By Canon Thomas de Saint-Laurent
Confidence, he writes, is “a hope;” not that ordinary hope common to all the faithful, from which he clearly distinguishes it by a precise term: it is “a fortified hope.”
But note well, here there is no difference in nature, only in degree. The faint glimmer of the dawn is as much part of the same day as the dazzling light of the full noon-tide. Hence hope and confidence are equally parts of the same virtue; one is the complete expansion of the other.
Ordinary hope cannot exist in a soul that yields to despair; a certain amount of anxiety however, is not incompatible with its existence. But, when ordinary hope reaches that perfection which merits for it the same of confidence, then it becomes more sensitive, more easily injured. It can no longer bear the very smallest degree of hesitation that it is possible to imagine; the slightest doubt would lessen it and so reduce to the level of mere hope.
The Royal Prophet David is very exact in his choice of expressions when he calls confidence a “super-hope.” It is, indeed, a question of a virtue carried to the very highest degree attainable. And Father Saint-Jure, one of the most esteemed spiritual writers of the seventeenth century, justly regards the word as meaning an “extraordinary and heroic hope.”
The soul that possesses confidence ever remembers the promises of our Heavenly Father and has meditated upon them profoundly. She knows that God cannot fail to keep His word, hence her unalterable confidence. Danger may threaten her, surround her, even strike her, but she remains calm, undisturbed. In spite of the imminent danger, she repeats the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?”
Faith and Confidence
There is the closest affinity between faith and confidence; the two are most intimately related. A theologian of modern times tells us that confidence has its source, its root in faith. Hence the more profound our faith, the stronger, the more deeply rooted will be our confidence. In the Sacred Scriptures we find the same word, faith—fides,—used in turn to designate these virtues.
“Confidence,” wrote Father Saint-Jure, “is steadfast, firmly fixed, unalterable, in such a pre-eminent degree, that nothing in the world can, I do not say, destroy it, but even shake it.”
Neither the most afflicting temporal misfortunes nor the greatest spiritual troubles will disturb the peace of the soul that trusts in God. Such a soul, even when unforeseen calamities have laid all her earthly happiness in ruins around her, when every earthly hope is blighted, will remain unmoved. She will turn to our Divine Lord; she will lean upon Him with a confidence all the more assured that she feels herself deprived of all earthly assistance. She will pray with greater fervour and, in the darkness of the time of trial, she will wait in silence for God’s appointed hour of relief.
Such confidence, no doubt, is rare. But, unless it attains to this minimum of perfection, it does not merit the name of confidence. We find some sublime examples of this degree of confidence recorded in Holy Scripture and in the lives of the Saints.
Such was the confidence of Job. When stricken with every possible misfortune—the death of his children, the loss of all his wealth, reduced to direst poverty, afflicted with a dreadful disease—he never murmured. “The Lord gave,” he said, “and the Lord has taken away. As it has pleased the Lord so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” “Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him.”
Sublime confidence which God magnificently rewarded. The hour of Job’s trials came to an end. He regained health; he acquired wealth far exceeding what he had lost; he became more prosperous than ever.
In the life of Saint Martin it is related that once when traveling, the Saint fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him of everything and were about to put him to death when, suddenly, moved to repentance or struck by some mysterious fear, just as all hope seemed lost they set him free.
Afterwards someone asked the Saint if, in the presence of such imminent danger, he had not felt afraid. “Not in the least,” he answered, “I knew that God’s help is never nearer than when all human aid is furthest from us.”
In Times of Trial
Unfortunately most Christians fail to imitate these examples. Never are they so slow to turn to God as in the hour of trial. Many neglect to send forth that appealing cry to God for which He waits in order to come to their help. Fatal negligence! Others in their troubles pray fervently, but they do not persevere in prayer. If they are not heard at once, they fall into a state of unreasoning dejection. They do not understand the ways of divine grace. God treats us as children. Sometimes He seems deaf to our prayers because He likes to hear us calling upon Him. Why be discouraged so quickly when, on the contrary, we should pray more insistently than ever?
Saint Francis de Sales says: “Providence only delays to come to our help in order to excite us to confidence. If our Heavenly Father does not always grant us what we ask, it is to keep us near Him and to make us press Him, by our loving violence, to give us what we want. He showed this plainly to the two disciples at Emmaus, with whom He did not consent to remain until the close of the day, and after they had pressed Him.”
Confidence relies on God alone. The souls that possess this perfect confidence in God “think very little of the help of creatures, whether the help resulting from their own individual efforts, from their knowledge, their skill, their wealth, from their friends, their relations or from anything that they possess or from any help which they might expect from others, because they know the weakness of all created human help. They regard such help as what it is in reality, and what Saint Teresa called it, “the dry state of the juniper which breaks as soon as any weight is placed on it.”
We must not suppose for a moment that this wholehearted confidence in God means that when we are in difficulties we are to make no efforts on our own to overcome them; that we are to fold our arms, do nothing, and hope for God to come to our assistance. Such a theory would lead to a fatalism or, at the least, to passivity.
No: God does not mean that we are to lull ourselves into a sense of security by doing nothing. He requires us to work. We must act, but we must leave it to Him to render our actions efficacious. “Help thyself, and Heaven will help thee.” Such is the economic plan of God’s Providence.
Let us work, then, as well as we are able, but always with our minds and hearts fixed on God. Without God’s help we are utterly powerless. “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” (Ps. 226) “Without Me says Our Lord Himself, “you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
In the supernatural order this powerlessness is absolute. Without divine grace we cannot keep the whole of the Commandments for any length of time. Without grace we cannot resist all temptations, at times so violent, which assail us. Without grace we cannot have a good thought, say the shortest prayer; without it we cannot even invoke the Holy Name of Jesus.
All that we can accomplish in the supernatural Order comes to us wholly and entirely from God. (Cor. 3:5)
Even in the natural order it is God who gives success. Saint Peter had labored the whole night. He was hardworking and inured to toil and trouble; he was an adept in his arduous calling. Yet he caught nothing. But as soon as Our Lord enters the little barque and Peter, at the word of the Divine Master, at once casts his nets, so great is the draught of fishes that the nets are broken. “In all that you have to do,” said Saint Ignatius of Loyola, “here is the rule of rules to follow: trust to God, whilst acting as if success in everything depended wholly on yourself, and at the same time, while you leave nothing undone to ensure success, do not rely on your own efforts knowing that God alone can do everything and you nothing.” Confidence rejoices when deprived of all earthly aid.
Not to grow discouraged when the mirage of earthly hopes vanishes, to rely on God’s assistance alone, is indeed, exalted virtue. But true confidence reaches to the very highest degree of perfection. That degree “consists in rejoicing when we find ourselves deprived of all human aid; abandoned by relatives, by friends, by all creatures who will not, or cannot help us in any way whatsoever.”
How profound the wisdom of those souls who can thus rejoice in such painful circumstances. To sing the canticle of joy when struck by such blows as would naturally destroy our courage, we must have an intimate knowledge of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; we must believe, with an absolute belief, that nothing can change His Pity, His Mercy, and His all-powerful Goodness. We must have a positive certainty that the hour of our most desperate troubles is the time He has appointed to come to our assistance.
After his conversion, Saint Francis of Assisi despised all the dreams of glory which for a long time had dazzled him. He shunned all the worldly assemblies, and retired into the woods where he spent long hours in prayer and meditation. He gave unselfish alms. The young saint’s father was displeased at the change. He brought him before the diocesan court and charged him with squandering his property. There, in the presence of the astonished Bishop, Francis renounced his paternal inheritance. He gave up everything for which he was indebted to his family, even his clothes. He stripped himself of all. Then, filled with supernatural happiness, he cried out: “Now, now, O my God! I can call Thee, with greater justice than ever: Our Father Who art in Heaven.”
Souls that are overwhelmed with misfortunes, destitute of all human aid, do not murmur. God does not ask that you should feel a sensible joy which is impossible to our weakness. Only do not let your faith weaken. Summon up your courage and force yourself to rejoice. God has given you the sign by which you may know that His appointed hour in which He will come to your aid is near: He has deprived you of all earthly assistance. Now is the time to resist the anxiety of human nature. You have reached that part of the interior Office when we must sing the Magnificat and offer incense. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice…. The Lord is nigh.” (Phil. 4:4,5) Follow this counsel; you will feel the benefits of it.
If the Divine Master did not let Himself be moved by such confidence, He would no longer be the same Lord Whom the Gospel shows us ever merciful, ever moved to pity at the sight of suffering.
To a saintly Religious, Sister Benignus Consolata Ferrero, who died in the odor of sanctity, Our Lord once said: “If I am good to all, I am particularly good to those who trust in Me. Would you know who are the souls who profit most by goodness? The souls who trust in Me.”