In Darkness, Light

By Chris Sparks

The following quote may seem shocking, at first - that's why it's important.

Saint Vincent de Paul said of [St.] Jane Frances [de Chantal]: "She was full of faith, yet all her life had been tormented by thoughts against it. While apparently enjoying the peace and easiness of mind of souls who have reached a high state of virtue, she suffered such interior trials that she often told me her mind was so filled with all sorts of temptations and abominations that she had to strive not to look within herself ... But for all that suffering her face never lost its serenity, nor did she once relax in the fidelity God asked of her. And so I regard her as one of the holiest souls I have ever met on this earth" (Butler's Lives of the Saints).

Got that? Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, foundress of the Congregation of the Visitation, spiritual daughter of St. Francis de Sales, and a woman renowned for sanctity in her own time, often said to St. Vincent de Paul that "her mind was so filled with all sorts of temptations and abominations that she had to strive not to look within herself."

How can this be?

Remember several things. First: Sanctity doesn't always look like we think it should. Sanctity isn't always obviously clean or respectable looking (think of St. Benedict Joseph Labre or St. Damien of Molokai in his last years as a leper). Also, the struggles of a saint can be messy. They can involve terrific temptations to horrific acts, or more ordinary temptations to very common sins, sins which we'd imagine they were long past confronting.

Second: the work of the devil in tempting us is very real, as evidenced in Scripture by his temptation of Christ in the desert (see Mt 4:1-11), and in the life of St. Anthony of Egypt, among many other saints. Not every thought that crosses our minds comes from within ourselves. The devil does want our damnation and pursues it with all his might.

Thirdly: sanctity is trustful, loving obedience to God. It's a life of faith, hope, and charity. Part of such a life is going to confession and receiving God's forgiveness for our sins. Yes, we are all called to Christian perfection, a perfection made possible by the transforming grace of God - but we don't get to choose when we are made perfect, though our choices will certainly affect that timeline. Rather, our sanctification is a collaboration between our will and God's will.

Sometimes, He permits us to struggle with the same temptations, the same weaknesses, for years on end. Sometimes, we choose to struggle with the same weaknesses for years on end, resisting God's transforming grace. Think of St. Augustine's famous prayer: "Lord, make me chaste - but not yet." Because sanctification is such a personal thing between God and each individual human being, we cannot judge the souls and the lives of other people. Sometimes a person making the greatest effort, cooperating most fully with the grace of God, will still appear to all around them as a very weak, sinful person - and yet God knows what heroic virtue and depths of love are involved in that life. Sometimes a person who appears to lead an exemplary life of Christian virtue is very far away from God (see Lk 18:9-14).

Saint Jane Frances de Chantal's successful struggle against many sufferings and great inner darkness offers hope to those who also struggle against terrible temptations, for whom the road to sanctity isn't going to be pretty and for whom faith comes at a high cost. There's room in the Church for the disreputable, for the diseased, for the monstrous and the mad. There is a balm in Gilead (Jer 8:22); there is grace and forgiveness for all, no matter their sins, no matter their temptations, no matter how dark and horrible they may seem to themselves. Come to the light! Come to baptism and confession; come to the Heart of Jesus, and console Him by accepting His great, fiery merciful love. Consecrate yourselves to the Immaculate Heart, and be loved and tended by a most merciful mother. Learn of the truths of the faith - let light into your darkness through the renewal of your mind and the transformation of your life by becoming merciful in deed, word, and prayer (see Diary, 742).

On Aug. 12, her feast day, let us ask St. Jane Frances de Chantal to pray for us when we face dark times and discouragement, that our trust in Jesus' mercy never waver and our hope for our own sanctification through our cooperation with the grace of God be steadfast. Let us ask her intercession that we rise rapidly to the heights of loving communion with God for the salvation of our own soul and the souls of those around us.



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