“I have no resource against this temptation to despair, but to throw myself before the Tabernacle, like a little dog at his master’s feet.”
– St. John Vianney
The Devil tempts many to despair; he often reserves this tempation for those who serve God, or who wish to serve Him. Impenitent sinners and the lukewarm are more likely to be tempted to presumption.
The temptation to despair takes different forms. Some believe that they will not persevere; others believe that they have managed to exhaust the infinite mercy of God. For this latter temptation, it will be profitable to consider the words of God to St. Hildegard.
God made known to her His great mercy for souls. He assured her – and He assures us – that a sinner is only ‘beyond’ help if they obstinately refuse it; even those who have terribly blasphemed God can be pardoned, provided that they repent of their malice, recognising that God’s mercy is infinitely greater than all their sins. As long as a breath of life remains to us, we may hope for pardon. Speaking of those who have committed various grave sins, God says that they will be forgiven if they return to Him…
“But if they persevere in their infidelity… [If they] remain impenitent… And if they persist in this, they cannot receive pardon because of… their obduracy [hardness of heart or final impenitence], for they so stifle the understanding of their hearts that they cannot aspire upwards.”
And yet, God continues:
“… But if any of these [ie. those who have blasphemed God’s love] is led by penitence and truly seeks Me, he shall find Me, for I reject no one who comes to Me with a sincere heart.”
What, then, do we fear? God is always ready to embrace us! God continued to tell St. Hildegard that those who confide in Him when tempted to despair or blasphemy, can be assured of His assistance, as He has great compassion for those who are tormented by these grave temptations. Many of the saints were tempted thus. We can be consoled by the thought that our infinitely loving and wise Saviour permits these trials for our merit, for the salvation of souls, for His glory, and so that we may grow in humility, faith, hope, love, and thereby be purified through the crucible of suffering that renders us like Jesus. God loves all souls, but most especially those who bear sufferings for His sake; their reward will be great in Heaven.
Touching briefly on the tempation that we will not persevere – rest assured that the desire to do God’s will (which is an effect of His grace) is always accompanied by the grace to actually do God’s will. Our Lord said to Sr. Benigna Consolata that those who seek to please God in all things, become His “Benjamin” – that is, His favourite!
It is also a useful practice, when tempted to despair, to flee to Our Lady, Hope of the Despairing. She cannot fail to succour us, but we must have great confidence in her.
Peace to men of good-will!