In his book, The Way of Interior Peace (1888), Fr. De LeHen stressed that one needed quality for spiritual progress: it is a practical mistrust of self. Our Lord himself said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
The presumption of one’s moral strength in face of temptation, especially with regard to pride and lust, has not only led to the downfall of priests who were once in good standing, but it has led to the downfall of politicians, celebrities and people who, at one time, were minding their own business.
If truth be told, the spiritual principle of mistrusting self has been largely been forgotten or at least dismissed by today’s Christians because of the high premium our culture puts on self-esteem. But every Saint is well acquainted with it. It helps us to avoid presumption during times of prosperity and despair when adversity strikes us.
As for the practical ways of achieving this saintly quality, the author informs us of four means to get there. The fourth means, in particular, is probably the most difficult for us to digest. However, these means, including the fourth one, is repeated throughout the New Testament. Caution: it is the easiest thing in the world to read about it, assent to its veracity, and yet move on with our day without truly absorbing its implications. The virtue of mistrust, that is, to see ourselves as morally and spiritually powerless without Christ, leads to other heroic virtues.
On Mistrust of Self by Fr. De LeHen :
“Mistrust in one’s strength is so necessary in the spiritual life, that without it one cannot overcome the least perverse inclination. We must be thoroughly impressed with this truth, for we are only too prone, though without good reason, to esteem ourselves something. Self-confidence is the consequence of our nature’s corruption; but natural it is to us, the more difficult it is to understand it. God, who sees all, abhors it. He would have us convinced of the truth that we possess no grace or virtue that does not proceed from Him, the source of all good, and that without Him we are not able to think anything pleasing to Him.
Mistrust of one’s one strength is a gift of Heaven, which God grants to souls whom He loves- sometimes by holy inspirations, or again by hard interior sufferings; sometimes by almost unconquerable temptations, or finally by means of known to Himself alone. Notwithstanding the gratuitousness of the favor, it is His divine wish that we do on our part what we can acquire this virtue. It will infallibly be granted to us if we make use of the four following means:
The first is often to place before our eyes our lowliness and nothingness, acknowledging that of our own natural strength we are incapable of accomplishing anything good and meritorious for heaven.
The second means is that we humbly and earnestly pray to God for this essential virtue; for He only can give it to us. We must acknowledge that it is not only wanting to us, but also that of ourselves we are incapable of acquiring it. We must kneel at our Lord’s feet, and implore it of Him with a firm confidence of being heard. Lastly, we must patiently await the granting of our petition, and persevere in prayer as long as His divine providence pleases.
The third means is to accustom ourselves gradually to diffidence in self, to the unreliableness of our own judgment, to fear the violence of our evil inclinations and the innumerable multitude of our enemies. The latter are without comparison more artful, stronger, and more skillful in the combat than we; yes, they even change themselves into angels of light, to lay snares for us in the way of salvation.
The fourth means is, after every fault to turn our gaze inward and consider carefully the extent of our weakness. God permits our faults only that, being enlightened by a new light, we may more sincerely acknowledge that we are miserable creatures, that we may learn to despise ourselves and arrive at a desire of being despised by others. Without this last means we cannot attain to mistrust of self, a virtue that rests on humility and the experimental knowledge of one’s own misery.
He who would draw near to the Fountain of Light, the Uncreated Truth, must know himself thoroughly. He must not be like the proud, who open their eyes upon themselves only when they have unexpectedly fallen into some shameful sin. When milder means did not effect what His mercy intended, God permits them such experience in order to cure their presumption.”