By Father John Bayer, O.Cist.
Special to The Texas Catholic
Someone left copies of “Abandonment to Divine Providence” by Jean-Pierre de Caussade in the monastery one day. The edition is a paperback from Dynamic Catholic, a company that tries to make great Catholic literature widely available.
A few ideas in this book stick out to me. First, de Caussade introduces a marvelous idea, namely, the “sacrament of the present moment” (1.II). He encourages his reader to adopt a very simple spirituality, one he says was available “in former times to our fathers” (1.I), or when there were not yet any spiritual directors and religious orders, and before the devotions and examples of the saints. Originally, “all spirituality was comprised in fidelity to the designs of God” — that is, in the constant attention “to each new duty that presented itself by the permission of God at different hours of the day.” (1.I). This spirituality, which is the most essential spirituality, consists in encountering God’s grace as it lies hidden beneath “the duty, the attraction, or the cross that is presented to us at each moment.” (1.II). Like Mary’s fiat — “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38) – our response to God at each moment of his Providence can turn every ordinary moment into the extraordinary mystery of our sanctification (1.IX; 2.II). Whether we are performing the duties proper to our state in life (like the duties proper to our professions, roles in our families or vocations), or following an attraction placed by God into our hearts (like the desire to learn something, or start a hobby that serves our growth in virtue and holiness, or join an activity that opens us to new friends and evangelical opportunities), or embracing a cross set before us by God (like the patience we must exercise to forgive others) – in all these moments we meet God.
Every moment becomes a kind of sacrament, so to speak, since the treasures of grace lie concealed beneath what is very plain and visible (1.II). I love the simplicity of this spirituality, and the way it aligns so perfectly with a life of mindful acceptance of the present moment. In the end, we need run from nothing we meet through Divine Providence. If justice and charity bring you to a challenging moment, it is worth it to be present and to give yourself to it with devotion. God is speaking to you right there.
Second, De Caussade reminds us that the story unfolding in Scripture is far from over. This divinely inspired record of God’s saving action is not a time-bound story but rather a time-defining story. That is, God’s saving action shapes all of history; it is not locked in the past as merely one part of a bigger history. De Caussade insists “Jesus Christ has lived and lives still. He began from Himself and will continue in His saints a life that will never end.” (2.V). Jesus continues to live in us, and there is no number of books that would suffice “to record the history of all the moments of this mystical life of Jesus Christ” (2.V). The innumerable souls who give themselves to God are “the paper” on which the Holy Spirit continues to write the Gospel. And for “ink” he uses their “sufferings and actions” (2.IV & 2.V). One day we will be able to read this mystical book together, when the Lamb of God, who alone is the key to history, opens the “scroll” with its “seven seals” (Revelation 5:1-5) and reveals the ultimate meaning of our lives.
De Caussade expresses the confidence we should have as Christians that God is alive and acting. Nothing happens to us apart from God’s will, and thus everything can become a portal through which to meet him. Scripture is not filled with merely abstract exemplars like some good story, fable or history. It is the outline of “a living Gospel” (2.V) that God continues to write in our souls. Scripture is our story today. We are among the letters included in the story bookended and defined by Jesus, the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8; 22:13). His Body, of which we become real and living members through baptism, is today still growing to “full stature” (Ephesians 4:13). My life is not my own. Neither is yours. The excitement and meaning of our lives is not limited to what we can already see. We are part of a cosmic story in which all that seems plain and ordinary is, in fact, the mystery of God’s presence.
Finally, de Caussade wrote this book to enable people to find spiritual direction from God himself rather than feeling the need always to rely on formal spiritual directors. Spiritual direction can sometimes be helpful, but, if misunderstood, it can easily become a distraction from the real direction we receive from God himself. For, “There is not a moment in which God does not present Himself under the cover of some pain to be endured, of some consolation to be enjoyed, or of some duty to be performed. All that takes place within us, around us, or through us, contains and conceals His divine action.” (2.I).
Father John Bayer, O. Cist., is a monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving.