On the Employment of Time

It is obligatory upon us to employ all our time to good purpose; grace has long since convinced you of this. It is a pleasant thing to come in contact with those who can meet us half way; but, notwithstanding this, much remains to be done, and there is a wonderful distance between the conviction of the intellect, even combined with the good intention of the heart, and a faithful and exact obedience.

There is a time for everything in our lives; but the rule that governs every moment, is, that there should be none useless; that they should all enter into the order and sequence of our salvation; that they are all accompanied by duties which God has allotted with His own hand, and of which He will demand an account; for from the first instant of our existence to the last, He has never assigned us a waste moment, nor one which we can consider as given up to our own judgement.

The great thing is to recognize His will in relation to them. For we misemploy our time, not only when we do wrong or do nothing, but also when we do something else than what was obligatory on us at the moment, even though it may be the means of good. We are strangely ingenious in perpetually seeking our own interest; and what the world does nakedly and without shame, those who desire to be devoted to God do also, but in a exact manner, under favor of some excuse which serves as a veil to hide from them the damage of their conduct.

The best general means to ensure the profitable employment of our time, is to accustom ourselves to living in continual dependence upon the Spirit of God and his law, receiving, every instant, whatever He is pleased to give; consulting Him in every emergency requiring instant action, and having appeal to Him in our weaker moments, when virtue seems to fail; invoking His aid, and rising our hearts to Him whenever we are solicited by sensible objects, and find ourselves surprised and estranged from God, and far from the true road.

Let us be careful, however, not to suffer ourselves to be overwhelmed by the multiplicity of our exterior occupations, be they what they may.

The intervals of relaxation and amusement are the most dangerous seasons for us, and perhaps the most useful for others; we must, then, be on our guard, that we be as faithful as possible to the presence of God. We must make use of all that Christian diligence so much recommended by our Lord; raise our hearts to God in the simple view of faith, and dwell in sweet and peaceful dependence upon the Spirit of grace, as the only means of our safety and strength. Our leisure hours are ordinarily the sweetest and pleasantest for ourselves; we can never employ them better than in refreshing our spiritual strength, by a secret and intimate communion with God. Prayer is so necessary, and the source of so many blessings, that he who has discovered the treasure cannot be prevented from having recourse to it, whenever he has an opportunity.

God gives others when He pleases; if He does not, it is a proof that they are not necessary; and if so, we should be well satisfied with their loss.

 The Inner Life – Francois Fenelon

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On True Liberty

When we are no longer embarrassed by the restless reflections of self, we begin to enjoy true liberty.

False wisdom, on the other hand, always on the watch, ever occupied with self, constantly jealous of its own perfection, suffers severely whenever it is permitted to perceive the smallest speck of imperfection.

Not that the man who is simple minded and detached from self, fails to labor toward the attainment of perfection; he is the more successful in proportion as he forgets himself, and never dreams of virtue in any other light than as something which accomplishes the will of God.

The source of all our defects is the love of self; we refer everything to that, instead of to the love of God. Whoever, then, will labor to get rid of self, to deny him-self, according to the instructions of Christ, strikes at once at the root of every evil, and finds, in this simple abandonment of self, the germ of every good.

Then those words of Scripture are heard within and understood, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor. iii. 17.) We neglect nothing to cause the kingdom of God to come both within and without; but in the midst of our frailties we are at peace. We would rather die than commit the slightest voluntary sin, but we have no fear for our reputation from the judgment of man. We court the reproach of Christ Jesus, and dwell in peace though surrounded by uncertainties; the judgments of God do not affright us, for we abandon ourselves to them, imploring his mercy according to our attainments in confidence, sacrifice, and absolute surrender. The greater the abandonments, the more flowing the peace; and in such a large place does it set us, that we are prepared for everything; we will everything and nothing; we are as guileless as babes.

Our illumination from God discovers the lightest transgressions, but never discourages. We walk before Him; but if we stumble, we hasten to resume our way, and have no watchword but Onward!

If we would find God, we must destroy the remains of the old Adam within. The Lord held a little child in his arms, when He declared, “of such is the kingdom of Heaven.” The sum of the principal directions is this: do not reason too much, always have an upright purpose in the smallest matters, and pay no attention to the thousand reflections by which we wrap and bury ourselves in self, under pretence of correcting our faults.

The Inner Life – Francois Fenelon

Interested and Disinterested Love Have Each its Appropriate Season

Why do the gifts of God give more pleasure when they exist in ourselves than when they are given upon our neighbor, if we are not attached to self? If we prefer to see them in our possession rather than in that of those about us, we shall certainly be depressed when we see them more perfect in them than they are in ourselves; and this constitutes envy. What is our duty then? We must rejoice that the will of God is done in us, and that it prevails there not for our happiness and perfection, but for His own good pleasure and glory.

Now, take notice of two matters. The first is, that this distinction is not an empty difficulty; for God, in His desire to destroy the soul for its own perfection, causes it really to pass through these trials of self, and never lets it alone until He has broken its love of selfish reflection and support. There is nothing so jealous, so demanding, and so searching as this principle of pure love; it cannot tolerate a thousand things that were insignificant in our previous state; and what religious persons would call an unprofitable details, seems an essential point to the soul that is desirous of destroying self. As with gold in the furnace, the fire consumes all that is not gold, so it seems necessary that the heart should be melted with fervent heat, that the love of God may be rendered pure.

The second remark is, that God does not pursue every soul in this way in the present life. There is an infinite number of truly devoted persons whom He leaves in some degree under the authority of self-love; these remains of self help to support them in the practice of faith, and serve to purify them to a certain point.

Scarce anything would be more foolish or more dangerous than to bankrupt them of the reflection of the grace of God in them as inclined to their own personal perfection. The first class exercise unselfish gratitude; they are thankful to God for whatever He does in them, solely because He does it for His own glory; the second are also grateful, but partly because their own perfection is secured at the same time. If the former should aim to strip the latter of this mixed motive and this interior comfort in self, in reference to grace, they would cause them as much injury as they would an infant by detach it before it was able to eat; to take away the breast, would be to destroy it. We must never seek to take away a soul of the food which still contains nutriment for it, and which God suffers to remain as a stay to its weakness. To prevent grace is to destroy it. Neither must the latter blame the former because they do not see them as much concerned as themselves about their own perfection in the grace ministered unto them. God works in every one as He pleases; The wind blows wherever it wants to. You hear it, but you don’t know where it is coming from or where it is going. It is the same with everyone who is born from the Spirit (John iii. 8,) and as wherever it wants to. The forgetfulness of self in the pure reflection of God, is a state in which God can do in our souls whatever most pleases Himself. The important point is, that those who are still in a measure supported by self, should not be too anxious about the state of such as are in pure love, nor should these latter aim to make the former pass through the trials peculiar to a higher state of grace before God calls them to it.

The Inner Life – Francois Fenelon

Pure Love Only Can Suffer Aright and Love its Sufferings

We know that we must suffer, and that we deserve it; nevertheless, we are always surprised at hardship, as if we thought we neither deserved nor had need of it. It is only true and pure love that delights to go through, for nothing else is perfectly abandoned. Surrender induces us to bear pain, but there is a something in it which is trouble greatly in suffering, and resists. The resignation that measures out its abandonment to God with selfish reflection, is willing to suffer, but is constantly examining make sure whether it suffers acceptably. In fact, the resigned soul is composed as it were of two persons; one keeping the other in control, and watching in case it should refuse to obey.

In pure love, unselfish and abandoned, the soul is fed in silence on the cross, and on union with the crucified Saviour, without any reflections on the harshness of its sufferings. There exists but a single, simple will, which permits God to see it just as it is, without aspiring to regard itself. It says nothing, does nothing. What then does it do? It suffers. And is this all? Yea, all; it has nothing else to do but to suffer. Love can be heard easily enough, without speech or thought. It does all that it is required to do, which is, to have no will when it is stripped of all comfort. The purest of all loves is a will so filled with that of God, that there remains nothing else.

What a relief is it to think that we are then rid of so many anxieties about our exercise of patience and the other virtues in the sight of those about us? It is enough to be humbled and abandoned in the midst of suffering. This is not courage; it is something both more and less; less in the eyes of the ordinary class of Christians, more in the eyes of pure faith. It is a humiliation which raises the soul into all the greatness of God; a weakness which strips it of every resource, to entrust upon it His omnipotence. “When I am weak,” says St. Paul, “then I am strong; I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (2 Cor. xii. 10; Phil. iv. 13.)

It satisfies then, to feed upon some short sentences suited to our state and our taste, with frequent interruptions to quiet the senses and make room for the inward spirit of recollection. We sometimes suffer, scarcely knowing that we are in unhappiness; at other times we suffer, and know that we bear it ill, but we carry this second and heavier cross without anger. True love goes ever straightforward, not in its own strength, but esteeming itself as nothing. Then indeed we are truly happy. The cross is no longer a cross when there is no self to suffer under it, and to appropriate its good and evil.

The Inner Life – Francois Fenelon

General Directions for Attaining Inward Peace

There is no peace to them that resist God: if there be joy in the world, it is reserved for a pure conscience; the whole earth is full of tribulation and anguish to those who do not possess it.

How different is the peace of God from that of the world! It calms the passions, preserves the purity of the conscience, is inseparable from righteousness, unites us to God and strengthens us against temptations. The peace of the soul consists in an absolute resignation to the will of God.

“Martha, Martha, thou are careful and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful.” (Luke x. 41.) The pain we suffer from so many occurrences, arises from the fact that we are not entirely abandoned to God in everything that happens.

Let us put all things, then, into his hands, and offer them to Him in our hearts, as a sacrifice beforehand. From the moment that you quit to desire anything according to your own judgment, and begin to will everything just as God wills it, you will be free from your former tormenting reflections and anxieties about your own concerns; you will no longer have anything to conceal or take care of.

Until then, you will be troubled, hesitating in your views and enjoyments, easily dissatisfied with others and but little satisfied with yourself, and full of reserve and distrust. Your good intentions, until they become truly humble and simple, will only torture you; your devotion, however sincere, will be the occasion of more internal blame then of support or comfort. But if you will abandon your whole heart to God, you will be full of peace and joy.

How can we refuse to give all our love upon God, who first loved us with the tender love of a Father, pitying our imperfection, and well knowing the dirt from which we have been dragged? When a soul is filled with this love, it enjoys peace of conscience, it is content and happy, it requires neither greatness nor reputation, nor pleasure, nor any of the perishing gifts of time; it desires only the will of God, and watches incessantly in the joyful expectation of its Spouse.

The Inner Life – Francois Fenelon

On Conformity to the Will of God

The essence of virtue consists in the attitude of the will. This is what the Lord would teach us when he said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke xvii. 21.) It is not a question of extensive knowledge, of splendid talents, nor even of great deeds; it is a simple matter of having a heart and loving. Outward works are the fruits and consequences of loving, and the spring of all good things is at the bottom of the soul.

There are some virtues which are appropriate to certain conditions, and not to others; some are good at one time, and some at another; but an upright will is profitable for all times and all places. That kingdom of God which is within us, consists in our willing whatever God wills, always, in everything, and without reservation; and thus his kingdom comes; for his will is then done as it is in Heaven, since we will nothing but what is dictated by his sovereign pleasure.

Blessed are the poor in spirit! Blessed are they who are stripped of everything, even of their own wills, that they may no longer belong to themselves! How poor in spirit does he become who has given up all things to God! But how is it that our will becomes right, when it unreservedly conforms to that of God? We will whatever He wills; what He does not will, we do not; we attach our feeble wills to that all-powerful one that regulates everything. Thus nothing can ever come to pass against our wishes; for nothing can happen contrary to the will of God, and we find in his good pleasure an inexhaustible source of peace and consolation.

The interior life is the beginning of the blessed peace of the saints, who eternally cry, Amen, Amen! We adore, we praise, we bless God in everything; we see Him incessantly, and in all things his paternal hand is the sole object of our contemplation. There are no longer any evils; for even the most terrible that come upon us, work together for good, as St. Paul says, to those that love God. (Rom. viii. 28.) Can the suffering that God destines to purify and make us worthy of himself, be called an evil?

Let us cast all our cares, then, into the bosom of so good a Father, and suffer Him to do as He pleases. Let us be content to adopt his will in all points, and to abandon our own absolutely and forever. How can we retain anything of our own, when we do not even belong to ourselves? The slave has nothing; how much less, then, should we own anything, who in ourselves are but nothingness and sin, and who are indebted for everything to pure grace! God has only gave upon us a will, free and capable of self-possession, that we may the more generously recompense the gift by returning it to its rightful owner.

We have nothing but our wills only; all the rest belongs elsewhere. Disease removes life and health; riches make to themselves wings; intellectual talents depend upon the state of the body. The only thing that really belongs to us is our will, and it is of this, therefore, that God is especially jealous, for He gave it to us, not that we should retain it, but that we should return it to Him, whole as we received it, and without the slightest reservation.

If the least desire remain, or the smallest hesitation, it is robbing God, contrary to the order of creation; for all things come from Him, and to Him they are all due.

How many souls there are full of self, and desirous of doing good and serving God, but in such a way as to suit themselves; who desire to impose rules upon God as to his manner of drawing them to Himself. They want to serve and possess Him, but they are not willing to abandon themselves to Him, and be possessed by Him.

Herein lies the meaning of those words of the Lord; “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt. xvi. 24; Luke xiv. 33.) We must follow Jesus Christ, step by step, and not open up a path for ourselves. We can only follow Him by denying ourselves; and what is this but unreservedly abandoning every right over ourselves? And so St. Paul tells us; “Ye are not your own (1 Cor. vi. 19): no, not a thing remains that belongs to us! Alas for him that resumes possession of anything after once abandoning it!

To desire to serve God in one place rather than in another, in this way rather than in that, is not this desiring to serve Him in our own way rather than in His? But to be equally ready for all things, to will everything and nothing, to leave ourselves in his hands, like a toy in the hands of a child, to set no bounds to our abandonment, inasmuch as the perfect reign of God cannot abide them, this is really denying ourselves; this is treating Him like a God, and ourselves like creatures made solely for his use.

The Inner Life – Francois Fenelon