natural aversions, which will allow us neither to reflect nor to reason, because it is certain that the ways of God are above all our thoughts and contrary to all our natural inclinations and that we shall never advance in the way of perfection until we cast ourselves blindly and without reserve into what may appear to us at first as an abyss, unfathomable and without resource.
This article is from a chapter in Fr. Grou’s book, The Spiritual Life: A Comprehensive Manual for Catholics Seeking Salvation. It is available as an ebook or paperback from your favorite bookstore and online through Sophia Institute Press.