Abandonment to Divine ProvidenceNovember 18, 2016 - Spirituality & Theology
I recently read a book by a man named Father Jean Pierre de Caussade, and it has been one of the most incredible books I have ever read. It was a work that was quite challenging to get through, but the ideas shared by Father Caussade to me, were quite impactful. They are ideas by which I aim to live every day of my life, and I wish to share with you some of these ideas, in the hope that to you, they may be similarly impactful.
The name of this book was Abandonment to Divine Providence, or simply Abandonment. It speaks of the need for all the faithful to completely and totally abandon themselves to God’s Providence.
The edition that I read, which is freely available online since it is out of copyright, begins with an introduction by Rev. Ramière, a Jesuit priest. At the beginning of this introduction, in which Ramière attempts to defend the ideas laid down by Father Caussade, the Jesuit Father gives us two principles.
The first principle is that “nothing is done, nothing happens, either in the material or in the moral world, which God has not foreseen from all eternity, and which He has not willed, or at least permitted.” The implications of this first principle are tremendous, but quite obvious if we take a moment to think about it. God, the creator of all, in creating the universe, and each one us, foresaw everything that would occur and either willed it or simply permitted it. If God did not at least permit something to happen, it would never occur. Everything that has happened during the course of our entire lives has been permitted or willed by God since the dawn of time. And while this can be difficult to digest for we who believe in a God who is Himself Love, as Christians, we are compelled to believe it.
The second principle is similar: “God can will nothing, He can permit nothing, but in the view of the end He proposed to Himself in creating the world.” When God created the universe, He had a plan, a vision for how everything would happen. God cannot will or permit anything that does not align with His Divine plan. He can allow no shard of stone that does not fit into His Divine mosaic. Because of this, we can be reassured that everything that happens, great or small, is a small shard in the great Heavenly mosaic. If something happens, then we know, as Christians, that this thing occurs because it works towards building God’s kingdom.
From these two axiomatic principles, Ramière draws his grand conclusion, and provides us with a third principle: “God desires to be glorified through the happiness of this privileged creature [man]; and consequently in God’s designs the interest of man’s sanctification is inseparable from the interest of divine glory.” For man to be holy and truly happy is how God wishes to be glorified. It is the thing that He desires most, for his most beloved creation to be made holy and to be happy. The thing that God cares about most is our happiness, for we know, as Christians, that the only way to be happy is to be holy, and that is what glorifies God. To me, this is revolutionary, mind-blowing, extraordinary. What do we desire as humans? It’s simple: we desire to be happy. How about the creator of the universe? What does He want above all else: He desires that we be happy. We share the same fundamental desire as our creator, our supreme, triune God, who is all Goodness.
If we connect this final principle back to the first two, we see something even greater and more profound. Everything that happens in this life works towards God’s glory, and therefore, towards our happiness. God neither permits nor wills anything that does not have our happiness as its interest, as its final goal. Maybe not in human sight can we see everything working for our happiness, but in God’s sight, everything does truly works for our happiness. Let us remember, that even if we cannot see everything working for our happiness, we may be more easily convinced that these things work for our sanctification. God allows us to undergo tribulations and trials to bring us closer to Him. But if this is the case, we must remember that it is in God that we find the truest happiness, and it is through holiness that He is able to draw us to Himself. Thus we see that if something is working for our sanctification, it is also, by its very nature, working for our happiness.
Ramière’s conclusion is this: “If we do not lose sight of these principles…we shall understand that our confidence in the Providence of our Father in heaven cannot be too great, too absolute, too childlike. If nothing but what He permits happens, and if He can permit nothing but what is for our happiness, then we have nothing to fear, except not being sufficiently submissive to God. As long as we keep ourselves united with Him and we walk after His designs, were all creatures to turn against us they could not harm us. He who relies upon God becomes by this very reliance as powerful and as invincible as God, and created powers can no more prevail against us than against God Himself.”
The message here is clear: we must abandon ourselves to the will of God. But what does that mean? There are two categories of things that happen in our lives, to which we can apply Caussade’s ideas of Abandonment.
The first category of events encompasses those over which no human has control. This includes all things, concerning which God is in complete control. Neither we nor any other creature can do anything to influence these things.
About these, Ramière tells us that “There is nothing to do here but to passively and lovingly endure all that God sends us; to blindly accept in advance all that it may please Him to send us in the future. Resistance would be useless, and only serve to make us unhappy; a loving and frequently renewed acceptance, on the contrary, would make these inevitable sufferings very meritorious.” If something were to happen to us, something completely out of our control, such as an illness, or a death of someone we love, the only thing to do is to joyfully accept it. If we remember these principles laid out by Ramière and Caussade, we will be reminded that everything that happens works towards the happiness of the faithful, and of all people. Therefore, even terrible things are gifts from God to bring us closer to Him, and to greater happiness. “Nothing we experience does us harm. Everything that comes to us is God’s will, and therefore good for us. Everything we experience is a gift from Divine Providence.”
The second category concerns events and sufferings which are the result of the malice and sinfulness of others. When these things happen in our lives, we should never be angry with God. Instead, we should detest these things themselves, hating them not because they hurt us, but rather because they are sins against God. More importantly, we should look upon these evils not as just that, evils, but rather, as blessings from Divine Providence. We ought to try to discern what spiritual fruits we are meant to gather from these ills. Often, these are not hard to see. Maybe these evils are permitted to detach us from worldly things, or to diminish our pride.
In short, we must abide ever in the light of God’s laws, seeking to constantly follow His holy will, doing the best we can to walk blamelessly. Regarding whatever happens, whether it is good or evil, an attitude of Abandonment requires us to lovingly accept whatever comes our way, seeing everything as a blessing from the Most High.
Concerning the simple, childlike attitude of Abandonment, Caussade says: “I believe that if souls seriously aspiring to perfection understood this, and knew how direct is their path, they would be spared much difficulty.” If only people knew how beneficial to their sanctification were the ordinary, mundane tasks of their daily life, if only they knew that the crosses sent to them by Providence were gifts to bring them closer to perfection, if only they knew that “the true philosopher’s stone is submission to the order of God, which changes into pure gold all their occupations, all their weariness, all their sufferings—how happy they would be!”
In another place, he writes: “A life of self-abandonment is characterized by mystery; it is a life which receives from God extraordinary miraculous gifts through commonplace, fortuitous events, chance encounters, where nothing is visible to human eyes but the ordinary workings of men’s minds and the natural course of the elements.” Whereas we look upon the numerous ordinary happenings of life without so much as a second thought, holy souls abandoned to God recognize in them great value. “Therefore they carefully gather the crumbs of wisdom which the worldly-wise trample under foot. Everything is precious to them, everything enriches them; so that, while supremely indifferent to all things, they neglect or despise nothing, drawing profit from all.”
God does not expect us to know what’s best for ourselves. We live our lives in a world corrupted by evil, turned away from God. He asks us not to understand His will, but simply to follow it unwaveringly. This is what perfection consists of: learning the will of God and doing it. In no way should we ever think that God needs or even wants us to understand His Divine plan, except where it leads. In the Gospels, Christ is continually praising the children, and urging us to become like them, and that with a childlike faith, we can attain holiness and heaven itself. Caussade writes, “He knows at the same time that [you are] ignorant [as to] what is best for [you], therefore it is His care to provide for [you]. He cares not that [your] designs [your plans] are thwarted. [You would] go east: He leads [you] west. [You are] just upon the rocks: He turns the helm and brings [you] safely into port. Though knowing neither chart, nor route, nor winds, nor tides, [your] voyages are ever prosperous. If pirates cross [your] way an unexpected breeze bears [you] beyond their reach.” We need only abandon ourselves to His holy will. That is all He asks.
In scripture, we find examples which illustrate this principle of abandonment. In the Old Testament, we hear of Job, who even in the face of the most atrocious calamities and evils, refuses to curse the Name of the Lord. “It was thus Job blessed the name of God. The holy man blessed his terrible desolation which expressed the will of God; he called it not ruin, but a name of the Lord; and blessing it he declared that this divine will expressed by the most terrible afflictions was ever holy, whatever form, whatever name it bore.”
Likewise, we see in the New Testament, the wonderful example of Mary, our mother. “Mary sees the Apostles fly, but she remains constant at the foot of the cross; she recognizes her Son in that face spat upon and bruised. These disfiguring wounds only render Him more adorable and worthy of love in the eyes of this tender mother; and the blasphemies poured forth against Him only serve to increase her profound veneration. In like manner, a life of faith is but a continual pursuit of God through all which disguises and disfigures Him; through all which, so to speak, destroys and annihilates Him. It is truly a reproduction of the life of Mary, who from the manger to Calvary remained constant to a God whom the world despised, persecuted, and abandoned. So faithful souls, despite a continual succession of deaths, veils, shadows, semblances which disguise the will of God, perseveringly pursue it, and love it unto death on the cross. They know that, unheeding all disguises, they must follow this holy will; for, beyond the heaviest shadows, beyond the darkest clouds, the divine Sun is shining to enlighten, enflame, and vivify those constant hearts who bless, praise, and contemplate Him from all points of this mysterious horizon.”
“Then onward, my soul, through perils and fears, guided, directed, and sustained by the invisible, all-powerful, unerring Hand of divine Providence. Let us go on fearlessly in joy and peace to the end, turning obstacles into victories, remembering that it was to struggle and conquer that we enrolled ourselves under His banner.” For, “Were the powers of earth and hell ranged against one single soul, she would have naught to fear in abandoning herself to the will of God.”