Father de Caussade and the Abandonment to Divine Providence

Existentially Bored

Currently, we are witnessing a widespread cultural shift away from the Christian faith and an odd movement in many hearts toward various Eastern philosophies and spiritualities. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once vocalized, it appears the West has become “existentially bored” with the Gospel message. The posterity of powerful saints, martyrs, spiritual masters, and cultural reformers have become convinced that the Christian patrimony has nothing to offer them. It is falsely believed that the Gospel no longer has relevancy and can no longer offer a viable contribution to developing a strong relationship with God, the world, or peace within our own souls.

Admittedly, this discarding of Christian spiritual wisdom is happening because of many cultural tendencies that Church leadership cannot control. However, there is one glaring exception. There is one aspect that Church leadership can actively control and yet, truth be told, it’s been left wanting. Namely, very little has been done to teach and present the experiences, signs, wonders, wisdom, and masterpieces of our Christian saints and spiritual masters. In such a state, the Church is left appearing to be nothing more than a moral judge or dispenser of presumedly antiquated creedal statements.

The lifeblood of the Church’s existence — our encounter with God and the reception and cooperation with his grace — is necessary if the other aspects of the Church’s life are to have the proper context. And so, the spiritual masters have to be brought out of the Church’s treasury and applied to life today. Their wisdom has to be able to receive new soil and grow to fruition. Believers, or former believers, have to be shown how to see God, discern his providential care, and seek him with a sincere heart.

Father Jean Pierre de Caussade

With the above in mind, and wanting to make a small contribution to this overall effort, this article will present the writings of Father Jean Pierre de Caussade. Over two hundred years ago, the saintly Jesuit gave a series of talks to some Visitation Sisters in Nancy, France. The sisters were so moved by the spiritual conferences that they kept their notes of the talks for about a hundred years. After that century of preservation, the sisters asked for them to be collected and codified into a book.

After some work, that book was published under the title, Abandonment to Divine Providence. The book contained the principal lessons of Father Jean Pierre de Caussade, who coined the term “the sacrament of the present moment.” In some respects, the author was before his times as he retrieved notions within the Christian patrimony, such as the universal call to holiness of all God’s people, the centrality of one’s vocation (whatever it might be), the means of holiness found within our ordinary duties, and the high importance of redemptive suffering. While all of these were within the Christian tradition, some of them had been eclipsed or lopsidedly applied to only those in the clerical or Religious state of life. De Caussade recycled these notions from the tradition and applied them to all Christians of any vocation.

A Fever-Pitched Culture

At first glance we might understandably question how spiritual writings from two centuries ago can help us, but the challenge to seek God always has parallels in every age. For starters, the endeavor to surrender to God’s divine providence is never an easy achievement, regardless of the culture or century. No matter where we are or when we are, our fallen minds are seduced by illusions of control and attracted to the passing things of this world. We are inclined to distraction. This is fallen human nature, and it has not changed much through the generations.

In Western culture today, we always want to be in-the-know and have an obsessive desire for control. We are easily seduced by excessive activity. We avoid divine providence in the present moment because it requires our full attention and honesty about who we are and where we are. In the hustle and bustle, we can easily lose ourselves. In contrast to these movements, Father de Caussade reminds us that if we are willing to lift the veil that lies beyond all the things of this world, God would endlessly reveal himself to us in the most ordinary, and yet amazing, of ways.

Western culture is surrounded by fears of missing out or of only living once with no view to eternity. They demand an incessant juggling of duties. We are always busy and we seem to always like it. We don’t want to miss anything, even if this desire makes us truly miss everything. And this is considered success, even normal. We have so much going on in so many different locales and in so many different types of media. We are stretched to our limits and we often seem not to care, unless it’s to complain or wallow in self-pity on social media!

This pace leads us to forget who we are or where we are called to be. In this shuffle, the real treasures of our lives can get lost along the way. We get caught up in the overall rat race that empties our life of its meaning. We neglect sacred things and important things. We become strangers to ourselves.

Our Spiritual Master’s Wisdom

The above is our world today. Father Caussade, however, points us in a different direction. He gifted us with the divine wisdom contained in Abandonment to Divine Providence, which is not for the fainthearted. The work of the blessed author is written for those who welcome the Cross, or at least have stopped trying to run from it. The masterpiece is a challenge. It demands that we search for value, purpose, and meaning in the array of our human experience — from tragedy and joy to darkness and light. It is an aid to each of us to completely surrender to the workings of divine providence as a mixture of faith, hope, and love, which unites us to God and his work among us. In this effort, we must not be cowardly, but generous and bold. We must have a generosity of heart.

Growing into It

In our adulthood, we have to stand on our own two feet, roll up our sleeves, and build upon the foundation given to us by the holy ones. Like all those who desire pure hearts before God, we have to ask our own questions. More specifically, we have to push ourselves and inquire within our own souls: “Do I believe in divine providence? Will I truly surrender my life to it?”

Faith points us to the mystery and beauty of God’s providence and calls us to a radical surrender — from the depths of our heart — to the workings of divine providence.

Such an abandonment should not be confused with other things. It is not an indulgence in self-reliance or a misplaced confidence in our own strength. It is not a foolish exercise in some type of optimism or wishful thinking. As Father de Caussade teaches us, our surrender to divine providence is a broadening of our minds and hearts to the eternal and infinite. It is a willingness to look beyond the immediate sufferings or sorrows of our lives and to place them within the larger picture of creation and goodness. Our abandonment to divine providence is not a waiting game to get what we want, how we want it, and when we want it. Rather, it is an unconditional surrender. We place all our needs, wants, and hopes before God, here and now, and then we let go.

Truly, an abandonment to divine providence is a true sacrifice of our will to the workings of divine providence. It is a complete trust in God that is willing to accept suffering and disappointment for a greater good. Our abandonment to divine providence is the tough decision to live in the present moment, and not in future hopes or past hurts. It is a willingness to look and search for God here and now, and not later or somewhere else. As Father de Caussade would call it, the here and now is truly a “sacrament of the present moment.” It is a path to encounter God and know of his love and care for us.

The Task Continues

In the above article, the spiritual master Father Jean Pierre fe Caussade was presented and a portion of his spiritual wisdom was outlined and explained. It is a wisdom that leads to peace in a busy and hectic world. It is counsel that is born from the Gospel and that points its followers back to its perennial relevancy and richness.

As many leave the Christian tradition looking for God, this is only one exercise. It is only one example of what the Church could do and employ to show the world the youthfulness of the Gospel and the richness and joy found within it.

Fr. Jeffrey Kirby About Fr. Jeffrey Kirby

Father Jeffrey Kirby, STD, is the Pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Indian Land, South Carolina. He is an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Belmont Abbey College and the author of the recent book, Be Not Troubled: A 6-Day Personal Retreat with Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade.

Comments

  1. Avatar Lynn OGorman Latchford says:

    Thank you thank you for this encouraging and well written article. I will be sure to locate the book and ponder its many teachings. May God bless you always.

  2. Thank you, Fr. Kirby for this word of encouragement for us to look to the saints and other holy spiritual teachers, especially in this case to Fr. de Caussade in his work, his message, of divine providence. We are blessed in the Church with so many saints, and so much wisdom! So many insights and witnesses to holiness, our common calling. But – I must say “but” – I agree with your bold and truthful statement, “The work of the blessed author is written for those who welcome the Cross, or at least have stopped trying to run from it.”

    Here is where my great concern for the Church of today comes to full boil. So many Catholics – even among those who are active participants in the parish – have found a third option to the Cross – “delete” – as you suggest early in the essay: “Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once vocalized, it appears the West has become ‘existentially bored’ with the Gospel message.” As for the true Gospel, if and when it is ever encountered, they turn it off, and tune it out, and wait to hear something new, self-affirming, self-enhancing, pleasing and promising of good for me here and now. In most parishes I have experienced in my lifetime, such Catholics do not have to wait long for such pandering from the pulpit. And thanks be to God for that honesty! Pandering in place of Truth deserves boredom.

    Yes we ought to meet and truly encounter the saints and any other authentic and faithful spiritual writers in our tradition! But until we – as Church – meet and truly encounter God in the Word, through His words in the inspired Holy Scripture, we will remain distant from Him and bored, even in the shadow of death. The saints and the holy Truth of their witness will remain unintelligible to us, we will remain laboring under natural faith, natural hope and natural love – we will remain blind to the supernatural and the eternal – deaf and insensitive to the divine beauty that Christ came to reveal. We need to learn to listen, until we come to hear Him.

  3. Avatar Dave Jamieson says:

    de Caussade’s spiritual masterpiece has greatly influenced my understanding of God and His providence. It is a book for every generation – how many pearls such as this lie waiting to be found in the Church’s treasury?

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