The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales
Jean Pierre Camus
Part 3 out of 8
up his abode in an uncomfortable little room, where there was hardly any
light at all, so that he could truly say with Job: _I have made my bed in
darkness_; or with David: _Night shall be my light in my pleasures_;
or again, _I am like a night raven in the house, or as a sparrow all alone
on the housetop_.
He called this little room, or, to speak more truly, this sepulchre of a
living man, Francis' chamber, while to that in which he received visitors,
or gave audience, he gave the name of the Bishop's chamber.
Truly, the lover of holy poverty can always find a means of practising it,
even in the midst of riches.
Blessed Francis, indeed, always welcomed poverty with a smiling
countenance, though naturally it be apt to cast a gloom and melancholy upon
the faces both of those who endure it and of those who only dread it.
Involuntary poverty is surly and discontented, for it is forced and
against the will. Voluntary poverty, on the contrary, is joyous, free, and
light-hearted. To show you how cheerfully and pleasantly he talked on this
subject, I will give you one or two of his remarks.
Once, showing me a coat which had been patched up for him, and which he
wore under his cassock, he said: "My people really work little miracles;
for out of an old garment they have made me this perfectly new coat. Am I
Again, when his steward was complaining of down-right distress, and of
there being no money left, he said: "What are you troubling yourself about?
We are now more like our Master, Who had not even where to lay His head,
though as yet we are not reduced to such extremity as that." "But what are
we to do?" persisted the steward. "My son," the Bishop answered, "we must
live as we can, on whatever goods we have, that is all." "Truly," replied
the other, "it is all very well to talk of living on our goods when there
are none left to live upon!" "You do not understand me," returned the
Bishop; "we must sell or pledge some of our furniture in order to live.
Will not that, my good M.R., be living on our goods?"
It was in this fashion that the Saint was accustomed to meet cheerfully
money troubles, so unbearable to weaker characters.
On one occasion I expressed my admiration at his being able to make so good
a show on his small means. "It is God," he said, "Who multiplies the five
loaves." On my pressing him to tell me how it was done, "Why, it would not
be a miracle," he answered, with a smile, "if we knew that. Are we not most
fortunate to live on only by help of miracles? _It is the mercy of God that
we are not consumed_." "You go quite beyond me," I said, "by taking that
ground. I am not so transcendently wise."
"Listen," he replied. "Riches are truly thorns, as the Gospel teaches us.
They prick us with a thousand troubles in acquiring them, with more cares
in preserving them, and with yet more anxieties in spending them; and, most
of all, with vexations in losing them.
"After all, we are only managers and stewards, especially if it is a
question of the riches of the Church, which are the true patrimony of
the poor. The important matter is to find faithful dispensers. Having
sufficient to feed and clothe ourselves suitably, what more do we want?
Assuredly, _that which is over and above these is of evil_.
"Shall I tell you what my own feeling is? Well and good, but I must do so
in your ear. I know very well how to spend what I have; but if I had more
I should be in difficulty as to what to do with it. Am I not happy to live
like a child without care? _Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof_.
The more any one has to manage the longer the account he has to render. We
must make use of this world as though we were making no use of it at all.
We must possess riches as though we had them not, and deal with the things
of earth like the dogs on the banks of the Nile, who, for fear of the
crocodiles, lap up the water of the river as they run along its banks. If,
as the wise man tells us, _he that addeth knowledge addeth also labour_;
much more is this the case with the man who heaps up riches. He is like
the giants in the fable who piled up mountains, and then buried themselves
under them. Remember the miserable man who, as the Gospel tells us, thought
that he had many years before him in which to live at his ease, but to whom
the heavenly voice said: _Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of
thee; and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided_? In truth
happy is he only who lays up imperishable treasures in Heaven."
He would never allow himself to be called _poor_; saying, that any one who
had a revenue sufficient to live upon without being obliged to labour with
head or hands to support himself should be called _rich_; and such, he
said, was the case with us both.
To my objection that our revenues were nevertheless so very small that we
must be really considered poor, for little, indeed, must we be working if
our labour was not worth what we got from our bishoprics, he replied: "If
you take it in this way you are not so far wrong, for who is there who
labours in a vineyard and does not live upon its produce? What shepherd
feeds his flock and does not drink its milk and clothe himself with its
wool? So, too, may he who sows spiritual seed justly reap the small harvest
which he needs for his temporal sustenance. If then he is poor who lives by
work, and who eats the fruit of his labour, we may very well be reckoned
as such; but if we regard the degree of poverty in which our Lord and
His Apostles lived, we must perforce consider ourselves rich. After all,
possessing honestly all that is necessary for food and clothing, ought
we not to be content? Whatever is more than this is only evil, care,
superfluity, wanting which we shall have less of an account to render.
Happy is poverty, said a stoic, if it is cheerful poverty; and if it is
that, it is really not poverty at all, or only poverty of a kind that is
far preferable to the riches of the most wealthy, which are amassed with
difficulty, preserved with solicitude, and lost with regret."
Our Saint used to say that, as for the cravings of nature, he who is not
satisfied with what is really enough will never be satisfied. I wish that
I could give any just idea of his extraordinary moderation even in the use
of the necessaries of life. He told me once that when the time came for him
to lay down the burden of his episcopal duties and to retire into solitude,
there to pass the rest of his life in contemplation and study, he should
consider five hundred crowns a year great wealth; in fact, he would not
reserve more from either his patrimony or his Bishop's revenue, adding
these words of St. Paul: _Having food, and wherewith to be covered, let us_
(priests) _be content_. He gave this as his reason. "The Church," he
said, "which is the kingdom of Jesus Christ, is established on foundations
directly opposed to those of the world, of which our Saviour said His
kingdom was not. Now, on what is the kingdom of this world founded? Listen
to St. John: All that is in the world is the _concupiscence of the flesh,
or of the eyes, and the pride of life_; that is to say, the pleasures
of the senses, avarice, and vanity. The Church then will be founded on
mortification of the flesh, poverty, and humility. Pleasures and honours
follow in the train of wealth; but poverty puts an axe to the roots of
pride and sensual enjoyments. Some, says David, blaming them, glory in the
multitude of their riches; and St. Paul exhorts the rich of this world not
to be high-minded.
"It is a perilous thing for humility and mortification to take up their
abode with wealth." This is why he wished for nothing but bare necessaries,
fearing that superfluity might lead him into some excess.
When I reminded him that if we had this superfluity we might give alms out
of it, as it is written, _Of what remaineth give to the poor_, he replied,
that we knew well enough what: we ought to do; but that we did not know
what we should do, and that it was always a species of presumption to
imagine ourselves able to handle live coals without burning ourselves,
seeing that even the Angel in the vision of the Prophet took them up with
[Footnote 1: 1 Tim. vi. 6.]
[Footnote 2: Job. xvii. 13.]
[Footnote 3: Ps. cxxxviii. 11.]
[Footnote 4: Ps. ci. 8.]
[Footnote 5: Georges Roland.]
[Footnote 6: Matt. v. 37.]
[Footnote 7: Tim. vi. 8.]
UPON THE SAME SUBJECT.
Our Blessed Father was so absolutely indifferent to the goods of this world
that I never heard him so much as once complain of the loss of almost all
his episcopal revenue, confiscated by the city of Geneva. He used to say
that it was very much with the wealth of the Church as with a man's beard,
the more closely it was clipped the stronger and the thicker it grew
again. When the Apostles had nothing they possessed all things, and when
ecclesiastics wish to possess too much, that too much is reduced to
His one hunger and thirst was for the conversion of souls, living in wilful
blindness to the light of truth which shines only in the one true Church.
Sometimes, he exclaimed, sighing heavily: "Give me souls, and the rest take
to Thyself." Speaking of Geneva, to which city, in spite of its rebellion,
he always applied terms of compassion and affection, such as "my dear
Geneva," or "my poor Geneva," he said to me more than once: "Would to
God that these gentlemen had taken such small remains of my revenue as
they have left to me, and that we had only as small a foothold in that
deplorable city as the Catholics have in La Rochelle, namely, a little
chapel in which to say Mass and perform the functions of our religion! You
would then soon see all these apostates come back to their senses, and we
should rejoice over the return to the Church of these poor Sunamites, who
are so forgetful of their duty." This fond hope he always nourished in
He used to say that Henry VIII. of England, who at the beginning of his
reign was so zealous for the Catholic faith, and wrote so splendidly
against the errors of Luther, that he acquired for that reason the glorious
title of Defender of the Faith, having, by yielding to his passion, caused
so great a schism in his kingdom, even had he desired at the close of
his life to return to the bosom of the Church which he had so miserably
abandoned, would, on setting to work to attain this most happy end, have
found the impossibility of recovering for the clergy and restoring to them
the property and wealth which he had divided among his nobles, a serious
"Alas!" our Blessed Father exclaimed, commenting upon this fact, "to think
that a handful of dust should rob Heaven of so many souls! The business of
every christian, and especially of the clergy, is the keeping of God's law.
The Lord is the portion of their inheritance and of their cup. He would
have made to them an abundant restitution of all that had been theirs, by
gentle but effective means. They whose thoughts are fixed upon the Lord
will be nourished by Him. The just are never forsaken nor reduced to beg
their bread; they have only to lift their eyes and their hopes to God and
He will give them meat in due season; for it is He who gives food to all
flesh. Moreover, it is much easier to suffer hunger with patience than to
preserve virtue in the midst of plenty. It is not every one who can say
with the Apostle: _I know how to abound, and I know how to suffer need_.
A thousand fall on the left hand of adversity, but ten thousand on the
right hand of prosperity; for iniquity is the outcome of luxury, and the
sin of the cities of the plain had its origin in a superabundance of bread;
that is to say, in their wealth. To be frugal and devout is to possess a
[Footnote 1: Cantic. vi. 12.]
[Footnote 2: Philipp. iv. 12.]
UPON POVERTY OF SPIRIT.
Three virtues, he said, were necessary to constitute poverty of spirit:
simplicity, humility, and christian poverty. Simplicity consists in that
singleness of aim which looks only to God, referring to Him alone those
innumerable opportunities which come to us from objects other than Himself.
Humility is that conviction of our own inferiority and destitution which
makes the truly humble man regard himself as always an unprofitable
servant. Christian poverty is of three kinds. First, that which is
affective, but not effective. This can be practised in the midst of wealth,
as in the case of Abraham, David, St. Louis, and many other holy persons,
who, though rich in this world's goods, were ready in a moment to accept
poverty with cheerfulness and thankfulness if it should please God to send
it to them.
Second, effective but not affective poverty, which is a very unhappy
condition. Those who are weighed down by it feel all its distressing
consequences and are miserable because they cannot possess the many things
which they ardently desire.
Third, affective, united with effective poverty, which is recommended in
the Gospels, and which may happen to be our lot, either from birth or from
some reverse of fortune.
If we are reconciled to our condition in life, however humble, and bless
God Who has placed us in it, then we tread in the footsteps of Jesus
Christ, of His holy Mother, and of the Apostles, who all lived a life of
Another way of practising this poverty is to follow the counsels of Jesus
Christ, Who bids us _sell all that we have and give it to the poor_,
imitating our divine Master in that poverty which He embraced for us,
that we, through it, might be made rich. And never is this command more
practically and worthily obeyed than when the man who has abandoned all his
worldly goods for the sake of Christ, labours, not only in order to sustain
his own life, but that he may have the wherewithal to give alms.
Thus did the Apostle glory when he said: _For such things as were needful
for me, and them that are with me, these hands have furnished_.
[Footnote 1: Acts xx. 34.]
FRANCIS' LOVE OF THE POOR.
To love our neighbour is not only to wish him well, but also to do him
all the good that it is in our power to do. If we fall short of this, we
deserve the reproach of St. James, addressed to those who, though they have
ample means for giving material aid to the poor, content themselves with
bare words of comfort.
The love of Blessed Francis for the poor was so intense that in their case
he seemed to become a respecter of persons, preferring them to the rich,
both in spiritual and in temporal matters. He was like a good physician who
in visiting the sick shows the most tender solicitude for those afflicted
with the most terrible diseases and lingers longest by their bedsides.
One day I had to wait my turn to go to confession to him for a very
long time, he being engaged in hearing a poor blind beggar woman. When
I afterwards expressed my surprise at the length of her confession, he
said: "Ah! She sees far more clearly the way to go to God than many whose
eyesight is otherwise perfect."
On another occasion, sailing with him on the lake of Geneva, I heard
the boatman calling him "Father," and addressing him with corresponding
familiarity. "Listen," he said to me, "to those good people. They are
calling me their Father; and, indeed, I do believe they love me as such.
Oh! how much more real happiness they give me than those who call me 'My
UPON THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF POVERTY.
On one occasion I quoted that saying of Seneca: "He is truly great who
dines off earthenware as contentedly as if it were silver; but he is
greater still who dines off silver with as much indifference as if it were
"The philosopher," he said, "is right in his judgment; for the first feasts
on mere fancy, leading to vanity; but the second shows that he is superior
to wealth, since he cares no more for a precious metal than for clay.
"Yet, Oh! how ridiculous; how empty is all mere human philosophy! This same
philosopher who speaks so eloquently again and again of the contempt of
riches, was all his life immersed in them; and at his death left thousands
behind him. Does it not seem to you that, this being his own case, his
talking about poverty makes him like a cleric expatiating on the art of
war? We had far better listen to St. Paul, who speaks as a past master on
the subject of poverty, since he practised it so thoroughly that he chose
rather to live on what he could earn by the labour of his hands than on
what the preaching of the Gospel might bring in to him, as to the other
Apostles. Yes, we must needs listen to and believe St. Paul when he says
that he esteems all things as dung in comparison with the service of Jesus
Christ, counting as loss what he once held as gain."
[Footnote 1: Philipp. iii, 8.]
Blessed Francis objected strongly to the use of the word _fortune_,
considering it unworthy of utterance by christian lips. The expressions
"fortunate," "by good fortune," "children of fortune," all common enough,
were repugnant to him. "I am astonished," he said once, "that Fortune, the
most pagan of idols, should have been left standing, when christianity so
completely demolished all the rest! God forbid that any who ought to be the
children of God's providence alone become children of fortune! and that
those whose only hope should be in Him put their trust in the uncertainty
He spoke yet more strongly of such as professing to be nailed with Jesus
Christ to the Cross and to glory only in His reproaches and sufferings, yet
were eager in heaping up riches, and, when amassed, in clinging fondly to
them. "For," he said, "the Gospel makes christian blessedness to consist
in poverty, contempt, pain, weeping, and persecutions; and even philosophy
teaches us that prosperity is the stepmother of true virtue, adversity its
I asked him once how it was that we are so ready to have recourse to
God when the thorn of affliction pierces us, and so eager in asking for
deliverance from sickness, calumny, famine, and such like misfortunes. "It
is," he said, "our weakness which thus cries out for help, and it is a
proof of the infirmity which encompasses us; for as the best and firmest
fish feed in the salt waters of the open sea, those which are caught in
fresh water being less pleasing to the taste, so the most generous natures
find their element in crosses and afflictions, while meaner spirits are
only happy in prosperity.
"Moreover," he continued, "it is much easier to love God perfectly in
adversity than in prosperity. For tribulation having nothing in itself
that is lovable, save that it is God's gift, it is much easier to go by it
straight to the will of God, and to unite ourselves to His good pleasure.
Easier, I say, than by prosperity, which has attractions of its own that
captivate our senses, and, like Dalila, lull them to sleep, working in us
a subtle change, so that we begin insensibly to love for its own sake the
prosperity which God sends us, instead of bestowing all our grateful love
on God Who sends it, and to Whom all thanks and praise are due!"
UPON CHARITY AND CHASTITY.
Feeling at one time troubled and perplexed in mind as to the bearing
of these two virtues upon one another, and as to the right manner of
practising each, so that one should never run counter to the other, I
carried my difficulties to our Blessed Father, who settled them at once in
the following words; "We must," he said, "in this matter draw a careful
distinction between persons who occupy positions of dignity and authority,
and have the care of others, and those private individuals who have no one
to look after but themselves. The former must deliver their chastity into
the keeping of their charity; and if that charity is real and true it will
not fail them, but will serve as a strong wall of defence, both without and
within, to their chastity. On the other hand, private individual's will do
better to surrender the guardianship of their charity to their chastity,
and to walk with the greatest circumspection and self-restraint. The reason
of this is that those in authority are obliged by the very nature of their
duties, to expose themselves to the dangers inseparable from occasions: in
which, however, they are assisted by grace, seeing they are not tempting
God by any rashness.
"Contrariwise, those private individuals who expose themselves to danger
without any legitimate excuse run great risk of tempting God and losing His
grace; since it is written that _he that loveth danger_ (still more he that
seeketh it) _shall perish in it_."
[Footnote 1: Eccles. iii. 27]
UPON PURITY OF HEART.
I can never express to you, or convey a right idea, of the high esteem in
which he held purity of heart. He said that chastity of body was common
enough even among unbelievers and among persons addicted to other vices;
but that very few people could truly say, my heart is pure.
I do not say that by this purity of heart he meant the never being troubled
by sinful desires, for that would be making the virtue of chastity to
consist in insensibility; and what do those who are not tempted know about
No; he placed it in never yielding to unlawful affections. To these we
should rather give the name of _infections_, since they infect the will,
and interfere with the safe custody of the heart, which is the well-spring
of the spiritual life.
UPON CHASTITY AND HUMILITY.
Speaking of the humility and chastity of the Blessed Virgin the holy
Prelate said: "These two virtues, although they have to be continually
practised, should be spoken of so rarely that this rarity of speech may
rank as silence. The reason is that it is difficult to mention these
virtues or to praise them either in themselves or in any individual who
possesses them, without in some way sullying their brightness.
"1. There is, in my opinion, no human tongue which can rightly express
their value, and to praise them inadequately is in a way to disparage them.
"2. To praise humility is to cause it to be desired from a secret self-love
and to invite people to enter its domain through the wrong door.
"3. To praise humility in any individual is to tempt him to vanity and to
flatter him dangerously; for the more he thinks himself humble the less
he will really be so; and possibly when he sees that others consider him
humble he will think that he must be so.
"4. As regards chastity, to praise it in itself is to leave on the mind a
secret and almost imperceptible image of the contrary vice, and therefore
to expose the mind to some danger of temptation. There is a sting hidden in
the honey of such praise.
"5. To praise it in any individual is in a measure to expose him to the
danger of falling. It is to put a stumbling-block In his way. It is
to inflate that pride which under a fair disguise may lure him over a
"6. We must never be content to rely upon our hitherto untarnished purity
of life, but must always fear, since innocence is a treasure which we carry
in a vessel of glass, easily broken.
"7. In a word, the virtues of humility and chastity always seem to me like
those subtle essences which evaporate if they are not kept very tightly
"8. However, although I consider it wise very seldom to speak of these two
virtues, it is wise to practise them unceasingly, humility being one of the
most excellent virtues of the soul, and purity that fair white adornment of
the body which is its honour, and which, like a lily growing among thorns,
brings forth a wonderful flower, whose fruit is honour and riches.
"9. Nevertheless, I do not mean that we are to be so scrupulous as _never_
to dare to speak of these virtues; not even to praise them when occasion
warrants or demands our doing so. No, indeed. In one sense they can never
be sufficiently praised, nor ever sufficiently valued and cultivated. What
I mean is that we gain little by praising them. Our words in praise of a
virtue are of little account in comparison with the smallest fruit; that
is, with the least of the acts of a virtue.
"I add this because I know you attach too much importance to my words, and
take them as literally as if they were oracles."
Our Blessed Father, speaking of the virtue of modesty, and dilating upon
one of its chief properties, namely, its extraordinary sensitiveness to
the slightest injurious influence, made use of two beautiful comparisons:
"However pure, transparent, and polished the surface of a mirror may be,
the faintest breath is sufficient to make it so dull and misty that it is
unable to reflect any image. So it is with the reputation of the virtuous.
However high and well established it may be, according the words of
wisdom: _Oh! how beautiful is the chaste generation!_  a thoughtless,
unrestrained glance or gesture is quite sufficient to give occasion to a
slanderous tongue to infect that reputation with the serpent's venom,
and to hide its lustre from the eyes of the world, as clouds hide the
brightness of the sun.
"Again, look at this beautiful lily. It is the symbol of purity; it
preserves its whiteness and sweetness, amid all the blackness and
ruggedness of the encircling thorns. As long as it remains untouched its
perfume is delicious and its dazzling beauty of form and colour charms
every passer-by; but, as soon as it is culled, the scent is so strong as
to be overpowering, and should you touch the petals they lose their satin
smoothness as well as all their pure and white loveliness."
[Footnote 1: Wisd. iv. I.]
THE CONTEMPT HE FELT FOR HIS BODY.
Since our Blessed Father was not, like the martyrs, privileged to offer his
body, both by living and dying, as a victim for God, he found out, with the
ingenuity of love, a method of self-humiliation and self-sacrifice to be
carried out after his death.
When quite young and still pursuing his studies at Padua, falling
dangerously ill, and his life being despaired of, he begged his tutor to
see that when he was dead his body should be given into the hands of the
surgeons for dissection. "Having been of so little use to my neighbour in
life," he said, "I shall thus at least, after my death, be able to render
him some small service."
Happily for us, God in His great mercy spared this precious life, being
contented, as in the case of the sacrifice of Isaac, with the offering of
His faithful servant's will and with his generous contempt for his own
A motive which urged Blessed Francis to the above resolution, besides his
desire of self-humiliation and immolation, was the hope of putting an end
to the scandalous practice then prevailing among the surgical and medical
students at Padua of secretly by night going to the cemeteries to disinter
newly-buried bodies. This they did when they had failed to obtain those
of criminals from the officers of justice. Innumerable evils, quarrels,
and even murders resulted from this practice, and the indignation of the
relatives and friends of the deceased persons whose corpses were stolen may
be imagined. By setting the example of a voluntary surrender of his own
body for dissection our Blessed Father hoped to diminish such orders.
UPON OUR SAINT'S HUMILITY.
It was of course impossible for Blessed Francis to be ignorant of the high
esteem in which his piety was held, not only by his own people, but by
all who knew him. This knowledge was, however, as may well be believed,
a source of pain to him, and often covered him with confusion. He seldom
spoke on the subject, for true humility rarely speaks, even humbly, of
itself. Yet on one occasion, when more than usually worried by hearing
himself praised, he allowed these words to fall from his lips: "The truth
is that these good people with all their eulogiums, and expressions of
esteem, are sowing the seed of a bitter fruit for me to gather in the end.
When I am dead, imagining that my poor soul has gone straight to Heaven,
they will not pray for it, and will leave me languishing in Purgatory. Of
what avail then will this high reputation be to me? They are treating me
like those animals which suffocate their young by their close pressure and
caresses, or like the ivy which drags down the wall it seems to crown with
I will now give you some examples of his humility. He was sometimes told
that people had spoken ill of him. Instead of excusing or defending
himself, he would say cheerfully, "Do they say no more than that?
Certainly, they cannot know all, they flatter me, they spare me: I see very
well that they rather pity than envy me, and that they wish me to be better
than I am. Well! God be praised for this, I must correct my faults, for if
I do not deserve reproof in this particular matter, I do in some other. It
is really a mercy that the correction is given so kindly." If anyone took
up his defence and declared that the whole accusation was false, "Ah!
well," he would say, "it is a warning to make me careful not to justify
it, for surely they are doing me a kindness by calling my attention to the
dangers of this rock ahead."
Then, noticing how indignant we all were with the slanderers, "What," he
would exclaim, "have I given you leave to fly into a passion on my account?
Let them talk--it is but a storm in a teacup, a tempest of words that will
die away and be forgotten. We must be sensitive indeed if we cannot bear
the buzzing of a fly! Who has told us that we are blameless? Possibly these
people see our faults better than we see them ourselves, and better
than those who love us do. When truths displease us, we often call them
slanders. What harm do others do us by having a bad opinion of us? We ought
to have a bad opinion of ourselves. Such persons are not our adversaries,
but rather our allies, since they enlist themselves on our side in the
battle against our self-love. Why be angry with those who come to our aid
against so powerful an enemy?"
It happened once that a certain simple-minded woman told our saint bluntly
that what she had heard of him had caused her to loose all esteem for
him. Blessed Francis replied quietly that her straightforward words only
increased his fatherly affection for her, as they were an evidence of great
candour, a virtue he highly respected.
The woman proceeded to declare that the reason she was so greatly
disappointed in him was because she had been told that he had taken her
adversary's part in a law-suit instead of acting as the father of all and
siding with none. "Nay," rejoined the Saint, "do not fathers interfere in
the quarrels of their children, judging between right and wrong? Besides,
the verdict of the court should have convinced you that you were in the
wrong, since it was given against you; and had I been one of the judges I
must have decided as they did."
The woman protested that injustice had been done to her, but the Saint
quietly and patiently reasoned with her and assured her that although it
was natural that she should feel angry at first, yet, when the bandage of
passion had fallen from her eyes, she would thank God for having deprived
her of that which in justice she could not have retained.
This person finally admitted that she had been in the wrong, but enquired
if Blessed Francis was really not annoyed at her having lost her high
opinion of him, having formerly regarded him as a Saint. He assured her she
was wrong in having done so, and that, far from being annoyed, his esteem
for her was all the greater on account of this, her correct judgment.
"Believe me," he went on to say, "I am speaking from a sense of truth, and
not out of false humility, when I maintain that my friends over-rate me.
The fact is, they try to persuade themselves that I really am what they so
ardently desire me to be. They expose me to the danger of losing my soul
by pride and presumption. You, on the contrary, are giving me a practical
lesson in humility, and are thus leading me in the way of salvation, for it
is written, _God will save the humble of heart._"
UPON MERE HUMBLENESS OF SPEECH.
He disliked expressions of humility unless they clearly came from the
heart, and said that words of this kind were the flower, the cream, and the
quintessence of the most subtle pride, subtle inasmuch as it was hidden
even from him who spoke them. He compared such language to a certain
sublimated and penetrating poison, which to the eye seems merely a mist.
Those who speak this language of false humility are lifted up on high,
whilst in thoughts and motives they remain mean and low. He considered
similar fashions of speech to be even more intolerable than the words of
vain persons who are the sport of their hearers, and whose empty boasting
makes them to be like balloons, the plaything of everybody. A mocking laugh
is sufficient to let all the wind which puffs them out escape. Words of
humility coming merely from the lips, and not from the heart, lead surely
to vanity, though by what seems the wrong road. Those who utter them are
like people who take their salary gladly enough, but insist on first making
a show of refusing and of saying that they want nothing.
Even excuses proffered in this manner accuse and betray the person who
offers them. The truly humble of heart do not wish, to _appear_ humble, but
to _be_ humble. Humility is so delicate a virtue that it is afraid of its
own shadow, and cannot hear its own name uttered without running the risk
UPON VARIOUS DEGREES OF HUMILITY.
Blessed Francis set the highest value upon the virtue of humility, which he
called the foundation of all moral virtues, and together with charity, the
solid basis of true piety.
He used to say that there was no moral excellence more literally christian
than humility, because it was not known even by name to the heathen of old.
Even of the most renowned among ancient philosophers, such virtues as they
possessed were inflated with pride and self-love.
Not every kind of humility pleased him. He was not willing to accept any as
true metal until he had put it to many a test and trial.
1. He required in the first place that there should be genuine
self-knowledge. To be truly humble we must recognise the fact that we
come from nothing, that we are nothing, that we can do nothing, that we
are worth nothing, and in fine that we are idle do-nothings, unprofitable
servants, incapable of even forming a single good thought, as of ourselves.
Yet self-knowledge, he said, if it stood alone, however praiseworthy in
itself, would only render those who possessed it the more guilty if they
did not act up to it, in order to become better; because moral virtue being
in the will, and mere knowledge only in the understanding, the latter alone
cannot in any way pass current as true virtue.
2. He even had some doubt of humility though residing in the will, because
it is quite possible to misuse it, and to turn humility itself into vanity.
Take for instance those who, having been invited to a banquet, take at
once possession of the very lowest place, or of one which they know to
be inferior to that due to their rank. They may do this on purpose to be
invited to go higher amidst the applause of the company, and with advantage
to themselves. He called this a veritable entering into vanity, and through
the wrong door: for the truly humble do not wish to appear humble, but only
vile and lowly. They love to be considered as of no accounts and, as such,
to be despised and rebuffed.
3. Even this did not satisfy him. He was not content with mere natural
virtue, but insisted that humility must be Christian, given birth to,
and animated by charity. Otherwise he held it in small esteem, refusing
to admit that among christians it suffices to practise virtues in pagan
fashion. But what is this infused and supernatural humility? It is to love
and delight in one's own humiliation, for the reason that by its means we
are able to give glory to God, Who accepts the humility of His servants,
but puts far away from His heart the proud in spirit.
4. Again, our Saint taught that in striving to please God by bearing
humiliations, we should aim at accepting such as are not of our own choice
rather than those that are voluntary. He used to say that the crosses
fashioned by us for ourselves are always of the lightest and slenderest,
and that he valued an ounce of resignation to suffering above pounds'
weight of painful toil, good though it might be in itself, undertaken of
one's own accord.
5. Quiet endurance of reproaches, contempt, or depreciation, was, in his
opinion, the true touch-stone of humility, because it renders us more
like to Jesus Christ, the Prototype of all solid virtue, Who humbled
and annihilated Himself, making Himself obedient unto death, even the
ignominious death of the Cross.
6. He commended voluntary seeking after humiliations, yet he insisted upon
great discretion being practised in this search, since it easily happens
that self-love may subtly and imperceptibly insinuate itself therein.
7. Next he considered that the highest, or more properly speaking,
deepest degree of humility is that of taking pleasure and even delight in
humiliations, reputing them to be in truth the greatest of honours, and
of being just as much ill-content with honours as vain persons are with
contempt and contumely.
In illustration of this he would quote Moses, who preferred the reproach of
Israel to the glories of a kingdom offered to him by Pharaoh's daughter; of
Esther, who hated the splendid ornaments with which they decked her to make
her pleasing in the eyes of Assuerus; of the Apostles, whose greatest joy
was to suffer shame and reproach for the name of Jesus; and of David, who
danced before the Ark amid a crowd of buffoons and mountebanks, and who
exulted in thus making himself appear contemptible in the eyes of Michol,
8. Blessed Francis called humility a descending charity, and charity an
ascending humility. The former he compared to those streams which come down
from the heights and flow down into the valleys. The latter to the slender
column of smoke spoken of in the Canticle which rises up towards Heaven,
and is composed of all the sweet essences of the perfumer.
9. The Saint next gives a rare lesson on the measure or means of gauging
humility. Obedience is to be its source and touch-stone. This teaching he
grounded on the saying of St. Paul: that our Lord _humbled Himself, making
Himself obedient_. "Do you see," he would say, "by what scale humility
must be measured? By obedience. If you obey promptly, frankly, cheerfully,
without murmuring, expostulating, or replying, you are truly humble. Nor
without humility can one be easily and really obedient, for obedience
demands submission of the heart, and only the truly humble look upon
themselves as inferior to all and as subject to every creature for the love
of Jesus Christ. They ever regard their fellow-men as their superiors, they
consider themselves to be the scorn of men and the off-scouring of the
world. Thus these two virtues, like two pieces of iron, by friction one
with the other, enhance each other's brightness and polish. We are humble
only in as far as we are obedient, and in fine we are pleasing to God only
in as far as we have charity."
10. He recommended all to endeavour to steep their every action in the
spirit of humility, as the swan steeps in water each morsel she swallows,
and how can this be done except by hiding our good works as much as we can
from the eyes of men, and by desiring that they may be seen only by Him
to Whom all things are open, and from Whom nothing can be hid. Our Saint
himself, urged by this spirit, said that he would have wished, had there
been any goodness in him, that it might have been hidden from himself as
well as from all others until the Judgment Day, when the secrets of all
hearts will be revealed. The Gospel itself exhorts us to observe this
secrecy, for it warns us to serve God in secret, and by hiding our virtues,
our prayers, our almsgiving, fittingly to worship Him, Who is a hidden God.
11. Blessed Francis did not, however, desire that we should put ourselves
to the constraint and discomfort of avoiding good actions simply because of
their being praiseworthy in the eyes of others. What he approved of was a
noble, generous, courageous humility, not that which is mean, timid, and
cowardly. True, he would not that anything should be done for so low a
motive as to win the praise of men, but at the same time he would not have
an undertaking abandoned for fear of its success being appreciated and
applauded. "It is only very weak heads," he said, "that are made to ache by
the scent of roses."
12. Above all things, he recommended people not to speak either in praise
or blame of themselves save when doing so is absolutely necessary, and
then with great reticence. It was his opinion (as it was Aristotle's) that
both self-praise and self-blame spring from the same root of vanity and
foolishness. "As for boasting, it is," he said, "so ridiculous a weakness
that it is hissed down by even the vulgar crowd. Its one fitting place is
in the mouth of a swaggering comedian. In like manner words of contempt
spoken of ourselves _by_ ourselves, unless they are absolutely heartfelt
and come from a mind thoroughly convinced of the fact of its own misery,
are truly the very acme of pride, and a flower of the most subtle vanity;
for it rarely happens that he who utters them either believes them himself
or really wishes others to believe them: on the contrary, the speaker
is mostly only anxious rather to be considered humble, and consequently
virtuous, and seeks that his self-blame should redound to his honour.
Self-dispraise in general is no more than a tricky kind of boasting. It
reminds me of oarsmen who turn their backs on the very place which with all
the strength of their arms they are striving to reach."
The above sentiments of Blessed Francis with regard to humility are very
striking, but it is much more worthy of note that he himself carried his
principles strictly into practice. His actions were so many model lessons
and living precepts on the subject. O God! how pleasing must the sacrifice
of his humility have been in Thine eyes which look down so closely upon the
humble, but regard the proud only from afar.
[Footnote 1: Cant. iii. 6.]
[Footnote 2: Philipp. ii. 8.]
The great lesson which on all possible occasions Blessed Francis inculcated
on those who were fortunate enough to come into contact with him, and to
treat with him concerning their soul's welfare, was that which our Saviour
teaches. _Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart._ Not,
however, that he attached the meaning to the words meek, and humble, often,
but very erroneously, given to them.
By meekness he did not understand a kind of honeyed sweetness, too often
mixed with a good deal of affectation and pretention. A wolf's heart may
be hidden under the fleece and gentle seeming of a lamb, and underneath an
outside covering of humility may lurk secret arrogance, such that while
appearing to lie down to be trodden under men's feet, those humble after
this fashion may by pride in their own pretended state of perfection be
putting all men under their own feet. Our Lord's words, _If any man will
come after Me, let him deny himself take up his cross, and follow Me_,
Blessed Francis, in one of his letters, explained as follows:
"It is to walk side by side with our crucified Bridegroom, to abase
ourselves, to humble ourselves, to despise ourselves even to the death of
all our passions; yea, I say, even to the death of the Cross. But observe,
my dear daughter, that this abasement, this humility, this contempt of
ourselves, must, as I have told you before, be practised gently, quietly,
persistently, and not only sweetly, but gladly and joyously."
[Footnote 1: Matt. xi. 20.]
HUMILITY WITH REGARD TO PERFECTION.
Whatever perfection the just man may recognize in himself, he is like the
palm tree, which, says the Psalmist, the higher it rears its lofty head the
deeper down in the earth it casts its roots.
And certainly, since all our perfection comes from God, since we have no
good or perfect gift which we have not received from the Father of Lights,
we have no reason to glorify ourselves.
Truly, we can do nothing of ourselves as of ourselves, all our sufficiency,
in good, proceeding from God. Our vanity is such that as soon as we begin
to suspect we are not guilty, we regard ourselves as innocent, forgetting
that if we do not fail in one direction we do in another, and that, as St.
Gregory says, our perfection, in proportion to its advancement, makes us
the better perceive our imperfections.
Without purity how should we recognise impurity? It is light which makes
us understand what darkness is. Many people not discerning in themselves
certain particular vices think that they possess the opposite virtues, and
Again, seeing themselves freed from some earthly passions they imagine
themselves to be clothed in heavenly affections; and thus their ill-advised
heart is darkened, they feed upon wind, and walk on in the vanity of their
Our Blessed Father, reflecting one day upon the condition of his soul
and feeling it to be enjoying great peace owing to its detachment from
creatures, made his own the sentiments of the great Apostle, who, though
not feeling himself guilty of anything, yet did not therefore consider
himself justified, and who forgetting the past pressed on always
farther and farther, never thinking that he had yet reached the goal of
I must read you the passage in which he expresses this view of himself:--
"I find my soul a little more to my liking than usual, because I see
nothing in it which keeps it attached to this world, and because it is more
alive to the things of the next, to its eternal joys. Ah! if I were but as
closely and consciously united to God as I am dissevered and alienated from
the world, how happy I should be! And you, too, my daughter, how rejoiced
you would be! But I am speaking of my feelings, and my inward self; as
regards the exterior, and, worst of all, as regards my deportment and
behaviour, they are full of all sorts of contradictory imperfections. The
good which I wish to do, I do not do; but nevertheless I know well that
truly and with no pretence, I do wish to do it, and with a most unchanging
will. But, my Daughter, how can it be that out of such a will so many
imperfections show themselves as are continually springing up within me?
Certainly, they are not of my will, though they be _in_ my will, and _on_
my will. They are like the mistletoe which grows and appears on a tree and
in a tree, although it is not of the tree, nor out of the tree."
[Footnote 1: Philipp. iii. 13.]
Although to excuse ourselves for our faults is in many circumstances
blameworthy, whilst in general to accuse ourselves of them is laudable,
still when self-accusation is carried too far, it is apt to run into
affectation, making us wish to pass for something different from what we
really are, or, with scrupulosity, making us persuade ourselves that we are
what we describe ourselves to be.
It is true that the just man is his own accuser and that, knowing his
faults, he declares them simply, in order to be cured of them by wholesome
corrections. It is also true that it is a bad thing to excuse oneself, an
excuse being always worse than the fault committed, inasmuch as it shows
that we think we were right in committing the fault; a persuasion which is
contrary to truth.
If our first parents had not excused themselves, the man throwing the blame
on the woman, the woman on the serpent, and if, on the contrary, confessing
their sin, they had repented, they would have crushed the serpent while in
the act of wounding them, and God, who had invited them to this repentance
by His loving rebuke, _Adam, where art thou?_ would in His mercy, have
surely pardoned them.
This was what made David pray that God would set a watch before his mouth,
and on his lips, lest he should be led to utter evil words. By evil words
he means excuses which we invent to cover our sins.
Our Blessed Father advises us as follows: "Be just, and without mature
consideration, neither excuse nor accuse your poor soul, lest if you excuse
it when you should not, you make it insolent, and if you accuse it lightly,
you discourage it and make it cowardly. Walk simply and you will walk
securely." I once heard him utter these striking words: "He who excuses
himself unjustly, and affectedly, accuses himself openly and truly; and he
who accuses himself simply and humbly, deserves to be excused kindly and to
be pardoned lovingly."
There is a confession which brings confusion, and another which brings
glory. Confession, says St. Ambrose, is the true medicine for sin to him
who repents of wrong doing.
[Footnote 1: Psalm cxl. 3, 4.]
UPON OUR GOOD NAME.
It is hardly likely that Blessed Francis could have been ambitious of the
empty honours attached to an office at court since he did not even trouble
himself to keep up his own reputation, except in as far as it might serve
to advance the glory of God, which was not only the great but the one
passion of his heart.
When a very serious accusation against him was carried to the court, he
tells us: "I remained humble and silent, not even saying what I might have
said in my defence, but contenting myself with bearing my suffering in my
heart. The effect of this patience has been to kindle in my soul a more
ardent love of God, and also to light up the fire of meditation. I said to
God: Thou art my Protector, and my Refuge in this tribulation, it is for
Thee to deliver me out of it. O God of truth, redeem me from the calumny of
He wrote as follows on the same subject to a holy soul who was far more
keenly interested in what concerned him than in what affected herself:
"After all, Providence knows the exact amount of reputation which is
necessary to me, in order that I may rightly discharge the duties of the
service to which I have been called, and I desire neither more nor less
than it pleases that good Providence to let me have."
UPON DESPISING THE ESTEEM OF MEN.
He had no desire that we should make light of our reputation, or be
careless about it, but he wished us to guard it for the service of God
rather than for our own honour; and more to avoid scandal than to glorify
He used to compare reputation to snuff, which may be beneficial if used
occasionally and moderately, but which clouds and injures the brain when
used in excess; and to the mandrake which is soothing when smelt at a
distance, but if brought too close, induces drowsiness and lethargy.
In his Philothea he devotes one chapter to the subject of guarding our
reputation, while at the same time practising humility. He did not,
however, content himself with teaching by precept; he went much further,
and continually impressed his lesson on others by his example. On one
occasion, writing to me about some slanderous reports which had been spread
in Paris against him, on account of conscientious and holy advice which he
had given to virtuous people who had sought counsel of him, he expressed
himself in these words: "I am told that they are cutting my reputation to
pieces in Paris, but I hope that God will build it up again, stronger than
ever, if that is necessary for His service. Certainly I do not want it
except for that purpose, for, provided that God be served, what matters
whether it be by good or evil report, by the exaltation, or by the
defamation of our good name?"
"Ah," he said to me one day, "what is a man's reputation, that so many
should sacrifice themselves to this idol? After all,--it is nothing but
a dream, a phantom, an opinion, so much smoke; praise of which the very
remembrance perishes with its utterance; an estimate which is often so
false that people are secretly amused to hear themselves extolled for
virtues, whose contrary vices they know to be dominating them, and blamed
for faults from which they are happily quite free. Surely those who
complain of being slandered are over-sensitive! Their little cross, made of
words, is so light that a breath of wind carries it away. The expression,
'stung me,' meaning 'abused me,' is one that I have never liked, for
there is a great deal of difference between the humming of a bee, and its
stinging us! We must indeed have sensitive ears, if mere buzzing stings
"Truly, those were clever people who invented the proverb: 'A good name is
better than riches'; preferring reputation to wealth, or, in other words,
vanity to avarice. Oh, my God! how far removed is this from the spirit
of faith! Was there ever any reputation more torn to pieces than that of
Jesus Christ? With what insults was He not overwhelmed? With what calumnies
was He not loaded? And yet the Father has given Him a name which is above
every name, and exalted Him the more, the more he was humbled. Did not the
Apostles also come forth rejoicing from the presence of the Council where
they had received affronts--for the name of Jesus?
"Oh, it is a glorious thing to suffer in so worthy a cause! But too often
we will have none but open persecutions, so that our light may shine in the
midst of darkness, and that our vanity may be gratified by a display of our
sufferings. We should like to be crucified gloriously in the midst of an
admiring crowd. What! think you that the martyrs when they were suffering
their cruel tortures, were praised by the spectators for their patience? On
the contrary, they were reviled and held up to execration. Ah! there are
very few who are willing to trample under foot their own reputation, if so
be, they may thereby advance the glory of Him Who died an ignominious death
upon the Cross, to bring us to a glory which has no end."
[Footnote 1: Part iii. chap. vii.]
UPON THE VIRTUES WE SHOULD PRACTISE WHEN CALUMNIATED.
Blessed Francis was once asked if we ought not to oppose calumny with the
weapons of truth, and if it was not as much our duty to keep, for God's
sake, our good name, as our bodily strength. He answered that on such
occasions many virtues were called into exercise, each claiming precedence
over the other.
The first is _truth_ to which the love of God and of ourselves in God,
compels us to bear testimony. Nevertheless that testimony has to be calm,
gentle, kindly, given without Irritation or vehemence, and with no anxiety
about consequences. Our Saviour, when He was accused of having a devil,
answered quite simply, "_I have not a devil._"
If you should be blamed for any scandalous fault, of which, however, you
know you are not guilty, say candidly and quietly that, by the grace
of God, you are innocent of such a sin. But, if you are not believed,
_humility_ now claims her right and bids you say that you have indeed many
greater faults unknown to the world, that you are in every way miserable
and that if God did not sustain you in your weakness, you would commit far
greater crimes than you are accused of.
This sort of humility is in no way prejudicial to truth, for was it not
from the depths of true humility that David cried out saying, that if God
had not aided him his soul would have dwelt in hell.
Should the tempest of evil speaking continue, _silence_ steps to the front,
and offers her calm resistance to the storm, following the teaching of
the Royal Prophet, who says: _And I became as a dumb man not opening his
Answering is the oil which feeds the lamp of calumny, silence is the water
which extinguishes it. If silence is unavailing, then _patience_ reminds
you that it is her turn to act, and, coming forward; shelters you with her
impenetrable shield; patience, as Holy Scripture tells us, makes our work
If we be still assailed, we must call to our aid _constancy_, which is a
kind of double-lined buckler of patience, impervious to the most violent
But should evil tongues, growing yet sharper and keener, cut to the very
quick, _longanimity_, which is an unfailing, undying patience, is ready to
enter the lists, and eager to help us. For when persecution, instead of
yielding to our patience, is only the more irritated thereby, like a fire
which burns more fiercely in frosty weather, then is the time for us to
practise the virtue of longanimity.
And last of all comes _perseverance_, which goes with us to the very end
and without which the whole network of virtues would fall to pieces; for
_it is the end which crowns the work_, and _he who perseveres to the end
shall be saved_.
Indeed, who can say how many more virtues claim a place in this bright
choir? Prudence, gentleness, modesty of speech, and many another, circle
round their queen, holy charity, who is indeed the life and soul of them
all. Charity it is which bids us bless those who curse us, and pray for
those who persecute us; and this same charity not unfrequently transforms
our persecutors into protectors and changes slanderous tongues into
trumpets to sound our praise.
[Footnote 1: John viii. 49.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm xciii. 17.]
[Footnote 3: Id. xxxvii. 14.]
UPON SOME SPIRITUAL MAXIMS.
On one occasion somebody quoted in his presence the maxims of a very great
and very holy person (St. Teresa) on the way to attain perfection.
Despise the world. Despise no man.
Despise yourself. Despise being despised.
"Be it so," observed our Blessed Father, "as regards the three first
sayings, but, in regard to the fourth, to my mind, the very highest degree
of humility consists in loving and cherishing contempt, and in being glad
to be despised. David so acted, when he showed himself pleased to be
despised as a buffoon by his own wife Michol. St. Paul, too, gloried in
having been scourged, stoned, and looked upon as a fool, the off-scouring
and very refuse of the world. The Apostles came forth rejoicing from the
presence of the Councils in which, for the love of Jesus, they had been
loaded with opprobrium, contumely, and contempt. A really humble man
despising himself, is only too glad to find others ready to agree with him,
and to help him to humble himself. He receives reproaches as God's good
gift, and deems himself unworthy of aught else."
He had something, too, to say about the first three maxims. Taking the
world in the sense of the universe, it is, he said, a great stage, on
which are shown the wonders of Almighty God, all of Whose works are very
good--nay, are perfect. But, even taking the word "world" in the sense in
which it is mostly used in Scripture, meaning the company of the wicked, he
said, that we should indeed despise their vices, yet not themselves; for
who knows but that they will in the end, be converted? How many vessels of
contempt have been, by the change of the right hand of God, transformed
into vessels of honour?
To despise no one, which is the second dictum, seems at first sight to
contradict the first, if, by "the world" be meant the vicious and not
merely their vices. It is certainly very right to despise no one, but it
is still more reasonable and more advantageous to ourselves, who wish to
advance in perfection, to value and esteem all men, because created by God
to His image, and because fitted for partaking of His grace and of His
The third maxim, which tells us to despise ourselves, also needs some
explanation. We ought not under pretence of humility to slight and despise
the graces which God has given us. To do so would be to throw ourselves
over the precipice of ingratitude in order to avoid perishing in the
pitfall of vanity, "Nothing," said he, "can so humble us before the mercy
of God, as the multitude of his benefits; nothing can so abase us before
the throne of His justice, as the countless number of our misdeeds. We need
never fear that the good things God has given us will feed our pride, as
long as we remember that whatever there may be _in_ us that is good, it is
not _of_ us."
I was complaining to him one day of a great injury which had been done to
me. He answered, "To anybody but you I should try to apply some soothing
balm of consolation, but your circumstances, and the pure love which I bear
to you, dispense me from this act of courtesy. I have no oil to pour into
your wound, and, indeed, were I to affect to sympathise with you, it might
only increase the pain of the wound you have received. I have nothing but
vinegar and cleansing salt to pour in, and I must simply put in practice
the command of the Apostle: _Reprove, entreat_. You finished your
complaint by saying that great and tried patience was needful to enable a
man to bear such attacks in silence. Certainly, your patience is not of so
high a stamp, since you reserve to yourself the privilege of lamentation!"
"But, Father," I replied, "you see it is only into your heart that I pour
out my sorrow. When a child is troubled to whom should it turn if not to
its kind father?" "You, a child, indeed; and for how long do you mean to
go on clinging to your childhood? Is it right that one who is the father
of others, one to whom God has given the rank of a Bishop in His Church,
should play the child? When we are children, says St. Paul, we may speak as
children, but not when we are become men. The lisping which pleases us in a
baby is altogether unsuitable for a sturdy boy. Do you wish me to give you
milk and pap instead of solid food? Am I like a nurse to breathe softly on
your hurt? Are not your teeth strong enough to masticate bread, the hard
bread of suffering? Have you forgotten how to eat bread? Are your teeth
set on edge by eating sour grapes? It is a fine thing, indeed, for you to
complain to an earthly father, you, who ought to be saying with David to
your heavenly Father: _I was dumb and I opened not my mouth, because thou
hast done it_.
"'But,' you will say, 'it is not God but wicked men who have done this to
"Ah, indeed! and do you forget that it is what is called the permissive
will of God which makes use of the malice of men, either to correct you or
to exercise you in virtue? Job says: _The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken
away_.  He does not say: The devil and the thieves took my goods and my
dear ones from me: he sees only the hand of God which does all these things
by such instruments as it pleases Him to use. You seem unfortunately to
have no wish to rank yourself with him who said that the rod and staff with
which God struck him brought him consolation;  and that he was like a
man helpless and abandoned, yet, nevertheless, free from the dead; that
he was as one deaf and dumb, who paid no heed to the insults poured into
his ears;  that he was humbled in the dust, and kept silence even from
good words, which might have served to justify him and to defend his
"'But, Father,' you continue, 'how is it that you have become so harsh, and
have changed your gentleness, as Job says to Almighty God, into cruelty?
Where is your unfailing compassion?' I answer, my compassion is as great
and as sincere as ever; for God knows how much I love you, since I love you
more than myself, and how I should reproach myself if I allowed my heart to
be hardened against you. It is, however, too clear that the injury you have
received is resented by you, since you complain of it. We do not usually
complain of what pleases us, quite the reverse, we are glad and rejoice and
expect to be congratulated, not pitied. Witness the great parables of the
finding of the lost sheep and the lost groat.'
"'Well,' you reply, 'and do you really want me to tell you that black looks
exhilarate me, and that I can bear smoke puffed in my face without even
"O man of little faith and of most limited patience! What then of our
Gospel maxims as to giving our cheek to the smiter, and our beard to those
who pluck it out; what of the beatitude of the persecuted; of the giving
our coat to him who takes away our cloak; of blessing those who curse us;
of a cordial and hearty love of our enemies? Are these sayings, think you,
only curiosities to be put in a cabinet; are they not rather those seals of
the Spouse, which He desires us to set upon our hearts and our arms, on our
thoughts and on our works?
"Well, well, I pardon you from indulgence, to use the expression of the
Apostle, but, on condition that you will be more courageous for the future,
and that you will shut up tightly in the casket of silence all like favours
which God sends to you, so as not to let their perfume escape, and that
you will render thanks in your heart to our Father in Heaven, Who deigns
to bestow upon you a tiny splinter from the Cross of His Son. What! you
delight in wearing a heavy cross of gold upon your breast, and you cannot
bear the weight of one light as is your own upon your heart, but must needs
try to rid yourself of it by complaining! Then, again, even when it is
gone, you must needs talk about what you have put up with, and would like
me to consider you patient merely because you do not openly resent the
wrong done you. As if the great virtue of patience consisted only in the
not revenging yourself, and not much more, as it really does, in uttering
no word of complaint.
"Moreover, it appears to me that you are quite wrong in so much as talking
about being _patient_ under injuries such as you have suffered. Patience is
too distinguished a virtue to be needed for so trivial an act--the lesser
good qualities of moderation, forbearance, and silence would amply suffice.
_In silence and In hope shall your strength be_." So he dismissed me,
ashamed of myself, it is true, but, like the giant of fable, strengthened
by having fallen. On leaving him I felt as if all the insults in the world
would henceforth fail to make me utter one single word of complaint. I was
much consoled afterwards by coming across, in one of his letters, the same
remark about moderation and forbearance as he had then addressed to me.
He writes: "Nothing can have a more tranquillizing effect upon us in this
world than the frequent consideration of the afflictions, necessities,
contempts, calumnies, insults, and humiliations which our Lord suffered
from His birth to His most painful death. When we contemplate such a
weight of bitterness as this, are we not wrong in giving to the trifling
misfortunes which befall us, even the names of adversities and injuries?
Are we not ashamed to ask a share of His divine patience to help us to bear
such trifles as these, seeing that the smallest modicum of moderation and
humility would suffice to make us bear calmly the insults offered to us?"
[Footnote 1: 2 Tim. iv. 2]
[Footnote 2: Psalm xxxviii. 10.]
[Footnote 3: Job i. 21.]
[Footnote 4: Psalm xxii. 4.]
[Footnote 5: Psalm lxxxvii. 5, 6.]
[Footnote 6: Psalm xxxvii. 15.]
[Footnote 7: Isaiah xxx. 15.]
HOW TO PROFIT BY BEARING WITH INSULTS.
He used to say that a harvest of virtues could be gathered in from a crop
of affronts and injuries, because they offer us in abundance opportunities
of making such acts as the following:
1. Of _justice_; for who is there that has not sinned and consequently has
not deserved punishment? Has anyone offended you? Well, think how often
you have offended God! Surely, therefore, it is meet that creatures, the
instruments of His justice, should punish you.
2. But perhaps you were justly accused? Well, if so, simply acknowledge
your fault, asking pardon of God as well as of men, and be grateful to
those who have accused you, even though they have done it in such a manner
as to add unnecessary bitterness to your suffering. Remember that medicines
are none the less salutary for being nauseous.
3. But may-be you were accused falsely? If so, calmly and quietly,
but without hesitation, bear witness to the truth. We owe this to our
neighbours, who might, if we were silent, believe the charge brought
against us, and thus be greatly disedified.
4. Yet, if, after this, people persist in blaming you, abandon any further
defence of yourself, and conquer by silence, modesty, and patience.
5. _Prudence_ has its own part to play in the conflict; for there is no
better way of dealing with insults than by treating them with contempt.
He who gives way to anger looks as if he acknowledged the truth of the
6. _Discretion_, too, comes to the aid of prudence by counselling
7. _Courage_ in all its power and grandeur raises you above yourself.
8. _Temperance_ bridles your passions and curbs them into submission.
9. _Humility_ will make you love and value your humiliation.
10. _Faith_ will, as St. Paul says, stop the mouths of lions, and more than
this, it will, he says, set before our eyes for our loving contemplation
and imitation Jesus Christ Himself, overwhelmed with insults and calumnies,
yet silent, unmoved, as one who hears not and is dumb.
11. _Hope_ will hold out before you an imperishable crown, the reward of
your trials and sufferings which endure but for a moment.
12. _Charity_, last of all, will come to you and abide with you--charity,
patient and sweet, benign and yielding, believing all, hoping all, enduring
all, ready and willing to suffer all.
The more we value our eternal salvation the more heartily shall we welcome
UPON BEARING WITH IMPORTUNITIES.
Blessed Francis laid great stress upon the necessity of patience when
we are importuned. "Yet," he would say, "patience seems almost too
great a power to invoke in this matter. In reality a little gentleness,
forbearance, and self-control ought to suffice. Still, when we speak of
patience it must not be as if it were to be employed only in the endurance
of really great evils, for, while we are waiting for these notable
occasions that occur rarely in a lifetime, we neglect the lesser ones. We
imagine that our patience is capable of putting up with great sufferings
and affronts, and we give way to impatience under the sting or bite of an
insect. We fancy that we could help, wait upon, and relieve our neighbour
in long or severe sickness, and yet we cannot bear that same neighbour's
ill-bred manner, and irritating moods, his awkwardness and incivility,
and above all his _importunity_, especially if he comes just at the
wrong moment to talk to us about matters which seem to us frivolous and
"We triumphantly excuse ourselves for our impatience on these occasions by
alleging our deeps sense of the value of time; that one only thing, says an
ancient writer, with regard to which avarice is laudable.
"But we fail to see that we employ this precious time in doing many things
far more vain and idle than in the satisfying the claims of our neighbour,
and possibly less important than those about which he talks to us,
occasioning what we call loss of time.
"When we are conversing with others we should try to please them and to
show that their conversation is agreeable to us, and when we are alone we
should take pleasure in solitude. Unfortunately, however, our minds are
so inconsistent that we are always looking behind us, like Lot's wife. In
company we sigh for solitude, and in solitude, instead of enjoying its
sweets, we hanker after the company of others."
THAT HE WHO COMPLAINS SINS.
One of Blessed Francis' most frequent sayings was: He who complains, seldom
does so without sinning. Now, you are anxious to know what exactly he
meant by this, and if it is not allowable to complain to superiors of
wrongs which have been done us, and when we are ill, to seek relief from
suffering, by describing our pains to the physician, so that he may apply
to them the proper remedies.
To put this interpretation on the words of Blessed Francis is to overstrain
their meaning. The letter killeth, and needs to be interpreted by the
spirit that quickeneth, that is, to be taken gently and sweetly.
Our Blessed Father condemns complaining when it borders upon murmuring. He
used to say that those who thus complained sinned, because our self-love
always magnifies unduly any wrongs done to ourselves, weighing them in the
most deceitful of balances, and applying the most extravagant epithets to
things which if done by us to others we should pass over as not worth a
He did not consider it at all wrong to claim from a court of justice,
quietly, calmly, and dispassionately, reparation of injuries done to our
property, person, or honour. He has, indeed, devoted a whole chapter in his
Philothea to demonstrating that we may, without failing in humility or
charity, do what is necessary for the preservation of our good name. But
human weakness is such that it is difficult even in a court of justice to
keep our temper and retain a proper equanimity: hence the proverb that, in
a hundred-weight of law, there is not so much as an ounce of good nature.
It was also his wish that when sick we should state what ails us quite
simply and straightforwardly to those who can relieve us, always
remembering that God commands us to honour the physician. To Philothea
he says: "When you are ill offer your sufferings, pains, and weakness to
the service of our Lord, and entreat Him to unite them to the torments
which He endured for you. Obey the physician; take medicine, food, and
other remedies for the love of God; remembering the gall which He accepted
for love of you. Desire to recover your health that you may serve Him, but,
if He so will, do not refuse to linger long upon your bed of pain, so as to
obey Him; in fine, be ready to die if that is His pleasure, that you may
praise and enjoy Him."
It was his opinion that when we complain, however justly, a certain amount
of self-love is always at the bottom of the complaint, and that a habit of
grumbling is a positive proof of our being too tender of ourselves and too
After all, of what use are complaints? They do but beat the air and serve
to prove that if we suffer wrong it is with regret, with sadness, and not
without some desire of revenging ourselves. An ungreased wheel makes the
most noise in turning, and in like manner, he who has the least patience is
the first to grumble.
We must remember, however, that all men deceive themselves. Those who
complain do not mean to be considered impatient. On the contrary, they
tell you that if it were not this particular thing, they would speak and
act differently; but that, as it is, if God did not forbid vengeance they
would assuredly take it in the most signal manner. Poor Israelites! really
brought out of Egypt, but yet still hankering after the leeks and garlic of
that miserable country! Truly such feebleness of mind is pitiable, and most
unworthy of a soul avowedly consecrated to the service of the Cross of
It is not that we are absolutely forbidden to complain under great
sufferings of body or mind, or under great losses. Job, the mirror of the
patient, uttered many complaints, yet without prejudice to that virtue
which made him so highly esteemed by God, and renders him famous in all
ages. It would not only be unwise, but possibly a sin, so to conceal bodily
suffering--under the pretext of being resolved not to complain--as to
refuse to have recourse to either physician or remedies, and thereby to
risk bringing ourselves down to the gates of the grave.
Even God, the All-Perfect, does not refrain from pouring forth His
complaints against sinners, as we know from many parts of Holy Scripture.
We must then in this matter preserve a just medium, and although it behoves
us sometimes to suffer in silence, yet at other times we must make known
our sufferings, since _that suffering is truly the most wretched which,
amid torments, has no voice_.
The Son of God, the pattern of all perfection, wept and cried aloud at the
grave of Lazarus and on the Cross, showing that He pities our sufferings
and shares our griefs. The measure of our complainings must be fixed by
discretion, which St. Anthony calls the regent and ruler of the kingdom of
virtues, appointed to guard it from the encroachments of sin, ever striving
to gain dominion there.
Our Blessed Father gives us the following lesson on the subject: "We must,"
he says, "abstain from a but little noticed, yet most hurtful imperfection,
against which few people guard themselves. This is, that when we are
compelled to blame our neighbour or to complain of his conduct, which
should be as seldom as possible, we never seem to get done with the matter,
but go on perpetually repeating our complaints and lamentations; a sure
sign of irritation and peevishness and of a heart as yet destitute of true
charity. Great and powerful minds only make mourning about great matters,
and even these they dismiss as quickly as possible, never giving way to
passion or fretfulness."
[Footnote 1: Part iii. chap. vii.]
[Footnote 2: Eccles. xxxviii. 1, 12.]
[Footnote 3: Part iii. chap. 3.]
[Footnote 4: Virgil, AEneid I.]
BLESSED FRANCIS' CALMNESS IN TRIBULATION.
The similitude of the nest of the halcyon or kingfisher, supposed to float
on the sea, which our Saint describes so well and applies so exquisitely in
one of his letters, was the true picture of his own heart. The great stoic,
Seneca, says that it is easy to guide a vessel on a smooth sea and aided by
favourable winds, but that it is in the midst of tempests and hurricanes
that the skill of the pilot is shown.
So it is with the soul, whose fidelity and loyalty towards the Divine Lover
is well tested by sufferings and sorrows.
The more he was crossed, the more he was upset, and, like the palm tree,
the more violently the winds beat against him, the deeper and stronger
roots he threw out. His own words express this truth so perfectly as to
leave no doubt on the subject. He says: "For some time past the many secret
contradictions and oppositions which have invaded my tranquil life have
brought with them so calm and sweet a peace that nothing can be compared to
it. Indeed, I cannot help thinking that they foretell the near approach of
that entire union of my soul with God, which is not only the greatest but
the sole ambition and passion of my heart."
Oh! blessed servant of Jesus Christ, how absolutely you practised that
teaching which you impress so strongly on us in your Theotimus, in the
words of blessed Brother Giles.
"One to one! one soul to one only love! one heart to one only God!"
To that only God, the King eternal, Immortal, invisible, be honour and
glory for ever and ever! Amen.
[Footnote 1: _Senec, De Providentia_, cap. iv.]
BLESSED FRANCIS' TEST OF PATIENCE IN SUFFERING.
One day he was visiting a sick person who, in the midst of intense
suffering, not only showed great patience in all her words and actions,
but plainly had the virtue deeply rooted in her heart. "Happy woman," said
Blessed Francis, "who has found the honey-comb in the jaws of the lion!"
Wishing, however, to make more certain that the patience she showed was
solid and real, rooted and grounded in Christian charity, and such as to
make her endure her sufferings for the love and for the glory of God alone,
he determined to try her. He began to praise her constancy, to enlarge upon
her sufferings, to express admiration at her courage, her silence, her good
example, knowing that in this way he would draw from her lips the true
language of her heart.
Nor was he deceived, for she, sincere and absolutely patient Christian that
she was, answered him: "Ah! Father, you do not see the rebellious struggles
of all my senses and feelings. In the lower region of my soul everything is
in confusion and disorder, and if the grace and fear of God were not to
us as a tower of strength I should long ago have altogether given way and
rebelled against God. Picture me to yourself as like the Prophet whom the
Angel carried by one hair of his head; my patience, as it were, hangs on a
single thread, and were it not for the mighty help God is to me I should
long ere now have been in hell.
"It is not then my virtue but the grace of God in me which makes me show
so much courage. My own part in the matter is but pretence and hypocrisy.
Were I to follow my own impulses I should moan, struggle, break out into
passionate and bitter words, but God restrains my lips with bit and bridle,
so that I dare not murmur under the blows dealt by His hand which I have
learnt through His grace to love and honour."
Our Blessed Father, on leaving her sick-room, said to those who were with
him, "She has, indeed, true and Christian patience. Instead of pitying her
for her sufferings we ought rather to rejoice over them, for this high
virtue is only made perfect in infirmity. But do you notice how God hides
from her own eyes the perfection which He is giving her? Her patience is
not only courageous, but loving and humble; like pure balm, which, when
unadulterated, sinks to the bottom of the water into which it is cast. Be
careful, however, not to repeat to her what I have just said to you lest,
by doing so, you should excite in her movements of vanity, and spoil the
whole work of grace, whose waters only flow through the valley of humility.
"Let her peacefully possess her soul in patience, for she is at peace even
in this extremity of bitterness."
UPON LONG ILLNESSES.
Violent sicknesses either pass quickly or they carry us to the grave; slow
maladies drag wearily on and exercise the patience of the sufferers, nor
less that of those who tend them.
Our Blessed Father says on the subject: "Long sicknesses are good schools
of mercy for those who wait upon the sick and of loving patience for those
"They who wait upon the sick are at the foot of the Cross with our Lady and
St. John, whose compassion they imitate; the sick man himself is on the
Cross with our Saviour, Whose Passion he imitates.
"But how can we imitate either this compassion or this Passion if we do
not suffer from the motive of the love of God? For the Blessed Virgin and
St. John, the beloved Disciple, were moved by a compassion as much more
sorrowful than ours, as their love for the Crucified, their own dearest
Lord, was greater than ours can be. It was at the foot of the Cross that
the sword of grief pierced Mary's soul, and it was there that the beloved
disciple drank that chalice of bitterness, which, after permitting him to
share the glories of Thabor, the Saviour predicted should be his."
The whole life of a true Christian is one long period of suffering. Those
who endure not with Jesus Christ, are not fit to reign with Him. "O soul
in grace," says our Blessed Father, "thou art not yet the spouse of Jesus
glorified, but of Jesus crucified. This is why the rings, necklaces, and
other ornaments which He gives you, and with which He is pleased to adorn
you, are crosses, nails, and thorns; and the marriage feast He sets before
you gall, hyssop, and vinegar. It is in Heaven we shall possess the rubies,
diamonds, and emeralds, the wine, the manna, and the honey." The world is a
vast quarry in which are hewn out and shaped those living stones which are
to build up the heavenly Jerusalem, as the Church sings:
Suis cooptantur locis,
Per manus Artificis:
Thou too, O Church, which here we see,
No easy task hath builded thee.
Long did the chisels ring around!
Long did the mallet's blows rebound!
Long worked the head, and toiled the hand!
Ere stood thy stones as now they stand.
[Footnote 1: Office of the Dedication of a Church.]
BLESSED FRANCIS' HOLY INDIFFERENCE IN ILLNESS.
As regards our Blessed Father's patience in time of sickness, I myself was
with him in one only of his illnesses, but others, who saw him in many
and were frequent witnesses of his patience, gentleness, and absolute
indifference to suffering, tell us marvels on that subject.
For my part, on the one occasion when I saw him stretched upon his bed,
suffering with so much endurance and sweetness, the sight at once recalled
to me what St. Catherine of Genoa tells us of a certain soul in Purgatory.
This poor soul she represented as so perfectly united to God by charity
that it was physically unable to utter the slightest complaint, or to have
the faintest shadow of a desire, which was not absolutely in conformity
with the divine will. Such souls, she says, wish to be in Purgatory exactly
as long as God shall please, and this, with a will so contented and so
constant, that for nothing in the whole world would they be elsewhere
unless it were His will. This is exactly how our Blessed Father suffered,
without in any way losing heart, because of the services which he might
have been able to render to God and his neighbour had he been in health. He
wished to suffer because to do so was the good pleasure of God, Who held
the keys of his life and of his death, of his health and of his sickness,
and of his whole destiny.
If he was asked whether he would take this or that, physic or food, whether
he would be bled or blistered, or the like, he had but one answer to give:
"Do with the patient what you please, God has put me at the disposal of the
doctors." Nothing could be more simple or obedient than his behaviour, for
he honoured God in the physicians, and in their remedies, as He Himself has
commanded us all to do.
He always told the doctors and attendants exactly what was the matter
with him, neither exaggerating his malady by undue complaints, nor making
his suffering appear less than it really was by a forced and unnatural
composure. The first he said was cowardice, the second dissimulation.
Even although the inferior and sensible part of his soul might be under
the pressure of intense pain, there always flashed out from his face, and
especially from, his eyes, rays of that calm light which illumined the
superior and reasonable part of his nature, shining through the dark clouds
of bodily affliction. Hence the weaker his body, the stronger became his
spirit, enabling him to say with the Apostle:
_Gladly, therefore, will I glory in my infirmities,
That the power of Christ may dwell in me._
[Footnote 1: 2 Cor. xii. 9.]
UPON THE SHAPE OF THE CROSS.
"The Cross," Blessed Francis says, "is composed of two pieces of wood,
which represent to us two excellent virtues, necessary to those who desire
to be fastened to it with Jesus Christ, and on it to live a dying life, and
on it to die the death which is life. These two great virtues most due to
Christians are humility and patience."
He wished, however, that those two virtues should be rooted and grounded
in charity, that is to say, not only be practised in charity, that is, in
a state of grace, without which they are of no value for Heaven, but also
from the motive of charity. This is how he expresses himself:--
"Divine love will teach you that in imitation of the great Lover we must be
on the Cross in company with humility, deeming ourselves unworthy to endure
anything for Him Who endured so much for us; and in company with patience,
so as not to wish to come down from the Cross, not even all our life long
if so it pleases the Eternal Father.
"The motto of Blessed Teresa was, To suffer or to die; for divine love had
attached this faithful servant of Jesus crucified so closely to the Cross
that she wished not to live, save that she might have opportunities of
suffering for Him.
"The great and seraphic St. Francis considered that God had forgotten
him and lovingly complained when he had passed a day untouched by any
suffering; and just as he called poverty his mistress, so he called pain
Our Blessed Father's motto was "To love or to die." In his Treatise on the
Love of God he cries out: "To love, or to die! To die and to love! To die
to all other love in order to live to Jesus' love, that we may not die
eternally, but that living in Thy eternal love, O Saviour of our souls, we
may eternally sing, Vive Jesus, Live Jesus. I love Jesus. Live Jesus, Whom
I love! I love Jesus, Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen."
[Footnote 1: Book xii, c. 13.]
A DIAMOND CROSS.
It was one day reported very seriously to Blessed Francis as though it
were some misdemeanor, that one of his penitents who was accustomed to wear
on her breast a rich diamond ornament, had had the diamonds made up into
a cross which she wore in the same manner as before, and that this was a
cause of scandal to certain persons. "Ah! he cried, how true it is that the
Cross is an occasion of scandal to some, and of edification to others! I do
not know who advised this lady to do what she has done, but for my part I
am much edified, and only wish that all the gew-gaws and trinkets worn by
women could be altered in the same holy manner. That would indeed be to
make vessels of the Tabernacle out of their mirrors."
Among his letters I came across lately and with much pleasure, one which
I think must have been written to this very lady. In it he says: "When I
last had the pleasure of seeing you, dear madam, you were wearing outwardly
on your heart a cross; love it fervently, I beseech you. It is all gold if
you look at it with loving eyes. On one side it is true that you see the
Beloved of your heart, dead, crucified amid nails and thorns; but on the
other side you will find a cluster of precious stones ready to adorn the
crown of glory which awaits you, if only, meanwhile, you wear lovingly the
crown of thorns with your King who willed to suffer so much that He might
enter into His joy."
To a lady advanced in years and distinguished by her piety, who was
living in my diocese, and whom, out of reverence and affection, he used
to call his mother, he wrote as follows, when the infirmities of old
age were pressing heavily upon her: "I see very plainly that you must
from henceforth accustom yourself to the maladies and infirmities which
declining years bring with them. Ah, dear Lord! What happiness for a soul
dedicated to God, to be much tried by suffering, before quitting this life!
My dearest mother, how can we learn the lesson of generous and fervent love
save amid thorns, crosses, languor, and faintness, and more especially
when these sufferings are prolonged and lingering. Our dear Saviour showed
us the measure of His boundless love by that of His labours, and of His
sufferings. Show, my dear mother, your love to the Bridegroom of your heart
on the bed of pain; for it was on that bed that He fashioned your heart,
even before it came into existence, He beholding it as yet only in His
divine plan. Ah! this Divine Saviour has reckoned up all your pains, all
your sorrows, and has paid with His Precious Blood for all the patience
and the love which you need in order rightly to direct your labours to His
glory and to your own salvation. Content yourself with calmly desiring to
be all that God wills you to be."
[Footnote 1: Exod. xxxviii. 8.]
HOLY MAGDALEN AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS.
Our Blessed Father had a special reverence for the picture of Magdalen at
the foot of the Cross, calling it sometimes the library of his thoughts.
Perhaps this representation was before his mind's eye, when just before he
rendered up his soul to God he murmured these words: _Wash me yet more from
my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin_. "Oh!" he exclaimed, when he was
looking one day at this picture in my house at Belley, "how happy, and how
profitable an exchange this penitent made! She bestowed tears on the Feet
of Jesus Christ, and in return those Feet gave back to her Blood, but Blood
that washed away all her sins, for Christ has cleansed us from every stain
in His Blood, and by the sprinkling of this hyssop has made us, coal-black
though we were, white as snow! Oh, gracious rain made by God to fall upon
His inheritance, how sweet, how much to be desired thou art!"
"Magdalen seeks our Saviour while she holds Him. She demands Him of
Himself. She does not see Him in the form she looked for: therefore,
unsatisfied, she seeks Him away from Himself.
"She expected to see Him in His robe of glory, not in the poor garb of a
gardener; nevertheless she knew that it was He when He uttered her name
"My dear sister, my daughter, it is our Lord in the clothing of a gardener
whom you meet every day in one place or another, and in the various
mortifications which present themselves to you.
"You wish He would offer you grander mortifications. Oh! my God! the
grandest are not the best. Do you not believe that He says to you also
_Mary, Mary?_ Ah! before you see Him in His glory, He wishes to plant in
your garden many flowers, small and lowly indeed, but such as He loves.
That is why He wears a gardener's dress.
"May our hearts be for ever united to His Heart, and our wills to His good
[Footnote 1: Psalm l. 4.]
[Footnote 2: John xx. 16.]
UPON THE POWER OF GENTLENESS AND PATIENCE.
An ecclesiastic in Blessed Francis' diocese, had, because of his vicious
and scandalous life, been sent to prison. After a few days' sojourn there
he testified the deepest repentance, and with tears and promises of
amendment entreated the officers of the prison to allow him to be taken to
the Holy Prelate, who had already pardoned many of his offences, that he
might at his feet plead again for forgiveness.
This request was at first refused, as the officers considered that his
scandalous life deserved punishment, if only as an example to others,
and they knew that with Blessed Francis, to see a sinner was to pity and
At last, however, they yielded to the priest's passionate entreaties, and
he was taken before his Bishop. Throwing himself on his knees before the
Holy Man, he implored mercy, declaring that he would lead a new life,
and set an example of all that was edifying, whereas before he had given
nothing but scandal. Blessed Francis on his part knelt down before the
culprit, and with many tears, addressed these remarkable words to him; "I,
too," he said, "ask you to have pity upon me, and upon all of us who are
priests in this diocese, upon the Church, and upon the Catholic, Apostolic,
and Roman religion, the honour of which you are ruining by your scandalous
life. For that life gives occasion to the adversaries of our Faith, who
are always on the watch like dragons to detect our slightest failings, to
condemn us. For a priest to sin, I tell you, is to give occasion to devils
to mock at the lives of our clergy, and to blaspheme our Holy Faith, I
ask you also to have pity on yourself, and on your own soul which you are
losing for all eternity, and to seek anew God's favour, I exhort you in the
name of Jesus Christ to return to God by a true repentance, I conjure you
to do this by all that is most holy, and sacred in Heaven, or on earth, by
the Blood of Jesus Christ which you profane, by the loving-kindness of the
Saviour, whom you crucify afresh, by the Spirit of Grace against whom you
are rebelling." These remonstrances, or rather the Spirit of God speaking
by the mouth of this zealous Pastor, had such effect that the guilty man
was by this change of the Right Hand of the Most High converted into a
perfectly different being, and became as notable an example of virtue as
he had been an occasion of scandal.
Again--There was in his diocese a certain ecclesiastic who for very grave
faults, and for the scandal occasioned by them, was not only imprisoned and
treated while in prison with the greatest severity, but moreover, after
regaining his liberty, remained for six months suspended from all
Our Blessed Father most unwillingly yielded to the entreaties of the
officers of justice not in any way to interfere in the matter, but to let
the law take its course, and to leave the offender in their hands to be
treated with exceptional rigour.
So little, however, did this mode of dealing with the criminal answer,
that, though while in prison he had been tractable, humble, lavish of
promises of amendment, and apparently penitent, when once he had shaken off
his fetters he relapsed into all his old evil habits, and passed from bad
to worse. The authorities were in fine constrained to deprive him of his
benefice, and to banish him from the diocese.
A few years later a very similar case occurred in which the officers showed
the same unwillingness to permit the intervention of Blessed Francis, and
this from no want of respect or love for him, but, as before, from a fear
lest his gentleness and charity should hinder the course of justice.
In this case, however, the holy Bishop was firm. "If," he said, "you forbid
him to appear before me, you will not forbid me to appear before him. You
do not wish him to come out of prison, suffer me then to go to prison with
him, and to be the companion of his captivity. We must comfort this poor
brother, who entreats us for help. I promise you that he shall not leave
the prison except with your leave."
Accompanied by the officers of justice he then proceeded to the prison.
No sooner did he see the poor man kneeling humbly before his Bishop, and
accusing himself of his sins, than the holy Prelate embraced him tenderly,
and turning to his gaolers said: "Is it possible that you do not see that
God has already pardoned this man? Is there any condemnation for one who is
in Christ Jesus? If God justifies him, who shall condemn him? Certainly not
Then, turning to the culprit, he said: "Go in peace, my brother, and sin no
more, I know that you are truly penitent."
The officials protested that the man was a hypocrite, and like that other
suspended priest would himself soon show that they were right. "It is,
however, possible," replied the Saint, "that had you treated that other
priest with lenity, he, too, would have truly repented; beware, then, lest
his soul should one day be required at your hands. For my part, if you will
accept me as this man's bail, I am ready to pledge my word for his good
behaviour. I am certain that he is sincerely repentant, and even if he is
deceiving me, he will do more injury to himself than to me, or others."
The guilty man, bursting into tears, declared himself willing to undergo
any penance that might be imposed upon him, and even to give up his
benefice of his own accord, if the Bishop should judge this to be the
"I should be much grieved if you were to take that step," replied Blessed
Francis, "the more so as I hope that, just as the steeple in falling
crushed the church, so now being set up again it will make it more
beautiful than before."
The officials gave way, the prison doors were thrown open, and after a
month's suspension, _a divinis_, the penitent resumed all the duties of his
sacred office. Thenceforth he lived so holy and exemplary a life as fully
to verify the predictions of his holy Bishop, who, when these two memorable
instances, one of perversion and the other of conversion, were once
afterwards discussed before him, said: "It is better by gentleness to make
penitents than by severity to make hypocrites."
I will now relate some other instances of Blessed Francis' extraordinary
gentleness and of its softening effect upon others.
He had made himself surety for a considerable sum of money for one of his
friends, who, at the time when payment was due, happened to be in Piedmont
levying troops for the service of His Highness the Duke of Savoy.
The creditor becoming impatient for the discharge of the debt, applied to
the good Bishop, and insisted upon his making the money good, paying no
attention whatever either to his gentle remonstrances, or to his assurances
that the debtor, though unable at present to leave his troops, would do so
as soon as was consistent with his duty to his Prince and his country, and
that meantime his regular payment of the interest, and the knowledge that
he was worth a hundred times more than the sum owing, ought surely to
satisfy the creditor.
Blessed Francis remained perfectly calm and unmoved amid the storm of
invectives and reproaches that followed this remonstrance, and which were
accompanied by furious demands reiterated again and again, that he himself
as surety should repay the money.
At last, speaking with incredible gentleness, the Saint said: "Son, I am
your Pastor. Can you as one of my flock, have the heart to take the bread
out of my mouth in place of helping to feed me? You know that I am much
straitened in circumstances, and have really only barely enough for my
maintenance. I have never had in my possession the sum which you demand of
me, but for which, out of charity, I made myself surety: do you wish to
seize for it my goods, rather than those of the real debtor? Well, if so,
I have some patrimony. I give it up to you: there is my furniture. Turn it
all out into the public square, and sell it. I put myself absolutely into
your hands to do as you please. I only ask of you to love me for God's
sake, and not to offend Him in any way by anger, hatred, or scandal. If you
will do this I am content."
The only reply to this was a fresh outburst of furious invectives and
accusations, to which our Blessed Father replied with unalterable serenity:
"Sir, since my indiscretion in making myself surety for my friend is the
cause of your anger, I will with all the haste possible do what I can to
satisfy you. At the same time, I wish you to know that had you plucked
out one of my eyes, I would have looked as affectionately at you with the
other, as at the dearest friend I have in the world."
The creditor retired, covered indeed with confusion, but still muttering
injurious words, and calling the holy Bishop a hypocrite, a bigot, and the
like. Blessed Francis immediately sent an account of the affair to the real
debtor, who came as quickly as was possible and at once discharged the
debt. The creditor, full of shame and repentance, hastened to ask pardon of
our Blessed Father, and he, receiving the prodigal with open arms, treated
him ever afterwards with special tenderness, calling him his _friend
Again, when he was in Paris in 1619, having gone there with the Cardinal of
Savoy, who wished to be present at the marriage of his brother, the Prince
of Piedmont, with Madame Christine of France, the King's sister, our
Blessed Father was told that a man of tolerably good position professing
the so-called Reformed Religion wished to see him.
Introduced into the Bishop's apartment, the Protestant, without the
smallest sign of reverence, or even courtesy, addressed him in these words:
"Are you what they call the Bishop of Geneva?"
"Sir," replied our holy Prelate, "that is my title, though in that city
I am not so much in request as I am in the other parts of the diocese
committed to my charge."
"Well, I should just like to know from you, who are regarded everywhere as
an apostolic man, whether the Apostles were in the habit of going about in
Our Blessed Father, in telling me this story, owned that he was somewhat
taken aback by the suddenness of this attack! Collecting his thoughts,
however, and remembering the case of St. Philip the Deacon, who, though not
the Apostle of that name, was undoubtedly an apostolic man, and who went
up into the chariot of Queen Candace's eunuch, he answered quietly that
they did so when convenience required it, and the occasion for doing so
"I should be very glad," replied the man, scornfully, "if you could show me
that in Scripture." The Bishop quoted the instance to which we have just
referred. His opponent, not noticing the fact of this not being St. Philip
the Apostle, retorted, "But this carriage was not his own, it belonged
to the eunuch, who invited him to come up into it," "I never told you,"
answered Francis, "that the carriage was his own. I only said that when
the occasion presented itself the first preachers of the Gospel rode in
carriages." "But not in gilded coaches such as yours, sir," returned the
Protestant, "nor drawn by such splendid horses, nor driven by a coachman in
such superb livery. Why, the King himself has nothing better! This is what
I complain of; and this it is in you which scandalizes me. And you, above
all, who play the Saint, and whom the papists look upon as such. Fine
Saints, forsooth, who go to Paradise so much at their ease!"
Blessed Francis, seeing at once where the shoe pinched, answered gently,
"Alas, sir, the people of Geneva who have seized upon the property
belonging to my See have cut me down so close as regards money that I have
barely enough to live upon in the most frugal way. As to a carriage, I have
never had one, nor money enough to buy one." "Then that splendid carriage,
which is, so to speak, regal, in which I see you every day driving about
the city is not your own?" rejoined the antagonist. "Certainly not,"
replied the Bishop, "and you are quite right in calling it regal, for it
belongs to His Majesty, and is one of those set apart by him for people
who, like myself, are mere attendants of the Princes of Savoy. The royal
livery worn by the servants ought to have shown you this!" "Now, indeed,"
said the Protestant, "I am satisfied, and I esteem you. I see that you
are in the right, and that, notwithstanding, you are humble." After some
further remarks he put some questions as to the birth and manner of life of
the Saint, and was so perfectly contented with his replies that he quitted
him with expressions of esteem and affection, and ever afterwards held him
in the highest respect.
Again, preaching during an Advent and Lent at Grenoble, not only a great
concourse of Catholics flocked to hear him, but also such numbers of
Protestants of the Geneva following that their ministers became alarmed and
held meetings to decide what measures should be taken to avert a storm,
which threatened desolation to their strongholds and was fast emptying
their conventicles. They decided at last on a personal conflict with their
opponent, choosing one of their most furious pastors, a man of violent
temper and bitter tongue, to argue with Blessed Francis, and, as they
expected, to worst him in a controversy. The holy Bishop, who had already
had much practice and success in this kind of warfare at Thonon, Ternier,
and Gaillard, the bailiwicks of his diocese which he had brought back into
the bosom of the True Church, cheerfully agreed to the proposal. In answer
to the remonstrances of his friends, and especially of one gentleman of
Belley, a man of the greatest probity and piety, who painted the Protestant
ministers in the blackest colours, and told the Bishop that insults would
literally be heaped upon him, he replied, "Well, that is exactly what we
want; this contempt is just what I ask. For how great is the glory to
Himself that God will derive from my confusion!" On his friends reminding
him that he would be exposing his sacred office to derision, "What of
that?" replied the Bishop, "did not our Saviour suffer shame for us--were
not insults heaped upon Him?"
"Oh," said the other, "you aim too high." "To tell you the truth," said
our Saint, "I am hoping that God will give me the grace to endure insults
without end, for when we are finely humbled He will be gloriously exalted.
You will see conversion upon conversion following the train of this affair,
a thousand falling on the left hand and ten thousand on the right, God is
wont at all times to make our infamy redound to His honour. Did not the
Apostles come forth rejoicing from those assemblies in which they had
suffered contumely for the name of Jesus? Take courage, God will help us;
those who hope in Him never lack any good thing and are never confounded."
Was it possible to carry patience further than this? Doubtless, had the
meeting taken place, the envenomed darts of heresy would have glanced aside
from the spotless, shining shield of Faith carried by Blessed Francis, but
the devil, fearing to be worsted in the fight, suggested so many prudent
reasons to the Protestant Minister's friends, who, in reality, had their
doubts about both his virtue and his capacity for conducting the conference
that they got it forbidden by the Lieutenant of the King, though himself at
that time a heretic.
Another striking example of patience. A person of some influence and
consideration once applied to Blessed Francis asking him to obtain an
ecclesiastical preferment for a certain Priest. The Bishop replied that
in the matter of conferring benefices he had, of his free will, tied his
own hands, having left the choosing of fitting subjects to the decision
of a board of examiners, who were to recommend the person to be appointed
after due examination of the merits and talents of the candidates. As for
himself, he said, he simply presided over the meeting. Should, however, the
gentleman's friend present himself as a candidate, he, the Bishop, would
promise to bear the recommendation in mind. The petitioner felt piqued at
this answer, and quite losing his temper, replied to the Bishop in the most
disrespectful and even insulting manner. The gentle firmness with which
his anger was met only infuriated him the more, and he eventually lost all
command over himself. It was in vain that the Bishop tried to soothe him by
proposing to examine the claimant privately. This had no effect.
The Saint then said gently but gravely: "Do you then wish me to give the
charge of my sheep blindfolded and to the first comer? Ask yourself if
there is reasonableness in such a request as you are making?"
But not even this appeal to his reason turned the flood of the man's wrath,
and he quitted the Bishop's presence in a passion of disrespect impossible
to describe. A most excellent Priest who had been in the room all through
the interview asked the Bishop, after the departure of his impudent
visitor, how he could bear such treatment with the patience he showed.
"Well," he answered, "it was not he himself that spoke, it was his passion.
After all he is one of my best friends, and you will see that my silence on
this occasion will only make our friendship the stronger.
"More than this. Has not God from all eternity foreseen that these insults
would be offered to me to-day, and foreseen, too, that He would bestow
on me such grace as would enable me to bear them joyfully? Should I not
drain the chalice held to my lips by the hands of so loving a Father? Oh!
how sweet is this inebriating cup, offered to me by a hand which from my
infancy I have learnt to adore." "But," returned the Priest, "were not your
feelings stirred at all by this treatment?"
"Well," replied the Bishop, "I tried to overcome them by fixing my thoughts
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