Wednesday, January 25, 2012

La paix de coeur (peace of heart)

   In trying to make decisions in my life, I remembered a little book I bought two years ago that was suggested to me by an American who said it was a book to be "read and reread" several times. It's called Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Father Jacques Philippe.
   It really is very good, but only when I had a specific problem now and reread it did it REALLY make sense. It has a great introduction about the importance of peace, then it has several chapters about the things that commonly make us lose our peace and how to react to them and finally it ends with a few writings from the saints about this topic. "The first goal of spiritual combat," he says in the introduction, "that twoard which our efforts must above all else be directed, is not to always obtain a vitory (over our temptations, weaknesses, etc., rather it is to learn to maintain peace of heart under all circumstances, even in the case of defeat." (p. 12)

The chapter called "Unrest When We Have Decisions to Make" really helped put things in perspective for me and I'd like to share a few quotes of it with you:

   "The last reason that we are going to examine and which frequently causes us to lose our sense of peace is a lack of certitude, the troubling of conscience that is experienced when it is necessary to make a decision and we are not able to see clearly. We are afraid to make a mistake that may have disturbing consequences, we are afraid that it may not be the will of the Lord.
   Situations of this type can be very painful and certain dilemmas truly agonizing. The general stance of abandonment and confidence of which we have spoken, this approach of putting everything into the hands of God which enables us to avoid 'dramatizing' anything (even the consequences that our errors might engender!) will be particularly precious in these situations of incertitude."
   "The first thing to say (and this is in complete harmony with what we have said up to this point) is that, faced with an important decision, one of the errors to avoid is that of being excessively hurried or precipitous. A certain deliberation is often necessary in order to properly consider things and to allow our hearts to orient themselves peaceably and gently toward a good solution."
   "In this regard, we must know that everyone will encounter, above all in the spiritual life, certain situations where one would not have sufficient light, would be incapable of making a necessary discernment or of making a determination in peace, without recourse to a spiritual advisor. The Lord does not want us to be self-sufficient and, as part of His pedagogy, He permits that sometime we find ourselves in the impossibility of finding enlightenment and peace by ourselves; we cannot receive them except through the intermediary of another person to whom we can open up."
   "Having said that, it is important to know one thing. Whatever the precautions (prayer, reflection, advice) that one uses to obtain enlightenment before making a decision and in order to be sure of doing God's will (it's a duty to take these precautions, because we do not have the right, above all in domains of importance, to decide lightly), one will not always receive this light in a clear and unambiguous manner. Confronted with a specific situation, we ask ourselves (and we must always do this!): 'What must I do? What is the Lord's will?' We will not always have a response!"
   "When the Lord leaves us thus in incertitude, we must quietly accept it."
   "Often we torment ourselves excessively regarding our decisions. As there is a false humility, a false compassion, we can also say that, concerning our decisions, there is sometimes that which one could call a 'false obedience' to God. We would like to be absolutely certain of doing God's will in all of our choices and never to be mistaken. But, there is, in this attitude, something that is not exactly right for a variety of reasons."
   "We want to be released from having to decide for ourselves. But, frequently, the will of the Lord is that we do decide for ourselves, even if we are not absolutely sure that this decision would be the best."
   "He [God] asks of us goodwill, the right intentions, but in no way does He demand that we would be infallible and that all of our decisions would be perfect! And additionally, if all our decisions were perfect, this would, without doubt, do us more harm than good! We would quickly take ourselves for supermen."
   "Perfectionism doesn't have much to do with sanctity."
   "When one is far from God, the adversary tempts him with evil: he attracts him to bad things. But when one is close to God, loves Him, desires nothing but to please and obey Him, the devil, while he tempts him still with evil (this is easy to recognize), he tempts him even further by good. This means that he makes use of our desire to do good to trouble us. He does this by making us scrupulous, or by presenting us with a certain good that we must realize but which is beyond our present strength, or which is not what God asks of us - all to discourage us or to cause of to lose our peace. He wants to convince us that we are not doing enough or that what we are doing we are not really doing for the love of God, or that the Lord is not happy with us, etc. He would make us believe, for instance, that the Lord is asking such and such a sacrifice of us that we are incapable of doing, and this will trouble us greatly. It creates all sorts of scruples and worries in the conscience which we should purely and simply ignore, while throwing ourselves into the arms of God like small children. When we lose peace for reasons similar to those we just mentioned, let us tell ourselves that the devil must be involved. Let's try to regain our calm and, if we cannot do it by ourselves, we should open up to a spiritual person. The mere fact of speaking to another person will generally be enough to make our confusion disappear completely and to bring back our peace."

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