Malankara World

The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales

By Jean Pierre Camus


ST. FRANCIS DE SALES UPON SELF-DISTRUST

Distrust of self and confidence in God are the two mystic wings of the dove; that is to say, of the soul which, having learnt to be simple, takes its flight and rests in God, the great and sovereign object of its love, of its flight, and of its repose.

The Spiritual Combat, which is an excellent epitome of the science of salvation and of heavenly teaching, makes these two things, distrust of self and confidence in God, to be, as it were, the introduction to true wisdom: they are, the author tells us, the two feet on which we walk towards it, the two arms with which we embrace it, and the two eyes with which we perceive it.

In proportion to the growth of one of these two in us is the increase of the other; the greater or the less the degree of our self-distrust, the greater or the less the degree of our confidence in God. But whence springs this salutary distrust of self? From the knowledge of our own misery and vileness, of our weakness and impotence, of our malice and levity. And whence proceeds confidence In God? From the knowledge which faith gives us of His infinite goodness, and from our assurance that He is rich in mercy to all those who call upon Him.

If distrust and confidence seem incompatible with one another, listen to what our Blessed Father says on the subject: "Not only can the soul which knows her misery have great confidence in God, but unless she has such knowledge, it is impossible for her to have true confidence in Him; for it is this very knowledge and confession of our misery which brings us to God. Thus, all the great Saints, Job, David, and the rest, began every prayer with the confession of their own misery, and unworthiness. It is a very good thing to acknowledge ourselves to be poor, vile, abject, and unworthy to appear in the presence of God. That saying so celebrated among the ancients: Know thyself, even though it may be understood as referring to the knowledge of the greatness and excellence of the soul, which ought not to be debased or profaned by things unworthy of its nobility, may also be taken as referring to the knowledge of our personal unworthiness, imperfection, and misery. Now the greater our knowledge of our own misery the more profound will be our confidence in the goodness and mercy of God; for between mercy and misery there is so close a connection that the one cannot be exercised without the other. If God had not created man, He would still, indeed, have been perfect in goodness; but He would not have been actually merciful, since mercy can only be exercised towards the miserable. You see, then, that the more miserable we know ourselves to be the more occasion we have to confide in God, since we have nothing in ourselves in which we can trust."

He goes on to say: "It is a very good thing to mistrust ourselves, but at the same time how will that avail us, unless we put our whole confidence in God, and wait for His mercy? It is right that our daily faults and infidelities should cause us self-reproach when we would appear before our Lord; and we read of great souls, like St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa, who, when they had been betrayed into some fault, were overwhelmed with confusion. Again, it is reasonable that, having offended God, we should out of humility and a feeling of confusion, hold ourselves a little in the background. When we have offended even an earthly friend, we feel ashamed to meet him. Nevertheless, it is quite certain that we must not remain for long at a distance, for the virtues of humility, abjection, and confusion are intermediate virtues, or steps by which the soul ascends to union with her God.

"It would be no great gain to accept our nothingness as a fact and to strip ourselves of self (which is done by acts of self-humiliation) if the result of this were not the total surrender of ourselves to God. St. Paul teaches us this, when he says: Strip yourselves of the old man and put on the new.[1] For we must not remain unclothed; but clothe ourselves with God."

Further on our Saint says: "I ever say that the throne of God's mercy is our misery, therefore the greater our misery the greater should be our confidence."[2]

As regards the foundation of our confidence in God, he says in the same conference: "You wish further to know what foundation our confidence ought to have. Know, then, that it must be grounded on the infinite goodness of God, and on the merits of the Death and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ with this condition on our part that we should preserve and recognise in ourselves an entire and firm resolution to belong wholly to God, and to abandon ourselves in all things and without any reserve to His Providence."

He adds that, in order to belong wholly to God, it is not necessary to feel this resolution, because feeling resides chiefly in the lower faculties of the soul; but we must recognise it in the higher part of the soul, that purer and more serene region where even in spite of our feelings we fail not to serve God in spirit and in truth.

[Footnote 1: Col. iii. 9.]
[Footnote 2: Conference ii.]

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