My father's nephew, of whom I have made mention before, was returned from Cochin China, to take over some priests from Europe. I was exceedingly glad to see him, and remembered what good he had done me. The lady mentioned was no less rejoiced than I. They understood each other immediately and conversed in a spiritual language. The virtue of this excellent relation charmed me. I admired his continual prayer without being able to comprehend it. I endeavored to meditate, and to think on God without intermission, to utter prayers and ejaculations. I could not acquire, by all my toil, what God at length gave me Himself, and which is experienced only in simplicity. My cousin did all he could to attach me more strongly to God. He conceived great affection for me. The purity he observed in me from the corruptions of the age, the abhorrence of sin at a time of life when others are beginning to relish the pleasures of it, (I was not yet eighteen), gave him a great tenderness for me. I complained to him of my faults ingenuously. These I saw clearly. He cheered and exhorted me to support myself, and to persevere in my good endeavors. He would fain have introduced me into a more simple manner of prayer, but I was not yet ready for it. I believe his prayers were more effectual than his words.
No sooner was he gone out of my father's house, than thou, O Divine Love, manifested thy favor. The desire I had to please Thee, the tears I shed, the manifold pains I underwent, the labors I sustained, and the little fruit I reaped from them, moved Thee with compassion. This was the state of my soul when Thy goodness, surpassing all my vileness and infidelities, and abounding in proportion to my wretchedness, granted me in a moment, what all my own efforts could never procure. Beholding me rowing with laborious toil, the breath of Thy divine operations turned in my favor, and carried me full sail over this sea of affliction.
I had often spoken to my confessor about the great anxiety it gave me to find I could not meditate, nor exert my imagination in order to pray. Subjects of prayer which were too extensive were useless to me. Those which were short and pithy suited me better.
At length, God permitted a very religious person, of the order of St. Francis, to pass by my father's dwelling. He had intended going another way that was shorter, but a secret power changed his design. He saw there was something for him to do, and imagined that God had called him for the conversion of a man of some distinction in that country. His labors there proved fruitless. It was the conquest of my soul which was designed. As soon as he arrived he came to see my father who rejoiced at his coming. At this time I was about to be delivered of my second son, and my father was dangerously ill, expected to die. For some time they concealed his sickness from me. An indiscreet person abruptly told me. Instantly I arose, weak as I was, and went to see him. A dangerous illness came upon me. My father was recovered, but not entirely, enough to give me new marks of his affection. I told him of the strong desire I had to love God, and my great sorrow at not being able to do it fully. He thought he could not give me a more solid indication of his love than in procuring me an acquaintance with this worthy man. He told me what he knew of him, and urged me to go and see him.
At first I made a difficulty of doing it, being intent on observing the rules of the strictest prudence. However, my father's repeated requests had with me the weight of a positive command. I thought I could not do that amiss, which I only did in obedience to him. I took a kinswoman with me. At first he seemed a little confused; for he was reserved toward women. Being newly come out of a five years' solitude, he was surprised that I was the first to address him. He spoke not a word for some time. I knew not to what attribute his silence. I did not hesitate to speak to him, and to tell him a few words, my difficulties about prayer. Presently he replied, "It is, madame, because you seek without what you have within. Accustom yourself to seek God in your heart, and you will there find Him."
Having said these words, he left me. They were to me like the stroke of a dart, which penetrated through my heart. I felt a very deep wound, a wound so delightful that I desired not to be cured. These words brought into my heart what I had been seeking so many years. Rather they discovered to me what was there, and which I had not enjoyed for want of knowing it.
O my Lord, Thou wast in my heart, and demanded only a simple turning of my mind inward, to make me perceive Thy presence. Oh, Infinite Goodness! how was I running hither and thither to seek Thee, my life was a burden to me, although my happiness was within myself. I was poor in riches, and ready to perish with hunger, near a table plentifully spread, and a continual feast. O Beauty, ancient and new; why have I known Thee so late? Alas! I sought Thee where Thou wert not, and did not seek Thee where thou wert. It was for want of understanding these words of Thy Gospel, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation... The kingdom of God is within you." This I now experienced. Thou becamest my King, and my heart Thy kingdom, wherein Thou didst reign supreme, and performed all Thy sacred will.
I told this man, that I did not know what he had done to me, that my heart was quite changed, that God was there. He had given me an experience of His presence in my soul; not by thought or any application of mind, but as a thing really possessed after the sweetest manner. I experienced these words in the Canticles (Song of Solomon): "Thy name is as precious ointment poured forth; therefore do the virgins love thee." I felt in my soul an unction which, as a salutary balsam, healed in a moment all my wounds.
I slept not that whole night, because Thy love, O my God, flowed in me like a delicious oil, and burned as a fire which was going to devour all that was left of self. I was suddenly so altered that I was hardly to be known either by myself or others. I found no longer those troublesome faults or reluctances. They disappeared, being consumed like chaff in a great fire.
I now became desirous that the instrument hereof might become my director, preferable to any other. This good father could not readily resolve to charge himself with my conduct although he saw so surprising a change effected by the hand of God. Several reasons induced him to excuse himself. First, my person, then my youth, for I was only nineteen years. Lastly, a promise he had made to God, from a distrust of himself, never to take upon himself the direction of any of our sex, unless God, by some particular providence, should charge him therewith. However, upon my earnest and repeated request to him to become my director, he said he would pray to God and desired that I should do so. As he was at prayer, it was said to him, "Fear not that charge; she is my spouse." When I heard this, it affected me greatly. "What (said I to myself) a frightful monster of iniquity, who has done so much to offend my God, in abusing His favors, and requiting them with ingratitude, now to be declared his spouse!" After this he consented to my request.
Nothing was more easy to me than prayer. Hours passed away like moments, while I could hardly do anything else but pray. The fervency of my love allowed me no intermission. It was a prayer of rejoicing and possessing, devoid of all busy imaginations and forced reflections; it was a prayer of the will, and not of the head. The taste of God was so great, so pure, unblended and uninterrupted, that it drew and absorbed the power of my soul into a profound recollection without act or discourse. I had now no sight but of Jesus Christ alone. All else was excluded, in order to love with the greater extent, without any selfish motives or reasons for loving.
The will, absorbed the two others, the memory and understanding into itself, and concentrated them in LOVE;—not but that they still subsisted, but their operations were in a manner imperceptible and passive. They were no longer stopped or retarded by the multiplicity, but collected and united in one. So the rising of the sun does not extinguish the stars, but overpowers and absorbs them in the luster of his incomparable glory.
Such was the prayer that was given me at once, far above ecstacies, transports or visions. All these gifts are less pure, and more subject to illusion or deceits from the enemy.
Visions are in the inferior powers of the soul, and cannot produce true union. The soul must not dwell or rely upon them, or be retarded by them; they are but favors and gifts. The Giver alone must be our object, and aim.
It is of such that Paul speaks, "Satan transforms himself into an angel of light," II Cor. 11:18; which is generally the case with such as are fond of visions, and lay a stress on them; because they are apt to convey a vanity to the soul, or at least hinder it from humbly attending to God only.
Ecstacies arise from a sensible relish. They may be termed a kind of spiritual sensuality, wherein the soul letting itself go too far, by reason of the sweetness it finds in them, falls imperceptibly into decay. The crafty enemy presents such sort of interior elevations and raptures for baits to entrap the soul, to fill it with vanity and self-love, to fix its esteem and attention on the gifts of God, and to hinder it from following Jesus Christ in the way of renunciation and of death to all things.
And as to distinct interior words, they too are subject to illusion; the enemy can form and counterfeit them. Or if they come from a good angel (for God Himself never speaks thus) we may mistake and misapprehend them. They are spoken in a divine manner, but we construe them in a human and carnal manner.
But the immediate word of God has neither tone nor articulation. It is mute, silent, and unutterable. It is Jesus Christ Himself, the real and essential Word who in the center of the soul that is disposed for receiving Him, never one moment ceases from His living, fruitful, and divine operation.
Oh, thou Word made flesh, whose silence is inexpressible eloquence, Thou canst never be misapprehended or mistaken. Thou becomest the life of our life, and the soul of our soul. How infinitely is thy language elevated above all the utterances of human and finite articulation. Thy adorable power, all efficacious in the soul that has received it, communicates itself through them to others. As a divine seed it becomes fruitful to eternal life.
The revelations of things to come are also very dangerous. The Devil can counterfeit them, as he did formerly in the heathen temples, where he uttered oracles. Frequently they raise false ideas, vain hopes, and frivolous expectations. They take up the mind with future events, hinder it from dying to self, and prevent it following Jesus Christ in His poverty, abnegation, and death.
Widely different is the revelation of Jesus Christ, made to the soul when the eternal Word is communicated. (Gal. 1:16.) It makes us new creatures, created anew in Him. This revelation is what the Devil cannot counterfeit. From hence proceeds the only safe transport of ecstasy, which is operated by naked faith alone, and dying even to the gifts of God. As long as the soul continues resting in gifts, it does not fully renounce itself. Never passing into God the soul loses the real enjoyment of the Giver, by attachments to the gifts. This is truly an unutterable loss.
Lest I should let my mind go after these gifts, and steal myself from thy love, O my God, Thou wast pleased to fix me in a continual adherence to Thyself alone. Souls thus directed get the shortest way. They are to expect great sufferings, especially if they are mighty in faith, in mortification and deadness to all but God. A pure and disinterested love, and intenseness of mind for the advancement of thy interest alone. These are the dispositions Thou didst implant in me, and even a fervent desire of suffering for Thee. The cross, which I had hitherto borne only with resignation, was become my delight, and the special object of my rejoicing.
I wrote an account of my wonderful change, in point of happiness, to that good father who had been made the instrument of it. It filled him both with joy and astonishment.
O my God, what penances did the love of suffering induce me to undergo! I was impelled to deprive myself of the most innocent indulgences. All that could gratify my taste was denied and I took everything that could mortify and disgust it. My appetite, which had been extremely delicate, was so far conquered that I could scarcely prefer one thing to another.
I dressed loathsome sores and wounds, and gave remedies to the sick. When I first engaged in this sort of employment, it was with the greatest difficulty I was able to bear it. As soon as my aversion ceased, and I could stand the most offensive things, other channels of employment were opened to me. For I did nothing of myself, but left myself to be wholly governed by my Sovereign.
When that good father asked me how I loved God, I answered, "Far more than the most passionate lover his beloved; and that even this comparison was inadequate, since the love of the creature never can attain to this, either in strength or in depth." This love of God occupied my heart so constantly and so strongly, that I could think of nothing else. Indeed, I judged nothing else worthy of my thoughts.
The good father mentioned was an excellent preacher. He was desired to preach in the parish to which I belonged. When I came, I was so strongly absorbed in God, that I could neither open my eyes, nor hear anything he said.
I found that Thy Word, O my God, made its own impression on my heart, and there had its effect, without the mediation of words or any attention to them. And I have found it so ever since, but after a different manner, according to the different degrees and states I have passed through. So deeply was I settled in the inward spirit of prayer, that I could scarce any more pronounce the vocal prayers.
This immersion in God absorbed all things therein. Although I tenderly loved certain saints, as St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Teresa, yet I could not form to myself images of them, nor invoke any of them out of God.
A few weeks after I had received that interior wound of the heart, which had begun my change, the feast of the Blessed Virgin was held, in the convent in which was that good father my director. I went in the morning to get the indulgences and was much surprised when I came there and found that I could not attempt it; though I stayed above five hours in the church. I was penetrated with so lively a dart of pure love, that I could not resolve to abridge by indulgences, the pain due to my sins. "O my Love," I cried, "I am willing to suffer for Thee. I find no other pleasure but in suffering for Thee. Indulgences may be good for those who know not the value of sufferings, who choose not that thy divine justice should be satisfied; who, having mercenary souls, are not so much afraid of displeasing Thee, as of the pains annexed to sin." Yet, fearing I might be mistaken, and commit a fault in not getting the indulgences, for I had never heard of anyone being in such a way before, I returned again to try to get them, but in vain. Not knowing what to do, I resigned myself to our Lord. When I returned home, I wrote to the good father that he had made what I had written a part of his sermon, reciting it verbatim as I had written it.
I now quitted all company, bade farewell forever to all plays and diversions, dancing, unprofitable walks and parties of pleasure. For two years I had left off dressing my hair. It became me, and my husband approved it.
My only pleasure now was to steal some moments to be alone with Thee, O thou who art my only Love! All other pleasure was a pain to me. I lost not Thy presence, which was given me by a continual infusion, not as I had imagined, by the efforts of the head, or by force of thought in meditating on God, but in the will, where I tasted with unutterable sweetness the enjoyment of the beloved object. In a happy experience I knew that the soul was created to enjoy its God.
The union of the will subjects the soul to God, conforms it to all His pleasure, causes self-will gradually to die. Lastly in drawing with it the other powers, by means of the charity with which it is filled. It causes them gradually to be reunited in the Center, and lost there as to their own nature and operations.
This loss is called the annihilation of the powers. Although in themselves they still subsist, yet they seem annihilated to us, in proportion as charity fills and inflames; it becomes so strong, as by degrees to surmount all the activities of the will of man, subjecting it to that of God. When the soul is docile, and leaves itself to be purified, and emptied of all that which it has of its own, opposite to the will of God, it finds itself by little and little, detached from every emotion of its own, and placed in a holy indifference, wishing nothing but what God does and wills. This never can be effected by the activity of our own will, even though it were employed in continual acts or resignation. These though very virtuous, are so far one's own actions, and cause the will to subsist in a multiplicity, in a kind of separate distinction or dissimilitude from God.
When the will of the creature entirely submits to that of the Creator, suffering freely and voluntarily and yielding only a concurrence to the divine will (which is its absolute submission) suffering itself to be totally surmounted and destroyed, by the operations of love; this absorbs the will into self, consummates it in that of God, and purifies it from all narrowness, dissimilitude, and selfishness.
The case is the same with the other two powers. By means of charity, the two other theological virtues, faith and hope, are introduced. Faith so strongly seizes on the understanding, as to make it decline all reasonings, all particular illuminations and illustrations, however sublime. This sufficiently demonstrates how far visions, revelations and ecstasies, differ from this, and hinder the soul from being lost in God. Although by them it appears lost in Him for some transient moments, yet it is not a true loss, since the soul which is entirely lost in God no more finds itself again. Faith then makes the soul lose every distinct light, in order to place it in its own pure light.
The memory, too, finds all its little activities surmounted by degrees, and absorbed in hope. Finally the powers are all concentrated and lost in pure love. It engulfs them into itself by means of their sovereign, the WILL. The will is the sovereign of the powers and charity is the queen of the virtues, and unites them all in herself.
This reunion thus made, is called the central union or unity. By means of the will and love, all are reunited in the center of the soul in God who is our ultimate end. According to St. John, "He who dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, for God is love."
This union of my will to Thine, O my God, and this ineffable presence was so sweet and powerful, that I was compelled to yield to its delightful power, power which was strict and severe to my minutest faults.
My senses (as I have described) were continually mortified, and under perpetual restraint. To conquer them totally, it is necessary to deny them the smallest relaxation, until the victory is completed. We see those who content themselves practicing great outward austerities, yet by indulging their senses in what is called innocent and necessary, they remain forever unsubdued. Austerities, however severe, will not conquer the senses. To destroy their power, the most effectual means is, in general, to deny them firmly what will please, and to persevere in this, until they are reduced to be without desire or repugnance. If we attempt, during the warfare, to grant them any relaxation, we act like those, who, under pretext of strengthening a man, who was condemned to be starved to death, should give him from time to time a little nourishment. It indeed would prolong his torments, and postpone his death.
It is just the same with the death of the senses, the powers, the understanding, and self-will. If we do not eradicate every remains of self subsisting in these, we support them in a dying life to the end. This state and its termination are clearly set forth by Paul. He speaks of bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. (II Cor. 4:10.). But, lest we should rest here, he fully distinguishes this from the state of being dead and having our life hid with Christ in God. It is only by a total death to self we can be lost in God.
He who is thus dead has no further need of mortification. The very end of mortification is accomplished in him, and all is become new. It is an unhappy error in those good souls, who have arrived at a conquest of the bodily senses, through this unremitted and continual mortification, that they should still continue attached to the exercise of it. They should rather drop their attention thereto, and remain in indifference, accepting with equality the good as the bad, the sweet as the bitter, and bend their whole attention to a labor of greater importance; namely, the mortification of the mind and self-will. They should begin by dropping all the activity of self, which can never be done without the most profound prayer; no more than the death of the senses can be perfected without profound recollection joined to mortification. Indeed, recollection is the chief means whereby we attain to a conquest of the senses. It detaches and separates us from them, and sweetly saps the very cause from whence they derive their influence over us.
The more Thou didst augment my love, and my patience, O my Lord, the less respite had I from the most oppressive crosses; but love rendered them easy to bear.
O ye poor souls, who exhaust yourselves with needless vexation, if you would but seek God in your hearts, there would be a speedy end to all your troubles. The increase of crosses would proportionately increase your delight.
Love, at the beginning, athirst for mortification impelled me to seek and invent various kinds. It is surprising, that as soon as the bitterness of any new mode of mortification was exhausted, another kind was pointed to me, and I was inwardly led to pursue it. Divine love so enlightened my heart, and so scrutinized into its secret springs, that the smallest defects became exposed. If I was about to speak, something wrong was instantly pointed to me, and I was compelled to silence. If I kept silence, faults were presently discovered—in every action there was something defective—in my mortifications, my penances, my alms-giving, my retirement, I was faulty. When I walked, I observed there was something wrong; if I spoke any way in my own favor, I saw pride. If I said within myself, alas, I will speak no more, here was self. If I was cheerful and open, I was condemned. Pure love always found matter for reproof in me, and was jealous that nothing should escape unnoticed. It was not that I was particularly attentive over myself, for it was even with constraint that I could look at all at myself. My attention toward God, by an attachment of my will to His, was without intermission. I waited continually upon Him, and He watched incessantly over me, and He so led me by His providence, that I forgot all things. I knew not how to communicate what I felt to anyone. I was so lost to myself, that I could scarcely go about self-examination. When I attempted it all ideas of myself immediately disappeared. I found myself occupied with my ONE OBJECT, without distinction of ideas. I was absorbed in peace inexpressible; I saw by the eye of faith that it was God that thus wholly possessed me; but I did not reason at all about it. It must not, however, be supposed that divine love suffered my faults to go unpunished.
O Lord! with what rigor, dost Thou punish the most faithful, the most loving and beloved of Thy children. I mean not externally, for this would be inadequate to the smallest fault, in a soul that God is about to purify radically. The punishments it can inflict on itself, are rather gratifications and refreshments than otherwise. Indeed, the manner in which He corrects His chosen, must be felt, or it is impossible to conceive how dreadful it is. In my attempt to explain it, I shall be unintelligible, except to experienced souls. It is an internal burning, a secret fire sent from God to purge away the fault, giving extreme pain, until this purification is complete. It is like a dislocated joint, which is in incessant torment, until the bone is replaced. This pain is so severe, that the soul would do anything to satisfy God for the fault, and would rather be torn in pieces than endure the torment. Sometimes the soul flies to others, and opens her state that she may find consolation. Thereby she frustrates God's designs toward her. It is of the utmost consequence to know what use to make of the distress. The whole of one's spiritual advancement depends on it. We should at these seasons of internal anguish, obscurity and mourning, co-operate with God, endure this consuming torture in its utmost extent (while it continues) without attempting to lessen or increase it. Bear it passively, nor seek to satisfy God by anything we can do of ourselves. To continue passive at such a time is extremely difficult, and requires great firmness and courage. I knew some who never advanced farther in the spiritual process because they grew impatient, and sought means of consolation.
The treatment of my husband and mother-in-law, however rigorous and insulting, I now bore silently. I made no replies and this was not so difficult for me, because the greatness of my interior occupation, and what passed within, rendered me insensible to all the rest. There were times when I was left to myself. Then I could not refrain from tears. I did the lowest offices for them to humble myself. All this did not win their favor. When they were in a rage, although I could not find that I had given them any occasion, yet I did not fail to beg their pardon, even from the girl of whom I have spoken. I had a good deal of pain to surmount myself, as to the last. She became the more insolent for it; reproaching me with things which ought to have made her blush and have covered her with shame. As she saw that I contradicted and resisted her no more in anything, she proceeded to treat me worse. And when I asked her pardon she triumphed, saying, "I knew very well I was in the right." Her arrogance rose to the height that I would not have treated the meanest slave.
One day, as she was dressing me, she pulled me roughly, and spoke to me insolently. I said, "It is not my account that I am willing to answer you, for you give me no pain, but lest you should act thus before persons to whom it would give offence. Moreover, as I am your mistress, God is assuredly offended with you." She left me that moment, and ran like a mad woman to meet my husband telling him she would stay no longer, I treated her so ill, that I hated her for the care she took of him in his continual indispositions, wanting her not to do any service for him. My husband was very hasty, so he took fire at these words. I finished dressing alone. Since she had left me I dared not call another girl; she would not suffer another girl to come near me. I saw my husband coming like a lion, he was never in such a rage as this. I thought he was going to strike me; I awaited the blow with tranquillity; he threatened with his up-lifted crutch; I thought he was going to knock me down. Holding myself closely united to God, I beheld it without pain. He did not strike me for he had presence of mind enough to see what indignity it would be. In his rage he threw it at me. It fell near me, but it did not touch me. He then discharged himself in language as if I had been a street beggar, or the most infamous of creatures. I kept profound silence, being recollected in the Lord.
The girl in the meantime came in. At the sight of her his rage redoubled. I kept near to God, as a victim disposed to suffer whatever He would permit. My husband ordered me to beg her pardon, which I readily did, and thereby appeased him. I went into my closet, where I no sooner was, than my divine Director impelled me to make this girl a present, to recompense her for the cross which she had caused me. She was a little astonished, but her heart was too hard to be gained.
I often acted thus because she frequently gave me opportunities. She had a singular dexterity in attending the sick. My husband, ailing almost continually, would suffer no other person to administer to him. He had a very great regard for her. She was artful; in his presence she affected an extraordinary respect for me. When he was not present, if I said a word to her, though with the greatest mildness and if she heard him coming, she cried out with all her might that she was unhappy. She acted like one distressed so that, without informing himself of the truth, he was irritated against me, as was also my mother-in-law.
The violence I did to my proud and hasty nature was so great, that I could hold out no longer. I was quite spent with it. It seemed sometimes as if I was inwardly rent, and I have often fallen sick with the struggle. She did not forbear exclaiming against me, even before persons of distinction, who came to see me. If I was silent, she took offence at that yet more, and said that I despised her. She cried me down, and made complaints to everybody. All this redounded to my honor and her own disgrace. My reputation was so well established, on account of my exterior modesty, my devotion, and the great acts of charity which I did, that nothing could shake it.
Sometimes she ran out into the street, crying out against me. At one time she exclaimed, "Am not I very unhappy to have such a mistress?" People gathered about her to know what I had done to her; and not knowing what to say, she answered that I had not spoken to her all the day. They returned, laughing, and said, "She has done you no great harm then."
I am surprised at the blindness of confessors, and at their permitting their penitents to conceal so much of the truth from them. The confessor of this girl made her pass for a saint. This he said in my hearing. I answered nothing; for love would not permit me to speak of my troubles. I should consecrate them all to God by a profound silence.
My husband was out of humor with my devotion. "What," said he, "you love God so much, that you love me no longer." So little did he comprehend that the true conjugal love is that which the Lord Himself forms in the heart that loves Him.
Oh, Thou who art pure and holy, Thou didst imprint in me from the first such a love of chastity, that there was nothing in the world which I would not have undergone to possess and preserve it.
I endeavored to be agreeable to my husband in anything, and to please him in everything he could require of me. God gave me such a purity of soul at that time, that I had not so much as a bad thought. Sometimes my husband said to me, "One sees plainly that you never lose the presence of God."
The world, seeing I quit it, persecuted and turned me into ridicule. I was its entertainment, and the subject of its fables. It could not bear that a woman, scarce twenty years of age, should thus make war against it, and overcome. My mother-in-law took part with the world, and blamed me for not doing many things that in her heart she would have been highly offended had I done them. I was as one lost, and alone; so little communion had I with the creature, farther than necessity required. I seemed to experience literally those words of Paul, "I live yet, no more I, but Christ liveth in me." His operations were so powerful, so sweet, and so secret, all together, that I could not express them. We went into the country on some business. Oh! what unutterable communications did I there experience in retirement!
I was insatiable for prayer. I arose at four o'clock in the morning to pray. I went very far to the church, which was so situated, that the coach could not come to it. There was a steep hill to go down and another to ascend. All that cost me nothing; I had such a longing desire to meet with my God, as my only good, who on His part was graciously forward to give Himself to His poor creature, and for it to do even visible miracles. Such as saw me lead a life so very different from the women of the world said I was a fool. They attributed it to stupidity. Sometimes they said, "What can all this mean? Some people think this lady has parts, but nothing of them appears." If I went into company, often I could not speak; so much was I engaged within, so inward with the Lord, as not to attend to anything else. If any near me spoke, I heard nothing. I generally took one with me, that this might not appear. I took some work, to hide under that appearance the real employ of my heart. When I was alone, the work dropped out of my hand. I wanted to persuade a relation of my husband's to practice prayer. She thought me a fool, for depriving myself of all the amusements of the age. But the Lord opened her eyes, to make her despise them. I could have wished to teach all the world to love God; and thought it depended only on them to feel what I felt. The Lord made use of my thinking to gain many souls to Himself.
The good father I have spoken of, who was the instrument of my conversion, made me acquainted with Genevieve Granger, prioress of the Benedictines, one of the greatest servants of God of her time. She proved of very great service to me. My confessor, who had told everyone that I was a saint before, when so full of miseries, and so far from the condition to which the Lord in His mercy had now brought me, seeing I placed a confidence in the father of whom I have spoken, and that I steered in a road which was unknown to him, declared openly against me. The monks of his order persecuted me much. They even preached publicly against me, as a person under a delusion.
My husband and mother-in-law, who till now had been indifferent about this confessor, then joined him and ordered me to leave off prayer, and the exercise of piety; that I could not do. There was carried on a conversation within me, very different from that which passed without. I did what I could to hinder it from appearing, but could not. The presence of so great a Master manifested itself, even on my countenance. That pained my husband, he sometimes told me. I did what I could to hinder it from being noticed, but was not able completely to hide it. I was so much inwardly occupied that I knew not what I ate. I made as if I ate some kinds of meat, though I did not take any. This deep inward attention suffered me scarcely to hear or see anything. I still continued to use many severe mortifications and austerities. They did not in the least diminish the freshness of my countenance.
I had often grievous fits of sickness and no consolation in life, except in the practice of prayer, and in seeing Mother Granger. How dear did these cost me, especially the former! Is this esteeming the cross as I ought?—should I not rather say that prayer to me was recompensed with the cross, and the cross with prayer. Inseparable gifts united in my heart and life! When your eternal light arose in my soul, how perfectly it reconciled me and made you the object of my love! From the moment I received Thee I have never been free from the cross, nor it seems without prayer—though for a long time I thought myself deprived thereof, which exceedingly augmented my afflictions.
My confessor at first exerted his efforts to hinder me from practicing prayer, and from seeing Mother Granger. He violently stirred up my husband and mother-in-law to hinder me from praying. The method they took was to watch me from morning until night. I dared not go out from my mother-in-law's room, or from my husband's bedside. Sometimes I carried my work to the window, under a pretense of seeing better, in order to relieve myself with some moment's repose. They came to watch me very closely, to see if I did not pray instead of working. When my husband and mother-in-law played cards, if I did turn toward the fire, they watched to see if I continued my work or shut my eyes. If they observed I closed them, they would be in a fury against me for several hours. What is most strange, when my husband went out, having some days of health, he would not allow me to pray in his absence. He marked my work, and sometimes, after he was just gone out, returning immediately, if he found me in prayer he would be in a rage. In vain I said, "Surely, sir, what matters it what I do when you are absent, if I be assiduous in attending you when you are present?" That would not satisfy him; he insisted that I should no more pray in his absence than in his presence.
I believe there is hardly a torment equal to that of being ardently drawn to retirement, and not having it in one's power to be retired.
O my God, the war they raised to hinder me from loving Thee did but augment my love. While they were striving to prevent my addresses to Thee, thou drewest me into an inexpressible silence. The more they labored to separate me from Thee, the more closely didst Thou unite me to Thyself. The flame of Thy love was kindled, and kept up by everything that was done to extinguish it.
Often through compliance I played at piquet with my husband. At such times I was even more interiorly attracted than if I had been at church. I was scarce able to contain the fire which burned in my soul, which had all the fervor of what men call love, but nothing of its impetuosity. The more ardent, the more peaceable it was. This fire gained strength from everything that was done to suppress it. And the spirit of prayer was nourished and increased from their contrivances and endeavors to disallow me any time for practicing it. I loved without considering a motive or reason for loving. Nothing passed in my head, but much in the innermost recesses of my soul. I thought not about any recompense, gift, or favor, which He could bestow or I receive. The Well-beloved was Himself the only object which attracted my heart. I could not contemplate His attributes. I knew nothing else, but to love and to suffer. Ignorance more truly learned than any science of the doctors, since it taught me so well Jesus Christ crucified and brought me to be in love with His holy cross. I could then have wished to die, in order to be inseparably united to Him who so powerfully attracted my heart. As all this passed in the will, the imagination and the understanding being absorbed in it, I knew not what to say, having never read or heard of such a state as I experienced. I dreaded delusion and feared that all was not right, for before this I had known nothing of the operations of God in souls. I had only read St. Francis de Sales, Thomas a'Kempis, The Spiritual Combat, and the Holy Scriptures. I was quite a stranger to those spiritual books wherein such states are described.
Then all those amusements and pleasures that are prized and esteemed appeared to me dull and insipid. I wondered how it could be that I had ever enjoyed them. And indeed since that time, I could never find any satisfaction or enjoyment out of God. I have sometimes been unfaithful enough to find it. I was not astonished that martyrs gave their lives for Jesus Christ. I thought them happy, and sighed after their privilege of suffering for Him, I so esteemed the cross that my greatest trouble was the want of suffering as much as my heart thirsted for.
This respect and esteem for the cross continually increased. Afterward I lost the sensible relish and enjoyment, yet the love and esteem no more left me than the cross itself. Indeed, it has ever been my faithful companion, changing and augmenting, in proportion to the changes and dispositions of my inward state. O blessed cross, thou hast never quitted me, since I surrendered myself to my divine, crucified Master. I still hope that thou wilt never abandon me. So eager was I for the cross, that I endeavored to make myself feel the utmost rigor of every mortification. This only served to awaken my desire for suffering, and to show me that it is God alone that can prepare and send crosses suitable to a soul that thirsts for a following of His sufferings, and a conformity to His death. The more my state of prayer augmented, my desire of suffering grew stronger, as the full weight of heavy crosses from every side came thundering upon me.
The peculiar property of this prayer of the heart is to give a strong faith. Mine was without limits, as was also my resignation to God, and my confidence in Him—my love of His will, and of the order of His providence over me. I was very timorous before, but now feared nothing. It is in such a case that one feels the efficacy of these words, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30).
I had a secret desire given me from that time to be wholly devoted to the disposal of my God, let that be what it would. I said, "What couldst Thou demand of me, that I would not willingly offer Thee? Oh, spare me not." The cross and humiliations were represented to my mind in the most frightful colors, but this deterred me not. I yielded myself up as willing and indeed our Lord seemed to accept of my sacrifice, for His divine providence furnished me incessantly with occasions and opportunities for putting it to the test.
I had difficulty to say vocal prayers I had been used to repeat. As soon as I opened my lips to pronounce them, the love of God seized me strongly. I was swallowed up in a profound silence and an inexpressible peace. I made fresh attempts but still in vain. I began again and again, but could not go on. I had never before heard of such a state, I knew not what to do. My inability increased because my love to the Lord was growing more strong, more violent and more overpowering. There was made in me, without the sound of words, a continual prayer. It seemed to me to be the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself; a prayer of the Word, which is made by the Spirit. According to St. Paul it "asketh for us that which is good, perfect, and conformable to the will of God" (Rom. 8:26-27).
My domestic crosses continued. I was prevented from seeing or even writing to Mrs. Granger. My very going to divine service or the sacrament, were a source of woeful offences. The only amusement I had left me, was the visiting and attending the sick poor, and performing the lowest offices for them.
My prayer-time began to be exceedingly distressing. I compelled myself to continue at it, though deprived of all comfort and consolation. When I was not employed therein, I felt an ardent desire and longing for it. I suffered inexpressible anguish in my mind, and endeavored with the severest inflictions of corporeal austerities to mitigate and divert it—but in vain. I found no more that enlivening vigor which had hitherto carried me on with great swiftness. I seemed to myself to be like those young brides, who find a great deal of difficulty to lay aside their self-love, and to follow their husbands to the war. I relapsed into a vain complacency and fondness for myself. My propensity to pride and vanity, which seemed quite dead, while I was so filled with love of God, now showed itself again, and gave me severe exercise. This made me lament the exterior beauty of my person, and pray to God incessantly, that he would remove from me that obstacle, and make me ugly. I could even have wished to be deaf, blind and dumb, that nothing might divert me from my love of God.
I set out on a journey, which we had then to make, and I appeared more than ever like those lamps which emit a glimmering flash, when they are just on the point of extinguishing. Alas! how many snares were laid in my way! I met them at every step. I even committed infidelities through unwatchfulness.
O my Lord, with what rigor didst Thou punish them! A useless glance was checked as a sin. How many tears did those inadvertent faults cost me, through a weak compliance, and even against my will! Thou knowest that Thy rigor, exercised after my slips, was not the motive of those tears which I shed. With what pleasure would I have suffered the most rigorous severity to have been cured of my infidelity. To what severe chastisement did I not condemn myself! Sometimes Thou didst treat me like a father who pities the child, and caresses it after its involuntary faults. How often didst Thou make me sensible of Thy love toward me, notwithstanding my blemishes! It was the sweetness of this love after my falls which caused my greatest pain; for the more the amiableness of Thy love was extended to me, the more inconsolable I was for having departed ever so little from Thee. When I had let some inadvertence escape me, I found Thee ready to receive me. I have often cried out, "O my Lord! is it possible thou canst be so gracious to such an offender, and so indulgent to my faults; so propitious to one who has wandered astray from Thee, by vain complaisances, and an unworthy fondness for frivolous objects? Yet no sooner do I return, than I find Thee waiting, with open arms ready to receive me."
O sinner, sinner! hast thou any reason to complain of God? If there yet remains in thee any justice, confess the truth, and admit that it is owing to thyself if thou goest wrong; that in departing from Him thou disobeyest His call. When thou returnest, He is ready to receive thee; and if thou returnest not, He makes use of the most engaging motives to win thee. Yet thou turnest a deaf ear to His voice; thou wilt not hear Him. Thou sayest He speaks not to thee, though He calls loudly. It is therefore only because thou daily rebellest, and art growing daily more and more deaf to the voice.
When I was in Paris, and the clergy saw me so young, they appeared astonished. Those to whom I opened my state told me, that I could never enough thank God for the graces conferred on me; that if I knew them I should be amazed at them; and that if I were not faithful, I should be the most ungrateful of all creatures. Some declared that they never knew any woman whom God held so closely, and in so great a purity of conscience.
I believe what rendered it so was the continual care Thou hadst over me, O my God, making me feel Thy presence, even as Thou hast promised it to us in Thy Gospel,—"if a man love me, my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). The continual experience of Thy presence in me was what preserved me. I became deeply assured of what the prophet had said, "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain" (Ps. 127:1). Thou, O my Love, wert my faithful keeper, who didst defend my heart against all sorts of enemies, preventing the least faults, or correcting them when vivacity had occasioned their being committed. But alas! when Thou didst cease to watch for me, or left me to myself, how weak was I, and how easily did my enemies prevail over me! Let others ascribe their victory to their own fidelity. As for me, I shall never attribute them to anything else than thy paternal care. I have too often experienced, to my cost, what I should be without Thee, to presume in the least on any cares of my own. It is to Thee, and to Thee only, that I owe everything. O my Deliverer; and my being indebted to Thee for it gives me infinite joy.
While in Paris, I relaxed and did many things which I should not. I knew the extreme fondness which some had for me, and suffered them to express it without checking it as I ought. I fell into other faults too, as having my neck a little too bare, though not near so much as others had. I plainly saw I was too remiss; and that was my torment. I sought all about for Him who had secretly inflamed my heart. But, alas! hardly anybody knew Him. I cried, "Oh, Thou best beloved of my soul, hadst Thou been near me these disasters had not befallen me." When I say that I spoke thus to Him, it is but to explain myself. In reality, it all passed almost in silence, for I could not speak. My heart had a language which was carried on without the sound of words, understood of Him, as He understands the language of the Word, which speaks incessantly in the innermost recesses of the soul. Oh, sacred language! Experience only gives the comprehension of it! Let not any think it a barren language, and effect of the mere imagination. Far different—it is the silent expression of the Word in the soul. As He never ceases to speak, so He never ceases to operate. If people once came to know the operations of the Lord, in souls wholly resigned to His guiding, it would fill them with reverential admiration and awe.
I saw that the purity of my state was like to be sullied by too great a commerce with the creatures, so I made haste to finish what detained me in Paris, in order to return to the country. "Tis true, O my Lord, I felt that Thou hadst given me strength enough to avoid the occasions of evil—but when I had so far yielded as to get into them, I found I could not resist the vain complaisances, and a number of other foibles which they ensnared me into." The pain which I felt after my faults was inexpressible. It was not an anguish that arose from any distinct idea or conception, from any particular motive or affection—but a kind of devouring fire which ceased not, till the fault was consumed and the soul purified. It was a banishment of my soul from the presence of its Beloved. I could have no access to Him, neither could I have any rest out of Him. I knew not what to do. I was like the dove out of the ark, which finding no rest for the soul of her foot, was constrained to return to the ark; but, finding the window shut, could only fly about. In the meantime, through an infidelity which will ever render me culpable, I strove to find some satisfaction without, but could not. This served to convince me of my folly and of the vanity of those pleasures which are called innocent. When I was prevailed on to taste them, I felt a strong repulse which, joined with my remorse for the transgression, changed the diversion into torment. "Oh, my Father," said I, "this is not Thee; and nothing else, beside Thee, can give solid pleasure."
One day, as much through unfaithfulness as complaisance, I went to take a walk at some of the public parks, rather from excess of vanity to show myself than to take the pleasure of the place. Oh, my Lord! how didst Thou make me sensible of this fault? But far from punishing me in letting me partake of the amusement, Thou didst it in holding me so close to Thyself, that I could give no attention to anything but my fault and Thy displeasure. After this I was invited with some other ladies to an entertainment at St. Cloud. Through vanity and weak compliance, I yielded and went. The affair was magnificent; they, though wise in the eye of the world, could relish it. I was filled with bitterness. I could eat nothing, I could enjoy nothing. Oh, what tears! For beyond three months my Beloved withdrew His favoring presence, and I could see nothing but an angry God.
I was on this occasion, and in another journey which I took with my husband into Touraine, like those animals destined for slaughter. On certain days people adorn them with greens and flowers, and bring in pomp into the city before they kill them. This weak beauty, on the eve of decline, shone forth with new brightness, in order to become the sooner extinct. I was shortly after afflicted with the smallpox.
One day as I walked to church, followed by a footman I was met by a poor man. I went to give him alms; he thanked me but refused them and then spoke to me in a wonderful manner of God and of divine things. He displayed to me my whole heart, my love to God, my charity, my too great fondness for my beauty and all my faults; he told me it was not enough to avoid Hell, but that the Lord required of me the utmost purity and height of perfection. My heart assented to his reproofs. I heard him with silence and respect, his words penetrated my very soul. When I arrived at the church I fainted away. I have never seen the man since.
My husband enjoying some intermission of his almost continual ailments, had a mind to go to Orleans, and then into Touraine. In this journey my vanity made its last blaze. I received abundance of visits and applauses. But how clearly did I see the folly of men who are so taken with vain beauty! I disliked the disposition, yet not that which caused it, though I sometimes ardently desired to be delivered from it. The continual combat of nature and grace cost me no small affliction. Nature was pleased with public applause; grace made me dread it. What augmented the temptation was that they esteemed in me virtue, joined with youth and beauty. They did not know that all the virtue is only in God, and His protection, and all the weakness in myself.
I went in search of confessors, to accuse myself of my failing, and to bewail my backslidings. They were utterly insensible of my pain. They esteemed what God condemned. They treated as a virtue what to me appeared detestable in His sight. Far from measuring my faults by His graces, they only considered what I was, in comparison of what I might have been. Hence, instead of blaming me, they only flattered my pride. They justified me in what incurred His rebuke, or only treated as a slight fault what in me was highly displeasing to Him, from whom I had received such signal mercies.
The heinousness of sins is not to be measured singly by their nature, but also by the state of the person who commits them. The least unfaithfulness in a spouse is more injurious to her husband, than far greater ones in his domestics. I told them all the trouble I had been under for not having entirely covered my neck. It was covered much more than was covered by other women of my age. They assured me that I was very modestly dressed. As my husband liked my dress there could be nothing amiss in it. My inward Director taught me quite the contrary. I had not courage enough to follow Him, and to dress myself differently from others, at my age. My vanity furnished me with pretences seemingly just for following fashions. If pastors knew what hurt they do in humoring female vanity, they would be more severe against it! Had I found but one person honest enough to deal plainly with me, I should not have gone on. But my vanity, siding with the declared opinion of all others, induced me to think them right, and my own scruples mere fancy.
We met with accidents in this journey, sufficient to have terrified anyone. Though corrupt nature prevailed so far as I have just mentioned, yet my resignation to God was so strong, that I passed fearless, even where there was apparently no possibility of escape. At one time we got into a narrow pass, and did not perceive, until we were too far advanced to draw back, that the road was undermined by the river Loire, which ran beneath, and the banks had fallen in; so that in some places the footmen were obliged to support one side of the carriage. All those around me were terrified to the highest degree, yet God kept me perfectly tranquil. I secretly rejoiced at the prospect of losing my life by a singular stroke of His providence.
On my return, I went to see Mrs. Granger, to whom I related how it had been with me while abroad. She strengthened and encouraged me to pursue my first design. She advised me to cover my neck, which I have done ever since notwithstanding the singularity of it.
The Lord, who had so long deferred the chastisement merited by such a series of infidelities, now began to punish me for the abuse of his grace. Sometimes I wished to retire to a convent, and thought it lawful. I found wherein I was weak, and that my faults were always of the same nature. I wished to hide myself in some cave, or to be confined in a dreary prison, rather than enjoy a liberty by which I suffered so much. Divine love gently drew me inward, and vanity dragged me outward. My heart was rent asunder by the contest, as I neither gave myself wholly up to the one nor the other.
I besought my God to deprive me of power to displease Him, and cried, "Art thou not strong enough wholly to eradicate this unjust duplicity out of my heart?" For my vanity broke forth when occasions offered; yet I quickly returned to God. He, instead of repulsing or upbraiding me, often received me with open arms, and gave me fresh testimonials of His love. They filled me with the most painful reflections on my offense. Though this wretched vanity was still so prevalent, yet my love to God was such, that after my wanderings, I would rather have chosen His rod than His caresses. His interests were more dear to me than my own, and I wished He would have done Himself justice upon me. My heart was full of grief and of love. I was stung to the quick for offending Him, who showered His grace so profusely upon me. That those who know not God should offend Him by sin is not to be wondered at, but that a heart which loved Him more than itself, and so fully experienced His love, should be seduced by propensities which it detests, is a cruel martyrdom.
When I felt most strongly Thy presence, and Thy love, O Lord, said I, how wonderfully Thou bestowest Thy favors on such a wretched creature, who requites Thee only with ingratitude. For if anyone reads this life with attention, he will see on God's part, nothing but goodness, mercy, and love; on my part, nothing but weakness, sin and infidelity. I have nothing to glory in but my infirmities and my unworthiness, since, in that everlasting marriage-union thou hast made with me, I brought with me nothing but weakness, sin and misery. How I rejoice to owe all to Thee, and that Thou favorest my heart with a sight of the treasures and boundless riches of Thy grace and love! Thou hast dealt by me, as if a magnificent king should marry a poor slave, forget her slavery, give her all the ornaments which may render her pleasing in his eyes, and freely pardon her all the faults and ill qualities which her ignorance and bad education had given her. This Thou hast made my case. My poverty is become my riches, and in the extremity of my weakness I have found my strength. Oh, if any knew, with what confusion the indulgent favors of God cover the soul after its faults! Such a soul would wish with all its power to satisfy the divine justice. I made verses and little songs to bewail myself. I exercised austerities, but they did not satisfy my heart. They were like those drops of water which only serve to make the fire hotter. When I take a view of God, and myself, I am obliged to cry out, "Oh, admirable conduct of Love toward an ungrateful wretch! Oh, horrible ingratitude toward such unparalleled goodness." A great part of my life is only a mixture of such things as might be enough to sink me to the grave between grief and love.
On my arrival at home, I found my husband taken with the gout, and his other complaints. My little daughter ill, and like to die of the smallpox; my eldest son, too, took it; and it was of so malignant a type, that it rendered him as disfigured, as before he was beautiful. As soon as I perceived the smallpox was in the house, I had no doubt but I should take it. Mrs. Granger advised me to leave if I could. My father offered to take me home, with my second son, whom I tenderly loved. My mother-in-law would not suffer it. She persuaded my husband it was useless, and sent for a physician, who seconded her in it, saying, "I should as readily take it at a distance as here, if I were disposed to take it." I may say, she proved at that time a second Jephtha, and that she sacrificed us both, though innocently. Had she known what followed, I doubt not but she would have acted otherwise. All the town stirred in this affair. Everyone begged her to send me out of the house, and cried out that it was cruel to expose me thus. They set upon me, too, imagining I was unwilling to go. I had not told that she was so averse to it. I had at that time no other disposition than to sacrifice myself to divine Providence. Though I might have removed, notwithstanding my mother-in-law's resistance, yet I would not without her consent; because it looked to me as if her resistance was an order of Heaven.
I continued in this spirit of sacrifice to God, waiting from moment to moment in an entire resignation, for whatever He should be pleased to ordain. I cannot express what nature suffered. I was like one who sees both certain death and an easy remedy, without being able to avoid the former, or try the latter. I had no less apprehension for my younger son than for myself. My mother-in-law so excessively doted on the eldest, that the rest of us were indifferent to her. Yet I am assured, if she had known the younger would have died of the smallpox, she would not have acted as she did. God makes use of creatures, and their natural inclinations to accomplish His designs. When I see in the creatures a conduct which appears unreasonable and mortifying, I mount higher, and look upon them as instruments both of the mercy and justice of God. His justice is full of mercy.
I told my husband that my stomach was sick, and that I was taking the smallpox. He said it was only imagination. I let Mrs. Granger know the situation I was in. As she had a tender heart, she was affected by the treatment I met with, and encouraged me to offer myself up to the Lord. At length, nature finding there was no resource, consented to the sacrifice which my spirit had already made. The disorder gained ground apace. I was seized with a great shivering, and pain both in my head and stomach. They would not yet believe that I was sick. In a few hours it went so far, that they thought my life in danger. I was also taken with an inflammation on my lungs, and the remedies for the one disorder were contrary to the other. My mother-in-law's favorite physician was not in town, nor the resident surgeon. Another surgeon said that I must be bled; but my mother-in-law would not suffer it at that time. I was on the point of death for the want of proper assistance. My husband, not being able to see me, left me entirely to his mother. She would not allow any physician but her own to prescribe for me, and yet did not send for him, though he was within a day's journey. In this extremity I opened not my mouth. I looked for life or death from the hand of God, without testifying the least uneasiness. The peace I enjoyed within, on account of that perfect resignation, in which God kept me by His grace, was so great, that it made me forget myself, in the midst of oppressive disorders.
The Lord's protection was indeed wonderful. How oft have I been reduced to extremity, yet He never failed to succor, when things appeared most desperate. It pleased Him so to order it, that the skillful surgeon, who had attended me before, passing by our house, inquired after me. They told him I was extremely ill. He alighted immediately, and came in to see me. Never was a man more surprised, when he saw the condition I was in. The smallpox, which could not come out, had fallen on my nose with such force, that it was quite black. He thought there had been gangrene and that it was going to fall off. My eyes were like two coals; but I was not alarmed. At that time I could have made a sacrifice of all things, and was pleased that God should avenge Himself on that face, which had betrayed me into so many infidelities. He also was so affrighted that he went into my mother-in-law's room and told her, that it was most shameful to let me die in that manner, for want of bleeding. She still opposed it violently so that in short she told him flatly that she would not suffer it, until the physician returned. He flew into such a rage at seeing me thus left without sending for the physician that he reproved my mother-in-law in the severest manner. But it was all in vain. He came up again presently and said, "If you choose, I will bleed you, and save your life." I held out my arm to him; and though it was extremely swelled, he bled me in an instant. My mother-in-law was in a violent passion. The smallpox came out immediately. He ordered that they should have me bled again in the evening, but she would not suffer it. Fear of displeasing my mother-in-law, and a total resignation of myself into the hands of God, I did not retain him.
I am more particular to show how advantageous it is to resign one's self to God without reserve. Though in appearance He leaves us for a time to prove and exercise our faith, yet He never fails us, when our need of Him is the more pressing. One may say with the Scripture, "It is God who bringeth down to the gates of death, and raiseth up again." The blackness and swelling of my nose went away and I believe, had they continued to bleed me, I had been pretty easy. For want of that I grew worse again. The malady fell into my eyes, and inflamed them with such severe pain, that I thought I should lose them both.
I had violent pains for three weeks during which time I got little sleep. I could not shut my eyes, they were so full of the smallpox, nor open them by reason of the pain. My throat, palate, and gums were likewise so filled with the pock, that I could not swallow broth, or take nourishment without suffering extremely. My whole body looked leprous. All that saw me said that they had never seen such a shocking spectacle. But as to my soul, it was kept in a contentment not to be expressed. The hopes of its liberty, by the loss of that beauty, which had so frequently brought me under bondage, rendered me so satisfied, and so united to God, that I would not have changed my condition for that of the most happy prince in the world.
Everyone thought I would be inconsolable. Several expressed their sympathy in my sad condition, as they judged it. I lay still in the secret fruition of a joy unspeakable, in this total deprivation of what had been a snare to my pride, and to the passions of men. I praised God in profound silence. None ever heard any complaints from me, either of my pains or the loss I sustained. The only thing that I said was, that I rejoiced at, and was exceedingly thankful for the interior liberty I gained thereby; and they construed this as a great crime. My confessor, who had been dissatisfied with me before, came to see me. He asked me if I was not sorry for having the smallpox; and he now taxed me with pride for my answer.
My youngest little boy took the distemper the same day with myself, and died for want of care. This blow indeed struck me to the heart, but yet, drawing strength from my weakness, I offered him up, and said to God as Job did, "Thou gavest him to me, and thou takest him from me; blessed be thy holy name." The spirit of sacrifice possessed me so strongly, that, though I loved this child tenderly, I never shed a tear at hearing of his death. The day he was buried, the doctor sent to tell me he had not placed a tombstone upon his grave, because my little girl could not survive him two days. My eldest son was not yet out of danger, so that I saw myself stripped of all my children at once, my husband indisposed, and myself extremely so. The Lord did not take my little girl then. He prolonged her life some years.
At last my mother-in-law's physician arrived, at a time wherein he could be of but little service to me. When he saw the strange inflammation in my eyes, he bled me several times; but it was too late. And those bleedings which would have been so proper at first, did nothing but weaken me now. They could not even bleed me in the condition I was in but with the greatest difficulty. My arms were so swelled that the surgeon was obliged to push in the lance to a great depth. Moreover, the bleeding being out of season had liked to have caused my death. This, I confess, would have been very agreeable to me. I looked upon death as the greatest blessing for me. Yet I saw well I had nothing to hope in that side; and that, instead of meeting with so desirable an event, I must prepare myself to support the trials of life.
After my eldest son was better, he got up and came into my room. I was surprised at the extraordinary change I saw in him. His face, lately so fair and beautiful, was become like a coarse spot of earth, all full of furrows. That gave me the curiosity to view myself. I felt shocked, for I saw that God had ordered the sacrifice in all its reality.
Some things fell out by the contrariety of my mother-in-law that caused me severe crosses. They put the finishing stroke to my son's face. However, my heart was firm in God, and strengthened itself by the number and greatness of my sufferings. I was as a victim incessantly offered upon the altar, to HIM who first sacrificed Himself for love. "What shall I render to the Lord, for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord." These words, I can truly say, O my God, have been the delight of my heart, and have had their effect on me, through my whole life; for I have been continually heaped with thy blessings and thy cross. My principal attraction, besides that of suffering for Thee, has been to yield myself up without resistance, interiorly and exteriorly, to all Thy divine disposals. These gifts which I was favored with from the beginning, have continued and increased until now Thou hast Thyself guided my continual crosses, and led me through paths impenetrable to all but thee.
They sent me pomatums to recover my complexion, and to fill up the hollows of the smallpox. I had seen wonderful effects from it upon others, and therefore at first had a mind to try them. But, jealous of God's work, I would not suffer it. There was a voice in my heart which said, "If I would have had thee fair, I would have left thee as thou wert." I was therefore obliged to lay aside every remedy, and to go into the air, which made the pitting worse; to expose myself in the street when the redness of the smallpox was at the worst, in order to make my humiliation triumph, where I had exalted my pride.
My husband kept to his bed almost all that time, and made good use of his indisposition. Only as he now lost that, which before gave him so much pleasure in viewing me, he grew much more susceptible to impressions which any gave him against me. In consequence of this, the persons who spoke to him to my disadvantage, finding themselves now better hearkened to, spoke more boldly and more frequently.
There was only Thou, O my God, who changed not for me. Thou didst redouble my interior graces, in proportion as Thou didst augment my exterior crosses.
My maid became every day more haughty. Seeing that her scoldings and outcries did not now torment me, she thought, if she could hinder me from going to the communion, she would give me the greatest of all vexations.
She was not mistaken, O divine Spouse of pure souls, since the only satisfaction of my life was to receive and to honor Thee. I gave everything, of the finest I had, to furnish the churches with ornaments, and contributed to the utmost extent of my abilities, to make them have silver plates and chalices.
"Oh, my Love," I cried, "let me be thy victim! Spare nothing to annihilate me." I felt an inexpressible longing to be more reduced, and to become, as it were, nothing.
This girl then knew my affection for the holy sacrament, where, when I could have liberty for it, I passed several hours on my knees. She took it in her head to watch me daily. When she discovered me going, she ran to tell my mother-in-law and my husband. There needed no more to chagrin them. Their invectives lasted the whole day. If a word escaped me in my own justification, it was enough to make them say that I was guilty of sacrilege, and to raise an outcry against all devotion. If I made them no answer at all, they still heightened their indignation, and said the most grating things they could devise. If I fell sick, which often happened, they took occasion to come to quarrel with me at my bed, saying, my communion and prayers were what made me sick. They spoke as if there had been nothing else could make me ill, but my devotion to Thee, O my Beloved!
She told me one day that she was going to write to my director to get him to stop me from going to the communion. When I made no answer, she cried out as loud as she could, that I treated her ill and despised her. When I went to prayers, (though I had taken care to arrange everything about the house) she ran to tell my husband that I was going and had left nothing in order. When I returned home his rage fell on me in all its violence. They would hear none of my reasons, but said, "they were all a pack of lies." My mother-in-law persuaded my husband that I let everything go to wreck. If she did not take the care of things he would be ruined. He believed it, and I bore all with patience, endeavoring, as well as I could, to do my duty. What gave most trouble was the not knowing what course to take; for when I ordered anything without her, she complained that I showed her no respect, that I did things of my own head and that they were done always the worse for it. Then she would order them contrary. If I consulted her to know what, or how she would have anything to be done, she said that I compelled her to have the care and trouble of everything.
I had scarcely any rest but what I found in the love of Thy will, O my God, and submission to Thy orders, however rigorous they might be. They incessantly watched my words and actions, to find occasion against me. They chided me all the day long, continually repeating, and harping over and over the same things, even before the servants. How often have I made my meals on my tears, which were interpreted as the most criminal in the world! They said, I would be damned; as if the tears would open Hell for me, which surely they were more likely to extinguish. If I recited anything I had heard, they would render me accountable for the truth of it. If I kept silence, they taxed me with contempt and perverseness; if I knew anything without telling it, that was a crime; if I told it, then they said I had forged it. Sometimes they tormented me for several days successively, without giving me any relaxation. The girls said, "I ought to feign sickness, to get a little rest." I made no reply. The love of God so closely possessed me, that it would not allow me to seek relief by a single word, or even by a look. Sometimes I said in myself, "Oh, that I had but any one who could take notice of me, or to whom I might unburden myself,—what a relief it would be to me!" But it was not granted me.
Yet, if I happened to be for some days freed from the exterior cross, it was a most sensible distress to me, and indeed a punishment more difficult to bear than the severest trials. I then comprehended what St. Teresa says, "Let me suffer or die." For this absence of the cross was so grievous to me, that I languished with desire for its return. But no sooner was this earnest longing granted, and the blessed cross returned again, than strange as it may seem, it appeared so weighty and burdensome, as to be almost insupportable.
Though I loved my father extremely, and he loved me tenderly, yet I never spoke to him of my sufferings. One of my relations, who loved me very much, perceived the little moderation they used toward me. They spoke very roughly to me before him. He was highly displeased, and told my father of it, adding, that I would pass for a fool. Soon after I went to see my father, who, contrary to his custom, sharply reprimanded me, "for suffering them to treat me in such a manner, without saying anything in my own defence." I answered, "If they knew what my husband said to me, that was confusion enough for me, without my bringing any more of it on myself by replies; that if they did not notice it, I ought not to cause it to be observed, nor expose my husband's weakness; that remaining silent stopped all disputes, whereas I might cause them to be continued and increased by my replies." My father answered that I did well, and that I should continue to act as God should inspire me. And after that, he never spoke to me of it any more.
They were ever talking to me against my father, against my relations, and all such as I esteemed most. I felt this more keenly than all they could say against myself. I could not forbear defending them, and therein I did wrong; as whatever I said served only to provoke them. If any complained of my father or relations, they were always in the right. If any, whom they had disliked before, spoke against them, they were presently approved of. If any showed friendship to me, such were not welcome. A relation whom I greatly loved for her piety, coming to see me, they openly bid her begone. They treated her in such a manner as obliged her to go, which gave me no small uneasiness. When any person of distinction came, they would speak against me; even to those who knew me not, which surprised them. But when they saw me they pitied me.
It mattered not what they said against me, love would not allow me to justify myself. I spoke not to my husband of what either my mother-in-law or the girl did to me, except the first year, when I was not sufficiently touched with the power of God to suffer. My mother-in-law and my husband often quarrelled. Then I was in favor, and to me they made their mutual complaints. I never told the one what the other had said. And though it might have been of service to me, humanly speaking, to take advantage of such opportunities, I never made use of them to complain of either. Nay, on the contrary, I did not rest till I had reconciled them. I spoke many obliging things of the one to the other, which made them friends again. I knew by frequent experience that I should pay dear for their reunion. Scarcely were they reconciled when they joined together against me.
I was so deeply engaged within, as often to forget things without, yet not anything which was of consequence. My husband was hasty, and inattention frequently irritated him. I walked into the garden, without observing anything. When my husband, who could not go thither, asked me about it, I knew not what to say, at which he was angry. I went thither on purpose to notice everything, in order to tell him and yet when there did not think of looking. I went ten times one day, to see and bring him an account and yet forgot it. But when I did remember to look, I was much pleased. Yet it happened I was then asked nothing about them.
All my crosses to me would have seemed little, if I might have had liberty to pray and to be alone, to indulge the interior attraction which I felt. But I was obliged to continue in their presence, with such a subjection as is scarcely conceivable. My husband looked at his watch, if at any time I had liberty allowed me for prayer, to see if I stayed more than half an hour. If I exceeded, he grew very uneasy. Sometimes I said, "Grant me one hour to divert and employ myself as I have a mind." Though he would have granted it to me for other diversions, yet for prayer he would not. I confess that inexperience caused me much trouble. I have often thereby given occasion for what they made me suffer. For ought I not to have looked on my captivity as an effect of the will of my God, to content myself and to make it my only desire and prayer? But I often fell back again into the anxiety of wishing to get time for prayer, which was not agreeable to my husband. Those faults were more frequent in the beginning. Afterward I prayed to God in His own retreat, in the temple of my heart, and I went out no more.
We went into the country, where I committed many faults. I thought I might do it then because my husband diverted himself with building. If I stayed from him he was dissatisfied. That sometimes happened as he was continually talking with the workmen. I set myself in a corner, and there had my work with me, but could scarcely do anything by reason of the force of the attraction which made the work fall out of my hands. I passed whole hours this way, without being able either to open my eyes or know what passed; but I had nothing to wish for, nor yet to be afraid of. Everywhere I found my proper center, because everywhere I found God.
My heart could then desire nothing but what it had. This disposition extinguished all its desires; and I sometimes said to myself, "What wantest thou? What fearest thou?" I was surprised to find upon trial that I had nothing to fear. Every place I was in was my proper place.
As I had generally no time allowed me for prayer but with difficulty, and would not be suffered to rise till seven o'clock, I stole up at four, and kneeling in my bed, I wished not to offend my husband and strove to be punctual and assiduous in everything. But this soon affected my health and injured my eyes, which were still weak. It was but eight months since I had the smallpox. This loss of rest brought a heavy trial upon me. Even my sleeping hours were much broken, by the fear of not waking in time, I insensibly dropped asleep at my prayers. In the half hour that I got after dinner, though I felt quite wakeful, the drowsiness overpowered me. I endeavored to remedy this by the severest bodily inflictions, but in vain.
As we had not yet built the chapel, and were far from any church, I could not go to prayers or sacrament without the permission of my husband. He was very reluctant to permit me, except on Sundays and holidays. I could not go out in the coach, so that I was obliged to make use of some stratagems, and to get service performed very early in the morning, to which, feeble as I was, I made an effort to creep on foot. It was a quarter of a league distant. Really God wrought wonders for me. Generally, in the mornings when I went to prayers, my husband did not awake until after I was returned. Often, as I was going out, the weather was so cloudy, that the girl I took with me told me that I could not go; or if I did, I should be soaked with the rain. I answered her with my usual confidence, "God will assist us." I generally reached the chapel without being wet. While there the rain fell excessively. When I returned it ceased. When I got home it began again with fresh violence. During several years that I have acted this way, I have never been deceived in my confidence. When I was in town, and could find nobody, I was surprised that there came to me priests to ask me if I was willing to receive the communion, and that if I was they would give it to me. I had no mind to refuse the opportunity which Thou thyself offered me; for I had no doubt of its being Thee who inspired them to propose it. Before I had contrived to get divine service at the chapel I have mentioned, I have often suddenly awoke with a strong impulse to go to prayers. My maid would say, "But, madam, you are going to tire yourself in vain. There will be no service." For that chapel was not yet regularly served. I went full of faith and at my arrival have found them just ready to begin. If I could particularly enumerate the remarkable providences which were hereupon given in my favor there would be enough to fill whole volumes.
When I wanted to hear from, or write to Mother Granger, I often felt a strong propensity to go to the door. There to find a messenger with a letter from her. This is only a small instance of these kind of continual providences. She was the only person I could be free to open my heart to, when I could get to see her, which was with the greatest difficulty. It was through providential assistance; because prohibited by my confessor and husband. I placed an extreme confidence in Mother Granger. I concealed nothing from her either of sins or pains. I did not now practice any austerities but those she was willing to allow me. My interior dispositions I was scarcely able to tell because I knew not how to explain myself, being very ignorant of those matters, having never read or heard of them.
One day when they thought I was going to see my father, I ran off to Mother Granger. It was discovered, and cost me crosses. Their rage against me was so excessive, that it would seem incredible. Even my writing to her was extremely difficult. I had the utmost abhorrence of a lie, so I forbade the footman to tell any. When they were met they were asked whither they were going, and if they had any letters. My mother-in-law set herself in a little passage, through which those who went out must necessarily pass. She asked them whither they were going and what they carried. Sometimes going on foot to the Benedictines, I caused shoes to be carried, that they might not perceive by the dirty ones that I had been far. I dared not go alone; those who attended me had orders to tell of every place I went. If they were discovered to fail, they were either corrected or discharged.
My husband and mother-in-law were always inveighing against that good woman, though in reality they esteemed her. I sometimes made my own complaint and she replied, "How should you content them, when I have been doing all in my power for twenty years to satisfy them without success?" For as my mother-in-law had two daughters under her care, she was always finding something to say against everything she did in regard to them.
But the most sensible cross to me now was the revolting of my own son against me. They inspired him with so great a contempt for me, that I could not bear to see him without extreme affliction. When I was in my room with some of my friends, they sent him to listen to what we said. As he saw this pleased them, he invented a hundred things to tell them. If I caught him in a lie, as I frequently did, he would upbraid me, saying, "My grandmother says you have been a greater liar than I." I answered, "Therefore I know the deformity of that vice, and how hard a thing it is to get the better of it; and for this reason, I would not have you suffer the like." He spoke to me things very offensive. Because he saw the awe I stood in of his grandmother and his father, if in their absence I found fault with him for anything, he insultingly upbraided me. He said that now I wanted to be set up over him because they were not there. All this they approved of. One day he went to see my father and rashly began talking against me to him, as he was used to doing to his grandmother. But there it did not meet with the same recompense. It affected my father to tears. Father came to our house to desire he might be corrected for it. They promised it should be done, and yet they never did it. I was grievously afraid of the consequences of so bad an education. I told Mother Granger of it, who said that since I could not remedy it, I must suffer and leave everything to God. This child would be my cross.
Another great cross was the difficulty I had in attending my husband. I knew he was displeased when I was not with him; yet when I was with him, he never expressed any pleasure. On the contrary, he only rejected with scorn whatever office I performed. He was so difficult with me about everything, that I sometimes trembled when I approached him. I could do nothing to his liking; and when I did not attend him he was angry. He had taken such a dislike to soups, that he could not bear the sight of them. Those that offered them had a rough reception. Neither his mother nor any of the domestics would carry them to him. There was none but I who did not refuse that office. I brought them and let his anger pass; then I tried in some agreeable manner to prevail on him to take them. I said to him, "I had rather be reprimanded several times a day, than let you suffer by not bringing you what is proper." Sometimes he took; at other times he pushed them back.
When he was in a good humor and I was carrying something agreeable to him, then my mother-in-law would snatch it out of my hands. She would carry it herself. As he thought I was not so careful and studious to please him he would fly in a rage against me and express great thankfulness to his mother. I used all my skill and endeavors to gain my mother-in-law's favor by my presents, my services; but could not succeed.
"How bitter and grievous, O my God, would such a life be were it not for Thee! Thou hast sweetened and reconciled it to me." I had a few short intervals from this severe and mortifying life. These served only to make the reverses more keen and bitter.
About eight or nine months after my recovery from the smallpox, Father La Combe, passing by our house, brought me a letter from Father de la Motte, recommending him to my esteem, and expressing the highest friendship for him. I hesitated because I was very loath to make new acquaintances. The fear of offending my brother prevailed. After a short conversation we both desired a farther opportunity. I thought that he either loved God, or was disposed to love Him, and I wished everybody to love Him. God had already made use of me for the conversion of three of his order. The strong desire he had of seeing me again induced him to come to our country house about half a league from the town. A little incident which happened opened a way for me to speak to him. As he was in discourse with my husband, who relished his company, he was taken ill and retired into the garden. My husband bade me go and see what was the matter. He told me he had noticed in my countenance a deep inwardness and presence of God, which had given him a strong desire of seeing me again. God then assisted me to open to him the interior path of the soul, and conveyed so much grace to him through this poor channel, that he went away changed into quite another man. I preserved an esteem for him; for it appeared to me that he would be devoted to God; but little did I then foresee, that I should ever be led to the place where he was to reside.
My disposition at this time was a continual prayer, without knowing it to be such. The presence of God was so plentifully given that it seemed to be more in me than my very self. The sensibility thereof was so powerful, so penetrating, it seemed to me irresistible. Love took from me all liberty of my own. At other times I was so dry, I felt nothing but the pain of absence, which was the keener to me, as the divine presence had before been so sensible. In these alternatives I forgot all my troubles and pains. It appeared to me as if I had never experienced any. In its absence, it seemed as if it would never return again. I still thought it was through some fault of mine it was withdrawn, and that rendered me inconsolable. Had I known it had been a state through which it was necessary to pass, I should not have been troubled. My strong love to the will of God would have rendered everything easy to me. The property of this prayer was to give a great love to the order of God, with so sublime and perfect a reliance on Him, as to fear nothing, whether danger, thunders, spirits, or death. It gives a great abstraction from one's self, our own interests and reputation, with an utter disregard to everything of the kind—all being swallowed up in the esteem of the will of God.
At home, I was accused of everything that was ill done, spoiled or broken. At first I told the truth, and said it was not I. They persisted, and accused me of lying. I then made no reply. Besides, they told all their tales to such as came to the house. But when I was afterward alone with the same persons, I never undeceived them. I often heard such things said of me, before my friends, as were enough to make them entertain a bad opinion. My heart kept its habitation in the tacit consciousness of my own innocence, not concerning myself whether they thought well or ill of me; excluding all the world, all opinions or censures, out of my view, I minded nothing else but the friendship of God.
If through infidelity I happened at any time to justify myself, I always failed, and drew upon myself new crosses, both within and without. But notwithstanding all this, I was so enamored with it, that the greatest cross of all would have been to be without any. When the cross was taken from me for any short space, it seemed to me that it was because of the bad use I made of it; that my unfaithfulness deprived me of so great an advantage. I never knew its value better than its loss.
I cried punish me any way, but take not the cross from me. This amiable cross returned to me with so much the more weight, as my desire was more vehement. I could not reconcile two things, they appeared to me so very opposite. 1) To desire the cross with so much ardor. 2) To support it with so much difficulty and pain.
God knows well, in the admirable economy he observes, how to render the crosses more weighty, conformable to the ability of the creature to bear them. Hereby my soul began to be more resigned, to comprehend that the state of absence, and of wanting what I longed for, was in its turn more profitable than that of always abounding. This latter nourished self-love. If God did not act thus, the soul would never die to itself. That principle of self-love is so crafty and dangerous, that it cleaves to everything.