Recently I picked up the spiritual classic “Abandonment to Divine Providence” by Jesuit Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade. I had read it before, but — as with all the great classics — there is far more wisdom than can be absorbed in one reading. In this work, Father Caussade guides us along the path of holiness in our ordinary lives and helps us discover God in the midst of the moments and circumstances of daily life.
At the heart of the matter, Father Caussade teaches that “holiness consists in one thing alone, namely, fidelity to God’s plan.” He unequivocally affirms, “This fidelity is equally within everyone’s capacity.” Some 200 years later, Vatican II affirmed the same truth in chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium: “In the Church, everyone… is called to holiness. […] They must follow in [Christ’s] footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor.”
Father Caussade goes on to write of two dimensions of holiness: active and passive. The active dimension regards our efforts to correspond to God: “The active practice of fidelity consists in accomplishing the duties imposed on us by the general laws of God and the Church, and by the particular state of life which we have embraced.” The passive aspect focuses more upon God’s action: “Passive fidelity consists in the loving acceptance of all that God sends us at every moment.”
In following this path of holiness that winds along the ups and downs — as well as the twists and turns — of everyday life, the journey soon leads to the discovery of God himself in the midst of daily life. For, “the shadow beneath which the power of God conceals itself in order to bring Jesus Christ to souls, is the duty, attraction, or cross which every moment brings.” In fact, we might be surprised by just how ordinary these extraordinary graces may appear to be on the surface: “What treasures of grace are contained in each of these moments underneath the commonplace appearance of the events that fill them? Outwardly, these events are no different from those which happen to everyone, but the interior invisible element discerned by faith is nothing less than God himself performing great works.”
Undoubtedly, the hustle, bustle and constant noise of society make it difficult to set aside moments for silence and reflection. Consequently, it is easy to become a “surface dweller,” leaving our interior lives largely vacated. In his “Confessions,” St Augustine states that God is “more inward than [our] most inward part.” Yet, before his conversion, St Augustine notes, “You [God] were there before me, but I had departed from myself. I could not even find myself, much less you.”
Without silence and reflection, our gaze begins to penetrate less and less beyond the surface, allowing the limits of the material to function as blinders to any sort of spiritual “insight.” Yet, without this spiritual sense, it is impossible to find God in all things, not only in people, places and objects but also in the “thing” that is time itself. For it is in the here and now of the present moment that we are able to encounter God. Caussade refers to this as the “sacrament” of the present moment.
Once we discover God hidden in “the duty, attraction, or cross which every moment brings,” our response must be that of trusting abandon, which is an active “handing over of the reins” of our life to God. It is an attitude of receptivity, not of resignation, and is akin to the confidence of a child entrusting himself to be carried in his loving parent’s arms to wherever his parent chooses. Likewise, it is not a once and done decision, but a deliberate, conscious choice that must be renewed repeatedly. More than in our own successes and failures, its strength lies in God’s fidelity and love, which enable us to cry out, “Jesus, I trust in you.”