The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales
Jean Pierre Camus
Part 5 out of 8
has less of an account to render. I can see that there is a design afoot to
lay upon me a burden not less formidable to me than death itself. Between
the two I should find it hard to choose. It is far better to submit myself
to the care of Providence: far better to sleep upon the breast of Jesus
Christ than anywhere else. God loves us. He knows better than we do what is
good for us. _Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord's._
_He has the keys of life, and of death._ _They who hope in Him are never
confounded._ _Let us also go, and die with Him._" And when someone
said it was a pity he should die in the flower of his age (he was only
thirty-five), he answered: "Our Lord was still younger when He died. The
number of our days is before Him, He can gather the fruits which belong
to Him at any season. Do not let us waste our time and thoughts over
circumstances; let us consider only His most holy will. Let that be our
guiding star; it will lead us to Jesus Christ whether in the cribs or on
Calvary. Whoever follows Him shall not walk in darkness but shall have the
light of eternal life, and shall be no more subject to death."
These were the words, this was the perfect resignation, of our Blessed
Father. Who can say we have not here the cause of the prolongation of his
days, even as a like resignation led to the prolonging of those of King
[Footnote 1: Rom. xiv. 8]
[Footnote 2: Apoc. i. 18.]
[Footnote 3: Psalm xxiv. 3.]
THAT WE MUST ALWAYS SUBMIT OURSELVES TO GOD'S HOLY WILL.
In 1619, when our Saint was in Paris with the Prince of Savoy, a gentleman
of the court fell dangerously ill. He sent for Blessed Francis, who, when
visiting him, remarked with some surprise that, although he bore his
physical sufferings with great patience, he fretted grievously about other
troubles seemingly of very small moment. He was distressed at the thought
of dying away from home, at being unable to give his family his last
blessing, at not having his accustomed physician by his side, etc. Then he
would begin to worry about the details of his funeral, the inscription on
his tombstone, and so on. Nothing was right in his surroundings; the sky of
Paris, his doctors and nurses, his servants, his bed, his rooms, all were
matters of complaint. "Strange inconsistency!" exclaimed the holy Bishop.
"Here is a brave soldier and a great statesman, fretted by the merest
trifles, and unhappy because he cannot die in exactly the circumstances
which he would have chosen for himself." I am glad to be able to add that
in spite of all this the poor man made a holy and a happy end.
But Blessed Francis afterwards said to me: "It is not enough to will what
God wills, we must also desire that all should be exactly, even in the
minutest detail and particular, as God wills it to be. For instance, in
regard to sickness we should be willing to be sick because it pleases God
that we should be so; and sick of that very sickness which God sends us,
not of one of a different character; and sick at such time, and in such
place, and surrounded by such attendants, as it may please God to appoint.
In short, we must in all things take for our law the most holy will of
HIS SUBLIME THOUGHTS ON HOLY INDIFFERENCE.
Many of the saints, and especially St. Catherine of Siena, St. Philip Neri,
and St. Ignatius Loyola, have spoken in the most beautiful and elevated
language of that holy indifference which, springing from the love of God,
makes life or death and all the circumstances of the one or the other
equally acceptable to the soul which realizes that all is ordered by the
will of God.
Let us hear what our Blessed Father says on this subject in his _Treatise
on the Love of God_.
"God's will is the sovereign object of the indifferent soul; wheresoever
she sees it she runs after the odour of its perfumes, directing her course
ever thither where it most appears, without considering anything else. She
is conducted by the divine will, as by a beloved chain; which way soever it
goes she follows it: she would prize hell with God's will more than heaven
without it; nay, she would even prefer hell before heaven if she perceived
only a little more of God's good-pleasure in that than in this, so that
if--to suppose what is impossible--she should know that her damnation would
be more agreeable to God than her salvation, she would quit her salvation
and run to her damnation."
This is, indeed, a bold and daring proposition, but to convince you
how tenaciously he clung to it I would remind you of his words in the
Conferences; on the same subject: "The saints who are in heaven are so
closely united to the will of God that if there were even a little more of
His good-pleasure in hell than in paradise they would quit paradise to go
there." And again in the same Conference: "Whether the malady conquers the
remedies or the remedies get the better of the malady should be a matter
of perfect indifference. So much so that if sickness and health were put
before us and our Lord were to say to us: 'If thou choose health I will not
deprive thee of a single particle of my grace, if thou choose sickness I
shall not in any degree increase that grace, but in the choice of sickness
there is a little more of my good-pleasure,' the soul which has wholly
forsaken herself and abandoned herself into the hands of our Lord will
undoubtedly choose sickness solely because it is more pleasing to God. Nay,
though this might mean a whole lifetime spent on her couch in constant
suffering, she would not for any earthly consideration desire to be in any
other condition than this."
[Footnote 1: Bk. ix., c. 5.]
[Footnote 2: Conf. ii.]
NOTHING, SAVE SIN, HAPPENS TO US BUT BY THE WILL OF GOD.
"Nothing happens to us," Blessed Francis was accustomed to say, "whether of
good or of evil, sin alone excepted, but by the will of God." Good, because
God is the source of all good. _Every best gift and every perfect gift is
from above, coming down from the Father of lights_. Evil, for, _Shall
there be evil in the city which the Lord hath not done_? The evil here
spoken of is that of pain or trouble, seeing that God cannot will the evil
of crime, which is sin, though he permits it, allowing the human will to
act according to the natural liberty which He has given to it. Properly
speaking, sin cannot be said to happen to us, because what happens to
us must come from without, and sin, on the contrary, comes from within,
proceeding from our hearts, as holy Scripture expressly states, telling us
also that _iniquity comes from our fatness_, that is to say, from our
ease and luxury.
Oh, what a happiness it would be for our souls if we accustomed ourselves
to receive all things from the fatherly hand of Him who, in opening it,
fills all things living with blessing! What unction should we not draw
from this in our adversities! What honey from the rock, what oil from the
stones! And with how much moderation should we not behave in prosperity,
since God sends us both the one and the other, that we may use both to the
praise and glory of His grace.
[Footnote I: St. James i. 17.]
[Footnote II: Amos iii. 6.]
[Footnote III: Psalm lxxii. 7.]
UPON THE SAME SUBJECT.
I must confess to you, my sisters, that I was astonished to read in one of
our Saint's letters that our Lord Jesus Christ did not possess the quality
of indifference in the sensitive part of His nature.
I will give the exact words in which this wonderful fact is stated. "This
virtue of indifference," he says, "is so excellent that our old Adam, and
the sensitive part of our human nature, so far as its natural powers go,
is not capable of it, no, not even in our Lord, who, as a child of Adam,
although exempt from all sin, and from everything pertaining to sin, yet in
the sensitive part of his nature and as regards his human faculties was in
no way indifferent, but desired not to die upon the Cross. Indifference,
and the exercise of it, is entirely reserved for the spirit, for the
supreme portion of our nature, for faculties set on fire by grace, and in
fine for Himself personally, inasmuch as He is divine and human, the New
Man. How, then, can we complain when as far as this lower portion of our
nature is concerned we find ourselves unable to be indifferent to life,
and to death, to health, and to sickness, to honour and to ignominy, to
pleasure and to pain, to comfort and to discomfort, when, in a word, we
feel in ourselves that conflict going on which the vessel of election
experienced in such a manner as to make him exclaim: _Unhappy man that I
am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?_"
The love of ourselves is so deeply rooted in our nature that it is
impossible wholly to rid ourselves of it. Even grace does not do away with
our self-love, but only reduces it to the service of divine charity.
By the love of self I mean a natural, just, and legitimate love, so
legitimate indeed as to be commanded by the law of God which bids us love
our neighbour as ourselves; that is to say, according to God's will, which
is not only the one way in which we can rightly love our neighbour, but
also the one way in which we are commanded to love ourselves.
Nevertheless, this love of ourselves, however just and reasonable it may
be, turns only too easily, and too imperceptibly, into a self-love, which
is unlawful and forbidden, but into which even persons the most earnest and
the most spiritual are at times surprised.
We often think we love someone, or something in God, and for God, when it
is really only in ourselves, and for ourselves, that we do so. We think
sometimes that we have only an eye to the interests of God, which is His
glory, when it is really our own glory which we are seeking in our work.
This is when we stop short voluntarily at the creature to the prejudice
of the Creator; as comes to pass in all sin, whether mortal or venial. We
must therefore watch and be constantly on our guard lest we fall into this
snare. From it we must snatch our soul as we would a bird from the snare
of the fowler. We shall be safe if we remember that every just and lawful
love in us is always either in actual touch with the love of God, or can be
brought into such touch, whilst self-love is never in such touch, nor can
ever be brought into it.
This is the test by which we can detect the false coin that is mixed up
with the true.
[Footnote 1: Rom. vii. 24.]
UPON ABANDONING OURSELVES TO GOD.
I cannot tell you, my sisters, how great a point our Blessed Father made
of self-abandonment, _i.e._, self-surrender into the hands of God. In one
place he speaks of it as: "The cream of charity, the odour of humility, the
flower of patience, and the fruit of perseverance. Great," he says, "is
this virtue, and worthy of being practised by the best beloved children
of God." And again, "Our Lord loves with a most tender love those
who are so happy as to abandon themselves wholly to His fatherly care,
letting themselves be governed by His divine Providence without any idle
speculations as to whether the workings of this Providence will be useful
to them to their profit, or painful to their loss, and this because they
are well assured that nothing can be sent, nothing permitted by this
paternal and most loving Heart, which will not be a source of good and
profit to them. All that is required is that they should place all their
confidence in Him, and say from their heart, _Into Thy hands I commend my
spirit_, my soul, my body, and all that I have, to do with them as it shall
You are inclined, my sisters, to say that we are not all of us capable of
such entire self-renunciation, that so supreme an act of self-abandonment
is beyond our strength. Hear then, too, what our Blessed Father goes on to
say. These are his words in the same Conference: "Never are we reduced to
such an extremity that we cannot pour forth before the divine majesty the
perfume of a holy submission to His most holy will, and of a continual
promise never wilfully to offend Him."
[Footnotes 1, 2: Conf. 2.]
UPON INTERIOR DESOLATION.
As there are, more thorns than roses in our earthly life, and more dull
days than sunny ones, so also in our spiritual life our souls are more
frequently clouded by a sense of desolation, dryness, and gloom, than
irradiated by heavenly consolations and brightness.
Yet our Blessed Father says that "those are mistaken who think that, even
in Christians, whose conscience does not accuse them of sins unconfessed,
but on the contrary bears good witness for them, a heavy heart and
sorrow-laden mind is a proof of God's displeasure.
"Has God not said that He is with us in tribulation, and is not His Cross
the mark of the chosen? At the birth of Jesus, while the shepherds were
surrounded by the light which shone from heaven and their ears filled with
the songs of angels, Mary and Joseph were in the stable in the darkness of
night, the silence only broken by the weeping of the Holy Child. Yet who
would not rather be with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in that shadowy gloom
than with the shepherds even in their ecstasy of heavenly joy? St. Peter,
indeed, amid the glories of Thabor said: _It is good to be here, let us
make here three tabernacles_. But Holy Scripture adds: _Not knowing what
"The faithful soul loves Jesus covered with wounds and disfigurements on
Calvary, amid the darkness, the blood, the crosses, the nails, the thorns,
and the horror of death: loves Him, I say, as dearly, as fervently as in
His triumph, and cries out from a full heart amid all this desolation:
"Let us make here three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for His holy
Mother, and one for His beloved disciple."
[Footnote 1: Luke ix, 33.]
UPON THE PRESENCE IN OUR SOULS OF THE GRACE OF GOD.
There is, I think, no greater temptation than one which assails many good
people, namely, the desire to know for certain whether or not they are in a
state of grace.
To a poor soul entangled in a perfect spider's web of doubt and mistrust,
our Blessed Father wrote the following consoling words: "To try and
discover whether or not your heart is pleasing to God is a thing you must
not do, though you may undoubtedly try to make sure that His Heart is
pleasing to you. Now, if you meditate upon His Heart it will be impossible
but that it should be well pleasing to you, so sweet is it, so gentle, so
condescending, so loving towards those of His poor creatures who do but
acknowledge their wretchedness: so gracious to the unhappy, so good to the
penitent. Ah! who would not love this royal Heart, which to us is as the
heart both of a father and of a mother?"
As regards interior desolation there are some souls who seem to think
that no devotion is worthy of the name which is not sensible and full of
To one who complained to our Blessed Father of having lost all relish for
exercises of piety, he wrote in the following words: "The love of God
consists neither in consolations nor in tenderness--otherwise our Lord
would not have loved His father when He was sorrowful unto death, nor when
He cried out, _My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?_ That is to
say, then, when He performed the greatest act of love that it is possible
"The truth is, we are always hungering after consolation, for a little
sugar to be added to our spiritual food; in other words, we always want to
experience our feelings of love and tenderness, and thereby to be cheered
[Footnote 1: Matt. xxvii. 46.]
UPON OUR DESIRE TO SAVE OUR SOUL.
Faith teaches us, by means of the Holy Scriptures, that God ardently
desires that we should be saved, and that none should perish. His will
is our sanctification, that is to say, He wishes us to be holy. Moreover,
to prove that His desire is neither barren nor unhelpful, He gives us in
His holy Church all the graces necessary for our salvation, so that if we
are lost it will only be because of our own wilful malice.
Unfortunately, however, though it may be that all desire to save their
souls, all are not willing to accept the means offered them for so doing.
Hence the disorders which we see in the world around us and the truth,
that, while many are called few are chosen. On this subject our Blessed
Father speaks as follows in his Theotimus:
"We are," he says, "to will our salvation in such sort as God wills it;
now He wills it by way of desire, and we also must incessantly desire it,
in conformity with His desire. Nor does He will it only, but, in effect,
gives us all necessary means to attain to it. We then, in fulfilment of the
desire we have to be saved, must not only wish to be saved, but, in effect,
must accept all the graces which He has provided for us, and offers us.
With regard to salvation itself, it is enough to say: I desire to be saved.
But, with regard to the means of salvation, it is not enough to say: I
desire them. We must, with an absolute resolution, will and embrace the
graces which God presents to us; for our will must correspond with God's
will. And, inasmuch as He gives us the means of salvation, we ought to
avail ourselves of such means, just as we ought to desire salvation in such
sort as God desires it for us, and because He desires it."
[Footnote 1: 1 Tim. ii. 4.]
[Footnote 2: _The Love of God_. Bk. viii. 4.]
UPON GOOD NATURAL INCLINATIONS.
Blessed Francis always impressed upon us the necessity of making use for
the glory of God of any good inclinations natural to us. "If you possess
such," he would say, "remember that they are gifts, of which you will have
to render an account. Take care, then, to employ them in the service of Him
who gave them to you. Engraft upon this wild stock the shoots of eternal
love which God is ready to bestow upon you, if, by an act of perfect
self-renunciation, you prepare yourself to receive them."
There are people who are naturally inclined to certain moral virtues,
such as silence, sobriety, modesty, chastity, humility, patience, and
the like, and who, however little they may cultivate these virtues, make
great progress in them. This was the case with many of the great pagan
philosophers as we know, and it is quite true, that with all of us, the
bent and inclination of the mind towards the acquisition of any kind of
excellence, whether moral or physical, is an immense assistance. Still, we
must bear in mind the fact that the acquiring of every moral virtue and
every physical power, nay, of the whole world itself, is nothing, if, in
gaining them, we should lose our own soul. St. Paul tells us this, and
for the same reason, our Blessed Father warns us not to keep our talents
wrapped up in a napkin, not to hide their light under the bushel of nature,
but to trade with them according to the intention of Him who is their
author and distributor. He reminds us that this divine Giver who bestowed
them on us in order thereby to increase His exterior glory, promises us
a reward if we use them as He means us to do, and threatens us with
punishment if we are careless in the matter.
You ask me how we are to deal with these inclinations and manage these
talents or virtues? Well, you have the answer to that question in the words
of our Blessed Father which I quoted: "Engraft on the wild stock of natural
inclination shoots of divine charity."
[Footnote 1: 1 Cor. xiii. 1, 3.]
HOW TO SPEAK OF GOD.
St. Francis loved those words of St. Peter: _If any man speak, let him
speak as the words of God. If any man minister, let him do it as of the
power which God administreth_, and of St. Paul: _All things whatsoever
you do, whether in word or in work, do them in the name_ (that is to say,
to the honour and glory) _of our Lord Jesus Christ_.
That we may carry out this excellent precept in our actions, our Blessed
Father gives us some remarkable teaching. In one of his letters he says:
"We must never speak of God or of things relating to His worship, that
is, of religion, carelessly, and in the way of ordinary conversation, but
always with great respect, esteem, and devotion."
This advice applies to those who speak of God, and of religious matters
as they would of any ordinary topics of conversation, without taking into
account the circumstances of time, place, or persons. St. Jerome complained
of this abuse, saying that whilst there are masters and experts in every
art and science, only on matters of theology and Holy Scripture, the
foundations of all arts and sciences, can few be found to speak well. Yet
questions relating to them are discussed most flippantly at table, and in
public places; the hare-brained youth, the uneducated labourer, and the
dotard, give their opinions freely on the highest mysteries of the Faith.
Again, Blessed Francis says: "Always speak of God as of God, that is to
say, reverently and devoutly, not in a self-sufficient, preaching spirit,
but with gentleness, charity, and humility."
In the same book he gives his advice to Philothea in the following words:
"Never, then, speak of God or of religion for form's sake, or to make
conversation, but always with attention and devotion. I tell you this,
that you may not be guilty of an extraordinary sort of vanity, which is
observable in many who profess to be devout. These people, on all possible
occasions, throw in expressions of piety and fervour without the least
thought of what they are saying, and, having uttered these phrases, imagine
that they themselves are such, as their words would indicate, which is not
at all the case."
[Footnote 1: 1 St. Peter iv. 11.]
[Footnote 2: Col. iii 17.]
[Footnote 3: Part iii., chap. 26.]
UPON ECCENTRICITIES IN DEVOTION.
Blessed Francis had a great dislike of any kind of affectation or
singularity practised by devout persons, whether in Religious houses or in
the world. He went so far as to say that it rendered their piety not merely
offensive, but ridiculous.
He wished every one to conform as far as possible to the way of life proper
to his or her calling, without affecting any peculiarity. He gave as his
authority for this desire the example of our Lord, who, in the days of His
flesh, condescended to make Himself like to His brethren in all things
The holy Bishop inculcated this lesson upon his penitents, not only by
word, but much more by his example. Never during the whole fourteen years
which, happily for me, I spent under his direction studying most closely
all his actions, his very gestures, his words, and his teaching; never, I
say, did I observe in him the faintest shadow of singularity.
I must confess to having, in order to find out exactly what he was,
practised a _ruse_, which some might think inexcusable or impertinent.
Every year he paid me a week's visit, and before he came I took care to
have some holes pierced in the doors or boarding of his rooms, that I might
closely observe his behaviour when quite alone. Well, I can truly say that
whatever he did, whether he prayed, read, meditated, or wrote, in his lying
down and in his rising up, at all times and in all circumstances, he was
the same--calm, unaffected, simple--his outward demeanour corresponding
with the interior beauty of his soul. Francis quite alone was the very same
as Francis in company. I think, myself, that this was the result of his
continual attention to the presence of God, a practice which he recommended
so strongly to all who were under his direction.
When he prayed, it was as though he saw the angels and the saints gathered
round him. He remained for hours calm, motionless as a statue, and
changeless in expression.
Never, even when alone, did he for the sake of greater comfort sit or stand
or assume attitudes other than those he permitted himself when in public.
He never so much as crossed his legs, or rested his head on his hand. The
unvarying but easy gravity of his demeanour naturally inspired an unfailing
love and respect.
He said that our exterior deportment should be like water which, the better
it is, the more is it tasteless.
I was much pleased on hearing a very famous and devout person, whom
I met in Paris, say this to me about our Saint. That nothing brought so
vividly to his mind what the conversation of our Lord Jesus Christ must
have been among men, as the presence and angelic deportment of the holy
Bishop, of whom one might truly say that he was not only clothed with, but
absolutely full of, Jesus Christ. Nor will this appear strange to us if we
remember that the just soul, that is to say, the soul which is in a state
of grace, is said to be conformed to the image of the Son of God, and is
called a participator of the divine nature.
[Footnote 1: St. Vincent de Paul.]
He advised devout people to give in their names boldly, and without much
consultation, to the confraternities which they happened to meet with, so
as to become by this means participators of grace with all those who fear
God and live according to His law. He pitied the scruples of those good
souls who fear to enrol themselves, lest, as they ignorantly imagine, they
should sin by not fulfilling certain duties laid down in the rules given
for the guidance and discipline of these confraternities, but which are
rather recommended than commanded.
"For," he said, "if the rules of Religious Orders are not in themselves
binding under pain of either mortal or venial sin, how much less so are the
statutes of confraternities?
"The following out of the recommendations given to their members to do
certain things, to recite certain prayers, to take part in certain meetings
or processions, is a matter of counsel, and not of precept. To those who
perform such pious actions, Indulgences are granted, which those who do not
practise them fail to gain; but such failure, even if wilful, is not a sin.
There is much to gain, and nothing to lose."
On this subject he speaks thus to Philothea:
"Enter readily into the confraternities of the place in which you are
living, and specially into those whose exercises are the most fruitful and
edifying. In doing this, you will be practising a kind of obedience which
is very pleasing to God, and the more so because although the joining
confraternities is not commanded, yet it is recommended by the Church, who,
to show that she desires Catholics to enrol themselves therein, grants
Indulgences and other privileges to their members. Then, too, it is always
a charitable thing to concur and co-operate with others in their good
works. And although it may be that we should make quite as good exercises
by ourselves as we do in common with our fellow-members, yet we promote the
glory of God better by uniting ourselves with our brethren and neighbours,
and sharing our good deeds with them."
[Footnote 1: Part ii., chap. 15.]
UPON INTERCOURSE WITH THE WORLD.
There are some good people whose zeal not being sufficiently tempered
with knowledge, as soon as they desire to give themselves up to a devout
life, fly from society and from intercourse with others as owls shun the
company of birds that fly by day. Their morose and unsociable conduct
causes a dislike to be taken to devotion instead of rendering it sweet
and attractive to all. Our Blessed Father was altogether opposed to such
moroseness, wishing His devout children to be by their example a light to
the world, and the salt of the earth, so as to impart a flavour to piety
which might tempt the appetite of those who would otherwise surely turn
from it with disgust. To a good soul who asked him whether Christians who
wished to live with some sort of perfection should see company and mix
in society, he answers thus: "Perfection, my dear lady, does not lie in
avoiding our fellow-men, but it does lie in not over-relishing social
pleasures and in not taking undue delight in them. There is danger for us
in all that we see in a sinful world, for we run the risk of fixing our
affections upon things worldly; at the same time to those who are steadfast
and resolute, the mere sight of the things of this world will do no harm.
In a word, the perfection of charity is the perfection of life, for the
life of our soul is charity. The early Christians, who were in the world in
their body though not in their heart, undoubtedly were very perfect."
As regards the world's opinion of us, and the estimation in which we are
held by others, it is not well to be too sensitive. At the same time, to
be altogether indifferent about our reputation is blameworthy. Our Blessed
Prelate teaches his Philothea exactly what we have to do:
"If," he says, "the world despises us, let us rejoice, for it is right--we
see for ourselves that we are very contemptible. If it esteems us, let us
despise its esteem and its judgment, for it is blind. Trouble yourself
very little about what the world thinks; do not ask or even care to know.
Despise equally its appreciation and its contempt, and let it say what
it will, good or evil. I do not approve of doing what is not right, that
people may have a bad opinion of us. Transgressing is always transgressing,
and we are thereby making our neighbour transgress likewise. On the
contrary, I desire that, keeping our eyes always fixed upon our Lord, we do
what we have to do without regarding what the world thinks of us, or its
behaviour towards us. We need not endeavour to give others a good opinion
of ourselves, yet neither have we to try to give a bad one, and especially
must we be careful not to do wrong with this intent.
"But we can never stand quite well with the world; it is far too exacting.
If out of compliance we yield to it, and play and dance with it, it will be
scandalized; and if we do not, it will accuse us of hypocrisy and gloom;
if we are well-dressed it will impute to us some bad motive; and if we are
ill-dressed it will call us mean; it will style our gaiety dissoluteness
and our mortification gloom. It will exaggerate our failings and publish
our faults; and if it cannot find fault with our actions it will attack our
motives. Whatever we do the world will find fault. If we spend a long time
at confession it will ask what we can have to say; if we take but a short
time, it will say that we do not tell everything. If one little cross word
escape us it will pronounce our temper unbearable; it will denounce our
prudence as avarice, our gentleness as folly. Spiders invariably spoil the
bees' labour. Therefore, do not mind what opinion the world has of you,
good or bad; do not distress yourself about it, whichever it be. To say
that we are not what the world thinks, when it speaks well of us, is wise,
for the world, like a quack doctor, always exaggerates."
You question me, regarding the contempt which we should feel for the world
and the world's opinion of us; in other words you want to know exactly
what St. Paul means when he says that, being crucified to the world and
the world to us, we should glory only in the Cross of our Saviour Jesus
This seems to you a paradox; light evolved from darkness, and glory from
shame. Let me remind you that the Christian religion is full of such
paradoxes, and that we belong to an all-powerful God, who has given life to
us by His death; who has healed us by His wounds, and who makes us rich by
His poverty. I cannot, however, explain the difficulty to you better than
by quoting the words of our Blessed Father in one of his letters. He says:
"In this alone lies our glory, that our divine Saviour died for us, the
Master for His slaves, the just for the unjust."
[Footnote 1: Cf. _The Devout Life_. Part iv., c. 7.]
[Footnote 2: Galat. vi. 14.]
Blessed Francis advised his penitents to avoid above all things, excessive
eagerness, which, in his view, is the mortal foe of true devotion. He says:
"It is far better to do a few things well than to undertake many good works
and leave them half done."
This was the mistake of the man in the Gospel who began to build and was
not able to finish because he had not counted the cost beforehand. There
are some who think they are never doing well unless they are doing much.
They are like the Pharisees who considered the perfection of prayer to
consist in its length. Our Lord reproves them for this and much more for
devouring widows' houses with their long prayers. In one of his Conferences
the Saint speaks thus: "It is not by the multiplicity of things we do that
we acquire perfection, but by the perfection and purity of intention with
which we do them."
And this is what he says on the subject in his Theotimus: "To do few
actions but with great purity of intention and with a firm will to please
God, is to do excellently. Such greatly sanctify us. Some men eat much, and
yet are ever lean, thin, and delicate, because their digestive power is
not good; there are others who eat little, and yet are always in excellent
health and vigorous, because their stomach is good. Even so, there are
some souls that do many good works and yet increase but little in charity,
because they do those good works either coldly and negligently, or have
undertaken them rather from natural instinct and inclination than because
God so willed and with heaven-given fervour. On the contrary, others
there are who get through little work, but do it with so holy a will; and
inclination, that they make a wonderful advancement in charity; they have
little talent, but they husband it so faithfully that the Lord largely;
rewards them for it."
[Footnote 1: _Love of God_. B. xii., c. 7.]
UPON THE SAME SUBJECT.
Our Blessed Father always insisted on the necessity of discretion as
well as charity in our devotion, and warned us against that want of
self-restraint and calmness, which he called eagerness. This, he said, is,
indeed, the _remora_ of true devotion, and its worst enemy, the more so
because it decks itself in the livery of devotion, in order more easily
to entrap the unwary and to make them mistake zeal without knowledge for
He was very fond of that saying of an ancient Emperor: "Make haste
slowly," and of another: "Soon enough, if well enough." He would rather
have a little done thoroughly well, than a great deal undertaken with
over-eagerness. One of his favourite maxims was "Little and good." In order
to persuade us that he was right, he used to warn us against thinking that
perfection depends on the number of our good works, exterior or interior.
When asked what then became of that insatiable love of which the masters of
the spiritual life speak, that love which never thinks that it has reached
the goal, but is always pressing on farther and farther, spanning the whole
extent of heaven with giant strides, he answered: "The tree of that love
must grow at the roots, rather than by the branches." He explained his
meaning thus: To grow by the branches is to wish to perform a great number
of good works, of which many are imperfect, others superfluous like the
useless leaves which overload the vine, and have to be nipped off before
the grapes can grow to any proper size. On the other hand we grow at the
roots when we do only a few good works, but those few most perfectly, that
is to say, with a great love of God, in which all the perfection of the
Christian consists. It is to this that the Apostle exhorts us when he bids
us be rooted and grounded in charity if we would comprehend the surpassing
charity of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. True devotion, he used to say,
should be gentle, tranquil, and discreet, whereas eagerness is indiscreet,
tempestuous, and turbulent.
Especially he found fault with the eagerness which attempts to do several
things at once. He said it was like trying to thread more than one needle
at a time. One of his favourite mottos was: "Sufficient to the day is the
When he was reproached, as he sometimes was, with bestowing such earnest
and undivided attention on the most trivial concerns of the people who came
to him for sympathy and advice, he answered: "These troubles appear great
to them, and, therefore, they must be consoled, as if they really were so.
God knows, too, that I do not want any great employment. It is perfectly
indifferent to me what my occupation is so long as it is a serving of Him.
To do these small works is all that is, at the time being, asked of me. Is
not doing the will of God a work great enough for anyone? We turn little
actions into great ones when we perform them with a supreme desire to
please God, who measures our services, not by the excellence of the work we
do, but by the love which accompanies it, and that love by its purity, and
that purity by the singleness of its intention."
UPON LIBERTY OF SPIRIT.
He was a great enemy to every sort of spiritual restriction and constraint,
and was fond of quoting the words of St. Paul: _Where the spirit of God is,
there is liberty_. And again: _You are redeemed with a great price, do
not make yourselves slaves again_. He had advised a lady of rank to work
with her own hands, in order to avoid sloth, and, as she was well to do,
he suggested to her to devote her manual labour to the adornment of altars
or to the service of the poor, following the advice of the Apostle, who
counsels us to labour with our hands to provide for the wants of the needy.
This lady, who always followed his suggestions to the very letter as if
they were commands, having done some little piece of work for herself, felt
a scruple about the matter, as though she had failed in the exact obedience
which she had resolved to yield, not only to the commands of the holy
Prelate, but even to his opinions. She therefore, asked him if she ought
to give in alms exactly what a piece of work she had done for herself was
worth. Moreover, having been advised to fast on Fridays she wished, she
said, in order to gain more merit to make a vow that she would always
practise this mortification.
Here is his reply: "I approve of your Friday fasts, but not that you should
make any vow to keep them, nor that you should tie yourself down, tightly
in such matters. Still more do I approve of your working with your hands,
spinning and so forth, at times when nothing greater or more important
claims your attention, and that what you make should be destined either for
the altar or for the poor, I should not, however, like you to keep to this
so strictly, that if it should happen that you do something for yourself or
for your family you should feel obliged to give the poor the value of your
work. For, holy liberty and freedom must reign, and we must have no other
law than love, which, when it bids us to do some kind of work for our own
family or friends, must not be looked upon as if it had led us to do wrong.
Still less does it require us to make amends, as you wished to do seeing
that whatever it invites us to take in hand, whether for the rich or for
the poor, is equally pleasing to our Lord." What do you think of this
doctrine, you who go by rule and measure in valuing an act of virtue? Is
liberality displayed towards the rich, in your opinion, worth as much as
alms given to the poor? See now, this holy Bishop follows a very different
rule, and measuring the one action and the other by the golden standard of
charity, esteems them as equal, provided both be done with equal charity.
[Footnote 1: II. Cor. iii. 17.]
[Footnote 2: Cor. vii. 23]
UPON NATURE AND GRACE.
In certain minds there seems always to lurk some remains of Pelagianism, a
hydra from which though bruised and crushed by the Church--the pillar and
bulwark of the Truth--new heads are ever springing forth.
Many, as I am willing to believe, from lack of consideration, ascribe too
much to nature, and too little to grace, making too great capital of the
matter of moral virtues, and too little of the manner in which they are
practised. These people forget that in our works God does not regard how
much we do, but with how much love we do it, _non quantum, sed ex quanta_,
in the language of the schools.
On this subject our Blessed Father gives the following excellent advice to
a pious person who, because she had to devote the greater part of her time
to household affairs and to mix a good deal in society was discouraged, and
thought it almost impossible for her to lead a devout life.
"Do not," he says, "look at all at the substance of the things which you
do, but rather, poor though they be, at the honour by which they are
ennobled, that of being willed by God, ordered by His Providence, and
arranged by His wisdom, in a word, that of being pleasing to God. And
if they please Him, whom can they reasonably offend? Strive, my dearest
daughter, to become every day more pure in heart.
"This purity of heart consists in setting on all things their true value,
and in weighing them in the balance of the sanctuary, which balance is only
another name for the wilt of God." In the same way in his Theotimus he
teaches that acts of the lesser virtues are often more pleasing to God, and
consequently more meritorious, because done with great love, than the most
splendid virtues when practised with less of heavenly charity. Charity is
the pure gold which makes us rich in immortal wealth.
UPON EXAGGERATED INTROSPECTION.
Blessed Francis was not at all fond of too much self-introspection, or of
the habit of turning an unimportant matter over and over a hundred times in
the mind. He called this pernicious hair-splitting; or, with the Psalmist:
"Spinning spiders' webs." People given to it he used to say are like the
silkworm, which imprisons and entangles itself in its own cocoon. In his
twelfth Conference he speaks further on this subject.
"The soul," he says, "which is wholly bent on pleasing its divine Lover,
has neither desire nor leisure to fall back upon itself. It presses on
continually (or should do so) along the one straight path which has that
love for its aim, not allowing itself to waste its powers in continual
self-inspection for the purpose of seeing what it is doing or if it is
satisfied. Alas! our own satisfactions and consolations do not satisfy God,
they only feed that miserable love and care of ourselves which is quite
apart from God and the thought of Him."
A great deal of time is wasted in these useless considerations which would
be far better employed in doing good works.
By over considering whether we do right, we may actually do wrong.
St. Anthony was once asked how we might know if we prayed properly. "By not
knowing it at all," he answered. He certainly prays well who is so taken up
with God that he does not know he is praying. The traveller who is always
counting his steps will not make much headway.
[Footnote 1: Cf. Ps. lxxxix. 10.]
UPON INTERIOR REFORMATION.
Our Blessed Father used to say that, generally speaking, grace worked as
nature, and not as art, does. Art only reproduces what appears outwardly as
in painting and sculpture, but nature begins her work from within, so that
in a living creature the internal organs are formed before the skin, whence
the saying that the heart is the first living part of man.
When, therefore, he wished to lead souls on from a worldly to a devout
life, he did not at first suggest changes in the exterior, in the dressing
of the hair, in the fashion of garments, and so on. No, he spoke only to
the heart, and of the heart, knowing that when once that stronghold is
gained, nothing else can resist.
"When a house is on fire, said he, see how all the furniture is thrown out
of the window! So is it when the heart is possessed by true love of God,
all that is not of God seems then to it of no moment at all. _If a man_,
says the Canticle of Canticles _give all his riches for love he will think
that he has done nothing_."
I will give you a trifling illustration of this teaching which may be
useful to you. A lady of high rank, having placed herself under the
direction of the holy Prelate, became more and more assiduous in attending
the services of the Church, spending much time in prayer and meditation,
and, in what leisure was left her from her household cares, visiting the
sick and poor. Her friends and acquaintances, however, observed with
surprise that she made no change at all in external matters, that her
dress was as rich as ever, and that she laid aside none of her magnificent
This so scandalized them that they began to murmur openly, not only against
her, but also against her director. They even went so far as to accuse her
of hypocrisy, forgetting that a hypocrite always tries to appear better in
the eyes of others than he really is, whereas she, in spite of interior
amendment, remained quite unchanged in her exterior.
The truth was that she did not in the least care for her ornaments, but as
it was her husband's will that she should dress as before, she followed
the example of Esther, who, though she detested all vain pomp and show, to
please Assuerus, decked herself out with magnificence.
On one occasion some busybody told our Blessed Father that this lady,
devout though she was, had not even given up wearing ear-rings, and
expressed great surprise that he who was so good a confessor had not
advised her to have done with the like vanities. To all this Francis
replied with his accustomed gentleness, and with a touch of humour: "I
assure you, I do not know that she has got ears, much less ear-rings in
them. She always comes to confession with her head so completely enveloped
in a great hood or scarf that I cannot see so much as its shape. Then, too,
let us remember that the saintly Rebecca of old, who was quite as virtuous
as this lady, lost nothing of her sanctity by wearing the ear-rings which
Eleazer presented to her as the gift of his master Isaac!"
Thus did our Blessed Father deal with matters which are a stumbling-block
to the weak and foolish, showing how true it is that all things work
together for good to those who are good, and that to the pure all things
[Footnote 1: Cant. viii. 7.]
HIS VISION OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY.
All Christians ought to be not only devout but absolutely devoted to the
most Blessed Trinity. It is the most august and fundamental of all our
mysteries; it is that to which we are consecrated by our entrance into the
holy Church, for we are baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and
of the Holy Ghost.
But you, my sisters, ought in an especial manner to be devoted to this
great and ineffable mystery, remembering the wonderful vision which our
Blessed Father, your founder, had on the day of his episcopal consecration.
In that sublime vision Almighty God showed him most clearly and
intelligibly that the three adorable Persons of the most Holy Trinity were
operating in his soul, producing there special graces which were to aid him
in his pastoral office, at the very moment that the three Bishops who were
consecrating him, blessed him, and performed all the holy ceremonies which
render this action so great and so solemn. Thenceforth he always regarded
himself as consecrated to the ever-Blessed Trinity and as a vessel of
honour and sanctification.
Then, too, in the year 1610, he both founded and opened your Institute
on the day dedicated by the Church to the memory and adoration of that
incomprehensible mystery. Trinity Sunday that year happening to fall on the
Feast of St. Claude, he gave you that saint as your special intercessor
with the most Holy Trinity.
Again, you Congregation began with three members only, and this of set
purpose, in order to honour the Blessed Trinity as well as to accomplish
what is written in the Gospel, that when two or three are gathered together
in the name, that is to say, for the glory of God, He will be in the midst
of them, and will animate and govern them by His spirit; the spirit of
love, unity, and concord, which makes us keep the unity of the spirit in
the bond of peace, and renders us one through love, as the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Ghost are one only, in nature, essence, and substance. It is
this peace of God, passing all understanding, which has up to the present
time kept all the convents of your Order in unity. Woe to him who shall
break down this defence and rampart! May the ever-Blessed Trinity avert
this misery, and both regard and preserve you always, as adopted daughters
of the Father, adopted sisters of the Son, and spouses of the Holy Ghost!
HIS DEVOTION TO OUR BLESSED LADY.
Astrologers, as you know, make a great point of observing what star is
rising on the horizon at the moment of a person's birth. They call it the
ascendant, and it forms, as it were, the apex of their horoscope. Well,
this is an idle fancy, but we may draw from it a useful suggestion. It
would be good for us to notice what star was in the ascendant in the
heavens, that is to say, what blessed Saint's feast day illumined the
heaven of the Church militant at the moment of our birth. I cannot tell you
how much this knowledge has helped many a soul.
Ah! how bright and glorious an ascendant our Blessed Father had! seeing
that he was born under the very sign and protection of the Mother of God,
on one of the days in the Octave of her Assumption, August 21st, 1567.
No wonder that he always had a special devotion to her and showed it
in every possible way; among others, in giving her name to many of the
confraternities and congregations established by him in the Church. No
wonder either that he had so great a love of purity, and that under the
protection, and with the assistance of the Queen of Virgins, he should have
consecrated himself to God in holy virginity and continence.
You know that it was on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception that he
received episcopal consecration, and at the same time that inward unction
which we learn so much of from the history of his life.
He also dedicated his Theotimus to the Queen of Sovereign Charity, and
preached continually and with extraordinary sweetness and fervour upon the
perfections and greatness of that divine Mother.
Finally, my dear sisters, there was nothing that he recommended so much to
his spiritual children as this devotion to the Blessed Virgin. You, indeed,
more than all others, ought to bear witness to this, seeing that he made
you daughters of holy Mary, under the title of the Visitation, marked
thereby to distinguish you from so many other congregations consecrated to
the honour and service of God under the title of Our Lady.
His devotion to our Blessed Lady was, indeed, as might have been expected
from one so single-minded and sincere as he, eminently practical, From his
earliest youth he sought her protection and aid in all difficulties and
temptations. When he was pursuing his studies while at college in Paris,
the evil spirit was permitted by God to insinuate into his mind the
terrible idea that he was one of the number of the damned. This delusion
took such possession of his soul that he lost his appetite, was unable to
sleep, and day by day grew more and more wasted and languid. His tutor
and director noticing how his health was affected and how pale, listless,
and joyless he had become, often questioned him as to the cause of his
dejection and evident suffering, but his tormentor who had filled his mind
with this delusion, being what is called a dumb devil, the poor youth could
give no explanation.
For one whole month he suffered this mental torture, this agony of soul. He
had lost all the sweetness of divine love, but not, happily, his fidelity
to it. He looked back with bitter tears to the happy time when he was, as
it were, inebriated with that sweetness, nor did any ray of hope illumine
the darkness of that night of despair.
At last, led by a divine inspiration, he entered a church to pray that this
agony might pass.
On his knees before a statue of the Blessed Virgin he implored the
assistance of the Mother of Mercy with tears and sighs, and the most
He ended by reciting the _Memorare_, that devout prayer attributed to St.
Augustine or St. Bernard, and which was such a favourite with our Blessed
Father and taught by him to all his penitents.
I may here mention that it was from his lips that I first learnt that
prayer, that I wrote it down in the beginning of my breviary, and have made
constant use of it in all my necessities.
But, to return to my story. No sooner had he finished this appeal to the
Mother of Mercy than he began to experience the power of her intercession.
He seemed to hear the voice of God within him saying: "I am thy salvation:
Oh! man of little faith, wherefore dost thou doubt? Thou art mine and I
will save thee; have confidence; I am He who has overcome the world."
Then, in a moment, the devil departed from him; the delusions with which
that wicked one had filled his mind vanished; joy and consolation took
their place; where darkness had reigned light assumed the empire, and
Francis felt he could never sufficiently thank God for this deliverance.
Can you wonder that after such a battle and such a victory won through
the intercession of the Mother of God he always advised those who were
undergoing temptation to have recourse to her powerful aid? She is indeed
_terrible_--to our foes--_as an army in battle array, and a tower of
strength against the face of our enemies_; and what marvel seeing that it
is she who has crushed the serpent's head?
[Footnote 1: _The Treatise on the Love of God_.]
HIS DEVOTION TO THE HOLY WINDING SHEET OF TURIN.
With regard to our Blessed Father's explanation of his special devotion
to the Holy Winding Sheet, as connected with circumstances preceding his
birth, I may here say a few words.
He was born, as you know, on the 21st of August, 1567. His mother was
then very young, not quite fifteen, and frail and delicate in health. It
happened that at that very time the Holy Winding Sheet, then in the Chapel
of Chambery, was, by command of His Highness of Savoy, and at the request
of the Princess Anne d'Este, wife, by her second marriage, of James of
Savoy, Duke of Nemours and Prince of Geneva, brought to Annecy. Charles,
Cardinal of Lorraine, and Louis, Cardinal of Guise, were at the time at
Annecy, where the sacred relic was displayed with great solemnity and
exposed to the veneration of the multitudes who flocked to the place from
Among these crowds came the father and mother of Blessed Francis, and we
may well believe that God made use of this holy relic to imprint upon both
the mother and the unborn child some special influence of grace.
There is another winding sheet at Besancon (for our Lord was buried
in two, Holy Scripture itself suggesting this by the use of the word
_linteamina_, linen cloths), that city being the metropolis of the
ecclesiastical province, in which the Bishopric of Belley is situated.
One day when our Blessed Father was passing by the place the authorities
had the relic exposed in his honour, and begged him to preach upon the
subject. He did so, with tears of emotion and such a torrent of vehement
eloquence, as went straight to the hearts of all who listened to him.
In his own diocese he took care to have the feast of the Holy Winding Sheet
kept in all the churches. He generally himself preached on that day, and
always with much feeling and devotion.
He had a most special devotion to the Holy Winding Sheet, as it is to be
seen at Turin. He had it copied or represented in all sorts of different
ways, or, I should rather say, by all sorts of different arts; in
embroidery, in oil painting, in copperplate, in coloured engraving, in
miniature, in demi-relief, in etching. He had it in his chamber, his
chapel, his oratory, his study, his refectory; in a word, everywhere.
On one occasion I asked him the reason of this. He answered: "It is the
great treasure of the House of Savoy, the defence of the country; it is our
great relic; more than this, it is the miraculous picture of the sufferings
of Jesus Christ, traced with His own blood. And then, too, I have a special
reason for my devotion to this holy relic, seeing that before I was born my
mother dedicated me to our Lord, while contemplating this sacred standard
"It is said that he who carries the standard into battle, rather than
surrender it to the enemy, should wrap its folds round his body and glory
in so dying. Ah! What a happiness it would he if we could thus fold round
about us the Holy Winding Sheet, buried with Jesus Christ for love of Him,
in whom we are buried by baptism."
[Footnote 1: Luke xxiv. 12.]
Every good work can, as you know, have four qualities: it can be
meritorious, satisfactory, consolatory, or impetratory.
In order to have the two first qualities it must be performed when we are
in a state of grace; that is to say, through the motive of charity, or, at
least, in charity.
But the two last it can have, although imperfectly, without charity; for
how many sinners there are who feel consolation in doing works which are
morally good, and how many who in praying impetrate graces and favours from
the mercy of God.
Between the two first qualities of good works there is this difference,
that the first abides with and belongs wholly and entirely to the
person who performs the work, and cannot be communicated; that power of
communication being reserved solely for the merits of Jesus Christ our
Lord, which do not stop short, as it were, and end in Him, but can be, and,
in fact, are, communicated to us. Neither the saints in heaven nor those on
earth have power to communicate to us one tittle of their merits; not the
former, because in glory they are rewarded far beyond their deserving;
not the latter, because they have not yet reached the goal, and whatever
sanctity they may possess, they may, through sin, fall away from it, and
all have need of the grace and mercy of God to keep them from so falling.
The second quality, however, is communicable, because we can share in the
necessities of one another, and can make satisfaction one for another;
spiritual riches being no less communicable than temporal ones, and the
abundance of some being able to relieve the starvation of others. Hear what
our Blessed Father says on this subject in his eighteenth Conference: "We
must never think that by going to Holy Communion for others, or by praying
for them, we lose anything. We need not fear that by offering to God this
communion or prayer in satisfaction for the sins of others we shall not
make spiritual profit for ourselves. The merit of the communion and of the
prayer will remain with us, for we cannot merit grace for one another; it
is our Lord alone who can do that. We can beg for graces for others, but we
can never merit them."
UPON GOOD WILL AND GOOD DESIRES.
Good will being of so great importance, you ask me of what use it is, if it
does not manifest itself by its works.
And St. Gregory tells us that where there are no works there can be no love
at all, or at least none that is sincere. Our Blessed Father will give the
best possible answer to your question. These are his words:
"The angel who proclaimed the birth of our infant Saviour sang glory to
God, announcing that he published joy, peace, and happiness to men of good
will. This was done in order that no one might be ignorant that to receive
this Child all that is needed is to be of good will, even though as yet
one may have effected nothing of good, for Christ comes to bless all good
wills, and, little by little, He will render them fruitful and of good
effect, provided we allow Him to govern them.
"With regard to good desires, it is, indeed, marvellous that they should so
often come to nothing, and that such magnificent blossoms should produce so
"He gives, however, a reason for this, which pleases me very much.
"God knows, he says, why He permits so many good desires to require such
length of time and such severe effort to bring them to action, nay, more
than this, why sometimes they are never actuated at all.
"Yet if there were no other profit from them than that resulting from the
mortification of a soul which loves God, that would be much.
"In fact, we must not desire evil things at all; good things we must desire
only in moderation; but desire supremely, and in a limitless degree, that
one only divine Good, God Himself."
AGAINST THE MAKING OF RASH VOWS.
A certain person of my acquaintance having learnt on good authority that
Blessed Francis had in his early youth made a vow to say his rosary every
day, wished to imitate him in this work of piety, and yet did not like to
make the vow without first consulting him.
He received the answer: "Beware of doing so." My friend replying: "Why do
you refuse to others the advice which you took for yourself in your youth?"
Blessed Francis continued: "The very word _youth_ decides the question,
because I made the vow at that time with less reflection, but now that I am
older I say to you, Do not do it. I do not tell you not to say your rosary;
on the contrary, I advise you as earnestly as I can, and even conjure you
not to allow a single day to pass without reciting that prayer, which is
most pleasing to God, and to the Blessed Virgin. But do it from a firm and
fixed purpose, rather than from a vow, so that if you should happen to omit
it either from weariness or forgetfulness, or any other circumstance, you
may not be perplexed by scruples, and run the risk of offending God. For it
is not enough to vow, we must also pay our vow, and that under pain of
sin, which is no small matter. I assure you that this vow has often been a
hindrance to me, and many a time I have been on the point of asking to be
dispensed, and set free from it, or at least of having it changed into some
other work of equal worth, which might interfere less with the discharge of
"But," rejoined this person, "is not what is done by vow more meritorious
than what is done only from a firm and settled purpose?" "I suspected that
was it," replied Blessed Francis; "in that case who do you wish should
profit by what you do?" "A fine question," cried the other, "my neighbour,
do you think? No, certainly, I want to gain it for myself." "Then there
is nothing more to be said," replied Blessed Francis. "I see I have been
making a mistake, I imagined, of course, that you wished to make your vow
to God, for God, and for His sake, and so by your vow to merit or gain
something for God. What! Are we to talk of our merits and graces as if He
needed them, and were not Himself absolute merit and infinite goodness and
Our Blessed Father loved to see this bird beating its wings against the
bars of its cage. At last to let him fly, he said: 'But what then is merit,
but a work pleasing to God, and a work done in His grace, and by His help,
and for His love--a work which He rewards with increase of grace and
glory?' "Certainly," said the other, "that is how I, too, understood it."
"Well, then," replied he, "if you understand it thus, why do you contend
against your understanding and your conscience? Are we not meriting for
God, when we do a good work in a state of grace and for the love of God?
And ought not the love of God which seeks nothing but His interests,
that is to say, His glory, to be the chief end and final aim of all our
good works, rather than the reward we thereby merit, which is merely an
"And of what use to God are the merits and good works of men?" continued
the other. "For one thing," replied he, "God thereby saves you from taking
a false step. You are standing on the brink of a precipice, and you have
your eyes shut. Let me give you a helping hand."
"In very truth, no good works of ours, though done in a state of grace and
for the love of God, can increase His interior and essential glory. The
reason is that this glory, being God Himself and consequently infinite,
can neither be increased by our good actions nor diminished by our sins;
and it is in this sense that David says that God is God and has no need of
our goods. It is not thus, however, with the exterior glory which is
rendered to Him by creatures, and for the obtaining of which He drew them
forth out of nothingness into existence. This is finite, by reason of its
subject, God's creature, and therefore can be increased by our good works
done in and for the love of God, or, on the other hand, diminished by our
evil actions, by which we dishonour God, and rob Him of His glory, though
only of glory which is exterior and outside of the divine nature.
"Now that we do increase the exterior glory of God by our good works, done
as I have said, is evident from the testimony of the Apostle, when he calls
the man who is purified from sin by justifying grace: _A vessel unto honour
sanctified and profitable to the Lord prepared unto every good work._
"Indeed, it is the very fact that a work done in grace increases the
exterior glory of God, which makes it meritorious, His goodness being
pledged by His promise to glorify those who glorify Him, and to give the
crown of justice to those who fight the good fight, and who do, or endure,
anything for the glory of His name. This is why I said that we must merit
for God, that is to say, we should refer our actions to the glory of God,
and act out of love for Him. So we shall merit eternal life, provided
always we be free from mortal sin, since God is not pledged to give the
glories of heaven to any but those who shall labour in His grace.
"If, on the other hand, we wish to merit for ourselves, that is to say,
if we positively intend that the whole aim of our labour be the reward of
grace, or glory, which we hope for: and if we do not, in performing our
good works seek first and chiefly the glory of God; then we really merit
nothing for ourselves, since we do nothing for God. The reason of this is
that there is so close a relationship between merit and reward (the two
Latin names for them, _meritum_ and _merces_, having the same root and
meaning), that one cannot exist without the other any more than a mountain
without a valley, or paternity without sonship.
"You see now that in the theory you have unwittingly adopted you entirely
destroy the nature of true merit, and are in danger of being shipwrecked
on the same rock as those heretics of our day who hold that good works are
unprofitable for salvation. I am convinced, as you may well believe, that
you are as far from wishing to run the risk with them as you are from
sharing their belief.
"Remember this, that in order to do a good work in true charity you must
not make your own interest your ultimate aim, but God's interest, which is
nothing else but His exterior glory. The more, too, that you think of God's
interest the more He will think of yours, and the less you trouble yourself
about reward, the greater will your reward be in heaven, because pure love,
never mercenary, looks only to the good of the beloved one, not to its own.
This is the end and aim of the sacred teaching that we must seek first the
_Kingdom of God_, that is to say, His glory, knowing assuredly that in
seeking this all good things will be added unto us.
"He who only wishes to merit for himself does nothing for God and merits
nothing for himself: but, on the other hand, he who does everything for God
and for His honour merits much for himself.
"In this game he who loses, wins; and he who thinks only of winning for
himself, plays a losing game. His good works are, as it were, hollow, and
weigh too lightly in the divine balance. He falls asleep on his pile; of
imaginary spiritual wealth, and awakening finds he has nothing in his
hands. He has laboured for himself, not for God, and therefore receives
his reward from himself and not from God. Like a moth, he singes his wings
in the flame of a merit which is truly imaginary, no work being really
meritorious except that which is done in a state of grace, and with God for
its last end."
"All this," replied the person, "does not at all satisfy me on the point
which I brought forward, namely, as to whether work done by vow is not more
meritorious than that which is done without it, seeing that to the action
of the particular virtue which is vowed is added that of the virtue of
religion which is the vow."
"Certainly," replied our Blessed Father, "as regards the question whether
it is more meritorious to say the Rosary by vow rather than of one's free
choice, it is undoubtedly, as you say, adding one act of virtue to another
to do so in discharge of one's vow, for is not prayer the highest of all
religious actions? Again, if I pray with devotion and fervour, am I not
adding to prayer another religious action, which is devotion? If I offer to
God this prayer, as incense, or a spiritual sacrifice, or as an oblation,
are not sacrifice and oblation two religious actions? Moreover, if by this
prayer I desire to praise God, is not divine praise a religious act? If in
praying I adore God, is not adoration one also?
"And if I pray thus with devotion, adoration, sacrifice, oblation, and
praise, have we not here five acts of the virtue of religion added by me to
the sixth, which is prayer?"
"But," rejoined the other, "the vow is more than all that." "If," replied
Blessed Francis, "you say that the act of making a vow is in itself more
than all these six together, you must really bring me some proof of its
"I mean," said the other, "than each of these acts taken separately,"
"That," returned our Blessed Father, "is not the opinion of the Angelical
Doctor, who, when enumerating the eleven acts of religion, places the
making a vow only in the eighth rank, with seven preceding it, namely,
prayer, devotion, adoration, sacrifice, oblation, the paying of tithes, and
first-fruits; and three after it: the praise of God, the taking of lawful
oaths, and the adjuring of creatures in God.
"It is not that the act of making a vow is not an excellent thing; but we
have no right to set it above other virtues which surpass it in excellence,
and other good works of greater worth. We must leave everything in its
place, going neither against the order of reason nor against that of divine
charity. A man who boasts too much of his noble birth provokes scrutiny
into the genuineness of his claim and risks its being disallowed."
"All the same," persisted this person, "I maintain that a good work done by
vow is more meritorious than one done without it, charity, of course, being
taken for granted." "It is not enough," replied Francis, "to take charity
for granted. We must also suppose it to be greater in the man who does the
action with a vow than in the one who does it without; for if he who says
some particular prayer, because bound by vow, has less charity than he who
says the same without being so bound, he, doubtless, has, and you will not
deny it, less merit than the other, because merit is not in proportion to
the vow made, but to the charity which accompanies it, and without which it
has neither life nor value."
"And supposing equal charity, vow, or no vow," resumed the person, "will
not the action done by vow have greater merit than the other?" "It will
only have the same eternal glory for its reward," replied our Blessed
Father, "in so far as it has the same amount of charity, and thus each will
receive the same reward of eternal life.
"But as regards accidental glory, supposing that there were a special halo
for the vow which would add a fourth to the three of which schoolmen treat,
or, if you wish, that there should be as many special and accidental halos
of glory as there are kinds of virtue, they will be unequal in accidental
"But then we should have to prove that this multiplicity of halos, or
accidental glories, exists, in addition to the three of which the schoolmen
speak. This I would ask you now to do, though I am doubtful as to the
"Of what then does it avail you," said the other, "to have made that vow
about which I have been consulting you?"
"It renders me," replied our Blessed Father, "more careful, diligent, and
attentive in keeping my word to God, in binding myself closer to Him,
in strengthening me to keep my promise (for I do not deny that there is
something more stable in the vow than in mere purpose and resolution), in
keeping myself from the sin I might incur, if I should fail in what I have
vowed, in stimulating me to do better, and to make use of this means to
further my progress in the love of God," "You do not then pretend to merit
more on account of it?" said the other. "I leave all that to God," replied
Francis, "He knows the measure of grace which He gives, or wishes to give
me. I desire no more, and only as much as it may please Him to bestow on me
for His glory. Love is not eager to serve its own interests, it leaves the
care of them to its Beloved, who will know how to reward those who love Him
with a pure and disinterested love."
I close this subject with two extracts from the writings of our Blessed
Father. In the first he says: "I do not like to hear people say, We must do
_this_, or _that_, because there is more merit in it. There is more merit
in saying, 'We must do all for the glory of God.' If we could serve God
without merit--which cannot be done--we ought to wish to do so. It is to be
feared that by always trying to discover what is most meritorious we may
miss our way, like hounds, which when the scent is crossed, easily lose it
[Footnote 1: Undoubtedly M. Camus himself. Note.--It is considered by
critics that M. Camus puts much of his own into the month of St. Francis
in this section.--[Ed.]]
[Footnote 2: Psal. xv. 2.]
[Footnote 3: 2 Tim. ii. 21.]
[Footnote 4: S. Thom. 2a, 2ae, Quaest, xxiii. art. vii.]
UPON THE PRO-PASSIONS OF OUR LORD.
I have been asked whether our Lord Jesus Christ had passions. I cannot do
better than answer in the exact words of our Blessed Father, taken from his
Theotimus. He says:
"Jesus Christ feared, desired, grieved, and rejoiced. He even wept, grew
pale, trembled, and sweated blood, although in Him these effects were not
caused by passions like to ours. Therefore the great St. Jerome, and,
following his example, the Schools of Theology, out of reverence for
the divine Person in whom they existed, do not dare to give the name of
passions to them, but call them reverently pro-passions, to show that in
our Lord these sensible emotions, though not passions, took the place
of passions. Moreover, He suffered nothing whatever on account of them,
excepting what seemed good to Him, governing and controlling them at His
will. This, we who are sinners do not do, for we suffer and groan under
these disorderly emotions, which, against our will, and to the great
prejudice of our spiritual peace and welfare, disturb our souls."
[Footnote 1: Book I. chap. 3.]
HIS VICTORY OVER THE PASSIONS OF LOVE AND ANGER.
Blessed Francis candidly owned that the two passions which it cost him the
most to conquer were "love of creatures and anger." The former overcame by
skill, the latter by violence, or as he himself was wont to say, "by taking
hold of his heart with both hands."
The strategy by which he conquered love of creatures was this. He gave his
affections an altogether new object to feed upon and to live for, an object
absolutely pure and holy, the Creator. The soul, we know, cannot live
without love, therefore all depends on providing it with an object worthy
of its love. Our will is like our love. "We become earthly," says St.
Augustine, "if we love the earth, but heavenly if we love heaven. Nay
more, if we love God, we actually, by participation, become godlike. Osee,
speaking of idolaters, says: _They became abominable as those things were
which they loved_". All our Saint's writings breathe love, but a love
so holy, pure, and beautiful as to justify itself in every expression of
it:--_Pure words ... justified in themselves ... sweeter than honey and the
As regards the passion of anger, which was very strong in him, he fought
against it, face to face, with such persevering force and success that
meekness and gentleness are considered his chief characteristics.
[Footnote 1: Osee ix. 10.]
UPON OUR PASSIONS AND EMOTIONS.
One day, at a time when I was writing a treatise on the subject of
the human passions--which treatise was afterwards published among my
Miscellaneous Works--I went to him to be enlightened upon several points.
After having answered my questions, and satisfied my mind, he asked me:
"And what will you say about the affections?" I must confess that this
question surprised me, for though I am quite aware of the distinction
between the reasonable and the sensitive appetite, I had no idea that there
was such a difference between the passions and the affections, as he told
me existed. I imagined that when the passions were governed by reason, they
were called affections, but he explained to me that this was not so at
all. He said that our sensitive appetite was divided into two parts: the
concupiscent and the irascible....
The reasonable appetite is also divided, like the sensitive, into the
concupiscent and the irascible, but it makes use of the mind as its
The sensitive concupiscent appetite is again subdivided into six passions:
1, love; 2, hate; 3, desire; 4, aversion; 5, joy; 6, sadness. The irascible
comprises five passions: 1, anger; 2, hope; 3, despair; 4, fear; 5,
The reasonable appetite, which is the will, has just as many affections,
and they bear the same names. There is, however, this difference between
the passions and the affections. We possess the passions in common with
the irrational brute creation, which, as we see, is moved by love,
hate, desire, aversion, joy, sadness, anger, hope, despair, fear, and
fearlessness, but without the faculty of reason to guide and regulate the
impulse of the senses.
The carnal man, that is to say, he who allows himself to be carried away
by the impetuosity of his feelings, is, says the Psalmist: _compared to
senseless beasts and is become like to them_.
He, however who makes use of his reason, directs his affections uprightly
and well, employing them in the service of the reasonable appetite, only in
as far as they are guided by the light and teaching of natural reason. As
this, however, is faulty and liable to deceptions and illusions, mistakes
are often made which are called by philosophers disorders of mind.
But when the regenerate, that is to say, the Christian who possesses both
grace and charity, makes use of the passions of his sensitive appetite,
as well as of the affections of his reason, for the glory of God, and for
the love of Him alone, this does not happen. Then he loves what he ought
to love, he hates what he ought to hate, he desires what God wills that
he should desire, he flies from what displeases God, he is saddened by
offences done against God, he rejoices and takes delight in the things
which are pleasing to God. Then his zeal fills him with anger and
indignation against all that detracts from the honour due to God; he hopes
in God and not in the creature, he fears nothing save to offend God, he is
fearless in God's service. Thus, the Psalmist, a man after God's own heart,
was able to say that his flesh, that is, the passions seated in his senses,
and his heart, namely, the affections rooted in his mind, _rejoiced in the
The winds, which, as some of the ancients held, come forth from the caverns
and hollows of the earth, produce two very different effects upon the sea.
Without winds we cannot sail, and yet through them tempests and shipwrecks
happen. The passions and affections shut up in the two caverns of the
concupiscent and the irascible appetite are so many inward impulses which
urge us on to evil if they are rebellious, disorderly, and irregular, but
if directed by reason and charity, lead us into the haven of rest, the port
of life eternal.
This is what our Blessed Father taught me, and if you desire any more
information on the subject you will find it in his _Treatise on the Love
of God_. His words did indeed open my eyes! They were of the greatest
assistance to me in writing the book I alluded to.
[Footnote 1: Psal. xlviii. 13.]
[Footnote 2: Psal. lxxxiii. 3.]
[Footnote 3: Book 1. chap. 5.]
HOW HE CAME TO WRITE HIS PHILOTHEA.
There is something remarkable about the origin of this book, _An
Introduction to the Devout Life_, addressed by him to Philothea, that
is, to every soul which desires to love and serve God, and especially
to persons living in the world. One peculiarity about it is that it was
composed two years before its author had thought of writing any book at
all. He says on this subject in his preface:
"It was by no choice or desire of mine that this _Introduction_ saw the
light. Some time ago, a soul richly endowed with honourable and virtuous
qualities, having received from God the grace to aspire to the devout life,
desired my special assistance in the matter. I, on my part, having had
much to do with her in spiritual concerns, and having for a long time past
observed in her a great aptitude for such a life, took great pains in
instructing her. I not only led her through all the exercises suitable to
her condition and aspirations, but I also gave her some written notes,
to which she might refer when necessary. Later on she showed these to a
learned and devout Religious man, who, considering that they might be of
use to many, strongly urged me to publish them, which he easily persuaded
me to do, because his friendship had great power over me, and because I
valued his judgment very highly."
I am able to give some further details. This soul richly endowed with
honourable and virtuous qualities, as our Blessed Father described her to
be, was a lady from Normandy of good family, who had married a gentleman of
note in Savoy. His estates were partly in the diocese of Geneva, where he
mostly resided, and he was nearly related to our Blessed Father. The lady,
who was of a most pious disposition, decided that she could not possibly
choose a better guide in the devout life than our Saint, her Bishop, and
her relative by marriage.
Blessed Francis instructed her carefully both by word of mouth and also by
written lessons, which she not only kept and treasured up, but sorted and
arranged according to their various subjects, so as to be able to find in a
moment the counsel she wanted.
For two years she went on steadily collecting and amassing these precious
documents as one by one he wrote them for her. At the end of that time,
owing to the disturbed state of the country, a great change came over her
life. Her husband served his Prince, the Duke of Savoy, in the war in
Piedmont, and was obliged to leave the management of all his affairs and
of his property to his wife, who was as skilful in such matters as she was
The business of a great lawsuit in which her husband was concerned obliged
her to take up her residence for more than six months at Chambery, where
the senate or parliament was held.
During her stay in this place she took for her director Pere Jean Ferrier,
the Rector of the Jesuit College, and confessor to our Blessed Father. In
her difficulties she applied to this Father for advice, and he willingly
Sometimes it agreed with what Blessed Francis had said to her on similar
occasions, sometimes it differed. When it differed, in order to prove that
she was not speaking at random, and that she had something stronger than
her own memory to rely upon, she would show him some of the written
memoranda of which I have spoken.
The good Priest, who was deeply versed in all spiritual matters, found so
much in them that was profitable and delightful, that on one occasion he
asked her if she had many more of the same sort.
"So many, Father," she replied, "that if they were arranged in proper order
they would make a good-sized volume."
The Father at once expressed his wish to see them all, and after having
slowly and thoughtfully perused them, begged as a further favour that he
might have several copies made of them.
This being readily granted, he distributed the said copies among the
Fathers of the College, who fully appreciated the gift, and treasured it
When this lady returned to Geneva, the Father Rector wrote a letter by her
to our Blessed Father, praising her many virtues and her business talents,
and begging him to continue to guide and counsel a soul so rich in all
Christian graces and heavenly dispositions. He then went on to extol in the
highest terms the written teaching with which he (Francis) had assisted
her. Our Blessed Father read Pere Ferrier's first letter, he has told me,
without giving a thought to the matter of his own writings. But when this
was followed by letter upon letter urging and imploring him not to keep
such a treasure buried, but to allow other souls to be enlightened and
guided in the way of salvation by his teaching, our Blessed Father was
puzzled. He wrote to Pere Ferrier saying that his present charge was so
onerous, and engrossing, that he had no leisure for writing, and moreover
that he had no talent for it, and could not imagine why people wanted him
to attempt to do so. Pere Ferrier replied, saying that if his Lordship
did not publish the excellent instructions which he had given in writing
to this lady he would be keeping back truth unlawfully, depriving souls
of great advantages, and God of great glory. Our Blessed Father, much
surprised, showed the letter to the lady, begging her to explain it. She
replied that Pere Ferrier had made the same request to her, entreating her
to have the memoranda, given her for her private direction, published.
"What memoranda?" said Blessed Francis. "Oh! Father," replied the lady, "do
you not remember all those little written notes on various subjects which
you gave me to help my memory?" "And pray what could be done with those
notes?" he enquired. "Possibly you might make a sort of Almanack out of
them, a sentence for every day in the year." "An Almanack!" cried the lady.
"Why, Father, do you know that there are enough of them to fill a big book!
Little by little the pile has grown larger than you would think! Many
feathers make a pound, and many strokes of the pen make a book. You had
better see the papers, and judge for yourself. The Father Rector has had
them copied, and they make a thick volume." "What!" cried Blessed Francis,
"has the good Father really had the patience to read through all these poor
little compositions, put together for the use of an unenlightened woman!
You have done us both a great honour, indeed, by giving the learned doctor
such a trifle to amuse himself with, and by showing him these precious
productions of mine!" "Yet he values them so much," replied the lady, "that
he persists in assuring me that he has never come across any writings more
useful, or more edifying; and he goes on to say that this is the general
feeling of all the Fathers of his house, who are all eager to possess
copies. If you refuse to take the matter in hand, they will themselves see
that this light is not left much longer under a bushel." "Really," said our
Blessed Father, "it is amazing that people should want me to believe that
I have written a book without meaning it. However, let us examine these
precious pearls of which so much is thought."
The lady then brought to him all the bundles of notes which she had shown
to Pere Ferrier. Our Blessed Father was astonished to see how many there
were, and wondered at the care which the lady had taken to collect and
preserve them. He asked to be allowed to look them through again, and
begged Pere Ferrier not to attempt to send to the press disconnected and
detached fragments which he had never for a moment thought of publishing.
He added, however, that if on examination he thought that what had been
written for the consolation of one soul might prove useful to others, he
would not fail to put them into good order, and to add what was necessary
to make them acceptable to those who might take the trouble to read them.
This he did, and the result was the _Introduction_, which we are
therefore justified in saying was composed two years before its author
thought of writing it!
The simplicity, beauty, and usefulness of this book is well known. It
showed the possibility of living a holy life in any station, amid the
tumult of worldly cares, the seductions of prosperity, or the temptations
of poverty. It brought new light to devout souls, and encouragement to all,
whether high or low, who were desirous of finding and following Jesus.
But, alas! there is a reverse side to the picture. I mean the
misrepresentations and calumnies which our Blessed Father had to endure
from those who pretended that the principles on which the book was
based were absurd, and that it inculcated a degree of devotion quite
impracticable in ordinary life.
I can hardly speak calmly about this matter, and so content myself with
remarking that in spite of bitter opposition the book has already, in my
own time, passed through thirty editions in French, and has been translated
not only into Latin, but into Italian, Spanish, German, English, in short,
into most European languages.
In order that you may not think, however, that I have exaggerated in what I
have said of the opposition which it excited, I will close the subject with
our Blessed Father's own calm and gentle words of lament. In his preface to
the _Treatise on the Love of God_, he says:
"Three or four years afterwards I published the _Introduction to a Devout
Life_ upon the occasion, and in the manner which I have put down in the
preface thereof: regarding which I have nothing to say to you, dear reader,
save only that, though this little book has in general had a gracious and
kind acceptance, yes, even amongst the gravest Prelates and Doctors of the
Church, yet it has not escaped the rude censure of some who have not merely
blamed me but bitterly and publicly attacked me, because I tell Philothea
that dancing is an action indifferent in itself, and that for recreation's
sake one may make puns and jokes. Knowing the quality of these censors, I
praise their intention, which I think was good. I should have desired them,
however, to please to consider that the first proposition is drawn from
the common and true doctrine of the most holy and learned divines; that
I was writing for such as live in the world, and at court; that withal I
carefully point out the extreme dangers which are found in dancing; and
that as to the second proposition, it is not mine but St. Louis', that
admirable King, a Doctor worthy to be followed in the art of rightly
conducting courtiers to a devout life. For, I believe, if they had weighed
this, their charity and discretion would never have permitted their zeal,
how vigorous, and austere soever, to arm their indignation against me."
[Footnote 1: Madame de Charmoisy, nee Louise Dutchatel. [Ed.]]
[Footnote 2: The Saint added advice given by him to his mother and
UPON THE EXAMPLE OF THE SAINTS.
God said to Moses: _Look, and make it_ (the tabernacle) _according to the
pattern that was shewn thee in the mount_, and he did so. The ancient
philosopher was right when he described the art of imitating as the
mistress of all others, because it is by making copies that we learn how to
draw originals, "The way of precept is long," said the Stoics, "but example
makes it short and efficacious." Seneca, treating of the best method of
studying philosophy, says that it is to nourish and clothe ourselves with
the maxims of eminently philosophical minds.
Blessed Francis always inculcated this practice of imitating others in
virtue. Hence his choice of spiritual books to be read and followed. With
respect to the Lives of the Saints, he advised the reading by preference of
those of holy men and women whose vocation has either been identical with
or very much like our own, in order that we may put before ourselves models
we can copy more closely.
On one occasion, however, when I was telling him how I had taken him for my
pattern, and how closely I watched his conduct and ways, trying thereon to
model my own, and that he must be careful not to do anything less perfect,
for if he did, I should certainly imitate it as a most exalted virtue, he
said: "It is unfortunate that friendship, like love, should have its eyes
bandaged and hinder us from distinguishing between the defects and the good
qualities of the person to whom we are attached. What a pity it is that you
should force me to live among you as if I were in an enemy's country, and
that I have to be as suspicious of your eyes and ears as if you were spies!
"Still I am glad that you have spoken to me as you have done, for a man
warned is a man armed, and I seem to hear a voice saying: 'Child of earth,
be on thy guard, and always walk circumspectly, since God and men are
watching thee!' Our enemies are constantly on the alert to find fault and
injure us by talking against us; our friends ought to observe us just as
narrowly but for a very different reason, in order, namely, that they may
be able to warn us of our failings, and kindly to help us to get rid of
"_The just man_, says the Psalmist, _shall correct me in mercy, and shall
reprove me, but let not the oil of the sinner fatten my head_. By the oil
of the sinner is meant flattery. Do not be offended with me if I assure you
that you are still more cruel to me, for you not only refuse to give me a
helping hand to aid me in getting rid of my faults, which you might do by
wholesome and charitable warnings, but you seem by your unfair copying of
my faults to wish, to make me an accomplice in your own wrong doings!
"As for me, the affection God has given me for you is very different. My
jealousy for God's honour makes me long so ardently to see you walk in His
ways that your slightest failing is intolerable to me, and so far am I from
wishing to imitate your faults, that, if I seem to overlook them for a
time, I am, believe me, doing violence to myself, by waiting with patience
for a fitting opportunity to warn you of them."
[Footnote 1: Exod. xxv. 40.]
UPON THE LOVE OF GOD'S WORD.
Blessed Francis considered--as indeed I have already told you in another
place--that to love to listen to God, speaking to us, either by the living
voice of His Priests, or in pious books, which are often the voice of His
Saints, was one of the strongest marks of predestination.
But he also insisted on the folly and uselessness of listening to, or
reading, without putting in practice the lessons so conveyed to us. This,
he said, was like beholding our faces in a glass, then going our way, and
forgetting what we are like. It is to learn the will of our Master and not
to take pains to fulfil His commands.
In his Philothea he says:
"Be devoted to the word of God, whether it comes to you in familiar
conversation with your spiritual friends, or in listening to sermons.
Always hear it with attention and reverence, profit by it as much as
possible, and never permit it to fall to the ground. Receive it into your
heart as a precious balm, following the example of the Blessed Virgin, who
kept carefully in her heart every word that was spoken in praise of her
divine Child. Do not forget that our Lord gathers up the words which we
speak to Him in our prayers, in proportion to the diligence with which we
gather up those He addresses to us by the mouth of His preachers."
As regards spiritual reading, he recommended it most strongly as being food
for the soul, which we could always keep at hand, at all times and in all
places. He said that we might be where we could not always hear sermons, or
easily have recourse to a spiritual director and guide, and that our memory
might not always serve us to recall what we had been taught, either by
preachers, or by those who had instructed us specially and individually
in the way of salvation. He therefore desired those who aspired to lead a
devout life to provide themselves with pious books which would kindle in
their hearts the flame of divine love, and not to let a single day pass
without using them. He wished them to be read with great respect and
devotion, saying that we should regard them as missives "sent to us by the
Saints from heaven, to show us the way thither, and to give us courage to
persevere in it."
HIS LOVE OF RETIREMENT.
It is well known that if our Blessed Father had lived to return from Lyons,
his intention was to retire from the world and its activities in which he
had so long taken a part, and to lead henceforth a purely contemplative
With this intention he had, some years before his death, caused a little
hermitage to be built in a most suitable and sequestered spot on the shores
of the beautiful lake of Annecy. This, however, he had had done quite
quietly without giving any idea of the real purpose for which it was
On this same shore there is a Benedictine Monastery called Taloire,
easily accessible, as it is built on the slope of the Hill. Into it he
had introduced some salutary reforms, and he was on terms of the most
affectionate intimacy with the holy men who lived a hidden life in its
At the top of a neighbouring spur of this same mountain, on a gentle and
smooth rising ground, surrounded by rich vineyards and delightful shrubs of
various kinds, watered by clear streams, stood an old chapel, dedicated to
God, under the name of St. Germain, a Saint who had been one of the first
monks in the Monastery and who is greatly honoured in that part of the
country. Blessed Francis secretly gave the necessary funds for repairing
and decorating this chapel, and for building round it five or six cells
pleasantly enclosed. This hermitage, the Superior said, would be most
useful to his monks, enabling them to make their spiritual retreats in
quiet solitude. Indeed, from time to time he sent them there for this
purpose, in accordance with the rule of St. Benedict, which so greatly
recommends solitude, a rule practised to the letter in the hermitages of
Montserrat in Spain.
Here, then, in this quiet and lonely retreat, it was the intention of
Blessed Francis to spend the last years of his life, and when he spoke upon
the subject in private to the good Prior, he expressed himself in these
words: "When I get to our hermitage I will serve God with my breviary, my
rosary, and my pen. Then I shall have plenty of happy and holy leisure,
which I can spend in putting on paper, for the glory of God and the
instruction of souls, thoughts which have been surging through my mind for
the last thirty years and which have been useful to me in my sermons, in my
instructions, and in my own private meditations. My memory is crowded with
these, but I hope, besides, that God will inspire me with others, and that
ideas will fall upon me from heaven thick and fast as the snowflakes which
in winter whiten all our mountains. Oh! who will give me the wings of a
dove, that I may fly to this holy resting place, and draw breath for a
little while beneath the shadow of the Cross? _I expect until my change
[Footnote 1: Job xiv. 14.]
HOW HE SANCTIFIED HIS RECREATIONS.
Blessed Francis, gentle and indulgent to others as regards recreation, was
severe towards himself in this matter. He never had a garden in either of
the two houses which he occupied during the time of his episcopate, and
only took walks when the presence of guests made them necessary, or when
his physician prescribed them for his health, for he obeyed him faithfully.
But he acted otherwise with his friends and neighbours. He approved of
agreeable conversation after meals, never showing weariness, or making them
feel ill at ease. When I went to visit him, he took pains to amuse me after
the fatigue of preaching, either by a row on the beautiful lake of Annecy,
or by delightful walks in the fine gardens on its banks. He did not refuse
similar recreations which I offered him when he came to see me, but he
never asked for or sought them for himself. Although he found no fault
with those who talked enthusiastically of architecture, pictures, music,
gardening, botany, and the like, and who devoted themselves to these
studies or amusements, he desired that they should use them as mystical
ladders by means of which the soul may rise to God, and by his own example
he showed how this might be done.
If any one pointed out to him rich orchards filled with well-grown fruit
trees: "We," he would say, "are the agriculture and husbandry of God." If
buildings of just proportion and symmetry: "We," he would say, "are the
edifice of God." If some magnificent and beautifully decorated church: "We
are the living temples of the living God. Why are not our souls as richly
adorned with virtues?" If flowers: "Ah! when will our flowers give fruits,
and, indeed, be themselves fruits of honour and integrity?"
When there was any talk of budding and grafting, he would say: "When shall
we be rightly grafted? When shall we yield fruits both plentiful and well
flavoured to the heavenly Husbandman, who cultivates us with so much care
and toil?" When rare and exquisite pictures were shown to him: "There is
nothing," he would say, "so beautiful as the soul which is made to the
image and likeness of God."
When he was taken into a garden, he would exclaim: "Ah! when will the
garden of our soul be planted with flowers and plants, well cultivated,
all in perfect order, sealed and shut away from all that can displease the
heavenly Gardener, who appeared under that form to Magdalen!" At the sight
of fountains: "When will fountains of living water spring up in our hearts
to life eternal? How long shall we continue to dig for ourselves miserable
cisterns, turning our backs upon the pure source of the water of life? Ah!
when shall we draw freely from the Saviour's fountains! When shall we bless
God for the rivers of Israel!"
And so on with mountains, lakes, and rivers. He saw God in all things and
all things in God.
WHAT HE DREW FROM SOME LINES OF POETRY.
One day we went together into the cell of a certain Carthusian monk, a man
whose rare beauty of mind, and extraordinary piety, drew many to visit him,
and in later days have taken his candlestick from under its bushel and set
it up on high as one of the lights of the French Church.
He had written in capital letters round the walls of his cell these two
beautiful lines of an old Latin poet:
_Tu mihi curarum requies, tu nocte vel atra
Lumen, et in solis tu mihi turba locis._
Thou art my rest in grief and care,
My light in blackest gloom;
In solitude which thou dost share,
For crowds there is no room.
Our Blessed Father read and re-read these lines several times, thinking
them so beautiful that he wished to engrave them on his memory, believing
that they had been written by some Christian poet, perhaps Prudentius.
Finding, however, that they were composedly a pagan, and on a profane
subject, he said it was indeed a pity that so brilliant a burst of light
should only have flashed out from the gross darkness of heathenism.
"However," he continued, "this good Father has made the vessels of the
Egyptians into a tabernacle, lining it with the steel mirrors which had
lent themselves to feminine vanity. Thus it is that to the pure all
things are pure. This, indeed, is quite a different thing from the way of
acting of those who make light of the holy words of Scripture, using them
carelessly and even jestingly in idle conversation, a practice intolerable
among Christians who profess to reverence these oracles of salvation."
We then began to analyse these beautiful lines, taking them in the sense in
which the holy monk had taken them when he wrote them on his walls, namely,
as addressed to God. Our Blessed Father said that God alone was the repose
of those who had quitted the world and its cares to listen to His voice
speaking to their hearts in solitude, and that without this attentive
hearkening, solitude would be a long martyrdom, and a source of anxiety in
place of a centre of tranquillity.
At the same time he said that those who were burdened with Martha's busy
anxieties would not fail to enjoy in the very midst of their hearts the
deep peace of Mary's better part, provided they carried all their cares to
We saw afterwards another inscription containing these words of the
_This is my rest for ever and ever:
Here will I dwell for I have chosen it._
"It is in God," said our Blessed Father, "rather than in a cell, that we
should choose our abode, never to change it. Oh! happy and blessed are they
who dwell in that house, which is not only the house of the Lord, but the
Lord Himself. Happy, indeed, for they shall praise Him for ever and ever."
Then we came upon another inscription, bearing these words: _One thing I
have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may see the delight
of the Lord and visit His Temple._
"This true dwelling of the Lord," said he, "is His holy will; which is
signified by the word delight; i.e., pleasure. Since in God there is no
pleasure that is not good, what difference can there be between the _good
pleasure_ and the _will_ of God? The will of God never tends but towards
We then went back to the second part of the Latin distich: _Tu nocte vel
atra, lumen: my light in blackest gloom._
"Yes, truly," he said, "Jesus born in Bethlehem brought a glorious day-dawn
into the midst of night; and by His Incarnation did He not come to
enlighten those who were sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death? He
is, indeed, our Light and our Salvation; when we walk through the valley of
the shadow of death we need fear nothing if He is at our side. He is the
Light of the world; He dwells in light inaccessible, light that no darkness
can overtake. He alone can lighten our darkness."
Upon the last clause of the beautiful verse:
_Et in solis tu mihi turba locis.
In solitude which thou dost share, For crowds there is no room._
he said: "Yes, communion with God in solitude is worth a thousandfold
the pleasantest converse with the gay crowds who throng the doors of the
wealthy; for the rich man can only maintain his splendour by dint of much
toil, and is worn out by his cares and by the importunity of others.
Miserable, indeed, are riches acquired at so great cost, retained with so
much trouble, and yet lost with such painful regret."
This was one of his favourite sayings: "We must find our pleasure in
ourselves when we are alone, and in our neighbour as in ourselves when we
are in his company. Yet, wherever we may be, we must primarily find our
pleasure in God alone, who is the maker of both solitude and society. He
who does otherwise will find all places wearisome and unsatisfying; for
solitude without God is death, and the society of men without God is more
harmful than desirable. Wherever we may be, if God is there, all is well:
where He is not, nothing is well: without Him we can do nothing that has
[Footnote 1: Tibul iv., Eleg xiii. ii. 12.]
[Footnote 2: Psal. cxxxi. 14.]
[Footnote 3: Psal. xxvi. 4.]
UPON BEING CONTENT WITH OUR POSITION IN LIFE.
Perhaps there is nothing of which men are more apt to complain than of
their own condition in life. This temptation to discontent and unhappiness
is a favourite device of the enemy of souls. The holy Bishop used to say:
"Away with such thoughts! Do not sow wishes in other people's gardens; do
not desire to be what you are not, but rather try most earnestly to be the
best of what you are. Try with all your might to perfect yourself in the
state in which God has placed you, and bear manfully whatever crosses,
heavy or light, may be laid upon your shoulders. Believe me, this is the
fundamental principle of the spiritual life; and yet, of all principles
it is the least well understood. Every one follows the bent of his own
taste and desires; very few find their sole happiness in doing their duty
according to the pleasure of our Lord. What is the use of building castles
in Spain, when we have to live in France!
"This, as you remember, is old teaching of mine, and by this time you ought
to have mastered it thoroughly."
UPON SELF-SUFFICIENCY AND CONTENTEDNESS.
There is one kind of self-sufficiency which is blameworthy and another
which is laudable. The former is a form of pride and vanity, and those whom
it dominates are termed conceited. Holy Scripture says of them that they
trust in themselves. This vanity is so absurd that it seems more deserving
of contempt and ridicule than of grave blame.
But to turn to good and rational contentedness. Of it the ancient stoic
said that what is sufficient is always at our command, and that what we
labour for is superfluous; and again, that if we live according to the laws
of nature we shall never be poor, but if we want to live according to our
fancies we shall never be rich.
To be contented with what really suffices, and to persuade ourselves that
what is more than this Is either evil or leading to evil, is the true means
of leading a tranquil, and therefore a happy, life.
This is not only my own opinion, but it is also that of our Blessed Father,
who congratulates a pious soul on being contented with the sufficiency she
had. "God be praised for your contentment with the sufficiency which He has
given you. Persevere in thanking Him for it. It is, indeed, the beatitude
of this poor earthly life to be contented with what is sufficient, because
those who are not contented when they have enough will never be contented,
how much soever they may acquire. In the words of your book--since you call
it your book--Nothing will ever content those who are not contented when
they have enough."
THE REVERENCE OF BLESSED FRANCIS FOR THE SICK.
If the poor, by reason of their poverty, are members of Jesus Christ, the
sick are also such by reason of their sickness. Our Saviour Himself has
told us so: _I was sick, and you visited Me_. For if the great Apostle
St. Paul said that with the weak he was weak, how much more the divine
Exemplar, whom he but copied?
Our Blessed Father expressed as follows his feelings of respect and honour
towards a sick person to whom he was writing. "While I think of you sick
and suffering in your bed, I regard you with special reverence, and as
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