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Joined: 2007/10/28
Posts: 1232
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 Letters from Fenelon To Women


Nov. 30.

WHAT will you say, my dear Sister ? I have not had one
available moment in which to read your " Life of the
Blessed Jean de la Croix," but I hope soon to read it
carefully. . . . What I would desire for you, dear Sister,
is that you should not trust too much to intellect in your
obedience. Do not obey a man because he can argue
more forcibly or speak more feelingly than others, but

because he is providentially ordered for you and is your
natural superior, or because apart from all else you feel that
he more than others is able to help you to conquer your
infirmities and attain to self-renunciation. A director is
of little use in teaching detachment from self when it is
self-will which seeks him. O my dear Sister, how I wish
I could teach you true poverty of spirit! Remember
what S. Paul says : " We are fools for Christ's Sake, but
ye are wise." J I would fain see in you no wisdom save
that of grace, which leads faithful souls in the sure way
when they do not yield to temper, their passions, or self-
will, or to any merely natural impulse. To such as these
all that the world calls talent, taste, and good reasoning
is as nought.



I CAN only tepeat what I have ventured to say frequently
before : Beware of your own intellectual gifts, and those
of others ; judge no one according to them. God, the
only wise Judge, goes on a very different line ; He gives
the preference to children and childlike minds. Read
nothing out of mere curiosity, or in order to confirm
your own opinions ; rather read with a view to foster a
1 I Cor. iv. 10.

hearty spirit of meekness and submission. Talk little of
yourself, and never save as a matter of obedience. Be
as frank as a child towards your superiors. Make no
count at all of your lights or extraordinary graces. Abide
in simple faith, content to be obscure and unremitting in
obedience to God's Commandments and the Evangelical
Counsels as set forth in your Rule. Act up to whatever
God may make known to you through others, and accept
meekly whatever may seem strange to you. Self-forget-
fulness should take the shape of crushing out self-will, not
of neglecting that watchfulness which is essential to the
real love of God. The greater your love, the more
jealously you will watch over yourself, so that nothing
may creep in unworthy of that love. This, dear Sister, is
all I have to say to you : receive it in the same spirit with
which I write. I ask our Lord to give you a deeper
understanding of these things than anything I can say,
and Himself to be all in all to you.



. . . No one can be more sorry for your sufferings than
I am, and I forgive them for hindering you in your
penitential exercises. Are not siclcness and pain a con-
tinual penitential exercise given us by God, and infinitely
better adapted to our needs by His Hand than anything
we could choose for ourselves ? What is to be aimed at
in any penitential works save mortification of the flesh
and submission of the spirit to God ? As to your read-
ing, I cannot regret the loss, so long as it pleases God
to deprive you of the power to read. All the best books
in the world put together cannot teach one so much as
the Cross. It is better to be crucified with Jesus Christ
than to read His " Sufferings ; " this last is often only an
interesting study, or at best an exercise of the affections,
whereas the other is the real solid fruit, and carrying out
in practice the result of all our prayers and meditations.
So go on bearing your pain in silence and tranquillity,
dear Sister : no better meditation than union with Christ
on His Cross. No one can suffer quietly for the love of
God without praying most really and purely. And so
you may safely let books alone ; books are only useful in
so far as they teach and fit us for this self-sacrificing
prayer. You will remember the passage in which S.
Augustine, speaking of the final moment of his con-
version, says that after having read certain words of S.
Paul, ''Xo further would I read, nor needed I ; for a light
as it were of security was infused into my heart." ' When
God supplies inward nourishment, we do not need it
from without. The word from without is only given in
order to supply that which is inward ; and when God
tries us by depriving us of that which is external, He
makes up for the deficiency by supplying the need, and
not leaving us to our own destitution. Be it yours, then,
to wait silently and lovingly upon Him. Occupy your
mind with whatever His Grace may suggest in medita-
tion, to make up for what you cannot have by means of
reading. Verily Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of the
Father, is a Divine Book of teaching. Sometimes we
seek merely to indulge our curiosity in reading, or to
gratify our intellect ; and then God weans us from such
pleasure by sickness. He trains us by helplessness and
a languid incapacity which is very trying and humbling
to self-love. But what an excellent lesson ! Where is
the book which could teach one so much ?

One thing I do very earnestly intreat of you is honestly
to spare your strength, and to receive the alleviations
afforded you as you would wish some one else to whose
needs you ministered to receive them. Such simple,
unaffected conduct will be a greater mortification to you
than the austerities you regret, but which are out of the
question. Moreover, God is better served by one who,
overwhelmed with suffering, is content to be deprived of
all consolation, than by those who are absorbed in the
most conspicuous works. "To whom will I look, saith the
Lord, but to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and
trembleth at My Word ? " ' The one class find their stay in
their own lights, their own exertions, their own works, but
God carries the other tenderly in His own Arms. Weep
as much as you will over the faults which you say God
brings to your mind ; I like what you call your stupidity
a hundredfold better than your fine intellectual feelings,
which are a purely hollow stay. Be content with what
God gives you, and that alike in every kind of vicissitude.
Once more, take care both of body and mind, for both
are exhausted.

Spiritual letters of Archbishop Fénelon : letters to women (1877)


 2011/5/16 13:33Profile

Joined: 2007/10/28
Posts: 1232
United States

 Re: Letters from Fenelon To Women


I QUITE understand that all your troubles come from
excessive self-consciousness, and from letting yourself be
too much guided by feeling. Directly that you do not
find prayer a downright solace to you, you are depressed.
Would you be at rest ? then try to be less occupied with
yourself, and more with God. Do not dissect and judge
yourself, but leave yourself to be judged by the spiritual
guide you have chosen. Of course we are sometimes
engrossed with ourselves without meaning it, and imagina-
tion causes many relapses into this unprofitable occupa-
tion ; but I do not ask what is impossible, I shall be
content if you are not voluntarily absorbed in self and
do not deliberately aim at judging yourself by your own
lights. Directly that you find yourself beginning to do
this, turn away as from a temptation, and do not let that
become intentional which was at first unconscious.

Nevertheless, do not suppose that this course which I
advise is intended anywise to interfere with that vigilance
over yourself which Jesus Christ teaches in the Gospel.
The best possible vigilance is to watch as in God's Sight
against the delusions of self-love. Now, one of the most
dangerous ot all these delusions is when we grow senti-
mental over ourselves, are perpetually self-engrossed, and
feed upon ourselves with a restless, anxious care which
withers and disables the heart, keeps us from realising
God's Presence, and ends by hopelessly depressing and
discouraging us. Say with S. Paul, " Yea, I judge not
mine own self : " ' you will watch all the better for the
real correction of your faults, and the fulfilment of your
duties, because of the absence of all this restless self-
willed fidgetiness. Then it will be out of love of God
that you will simply and quietly repress whatever you
see by that clear penetrating light to be faulty and un-
worthy of the Beloved; you will work at conquering
your failings without impatience or pettishness ; you will
tolerate yourself without flattery ; you will accept reproof
and be ready to obey. Such a line of conduct tends
far more to seif-renunciation than yielding to all the im-
patience and vexation and fancies of your own wilful-
ness. Moreover, when we attempt to judge ourselves by
our own feelings, we take an altogether wrong standard.
God only requires that which it is in our power to give,
and that happens to be our will. Feeling is not in our
own power we can neither win nor lose it as we please.
The most hardened sinners have at times better feelings
in spite of themselves, and the greatest saints have been
horribly tempted by evil feelings which they abhorred,
but such feelings have tended to humble, mortify, and
1 I Cor. iv. 3.

purify them. S. Paul tells us that our strength is
made perfect in weakness. 1 So it is not feeling but con-
sent 3 which makes us guilty.

Why should you suppose God is afar off because you
cannot perceive Him ? He is always, you may be sure,
near to those whose hearts are blank and sorrowful. No
pains of yours will win the conscious sweetness of His
Presence. What do you seek to love ? your own pleasure
or the Beloved One ? If the first only, then it is your-
self, not God, that you seek. People often deceive
themselves as to the hidden life, fancying that they are
aiming at God, when self-pleasing is their real aim ; and
when they cease to find delight or consolation in their
religious exercises, they turn from Him in disappoint-
ment. Assuredly it is never right to sacrifice that highest
delight for the sake of mere earthly pleasures ; but if it
fails you, go on in love, and serve God in spite of weari-
ness and disappointment. Love is of the purest when
not stimulated by reward, and we often make most
progress just when we think all is lost ! Love suffer-
ing on Calvary is far higher than love glowing with
excitement on Mount Tabor.

I don't care about seeing you a very great or very wise
and good woman. I want everything on a small scale.
Be a good little child.

1 2 Cor. xii. 9. * " Pas le sentir, mais le consentir.'


 2011/5/16 13:42Profile

Joined: 2007/10/28
Posts: 1232
United States




Do not be afraid ; you insult God by mistrusting His
Goodness ; He knows better than you what you want
and are able to bear ; He will never try you beyond your
strength. So I repeat it ; fear nothing, O you of little
faith ! The experience of your own weakness shows
you how little you can reckon on yourself or your best
resolutions. Sometimes one might suppose, to see the
warmth of one's feelings, that nothing could throw one
back, and .then, after having exclaimed, like S. Peter,
" Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny
Thee ! " one ends like him by being frightened at a
servant maid, and denying our Lord ! Weak indeed we
are ! but while such weakness is deplorable, the realisa-
tion thereof is most useful if it strips us of all self-
reliance. A weakness which we know and which
humbles us is worth more than the most angelic good-
ness complacently self-appropriated ! So be weak and
depressed if God permits it; but at all events be humble,
frank, and docile in your depression. Some day you
will laugh at all your present fears, and will thank God
for all that I say so harshly to drive you out of your
timid prudence.


 2011/5/16 13:44Profile

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