The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales
Jean Pierre Camus
Part 4 out of 8
on the good qualities of the man whose friendship I have so long and so
happily enjoyed. Then, too, I hope that when this storm in a tea-cup has
subsided and the clouds of passion have lifted, my friend will come back to
me with peace in his heart and serenity on his countenance."
Nor was the Saint's expectation disappointed. His friend did come back, and
with many tears begged his forgiveness; a forgiveness which was, you may be
sure, granted so fully and with such loving readiness as to increase the
fervour and sincerity of their old and mutual affection.
A REJOINDER BOTH STRIKING AND INSTRUCTIVE.
In the course of his long mission in the Chablais, he one day preached on
that text which commands us to offer the right cheek to him who smites
us on the left. As he came down from the pulpit he was accosted by a
Protestant who asked him if he felt that he could practise what he had just
preached, or whether he was not rather one of those who preach but do not
The Saint replied: "My dear brother, I am but a weak man and beset by
infirmities. At the same time, miserable though I feel myself to be, God
teaches me what I ought to do. I cannot tell you what I should actually do,
because though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. At the same time
we know, that while without grace we can do nothing, with its aid we can do
everything; a reed in the hand of grace becomes a mighty staff that cannot
be broken. If we are told to be willing to give our life itself in defence
of our faith, how much more does it behove us to endure some small affront
for the maintenance of charity! Moreover, were I to be such a recreant to
the grace of God as not to bear an insult of this kind patiently, let me
remind you that the same Gospel which reproves those who preach but do not
practise, warns us against following the example of such teachers, though
it bids us do what they tell us to do."
"Yet," resumed the other, "our Saviour never presented the other cheek to
the servant of the High Priest who struck Him; on the contrary He resented
"What!" cried the holy Bishop, "you place our Lord on a level with those
who preach but do not practise! That is blasphemy! As for us, we entertain
more reverent feelings towards that Model of all perfection. It is not
for us to comment on the actions of Him who, as we firmly believe, could
not act otherwise than most perfectly. Neither is it for us to dare to
say: 'Why hast Thou done thus?' Yet we may well remember His zeal for
the salvation of that impious man's soul, and the remonstrances which He
deigned to use in order to bring him to repentance. Nay, did He not offer
not only His cheek to the smiter, but His whole sacred Body to the cruel
scourging which covered Him with wounds from Head to Foot?"
BLESSED FRANCIS' FAVOURITE BEATITUDE.
He was once asked which, in his opinion, was the most perfect of the eight
Beatitudes. It was thought that he would answer: "The second, Blessed
are the meek," but it was not so; he gave the preference to the eighth:
_Blessed are they that suffer for justice' sake_. He explained his
preference by saying that "the life of those who are persecuted for
justice' sake is hidden in God with Jesus Christ, and becomes conformable
to His image; for was not He persecuted all through His earthly life for
justice' sake, although He fulfilled it in all its perfection? Such persons
are, as it were, shrouded by the veil which hides the countenance of God.
They appear sinful, but they are just; dead, but they live; fools, but they
are wise; in a word, though despised in the sight of men, they are dear to
God with whom they live for ever.
"Should God have given me one particle of justice, enabling me thereby to
do some little good, it would be my wish that in the Day of Judgment, when
all secrets are revealed, God alone should know my righteousness, and that
my sinful actions should be proclaimed to all creatures."
HIS GRAVITY AND AFFABILITY.
Grace produced in him that wonderful and perfectly harmonious blending
of gravity and affability, which was perhaps his most distinguishing
characteristic. There was in his whole demeanour and in the very expression
of his face a lofty and dignified beauty which inspired reverence and even
a sort of fear--that is, such fear as engenders respect and makes any undue
familiarity impossible. Yet, at the same time he displayed such sweetness
and gentleness as to encourage all who approached him. No one, however
conscious of his own want of attractiveness, feared a repulse from the holy
Bishop, and all, feeling sure of a welcome, were only eager to please and
For my own part I must confess that when I succeeded in doing anything
which he was able to praise, and which consequently gave him pleasure, I
was so happy and elated that I felt as if I were raised to the seventh
heaven! Indeed, had he not taught me to refer everything to God, many of
my actions would, I fear, have stopped half-way thither. People of high
standing in society, accustomed even to come into close contact with
royalty itself, have assured me that, in the presence of our Saint, they
felt a subtle influence guarding, restraining, elevating them as no other
companionship, however noble and distinguished, could ever do. It was as
though in him they saw some reflection of the all-penetrating intelligence
of God Himself, lighting up the inmost recesses of their heart, and laying
bare its mysteries.
Yet his affability was no less marvellous, making itself felt the instant
you came in contact with him. It was not like a quality or grace acquired;
it was not in any way apart from his own personality, it was as if he were
affability personified. Hence that power of winning over others, of making
himself all things to all men, of gaining the support of so many in his
plans and schemes, all of which had but one aim and object, namely, the
increase of the glory of God and the promotion of the salvation of souls.
HOW BLESSED FRANCIS DEALT WITH A CRIMINAL WHO DESPAIRED OF SALVATION.
He was once asked to visit in prison a poor criminal already condemned to
death, but who could not be induced to make his confession. The unhappy man
had committed crimes so terrible that he despaired of the forgiveness even
of God, and having often during his lifetime met death face to face in
battle and in duels, he appeared to be quite ready again to meet it boldly;
nay, so hardened was he by the devil that he even spoke calmly of hell, as
of the abode destined for him for eternity.
Our Blessed Father finding him in this frame of mind, and altogether cold,
hard, and reckless, proclaiming himself the prey of Satan and a victim
prepared for hell, thus addressed him: "My brother, would you not rather be
the prey of God and a victim of the Cross of Jesus Christ?" "What," cried
the criminal, "do you think that God would have anything to do with a
victim as repulsive as I am?"
"Oh, God!" was the silent prayer of Blessed Francis, "remember Thine
ancient mercies and the promise which Thou hast made never to quench
utterly the smoking flax nor wholly to break the bruised reed. Thou who
wiliest not the death of the sinner, but rather that he should be converted
and live, make happy the last moments of this poor soul."
Then he spoke aloud replying to the despairing words of the poor wretch,
for, horrifying though they were, they had proved to the skilled workman
that there was something left to work upon, that faith in God was not yet
wholly dead in that poor heart. "At any rate, would you not rather abandon
yourself to God than to the evil one?" "Most assuredly," replied the
criminal, "but it is a likely thing indeed that' God would have anything
to do with a man like me!" "It was for men like you," returned the Bishop,
"that the Eternal Father sent His Son into the world, nay for worse than
you, even for Judas and for the miscreants who crucified Him. Jesus Christ
came to save not the just, but sinners."
"But," cried the other, "can you assure me that it would not be presumption
on my part to have recourse to His mercy?" "It would be great presumption,"
replied our Saint, "to think that His mercy was not infinite, far above all
sins not only possible but conceivable, and that His redemption was not so
plentiful, but that it could make grace superabound where sin had poured
forth a flood of evils. On the contrary, His mercy, which is over all His
works, and which always overrides His justice, becomes so much the greater
the greater the mountain of our sins.
"Upon that very mountain he sets up the throne of His mercy." With words
such as these, kindling, or rather re-animating the spark of faith not yet
wholly dead in the soul of the wretched man, he relighted the flame of
hope, which up to that moment was quite extinguished, and little by little
softened and tamed the man's natural temper, rendered savage by despair. He
led him on at last to resignation, and persuaded him to cast himself into
the arms of God for death and for life; to deal with him according to His
own good pleasure, for his whole future in this world, or in the next.
"But He will damn me," said the man, "for He is just." "No, He will pardon
you," replied Blessed Francis, "if you cry to Him for mercy, for He is
merciful and has promised forgiveness to whoever implores it of Him with a
humble and contrite heart." "Well," replied the criminal, "let Him damn me
if he pleases--I am His. He can do with me what the potter does with his
clay." "Nay," replied the holy Bishop, "say rather with David, _I am Thine,
O Lord, save me_." Not to make the story too long, I may tell you that the
holy Bishop brought this man to confession, repentance, and contrition, and
that he died with great constancy, sincerely acknowledging his sins and
abandoning himself entirely to the most holy will of God. The last words
which our Blessed Father made him utter were these: "O Jesus, I give myself
up to Thee--I abandon myself wholly to Thee."
It is far better to mortify the body through the spirit than the spirit
through the body. To deaden and beat down the body instead of trying to
reduce the swelling of an inflated spirit is like pulling back a horse by
its tail. It is behaving like Balaam, who beat the ass which carried him,
instead of taking heed to the peril which threatened him and which the poor
beast was miraculously warning him to avoid.
One of the three first Postulants who entered the Convent of the
Visitation, established by me at Belley, left it before taking the novices'
habit being unable to understand how Religious could be holy in an Order in
which she saw so few austerities practised. She has since then, however,
been disabused of her error, and has repented of it.
At that time she was under the guidance of those who considered that
holiness consisted in mortifications in respect of food and clothing: as if
the stings of the flesh cease to be felt when you no longer eat of it,
and as if you could not be temperate over partridges and gluttonous over
Our Blessed Father, writing to a novice in one of his convents who was
perplexed on this subject, says: "The devil does not trouble himself much
about us if, while macerating our bodies, we are at the same time doing our
own will, for he does not fear austerity but obedience.
"What greater austerity can there be than to keep our will in subjection
and In continual obedience, Reassure yourself then, O lover of voluntary
penance, if, indeed, the works of self-love deserve to be called penances!
When you took the habit after many prayers and much consideration, it was
thought good that you should enter the school of obedience and renunciation
of your own will rather than remain the sport of your own judgment and of
"Do not then let yourself be shaken, but remain where our Lord has placed
you. It is true that there you suffer great mortifications of heart, seeing
yourself so imperfect and so deserving of reproof and correction, but is
not this the very thing you ought to seeks mortification of heart and
a continual sense of your own misery? Yet, you say, you cannot do such
penance as you would. My dear daughter, tell me what better penance can be
given to an erring heart than to bear a continual cross and to be always
UPON THE SAME SUBJECT.
Blessed Francis was no great friend of unusual mortifications, and did
not wish them to be practised except in the pressing necessity of violent
In such cases it was his desire that those so assailed should try to repel
force by force, employing that holy violence which takes heaven by storm,
for, as by cutting and burning health is restored to the body, so also by
these caustic remedies holiness is often preserved in the soul.
He used to say that to those who made all kinds of exterior austerities
their custom, the custom in time becomes a second nature; that those who
had hardened their skin no longer felt any inconvenience from cold, from
hard couches, or coarse garments, and that when the flame of concupiscence
kindled this dry wood they possessed no remedy which they could apply to
extinguish the fire.
They are like the pagan king, who had so accustomed himself to feed upon
poison that when he wished to end his miseries with his life by taking it,
he was obliged to live on against his will, and to serve as a sport to his
The devil cares very little about our body being laid low so long as he can
hold on to us by the vices of the soul; and so cunning is he that often out
of bodily mortifications, he extracts matter for vanity.
Our holy Bishop wrote as follows to a person who regretted that her health
prevented her from continuing her accustomed austerities:
"Since you do not find yourself any longer able to practise corporal
mortifications and the severities of penance, and since it is not at
all expedient that you should think of doing so, on which point we are
perfectly agreed, keep your heart calm and recollected in the presence of
its Saviour; and as far as possible do what you may have to do solely to
please God, and suffer whatever you may have to suffer according to His
disposal of events in this life with the same intention. Thus God will
possess you wholly and will graciously allow you to possess Him one day
With regard to the various kinds of mortification, that which is inward and
hidden is far more excellent than that which is exterior, the former
not being compatible, as is the latter, with hypocrisy, vanity, or
Again, those mortifications which come upon us from without, either
directly from God or through men by His permission, are always superior to
those which depend upon our own choice and which are the offspring of our
Many, however, find here a stumbling block, being very eager to embrace
mortifications suggested by their own inclinations, which, after all,
however apparently severe, are really easy because they are what nature
On the other hand, mortifications which come to them from without and
through others, however light they may be, they find insupportable. For
example, a person will eagerly make use of disciplines, hair-shirts, and
fasting, and yet will be so tender of his reputation that if once in a way
laughed at or spoken against, he will become almost beside himself, robbed
of his rest and even sometimes of his reason; and will perhaps in the end
be driven to the most deplorable extremities.
Another will throw himself with ardour into the practice of prayer,
penance, silence, and such like devotions, but will break out into a fury
of impatience and complain indignantly and unrestrainedly at the loss of a
law-suit, or at the slightest damage done to his property.
Another will give alms liberally and make magnificent foundations for the
relief of the poor and sick, but will groan and tremble with fear when
himself threatened with infirmity or sickness, however slightly; and upon
experiencing the least possible bodily pain, will give vent to interminable
In proportion as people are more or less attached to honours, gain, or mere
pleasures, they bear with less or more patience the hindrances to them; nor
do the majority of men seriously consider that it is the hand of God which
gives and which takes away, which kills and which makes alive, which exalts
and which casts down, as it pleases Him.
In order to heal this spiritual malady in a certain person our Blessed
Father wrote to her: "Often and with all your heart kiss the crosses which
God has laid upon your shoulders. Do not consider whether they are of
precious and sweet-scented wood or not. And, indeed, they are more truly
crosses when they are of coarse, common, ill-smelling wood. It is strange,
but one particular chant keeps ever coming back to my mind, and it is the
only one I know. It is the canticle of the divine Lamb; sad, indeed, but at
the same time harmonious and beautiful--_Father, not my will, but Thine be
[Footnote 1: It is not to be inferred that Saint Francis countenanced
self-indulgence. He only wished to remove the idea common in his day,
that devotion must be accompanied by austerity.--[Ed.]]
[Footnote 2: Luke xxii. 42.]
One day when we were talking about that holy liberty of spirit of which
he thought so highly, as being one of the great aids to charity, Blessed
Francis told me the following anecdote, which is a most practical
illustration of his feelings on the subject.
He had been visited by a Prelate, whom, with his accustomed hospitality
and kindness, he pressed to remain with him for several days. When Friday
evening came, our Blessed Father went to the Prelate's room inviting him to
come to supper, which was quite ready.
"Supper!" cried his guest. "This is not a day for supper! Surely, the least
one can do is to fast once a week!" Our holy Bishop at once left him to do
as he pleased, desiring the servants to take his collation to his room,
while he himself joined the chaplains of the Prelate and his own household
at the supper table.
The chaplains told him that this Prelate was so exact and punctilious in
discharging all his religious exercises, of prayer, fasting, and such like,
that he never abated one of them, whatever company he might have. Not
that he refused to sit down to table with his visitors on fast days, but
that he ate nothing but what was permitted by the rule he had imposed on
himself. Our Blessed Father, after telling me this, went on to say that
condescension was the daughter of charity, just as fasting is the sister of
obedience; and that where obedience did not impose the sacrifice, he would
have no difficulty in preferring condescension and hospitality to fasting.
The lives of the Saints furnish frequent examples of this. Above all,
Scripture assures us, that by hospitality some have merited to receive
Angels; from which declaration St. Paul takes occasion to exhort the
faithful not to forget liberality and hospitality, as sacrifices well
pleasing to God.
"Remember," he said, "that we must not be so deeply attached to our
religious exercises, however pious, as not to be ready sometimes to give
them up. For, if we cling to them too tightly, under the pretext of
fidelity and steadfastness, a subtle self-love will glide in among them,
making us forget the end in the means, and then, instead of pressing on,
nor resting till we rest in God Himself, we shall stop short at the means
which lead to Him.
"As regards the occurrence of which I have been telling you, one Friday's
fast, thus interrupted, would have concealed many others; and to conceal
such virtues is no less a virtue than those which are so concealed. God is
a hidden God, who loves to be served, prayed to, and adored in secret, as
the Gospel testifies. You know what happened to that unthinking king
of Israel, who, for having displayed his treasures to the ambassadors of
a barbarian prince, was deprived of them all, when that same heathen king
descended upon him with a powerful army.
"The practice of the virtue of condescension or affability may often with
profit be substituted for fasting. I except, however, the case of a vow,
for in that we must be faithful even to death, and care nothing about what
men may say, provided that God is served. _They that please men have been
confounded, because God hath despised them._"
He asked me one day if it was easy for me to fast. I answered that it was
perfectly easy, as it was a rare thing for me to sit down to table with any
appetite. "Then," he rejoined, "do not fast at all." On my expressing great
astonishment at these words, and venturing to remind our Blessed Father
that it was a mortification, strongly recommended to us by God Himself.
"Yes," he replied, "but for those who have better appetites than you have.
Do some other good work, and keep your body in subjection by some other
mode of discipline." He went on, however, to say that fasting was, indeed,
the greatest of all corporal austerities, since it puts the axe to the root
of the tree. The others only touch the bark lightly; they only scrape or
prune it. Whereas when the body waxes fat it often kicks, and from this
sort of fatness sin is likely to proceed.
"Those who are naturally sober, temperate, and self-restrained have a great
advantage over others in the matter of study and spiritual things. They
are like horses that have been well broken in, horses which have a strong
bridle, holding them in to their duty."
He was no friend to immoderate fasting, and never encouraged it in his
penitents, as we see in his "Introduction to a Devout Life," where he gives
this reason against the practice: "When the body is over-fed, the mind
cannot support its weight; but when the body is weak and wasted. It cannot
support the mind." He liked the one and the other to be dealt with in
a well-balanced manner, and said that God wished to be served with a
reasonable service; adding--that it was always easy to bring down and
reduce the bodily forces, but that it was not so easy a matter to build
them up again when thus brought low. It is easy to wound, but not to heal.
The mind should treat the body as its child, correcting without crushing
it: only when it revolts must it be treated as a rebellious subject,
according to the words of the Apostle: _I chastise my body and bring it
into subjection_.[Footnote 5]
[Footnote 1: The Saint is here speaking of fasts of devotion, not of
those of obligation.--[Ed.]]
[Footnote 2: Heb. xiii. 2, 16.]
[Footnote 3: Matt. vi. 6.]
[Footnote 4: Psalm lii. 6.]
[Footnote 5: 1 Cor. ix. 27.]
DOUBTS SOLVED AS TO SOLDIERS FASTING.
I was so young when called to the episcopate that I lived in a state of
continual mistrust and uncertainty; doubtful about this, scrupulous about
that; ignorance being the grandmother of scruples, as servile fear is their
At the time of which I am going to speak, the residences of our Blessed
Father and myself were only eight leagues apart, and in all my perplexities
and difficulties I had recourse to his judgment and counsel. I kept a
little foot-boy in my service, almost entirely employed in running to and
fro between Belley and Annecy, carrying my letters to him and bringing
back his replies. These replies were to me absolute decrees; nay, I should
rather say oracles, so manifestly did God speak by the mouth and pen of
that holy man.
On one occasion it happened that the captains of some troops--then
stationed in garrison on the borders of Savoy and France, on account of a
misunderstanding which had arisen between the two countries--came to me
at the beginning of Lent to ask permission for their men to eat eggs and
cheese during that season. This was a permission which I had never given
except to the weak and sickly. I learned from the men themselves that they
were exceedingly robust and hearty, and only weak and reduced as regarded
their purses, their pay being so small that it barely supplied them with
food. Nevertheless, I did not consider this poor pay a sufficient reason
for granting a dispensation, especially in a district where Lent is so
strictly kept that the peasants are scandalized when told that on certain
days they may eat butter.
In my difficulty I despatched a letter at once to our Blessed Father, whose
reply was full of sweetness and kindness. He said that he honoured the
faith and piety of the good centurions, who had presented this request,
which, indeed, deserved to be granted, seeing that it edified, not the
Synagogue, but the Church. He added that I ought not only to grant it, but
to extend it, and instead of eggs, to permit them to eat oxen, and instead
of cheese, the cows of whose milk it is made.
"Truly," he went on to say, "you are a wise person to consult me as to what
soldiers shall eat in Lent, as if the laws of war and necessity did not
over-ride all others without exception! Is it not a great thing that these
good men submit themselves to the Church, and so defer to her as to ask her
permission and blessing? God grant that they may do nothing worse than eat
eggs, cheese, or beef; if they were guilty of nothing more heinous than
that, there would not be so many complaints against them."
THE GOLDEN MEAN IN DISPENSATIONS.
"It is quite true," said our Blessed Father, on one occasion, "that there
are certain matters in which we are meant to use our own judgment, and in
which, if we judge ourselves, we shall not be chastised by God. But there
are others in which, with the eye of our soul, that is, with our judgment,
it is as with the eye of the body, which sees all things excepting itself.
We need a mirror. Now, this mirror, as regards interior things, is the
person to whom we manifest our conscience, and who is its judge in the
place of God."
He went on to say that in the matter of granting dispensations to his
flock, he had told a certain Prelate, who had consulted him on the subject,
that the best rule to give to others, or to take for oneself in such
questions, is to love one's neighbour as oneself, and oneself as others, in
God and for God. "If," he continued, addressing the Prelate, "you now take
more trouble about granting these necessary dispensations to others than in
getting them for yourself, the time will come when you will be generous,
easy, and indulgent towards others, and severe and rigorous towards
yourself. Perhaps you imagine that this second line of conduct is better
than the other. It is not, and you will find the repose and peace of your
soul only in the golden mean, which is the one wholesome atmosphere for the
nourishing of virtue."
UPON THE WORDS, "EAT OF ANYTHING THAT IS SET BEFORE YOU."
Our Blessed Father held in great esteem the Gospel maxim, _Eat such things
as are set before you_. He deemed it a much higher and stronger degree
of mortification to accommodate the tastes and appetite to any food,
whether pleasant or otherwise, which may be offered, than always to choose
the most inferior and coarsest kinds. For it not seldom happens that the
greatest delicacies--or those at least which are esteemed to be such by
epicures--are not to our taste, and therefore to partake of them without
showing the least sign of dislike is by no means so small a matter as may
be thought. It incommodes no one but the person who so mortifies himself,
and it is a little act of self-restraint so secret, so securely hidden from
others, that the rest of the company imagine something quite different from
the real truth.
He also considered that it was a species of incivility when seated at a
meal to ask for some dish which was at the other end of the table, instead
of taking what was close at hand. He said that such practices were evidence
of a mind too keen about viands, sauces, and condiments; too much absorbed
in mere eating and drinking. If, he added, this careful picking out of
dishes is not done from greediness or gluttony, but from a desire to choose
the worst food, it smacks of affectation, which is as inseparable from
ostentation as smoke from fire. The conduct of people who do this is not
unlike that of guests who take the lowest seats at the table, in order
that they may, with the greater _eclat_, be summoned to the higher places.
The following incident will show his own indifference. One day poached
eggs were served to him, and when he had eaten them, he continued to dip
his bread in the water in which they had been cooked, apparently without
noticing what he was doing. The guests were all smiling. Upon discovering
the cause of their amusement, he told them it was too bad of them to
undeceive him, as he was taking the sauce with much relish, verifying the
proverb that "Hunger is the best sauce"!
[Footnote 1: Luc. x. 8.]
UPON THE STATE OF PERFECTION.
The degree of perfection to which our Blessed Father brought his Religious
he makes manifest to us in one of his letters.
"Do you know," he says, "what the cloister is? It is the school of exact
correction, in which each individual soul must learn the lesson of allowing
itself to be so disciplined, planed, and polished that at length, being
quite smooth and even, it may be fit to be joined, united, and absolutely
assimilated with the Will of God.
"To wish to be corrected is an evident sign of perfection, for the
principal point of humility is realizing our need of it.
"A convent is a hospital for the spiritually sick. The sick wish to be
cured, and, therefore, they willingly submit to be lanced, probed, cut,
cauterized, and subjected to any and every pain and discomfort which
medicine or surgery may suggest.
"In the early days of the Church, religious were called by a name which
signifies healers. Oh! my daughter, be truly your own healer, and pay no
heed to what self-love may whisper to the contrary. Say to yourself, since
I do not wish to die spiritually, I will be healed, and in order to be
healed I will submit to treatment and correction, and I will entreat the
doctors to spare me nothing which may be required to effect my cure."
MARKS OF PROGRESS IN PERFECTION.
Our Blessed Father, who did not like people to be too introspective and
self-tormenting, said that they should, however, walk as it is written of
the Maccabees, _Caute et ordinate_; that is, with circumspection and
order, or, to use a common expression, "bridle in hand." And one of the
best proofs of our advancement in virtue is, he said, a love of correction
and reproof; for it is a sign of a good digestion easily to assimilate
tough and coarse food. In the same way it is a mark of spiritual health
and inward vigour to be able to say with the Psalmist, _The just man shall
correct me in mercy and shall reprove me._
It is a great proof of our hating vice, and of the faults which we commit,
proceeding rather from inadvertence and frailty, than from malice and
deliberate intention, that we welcome the warnings which make us think on
our ways, and turn back our feet (that is to say, our affections) into the
testimonies of God, by which is meant the divine law.
An old philosopher said that to want to get well is part of the sick man's
cure. The desire to keep well is a sign of health. He who loves correction
necessarily desires the virtue contrary to the fault for which he is
reproved, and therefore profits by the warnings given him to escape the
vice from which his fault proceeded.
A sick person who is really anxious to recover his health takes without
hesitation the remedies prescribed by the physician, however sharp, bitter,
and painful they may be. He who aims at perfection, which is the full
health, and true holiness of the soul, finds nothing difficult that helps
him to arrive at that end. Justice and judgment, that is to say correction,
establish in him the seat of perfect wisdom. In a word, _better are the
wounds of a friend_ (like those of a surgeon who probes only to heal) _than
the deceitful kisses of a_ flatterer, _an enemy_.
[Footnote 1: 1 Mach. vi. 4.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm cxl. 5.]
[Footnote 3: Prov. xxvii. 6.]
UPON THE PERFECTION AIMED AT IN RELIGIOUS HOUSES.
Our Blessed Father was speaking to me one day on the subject of exterior
perfection, and on the discontent expressed by certain Religions, who, in
their particular order, had not found the strictness and severity of rule
they desired. He said: "These good people seem to me to be knocking their
heads against a stone wall. Christian perfection does not consist in
eating fish, wearing serge, sleeping on straw, stripping oneself of one's
possessions, keeping strict vigils, and such like austerities. For, were
this so, pagans would be the more perfect than Christians, since many of
them voluntarily sleep on the bare ground, do not eat a morsel of meat
throughout the whole year, are ragged, naked, shivering, living for the
most part only on bread and water, and on that bread of suffering, too,
which is far harder and heavier than the blackest of crusts. If perfection
consisted in exterior observances such as these, they would have to go back
in perfection were they to enter even the most strictly reformed of our
Religious Houses, for in none is a life led nearly so austere as theirs.
"The question then is in what does the essential perfection of a Christian
life consist? It must surely in the first place include the assiduous
practice of charity, for exterior mortifications without charity are of no
account. St. Paul, we know, reckons martyrdom itself as nothing, unless
quickened by charity.
"I do not exactly know what standard of perfection they who insist so much
upon exterior mortification wish to set up.
"Surely the greater or lesser degree of charity is the true measure of
sanctity and the measure also of the excellence of religious rule. Now, in
what rule is charity, the queen of the virtues, more recommended that in
that of St. Augustine? which seems to be nothing but one long discourse on
"However, it is not a question of comparing one rule with another, it is
rather of noticing which rule is as a matter of fact best observed. For
even had other rules, in regard to the exterior perfectness of the life
they prescribe, every advantage over that of St. Augustine, who does
not know that it is safer to enter a community in which a rule of less
excellence is exactly observed, rather than another where a higher kind
of rule is preached but not kept? Of what use are laws if they are not
"The consequence, in my opinion, of the mistake made by those who put
over-much stress on esteem of mortification, is, that even Religious get
accustomed to make use in their judgments of those lying balances of which
the Psalmist speaks, and that the simple-minded are forced to trust to
the guidance of blind leaders. Hence it has come to pass that true and
essential perfection is not what the majority of people think it to be, nor
is it reached by the road along which the many travel. May God have pity on
us, and bless us with the light of His countenance, so that we may know His
way upon the earth, and may declare His salvation to all nations, and may
He turn aside from us in this our day, that which He once threatened to
those who thought themselves wise: _Let them alone, they are blind leaders
of the blind._"
[Footnote 1: Psalm lxi. 10.]
[Footnote 2: Matt. xv. 14.]
The following notable example of frugality and economy was related to me by
our Blessed Father himself.
Monseigneur Vespasian Grimaldi, who was Piedmontese by birth, made a
tolerably large fortune in France as an ecclesiastic, during the regency of
Catherine de Medicis. He was raised to the dignity of Archbishop of Vienne
in Dauphine, and held several other benefices which brought him in a large
revenue. Having amassed all these riches at court, his desire was to live
there in great pomp and splendour, but whether it was that God did not
bless his designs, or that he was too much addicted to extravagance and
display, certain it is that he was always in difficulties, not only about
money, but even about his health.
Weary at last of dragging on a life so troubled and so wretched, he
resolved to quit the court, and to retire into a peaceful solitude. He had
often in past days remarked the extraordinary beauty of the banks of Lake
Leman, where nature seems to scatter her richest gifts with lavish hand,
and there he resolved to fix his abode in a district subject to his own
sovereign, the Duke of Savoy, and settling down in that quiet spot to spend
the remainder of his days in peace. He selected for this purpose the little
village and market town of Evian, so called because of the abundance and
clearness of its lovely streams and fountains. The little town is situated
on the very margin of the lake, and backed by an outlying stretch of
country is as charming to, the eye as it is rich and fertile.
There, having given up his archbishopric and all his benefices, reserving
only to himself a pension of two thousand crowns, he established a retreat
into which he was accompanied by only three or four servants.
He was at this time sixty-five years old, but weighed down by physical
infirmities much more than by the burden of his years. He had chosen this
particular spot purposely because there was no approach to it from the high
road, and there was little fear of visits from that great world of which he
was now so weary, in the crush and tumult of which he had spent so large a
portion of his life in consequence of his position at court.
Another reason for his choosing Evian was that the little township being
in the diocese of Geneva, which is included in the province of Vienne in
Dauphine, in settling there he was not leaving his own province.
Living then in this calm retreat, free from all bustle and all burdens of
office, with no show and state to keep up, having nothing to attend to but
the sanctification of his soul and the restoration of his bodily health, a
marvellous change was soon observed in him. Inward peace gave back to him
health so vigorous and settled that those who had known him in the days of
his infirmity declared him to be absolutely rejuvenated, and truly he did
feel in his soul a renewal of strength like that of the eagle. This he
attributed to exercises of the contemplative life to which he now devoted
himself with fervour.
We see thus how true is the divine oracle which tells us that to those who
seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice all temporal things necessary
shall be given, for God prospered this good Prelate in even his worldly
The small sum of money which he had reserved for himself, and which he
spent in the most frugal and judicious manner possible, so increased that
when he died at the age of a hundred and two or a hundred and three years,
he left behind him more than 6,000 crowns.
By his will he ordered the whole to be distributed in benefactions and alms
throughout the neighbourhood, and in fact it relieved every necessitous
person to be found round about.
It was this very Mgr. Vespasian Grimaldi who, assisted by the Bishops
of Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, and of Damascus, conferred episcopal
consecration upon Blessed Francis in the Church of Thorens, in the diocese
of Geneva, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, December
From this notable example we may easily gather:
1. That for Prelates the atmosphere of Courts is not to be recommended.
2. That it is favourable neither to the growth of holiness nor the
maintenance of physical health.
3. That great fortunes entail great slavery and great anxieties.
4. A peaceful, tranquil, and hidden life, even from the point of view of
common sense and of the dictates of nature, is the happiest.
5. That much more is this so when looked at in the light of grace and of
the soul's welfare.
6. That the old saying is quite true that there is no surer way to increase
one's income than that of frugality and judicious economy.
7. That one never has money enough to meet all the claims of worldly show
and vain ostentation.
8. That he who lives in the style the world expects of him is never rich,
while he who regulates his expenditure simply by his natural needs is never
9. That almsdeeds is an investment which multiplies itself a hundredfold
even in this present life and ensures the fruit of a blessed eternity in
the next, provided only they have been given in the love, and for the love
[Footnote 1: Matt. vi. 33.]
BLESSED FRANCIS' ESTEEM OF THE VIRTUE OF SIMPLICITY.
Our Blessed Father had the highest possible esteem for the virtue of
simplicity. Indeed, my sisters, you know what a prominent place he gives to
it in his letters, his Spiritual Conferences, and elsewhere. Whenever he
met with an example of it he rejoiced and openly expressed his delight. I
will here give you one instance which he told me, as it were exulting over
it. After having preached the Advent and Lent at Grenoble, he paid a visit
to La Grande Chartreuse, that centre of wonderful devotion and austerity,
the surroundings of which are so wild, solitary, and almost terrible in
their ruggedness, that St. Bernard called it _locus horroris et vastae
At the time of his visit, the Prior General of the whole Order was Dom
Bruno d'Affringues, a native of St. Omer, a man of profound learning and of
still more profound humility and simplicity. I knew him well, and can bear
witness to the beauty of his character, which in its extreme sweetness and
simplicity had something in it not of this earth.
He received Blessed Francis on his arrival with his usual delightful
courtesy and sincerity. After having conducted him to a guest chamber
suited to his rank, and having talked with him on many lofty and sublime
subjects, he suddenly remembered that it was some feast day of the Order.
He therefore took leave of the Bishop, saying that he would gladly have
stayed with him much longer, but that he knew his honoured guest would
prefer obedience to everything else, and that he must retire to his cell
to prepare for Matins, it being the feast of one of their great Saints.
Our Saint approved highly of this exact observance of rule, and they
separated with mutual expressions of respect and regard.
On his way to his cell, however, the Prior was met by the Procurator of
the Monastery, who asked him where he was going and where he had left his
Lordship, the Bishop of Geneva. "I have left Him," the Prior answered, "in
his own chamber, and I took leave of him that I might go to our cell and
be ready to say Matins to-night in choir because of to-morrow's feast."
"Truly, Reverend Father," said the Procurator, "you are well up in the
ceremonies of the world indeed! Why, it is only a feast of our own Order!
Do we, out in this desert, have every day for our guests Prelates of such
distinction? Do you not know that God takes pleasure when for a sacrifice
to Him we offer hospitality and kindliness? You will always have leisure to
sing the praises of God; you will have plenty of other opportunities for
saying Matins; but who can entertain such a Prelate better than you? What
a disgrace to the house that you should leave him thus alone!" "My son,"
replied the Reverend Father, "I see that you are quite right and that I
have certainly done wrong." So saying he at once retraced his steps to
the Bishop of Geneva's apartment, and finding him, there said humbly: "My
Lord, on leaving you I met one of our brethren who told me that I had been
guilty of discourtesy in leaving you thus all alone; that I should have an
opportunity at another time of making up for my absence from Matins, but
that we do not every day have a Bishop of Geneva under our roof. I see that
he is in the right and I have come back at once to ask your pardon, and to
beg you to excuse my apparent rudeness, for I assure you truthfully that
_it was done in ignorance_."
Blessed Francis was enraptured with this straightforwardness, candour, and
simplicity, and told me that he was more delighted with it than if he had
seen the good Prior work a miracle.
BLESSED FRANCIS' LOVE OF EXACTITUDE.
This same Dom Bruno was remarkable for his exactitude and punctuality,
virtues which our Blessed Father always both admired and praised. He was
so exact in the observance of the smallest monastic detail that no novice
could have surpassed him in carefulness. At the same time he never allowed
himself to be carried away by indiscreet fervour, beyond the line laid down
in his rule, knowing how much harm would be done to his inferiors by his
not preserving a calm and even tenor of life, making himself all things to
men, that he might win them and keep them for Jesus Christ.
He would never allow the smallest austerities to be practised beyond those
prescribed by the Constitutions of the Order. Though rigorous towards
himself he was marvellously indulgent towards those whom he governed in
the monastery. For himself he had the heart of a judge, for them that of a
Our holy Bishop, drawing a comparison between him and his predecessor, who
was addicted to such excessive austerities that it seemed as if he had
either no body at all, or one of iron, said: "The late Prior was like those
unskilful physicians who by their treatment fill up our cemeteries: for
many who desired to imitate his mortified life, and through a zeal without
knowledge, tried to do what was beyond their strength, ended by falling
into the pit. On the other hand, the actual Prior of the Grand Chartreuse,
by his gentleness and moderation, maintains among his monks, peace and
humility of soul, together with health of body, making them preserve their
strength for God, that is to say, so as to serve Him longer and with
greater earnestness in those exercises which tend to His glory. In doing
this he follows the example of the Patriarch Jacob, who, on his return
from Mesopotamia, could have reached his father's house much sooner had he
accepted the offer of camels made by his brother Esau, when he came to meet
him. But Jacob preferred to accommodate his pace to that of his little
ones, of his children, and even of the lambs of his flock, rather than
to press on at the risk of throwing his household and followers into
disorder." This example was a favourite one with our Blessed Father, and I
am reminded of another of the same kind, which he valued almost as much.
"Have you read," he once said to me, "the life of Blessed Aloysius Gonzaga
of the Society of Jesus? If you have, perhaps you have remarked what it was
that made that young prince so quickly become holy, and almost perfect. It
was his extreme exactitude and punctuality, and his faithful observance of
the constitutions of his Order. This was such that he refused to put one
foot before the other, so to speak, or draw back a single step in order
to gratify himself. This, not of course in regard to things commanded, or
forbidden, for the law of God leaves us in no doubt about such, but in
those indifferent matters which, being neither commanded nor forbidden,
often make correct discernment difficult." There are some who imagine that
this way of discerning the will of God is impracticable for persons in the
world, and that it is only out of the world, as they call the cloistered
life, that one can have recourse to it. Now, although we do not deny that
in the well-regulated and holy life of a convent by means of obedience,
and through the medium of superiors, the knowledge of God's will in things
indifferent can be more perfectly ascertained, and more readily acted upon,
than in any other state of life, still we venture to maintain that even in
the world it is easier to ascertain God's will, even in things indifferent,
than might at first sight appear."
It was one of Blessed Francis' common maxims that great fidelity towards
God may be practised even in the most indifferent actions, and he
considered that to be a lower degree of fidelity which is only available
for great and striking occasions. He who is careful with farthings, how
much more so will he be with crowns?
Not that he loved scrupulous minds, those, namely, which are troubled and
anxious about every trifle. No, indeed, but he desired that God should
be loved by all with a vigilant and attentive love, exact, punctual, and
faithful in the smallest matters, pictured to us by the rod the Prophet
used when watching the boiling caldron, to remove all the scum as it rose
to the surface.
And you may be sure that what he taught by word, he himself was the first
to practise. He was the most punctual man I ever knew, the most exact,
though without fussiness or worry. He was not only most accurate in all
details of the service of the altar and of the choir, but, even when
reciting his office in private, he never failed to observe all minutiae of
ceremonial in every way, bowing his head, genuflecting, etc., as if he were
engaged in a solemn public function. In his intercourse with the world he
was just as exact; he omitted no detail required by courtesy, he spared no
pains to avoid giving inconvenience or annoyance to anyone. People who were
old fashioned in their punctilious civilities, and tedious and lengthy in
their ceremonious discourse, he treated with the most sweet and gracious
forbearance, letting them say all they had to say, before he replied, and
then answering as his duty and the laws of politeness required.
All his actions were regular as clockwork, and the holy presence of God was
the loadstar of his soul. One day I was complaining to him of the too great
deference which he paid me. "And for how much then do you," he answered,
"account Jesus Christ, whom I honour in your person?" "Oh!" I replied, "if
you take that ground, you ought to speak to me on your knees!"
Once two persons happened to be playing a game of skill when Blessed
Francis was in the room. One was cheating the other. Our holy Prelate,
indignant at this, remonstrated at once. "Oh," was the careless reply,
"we are only playing for farthings." And "supposing you were playing for
guineas," returned Francis, "how would it be then? He, who despises small
faults will fall into great ones, but he who is faithful and honest in
small matters will also be honest in great ones. He who fears to steal a
pin will certainly not take a guinea. In fine, he who is faithful over a
little shall be set over much."
I should like while I am on this subject to add a short saying which was
often on the lips of this Blessed Father. "Fidelity towards God consists in
abstaining from even the slightest faults, for great ones are so repulsive
in themselves that often enough nature deters us from committing them."
[Footnote 1: Jer. i. 11, 13.]
A TEST OF RELIGIOUS VOCATION.
Here I will relate a pleasant little incident which befell Dom Bruno, of
whom I have spoken above. Our Blessed Father often quoted it as an example
The Germans, particularly those on the banks of the Rhine, have a special
devotion to St. Bruno, who was a native of Cologne, in which city he is
A young man, a native of the same place, had a most ardent desire to enter
the Carthusian Order, but his parents, influential people of the city,
prevented his being received into the Chartreuse of Cologne, or into any
other Carthusian monastery in the neighbourhood.
The youth, greatly distressed at this repulse, left the city in haste, and
took refuge among the holy mountains where St. Bruno and his companions
made their first retreat. Presenting himself at the Grande Chartreuse
he asked to see the Rev. Fr. Prior, and throwing himself at his feet,
entreated that he might be clothed with the habit of the Order, concealing
nothing from him, neither his birth, nor his place of residence, nor
the circumstances of his vocation, etc. The Prior, observing that he
was fragile in appearance and of an apparently delicate constitution,
remonstrated, pointing out to him how great were the austerities of the
Order, and reminding him of the bleakness of the hills amidst which the
monastery was situated, and of the perpetual winter which reigns there.
The young man replied insisting that he knew all this, and had counted the
cost, but that God would be his strength, and enable him by His grace to
overcome all obstacles. "Even though," said he, "_I should walk in the
shadow of death I shall fear no evil provided that God be with me_." Then
the Prior took a more serious tone. Determined to test to the utmost the
courage and resolution of the postulant, he asked him sharply if he knew
all that was required of those who aspire to enter the Carthusian Order.
"Are you aware," he said, "that in the first place we require him to work
at least one miracle? Can you do that?" "I cannot," replied the young
man, "but the power of God within me can. I trust myself entirely to His
goodness. I am certain that having called me to serve Him in this vocation,
and implanted in me a thorough disgust for the things of the world, He will
not permit me to look back, nor to return to that corrupt society which,
with all my heart and soul, I have renounced. Ask of me whatever sign you
will, I am convinced that God will work a miracle, even through me, in
testimony of this truth."
As he spoke the blood mounted to his forehead, his eyes shone like stars,
his whole visage seemed on fire with enthusiasm.
Dom Bruno, astonished at the vehemence of his words, opened his arms, and
clasping him to his heart received him at once among his children. Then
turning to those who stood around him, "My brothers," he said, "his is an
undeniable vocation. May God of His clemency often send such labourers
into the harvest of the Chartreuse." And to the young postulant, "Have
confidence, my son, God will help you, and will love you, and you will love
Him, and will serve Him among us. This is the miracle we expect you to
You will ask me, perhaps, what use our Blessed Father could make of this
example. I will tell you. When he was admitting any young girl into your
congregation, my sisters, he invariably referred to it. He used to speak
to her only of Calvary, of the nails, the thorns, the crosses, of inward
mortification, of surrender of will, and crucifixion of private judgment,
of dying wholly to self, in order to live only with God, in God, and for
God: in fine, of living no longer according to natural inclinations and
feelings, but absolutely according to the spirit of faith, and of your
Did anyone object that your Order was not so rigorous, or severe, as he
made it out to be; but that, on the contrary, the life led by its members
was easy, without many outward austerities, as was proved by the fact that
even the infirm and sickly were admitted into it, and attained to the same
sanctity as the rest, he replied: "Believe me, that if the body is there
preserved as if it were a vessel of election, the spirit is there tested
and tried in all possible ways, since the spirit that fails to stand every
possible trial is no stone fit for the building up of this congregation."
He went on to quote from the life of St. Bernard. Against that holy man it
was once urged that the austerities and bodily macerations practised in
his Order frightened away young men, and deterred them from entering it,
"Many," said the Saint, "see our crosses, but see not how well we are able
to carry them. It happens to our crosses, as it does to those which are
painted on the walls of a church when the Bishop in consecrating it makes a
second cross upon them with holy oil. The people see the cross made by the
painter, but they do not see that with which the Bishop has covered it. Our
crosses, so plainly visible, are softened by very many inward consolations,
which are concealed from the eyes of worldlings because they understand
not the spiritual things of God, nor see how we can find peace in this
bitterness which so repels those whose only thought is of themselves, and
of their own pleasures. In very truth," our Blessed Father continued, "the
worldling may notice in the rosebed of religion only the loveliness of
the flowers, and the sweetness of their perfume, but these conceal many
a thorn. The crosses of community life are hidden because the sisters of
this congregation have by _interior_ mortification to make up for what is
lacking in external austerities.
"This law of your Institute has been established out of consideration for
the weak and infirm, who may be admitted among you, and to whose service
the stronger members have to devote themselves. This is the reason why all
who purpose to enter the Order have to resolve to make war to the death
against their private judgment, and still more against their self-will
and self-love. This is why all ought to mortify all their passions and
affections, and absolutely to bend their understanding under the yoke of
obedience, to live, in short, no longer according to the old man, but
entirely according to the new man, in holiness and in justice. So to live
as to bear a continual cross even until death, and dying upon it, with the
Son of God, to say, _With Christ I am nailed to the Cross_, and _I live,
now not I, but Christ liveth in me._"
[Footnote 1: Gal. ii. 19, 20.]
UPON FOLLOWING THE COMMON LIFE.
He always praised _common_ life very highly. His exalted opinion of its
merits made him refuse to allow the Sisters of the Visitation to practise
extraordinary austerities in respect to dress or food. For these matters
he prescribed rules such as can easily be observed by anyone who wishes to
lead a christian life in the world. His spiritual daughters, following this
direction, imitate the example of Jesus Christ, of His Blessed Mother, and
of the disciples of our Lord, who led no other kind of life. For the rest,
they have at all times to submit themselves to the discretion and judgment
of their superiors, whose duty it is to decide for them on the expediency
of extraordinary mortifications after hearing the circumstances of the case
of any individual sister.
Our Saint himself often, indeed, practised bodily mortifications, but
always with judgment and prudence, for he knew full well that the object of
such austerities is the preservation of purity of soul, not the destruction
of bodily health.
In one word, he practically set the life of Jesus Christ before that of St.
John the Baptist.
UPON THE JUDGING OF VOCATIONS.
Although our Blessed Father has given you the fullest possible instructions
on this subject, in his seventeenth Conference, entitled, _On voting in a
Community_, I see that you are not quite satisfied in the matter.
I know very well that your dissatisfaction does not arise from any unworthy
motive, but only from a conscientious desire to do your duty to God, and
to the sisters whom you have in a way to judge. To relieve your minds of
doubt, I am about to supplement the teaching of that Conference with a few
thoughts suggested to me at various times by Blessed Francis himself, which
I put before you in words of my own.
In the first place, we must be careful never to confuse the terms
_vocation_ and _avocation_, for their meaning is very different.
An _avocation_ is the condition of life in which we serve God.
A _vocation_ is His call to that condition of life. When we call a servant
to command him to do something, the calling him is one thing, his obeying
and employing himself as directed quite another; and this, even if he do
the work precisely as he is told, and no more. Now, there are two sorts of
vocation. The first is the call to faith or grace; the second, the call to
a particular avocation in life.
To follow the first vocation, viz., to Faith, is necessary for salvation,
since he who refuses to listen to this call and to obey its voice risks
the loss of his immortal soul. A pagan or heretic called by God to embrace
Christianity or to submit to the Catholic Church, and to the end neglecting
this call, must needs be lost, for out of the true Church there is no
salvation. Again, if a member of the true Church who is spiritually dead in
mortal sin, refuse to listen to the call, or vocation, of preventing grace
which bids him return to God by confession, or by contrition of heart, he
is in a state of damnation.
Not so, however, with the second kind of call or vocation. As this is only
to some particular condition of life in the world or the cloister, although
we must not neglect it, but must listen with respect to what it may please
God to say to our heart, yet essentially it is not of vital importance to
the welfare of our soul that we should follow such a call, since, at the
most, it is but an inward counsel, which may be acted upon or not according
to our choice.
And now remember that the counsels given in Holy Scripture are not
precepts. Our Blessed Father has often said that it would be not only
an error, but a heresy, to maintain that there is any kind of legitimate
calling or avocation in which it is impossible to save one's soul. On the
contrary, in each, grace is offered, by means of which we may safely walk
before God in holiness and justice all the days of our life.
To deny this would be to cut off from the hope of salvation, not thousands
only, but millions of men and women, those, namely, who are engaged all
their lives long in occupations which they have undertaken, not only
without a vocation from God, but sometimes even against their own
This is the teaching of this Blessed Father in his Philothea, where he
says, "It is an error, nay, a heresy, to wish to exclude the highest
holiness of life from the soldier's barrack, the mechanic's workshop, the
courts of princes, or the household of married people."
He used to say that it is not sufficient merely to love our calling, but
that our most earnest endeavours as true and faithful Christians should be
to strive to attain perfection in that same calling.
He remarked, too, that we do wrong to waste time in arguing as to what that
perfection consists in. The glory of God should be the one aim of every
Only by the practice of virtue can that final end be reached, and no virtue
unaccompanied by charity avails to attain to it. Therefore, charity is the
bond of all perfection, nay, itself is all perfection.
He attached much more importance to the spirit in which a vocation is
followed out, than to the mere fact of its being embraced.
And this because the salvation of our souls, which we shall owe to God's
grace, does not depend so much on the nature of our particular vocation or
calling, but on our own persevering faithful submission to the will of God,
which will of God is the salvation of us all.
Now, as we can save our souls, so we can also lose them in any calling
Would you desire a more unmistakable vocation than that of King Saul, or
one more glorious than that of Judas? Yet both were lost. Where will you
find one more troubled, and more interrupted by sin, than that of King
David? Yet in spite of all that happened to him, how happy was its issue.
The vocation of a certain young lady who resolved upon taking the veil, but
only out of a sort of despair, and because irritated against her family,
was nevertheless approved by our Blessed Father, who to justify his
approval gave the following explanation.
"As regards the vocation of this young lady, I consider it good, mingled
though it be in her mind with imperfections and desirable though it would
have been that she should have come to God simply and solely for the sake
of the happiness of being wholly His. Remember that those whom God calls to
Himself are not all drawn by Him with the same kind, or degree, of motives.
"There are but few who give themselves absolutely to His service from the
one only desire to be His, and to serve Him alone.
"Among the women whose conversion the Gospel has made famous, Magdalen
alone came through love, and with love.
"The adulteress came through public shame, the woman of Samaria from
private and individual self-reproach, the woman of Canaan in order to
be healed of bodily infirmity. Again, among the saints, St. Paul, the
first hermit, at the age of fifteen, took refuge in his cave to escape
persecution. St. Ignatius Loyola came through distress and suffering, and
so on with hundreds of others. We must not expect all to begin by being
perfect. It matters little how we commence, provided only that we are
firmly resolved to go on well, and to end well. Certainly Leah intruded
with scant courtesy into Rachel's promised place, as the wife of Jacob, yet
she afterwards conducted herself so irreproachably, and behaved with such
modesty and sweetness, that to her rather than to Rachel was vouchsafed the
blessing of being an ancestress of our Lord.
"Those who were compelled to come into the marriage feast in the Gospel,
ate, and drank of the best, nor, had they been the guests for whom the
banquet was prepared, could they have fared better. If, then, we would have
a pledge of their good living and perseverance, we must lock at the good
dispositions of those who enter Religion rather than at the motives which
impel them: for there are many souls who would not have entered the convent
at all if the world had smiled upon them, and whom we nevertheless may find
to be resolute in trampling under their feet the vanities of that same
[Footnote 1: 1 Cor. vii.]
UPON PRUDENCE AND SIMPLICITY.
"I know not," said our Blessed Father, on one occasion, "what this poor
virtue of prudence has done to me that I find it so difficult to love it:
if I do so at all, it is only because I have no choice in the matter,
seeing that it is the very salt of life, and a light to show us the way out
of its difficulties.
"On the other hand, the beauty of simplicity charms me. I would rather
possess the harmlessness of one dove than the wisdom of a hundred serpents.
I know that a combination of wisdom and simplicity is useful, and that the
Gospel recommends it to us; but I am of opinion that in this matter it
should be as it is with certain medicines, in which a minute dose of poison
is mixed with many wholesome drugs. If the doses, of serpent and dove were
equal, I would not trust the medicine; the serpent can kill the dove, the
dove cannot kill the serpent. Besides, there is a sort of prudence that is
human and worldly which Scripture calls carnal wisdom, as it is only
used for wrong-doing, and is so dangerous and so subtle that those who
possess it are unconscious of their own danger. They deceive others, yet
are the first to be themselves deceived.
"I am told that in an age so crafty as our own prudence is necessary, if
only to prevent our being wronged. I say nothing against this dictum, but
I do believe that more in harmony with the mind of the Gospel is that
which teaches us that it is great wisdom in the sight of God to suffer
men to devour us, and to take away our goods, bearing the loss of them
joyfully, knowing that a better and a more secure substance awaits us. In
a word, a good Christian should always choose rather to be the anvil than
the hammer, the robbed than the robber, the victim than the murderer, the
martyr than the tyrant. Let the world rage, let the prudence of so-called
philosophy stand aghast, let the flesh despair; it is better to be good and
simple than clever and wicked."
[Footnote 1: Matt. x. 16.]
[Footnote 2: Rom. viii. 6.]
[Footnote 3: 2 Cor. xi. 20.]
THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.
Some of the friends of our Saint, actuated by this spirit of worldly
prudence, having seen the flattering reception given by the public to
his Philothea, which had at once been translated into various languages,
advised him not to write any more books, as it was impossible that any
other work from his pen should meet with equal success.
These remarks were unwelcome to our Blessed Father, who afterwards said to
me: "These good people no doubt love me, and their love makes them speak
as they do, out of the abundance of their hearts; but if they will only be
so good as to turn their eyes for a moment from me, vile and wretched as I
am, and fix them upon God, they will soon change their note; for if it has
pleased Him to give His blessing to that first little book of mine, why
should He deny it to my next? And if from little Philothea He made His
glory to shine forth, as He brought forth the light from darkness, and
the sacred fire from the clay, is His arm thereby shortened, or His
power diminished? Can He not make living and thirst-quenching water flow
forth from the jaw-bone of an ass? But these good people do not dwell upon
such considerations; they think solely of my personal glory, as if we ought
to desire credit for ourselves, and not rather ascribe all to God, who
works in us whatever good seems to emanate from us.
"Now, according to the spirit of the Gospel, so far from its being right to
depend upon the applause of the world, St. Paul declares that if we please
men, we are not the servants of God, the friendship of the world being
enmity with God. If then that little book has brought to me some vain
and unmerited praise, it would be well worth my while to build upon its
foundation some inferior work, so as to beat down the smoke of this
incense, and earn that contempt from men which makes us so much the more
pleasing to God, because we are thereby more and more crucified to the
[Footnote 1: Gen. i. 2, 3.]
[Footnote 2: Mach. i. 19, 22.]
[Footnote 3: Gal. i. 10.]
UPON MENTAL PRAYER.
I once asked our Blessed Father if it was not better to take one single
point for mental prayer, and to draw from this point one single affection
and resolution, as I thought that by taking three points and deducing from
them very many affections and resolutions great confusion and perplexity
of mind were occasioned. He replied that unity and simplicity in all
things, but especially in spiritual exercises, must always be preferred to
multiplicity and complexity, but that to beginners, and to those little
skilled in this exercise, several points should be proposed so as fully to
occupy their minds.
I enquired whether, supposing that a single point were taken, it would not
be better to dwell likewise upon only one affection and resolution rather
than upon several. He answered that when Spring is richest in flowers, bees
make the least honey, because they are so delighted to flutter from flower
to flower that they do not give themselves time to extract the essence and
spirit of which they form their combs. Drones make a great deal of noise
and produce a very small result. And to the question whether it was not
better often to repeat and dwell upon the same affection and resolution,
rather than to develop and expand it by thinking it out, he replied that we
ought to imitate painters and sculptors, who work by repeating again and
again the strokes of their brush and chisel, and that in order to make a
deep impression on the heart it is often necessary to go over the same
thing many times.
He added that as those sink, who in swimming move their legs and arms too
rapidly, it being necessary to stretch them leisurely and easily, so also
those who are too eager in mental prayer, faint away in their thoughts,
their distracted meditations causing them only pain and dissatisfaction.
I am asked to explain that saying attributed by our Blessed Father to the
great St. Anthony, that he who prays ought to have his mind so fixed upon
God, as even to forget that he is praying. Here is the explanation in our
Saint's own words. He says in one of his Conferences: "The soul must be
kept steadfastly in this path (that, namely, of love and confidence in God)
without allowing it to waste its powers in continually trying to ascertain
what precisely it is doing and whether its work is satisfactory. Alas! our
satisfactions and consolations do not always satisfy God: they only feed
that miserable love and care of ourselves which has to do neither with God
nor with the thought of God. Certainly, children whom our Lord has set
before us as models of the perfection to be aimed at by us are, generally
speaking, especially in the presence of their parents, quite untroubled
about what is to happen. They cling to them without a thought of providing
for themselves. The pleasures their parents procure them they accept in
good faith and enjoy in simplicity, without any curiosity whatever as to
their causes or effects. The love they feel for their parents and their
reliance upon them is all they need. Those whose one desire is to please
the Divine Lover have neither inclination nor leisure to turn back upon
themselves, for their minds tend continually in the direction whither love
There is a saying of Tauler's, that holy man who wrote a book on mystic
theology, which our Blessed Francis held in high esteem, and was never
weary of inculcating upon those of his disciples who were anxious to lead a
devout life, or who, having already entered upon it, needed encouragement
to make progress in it. Tauler was asked where he, who was so great a
contemplative, and who held such close and familiar communication with God,
had found God. He answered, "Where I found myself." On being further asked
where he had found himself, he said, "Where I forgot myself in God."
He went on to say, "We must lose ourselves in order to find ourselves in
God, as it is written: _He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that
hateth his life in this--world keepeth it unto life eternal._ _No man
can serve two masters, God and mammon._ To follow one you must of
necessity quit the other. _There is no fellowship between light and
darkness or between Christ and Belial._
"The two lovers who built, one the City of Jerusalem, the other the City of
Babylon, of whom St. Augustine speaks, have nothing in common. It is the
struggle of Esau and Jacob over again."
[Footnote 1: Conf. xii.]
[Footnote 2: John xii. 25.]
[Footnote 3: St. Matt. 24.]
[Footnote 4: Cor. vi. 14, 15.]
As the Saint's own ordinary and favourite spiritual exercise was the
practice of the presence of God, so he advised those whom he directed in
the ways of holiness to devote themselves most earnestly to recollection,
and to the use of frequent aspirations or ejaculatory prayers.
On one occasion I asked him whether there would be more spiritual loss in
omitting the exercise of mental prayer or in omitting that of recollection
and aspirations. He answered that the omission of mental prayer might be
repaired during the day or night by frequent withdrawal of the mind into
God and by aspirations to Him, but that mental prayer unaccompanied by
aspirations was, in his estimation, like a bird with clipped wings. He went
on to say that: "by recollection we retire into God, and draw God into
ourselves, as it is written: _I opened my mouth, and panted, because I
longed for Thy commandments_, by which is meant the mouth of the heart
to which God always graciously inclines His ear. In the Canticle the bride
says that her Beloved led her into His _cellar of wine, he set in order
charity in me_. Or, as another version has it, _He enrolled me under the
banner of His love_. Just as wine is stored up in vaults or cellars, and
as soldiers gather under their standards or banners; so all the faculties
of our soul gather together around the goodness and love of God by short
spiritual retreats, made from time to time throughout the day. But when are
they made, and in what place? At any moment, and in any place, and there
is no meal, or company, or employment, or occupation of any sort which can
hinder them, just as they on their part neither hinder nor interfere with
anything that has to be done. On the contrary, this is a salt which seasons
every kind of food, or rather a sugar which never spoils any sauce. It
consists only in inward glances from ourselves and from God, from ourselves
into God, and from God into ourselves, without pictures or speech, or any
outward aid; and the simpler this recollection is the better it is. As
regards aspirations, they also are short but swift dartings of the soul
into God, and can be made by a simple mental glance cast towards Him. _Cast
thy care_, or thoughts, _upon the Lord_, says David. The more vigorously
an arrow is shot from the bow the more swift is its flight. The more
vehement and loving is an aspiration, the more truly is it a spiritual
lightning-flash. These transports or aspirations, of which we have so many
formulas, are the better the shorter they are. One of St. Bruno seems to me
excellent on account of its brevity: _O goodness of God_; that also of St.
Francis, _My God and my all_! and that of St. Augustine, _Oh! to love, to
go forward, to die to self, to reach God_!"
Our Blessed Father treats excellently of these two exercises in his
Philothea, and recommends them strongly, saying that they hold to one
another, as did Jacob and Esau at their birth, and follow one another,
as do respiration and aspiration. And just as in respiration we draw the
fresh outer air into our lungs, and by aspiration drive out that into which
the heat of our bodies has entered, so by the breath of recollection we
draw God into ourselves, or retire into God, and by aspirations we cast
ourselves into the arms of His goodness.
Happy the soul that often thus breathes, and thus aspires, for she abides
in God and God in her.
[Footnote 1: Psalm cxviii, 131.]
[Footnote 2: Cant. ii. 4.]
[Footnote 3: Psalm liv. 23.]
UPON INTERIOR RECOLLECTION AND EJACULATORY PRAYERS.
The two exercises which he especially recommended to his penitents were
interior recollection and ejaculatory aspirations and prayers. By them, he
said, the defects of all other spiritual exercises might be remedied, and
without them those others were saltless, that is, without savour. He called
interior recollection the collecting or gathering up of all the powers of
the soul into the heart, there to hold communion with God, alone with Him,
heart to heart.
This Blessed Francis could do in all places and at all hours without being
hindered by any company or occupations. This recollection of God and of
ourselves was the favourite exercise of the great St. Augustine, who so
often exclaimed: "Lord, let me know Thee, and know myself!" and of the
great St. Francis, who cried out: "Who art Thou, my God and my Lord? and
who am I, poor dust and a worm of the earth?" This frequent looking up to
God and then down upon ourselves keeps us wonderfully to our duties, and
either prevents us from falling, or helps us to raise ourselves quickly
from our falls, as the Psalmist says: _I set the Lord always in my sight:
for He is at my right hand, that I be not moved_.
_Thou hast held me by my right hand; and by Thy will thou hast conducted
me, and with Thy glory Thou hast received me_. He teaches us how to
practise this exercise in his Philothea, where, dealing with the subject of
aspirations or ejaculatory prayers, he says: "In this exercise of spiritual
retreat and ejaculatory prayers lies the great work of devotion. We may
make up for the deficiency of all other prayers, but failure in this can
scarcely ever be repaired. Without it we cannot well lead the contemplative
life, and can only lead the active life very imperfectly; without it repose
is idleness, and labour only vexation. This is why I conjure you to embrace
it with your whole heart, and never to lay it aside."
[Footnote 1: Psalm xv. 8.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm lxxii. 24.]
[Footnote 3: Part ii. c. xii. and xiii.]
UPON DOING AND ENDURING.
His opinion was that one ounce of suffering was worth more than a pound of
action; but then it must be of suffering sent by God, and not self-chosen.
Indeed, to endure pain which is of our own choosing is rather to do than
to suffer, and, speaking in general, our having chosen it spoils our good
work, because self-love has insinuated itself into our motives. We wish to
serve God in one way, while He desires to be served in another; we wish
_what_ He wishes, but not _as_ He wishes it. We do not submit ourselves
wholly and as we should do to His will.
A person who was very devout and who was accustomed to spend much time
in mental prayer, being attacked with severe headache, was forbidden by
her doctor to practise this devotion, as it increased her suffering and
prevented her recovery. The patient much distressed at this prohibition
wrote to consult our Blessed Father on the subject, and this is his reply:
"As regards meditation," he says, "the doctors are right. While you are
so weak, you must abstain from it; but to make up you must double your
ejaculatory prayers, and offer them all to God as an act of acquiescence
in His good pleasure, which, though preventing you from meditating, in no
way separates you from Himself, but, on the contrary, enables you to unite
yourself more closely to Him by the practice of calm and holy resignation.
What matters it how or by what means we are united to God? Truly, since
we seek Him alone, and since we find Him no less in mortification than in
prayer, especially when He visits us with sickness, the one ought to be as
welcome to us as the other. Moreover, ejaculatory prayers and the silent
lifting of the heart to God, are really a continued meditation, and the
patient endurance of pain and distress is the worthiest offering we can
possibly make to Him who saved us through suffering. Read also occasionally
some good book that will fill up what is wanting to you of food for the
UPON MORTIFICATION AND PRAYER.
Our Blessed Father considered that mortification without prayer is like a
body without a soul; and prayer without mortification like a soul without
a body. He desired that the two should never be separated, but that, like
Martha and Mary, they should without disputing, nay, in perfect harmony,
unite in serving our Lord. He compared them to the scales in a balance, one
of which goes down when the other goes up. In order to raise the soul by
prayer, we must lower the body by mortification, otherwise the flesh will
weigh down the soul and hinder it from rising up to God, whose spirit will
not dwell with a man sunk in gross material delights or cares.
The lily and the rose of prayer and contemplation can only grow and
flourish among the thorns of mortification. We cannot reach the hill of
incense, the symbol of prayer, except by the steep ascent on which we
find the myrrh of mortification, needed to preserve our bodies from the
corruption of sin.
Just as incense, which in Scripture represents prayer, does not give forth
its perfume until it is burned, neither can prayer ascend to Heaven unless
it proceeds from a mortified heart. Mortification averts temptations, and
prayer becomes easy when we are sheltered under the protecting wings of
mortification. When we are dead to ourselves and to our passions we begin
to live to God. He begins to feed us in prayer with the bread of life and
understanding, and with the manna of His inspirations. In fine, we become
like that pillar of aromatic smoke to which the Bride is compared,
compounded of all the spices of the perfumer.
Our Blessed Father's maxim on this subject was that: "We ought to live in
this world as if our soul were in heaven and our body in the tomb."
[Footnote 1: Cant. iii. 6.]
UPON THE PRESENCE OF GOD.
The practice of recollection of the presence of God was so much insisted
upon by our Blessed Father that, as you know, my sisters, he recommended it
to your Congregation to be the daily bread and constant nourishment of your
He used to say that to be recollected in God is the occupation of the
blessed; nay, more, the very essence of their blessedness. Our Lord in
the Gospel says that the angels see continually, without interruption
or intermission, the face of their Father in heavens and is it not life
eternal to see God and to be always in His most holy presence, like the
angels, who are called the supporters of His throne.
You know that whenever you are gathered together for recreation, one of
you is always appointed as a sort of sentinel to watch over the proper
observance of this holy practice, pronouncing from time to time, aloud,
these words: "Sisters, we remind your Charities of the holy presence of
God," adding, if it has been a day of general communion, "and of the holy
communion of to-day."
Our Blessed Father on this subject says in his _Devout Life_: "Begin all
your prayers, whether mental or vocal, by an act of the presence of God,
Adhere strictly to this rule, the value of which you will soon realize."
And again: "Most of the failures of good people in the discharge of their
duty come to pass because they do not keep themselves sufficiently in the
presence of God."
If you desire more instruction on the matter, read again what he has
written about it in the same book.
[Footnote 1: Part ii. chap. 1.]
HIS UNITY OF SPIRIT WITH GOD.
_He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit_, says St. Paul.
Our Blessed Father had arrived at that degree of union with God which is in
some sort a unity, because the will of God in it becomes the soul of our
will, that is, its life and moving principle, even as our soul is the life
and the moving principle of our body. Hence his rapturous ejaculation:
"Oh! how good a thing it is to live only in God, to labour only in God, to
rejoice only in God!"
Again, he expresses this sentiment even more forcibly in the following
words: "Henceforth, with the help of God's grace, I will no longer desire
to be anything to any one, or that any one be anything to me, save in God,
and for God only. I hope to attain to this when I shall have abased myself
utterly before Him. Blessed be God! It seems to me that all things are
indeed as nothing to me now, except in Him, for whom and in whom I love
every soul more and more tenderly."
Elsewhere he says: "Ah! when will this poor human love of attentions,
courtesies, responsiveness, sympathy, and favours be purified and brought
into perfect accordance with the all pure love of the Divine will? When
will our self-love cease to desire outward tokens of God's nearness and
rest content with the changeless and abiding assurance which He gives to
us of His eternity? What can sensible presence add to a love which God has
made, which He supports, and which He maintains? What marks can be lacking
of perseverance in a unity which God has created? Neither presence nor
absence can add anything to a love formed by God Himself."
[Footnote 1: 1 Cor. vi. 17.]
HIS GRATITUDE TO GOD FOR SPIRITUAL CONSOLATIONS.
In one of his letters written to a person both virtuous and honourable, in
whom he had great confidence, he says: "If you only knew how God deals with
my heart, you would thank Him for His goodness to me, and entreat Him to
give me the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, so that I may rightly act
upon the inspirations of wisdom and understanding which He communicates to
me." He often expressed the same thought to me in different words. "Ah!" he
would say, "how good must not the God of Israel be to such as are upright
of heart, since He is so gracious to those even who have a heart like mine,
miserable, heedless of His graces, and earth-bound! Oh! how sweet is His
spirit to the souls that love Him and seek Him with all their might! Truly,
His name is as balm, and it is no wonder that so many ardent spirits follow
Him with enthusiastic devotion, eagerly and joyously hastening to Him, led
by the sweetness of His attractions. Oh! what great things we are taught
by the unction of divine goodness! Being at the same time illumined by
so soft and calm a light that we can scarcely tell whether the sweetness
is more grateful than the light, or the light than the sweetness! Truly,
the breasts of the Spouse are better than wine, and sweeter than all the
perfumes of Arabia.
"Sometimes I tremble for fear that God may be giving me my Paradise in this
world! I do not really know what adversity is; I have never looked poverty
in the face; the pains which I have experienced have been mere scratches,
just grazing the skin; the calumnies spoken against me are nothing but
a gust of wind, and the remembrance of them dies away with the sound of
the voice which utters them. It is not only that I am free from the ills
of life, I am, as it were, choked with good things, both temporal and
spiritual. Yet in the midst of all I remain ungrateful and insensible to
His goodness. Oh! for pity's sake, help me sometimes to thank God, and to
pray Him not to let me have all my reward at once!
"He, indeed, shows that He knows my weakness and my misery by treating me
thus like a child, and feeding me with sweetmeats and milk, rather than
with more solid food. But oh, when will He give me the grace, after having
basked in the sunshine of His favours, to sigh and groan a little under the
burden of His Cross, since to reign with Him, we must suffer with Him, and
to live with Him, we must die together with Him? Assuredly we must either
love or die, or rather we must die that we may love Him; that is to say,
die to all other love to live only for His love, and live only for Him who
died that we may live eternally in the embrace of His divine goodness."
[Footnote 1: Cantic. i. 1, 2.]
UPON THE SHEDDING OF TEARS.
Although he was himself very easily moved to tears, he did not set any
specially high value on what is called the gift of tears, except when it
proceeds, not from nature, but directly from the Father of light, who sends
His rain upon the earth from the clouds. He told me once that, just as
it would be contrary to physical laws for rain, in place of falling from
heaven to earth, to rise from earth to heaven; so it was against all order
that sensible devotion should produce that which is supernatural. For this
would be for nature to produce grace. He compared tears shed, in moments of
mental excitement, by persons gifted with a strong power of imagination,
to hot rains which fall during the most sultry days of summer, and which
scorch rather than refresh vegetation. But when supernatural devotion,
seated in the higher powers of the soul, breaking down all restraining
banks, spreads itself over the whole being of man, he compared the tears
it causes him to shed to a mighty, irresistible and fertilising torrent,
making glad the City of God. Tears of this sort, he thought much to be
desired, seeing that they give great glory to God and profit to the soul.
Of those who shed such tears, he said, the Gospel Beatitude speaks when it
tells us that: _Blessed are they that weep_.
In one of his letters he writes as follows: "I say nothing, my good
daughter, about your imagining yourself hard of heart, because you have no
tears to shed. No, my child, your heart has nothing to do with this. Your
lack of tears proceeds not from any want of affectionate resolve to love,
God, but from the absence of sensible devotion, which does not depend at
all upon our heart, but upon our natural temperament, which we are unable
to change. For just as in this world it is impossible for us to make rain
to fall when we want it, or to stop it at our own good pleasure, so also it
is not in our power to weep from a feeling of devotion when we want to do
so, or, on the other hand, not to weep when carried away by our emotion.
Our remaining unmoved at prayer and meditation proceeds, not from any fault
of ours, but from the providence of God, who wishes us to travel by land,
and often by desert land, rather than by water, and who wills to accustom
us to labour and hardship in our spiritual life." On this same subject
I once heard him make one of his delightful remarks: "What!" he cried,
"are not dry sweetmeats quite as good as sweet drinks? Indeed they have
one special advantage. You can carry them about with you in your pocket,
whereas the sweet drink must be disposed of on the spot. It is childish
to refuse to eat your food when none other is to be had, because it is
quite dry. The sea is God's, for He made it, but His hands also laid the
foundations of the dry land, that is to say, of the earth. We are land
animals, not fish. One goes to heaven by land as easily as by water. God
does not send the deluge every day. Great floods are not less to be feared
than great droughts!"
[Footnote 1: Matt. v. 5.]
UPON JOY AND SADNESS.
As the blessedness of the life to come is called joy in Scripture, _Good
and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord_, so also--it is in
joy that the happiness of this present life consists. Not, however, in all
kinds of joy, for the _joy of the hypocrite_ is _but for a moment_, that
is to say, lasts but for a moment.
It is said of the wicked that they _spend their days in wealth, and in a
moment go down to hell_, and that _mourning taketh hold of the end of
True, joy can only proceed from inward peace, and this peace from the
testimony of a good conscience, which is called _a continual feast_.
This is that joy of the Lord, and in the Lord, which the Apostle recommends
so strongly, provided it be accompanied by charity and modesty.
Our Blessed Father thought so highly of this joyous peace and peaceful joy
that he looked upon it as constituting the only true happiness possible in
this life. Indeed he put this belief of his into such constant practice
that a great servant of God, one of his most intimate friends, declared him
to be the possessor of an imperturbable and unalterable peace.
On the other hand, he was as great an enemy to sadness, trouble, and undue
hurry and eagerness, as he was a friend to peace and joy. Besides all that
he says on the subject in his Philothea and his Theotimus, he writes thus
to a soul who, under the pretext of austerity and penance, had abandoned
herself to disquietude and grief: Be at peace, and nourish your heart with
the sweetness of heavenly love, without which man's heart is without life,
and man's life without happiness. Never give way to sadness, that enemy of
devotion. What is there that should be able to sadden the servant of Him
who will be our joy through all eternity? Surely sin, and sin only, should
cast us down and grieve us. If we have sinned, when once our act of sorrow
at having sinned has been made, there ought to follow in its train joy and
[Footnote 1: Job xx. 5.]
[Footnote 2: Job xxi. 13.]
[Footnote 3: Prov. xiv. 13.]
[Footnote 4: Ibid. xv. 15.]
UPON THE DEGREES OF TRUE DEVOTION.
Loving devotion, or devout love, has three degrees, which are: 1. When we
perform those exercises which relate to the service of God, but with some
sluggishness. 2. When we betake ourselves to them with readiness. 3. When
we run and even fly to execute them with joy and with eagerness.
Our Blessed Father illustrates this by two very apt comparisons.
"Ostriches never fly, barn door fowls fly heavily, close to the ground, and
but seldom; eagles, doves, and swallows fly often, swiftly and high. Thus
sinners never fly to God, but keep to the ground, nor so much as look up to
"Those who are in God's grace but have not yet attained to devotion, fly
to God by their good actions rarely, slowly, and very heavily; but devout
souls fly to God frequently and promptly and soar high above the earth."
His second comparison is this:
"Just as a man when convalescent from an illness walks as much as is
necessary, but slowly and wearily, so the sinner being healed from his
iniquity walks as much as God commands him to do, but still only slowly and
heavily, until he attains to devotion. Then, like a man in robust health,
he runs and bounds along the way of God's commandments; and, more than
that, he passes swiftly into the paths of the counsels and of heavenly
inspirations. In fact, charity and supernatural devotion are not more
different from one another than flame from fire, seeing that charity is
a spiritual fire, and when its flame burns fiercely is called devotion.
Thus devotion adds nothing to the fire of charity except the flame, which
renders charity prompt, active, and diligent, not only in observing the
commandments of God, but also in the practice of the counsels and heavenly
[Footnote 1: _The Devout Life_. Part i. c. i.]
THE TEST OF TRUE DEVOTION.
It was his opinion that the touchstone of true devotion is the regulation
of exercises of piety according to one's state of life. He often compared
devotion to a liquid which takes the form of the vessel into which it is
put. Here are his words to Philothea on the subject : "Devotion," he
says, "must be differently practised by a gentleman, by an artisan, by a
servant, by a prince, by a widow, by a maiden, by a wife, and not only
must the practice of devotion be different, but it must in measure and in
degree be accommodated to the strength, occupations, and duties of each
individual. I ask you, Philothea, would it be proper for a Bishop to wish
to lead the solitary life of a Carthusian monk? If a father of a family
were as heedless of heaping up riches as a Capuchin; if an artisan spent
the whole day in church like a monk; if a monk, like a Bishop, were
constantly in contact with the world in the service of his neighbour,
would not the devotion of each of these be misplaced, ill-regulated, and
laughable? Yet this mistake is very often made, and the world, which cannot
or will not distinguish between devotion and indiscretion in those who
think themselves devout, murmurs against and blames piety in general,
though in reality piety has nothing to do with mistakes such as these."
He goes on to say: "When creating them, God commanded the plants to bring
forth their fruits, each according to its kind; so He commands christians,
who are the living plants of His Church, to produce fruits of devotion,
each according to his state of life and calling."
At the close of the same chapter, our Blessed Father says: "Devotion or
piety, when it is real, spoils nothing, but on the contrary perfects
everything. Whenever it clashes with the legitimate calling of those who
profess it, you may be quite certain that such devotion is spurious. 'The
bee,' says Aristotle, 'draws her honey from a flower, without injuring that
flower in the least, and leaves it fresh and intact as she found it.'"
[Footnote 1: _The Devout Life_. Part i. c, 3.]
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A SERVANT OF GOD.
Some think that they are not making any progress in the service of God
unless they feel sensible devotion and interior joy continually, forgetting
that the road to heaven is not carpeted with rose leaves but rather
bristling with thorns. Does not the divine oracle tell us that through much
tribulation we must enter the Kingdom of Heaven? And that it is only taken
by those who do violence to themselves? Our Blessed Father writes thus to a
soul that was making the above mistake:
"Live wholly for God, and for the sake of the love which He has borne to
you, do you bear with yourself in all your miseries. In fact, the being a
good servant of God does not mean the being always spiritually consoled,
the always feeling sweet and calm, the never feeling aversion or repugnance
to what is good. If this were so, neither St. Paul, nor St. Angela, nor St.
Catherine of Siena, could have served God well. To be a servant of God is
to be charitable towards our neighbour, to have, in the superior part of
our soul, an unswerving resolution to follow the will of God, joined to
the deepest humility and a simple confidence in Him; however many times we
fall, always to rise up again; in fine, to be patient with ourselves in our
miseries, and with others in their imperfections."
Another error into which good people fall is that of always wanting to find
out whether or not they are in a state of grace. If you tranquillize them
on this point, then they begin to torment themselves as to the exact amount
of progress they have made, and are actually making, in this happy state of
grace, as though their progress were in any way their own work. They quite
forget that though one may plant and another water, it is God who gives the
In order to cure this spiritual malady, which borders very closely upon
presumption, he gives in another of his letters the following wise counsel:
"Remember that all that is past is nothing, and that every day we should
say with David: Now only am I beginning to love my God truly. Do much for
God, and do nothing without love, let this be your aim, eat and drink for
THAT DEVOTION DOES NOT ALWAYS SPRING FROM CHARITY.
"Do not deceive yourself," he once said to me, "people may be very devout,
and at the same time very wicked." "But," I said, "they are then surely
not devout, but hypocrites!" "No, no," he answered, "I am speaking of true
devotion." As I was quite unable to solve this riddle, I begged him to
explain it to me, which he did most kindly, and, if I can trust my memory,
more or less as follows:
"Devotion is of itself and of its own nature a moral and acquired virtue,
not one that is supernatural and infused, otherwise it would be a
theological virtue, which it is not. It is then a virtue, subordinate to
that which is called Religion, and according to some is only one of its
acts; as religion again is subordinate to one of the four cardinal
virtues, namely justice. Now you know that all the moral virtues, and even
the theological ones of faith and hope, are compatible with mortal sin,
although become, as it were, shapeless and dead, being without charity,
which is their form, their soul, their very life. For, if one can have
faith so great as to be able to move mountains, without charity, and yet,
precisely because charity is absent, be utterly worthless and wicked; if it
is possible to be a true prophet and yet a bad man, as were Saul, Balaam,
and Caiphas; to work miracles as Judas is believed to have done, and yet to
be sinful as he was; if we can give all our goods to the poor, and suffer
martyrdom by fire, without having charity, much more may we be devout
without being charitable, since devotion is a virtue less estimable in
its nature than those which we have mentioned. You must not then think it
strange when I tell you that it is possible to be devout and yet wicked,
since we may have faith, mercy, patience, and constancy to the extent of
which I have spoken, and yet, with all that be stained with many deadly
vices, such as pride, envy, hatred, intemperance, and the like."
"What then," I asked, "is a truly devout man?" He answered: "I tell you
again that, though in sin, one may be truly devout. But such devotion,
though a virtue, is dead, not living," I rejoined: "But how can this dead
devotion be real?" "In the same way," he replied, "as a dead body is a real
body, soulless though it be." I rejoined: "But a dead body is not really a
man." He answered: "It is not a true man, whole and perfect, but it is the
true body of a man, and the body of a true man though dead. Thus, devotion
without charity is true, though dead and imperfect. It is true devotion
dead and shapeless, but not true devotion living and fully formed. It
is only necessary to draw a distinction between the words, _true_, and
_complete_ or _perfect_, which is done so clearly by St. Thomas, in
order to find the solution of your difficulty. He who possesses devotion
without charity has _true_, but not _perfect_ or _complete_ devotion; in
him who has charity, devotion is not only true but perfect. By charity he
becomes good, and by devotion devout; losing charity he loses supernatural
goodness and becomes sinful or bad, but does not necessarily cease to be
devout. This is why I told you that one could be devout and yet wicked.
So also by mortal sin we do not necessarily lose faith or hope, except we
deliberately make an act of unbelief or of despair."
He had expressed a somewhat similar idea in the first chapter of his
Philothea, though I had not then noticed it. These are his words:
"Devotion is nothing more than a spiritual agility and vivacity, helped
by which charity acts more readily; or better, helped by which we more
readily elicit acts of charity. It belongs to charity to make us keep God's
commandments, but it belongs to devotion to make us keep them promptly and
diligently. This is why he who does not observe all the commandments of God
cannot be considered either good or supernaturally devout, since in order
to be good we must have charity, and to be devout we must have besides
charity great alertness and promptitude in doing charitable actions."
In another of his books, speaking to Theotimus, he says:
"All true lovers of God are equal in this, that all give their heart to
God, and with all their strength; but they are unequal in this, that they
give it diversely and in different manners, whence some give all their
heart, with all their strength, but less perfectly than others. This
one gives it all by martyrdom; this, all by virginity; this, all by the
pastoral office; and whilst all give it all by the observance of the
commandments, yet some give it with less perfection than others."
We must remember that true devotion cannot be restricted to the practice of
one virtue only; we must employ all our powers in the worship and service
of God. One of the chief maxims of Blessed Francis was that the sort of
devotion which is not only not a hindrance but actually a help to us in our
legitimate calling is the only true one for us, and that any other is false
for us. He illustrates this teaching to Philothea by saying that devotion
is like a liquid which takes the shape of the vessel into which it is put.
He even went further, boldly declaring that it was not simply an error but
a heresy to exclude devotion from any calling whatever, provided it be a
just and legitimate one. This shows the mistake of those who imagine that
we cannot save our souls in the world, as if salvation were only for the
Pharisee, and not for the Publican, nor for the house of Zaccheus. This
error which approaches very nearly to that of Pelagius, makes salvation to
be dependent on certain callings, as though the saving of our souls were
the work of nature rather than of grace. Our Blessed Father supports his
teaching in this matter by many examples, proving that in every condition
of life we may be holy and may consequently save our souls, and arrive at a
very high degree of glory.
He concludes by saying: "Some even have been known to lose perfection
in solitude, which is often so helpful for its attainment, and to have
regained it in a busy city life which seems to be so unfavourable to it.
Wherever we are, we can and ought to aspire to the perfect life."
[Footnote 1: S. Thomas 2a, 2ae, Quaest, lxxxi., art. 2.]
[Footnote 2: 2a, 2ae, Quaest, lxxxii. to lxxxviii.]
[Footnote 3: _The Devout Life_, Part i., chap. 1.]
[Footnote 4: Book x., chap. 3.]
UPON PERFECT CONTENTMENT IN THE PRIVATION OF ALL CONTENT.
It is true that the devout life, which is nothing but an intense and
fervent love of God, is an angelic life and full of contentment and of
extraordinary consolation. It is, however, also true that those who submit
themselves to the discipline of God, even while experiencing the sweetness
of this divine love, must prepare their soul for temptation. The path
which leads to the Land of Promise is beset with difficulties--dryness,
sadness, desolation, and faint-hearted fears--and would end in bewildering
discouragement, did not Faith and Hope, like Joshua and Caleb, show us the
fair fruits of this much to be desired country, and thus animate us to
But He who brings light out of darkness, and roses out of thorns, who helps
us in all our tribulations, and performs wonders in heaven and earth, makes
the happy souls whom He leads through His will to His glory to find perfect
content in the loss of all content, both corporal and spiritual when once
they recognize that it is the will of God that they should go to Him by the
way of darkness, perplexity, crosses, and anguish.
In saying this I am putting into my own words the thoughts of our Blessed
Father as expressed in the eleventh chapter of the sixth book of his
_Treatise on the Love of God_.
UPON THE WILL OF GOD.
Meditating this morning on that passage of Holy Scripture which tells us
that the life of man is in the good will of God, I reflected that to
live according to the will of the flesh, that is, according to the human
will, is not really life, since the prudence of the flesh is death; but
that to live according to the will of God is the true life of the soul,
since the grace attached to that divine will imparts a life to our soul far
higher than the life our soul imparts to our body.
The divine will is our sanctification, and this sanctification is the gate
of eternal life; of that true life in comparison with which the life which
we lead on earth is more truly a death. To live in God, in whom is true
life, is to live according to His will.
Our life, then, is to do His will. This made St. Paul say that he lived,
yet not he himself, but that Jesus Christ lived in him, because he had
only one will and one mind with Jesus Christ, I was rejoiced to find that
unconsciously my thoughts on this subject had followed closely in the
track of our Blessed Father's when he meditated on the same passage. This
I discovered on reading these words in one of his letters:
"This morning, being alone for a few moments, I made an act of
extraordinary resignation which I cannot put on paper, but reserve until
God permits me to see you, when you shall know it by word of mouth. Oh! how
blessed are the souls who live on the will of God alone. Ah! if even to
taste a little of that blessedness in a passing meditation is so sweet to
the heart which accepts that holy will with all the crosses it offers, what
must the happiness be of a soul all steeped in that will? Oh! my God, what
a blessed thing is it not to bring all our affections into a humble and
absolute subjection to the divine love! This we have said, this we have
resolved to do, and our hearts have taken the greatest glory of the love of
God for their sovereign law. Now the glory of this holy love consists in
its power of burning and consuming all that is not itself, that all may be
resolved and changed into it. God exalts Himself upon our annihilation of
ourselves and reigns upon the throne of our voluntary servitude."
[Footnote 1: Psalm xxix. 6.]
[Footnote 2: Gal. ii. 20.]
HIS RESIGNATION TO THE WILL OF GOD.
It happened that Blessed Francis fell ill at the very time when his
predecessor in the Bishopric of Geneva was imploring the Holy See to
appoint him as his coadjutor.
The illness was so serious that the physicians despaired of his life,
and this our Blessed Father was told. He received the announcement quite
calmly, and even joyfully, as though he saw the heavens open and ready to
receive him, and being entirely resigned to the will of God both in life
and in death, said only:
"I belong, to God, let Him do with me according to His good pleasure."
When someone in his presence said that he ought to wish to live if not
for the service of God at least that he might do penance for his sins,
he answered thus: "It is certain that sooner or later we must die, and
whenever it may be, we shall always have need of the great mercy of God: we
may as well fall into His pitiful hands to-day as to-morrow. He is at all
times the same, full of kindness, and rich in mercy to all those who call
upon Him: and we are always evil, conceived in iniquity, and subject to sin
even from our mother's womb. He who finishes his course earlier than others
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