Editor's note:

I love de Caus­sade’s empha­sis on God’s activ­i­ty in the moments of our per­son­al his­to­ries. It is this fea­ture in his writ­ings that saves The Sacra­ment from the vaporous, ethe­re­al char­ac­ter of so many of the mys­ti­cal works. The spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of de Caus­sade is so utter­ly prac­ti­cal and down-to-earth. He takes the moments of our days and the sim­ple duties that make them up and gives them sacra­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance. Obe­di­ence to this duty of the present moment con­sti­tutes the path to holiness.

Nor is de Caus­sade speak­ing of a way of life beyond the reach of ordi­nary dis­ci­ples. He writes, Let us unceas­ing­ly impress upon every soul that the invi­ta­tion of this gen­tle, lov­ing Sav­ior expects noth­ing dif­fi­cult or extra­or­di­nary of them. Indeed, God is only ask­ing for your heart. Every­one can aspire to the same love, the same sur­ren­der, the same God and his work.” De Caus­sade offers a spir­i­tu­al­i­ty for ordi­nary folk — peo­ple just like you and me.

—Richard J. Foster
Renovaré Founder

Excerpt from Devotional Classics

1. Sick Doc­tors and Healthy Patients 

God’s order, his plea­sure, his will, his action and grace; all these are one and the same. The pur­pose on earth of this divine pow­er is per­fec­tion. It is formed, grows, and is accom­plished secret­ly in souls with­out their knowl­edge. The­ol­o­gy is full of the­o­ries and argu­ments expound­ing the mir­a­cles it works in each soul. We may be able to under­stand all these spec­u­la­tions, cogent­ly dis­cuss, write, teach, and instruct souls through them. But with only this in mind in rela­tion to those in whom that divine pur­pose exists, I sug­gest we are like sick doc­tors try­ing to cure patients in per­fect health. 

God’s order and his divine will, humbly obeyed by the faith­ful, accom­plish­es this divine pur­pose in them with­out their knowl­edge in the same way as med­i­cine obe­di­ent­ly swal­lowed cures invalids who nei­ther know nor care how. Just as it is fire and not the phi­los­o­phy or sci­ence of that ele­ment and its effects that heats, so it is God’s order and his will which sanc­ti­fy and not curi­ous spec­u­la­tions about its ori­gin or purpose 

To quench thirst, it is nec­es­sary to drink. Read­ing books about it only makes it worse. Thus, when we long for sanc­ti­ty, spec­u­la­tion only dri­ves it fur­ther from our grasp. We must humbly accept all that God’s order requires us to do and suf­fer. What he ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us. 

2. What God Ordains for the Present Moment 

All we need to know is how to rec­og­nize his will in the present moment. Grace is the will of God and his order act­ing in the cen­ter of our hearts when we read or are occu­pied in oth­er ways; the­o­ries and stud­ies, with­out regard for the refresh­ing virtue of God’s order, are mere­ly dead let­ters, emp­ty­ing the heart by fill­ing the mind. This divine will, flow­ing through the soul of a sim­ple une­d­u­cat­ed girl, through her suf­fer­ing or some excep­tion­al­ly noble act in adver­si­ty, car­ries out in her heart God’s mys­te­ri­ous pur­pose with­out thought enter­ing her head. Where­as the sophis­ti­cat­ed man, who stud­ies spir­i­tu­al books out of mere curios­i­ty, whose read­ing is not inspired by God, takes into his mind only dead let­ters and grows even more arid and obtuse. 

God’s order and his divine will is the life of all souls who either seek or obey it. In what­ev­er way this divine will may ben­e­fit the mind, it nour­ish­es the soul. These blessed results are not pro­duced by any par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stance but by what God ordains for the present moment. What was best a moment ago is so no longer because it is removed from the divine will which has passed on to be changed to form the duty to the next. And it is that duty, what­ev­er it may be, that is now most sanc­ti­fy­ing for the soul. 

3. The Fruit Ripens 

If the divine will ordains that read­ing is the duty of the present moment, read­ing achieves that mys­te­ri­ous pur­pose. If the divine will aban­dons read­ing for an act of con­tem­pla­tion, that duty will bring about a change of heart and then read­ing will be harm­ful and use­less. If the divine will rejects con­tem­pla­tion for con­fes­sions and the like (espe­cial­ly if they are lengthy), it will estab­lish Jesus Christ in our heart which all the sweet­ness of con­tem­pla­tion would only prevent. 

The mys­te­ri­ous growth of Jesus Christ in our heart is the accom­plish­ment of God’s pur­pose, the fruit of his grace and divine will. This fruit, as has been point­ed out, forms, grows, and ripens in the suc­ces­sion of our duties to the present which are con­tin­u­al­ly being replen­ished by God, so that obey­ing them is always the best we can do. We must offer no resis­tance and blind­ly aban­don our­selves to his divine will in per­fect trust. 

This divine will is infi­nite­ly wise, pow­er­ful, and benev­o­lent towards souls who total­ly and unre­served­ly put their trust in it, and who love and seek it alone, and who believe with an unshak­able faith and con­fi­dence that what the divine will ordains each moment is best, who look no fur­ther afield for vain com­par­isons with any mate­r­i­al ben­e­fits God’s order may bring. 

4. Jesus Christ in the Cen­ter of Our Being 

The will of God is the pres­ence, the real­i­ty, and the virtue in all things, adjust­ing them to souls. With­out God’s direc­tion all is void, empti­ness, van­i­ty, words, super­fi­cial­i­ty, death. The will of God is the sal­va­tion, san­i­ty, and life of body and soul what­ev­er else it may bring to either of them. Whether it be vex­a­tion and trou­ble for the mind, or sick­ness and death for the body, nev­er­the­less that divine will remains all in all. Bread with­out the divine will is poi­son, with it true sus­te­nance. With­out the divine will read­ing only blinds and per­plex­es, with it it enlightens. 

The divine will is the whole­ness, the good and the true in all things. Like God, the uni­ver­sal Being, it is man­i­fest in every­thing. It is not nec­es­sary to look to the ben­e­fits received by the mind and body to judge their virtue. These are of no sig­nif­i­cance. It is the will of God that gives every­thing, what­ev­er it may be, the pow­er to form Jesus Christ in the cen­ter of our being. This will knows no limits. 

5. God’s Pur­pose in the Present Moment 

Divine action does not dis­tin­guish between crea­tures, whether they are use­less or use­ful. With­out it every­thing is noth­ing, with it noth­ing is every­thing. Whether con­tem­pla­tion, med­i­ta­tion, prayer, inward silence, intu­ition, qui­etude, or activ­i­ty are what we wish for our­selves, the best is God’s pur­pose for us at the present moment. Souls must look upon every­thing as though it were a mat­ter of com­plete indif­fer­ence, and, see­ing only him in all things, must take or leave them as he wish­es so as to live, be nour­ished by, and hope in him alone and not by any pow­er or virtue which does not come from him. 

Every moment, and in respect of every­thing, they must say, like St. Paul, Lord what should I do?” Let me do every­thing you wish. The Spir­it wants one thing, the body anoth­er, but Lord, I wish only to do your divine will. Sup­pli­ca­tion, inter­ces­sion, men­tal or vocal prayer, action or silence, faith or wis­dom, par­tic­u­lar sacra­ments or gen­er­al grace, all these, Lord, are noth­ing, for your pur­pose is the true and only virtue in all things. It alone, and noth­ing else, how­ev­er sub­lime or exalt­ed, is the object of my devo­tion since the pur­pose of grace is the per­fec­tion of the heart, not of the mind.

6. This Secret Union 

The pres­ence of God which sanc­ti­fies our souls is the Holy Trin­i­ty which dwells in our hearts when they sur­ren­der to the divine will. God’s pres­ence com­ing to us through an act of con­tem­pla­tion brings this secret union. Like every­thing else belong­ing to God’s order and enjoined by the divine will, it must always take first place as the most per­fect means of unit­ing our­selves to God. 

It is by being unit­ed to the will of God that we enjoy and pos­sess him, and it is a delu­sion to seek this divine pos­ses­sion by any oth­er means. Being unit­ed to God is the only way, not in any spe­cif­ic man­ner or style, but in a thou­sand dif­fer­ent ways, and the one he choos­es for us is the best. But they must all be loved and esteemed since they are all ordained by God and his pur­pose, cho­sen for and adapt­ed to each soul to bring about the divine union. And souls must abide by his choice, pre­fer­ring the way of this blessed will, and must love and respect it just as much in others. 

7. We Must Set No Bounds 

For exam­ple, if God’s pur­pose pre­scribes for me vocal prayers, lov­ing sen­ti­ments, insight into the mys­ter­ies, I must love the silence and bare­ness which a life of faith inspires in oth­ers. But for myself, I must make use of my duty to the present and by it unite myself to God. I must not, like the qui­etists, reduce all reli­gion to a denial of any spe­cif­ic action, despis­ing all oth­er means, since what makes per­fec­tion is God’s order, and the means he ordains is best for the soul. No, we must set no bounds or lim­its or shape to the will of God. 

We must accept any way he choos­es to com­mu­ni­cate with us and respect any way it pleas­es him to unite him­self to oth­ers. Thus, all sim­ple souls have but one gen­er­al way, though spe­cif­ic and dif­fer­ent in each one, which makes up the diver­si­ty of the mys­ti­cal expe­ri­ence. All sim­ple souls must admire and respect one anoth­er, say­ing: Let us pro­ceed each one along our path to the same goal, unit­ed in pur­pose and by means of God’s order which, in its great vari­ety, is in us all.” It is in this light that the lives of the saints and the spir­i­tu­al books must be read, with­out ever being mis­led or going astray. 

8. When Will God Be All in All? 

It is why it is absolute­ly essen­tial nei­ther to read nor hold spir­i­tu­al dis­course unless ordained by God. Since his order makes it their duty to the present to do so, far from being mis­led, souls will find reas­sur­ance in the very things which con­tra­dict what they have learnt. But if God’s order does not make this read­ing and spir­i­tu­al dis­course the duty to the present moment, they will always emerge trou­bled and find them­selves con­fused and uncertain.

With­out God there can be no order any­where. How long, then, shall we con­tin­ue to con­cern our­selves with our own lib­er­ty or our own capac­i­ty to suf­fer the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of the present moment? When will God be all in all to us? Let us see things in their true light and rise above them to live pure­ly in God himself.

Excerpts tak­en from Devo­tion­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings for Indi­vid­u­als and Groups (Richard J. Fos­ter & James Bryan Smith, Edi­tors. Harper­Collins, 1993.) and used with permission.

Pho­to by Aziz Achar­ki on Unsplash

Originally published December 1992

Starting Soon: The 2020-21 Renovaré Book Club

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