Father Lallemant was one of the great figures in the Society of Jesus in seventeenth-century France. He was in charge of the “Third Year,” the last year of training in Jesuit formation; and among his students were saints such as Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brébeuf, who were martyred in North America.
At the heart of his spiritual teaching he placed docility to the Holy Spirit, together with the purification of the heart or practice of detachment that makes such docility possible.
Notes taken from the conferences he gave have been collected into a book, and the following passages are extracts from it.
Docility to the Holy Spirit
When souls have abandoned themselves to be led by the Holy Spirit He raises them little by little and guides them.
At the beginning these souls do not know where they are being led, but little by little a light shines within and makes them see all their actions and the guidance of God on their actions, so that they have almost nothing else to do than let God do whatever He chooses in them and through them; so that these souls advance marvelously.
We have a figure of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in God’s guidance of the Israelites after their escape from Egypt, as they journeyed through the desert to reach the Promised Land. He guided them with a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night.
They followed the movement of this pillar, and stopped when it stopped; they never overtook it but only followed it, and never separated themselves from it.
That is how we should act toward the Holy Spirit.
Means for reaching docility
The main means for achieving this guidance of the Holy Spirit are:
- Faithfully obeying God’s wishes as far as we know them. There are many that we do not know, for we are all full of ignorance; but God will only call us to account for the things he has given us to know. If we make good use of these, He will give us more. If we accomplish what He has already made known to us of His designs, He will then show us the rest.
- Frequently renew the good resolution to follow God’s will in all things, and strengthen that resolution as much as we can.
- Ask the Holy Spirit unceasingly for the light and strength to accomplish God’s will; bind ourselves to the Holy Spirit and hold fast to Him, like St. Paul, who said to the elders at Ephesus: “I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit.” Especially on undertaking the most important activities, ask God for the light of the Holy Spirit, and tell him earnestly that we do not wish anything except to do his will. After which, if he does not give us any new lights, we will do, as we did up to that point, what we have been accustomed to do and what seems to us to be best.
- Take careful note of the different movements of our soul. Through that diligence little by little we shall come to recognize what comes from God and what does not. What comes from God, in a soul subject to grace, is ordinarily peaceful and tranquil. What comes from the devil is violent, and brings trouble and anxiety with it.
Motives for docility: Perfection and even salvation depend on docility to grace
The two elements of the spiritual life are the purification of the heart and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Those are the two poles of the whole spiritual life. By these two ways we reach perfection according to the degree of purity we have acquired, and in proportion to the fidelity we have shown in cooperating with the movements of the Holy Spirit and following his guidance.
All of our perfection depends on this fidelity; and the whole spiritual life could be summed up as taking note of the ways and movements of the Holy Spirit in our souls and strengthening our wills in the resolution to follow them, using for that purpose all the exercises of prayer, reading, the Sacraments, the practice of virtue, and the accomplishing of good works.
Some people have many beautiful practices and do a number of external acts of virtue; they place their effort in material acts of virtue. That is good for beginners, but it is much closer to perfection to follow the inner leading of the Holy Spirit and to be guided by his movements.
It is true that in this latter way of acting there is less perceptible satisfaction, but there is more inner life and more real virtue.
The goal which we should aspire to, after we have exercised the purification of our hearts for a long time, is to be so possessed and governed by the Holy Spirit that it is He alone who leads all of our faculties and senses and who rules our interior and external movements, and that we abandon ourselves entirely by spiritual renunciation of our preferences and our own satisfactions.
Thus we will no longer live in ourselves but in Jesus Christ, through full faithful response to the operations of his divine Spirit, and by perfect subjection of all our rebelliousness to the power of his grace…
Our greatest evil is the opposition we present toward God’s designs, and the resistance we make to his inspirations; for either we choose not to hear them, or having heard them we reject them, or having received them we weaken and dirty them by a thousand imperfections of attachment, complacency, and self-satisfaction.
However, the main point of spiritual life consists in so disposing ourselves to grace through purity of heart that, of two people who consecrate themselves at the same time to God’s service, if one gives himself wholly to good works and the other applies himself entirely to purifying his heart and cutting away what there is in it that opposes grace, this second person will achieve perfection twice as quickly as the first.
Thus our greatest concern should be not so much to read spiritual books as to pay great attention to divine inspirations, which are sufficient with very little reading, and to be extremely faithful in corresponding to the graces that are offered to us.
It sometimes happens that having received a good inspiration from God, we soon find ourselves attacked by repugnance, doubts, bewilderment, and difficulties that come from our corrupt nature and from our passions that are contrary to divine inspiration.
If we receive that inspiration with total submission of heart, it will fill us with the peace and consolation that the Spirit of God brings with him, and that he communicates to souls whom he encounters no resistance in.
“I can see in country life and the country home great possibilities for keeping alive a right love for knowledge. The country child has the great advantage of living from his earliest days in close contact with natural things, with things that have come straight from the hand of God. Natural things exert an almost incredibly strong influence on the child mind, which can surrender its whole being so fully to what it sees and loves- a fleet of ducklings on a pond, a calf on its rickety legs, a moonlight walk to turn off the windmill, the tall trees always in their place, the ride round the thirty-acre on the Massey-Harris pulled by eight strong horses.” -Catholic Education, Dominican Nun, 1954
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