The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales
Jean Pierre Camus
Part 2 out of 8
and others, I poured forth my lamentations and self-accusations to our
Blessed Father, who said: "What a masterful spirit you have! You want
to walk upon the wings of the wind. You let yourself be carried away by
your zeal, which, like a will-of-the-wisp, will surely lead you over a
precipice. Have you forgotten the warning of your patron, St. Peter, _not
to think you can walk in burning heat?_ Would you do more than God, and
restrain the liberty of the creatures whom God has made free? You decide
matters, as if the wills of your subjects were all in your own hands. God,
Who holds all hearts in His and Who searches the reins and the hearts, does
not act thus. He puts up with resistance, rebellion against His light,
kicking against the goad, opposition to His inspirations, even though His
Spirit be grieved thereby. He does, indeed, suffer those to perish who
through the hardness of their impenitent hearts have heaped to themselves
wrath in the day of vengeance. Yet He never wearies of calling them to Him,
however often they reject His offers and say to Him, _Depart from us, we
will not follow Thy ways_.
"In this our Angel Guardians follow His example, and although we may
forsake God by our iniquities, they will not forsake us as long as there is
breath in our body, even though we may have fallen into sin. Do you want
better examples for regulating your conduct?"
[Footnote 1: Book i. 6.]
[Footnote 2: Book ii. 13.]
[Footnote 3: Peter v. 2, 3.]
[Footnote 4: 1 Peter iv. 12.]
[Footnote 5: Job xxi. 14.]
UPON THE LOVE OF GOD, CALLED LOVE OF BENEVOLENCE.
You ask me what I have to say as regards the love of benevolence towards
God. What good thing can we possibly wish for God which He has not already,
What can we desire for Him which He does not possess far more fully than we
can desire Him to have it?
What good can we do to Him to Whom all our goods belong, and Who has all
good in Himself; or, rather, Who is Himself all good?
I reply to this question as I have done to others, that there are many
spiritual persons, and some even of the most gifted, who are greatly
mistaken in their view of this matter.
We must distinguish in God two sorts of good, the one interior, the
other exterior. The first is Himself; for His goodness, like His other
attributes, is one and the same thing with His essence or being.
Now this good, being infinite, can neither be augmented by our serving God
and by our honouring Him, nor can it be diminished by our rebelling against
Him and by our working against Him.
It is of it that the Psalmist speaks when he says that our goods are
nothing unto Him.
But there is another kind of good which is exterior; and this, though it
belongs to God, is not in Him, but in His creatures, just as the moneys of
the king are, indeed, his, but they are in the coffers of his treasurers
This exterior good consists in the honours, obedience, service, and homage
which His creatures owe and render to Him: creatures of whom each one
has of necessity His glory as the final end and aim of its creation. And
this good it is which we can, with the grace of God, desire for Him, and
ourselves give to Him, and which we can either by our good works increase
or by our sins take from.
In regard to this exterior good, we can practise towards God the love of
benevolence by doing all things, and all good works in our power, in order
to increase His honour, or by having the intention to bless, glorify, and
exalt Him in all our actions; and much more by refraining from any action
which might tarnish God's glory and displease Him, Whose will is our
The love of benevolence towards God does not stop here. For, because
charity obliges us to love our neighbour as ourselves from love of God, we
try to urge on our fellow-men to promote this Divine glory, each one as far
as he can. We incite them to do all sorts of good, so as thereby to magnify
God the more. Thus the Psalmist said to his brethren, _O magnify the Lord
with me, and let us extol His name together_.
This same ardour incites and presses us also (_urget_ is the word used by
St. Paul) to do our utmost to aid our neighbour to rise from sin, which
renders him displeasing to God, and to prevent sin by which the Divine
Goodness is offended. This is what is properly called zeal, the zeal which
consumed the Psalmist when he saw how the wicked forget God, and which
caused him to cry out: _My zeal has made me pine away, because my enemies
forgot thy words_. And again, _The zeal of thy house hath eaten me
You ask if this love of benevolence might not also be exercised towards God
in respect of that interior and infinite good which He possesses and which
is Himself. I reply, with our Blessed Father in his Theotimus, that we can
wish Him to have this good, by rejoicing in the fact that He has it, and
that He is what He is; hence that vehement outburst of David, _Know ye,
that the Lord he is God_. And again, _A great King above all gods_.
Moreover, the mystical elevations and the ecstasies of the Saints were acts
of the love of God in which they wished Him all good and rejoiced in His
possessing it. Our imagination, too, may help us, as it did St. Augustine,
of whom our Blessed Father writes:
"This desire, then, of God, by imagination of impossibilities, may be
sometimes profitably practised in moments of great and extraordinary
feelings and fervours. We are told that the great St. Augustine often made
such acts, pouring out in an excess of love these words: 'Ah! Lord, I am
Augustine, and Thou art God; but still, if that which neither is nor can be
were, that I were God, and thou Augustine, I would, changing my condition
with Thee, become Augustine to the end that Thou mightest be God.'"
We can again wish Him the same good by rejoicing in the knowledge that we
could never, even by desiring it, add anything to the incomprehensible
infinity and infinite incomprehensibility of His greatness and perfection.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of Thy
glory: Praise to God in the highest. Amen.
[Footnote 1: Psalm xxxiii. 4.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm cxviii. 139.]
[Footnote 3: Psalm lxviii. 10.]
[Footnote 4: Psalm xciv. 3.]
[Footnote 5: Book v. c. 6.]
DISINTERESTED LOVE OF GOD.
You know that among the Saints for whom our Blessed Father had a special
devotion, St. Louis of France held a very prominent position.
Now, in the life of the holy King, written by the Sieur de Joinville,
there is a little story which our Blessed Father used to say contained the
summary of all Christian perfection; and, indeed, its beauty and excellence
have made it so well known that we find it told or alluded to in most books
It is that of the holy woman--whose name, though written in the Book of
Life, is not recorded in history--who presented herself to Brother Yves,
a Breton, of the Order of St. Dominic, whom King Louis, being in the Holy
Land, had sent as an ambassador to the Caliph of Syria. She was holding in
one hand a lighted torch, and in the other a pitcher of water filled to the
Addressing the good Dominican, she told him that her intention was to burn
up Paradise with the one and to put out the fire of Hell with the other,
in order that henceforth God might be served with a holy and unfeigned
charity. That is to say, with a true and disinterested love, for love of
Himself alone, not from a servile and mercenary spirit; _i.e._, from fear
of punishment or hope of reward.
Our Blessed Father told me that he should have liked this story to be told
on all possible occasions, and to have had engravings of the subject for
distribution, so that by so beautiful an example many might be taught to
love and serve God with true charity, and to have no other end in view than
His Divine glory; for true charity seeks not her own advantage, but only
the honour of her Beloved.
UPON THE CHARACTER OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN.
A Salamander, according to the fable, is a creature hatched in the chilling
waters of Arctic regions, and is consequently by nature so cold that it
delights in the burning heat of a furnace. Fire, said the ancients, cannot
consume it nor even scorch it.
"Just so is it with the Christian," said Blessed Francis. "He is born in a
region far away from God, and is altogether alien from Him. He is conceived
in iniquity and brought forth in sin, and sin is far removed from the way
of salvation. Man is condemned before his very birth. _Damnatus antequam
natus_, says St. Bernard. He is born in the darkness of original sin and in
the region of the shadow of death. But, being born again in the waters of
Baptism, in which he is clothed with the habit of charity, the fire of the
holy love of God is enkindled in him. Henceforth his real life, the life of
grace and of spiritual growth, depends absolutely upon his abiding in that
love; for he who loves not thus is dead; while, on the other hand, by this
love man is called back from death to life."
"Charity," he continued, "is like a fire and a devouring flame. The little
charity which we possess in this life is liable to be extinguished by the
violent temptations which urge us, or, to speak more truly, precipitate us
into mortal sin; but that of the life to come is a flame all-embracing and
all-conquering--it can neither fail nor flicker.
"On earth charity, like fire, needs fuel to nourish it and keep it alive;
but in its proper sphere, which is Heaven, it feeds upon its own inherent
heat, nor needs other nourishment. It is of vital importance here below
to feed our charity with the fuel of good works, for charity is a habit
so disposed to action that it unceasingly urges on those in whom the Holy
Spirit has shed it abroad to perform such works. This the Apostle expresses
very aptly: _The charity of Christ presseth us_.
"St. Gregory adds that the proof of true, unfeigned love is action, the
doing of works seen and known to be good. For, if faith is manifested by
good works, how much more charity, which is the root, the foundation, the
soul, the life, and the form of every good and perfect work."
[Footnote 1: 2 Cor. v. 14.]
UPON NOT PUTTING LIMITS TO OUR LOVE OF GOD.
Blessed Francis used to say that those who narrow their charity, limiting
it to the performance of certain duties and offices, beyond which they
would not take a single step, are base and cowardly souls, who seem as
though they wished to enclose in their own hands the mighty Spirit of God.
Seeing that God is greater than our heart, what folly it is to try to shut
Him up within so small a circle.
On this subject of the immeasurable greatness of the love which we should
bear to God, he uttered these remarkable words: "To remain long in a
settled, unchanging condition is impossible: in this traffic he who does
not gain, loses; he who does not mount this ladder, steps down; he who
is not conqueror in this combat, is vanquished. We live in the midst of
battles in which our enemies are always engaging us. If we do not fight
we perish; but we cannot fight without overcoming, nor overcome without
victory, followed by a triumph and a crown."
UPON THE LAW AND THE JUST MAN.
You ask me the meaning of the Apostle's saying that _the law is not made
for the just man_. Can any man be just unless he accommodate his actions
to the rule of the law? Is it not in the observance of the law that true
Our Blessed Father explains this passage so clearly and delicately in his
Theotimus that I will quote his words for you. He says: "In truth the just
man is not just, save inasmuch as he has love. And if he have love, there
is no need to threaten him by the rigour of the law, love being the most
insistent of all teachers, and ever urging the heart which it possesses to
obey the will and the intention of the beloved. Love is a magistrate who
exercises his authority without noise and without police. Its instrument is
mutual complacency, by which, as we find pleasure in God, so also we desire
to please Him."
Permit me to add to these excellent words a reminder which ought not, I
think, to be unprofitable to you. Some imagine that it is enough to observe
the law of God in order to save our souls, obeying the command of our
Lord: _Do this_, that is to say, the law, _and you shall live_, without
attempting to determine the motive which impels them to observe the law.
Now the truth is that some observe the law of God from a servile spirit,
and only for fear of losing their souls. Others chiefly from a mercenary
spirit for the sake of the reward promised to those who keep it, and,
as our Blessed Father says very happily: "Many keep the Commandments as
medicines are taken, rather that they may escape eternal death than that
they may live so as to please our Saviour." One of his favourite sayings
was: "It is better to fear God from love than to love Him from fear."
He says also: "There are people who, however pleasant a medicament may
be, feel a repugnance when required to take it, simply from the fact of
its being medicine. So also there are souls which conceive an absolute
antipathy to anything they are commanded to do, only because they are so
commanded." As soon, however, as the love of God is shed forth in the heart
by the Holy Spirit, then the burden of the law becomes sweet, and its yoke
light, because of the extreme desire of that heart to please God by the
observance of His precepts. "There is no labour," he goes on to say, "where
love is, or if there be any, it is a labour of love. Labour mingled with
love is a certain _bitter-sweet_, more pleasant to the palate than that
which is merely sweet. Thus then does heavenly love conform us to the will
of God and make us carefully observe His commandments, this being the will
of His Divine Majesty, Whom we desire to please. So that this complacency
with its sweet and amiable violence anticipates the necessity of obeying
which the law imposes upon us, converting that necessity into the virtue of
love, and every difficulty into delight."
[Footnote 1: Tim. i. 9.]
[Footnote 2: Book viii. c. 1.]
[Footnote 3: Luke x. 28.]
[Footnote 4: Cf. _Treatise on the Love of God_. Book viii. c. 5.]
To desire to love God is to love to desire God, and consequently to love
Him: for love is the root of all desires.
St. Paul says: _The charity of God presses us_. And how does it press us
if not by urging us to desire God. This longing for God is as a spur to the
heart, causing it to leap forward on its way to God. The desire of glory
incites the soldier to run all risks, and he desires glory because he
loves it for its own sake, and deems it a blessing more precious than life
A sick man has not always an appetite for food, however much he may wish
for it as a sign of returning health. Nor can he by wishing for it obtain
it, because the animal powers of our nature do not always obey the rational
Love and desire, however, being the offspring of one and the same faculty,
whoever desires, loves, and whoever desires from the motive of charity is
able to love from the same motive. But how, you ask, shall we know whether
or not we have this true desire for the love of God, and having it, whether
it proceeds from the motions of grace or from nature?
It is rather difficult, my dear sisters, to give reasons for principles
which are themselves their own reason. If you ask me why the fire is hot
you must not take it amiss if I simply answer because it is not cold.
But you wish to know what we have to do in order to obtain this most
desirable desire to love God. Our Blessed Father tells us that we must
renounce all useless, or less necessary desires, because the soul wastes
her power when she spreads herself out in over many desires, like the river
which when divided by the army of a Persian King into many channels lost
itself altogether. "This," he said, "is why the Saints used to retire into
solitary places, so that being freed from earthly cares they might with
more fervour give themselves up wholly and entirely to divine love. This is
why the spouse in the Canticles is represented with one eye closed, and all
the power of vision concentrated in the other, thus enabling her to gaze
more intently into the very depths of the heart of her Beloved, piercing it
"This is why she even winds all her tresses into one single braid, using it
as a chain to bind and hold captive the heart of her Bridegroom, making Him
her slave by love! Souls which sincerely desire to love God, close their
understanding to all worldly things, so as to employ it the more fully in
meditating upon things Divine.
"All the aspirations of our nature have to be summed up in the one single
intention of loving God, and Him alone: for to desire anything otherwise
than for God is to desire God the less."
[Footnote 1: 2 Cor. v. 14.]
[Footnote 2: Cf. _Treatise on the Love of God_. Book xii. 3.]
HOW CHARITY EXCELS BOTH FAITH AND HOPE.
Not only did Blessed Francis consider it intolerable that moral virtues
should be held to be comparable to Charity, but he was even unwilling
that Faith and Hope, excellent, supernatural, and divinely infused though
they be, should be reckoned to be of value without Charity, or even when
compared with it. In this he only echoed the thought and words of the great
Apostle St. Paul, who in his first Epistle to the Corinthians writes:
_Faith, Hope, and Charity_ are three precious gifts, _but the greatest of
these is Charity_.
Faith, it is true, is love, "a love of the mind for the beautiful in the
divine Mysteries," as our Blessed Father says in his _Treatise on the
Love of God_, but "the motions of love which forerun the act of faith
required from our justification are either not love properly speaking, or
but a beginning and imperfect love," which inclines the soul to acquiesce
in the truths proposed for its acceptance.
Hope, too, is love, "a love for the useful in the goods which are promised
in the other life." "It goes, indeed, to God but it returns to us; its
sight is turned upon the divine goodness, yet with some respect to our own
"In Hope love is imperfect because it does not tend to God's infinite
goodness as being such in itself, but only because it is so to us.... In
real truth no one is able by virtue of this love either to keep God's
commandments or obtain life everlasting, because it is a love that yields
more affection than effect when it is not accompanied by Charity."
But the perfect love of God, which is only to be found in Charity, is a
disinterested love, which loves the sovereign goodness of God in Himself
and for His sake only, without any aim except that He may be that which He
is, eternally loved, glorified, and adored, because He deserves to be so,
as St. Thomas says. And it is in the fact that it attains more perfectly
its final end that its pre-eminence consists. This is very clearly shown by
Blessed Francis in the same Treatise where he tells us that Eternal life or
Salvation is shown to Faith, and is prepared for Hope, but is given only
to Charity. Faith points out the way to the land of promise as a pillar of
cloud and of fire, that is, light and dark; Hope feeds us with its manna of
sweetness, but Charity actually introduces us into it, like the Ark of the
Covenant, which leads us dry-shod through the Jordan, that is, through the
judgment, and which shall remain amidst the people in the heavenly land
promised to the true Israelites, where neither the pillar of Faith serves
as a guide, nor the manna of Hope is needed as food.
That which an ancient writer said of poverty, that it was a great good, yet
very little known as such, can be said with far more reason of Charity.
It is a hidden treasure, a pearl shut up in its shell, and of which few
know the value. The heretics of the present day profess themselves content
with a dead Faith, to which they attribute all their justice and their
salvation. There are also catholics who appear to limit themselves to that
interested love which is in Hope, and who serve God as mercenaries, more
for their own interest than for His. There are few who love God as He ought
to be loved, that is to say, with the disinterested love of Charity. Yet,
without this wedding garment, without this oil which fed the lamps of the
wise Virgins, there is no admittance to the Marriage of the Lamb.
It is here that we may sing with the Psalmist: _The Lord hath looked down
from Heaven upon the children of men to see if there be any that understand
and seek God_, that is, to know how He wishes to be served. _They are all
gone aside, they are become unprofitable together: there is none that doeth
good, no, not one_. This means that there is not one who doth good
in spirit and in truth. Yet, what is serving Him in spirit and in truth
but resolving to honour and obey Him, for the love of Himself, without
admixture of private self-interest?
But whoever has learnt to serve God after the pattern of those His beloved
ones, who worship Him in spirit and in truth, in burning Faith and Hope,
animated by Charity, may be said to be of the number of the holy nation,
the royal Priesthood, the chosen people, and to have entered into the
sanctuary of true and Christian holiness, of which our Blessed Father
speaks thus: "In the sanctuary was kept the ark of the covenant, and near
it the tables of the law, manna in a golden vessel, and Aaron's rod, which
in one night bore flowers and fruit. And in the highest point of the
soul are found: 1 deg.. The light of Faith, figured by the manna hidden in
its vessel, by which we recognize the truth of the mysteries we do not
understand. 2 deg.. The utility of Hope, represented by Aaron's flowering and
fruitful rod, by which we acquiesce in the promises of the goods which
we see not. 3 deg.. The sweetness of holy Charity, represented by God's
commandments, the keeping of which it includes, by which we acquiesce in
the union of our spirit with God's, though yet are hardly, if at all,
conscious of this our happiness."
[Footnote 1: Book ii. 13.]
[Footnote 2: Book i. c. 5.]
[Footnote 3: Book ii. 17.]
[Footnote 4: Book i. 6.]
[Footnote 5: Psalm xiii. 2, 3.]
[Footnote 6: Book i. 12.]
SOME THOUGHTS OF BLESSED FRANCIS ON THE PASSION.
Our Blessed Father considered that no thought is of such avail to urge us
forward towards the perfection of divine love as the consideration of the
Passion and Death of the Son of God. This he called the sweetest, and yet
the most constraining of all motives of piety.
And when I asked him how he could possibly mention gentleness and
constraint or violence in the same breath, he answered, "I can do so in
the sense in which the Apostle says that the Charity of God presses us,
constrains us, impels us, draws us, for such is the meaning of the word
_Urget_. In the same sense as that in which the Holy Ghost in the
Canticle of Canticles tells us that _Love is as strong as death and fierce
"We cannot deny," he added, "that love is the very essence of sweetness,
and the sweetener of all bitterness, yet see how it is compared to what
is most irresistible, namely, death and hell. The reason of this is that
as there is nothing so strong as the sweetness of love, so also there is
nothing more sweet and more lovable than its strength. Oil and honey are
each smooth and sweet, but when boiling nothing is to be compared with the
heat they give out.
"The bee when not interfered with is the most harmless of insects;
irritated its sting is the sharpest of all.
"Jesus Crucified is the Lion of the tribe of Judah--He is the answer to
Samson's riddle, for in His wounds is found the honeycomb of the strongest
charity, and from this strength proceeds the sweetness of our greatest
consolation. And certainly since our Lord's dying for us, as all Scripture
testifies, is the climax of his love, it ought also to be the strongest of
all our motives for loving Him.
"This it is which made St. Bernard exclaim: 'Oh, my Lord, I entreat Thee
to grant that my whole heart may be so absorbed and, as it were, consumed
in the burning strength and honeyed sweetness of Thy crucified love, that
I may die for the love of Thy love, O Redeemer of my soul, as Thou hast
deigned to die for the love of my love.'
"It is this excess of love, which on the hill of Calvary drained the last
drop of life-blood from the Sacred Heart of the Lover of our Souls; it is
of this love that Moses and Elias spoke on Mount Thabor amid the glory of
"They spoke of it to teach us that even in the glory of Heaven, of which
the Transfiguration was only a glimpse, after the vision of the goodness
of God contemplated and loved in itself, and for itself, there will be no
more powerful incentive towards the love of our Divine Saviour than the
remembrance of His Death and Passion.
"We have a signal testimony to this truth in the Apocalypse, where the
Saints and Angels chant these words before the throne of Him that liveth
for ever and ever: _Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and
divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and benediction
from every creature which is in Heaven, and on the earth._"
[Footnote 1: 2 Cor. v. 14.]
[Footnote 2: Apoc. v. 12, 18.]
UPON THE VANITY OF HEATHEN PHILOSOPHY.
I was speaking on one occasion of the writings of Seneca and of Plutarch,
praising them highly and saying that they had been my delight when young,
our Blessed Father replied: "After having tasted the manna of the Fathers
and Theologians, this is to hanker for the leeks and garlic of Egypt." When
I rejoined that these above mentioned writers furnished me with all that I
could desire for instruction in morals, and that Seneca seemed to me more
like a christian author than a pagan, he said: "There I differ from you
entirely. I consider that no spirit is more absolutely opposed to the
spirit of christianity than that of Seneca, and no more dangerous reading
for a soul aiming at true piety can be found than his works."
Being much surprised at this opinion, and asking for an explanation, he
went on to say: "This opposition between the two spirits comes from the
fact that Seneca would have us look for perfection within ourselves,
whereas we must seek it outside ourselves, in God, that is to say, in
the grace which God pours into our souls through the Holy Ghost. _Not I,
but the grace of God with me_. By this grace we are what we are. The
spirit of Seneca inflates the soul and puffs it up with pride, that of
Christianity rejects the knowledge which puffs up in order to embrace the
charity which edifies. In short, there is the same difference between the
spirit of Seneca and the christian spirit that there is between virtues
acquired by us, which are, therefore, dead, and virtues that are infused
by God, which are, therefore, living. Indeed, how could this philosopher,
being destitute of the true Faith, possess charity? And yet well we know
that without charity all acquired virtues are unable to save us."
[Footnote 1: 1 Cor. xv. 10.]
UPON THE PURE LOVE OF OUR NEIGHBOUR.
Our Blessed Father, in his Twelfth Conference, teaches how to love one's
neighbour, for whom his own love was so pure and so unfeigned.
"We must look upon all the souls of men as resting in the Heart of our
Saviour. Alas! they who regard their fellow-men in any other way run the
risk of not loving them with purity, constancy, or impartiality. But
beholding them in that divine resting place, who can do otherwise than love
them, bear with them, and be patient with their imperfections? Who dare
call them irritating or troublesome? Yes, my daughters, your neighbour is
there in the Heart of the Saviour, and there so beloved and lovable that
the Divine Lover dies for love of him."
A truly charitable love of our neighbour is a rarer thing than one would
think. It is like the few particles of gold which are found on the shores
of the Tagus, among masses of sand.
Hear what he says on this subject in the eighth of his Spiritual
"There are certain kinds of affection which appear very elevated and very
perfect in the eyes of creatures, but which in the sight of God are of low
degree and valueless. Such are all friendships based, not only on true
charity, which is God, but only on natural inclinations and human motives.
"On the other hand, there are friendships which in the eyes of the world
appear mean and despicable, but which in the sight of God have every
excellence, because they are built up in God, and for God, without
admixture of human interests. Now acts of charity which are performed for
those whom we love in this way are truly noble in their nature, and are,
indeed, perfect acts, inasmuch as they tend purely to God, while the
services which we render to those whom we love from natural inclination are
of far less merit. Generally speaking, we do these more for the sake of the
great delight and satisfaction they cause us than for the love of God." He
goes on to say: "The former kind of friendship is likewise inferior to the
latter in that it is not lasting. Its motive is so weak that when slighted
or not responded to it easily grows cold, and finally disappears. Far
otherwise that affection which has its foundation in God, and therefore a
motive which above all others is solid and abiding.
"Human affection is founded on the possession by the person we love of
qualities which may be lost. It can, therefore, never be very secure. On
the contrary, he who loves in God, and only in God, need fear no change,
because God is always Himself." Again, speaking on this subject, our
Blessed Father says: "All the other bonds which link hearts one to
another are of glass, or jet; but the chain of holy charity is of gold
and diamonds." In another place he remarks: "St. Catherine of Sienna
illustrates the subject by means of a beautiful simile. 'If,' she says,
'you take a glass and fill it from a spring, and if while drinking from
this glass you do not remove it from the spring, you may drink as much as
you please without ever emptying the glass.' So it is with friendships: if
we never withdraw them from their source they never dry up."
UPON BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER.
He laid great stress at all times on the duty of bearing with our
neighbour, and thus obeying the commands of Holy Scripture, _Bear ye one
another's burdens, and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ_, and the
counsels of the Apostle who so emphatically recommends this mutual support.
"To-day mine, to-morrow thine." If to-day we put up with the ill-temper of
our brother, to-morrow he will bear with our imperfections. We must in this
life do like those who, walking on ice, give their hands to one another, so
that if one slips, the other who has a firm foothold may support him.
St. John the Evangelist, towards the close of his life, exhorted his
brethren not to deny one another this support, but to foster mutual
charity, which prompts the Christian to help his neighbour, and is one of
the chiefest precepts of Jesus Christ, Who, true Lamb of God, endured, and
carried on His shoulders, and on the wood of the Cross, all our sins--an
infinitely heavy burden, nor to be borne by any but Him. The value set by
our Blessed Father on this mutual support was marvellous, and he went so
far as to look upon it as the crown of our perfection.
He says on the subject to one who was very dear to him: "It is a great part
of our perfection to bear with one another in our imperfections; for there
is no better way of showing our own love for our neighbour."
God will, in His mercy, bear with him who has mercifully borne with the
defects of his neighbour.
_Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. Give, and it shall be given to you.
Good measure of_ blessings, _and pressed down, and shaken together, and
running over shall they give into your bosom_.
[Footnote 1: Gal. vi. 2.]
[Footnote 2: St. Luke vi. 37, 38.]
UPON FRATERNAL CORRECTION.
Speaking, my dear sisters, as he often did, on the important subject
of brotherly or friendly reproof, our Blessed Father made use of words
profitable to us all, but especially to those who are in authority, and
have therefore to rule and guide others.
He said: "Truth which is not charitable proceeds from a charity which is
When I asked him how we could feel certain that our reproofs were given out
of sincere charity, he answered:
"When we speak the truth only for the love of God, and for the good of our
neighbour, whom we are reproving."
He added: "We must follow the counsels of the great Apostle St. Paul, when
he bids us reprove in a spirit of meekness.
"Indeed gentleness is the intimate friend of charity and its inseparable
companion." This is what St. Paul means when he says that charity is
_kind_, and _beareth all things_, and _endureth all things_. God, who
is Charity, guides the mild in judgment and teaches the meek. His way, His
Spirit, is not in the whirlwind, nor in the storm, nor in the tempest, nor
in the voice of many waters; but in a gentle and whispering wind. _Mildness
is come upon us_, says the Royal Psalmist, _and we shall be corrected_.
Again Blessed Francis advised us to imitate the Good Samaritan, who poured
oil and wine into the wounds of the poor wayfarer fallen among thieves.
He used to say that "to make a good salad you want more oil than either
vinegar or salt."
I will give you some more of his memorable sayings on this subject. Many
a time I have heard them from his own lips: "Always be as gentle as you
can, and remember that more flies are caught with a spoonful of honey than
with a hundred barrels of vinegar. If we _must_ err in one direction or
the other, let it be in that of gentleness. No sauce was ever spoilt by
too much sugar. The human mind is so constituted that it rebels against
harshness, but becomes perfectly tractable under gentle treatment. A mild
word cools the heat of anger, as water extinguishes fire. There is no soil
so ungrateful as not to bear fruit when a kindly hand cultivates it. To
tell our neighbour wholesome truths tenderly is to throw red roses rather
than red-hot coals in his face. How could we be angry with any one who
pelted us with pearls or deluged us with rose water! There is nothing more
bitter than a green walnut, but when preserved in sugar there is nothing
sweeter or more digestible. Reproof is by nature harsh and biting, but
confectioned in sweetness and warmed through and through in the fire of
charity, it becomes salutary, pleasant, and even delightful. _The just
will correct me with mercy, and the oil of the flatterer shall not anoint
my head_. _Better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of the
hypocrite_; if the sharpness of the friend's tongue pierce me it is only
as the lancet of the surgeon, which probes the abscess and lacerates in
order to heal."
"But (I replied) truth is always truth in whatever language it may be
couched, and in whatever sense it may be taken." In support of this
assertion I quoted the words spoken by St. Paul to Timothy:
_Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season, reprove, entreat,
rebuke in all patience and doctrine; but, according to their own desires,
they will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears, and will,
indeed, turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned into
Our Blessed Father replied: "The whole force of that apostolic lesson lies
in the phrase: _In all patience and doctrine_. Doctrine signifies truth,
and this truth must be spoken with patience. When I use the word patience,
I am trying to put before you an attitude of mind which is not one of
confident expectation, that truth will always meet with a hearty welcome,
and even some degree of acclamation; but an attitude of mind which is on
the contrary prepared to meet with repulse, reprobation, rejection.
"Surely, seeing that the Son of God was set for a sign of contradiction, we
cannot be surprised if His doctrine, which is the truth, is marked with the
same seal! Surprised! Nay, of necessity it must be so.
"Consider the many false constructions and murmurings to which the sacred
truths preached by our Saviour during His life on earth were exposed!
"Was not this one of the reproaches addressed by Him to the Jews: _If I say
the truth you believe me not._
"Was not our Lord Himself looked upon as an impostor, a seditious person,
a blasphemer, one possessed by the devil? Did they not even take up stones
to cast at him? Yet, He cursed not those who cursed Him; but repaid their
maledictions with blessings, possessing His soul in patience."
Blessed Francis wrote to me on this same subject a letter, which has since
been printed among his works, in which he expressed himself as follows:
"Everyone who wishes to instruct others in the way of holiness must be
prepared to bear with their injustice and unreasonableness, and to be
rewarded with ingratitude. Oh! how happy will you be when men slander you,
and say all manner of evil of you, hating the truth which you offer them.
Rejoice with much joy, for so much the greater is your reward in Heaven. It
is a royal thing to be calumniated for having done well, and to be stoned
in a good cause."
[Footnote 1: Gal. vi. 1.]
[Footnote 2: 1 Cor. xiii. 4, 7.]
[Footnote 3: Psalm lxxxix. 10]
[Footnote 4: St. Luke x. 34.]
[Footnote 5: Psalm cxl. 5.]
[Footnote 6: Prov. xxvii. 6.]
[Footnote 7: Tim. iv. 2, 4.]
UPON FINDING EXCUSES FOR THE FAULTS OF OUR FELLOW-MEN.
I was one day complaining to him of certain small land-owners, who having
nothing but their gentle birth to boast of, and being as poor as Job, yet
set up as great noblemen, and even as princes, boasting of their high
birth, of their genealogy, and of the glorious deeds of their ancestors. I
quoted the saying of the wise man, that he hated, among other things, with
a perfect hatred the poor proud man, adding that I entirely agreed with
To boast in the multitude of our riches is natural, but to be vain in our
poverty is beyond understanding.
He answered me thus: "What would you have? Do you want these poor people to
be doubly poor, like sick physicians, who, the more they know about their
disease the more disconsolate they are? At all events, if they are rich in
honours they will think the less of their poverty, and will behave perhaps
like that young Athenian, who in his madness considered himself the richest
person in his neighbourhood, and being cured of his mental weakness through
the kind intervention of his friends, had them arraigned before the judges,
and condemned to give him back his pleasant illusion. What would you have,
I repeat? It is in the very nature of nobility to meet the rebuffs of
fortune with a cheerful courage; like the palm-tree which lifts itself up
under its burden. Would to God they had no greater failing than this! It is
against that wretched and detestable habit of fighting duels that we ought
to raise our voice." Saying this, he gave a profound sigh.
A certain lady had been guilty of a most serious fault, committed, indeed,
through mere weakness of character, but none the less scandalous in the
extreme. Our Blessed Father, being informed of what had happened, and
having every kind of vehement invective against the unfortunate person
poured into his ears, only said: "Human misery! human misery!" And again,
"Ah! how we are encompassed with infirmity! What can we do of ourselves,
but fail? We should, perhaps, do worse than this if God did not hold us by
the right hand, and guide us to His will." At last, weary of fencing thus,
he faced the battle, and the comments on this unhappy fall becoming ever
sharper and more emphatic, exclaimed: "Oh! happy fault, of what great good
will it not be the cause! This lady's soul would have perished with many
others had she not lost herself. Her loss will be her gain, and the gain of
Some of those who heard this prediction merely shrugged their shoulders.
Nevertheless, it was verified. The sinning soul returned to give glory to
God, and the community which she had scandalized was greatly edified by her
conversion and subsequent good example.
This story reminds me of the words used by the Church in one of her
offices. Words in which she calls the sin of Adam thrice happy, since
because of it the Redeemer came down to our earth--a fortunate malady,
since it brought us the visit of so great a Physician.
"Even sins," says our Blessed Father, in one of his letters, "work together
for good to those who truly repent of them."
[Footnote 1: Office for Holy Saturday.]
UPON NOT JUDGING OTHERS.
Men see the exterior; God alone sees the heart, and knows the inmost
thoughts of all. Our Blessed Father used to say that the soul of our
neighbour was that tree of the knowledge of good and evil which we are
forbidden to touch under pain of severe chastisement; because God has
reserved to Himself the judgment of each individual soul. _Who art thou_,
says Sacred Scripture, _who judgest thy brother?_ Knowest thou that
_wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself_?
Who has given thee the hardihood to take upon thyself the office of Him
Who has received from the Eternal Father all judgment? That is to say, all
power of judging in Heaven and on earth? He observed that a want of balance
of mind, very common among men, leads them to judge of what they do not
know, and not to judge of what they do know. They, as St. Jude declares,
_blaspheme in what they know not, and corrupt themselves in what
they know_. They are blind to what passes in their own homes, but
preternaturally clear-sighted to all happening in the houses of others.
Now what is this that a man knows not at all? Surely, the heart; the secret
thoughts of his neighbour. And yet how eager is he to dip the fingers of
his curiosity in this covered dish reserved for the Great Master. And what
is it that a man knows best of all, or at least ought to know? Surely,
his own heart; his own secret thoughts. Nevertheless, he fears to enter
into himself, and to stand in his own presence as a criminal before his
judge. He dreads above aught besides the implacable tribunal of his own
conscience, itself alone more surely convicting than a thousand witnesses.
Our Blessed Father pictures very vividly this kind of injustice in his
Philothea, where he says: "It is equally necessary in order to escape being
judged that we both judge ourselves, and that we refrain from judging
others. Our Lord forbids the latter and His Apostle commands the former.
If we would judge ourselves we should not be judged. Our way is the very
reverse. What is forbidden to us we are continually doing. Judging our
neighbour on all possible occasions, and what is commanded us, namely, to
judge ourselves, that the last thing we think of."
"A certain woman" (Blessed Francis continued with a smile), "all her life
long had on principle done exactly the contrary to what her husband wanted
her to do. In the end she fell into a river and was drowned. Her husband
tried to recover the body, but was found fault with for going up the
stream, since she must, necessarily, float down with the current. 'And
do you really imagine,' he exclaimed, 'that even her dead body could do
anything else but contradict me?' We are, most of us, very like that
woman," said the Saint. "Yet it is written: _Judge not, and you shall not
be judged; condemn not, and you shall not be condemned._"
How, then, you will say, is it lawful to have judges and courts of justice,
since man may not judge our neighbour? I answer this objection in Blessed
Francis' own words:
"But may we, then, under no circumstances judge our neighbour? Under no
circumstances whatever--for in a court of justice it is God, Philothea, not
man, who judges and pronounces sentence. It is true that He makes use of
the voice of the magistrate, but only to render His own sentence audible
to us. Earthly judges are His spokesmen and interpreters, nor ought they
to decide anything but as they have learnt from Him of Whom they are
the oracles. It is when they do otherwise, and follow the lead of their
own passions, that they, and not God, judge, and that consequently they
themselves will be judged. In fact, it is forbidden to men, _as_ men, to
judge others. This is why Scripture gives the name of gods to judges,
because when judging they hold the place of God, and Moses for that reason
is called the god of Pharaoh."
You ask if we are forbidden to entertain doubts about our neighbour when
founded on good and strong reasons. I answer we are not so forbidden,
because to suspend judgment is not to judge, but only to take a step
towards it. We must, nevertheless, beware of being thereby hurried on
to form a hasty judgment, for that is the rock on which so many make
shipwreck; that is the flare of the torch in which so many thoughtless
moths singe their tiny wings.
In order that we may avoid this danger he gives us an excellent maxim, one
which is not only useful, but necessary to us. It is that, however many
aspects an action may have, the one we should dwell upon should be that
which is the best.
If it is impossible to excuse an action, we can at least modify our blame
of it by excusing the intention, or we may lay the blame on the violence
of the temptation, or impute it to ignorance, or to the being taken by
surprise, or to human weakness, so as at least to try to lessen the scandal
of it. If you are told that by doing this you are blessing the unrighteous
and seeking excuses for sin, you may reply that without either praising or
excusing his sin you can be merciful to the sinner.
You may add that judgment without mercy will be the lot of those who have
no pity for the misfortunes or the infirmities of their brother, and who
in him despise their own flesh. We all are brethren, all of one flesh.
In fact, as says our Blessed Father, those who look well after their own
consciences rarely fall into the sin of rash judgment. To judge rashly is
proper to slothful souls, which, because they never busy themselves with
their own concerns, have leisure to devote their energies to finding fault
An ancient writer expresses this well. Men who are curious in their
inquiries into the lives of others are mostly careless about correcting
their own faults. The virtuous man is like the sky, of which the stars are,
as it were, the eyes turned in upon itself.
[Footnote 1: Rom. ii. 1.]
[Footnote 2: St. Jude 10.]
[Footnote 3: St. Matt. vii. 1.]
[Footnote 4: 1 Cor. xi. 31.]
[Footnote 5: _The Devout Life_, Part iii. 28.]
[Footnote 6: St. Luke vi. 37.]
[Footnote 7: _The Devout Life_, Part iii. 28.]
[Footnote 8: Psalm lxxxi. 1, 6.]
[Footnote 9: Exod. vii. 1.]
UPON JUDGING OURSELVES.
"We do," as Blessed Francis has said, "exactly the reverse of what the
Gospel bids us do. The Gospel commands us to judge ourselves severely
and exactly, while it forbids us to judge our brethren. If we did judge
ourselves, we should not be judged by God, because, forestalling His
judgment and confessing our faults, we should escape His condemnation. On
the other hand, who are we that we should judge our brethren, the servants
of another? To their own Master they rise or fall.
"Let us not judge before the time until the Lord shall reveal what is
hidden in darkness and pierce the wall of the temple to show what passes
therein. Man judges by appearances only. God alone sees the heart; and it
is by that which is within that true judgment is made of that which is
"So rash are we in our judgments that we as often as not seize the
firebrand by the burning end; that is, we condemn ourselves while in the
very act of rebuking others. The reproach of the Gospel, _Physician, heal
thyself_, we may take to ourselves. So also that other, _Why seest thou
the mote that is in thy brother's eye, and seest not the beam that is in
thy own eye_? To notice which way we are going is the first condition
of our walking in the right way, according to the words of David, _I have
thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies_. So, on
the other hand, we go astray if we do not pay attention to the path we are
following. Judge not others and you will not be judged; judge yourselves,
and God will have mercy on you."
[Footnote 1: St. Luke iv. 23]
[Footnote 2: St. Matt. vii. 3]
[Footnote 3: Psalm cxviii. 59]
UPON SLANDER AND DETRACTION.
There is a difference between uttering a falsehood and making a
mistake--for to lie is to say what one knows or believes to be false; but
to mistake is to say, indeed, what is false, but what one nevertheless
thinks in good faith to be true. Similarly, there is a great difference
between slandering our neighbour and recounting his evil deeds. The wrong
doing of our neighbour may be spoken of either with a good or with a bad
intention. The intention is good when the faults of our neighbour are
reported to one who can remedy them, or whose business it is to correct the
wrong-doer, whether for the public good or for the sinner's own.
Again, there is no harm in speaking among friends of harm done, provided it
be from friendliness, benevolence, or compassion; and this more especially
when the fault is public and notorious.
We slander our neighbour, then, only when, whether true or false, we
recount his misdeeds with intention to harm him, or out of hatred, envy,
anger, contempt, and from a wish to take away his fair name.
We slander our neighbour when we make known his faults, though neither
obliged so to do nor having in view his good nor the good of others. The
sin of slander is mortal or venial according to the measure of the wrong we
may thereby have done to our neighbour.
Our Blessed Father used to say that to do away with slander would be to
do away with most of the sins of mankind. He was right, for of sins of
thought, word, and deed, the most frequent and often the most hurtful in
their effects are those committed with the tongue. And this for several
Firstly, sins of thought are only hurtful to him who commits them. They are
neither occasion for scandal, nor do they annoy anyone, nor give anyone bad
example. God alone knows them, and it is He alone who is offended by them.
Then, too, a return to God by loving repentance effaces them in a moment,
and heals the wound which they have inflicted on the heart.
Sins of the tongue, on the other hand, are not so readily got rid of. A
harmful word can only be recalled by retracting it, and even then the minds
of our hearers mostly remain infected with the poison we poured in through
the ears; and this, in spite of our humbling ourselves to recall what we
Secondly, sins of deed, when they are publicly known, are followed by
punishment. This renders them rarer, because fear of the penalty acts as a
curb on even the basest of mankind.
But slander (except the calumny be of the most atrocious and aggravated
kind) is not, generally speaking, such as comes before the eye of the law.
On the contrary, if in the guise of bantering it is ingenious and subtle it
passes current for gallantry and wit.
This is why so many people fall into this evil; for, says an ancient
writer: "Impunity is a dainty allurement to sin."
Thirdly, slandering finds encouragement in the very small amount of
restitution and reparation made for this fault. Indeed, in my opinion,
those who direct souls in the tribunal of penance are a little too
indulgent, not to say lax, in this matter.
If anyone has inflicted a bodily injury on another see how severely
the justice of the law punishes the outrage. In olden days the law of
retaliation demanded an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If a man
stole the goods of another he was condemned to the galleys, or even to
the gibbet. But in the case of slander, unless, as I have said, it be of
the most highly aggravated kind, there is scarcely a thought of making
reparation, even by a courteous apology. Yet those who sit in high places
value their reputation much more than riches, or life itself, seeing that
among all natural blessings, honour undoubtedly holds the first rank.
Since, then, we cannot gain admittance into heaven without having restored
that which belongs to another, let the slanderer consider how he can
possibly hope for an entrance there unless he re-establishes his
neighbour's reputation, which he tried to destroy by detraction.
UPON HASTY JUDGMENTS.
Our Blessed Father insisted most earnestly upon the difference which exists
between a vice and sin, reproving those who spoke of a person who had
committed one or more grave faults as vicious.
"Virtuous habits," he would say, "not being destroyed by one act contrary
to them, a man cannot be branded as intemperate because he has once been
guilty of intemperance."
Thus when he heard anyone condemned as bad because he had committed a bad
act, he took pains with his accustomed gentleness to modify the charge by
making a distinction between _vice_ and _sin_, the former being a habit,
the latter an isolated act.
"Vice," he said, "is a habit, sin, the outcome of that habit; and just
as one swallow does not make a summer, so one act of sin does not make a
person vicious. That is to say, it does not render him a sinner in the
sense of being steeped in and wholly given over to the dominion of the
particular vice, the act of which he has committed once, or even more than
Being asked whether in conformity with this principle it would not be
equally wrong to praise anyone for a single act of virtue, as if that
virtue were his or her constant habit, he replied: "You must remember that
we are forbidden to judge our neighbour in the matter of the evil which he
may appear to do, but not in the good. On the contrary, we may and should
suppose that he has the good habit from which the act seen by us naturally
springs. Nor can we err in such a supposition, since the very perfection
of charity consists in its excess. But when we judge evil of others, our
tongue is like the lancet in the surgeon's hand, and you know how careful
he must be not to pierce an artery in opening a vein. We must only judge
from what we see. We may say that a man has blasphemed and sworn, if we
have heard him do so; but we may not in that account alone say that he is
a blasphemer; that is, that he has contracted the habit of blasphemy,
substituting the vice for the sin."
The objection was raised that it would follow that we must never attempt to
judge whether a person is or is not in a state of grace, however holy his
life may seem to be; since no one knows whether he is worthy of love or of
hate, and least of all we, who know our neighbour far less intimately than
he knows himself. To this he replied, that if faith, according to St.
James, is known by its works, much more is charity so known, since it is
a more active virtue, its works being the sparks from seeing which we learn
that its fire is still burning somewhere. And though when we saw a sin,
which is undoubtedly mortal, being committed, we might have said that the
sinner was no longer in a state of grace, how do we know that a moment
afterwards God may not have touched his heart, and that he may not have
been converted from his evil ways by an act of contrition? This is why we
must always fear to judge evil of others, but as regards judging well, we
are free to do so as much as we please. Charity grows more and more by
hoping all good of its neighbour, by thinking no evil, by rejoicing in
truth and goodness, but not in iniquity.
[Footnote 1: St. James ii. 17, 26.]
UPON RIDICULING ONE'S NEIGHBOUR.
When in company he heard anyone being turned into ridicule, he always
showed by his countenance that the conversation displeased him, and would
try to turn the subject by introducing some other. When unsuccessful in
this he would give the signal to cease, as is done in tournaments when the
combatants are becoming too heated, and thus put a stop to the combat,
crying: "This is too much! This is trampling too violently on the good man!
This is altogether going beyond bounds! Who gives us the right to amuse
ourselves thus at the expense of another? How should we like to be talked
about like this, and to have our little weaknesses brought out, just to
amuse anybody who may chance to hear? To put up with our neighbour and his
imperfections is a great perfection, but it is a great imperfection to
laugh at him and his short-comings."
He expresses himself to Philothea on the same subject as follows:
"A tendency to ridicule and mock at others is one of the worst possible
conditions of mind. God hates this vice exceedingly, as He has often shown
by the strange punishments which have awaited it. Nothing is so contrary
to charity, and still more so to devotion, as contempt and disparagement
of our neighbour. Now derision and ridicule are always simply contempt, so
that the learned are justified in saying that to mock at our neighbour is
the worst kind of injury that we can by mere word inflict on him; because
all other words of disparagement are compatible with some degree of esteem
for the person injured, but ridicule is essentially the expression of
contempt and disdain."
Now Holy Scripture pronounces woe upon those who despise others, and
threatens them with being despised themselves. God always takes the part
of the despised against the despiser. Our Lord says: _He who despises you,
despises Me_; and speaking of little children, _Take heed that you
despise not one of them_. And Almighty God in comforting Moses for an
insult offered to the great law-giver by the Children of Israel, says:
_They have not despised you, but Me_.
On one occasion when Blessed Francis was present some young lady in the
company was ridiculing another who was conspicuously ill-favoured. Defects
born with her were what were being laughed over. He gently reminded the
speaker that it is God Who has made us and not we ourselves and that all
His works are perfect. But the latter assertion only making her jeer the
more, he ended by saying: "Believe me, I know for a fact her soul is more
upright, more beautiful, and better formed than you can possibly have any
conception of." This silenced her and sent her away abashed.
On another occasion he heard some people laughing at a poor hump-back who
was absent at the time. Our Blessed Father instantly took up his defence,
quoting again those words of Scripture: _The works of God are perfect_.
"What!" exclaimed one of the company. "Perfect! and yet deformed!" Blessed
Francis replied pleasantly: "And do you really think that there cannot be
perfect hunchbacks, just as much as others are perfect because gracefully
made and straight as a dart!" In fine, when they tried to make him explain
what perfection he meant, whether outward or inward, he said: "Enough. What
I tell you is true; let us talk of something better."
[Footnote 1: _The Devout Life_, Part iii. c. 27.]
[Footnote 2: Luke x. 16.]
[Footnote 3: Matt. xviii. 10.]
UPON CONTRADICTING OTHERS.
There is no kind of disposition more displeasing to men than one which is
obstinate and contradictory. People of this sort are pests of conversation,
firebrands in social intercourse, sowers of discord. Like hedgehogs and
horse-chestnuts, they have prickles all over them, and cannot be handled.
On the other hand, a gentle, pliable, condescending disposition, which is
ready to give way to others, is a living charm. It is like the honeycomb
which attracts every sort of fly; it becomes everybody's master, because it
makes itself everybody's servant; being all things to all men, it wins them
People of a peevish, morose disposition soon find themselves left alone
in a mighty solitude; they are avoided like thistles which prick whoever
touches them. Our Blessed Father always spoke with the highest praise of
the dictum of St. Louis, that we should never speak evil of anyone, unless
when by our silence we should seem to hold with him in his wrong-doing, and
so give scandal to others.
The holy King did not inculcate this from motives of worldly prudence,
which he detested; nor was he following the maxim of that pagan Emperor,
who declared that no one, in quitting the presence of his Sovereign, should
ever be suffered to go away dissatisfied, a saying dictated by cunning and
with the object of teaching his fellow-potentates to win men by fair words.
No, St. Louis was travelling by a very different road, and spoke in a truly
Christian spirit, desiring only to hinder disputes and contentions, and to
follow the advice of St. Paul, who wishes that we should _avoid contentions
and strivings_. But if, when it is in our power to do so, we do not
openly condemn the fault or error of another, will not that be a sort of
connivance at, and consequently a participation in, the wrong-doing? Our
Blessed Father answers that difficulty thus: "When it is a question of
contradicting another, and of setting your opinion against his, it must
be done with the utmost gentleness and tact, and without any desire to
wound the feelings of the other; for nothing is gained by taking things
If you irritate a horse by teasing him he will, if he has any mettle, take
the bit between his teeth and carry you just where he pleases. But when you
slacken the rein he stops and becomes tractable.
So it is with the mind of another; if you force it to assent, you humble
it; if you humble it, you irritate it; if you irritate it, you utterly lose
hold of it. The mind may be persuaded; it cannot be constrained; to force
it to believe is to force it from all belief. _Is mildness come upon us_?
says David; _then are we corrected_. The Spirit of God, gentle and
sweet, is in the soft refreshing zephyrs, not in the whirlwind, nor in
the tempest. It is God's enemy, the devil, who is called a spirit of
contradiction; and such human beings as imitate him share his title.
[Footnote 1: Titus iii. 9.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm lxxxix. 10.]
UPON LOVING OUR ENEMIES.
Some one having complained to Blessed Francis of the difficulty he found
in obeying the christian precept commanding us to love our enemies, he
replied: "As for me, I know not how my heart is made, or how it happens
that God seems to have been pleased to give me lately altogether a new
one. Certain it is that I not only find no difficulty in practising this
precept; but I take such pleasure in doing it, and experience so peculiar
and delightful a sweetness in it, that if God had forbidden me to love my
enemies I should have had great difficulty in obeying Him.
"It seems to me that the very contradiction and opposition we meet with
from our fellow-men, ought to rouse our spirit to love them more, for they
serve as a whetstone to sharpen our virtue.
"Aloes make honey seem sweeter; and wine has a more delicious flavour if we
drink it after having eaten bitter almonds. It is true that mostly a little
conflict and struggle goes on in our minds: but in the end it will surely
come to pass with us what the Psalmist commands when he says: _Be angry and
"What! Shall we not bear with those whom God Himself bears with? We who
have ever before our eyes the great example of Jesus Christ on the Cross
praying for His enemies. And then, too, our enemies have not crucified us;
they have not persecuted us, even to death; we have not yet resisted unto
"Again, who would not love this dear enemy for whom Jesus Christ prayed?
For whom He died? For, mark it well, He prayed not only for those who
crucified Him, but also for those who persecute us, and Him in us. As He
testified to Saul when He cried out to Him: _Why persecutest thou Me_?
That is to say, Me in My members.
"We are not, indeed, obliged to love the vices of our enemy; his hatred of
good, the enmity which he bears us; for all these things are displeasing to
God, Whom they offend; but we must separate the sin from the sinner, the
precious from the vile, if we desire to be like our Saviour."
He did not admit the maxim of the world: "We must not trust a reconciled
enemy." In his opinion the exact contrary of this dictum is more in
accordance with truth.
He used to say that "fallings out" in the case of friends only serve
to draw the bonds of friendship closer, just as the smith makes use of
water to increase the heat of his fire. He added, as a well-known fact in
surgery, that the callosity which forms over a fractured bone is so dense
that the limb will never break again at that particular place.
Indeed, when a reconciliation has taken place between two persons hitherto
at variance, it is almost certain that each will set to work, perhaps even
unconsciously, to make the newly-cemented friendship firmer. The offender
by avoiding further offence, and atoning as far as possible for what is
past, and the offended person by endeavouring in a truly generous spirit to
bury that past in oblivion.
[Footnote 1: Psalm iv. 5.]
[Footnote 2: Acts ix. 4.]
UPON FORGIVING OUR ENEMIES.
On the subject of the forgiveness of enemies, Blessed Francis told me of
an incident which occurred at Padua (possibly at the time that he was
studying there). It appears that certain of the students at that university
had a bad habit of prowling about the streets at night, pistol in hand,
challenging passers-by with the cry of "Who goes there?" and firing if they
did not receive a humble and civil answer.
One of the gang having one night challenged a fellow-student and received
no answer, fired, and took such good aim that the poor young man fell dead
on the pavement. Horrified and amazed at the fatal result of his mad prank,
the student fled, hoping to hide from justice.
The first open door that he saw was that of the dwelling of a good widow,
whose son was his friend and fellow-student. Hastily entering, he implored
her to hide him in some safe place, confessing what he had done, and that,
should he be taken, all was over with him.
The good woman shut him into a little room, secret and safe, and there
left him. Not many minutes had elapsed before a melancholy procession
approached, and the dead body of her son was brought into the house, the
bearers telling the distracted mother in what manner he had been killed,
and after a little questioning, giving the name of the youth who had shot
Weeping and broken-hearted, she hurried to the place where she had hidden
the wretched homicide, and it was from her lips that he learned who it was
that he had deprived of life.
In an agony of shame and grief, tearing his hair, and calling upon death to
strike him down, too, he threw himself on his knees before the poor mother;
not, indeed, to ask her pardon, but to entreat her to give him up to
justice, wishing to expiate publicly a crime so barbarous.
The widow, a most devout and merciful woman, was deeply touched by the
youth's repentance, and saw clearly that it was thoughtlessness and not
malicious intent that had been the moving spring of the deed. She then
assured him that, provided he would ask pardon of God and change his way
of life, she would keep her promise and help him to escape. This she did,
and by so doing imitated the gentle kindness of the prophet who spared the
lives of the Syrian soldiers who had come to murder him, he having them in
his power in the midst of Samaria.
So pleasing to God was this poor widow's clemency and forgiveness that He
permitted the soul of her murdered son to appear to her, revealing to
her that her pardon, granted so readily and sweetly to the man who had
unintentionally been his murderer, had obtained for his soul deliverance
from Purgatory, in which place he would otherwise have been long detained.
How blessed are the merciful! They shall obtain mercy both for themselves
and for others!
[Footnote 1: 4 Reg. vi. 12. 23]
UPON THE VIRTUE OF CONDESCENSION.
I will give you our Blessed Father's views on this subject, first reminding
you how unfailingly patient he was with the humours of others, how gentle
and forbearing at all times towards his neighbour, and how perseveringly he
inculcated the practice of this virtue, not only upon the Daughters of the
Visitation, but upon all his spiritual children.
He often said to me: "Oh, how much better it would be to accommodate
ourselves to others rather than to want to bend every one to our own ways
and opinions! The human mind is like pulp, which takes readily any colour
mixed with it. The great thing is to take care that it be not like the
chameleon, which, one after the other, takes every colour except white.
Condescension, if unaccompanied by frankness and purity, is dangerous, and
much to be avoided.
"It is right to take compassion upon sinners, but it must be with the
intention of extricating them from the mire, not of slothfully leaving them
to rot and perish in it. It is a perverted sort of mercy to look at our
neighbour, sunk in the misery of sin, and not venture to extend to him the
helping hand of a gentle but out-spoken remonstrance. We must condescend in
everything, but only up to the altar steps; that is to say, not beyond the
point at which condescension would be a sin, and undeserving of its name.
I do not say that we must at every instant reprove the sinner. Charitable
prudence demands that we rather wait the moment when he is capable of
assimilating the remedies suitable for his malady, and till God shall _give
to his hearing joy and gladness, and the bones that have been humbled shall
rejoice_. Turbulent zeal, zeal that is neither moderate nor wise, pulls
down in place of building up. There are some who do no good at all, because
they wish to do things too well, and who spoil everything they try to
mend. We must make haste slowly, as the ancient proverb says. He who walks
hurriedly is apt to fall. We must be prudent both in reproving others and
in condescending to them. _The King's honour loveth judgment._"
[Footnote 1: Psalm l. 10.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm xcviii. 4.]
HOW BLESSED FRANCIS ADAPTED HIMSELF TO TIMES, PLACES, AND CIRCUMSTANCES.
When the Chablais was restored to the Duke of Savoy, Bishop de Granier,
the predecessor of our Holy Founder, eager to further the design of His
Highness to bring back into the bosom of the Roman Church the population
that had been led astray, sent to it a number of labourers to gather in
the harvest. Among these, one of the first to be chosen was our Saint,
at that time Provost of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter in Geneva, and
consequently next in dignity to the Bishop.
With him were sent some Canons, Parish Priests, and others. Several members
of various Religious Orders also presented themselves, eager to be employed
in this onerous, if honourable, mission.
It would be impossible to give a just idea of the labours of these
missionaries, or of the obstacles which they encountered at the outset of
their holy enterprise. The spirit of Blessed Francis was, however, most
flexible and accommodating, and greatly tended to further the work of the
He was like the manna which assimilated itself to the palate of whoever
tasted it: he made himself all things to all men that he might gain all for
In his ordinary mode of conversation and in his dress, which was mean and
common, he produced a much less jarring effect upon the minds and eyes of
these people than did the members of Religious Orders with their various
habits and diversities.
He, as well as the secular Priests who worked under him, sometimes even
condescended so far as to wear the short cloaks and high boots usual in the
country, so as more easily to gain access to private houses, and not to
offend the eyes of the people by the sight of the cassock, which they were
unaccustomed to. To this pious stratagem the members of Religious Orders
were unwilling to have recourse, their distinctive habit being, in their
opinion, almost essential to their profession, or at least so fitting that
it might never lawfully be laid aside.
Our Blessed Father went on quite a different tack, and caught more flies
with a spoonful of the honey which he was so much in the habit of using,
than did all the others with their harsher methods.
Everything about him, whether external or internal, breathed the spirit of
conciliation; all his words, gestures, and ways were those of kindliness.
Some wished to make themselves feared; but he desired only to be loved, and
to enter men's hearts through the doorway of affection. On this account,
whether he spoke in public or in private, he was always more attentively
listened to than anyone else.
However much the Protestants might attack him and purposely provoke him,
he, on his side, ever dealt with them in a spirit absolutely free from
contention, abstaining from anything likely to give offence, having often
on his lips those beautiful words of the Apostle: _If any man seem to be
contentious, we have no such custom, nor the Church of God._
To come now to the particulars which I promised you, let me tell you how
our Blessed Father, having read in St. Augustine's works and in those of
other ancient Fathers that in the early centuries Christian Priests, in
addressing heretics and schismatics, did not hesitate to call them their
brethren, inferred that he might quite lawfully follow so great an example.
By doing so he conciliated these people to such an extent that they flocked
to hear him, and were charmed with the sweetness and gentleness of his
discourses, the outcome of his overflowing kindliness of heart. This mode
of expression was, however, so offensive to preachers who were in the
habit of speaking of heretics as rebels against the light, uncircumcised
of heart, etc., that they called a meeting, in which they resolved to
remonstrate with the Provost (Blessed Francis), and to represent to
him that, though he meant well, he was in reality ruining the cause of
They insisted that he was flattering the pride so inherent in heresy, that
he was lulling the people to sleep in their errors by sewing pillows to
their elbows; that it was better to correct them in mercy and justice than
to pour on their heads the oil of wheedling, as they called the kindliness
of our Saint.
He received their remonstrances pleasantly, and even respectfully, without
defending himself in any way, but, on the contrary, appearing to yield
to their zeal, albeit somewhat sadly and unwillingly. Finding, however,
that he did not begin to act upon their suggestions, as they had promised
themselves he would do, some of them sent a written appeal to the Bishop,
representing to him that he would have to recall the Provost and his
companion missioners, who with their unwise and affected levity ruined in
one day more souls than they themselves could convert in a month.
They went on to compare the labour of the missioners to Penelope's web: to
say that our Saint preached more like a Huguenot pastor than a Catholic
Priest, and, in fine, that he went so far as to call the heretics his
brethren, a thing so scandalous that the Protestants had already conceived
great hope of bringing him over to their own party.
The good Bishop, however, better informed as to the real state of the case,
paid little heed to this appeal, dictated by a bitter zeal, rather than by
the true science of the Saints. He merely exhorted each one to persevere,
and to remember that every spirit should praise the Lord according to the
talents committed to it by God.
Our Blessed Father, being informed of these complaints made against him
to his Bishop, would not defend himself, but commended his cause to the
judgment of God, and, silently but hopefully, awaited the result. Nor was
his expectation disappointed, for experience soon showed that the too
ardent eagerness of these zealots was more likely to delay than to advance
To crown all this, the preachers who had objected to his method had ere
long themselves to be set aside as unfit.
On one occasion when I was talking with him and had turned the conversation
on this subject, he said to me: "These good people looked through coloured
spectacles. They saw all things of the same hue as their own glasses. My
predecessor soon found out who were the real hindrances to the conversion
of the Protestant Cantons."
On my asking him how he could in reason apply the term "brethren" to
persons who certainly are not such, since no one can have God for his
Father who has not the Catholic Church for his mother, and since,
therefore, those who are not in her bosom cannot be our brethren, he said
to me: "Ah! but I never call them brethren without adding the epithet
_erring_, a word which marks the distinction with sufficient clearness.
"Besides, they are in fact our brethren by Baptism, which they duly
administer and receive. Moreover, they are our brethren according to the
flesh, for are we not all children of Adam? Then, too, we are fellow
citizens, and subjects of the same earthly prince. Is not that enough to
constitute a kind of fraternity between us?
"Lastly, I look upon them as children of the Church, at least in
disposition, since they are willing to be instructed; and as my brethren
in hope, since they also are called to inherit eternal life. In the early
days of the Church it was customary to give the title of brethren to
catechumens, even before their baptism."
These reasons satisfied me and made me esteem highly the ingenious method
suggested to him by the Holy Spirit to render these unruly and untaught
souls docile and tractable.
[Footnote 1: M. Camus must have been misinformed. St. Francis had but few
fellow-workers in the early years of his mission in the Chablais. [Ed.]]
[Footnote 2: 1 Cor. xi. 16.]
UPON THE DEFERENCE DUE TO OUR INFERIORS AND DEPENDENTS.
Blessed Francis not only taught, but practised deference and a certain
obedience towards his inferiors; towards his flock, towards his fellow
citizens, and even towards his servants. He obeyed his body servant in what
concerned his rising, his going to bed, and his toilet, as if he himself
had been the valet and the other the master.
When he sat up far into the night either to study or to write letters, he
would beg his servant to go to bed, for fear of tiring him by keeping him
up. The man would grumble at his request, as if he were being taken for
a lazy, sleepy-headed fellow. Our Blessed Father patiently put up with
grumblings of the sort, but would complete what he had in hand as quickly
as possible, so as not to keep the man waiting.
One summer morning Blessed Francis awoke very early, and, having some
important matter on his mind, called this servant to bring him some
necessaries for his toilet. The man, however, was too sound asleep to be
roused by his master's voice. The good Prelate therefore, on rising, looked
into the adjoining room, thinking that the man must have left it, but
finding him fast asleep, and fearing to do him harm by waking him suddenly,
dressed without his assistance and betook himself to his prayers, studies,
and writing. Later the servant awoke, and dressed, and, coming to his
master's room, to his surprise found him deep in his studies. The man asked
him abruptly how he had managed without him. "I fetched everything myself,"
replied the holy Prelate. "Am I not old enough and strong enough for that?"
"Would it have been too much trouble to call me?" said the man grumblingly.
"No, indeed, my child," said Blessed Francis, "and I assure you that I did
call you several times; but at last, thinking that you must have gone out,
I got up to see where you were, and, finding you sleeping profoundly, I had
not the heart to wake you." "You have the heart, it seems, to turn me into
ridicule," retorted the man. "Oh, no, my friend," said Francis. "I was
only telling you what happened, without a thought of either blaming you or
making fun of you. Come, I promise you that for the future I will never
stop calling you till you awake."
UPON THE WAY TO TREAT SERVANTS.
His opinion was that masters, as a rule, commit many grave faults with
regard to their servants, by treating them with harshness and severity.
Such conduct is quite unworthy of christians, and, in them, worse even than
the behaviour of pagans in olden times to their slaves.
He himself never uttered an angry or threatening word to any one of his
domestics. When they committed a fault, he corrected them so mildly that
they were ready at once to make amends and to do better, out of love to
their good master rather than from fear of him.
Once, when I was talking to him on this subject, I quoted the saying
that "Familiarity breeds contempt, and contempt hatred." "Yes," he
said, "improper familiarity, but never civil, cordial, kindly, virtuous
familiarity; for as that proceeds from love, love engenders its like, and
true love is never without esteem, nor, consequently, without respect for
the object loved, seeing that love is founded wholly on the estimation
in which the thing or person beloved is held. You know the saying of the
ancient tyrant: _Let them hate me, provided that they fear me_. Speaking on
this subject, we may well reverse the motto and say: _Let them despise me,
provided only that they love me_. For if this contempt produces love, love
after a while will stifle contempt, and sooner or later will in its place
put respect; since there is no one that one reverences more, or has a
greater fear of offending, than a person whom one loves in truth and
sincerity of heart."
With regard to this, he told me a story, which he alludes to in his
Philothea. Blessed Elzear, Comte d'Arian, in Provence, was so exceedingly
gentle in his treatment of his servants that they looked upon him as a
person positively deficient in understanding, and behaved in his presence
with the greatest incivility and insolence, knowing well his persevering
tolerance of injuries and his boundless patience. His wife, the saintly
Delphina, feeling more acutely than he the disrespectful conduct of their
servants, complained of it to him, saying that the menials absolutely
laughed in his face. "And if they do," he answered, "why should I be put
out by these little familiarities, pleasantries, and bursts of merriment,
seeing that I am quite certain they do not hate me? They have not yet
struck me, spat in my face, or offered me any of those indignities which
Jesus Christ our Lord suffered at the hands of the high priest's servants,
and not alone from those who scourged Him, derided Him, and crucified
Him. Is it fitting that I, who glory in being the servant of Jesus Christ
crucified, should desire to be better treated than my Master? Does it
become a member to complain of any hardship under a Head wearing no crown
but one of thorns? All that you tell me is but a mere jest compared with
the insults heaped upon our divine Lord. The contempt of my servants--if,
indeed, they do despise me--is a splendid lesson, teaching me to despise
myself. How shall we practise humility if not on such occasions as these?"
Our Blessed Father went on to say: "I have proposed this example rather for
your admiration than for your imitation, and that you may see of what means
holy love makes use, in the hearts which are its own, in order to lead them
to find rest in the very things which trouble those who are less devout.
What I would say on the subject of servants is this; that, after all, they
are our fellow-men and our humble brethren, whom charity obliges us to
love as ourselves. Come, then, let us love them as ourselves, these dear
yoke-fellows, who are so closely bound to us, who live under the same roof,
and eat and drink of our substance. Let us treat them like ourselves, or
as we should wish to be treated if we were in their place, and of their
condition in life. That is the best way to deal with servants."
ANOTHER INSTANCE OF BLESSED FRANCIS' GENTLENESS WITH HIS OWN SERVANTS.
Like master, like man. Not only were all our Blessed Father's servants
virtuous (he would not have suffered any who were not, to form part of his
household), but, following their master's example, they were all singularly
gentle and obliging in their manners and behaviour.
One of them, a young man, handsome, virtuous, and pious, was greatly sought
after by many of the citizens, who thought he would prove a most desirable
son-in-law, and to this end they encouraged his intercourse with their
daughters. About the several advantageous matches proposed to him he always
used to tell the Bishop. One day the latter said to him, "My dear son, your
soul is as dear to me as my own, and there is no sort of advantage that I
do not desire for you and would not procure for you if I could. That you
know very well, and you know, too, that it is possibly only your youth that
dazzles the eyes of certain young girls and makes them want you for their
husband; but I am of opinion that more age and experience is needed before
you take upon yourself the cares of a family. Think well over the matter,
for when once embarked it will be too late to repent of what you have done.
"Marriage is an Order in which the profession must be made before the
novitiate; if there were a year's probation, as there is in the cloister,
there would be very few professions. After all, what have I done to you to
make you wish to leave me? I am old, I shall soon die, and then you can
dispose of yourself as you please. I shall bequeath you to my brother, who
will provide for you quite as advantageously as these proposed matches
would have done."
He said this with tears in his eyes, which so distressed the young man that
he threw himself at the Bishop's feet, asking his pardon for having even
thought of quitting him, and renewing his protestations of fidelity and of
determination to serve him in life and death.
"No, no, my son," he replied; "I have no wish to interfere with your
liberty. I would, on the contrary, purchase it, like St. Paul, at the cost
of my own. But I am giving you friendly advice, such as I would offer to my
own brother were he of your age." And in very truth he treated the members
of his household; not as servants, but as his brothers and children. He was
their elder brother or their father, rather than their master.
THE HOLY BISHOP NEVER REFUSED WHAT WAS ASKED OF HIM.
He practised to the letter the divine precept: _Give to him who asketh of
thee_, though, indeed, he possessed so few earthly goods that it was a
standing marvel to me how he could give away as much as he did! Truly, I
believe that God often multiplied the little which was really in his hands.
As regards heavenly goods, he was lavish of them to all who came to him
as petitioners. He never refused spiritual consolation or advice either
in public or in private, and his readiness to supply abundantly and
spontaneously this mystical bread of life and wisdom was surprising. His
alertness when requested to preach was also peculiarly remarkable, as
his action was naturally heavy, and his habit of thought, as well as his
enunciation, somewhat slow.
On one occasion, in Paris, he was asked to preach on a certain day, and
readily consented to do so. One of his attendants then reminded him that he
was engaged to preach elsewhere on the same day. "No matter," the Bishop
replied, "God will give us grace to multiply our bread. _He is rich towards
all who invoke Him._" His servant next remarked that some care was
surely due to his health. "What!" exclaimed Blessed Francis, "do you think
that if God gives us the grace to find matter for preaching, He will not
at the same time take care of the body, the organ by means of which His
doctrine is proclaimed? Let us put our trust in Him, and He will give us
all the strength we need."
"But," objected the other, "does God forbid us to take care of our health?"
"By no means," answered the Bishop; "but He does forbid a want of
confidence in His goodness ... and," he added seriously and firmly, "were I
requested to preach a third sermon on that same day, it would cost me less
both in mind and body to consent than to refuse. Should we not be ready to
sacrifice, and even, as it were, to obliterate ourselves, body and soul,
for the benefit of that dear neighbour of ours whom our Lord loved so much
as even to die for him?"
[Footnote 1: Matt. v. 43.]
[Footnote 2: Rom. x. 12.]
Our Blessed Father had, as we know, so high an idea of the virtue of
charity, which, indeed, he said was only christian perfection under another
name, that he disliked to hear almsgiving called charity. It was, he said,
like putting a royal crown on the head of a village maiden.
In answer to my objection that this was actually the case with Esther, who,
though only a slave, was chosen by Assuerus to be his queen, and crowned by
his royal hand, he replied: "You only strengthen my argument, for Esther
would have remained in her state of servitude had she not become the spouse
of Assuerus, and, queen though she was, she only wore her crown dependently
on his will and pleasure. So almsgiving is only pleasing to God, and worthy
of its reward, the heavenly crown of justice, in as far as it proceeds
from charity, and is animated by that royal gift which converts it into
an infused and supernatural virtue, which may be called either almsgiving
in charity, of charitable almsgiving. But, just as the two natures, the
divine and the human, were not merged in one another in the mystery of the
Incarnation, although joined in the unity of the hypostasis of the Word,
so this conjunction of charity with almsgiving, or this subordination of
almsgiving to charity, does not change the one into the other, the object
of each being as different as is the Creator from the creature. For the
object of almsgiving is the misery of the needy which it tries as far as
possible to relieve, and that of charity is God, Who is the sovereign Good,
worthy to be loved above all things for His own sake." "But," I said,
"when almsgiving is practised for the love of God, can we not then call
it charity?" "No," he replied, "not any more than you can call Esther
Assuerus, and Assuerus Esther. But you can, as I have said above, call it
alms given in charity, or charitable almsgiving.
"Almsgiving and charity are quite different, for not only may alms be given
without charity, but even against charity, as when they are given knowing
they will lead to sin."
In a remarkable passage in Theotimus the Saint asks: "Were there not
heretics, who, to exalt charity towards the poor, deprecated charity
towards God, ascribing man's whole salvation to almsdeeds, as St. Augustine
[Footnote 1: Love of God. B. xi. c. 14.]
OUR SAINT'S HOPEFULNESS IN REGARD TO THE CONVERSION OF SINNERS.
Our Blessed Father was always full of tenderness, compassion, and
gentleness towards sinners, but he regarded and treated them in different
ways according to their various dispositions.
A sinner who had grown old in evil, who clung obstinately to his wicked
ways, who laughed to scorn all remonstrances, and gloried in his shame,
formed a spectacle so heart-breaking and so appalling to the holy Bishop,
that he shrank from contemplating it. When he had succeeded in turning his
thoughts to some other subject, on their being suddenly recalled to it, he
would shudder as if a secret wound had been touched, and utter some devout
and fervent ejaculation such as this: "Ah! Lord, command that this blind
man see! Speak the word only, and he shall be healed! Oh, my God, those who
forsake Thee shall be forsaken; convert him, and he shall be converted!"
With obstinate sinners of this class his patience was unwearied. For such,
he said, God Himself waited patiently, even until the eleventh hour;
adding that impatience was more likely to embitter them and retard their
conversion than remonstrance to edify them.
For the sinner who was more open to conviction, and was not so obstinate
in his malice, for him who had, that is to say, lucid intervals in his
madness, Blessed Francis had the most tender affection, regarding him as a
poor paralytic waiting on the edge of the pool of healing for some helping
hand to plunge him into it. To such he behaved as did the good shepherd of
the Gospel, Who left the ninety-nine sheep in the desert to seek after the
hundredth which had gone astray.
But towards the sinner when once converted, how describe his attitude of
mind! He regarded him not as a brand snatched from the burning, not as a
bruised reed, not as an extinguished taper that was still smoking, but as
a sacred vessel filled with the oil of grace, as one of those trees which
the ancients looked upon as holy because they had been struck by fire from
Heaven. It was marvellous to observe the honour which he paid to such a
one, the esteem in which he held him, the praises which he bestowed upon
He always considered that souls delivered by God from the mouth of
the roaring lion were in consequence likely to be more vigilant, more
courageous in resisting temptation, and more careful in guarding against
He did all he could to cover the faults of others, his goodness of heart
being so great that he never allowed himself to think ill even of the
wicked. He attributed their sinfulness to the violence of temptation and
the infirmity of human nature. When faults were public and so manifest that
they could not be excused, he would say: "Who knows but that the unhappy
soul will be converted? The greatest sinners often become the greatest
penitents, as we see in the case of David. And who are we that we should
judge our brother? Were it not for the grace of God we should perhaps do
worse than he."
He never allowed the conversion of a sinner to be despaired of, hoping on
till death. "This life," he said, "is our pilgrim way, in which those who
now stand may fall, and those who have fallen may, by grace, be set on
their feet again." Nor even after death would he tolerate an unfavourable
judgment being passed on any.
His reason for this was that as the original grace of justification was not
given by way of merit, so neither could the grace of final perseverance be
With regard to this subject he related to me an amusing incident which
occurred whilst he was a missioner in the Chablais. Amongst the Priests and
Religious who were sent to help him was one of a humorous temperament, and
who did not hesitate to show that he was so, even in the pulpit. One day,
when preaching before our Blessed Prelate against the heresiarch who
had raised the standard of revolt in Geneva, he said that we should never
condemn any one as lost after death, except such as are by Scripture
denounced; no, not even the said heresiarch who had caused so much evil
by his errors. "For," he went on to say, "who knows but that God may have
touched his heart at the last moment and converted him? It is true that out
of the Church and without the true faith there is no salvation; but who can
say that he did not at the moment of death wish to be reunited with the
Catholic Church, from which he had separated himself, and acknowledge in
his heart the truth of the belief he had combated, and that thus he did not
die sincerely repentant?"
After having surprised the congregation by these remarks, he most
unexpectedly concluded by saying: "We must certainly entertain sentiments
of boundless confidence in the goodness of God, Who is infinite in mercy to
those who invoke Him. Jesus Christ even offered His peace, His love, and
His salvation to the traitor Judas, who betrayed Him by a kiss. Why, then,
may He not have offered the same favour to this unhappy heresiarch? Is the
arm of God shortened?
"Yet, my brethren," he continued, "believe me, and I assure you I lie not,
if this man is not damned he has had the narrowest escape man ever had; and
if he has been saved from eternal wreck, he owes to God _the handsomest
votive candle that a person of his condition ever offered!_"
As you may imagine, this _finale_ did not draw many tears from the
[Footnote 1: Calvin.]
BLESSED FRANCIS' SOLICITUDE FOR MALEFACTORS CONDEMNED TO DEATH.
He often went to carry consolation to prisoners, and sometimes accompanied
condemned criminals to the place of execution, that he might help them to
make a good death.
At such times, too, he kept to the methods we have already described as
used by him in his visiting of the rest of the dying. After having made
them unburden their conscience, he left them a little breathing space, and
then at intervals suggested to them acts of faith, hope, and charity, of
repentance, of resignation to the Will of God, and of abandonment to His
mercy; not adding to their sufferings by importunity, long harangues, or
So happily did the Blessed Prelate succeed in this method of treatment,
that sometimes the poor criminals whom he accompanied to their execution
went to it as to a marriage feast, with joy and peace, such as they had
never experienced in the whole course of their lawless and sinful lives,
happier far so to die than to live on as they had done. "It is," he would
say to them, "by lovingly kissing the feet of God's justice that we most
surely reach the embrace of His tender mercy.
"Above all things, we must be confident that they who trust in Him shall
never be confounded."
UPON THE SMALL NUMBER OF THE ELECT.
Blessed Francis' extreme gentleness always led him to lean towards
indulgent judgment, however slight in a particular case the apparent
justification might be.
On one occasion there was a discussion in his presence as to the meaning of
those terrible words in the Gospel: _Many are called, but few chosen_.
Some one said that the chosen were called a little flock, whereas the
unwise or reprobates were spoken of as many in number, and so on. He
replied that, in his opinion, there would be very few Christians (meaning,
of course, those who are in the true Church, outside which there is no
salvation) who would be lost, "because," he said, "having the root of the
true faith, the tree that springs from it would sooner or later bear its
fruit, which is salvation, and awakening, as it were, from death to life,
they would become, through charity, active and rich in good works."
When asked what, then, was the meaning of the statement in the Gospel as to
the small number of the elect, he replied that in comparison with the rest
of the world, and with infidel nations, the number of Christians was very
small, but that of that small number very few would be lost, in conformity
to that striking text, _There is no condemnation for those that are in
Christ Jesus_. Which really means that justifying grace is always being
offered them, and this grace is inseparable from a lively faith and a
burning charity. Add to this that He who begins the work in us is He who
likewise perfects it. We may believe that the call to christianity, which
is the work of God, is always a perfect work, and therefore leads of itself
to the end of all perfection, which is heavenly glory.
[Footnote 1: Matt. XX. 16.]
[Footnote 2: Rom. viii. 1.]
TO LOVE TO BE HATED, AND TO HATE TO BE LOVED.
This maxim of our Blessed Father's seems strange and altogether contrary to
his sweet and affectionate nature.
If, however, we look closely into it, we shall find that it is full of the
purest and most subtle love of God.
When he said that we ought to love to be hated, and hate to be loved, he
was referring in the one case to the love which is in and for God alone,
and in the other to that merely human love, which is full of danger, which
robs God of His due, and of which, therefore, we should hate to be the
object. He expresses himself thus:
"Those who have nothing naturally attractive about them are very fortunate,
for they are well assured that the love which one bears them is excellent,
being all for God's sake alone."
Blessed Francis always said that the excellence of obedience consists not
in doing the will of a gentle, courteous superior, who commands rather by
entreaty than as one having authority, but in bowing the neck beneath the
yoke of one who is harsh, stern, imperious, severe. He was, it is true,
desirous that those who had to judge and direct souls should do so as
fathers rather than as masters, as, indeed, he did himself, but at the same
time he wished those in authority to be somewhat strict, and those subject
to them to be less sensitive and selfish, and consequently less impatient,
less refractory, and less given to grumbling than most men are.
He used also to say that a rough file takes off more rust and polishes iron
better than a smooth and less biting one, and that very many and very heavy
blows of the hammer are needed to temper a keen sword blade.
"But," I said to him, when discussing this subject, "as the most perfect
obedience is that which springs from love, ought not the command to be
given lovingly, so as to incite the subordinate to a loving obedience?" He
answered: "There is a great deal of difference between the excellence of
obedience and its perfection.
"The excellence of a virtue has to do with its nature; its perfection with
the grace, or charity, in which it is clothed. Now, here I am not speaking
of the supernatural perfection of obedience which emanates most assuredly
from the love of God; but of its natural excellence, which is better tested
by harsh than by gentle commands.
"Excessive indulgence on the part of parents and superiors is only too
often the cause of many disorders.
"More than this, even as regards the supernatural perfection of obedience,
it is very probable that the harshness of the command given helps its
growth, and renders our love of God, which is our motive in obeying,
stronger, firmer, and more generous. When a superior commands with
over-much gentleness and circumspection, besides the fact that he
compromises his authority and causes it to be slighted, he so attracts and
attaches his inferior to himself that often unconsciously he robs God of
the devotedness which is His due. The result is that the inferior obeys the
man whom he loves, and because he loves him, rather than God in the man,
and for the love of God alone.
"On the other hand, harshness tests far better the fidelity of a heart
which loves God sincerely. For, finding nothing pleasing in the command
except the sweetness of divine love, to which alone it yields obedience,
the perfection of that obedience becomes the greater, since the intention
is purer, more direct, and more immediately turned to God. It was in this
spirit that David said that, _for the sake of the words_ of God--that is,
of His law--he had _kept hard ways_." Our Blessed Father added this
simile to explain his meaning further:
"Obeying a harsh, irritating, and vexatious superior is like drawing clear
water from a spring which flows through the jaws of a lion of bronze. It
is like the riddle of Samson, _Out of the eater came forth meat_; it is
hearing God's voice, and seeing God's will alone in that of a superior,
even if the command be, as in the case of St. Peter, _Kill and eat_; it
is to say with Job, _Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him._"
[Footnote 1: Psalm xvi. 4.]
[Footnote 2: Acts x. 13.]
[Footnote 3: Job xiii. 15.]
UPON THE OBEDIENCE THAT MAY BE PRACTISED BY SUPERIORS.
Asking him one day if it was possible for persons in authority, whether
in the world or in the cloister, to practise the virtue of obedience,
he replied: "Certainly, and they can do so far more perfectly and more
heroically than their subjects."
Then, seeing my astonishment at this apparent paradox, he went on to
explain it in the following manner: "Those who are obliged, either by
precept or by vow, which takes the place of precept, to practise obedience,
are, as a rule, subject only to one superior. Those, on the other hand,
who are in authority, are free to obey more widely, and to obey even in
commanding, because if they consider that it is God Who puts them over the
heads of the others, and Who commands them to command those others, who
does not see that even their commanding is an act of obedience? This kind
of obedience may even be practised by princes who have none but God set
over them, and who have to render an account of their actions to Him alone.
I may add that there is no power on earth so sublime as not to have, at
least in some respects, another set over it. Christian kings render filial
obedience to the Roman Pontiff, and the sovereign Pontiff himself submits
to his confessor in the Sacrament of Penance. But there is a still higher
degree of obedience which even Prelates and the greatest among men may
practise. It is that which the Apostle counsels when he says: _Be ye
subject to every human creature for God's sake_. Who for love of us
not only became subject to the Blessed Virgin and to St. Joseph, but made
Himself obedient to death and to the death of the Cross, submitting Himself
in His Passion to the most sinful and degraded of the earth, uttering not a
cry, even as a lamb under the hand of him who shears it and slays it. It is
by this universal obedience to every creature that we become all things to
all men in order that we may win all to Jesus Christ. It is by this that we
take our neighbour, whoever he may be, for our superior, becoming servants
for our Lord's sake."
[Footnote 1: 1 Peter ii. 13.]
AN INSTANCE OF OUR SAINT'S OBEDIENCE.
On one occasion, when the Duke of Savoy, being pressed by many urgent
public needs, had obtained from the Pope a Brief empowering him to levy
contributions on the Church property in his dominions, Blessed Francis,
finding some slackness and unwillingness on the part of the beneficed
clergy of the diocese to yield obedience to this order, when he had called
them together to settle what was to be done, spoke with just indignation.
"What! gentlemen," he cried, "is it for us to question and reason when two
sovereigns concur in issuing the same command? Is it for us, I say, to
scrutinize their counsels, and ask, Why are you acting thus? Not only to
the decrees of sovereign courts, but even to the sentence of the most
insignificant judges appointed by God to decide differences in our affairs,
we yield deference so far as not to enquire into the motive of their
decisions. And here, where two oracles who have only to render account to
God of what orders they give, speak, we set to work to enquire into their
motives and reasons as if we were charged to investigate their conduct.
Assuredly, I will take no part in such doings. Our virtue, indeed, lags
sadly behind that of those christians--only lay people too--of whom St.
Paul said that being wise themselves they _gladly suffered bondage,
stripes, every sort of ill-usage from the foolish_, and of whom, in
another place, he says that they _took with joy the being stripped of their
own goods_, knowing that they had _a better and a lasting substance_.
And the Apostle, as you know, is speaking to men who had been unjustly
despoiled of their whole property by robbers and tyrants, whereas you will
not give up a small fraction of yours to assist in the public need of our
good Prince, to whose zeal we owe the re-establishment of the Catholic
religion in the three divisions of the Chablais, and whose enemies are the
adversaries of our faith! Is not our Order the first of the three estates
in a christian kingdom? Is there anything more just than to contribute of
our wealth, together with our prayers, towards the defence of our altars,
of our lives, and of our peace? The people are lavishing their substance
and the nobility their blood for the same cause. Remember the late wars,
and tremble lest your ingratitude and disobedience should plunge you again
into similar troubles."
Adding example to precept, he paid so heavy a tax upon a part of his own
revenue that none could say he did not practise what he preached, and
all those who had ventured to oppose him in the matter were not only
effectually silenced, but covered with confusion and put to a just shame.
[Footnote 1: 2 Cor. xi. 19, 20.]
[Footnote 2: Heb. x. 34.]
UPON THE LOVE OF HOLY POVERTY.
_Godliness with contentment_, says Holy Scripture, _is great gain_.
So content was the godliness of Blessed Francis that, although deprived of
the greater part of his episcopal revenues, he was fully satisfied with the
little that was left to him.
After all, he would say, are not twelve hundred crowns a handsome income
for a Bishop? The Apostles, who were far better Bishops than we are, had
nothing like that sum. It is not for us to fix our own pay for serving God.
His love of poverty was truly striking. At Annecy he lodged in a hired
house, which was both handsome and roomy, and in which the apartments
assigned to him as Bishop were very elegantly furnished. He, however, took
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