The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales
Jean Pierre Camus
Part 6 out of 8
worthy of being singularly honoured as a creature visited by God, clothed
in His apparel, His favoured spouse. When our Lord was on the Cross He was
proclaimed King even by His enemies, and souls who are bearing the cross
(of suffering) are declared to be queens. Do you know why the angels envy
us? Assuredly, because we can suffer for our Lord, whilst they have never
suffered anything for His sake. St. Paul, who had been raised to heaven and
had tasted the joys of Paradise, considered himself happy only because of
his infirmities, and of his bearing the Cross of our Lord."
Farther on he entreats her, as a person signed with the Cross, and a sharer
in the sufferings of Jesus Christ, to commend to God, though in an agony
of pain, an affair of much importance which concerned the glory of God. He
held that in a condition such as hers was, prayer would be more readily
heard, just as our Saviour, praying fervently on the Cross, was heard for
His reverence. The Psalmist was of the same opinion, saying that God heard
him willingly when he cried to Him in the midst of his tribulation, and
that it was in his afflictions that God was nearest to him.
Our Blessed Father believed that prayers offered by those who are in
suffering, though they be short, are more efficacious than any others. He
says: "I entreat you to be so kind as to recommend to God a good work which
I greatly desire to see accomplished, and especially to pray about it when
you are suffering most acutely: for then it is that your prayers, however
short, if they are heartfelt, will be infinitely well received. Ask God at
that time also for the virtues which you need the most."
[Footnote 1: Matt. xxv. 36.]
[Footnote 2: Cor. xi. 29.]
UPON THE CARE OF THE SICK.
One day we went together to visit a very aged lady in her last illness. Her
piety, which was of no ordinary kind, made her look forward calmly to the
approach of death, for which she had prepared by the reception of the
Sacraments of Penance and of the Blessed Eucharist. She only awaited the
visit of her doctor before asking for that of Extreme Unction.
All her worldly affairs were in perfect order, and but one thing troubled
her, namely, that her children who had all assembled round her, on hearing
of her danger, were too indefatigable in their attendance upon her, and
this, as she thought, to the detriment of their own health. Our Blessed
Father wishing to comfort her, said tenderly: "Do you know that I, on the
contrary, when I am ill, am never so happy as when I see my relatives and
servants all busy about me, tiring themselves out on my behalf. You are
astonished, and ask me why I feel like this. Well, it is because I know
that God will repay them generously for all these services. For if a cup of
cold water given to a poor man in the love and for the love of God receives
such a reward as eternal life; if our least labours undertaken for the love
of God work in us the weight of a supreme glory, why should we pity those
whom we see thus occupied, since we are not ill-disposed towards them, nor
envious of their advantages? _For unto you it is given_, said St. Paul to
the christians of his day, _not only to believe in Christ, but also to
suffer for Him_.
"The reapers and vintagers are never happier than when they are heavily
laden, because that proves the harvest, or the vintage, to have been
plentiful. In truth, if those who wait on us, whether in health or in
sickness, are only considering us, and not God, and are only seeking to
please us, they make so bad a use of their toil that it is right they
should suffer for it. He who serves the prophet for the love of the prophet
shall receive the reward of the prophet. But, if they serve us for the
love of God they are more to be envied than pitied; for he who serves the
prophet in consideration of Him who sends him shall receive the reward of
God, a reward which passes all imagination, which is beyond price, and
which no words can express."
In his visiting of the sick when on their death-bed our Blessed Father was
truly an angel of peace and consolation. He treated the sick person with
the utmost sweetness and gentleness, speaking from time to time a few words
suited to his condition and frame of mind, sometimes uttering very short
ejaculatory prayers, or aspirations for him, sometimes leading the sufferer
to utter them himself, either audibly, or, if speech was painful to him,
secretly in his heart; and then allowing him to struggle undisturbed with
the mortal pains which were assailing him.
He could not bear to see the dying tormented with long exhortations. That
was not the time, he would say, for preaching, or even for long prayers;
all that was needed was to keep the soul sustained in the atmosphere of the
divine will, which was to be its eternal element in heaven, to keep it up,
I say, by short beatings of the wings, like birds, who in this way save
themselves from falling to the earth.
UPON SPEAKING WELL OF THE DEAD.
When any of his friends or relatives died he never tired of speaking well
of them nor of recommending their souls to the prayers of others. He used
to say: "We do not remember our dead, our dear ones who have left us,
nearly enough; and the proof that we do not remember them enough is that we
speak of them too seldom. We turn away conversation from that subject as
though it were a painful one; we let the dead bury their dead, their memory
die out in us with the sound of the funeral knell, seeming to forget that
a friendship which can end even with death can never have been a true one.
Holy Scripture itself tells us that true charity, that is, divine and
supernatural love, is stronger than death! It seems to me that as a burning
coal not only remains alive but burns more intensely when buried under
ashes, so sincere and pure love ought to be made stronger by death, and to
impel us to more fervent prayers for our deceased friends and relatives
than to supplications for those who are yet living.
"For thus we look upon the dead more absolutely as in God, since, having
died in Him, as we piously believe, they rest upon the bosom of His mercy.
Then, praise can no longer be suspected of flattery, and, as it is a kind
of impiety to tear to pieces the reputation of the dead, like wild beasts
digging up a corpse to devour it; so it is a mark of piety to rehearse and
extol the good qualities of the departed, since our doing so incites us to
imitate them: nothing affecting us so deeply and so strongly as the example
of those with whom we come in close and frequent contact."
In order to encourage people to pray for the dead he used to represent
to them that in this one single work of mercy all the other thirteen are
included, explaining his statement in the following manner. "Are we not,"
he would say, "in some sort visiting the sick when we obtain by our prayers
relief or refreshment for the poor Souls in purgatory?
"Are we not giving drink to the thirsty and feeding the hungry when we
bestow the cool, refreshing dew of our prayers upon those who, plunged in
the midst of its burning flames, are all athirst and hungering for the
vision of God? When we help on their deliverance by the means which Faith
suggests, are we not most truly ransoming prisoners? Are we not clothing
the naked when we procure for souls a garment of light, the light of glory?
"Is it not an act of the most princely hospitality to obtain for them an
entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem, and to make them fellow-citizens with
the saints and servants of God in the eternal Zion?
"Then, as regards the spiritual works of mercy. Is it not the most splendid
thing imaginable to counsel the doubtful, to convert the sinner, to
forgive injuries, to bear wrongs patiently? And yet, what is the greatest
consolation we can give to the afflicted in this life compared to the
solace our prayers bring to the poor souls who are in such grievous
Strictly speaking, the sojourn which we make on earth, in the days of our
flesh and which we call life, is rather death than life, since "every
moment leads us from the cradle to the grave."
This made an ancient philosopher say that we are dying every day of our
lives, that every day some portion of our being falls away, and that what
we call life is truly death.
Hence the beautiful saying of the wise woman of Thecua: _We all die, and
like waters that return no more, we fall down into the earth._
Nature has imprinted in the hearts of all men a horror of death. Our
Saviour, even, taking upon Himself our flesh and making Himself like to His
brethren, sin only excepted, would not be exempted from this infirmity,
although He knew that the passage into another world would set Him free
from all miseries and transport Him into a glory which He already possessed
as regarded His soul. Seneca says that death ought not to be considered an
evil when it has been preceded by a good life.
What makes death so formidable is that which follows upon it. We have,
however, the shield of a most blessed hope to protect us against the
terrors that arise from fear of the divine judgments. This hope makes us
put our trust, not in our own virtue, but solely in the mercy of God, and
assures us that those who trust in His goodness are never confounded.
But, you say, I have committed many faults. True, but who is so foolish as
to think that he can commit more sins than God can pardon? Who would dare
to compare the greatness of his guilt with the immensity of that infinite
mercy which drowns his sins in the depths of the sea of oblivion each time
we repent of them for love of Him? It belongs only to those who despair
like Cain to say that their sin is so great that there is no pardon for
them, for _with God there is mercy and plentiful redemption, and He
shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities_.
Listen to the words of holy consolation which were addressed by our Blessed
Father to a soul encompassed and assaulted by the terrors of death and of
the judgment to follow. They are to be found in one of his letters. "Yes,"
he says, "death is hideous indeed, that is most true, but the life which is
beyond, and which the mercy of God will give to us, is much to be desired.
There must be no mistrust in your mind, for, miserable though we may be,
we are not half so miserable as God is merciful to those who desire to
love Him, and have fixed their hope in Him. When St. Charles Borromeo was
at the point of death he had the crucifix brought to him, that by the
contemplation of his Saviour's death he might soften the bitterness of
his last agony. The best remedy of all against an unreasonable dread is
meditation upon the death of Him who is our life; we should never think of
our own death without going on to reflect upon that of Christ."
[Footnote 1: Senec. Epist. 24.]
[Footnote 2: Kings xiv. 14.]
[Footnote 3: Gen. iv. 13.]
[Footnote 4: Psal. cxxix. 7-8.]
UPON WISHING TO DIE.
You ask me if we are permitted to wish for death rather than offend God any
more? I will tell you a thought which I believe was suggested to me by our
Blessed Father, but I cannot distinctly remember on what occasion.
"It is always dangerous to wish for death, because this desire, generally
speaking, is only to be met with in those who have arrived at a very high
pitch of perfection, which we dare not think we have reached, or else in
persons of a morose and melancholy temperament, and but seldom in those of
ordinary disposition like ourselves."
It is alleged that David, St. Paul, and other saints expressed their
longing to be delivered from the burden of this body so that they might
appear before God and be satisfied with the vision of His glory. But we
must remember that it would be presumptuous to speak the language of
Saints, not having their sanctity, and to imagine that we had it would
be inexcusable vanity. To entertain such a wish because of sadness,
disappointment, or dejection is akin to despair.
But, you say, it is that you may no longer offend God. This, no doubt,
shows great hatred of sin, but the Saints longed for death, more that
they might glorify God. Whatever we may pretend, I believe it to be very
difficult to have only this one end in view, in our desire to die. Usually
it will be found that we are simply discontented with life. To get to
heaven we must not only not sin, but we must do good. If we refrain from
sin we shall escape punishment, but more is required to deserve heaven.
UPON THE SAME SUBJECT.
There are some who imagine that St. Paul desired to die in order only that
he might sin no more when he said that he felt in himself a contradiction
between the law of his senses and of his reason; and, feeling this, cried
out: _Oh! unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this
death?_ These people, therefore, as though they were so many little
Apostles, when they are, by some trifle, goaded to impatience, instantly
say that they desire to die, and pretend that their only wish is to be in
a condition in which they cannot possibly offend God. This is, indeed, to
cover up mere impatience and irritation with a fine cloak! But what is
still worse, it is to wrench and distort the words of the Apostle and apply
them in a sense of which he never thought. Our Blessed Father, in one of
his letters, gives an explanation of this passage which is so clear and so
excellent that I am sure if will be useful to you. He speaks thus: "_Oh,
unhappy man that I am_, said the great Apostle, _who shall deliver me from
the body of this death?_ He felt within himself, as it were, an armed host
of ill humours, antipathies, bad habits, and natural inclinations which
conspired to bring about his spiritual death; and because he fears them he
declares that he hates them, and because he hates them he cannot support
them without pain, and his grief makes him burst out into the exclamation
which he himself answers in these words: _The grace of God by Jesus
Christ_. This will deliver him not from the death of the body with its
terrors, not from the last combat, but from defeat in the struggle, and
will preserve him from being overcome.
"You see how far the Apostle is from invoking death, although elsewhere
he desires to be set free from the prison of the body that he may be with
Jesus Christ. He calls the mass of temptations which urge and incite him
to sin a body of death, sin being the true death of the soul. Grace is the
death of this death and the devourer of this abortion of hell, for where
sin abounded grace superabounds.
"Grace, which has been merited for us by Jesus Christ our Saviour, to whom
be honour and glory for ever and ever."
[Footnote 1: Rom. vii. 24.]
UPON THE DESIRE OF HEAVEN.
Here is a little village story to show how often true and solid piety is to
be found among the lowly and ignorant, of whom the world thinks not at all.
I had it from the lips of our Blessed Father, who loved to tell it.
While visiting his diocese, passing through a little country town, he was
told that a well-to-do inhabitant was very ill and desired to see him, and
to receive his blessing before he died. Our Blessed Father hastened to his
bedside and found him at the point of death, yet in full possession of all
his faculties. When he saw the Bishop the good farmer exclaimed: "Oh! my
Lord, I thank God for permitting me to receive your blessing before I die."
Then the room being cleared of all his relations and friends, and he being
left quite alone with the holy Prelate, he made his confession and received
absolution. His next question was, "My Lord, shall I die?" The Bishop,
unwilling to alarm him unnecessarily, answered quietly and reassuringly
that he had seen people far more ill than he recover, but that he must
place all his trust in God, the Master of life and death, who knows the
number of our days, which cannot be even one more than he has decreed.
"But, my Lord," returned the man, "do you really yourself think that I
shall die?" "My son," replied the good Prelate, "a physician could answer
that question better than I can. All I can tell you is that I know your
soul to be just now in a very excellent state of preparation for death, and
that perhaps were you summoned at any other time, you might not be so fit
to go. The best thing you can do is to put aside all desire of living and
all care about the matter, and to abandon yourself wholly to the providence
and mercy of God, that He may do with you according to His good pleasure,
which will be undoubtedly that very thing which is best for you."
"Oh, my Lord," cried the sick man, "it is not because I fear to die that
I ask you this, but rather because I fear I shall not die, for I can't
reconcile myself to the idea of recovering from this sickness."
Francis was greatly surprised at hearing him speak in this manner, for
he knew that a longing to die is generally either a grace given to very
perfect souls such as David, Elias, St. Paul, and the like; or, on the
contrary, in sinners a prelude to despair, or an outcome of melancholy.
He therefore asked the man if he would really be sorry to live, and, if so,
why such disgust for life, the love of which is natural in all men.
"My Lord," answered the good man, "this world appears to me to be of so
small account that I cannot think why so many people care for nothing
beyond what it has to give. If God had not commanded us to remain here
below until He calls us by death I should have quitted it long ago."
The Bishop, imagining that the man had something on his mind, or that
the bodily pain he was enduring was too much for him, asked him what his
trouble was--perhaps something about money?
"Not at all," replied he, "I have up to the present time, and I am seventy,
enjoyed excellent health, and have abundant means. Indeed, I do not, thank
God, know what poverty is."
Francis questioned him as to his wife and children, asking him if any one
of them was an anxiety to him. "They are each one a comfort and a delight
to me," he answered, "Indeed, if I had any regret in quitting this world it
would be that I shall have to part from them."
More and more surprised, and unable to understand the man's distaste for
life, the Bishop said: "Then, my brother, why do you so long for death?"
"My Lord," replied he, "it is because I have heard in sermons so much about
the joys of Paradise that this world seems to me a mere prison." Then,
speaking out of the fullness of his heart, and giving vent to his thoughts,
he uttered marvellous words concerning the Vision of God in Heaven, and the
love kindled by it in the souls of the blessed.
He entered into so many details respecting the rapturous joys of Eternity
that the good Bishop shed tears of delight, feeling that the good man
had been taught by God in these things, and that flesh and blood had not
revealed them to him, but the Holy Spirit.
After this, descending from those high and heavenly speculations, the poor
farmer depicted the grandeur, the wealth, and the choicest pleasures of the
world in their true colours, showing their intrinsic vileness, and how in
reality they are vanity and vexation of spirit, so as to inspire Blessed
Francis himself with increased contempt for them. The Saint, nevertheless,
did no more than silently acquiesce in the good man's feelings, and to calm
the excitement under which he saw that he was labouring, desired him to
make acts of resignation, and indifference as to living or dying. He told
him to follow the example set by St. Paul, and by St. Martin, and to make
his own the words of the Psalmist: _For what have I in heaven? And besides
Thee what do I desire upon earth?_
A few hours later, having received Extreme Unction from the hands of the
holy Bishop, the man quietly, and apparently without suffering, passed from
this world. So likewise may we when our last hour comes fall gently asleep.
_Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord!_
Another story told me by our Blessed Father relates to himself and a man
with whom he came in contact.
When he was at Paris in the year 1619, this gentleman, who was not only
rich in this world's goods but also in piety and charity, came to consult
him on matters of conscience, and began thus: "Father, I am much afraid
that I shall not save my soul, and therefore I have come to you to beg you
to put me in the right way."
The Bishop asked him what was the cause of this fear. He answered: "My
being too rich. You know Scripture makes the salvation of the rich a matter
of such difficulty that, in my case, I fear it is an impossibility."
Francis, thinking that perhaps he had made his money dishonestly, and that
on that account his conscience was now pricking him, questioned him as to
"Not at all," he answered, "My parents, who were excellent people, left
me no ill-gotten goods, and what I have added to my inheritance has been
amassed by my own frugality and honest work, God preserve me from the sin
of appropriating what belongs to my neighbour! No, my conscience does not
reproach me in that respect."
"Well, then," said the Bishop, "have you made a bad use of this wealth?"
"I live," he replied, "in such a manner as becomes my rank and position,
but I am afraid that I do not give enough to the poor, and you know that we
shall be one day judged on this point."
"Have you any children?" asked Francis.
"Yes," he replied; "but they are all well provided for, and can easily do
"Really," said the Bishop, "I do not see whence your scruples can arise;
you are the first man I have ever met who has complained to me of having
too much money; most people never have enough."
It was easy to set this good soul at rest, so docile was he in following
the Bishop's advice. The latter told me afterwards that he found upon
enquiry that the man had formerly held high appointments, discharging his
duties in them most faithfully, but had retired from all in order to devote
himself to works of piety and mercy. Moreover, he passed all his time in
churches or hospitals, or in the houses of the uncomplaining poor, upon
whom he spent more than half his income. By his will, after his many pious
legacies were paid, it was found that our Lord Himself was his real heir,
for he gave to the town hospital a sum of money equal to that which was
divided among his children. I may add that a life so holy and devoted was
crowned by a most happy death. Truly, _Blessed are the merciful, for they
shall obtain mercy!_
[Footnote 1: Psal. lxxii. 25.]
WHAT IT IS TO DIE IN GOD.
On one occasion Blessed Francis was asked what it was to die in God; what
was the meaning of those words: _Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,
that they may rest from their labours, for their works follow them._
He replied that to die in God was to die in the grace of God, because God
and His grace are as inseparable as the sun and its rays. He was asked
again, if to die in God meant to die while in habitual grace, or to die in
the exercise of charity, that is to say, whilst impelled by actual grace.
He answered that in order to be saved it was enough to die in habitual or
sanctifying grace, that is to say, in habitual charity; seeing that those
who die in this state, as for instance newly-baptized infants, though they
may never have performed a single act of charity, obtain Paradise by right
of inheritance, habitual charity making them children of God by adoption.
Those, however, who die, not only in the holy and supernatural state of
habitual charity, but whilst actually engaged in works of charity, come
into the possession of heaven by a double title, that of inheritance and
that of reward; therefore is it written that _their works follow them_.
The crown of justice is promised by the just Judge to those who shall have
fought a good fight and finished their course with perseverance, even to
Going on to explain what is meant by man's dying in actual grace, he
said that it was to die while making acts of lively faith and hope, of
contrition, resignation, and conformity to the will of God. He added these
words, which have always remained deeply impressed on my mind: "Although
God is all-powerful, it is impossible for Him to condemn to eternal
perdition a soul whose will, at the moment of its leaving the body, is
subject to, and united with, His own."
[Footnote 1: Apoc. xiv. 13.]
UPON LENGTH OF LIFE.
Judging from outward appearances, from the vigour of his frame, from his
sound constitution, and from the temperate simplicity of his manner of
life, it seemed probable that Blessed Francis would live to an advanced
One day I said as much to him, he being at that time about forty-two or
forty-three years old. "Ah!" he replied with a sigh, "the longest life is
not always the best. The best is that which has been best spent in the
service of God," adding these words of David: _Woe is me that my sojourning
is prolonged; I have dwelt with the inhabitants of Cedar, my soul hath
been long a sojourner._ I thought he was secretly grieving over his
banishment from his See, his beloved Geneva (he always called it thus),
wrapped in the darkness of error, and I quoted to him the words: _Upon the
rivers of Babylon there we sat, and wept._
"Oh! no," he answered, "it is not that exile which troubles me. I am only
too well off in our city of refuge, this dear Annecy. I meant the exile of
this life on earth. As long as we are here below are we not exiled from
God? _While we are in the body we are absent from the Lord._ _Unhappy
man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace
of God by Jesus Christ._"
I ventured in reply to remind him how much he had to make his life happy:
how his friends esteemed him, how even the very enemies of religion
honoured him, how all who came in contact with him delighted in his
"All that," he answered, "is beneath contempt. Those who had sung Hosanna
to the Son of God three days later cried out _Crucifige_. Such things
do not make my life any dearer to me. If I were told that I should live
as long again as I have already done, and that without pain, without
law-suits, without trouble, or inconveniences of any kind, but with all
the content and prosperity men desire in life, I should be sadly disturbed
in mind! Of what small account are not the things of time to him who is
looking forward to a blessed Eternity! I have always praised the words of
the Blessed Ignatius de Loyola, 'Oh! how vile and mean earth appears to me
when I meditate upon and look up to heaven.'"
[Footnote 1: Psalm cxix.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm cxxxvi. 1.]
[Footnote 3: Cor. v. 6.]
[Footnote 4: Rom. vii. 24-35.]
Concerning Purgatory, St. Francis used to say that in the controversy
with Protestants there was no point on which the Church could support her
doctrine by so many proofs, drawn both from the Scriptures and from the
Fathers and Councils, as on this. He blamed those who oppose the doctrine
for their lack of piety towards the dead. On the other hand, he reproved
those Catholic preachers who, when speaking of Purgatory and of the pains
and torments suffered there by the holy souls, do not at the same time
enlarge upon their perfect love of God, and consequent entire satisfaction
in the accomplishment of His will, with which their own will is so
indissolubly united, that they cannot possibly feel the slightest movement
of impatience or irritation. Nor can they desire to be anywhere but where
they are, were it even till the consummation of all things, if such should
be God's good pleasure.
On this subject he recommended the careful study of the _Treatise on
Purgatory_, written by blessed Catherine of Genoa. By his advice I read the
book with attention, and have often re-read it, always with fresh relish
and profit. I have even invited Protestants to read if, and they have been
quite satisfied by it. One young convert admitted that had he seen this
Treatise before his conversion it would have helped him more than all the
discussions into which the subject had led him.
St. Francis was of opinion that the thought of Purgatory ought rather to
comfort than to terrify. "The majority of those," he used to say, "who
dread Purgatory do so in view of their own interests, and out of self-love,
rather than for God's interests. The cause of this is that those who preach
on the subject are in the habit of depicting only the pains of that prison,
and say not a word on the joy and peace which the souls therein detained
enjoy. It is true that the torments of Purgatory are so great that the most
acute sufferings of this life cannot be compared with them; but, then, on
the other hand, the inward satisfaction of the sufferers is such that no
amount of earthly prosperity or contentment can equal it. 1 deg.. The souls who
are waiting there enjoy a continual union with God. 2 deg.. Their wills are in
perfect subjection to His will; or, to speak more correctly, their wills
are so absolutely transformed into the will of God that they cannot will
anything but what He wills. 3 deg.. If Paradise were open to them, they would
rather cast themselves down into hell than appear before God stained and
denied as they see themselves still to be. 4 deg.. They accept their Purgatory
lovingly and willingly, because it is the good pleasure of God. 5 deg.. They
wish to be there, in the manner in which it pleases God that they should
be, and for as long as He wills. 6 deg.. They cannot sin. 7 deg.. They cannot feel
the slightest movement of impatience. 8 deg.. Nor be guilty of the smallest
imperfection. 9 deg.. They love God more than themselves and more than any
other creature, and with a perfect, pure, and disinterested love, 10 deg.. They
are in Purgatory consoled by the angels. 11 deg.. They are secure of their
salvation. 12 deg.. They are in a state of hope, which cannot but be realized.
13 deg.. Their grief is holy and calm. 14 deg.. In short, if Purgatory is a species
of hell as regards suffering, it is a species of Paradise as regards
charity. The charity which quickens those holy souls is stronger than
death, more powerful than hell; its lamps are all of fire and flame.
Neither servile fear nor mercenary hope has any part in their pure
affection. Purgatory is a happy state, more to be desired than dreaded,
for all its flames are flames of love and sweetness. Yet still it is to
be dreaded, since it delays the end of all perfection, which consists in
seeing God, and therefore fully loving Him, and by this sight and by this
love praising and glorifying Him through all eternity."
He compared penance to an almond tree, not only in allusion to the word
_amendment_ and the expression, amend your ways, both of which in the
French language resemble in sound the word _almond_, but by a very
"The almond tree," he said, "has its blossom of five petals, which as
regards number bear some resemblance to the five fingers of the hand, its
leaves are in the shape of a tongue, and its fruit of a heart. Thus the
Sacrament of Penance has three parts which make up its whole. The first
which concerns the heart is _contrition_, of which David says that God
heals those who are contrite of heart, and that He does not despise the
humble and contrite heart.
"The second, which concerns the tongue, is _confession_. The third,
which regards the hand, that is to say, the doing of good works, is
_satisfaction_. Moreover," he went on to say, "as there are almonds of two
kinds, the one sweet, the other bitter, which being mixed make a pleasant
flavour, agreeable to the palate, so also in penance there is a certain
blending of sweetness and bitterness, of consolation and pain, of love and
regret, resembling in taste the pomegranate, which has a certain sharp
sweetness and a certain sweet sharpness far more agreeable than either
sharpness or sweetness separately. Penance which had only the sweetness
of consolation would not be a cleansing hyssop, powerful to purge away
the stains of iniquity. Nor, if it had only the bitterness of regret and
sorrow, without the sweetness of love, could it ever lead us to that
justification which is only perfected by a loving displeasure at having
offended the Eternal, Supreme, and Sovereign Goodness."
Our Blessed Father treats of this mingling of love and sorrow proper to
true penitence with so much grace and gravity in his Theotimus that I think
nothing grander or sweeter could be written on the subject. Here is an
extract. "Amidst the tribulation and remorse of a lively repentance God
often kindles at the bottom of our heart the sacred fire of His love; this
love is converted into the water of tears, then by a second change into
another and greater fire of love. Thus the penitent Magdalen, the great
lover, first loved her Saviour; her love was converted into tears, and
these tears into an excellent love; whence our Saviour told her that many
sins were pardoned her because _she had loved much_. The beginning of
perfect love not only follows upon penitence, but clings to it and knits
itself to it; in one word, this beginning of love mingles itself with the
end of penitence, and in this moment of mingling penitence and contrition
merit life everlasting."
[Footnote 1: Psalm cxlvi. 3.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm l. 19.]
[Footnote 3: _Love of God_, Book II, c. 20.]
UPON PENITENT CONFUSION.
Our Blessed Father had a wonderful aptitude for distinguishing between what
was real and genuine and what was false in the shame manifested by his
penitents. He used to say that when this confusion was full of trouble and
agitation it proceeded from self-love, from vexation and shame at having
to own our sins and imperfections, not from the spirit of God. This he
expresses in his second Conference in these words:
"We must never suffer our confusion to be attended with sadness and
disquietude; that kind of confusion proceeds from self-love, because we
are troubled at not being perfect, not so; much for the love of God as for
love of ourselves." An extract from Theotimus will close this subject most
"Remorse which positively excludes the love of God is infernal, it is like
that of the lost. Repentance which does not regret the love of God, even
though as yet it is without it, is good and desirable, but imperfect: it
can never save us until it attains to love, and is mingled with it. So
that, as the great Apostle said, even if he gave his body to be burned, and
all his goods to the poor, and had not charity it would all be of no avail;
we, too, may say with truth, that, however great our penitence may be, even
though it make our eyes overflow with tears of sorrow, and our hearts to
break with remorse, still if we have not the holy love of God it will serve
us nothing as regards eternal life."
[Footnote 1: Book ii. c. 19.]
UPON INTERIOR PEACE AMIDST ANXIETIES.
It is a great mistake when souls, in other respects good and pious, imagine
that it is impossible to preserve inward peace amid bustle and turmoil.
There are some even, strange to say, who though dedicated to God by
their holy calling, complain if they are employed by their community in
laborious and troublesome offices, calling them distracting functions and
occupations. Assuredly, these good people know not what they say, any more
than did St. Peter on Mount Thabor.
What do they mean by distracting occupations? Possibly those which separate
us from God? I know nothing which can separate us from His love except
sin, which is that labour in brick and clay in which the infernal Pharaoh,
tyrant of souls, and king over the children of pride, employs his unhappy
subjects. These are the strange gods who give no rest either by night or by
day. But with that exception, I know of no legitimate occupation which can
either separate us from God, or, still more, which cannot serve as a means
to unite us to Him. This may be said of all callings, of those of soldiers,
lawyers, merchants, artisans.
Our Blessed Father devotes two chapters in his Theotimus to this subject,
but he speaks even more explicitly upon it in one of his letters, in
which he says: "Let us all belong wholly to God, even amid the tumult and
disturbance stirred up round about us by the diversity of human affairs.
When can we give better proof of our fidelity than amid contrarieties,
Alas! my dearest daughter, my sister, solitude has its assaults, the world
has its disorder and uproar; yet in either we must be of good heart, since
everywhere heaven is close to those who have confidence in God, and who
with humility and gentleness implore His fatherly assistance. Beware of
letting your carefulness degenerate into trouble and anxiety."
"Tossed about upon the waves and amid the winds of many a tumult, always
look up to heaven, and say to our Lord: 'O God, it is for Thee that I set
my sails and plough the seas; be Thou my guide and my pilot!' And then
console yourself by remembering that when we are in port the joys which
will be ours will blot out all remembrance of our toils and struggles to
reach it. We are now voyaging thither in the midst of all these storms, and
shall safely reach our harbour if only we have an upright heart, a good
intention, firm courage, eyes fixed on God, and place all our confidence
in Him. If the violence of the tempest makes our head dizzy, and we feel
shaken and sick, do not let us be surprised, but, as quickly as we can, let
us take breath again, and encourage ourselves to do better. I feel quite
sure that you are not forgetful of your good resolutions as you pursue your
way; do not then distress yourself about these little attacks of anxiety,
and vexation, caused by the multiplicity of domestic affairs. Nay, my dear
daughter, all this tumult gives you opportunities of practising the dearest
and most lovable of the virtues recommended to you by our Lord. Believe me,
true virtue is not nourished in external calm any more than are good fish
found in the stagnant waters of the marshes."
Our Blessed Father used to say that the most cowardly of all temptations
was discouragement. When the enemy of our salvation makes us lose hope
of ever advancing in virtue he has gained a great advantage over us, and
may very soon succeed in thrusting us down into the abyss of vice. Those
who fly into a passion at the sight of their own imperfections are like
people who want to strike and bruise their own faces, because they are not
handsome enough to please their self-love. They only hurt themselves the
The holy Bishop wishing to correct this fault in one of his penitents said
to her: "Have patience with every one, but especially with yourself. I
mean, do not be over-troubled about your imperfections, but always have
courage enough at once to rise up again when you fall into any of them. I
am very glad to hear that you begin afresh every day. There is no better
means for persevering in the spiritual life than continually to be
beginning again, and never to think that one has done enough."
On these words we may make the following reflections:
1. How shall we patiently suffer the faults of our neighbour if we are
impatient over our own?
2. How shall we reprove others in a spirit of gentleness if we correct
ourselves with irritation, with disgust, and with unreasonable sharpness?
What can come out of a bag but what is in it?
3. Those who fret impatiently over their own imperfections will never
correct themselves of them, for correction, if it is to be of use, must
proceed from a tranquil, restful mind. _Cowardice_, says David, _is the
companion of trouble and tempest_.
4. He who has lost courage has lost everything, he who has thrown up the
game can never win, nor can the soldier who has thrown away his arms return
to the fight, however much he may want to do.
5. David said: _I waited for him that saved me from pusillanimity and a
storm_. He who believes himself to be far advanced in the ways of God has
not yet even made a good beginning.
6. St. Paul, who had been raised to the third heaven, who had fought so
many good fights, run so many splendid races, and had kept the Faith
inviolate, in spite of all, never thought that he had finished his work,
or reached the goal, but always pressed forward as though he had but just
7. This mortal life is but a road leading to heaven. It is a road to which
we must steadily keep. He who stops short in it runs the risk of not
reaching safely the presence of God in which it ends. He who says, I have
enough, thereby shows that he has not enough; for in spiritual things
sufficiency implies the desire for more.
[Footnote 1: 2 Cor. xii. 2, 4.]
UPON RISING AFTER A FALL.
Our Blessed Father was a great enemy to hurry and over-eagerness, even in
rising up again after a fall.
He used to say that if our act of contrition is more hurried than humble we
are very likely to fall again soon, and that this second fall will be worse
than the first.
As he considered our penitence incomplete without an act of the love of
God, so also he maintained recovery from a fall to be imperfect if not
accompanied by tranquillity and peace. He wished us to correct ourselves,
as well as others, in a spirit of sweetness. Here is the advice which he
gives on the subject.
"When we happen to fall from some sudden outburst of self-love, or of
passion, let us as soon as possible prostrate ourselves in spirit before
God, saying, with confidence and humility: Have mercy on me, for I am weak.
Let us rise again with peace and tranquillity and knot up again our network
of holy indifference, then go on with our work. When we discover that
our lute is out of tune, we must neither break the strings nor throw the
instrument aside; but listen attentively to find out what is the cause of
the discord, and then gently tighten or slacken the strings, according to
what is required."
To those who replied to him that we ought to judge ourselves with severity,
he said: "It is true that with regard to ourselves we ought to have the
heart of a judge, but as the judge who hastily, or under the influence of
passion, pronounces sentence, runs the risk of committing an injustice,
but not so when reason is master of his actions and behaviour, we must, in
order to judge ourselves with equity, do so with a gentle, peaceful mind,
not in a fit of anger, nor when so troubled as hardly to know what we are
UPON KINDLINESS TOWARDS OURSELVES.
Since the measure and the model of the love which God commands us to bear
towards our neighbour ought to be the just and Christian love which we
should bear towards ourselves, and as charity, which is patient and kind,
obliges us to correct our neighbours' faults with gentleness and sweetness,
our Blessed Father did not consider it right that we should correct
ourselves in a manner different from this, nor be harsh and severe with
ourselves because of our falls and ill-doings. In one of his letters he
wrote as follows: "When we have committed a fault, let us at once examine
our heart and ask it whether it does not still preserve living and entire
the resolution to serve God. It will, I hope, answer yes, and that it would
rather die a thousand deaths than give up this resolution. Let us go on to
ask it further. Why, then, are you stumbling now? Why are you so cowardly?
It will reply: I was taken by surprise: I know not how; but I am tolerably
firm now. Ah! my dear daughter, we must pardon it; it was not from
infidelity, but from infirmity that it failed. We must then correct
ourselves gently and quietly, and not irritate and disturb ourselves still
more. Rise up, my heart, my friend, we should say to ourselves, and lift up
our thoughts to our Help, and our God.
"Yes, my dear daughter, we must be charitable to our own soul, and not
rebuke it over harshly when we see that the fault it has committed was not
Moreover, he would not have us accuse ourselves over-vehemently and
exaggerate our faults. At the same time, he had no desire that in regard to
ourselves we should err on the side of leniency. He wanted us to embrace
the happy medium, by humiliating without discouraging ourselves, and by
encouraging ourselves with humility. In another letter he says: "Be just,
neither accuse nor excuse your poor soul, except after much consideration,
for fear lest if you excuse yourself when you should not, you become
careless, and if you accuse yourself without cause, you discourage yourself
and become cowardly. Walk simply and you will walk securely."
"Some people have so high an opinion of their own perfection that should
they discover any failings or imperfections in themselves they are thrown
into despair. They are like people so anxious about their health that the
slightest illness alarms them, and who take so many precautions to preserve
this precious health that in the end they ruin it."
Our Blessed Father wished us to profit, not only by our tribulations, but
also by our imperfections, and that these latter should serve to establish
and settle us in a courageous humility, and make us hope, even against
hope, and in spite of the most discouraging appearances. "In this way," he
said, "we draw our healing and help from the very hand of our adversaries."
To a person who was troubled at her imperfections, he wrote thus: "We
should, indeed, like to be without imperfections, but, my dearest daughter,
we must submit patiently to the trial of having a human, rather than an
angelic, nature. Our imperfections ought not, indeed, to please us; on the
contrary, we should say with the holy Apostle: _Unhappy man, that I am, who
shall deliver me from the body of this death!_ But, at the same time,
they ought not to astonish us, nor to discourage us: we should draw from
them submission, humility, and mistrust of ourselves; never discouragement
and loss of heart, far less distrust of God's love for us; for though He
loves not our imperfections and venial sins, He loves us, in spite of them.
"The weakness and backwardness of a child displeases its mother, but she
does not for that reason love it less. On the contrary, she loves it more
fondly, because she compassionates it. So, too, is it with God, who cannot,
as I have said, love our imperfections and venial sins, but never ceases to
love us, so that David with reason cries out to Him: _Have mercy on me, O
Lord, for I am weak._"
[Footnote 1: Rom. vii. 24.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm vi. 3.]
THE JUST MAN FALLS SEVEN TIMES IN THE DAY.
A good man meditating upon this passage, and taking it too literally, fell
into a perfect agony, saying to himself: "Alas! how many times a day, then,
must not I, who am _not_ just, fall?" Yet during his evening examination of
conscience, however closely and carefully he searched, and however much
he was on the watch during the day to observe his failings and faults, he
sometimes could not make up the number. Greatly troubled and perplexed
about this, he carried his difficulties to our Blessed Father, who settled
them in this way:
"In the passage which you have quoted," he said, "we are not told that the
just man sees or feels himself fall seven times a day, but only that he
does fall seven times, and that he raises himself up again without paying
any heed to his so doing. Do not then distress yourself; humbly and frankly
confess what you have observed of faulty in yourself, and what you do not
see, leave to the sweet mercy of Him who puts out His hand to prevent those
who fall without malice, from being jarred or bruised against the hard
ground; and who raises them up again so quickly and gently that they never
notice it nor are conscious of having so much as fallen."
The great imperfection of most of us proceeds from want of reflection, but,
on the other hand, there are many who think overmuch, who fall into the
mistake of too close self-inspection, and who are perpetually fretting over
their failings and weaknesses.
Blessed Francis writes again on the subject: "It is quite certain that as
long as we are imprisoned in this heavy and corruptible body there will
always be something wanting in us. I do not know whether I have already
told you that we must have patience with every one; and, first of all, with
ourselves. For since we have learnt to distinguish between the old Adam
and the new, between the outward man and the inward, we are really more
troublesome to ourselves than any of our neighbours."
UPON THE PURGATIVE WAY.
Of the three ways leading to perfection the first is called the purgative,
and consists in the purifying of the soul; from which, as from a piece
of waste ground, we must take away the brambles and thorns of sin before
planting there trees which shall bear good fruit. This purgation has,
however, two different stages; that which precedes the justification of the
soul, and that which follows it. This latter may again be subdivided into
two parts. There is not only the freeing of the soul from sin, whether
mortal or venial, but there is also its purgation from any inclination or
attachment to either the one or the other.
It is not enough to be purged from deadly sin; we must labour incessantly
to rid ourselves of any love, however slight, of the sin from which we have
been cleansed, otherwise we shall be only too likely to fall back into it
again. It is the same as regards venial sins. Our Blessed Father speaks of
this purgative way in his Philothea as follows:
"We can never be wholly pure from venial sins, at least, never for any
continuous length of time, but we can and may get rid of any sort of
affection for these lesser faults. Assuredly it is one thing to tell
falsehoods once or twice, lightly and thoughtlessly, and in matters of
small importance; and another to take delight in lying and to cling fondly
to this sort of sin."
Besides venial sins, there are certain natural propensities and
inclinations which are called imperfections, since they tend towards
evil, and, if unchecked, lead to excesses of various kinds. They are not,
properly speaking, sins, either mortal or venial; nevertheless they are
true failings and defects of which we must endeavour to correct ourselves,
inasmuch as they are displeasing both to God and man. Such are propensities
to anger, grief, joy, excessive laughter, flattery, favouritism, self-pity,
suspicion, over-eagerness, precipitancy, and vain affections. We must
strive to rid ourselves of those defects which, like weeds, spring up
without being sown in the soil of our corrupt nature, and incline us to
evil from our birth.
The means of getting rid of all these evils, whether mortal sins, venial
ones, imperfections, or attachment to any or all of these, you will find
most clearly set forth by our Blessed Father in the same book.
I once asked him what was the true difference between venial sin and
imperfection, and I will try to recall his teaching on the subject that
I may impart it to you. Every venial sin is an imperfection, but every
imperfection is not a venial sin. In sin there is always malice, and malice
is in the will, hence the maxim that nothing involuntary is sin; and
according to the degree of this malice, whether great or small, and
according to the matter on which it is exercised, the sin is either mortal
You ask me if imperfections are matters sufficient for confession, as well
as venial sin. Our Blessed Father considered that it was well to accuse
ourselves of them in order to learn from the confessor how to correct
ourselves of and get rid of them. He did not, however, think them
sufficient matter for the Sacrament, and for this reason when his penitents
only told him of imperfections he would make them add some venial sin
committed in the past, so as to furnish sufficient matter for absolution, I
say sufficient, but not absolutely necessary matter, for it is only mortal
sin that has these two qualities.
[Footnote 1: Part i. chap. 22.]
[Footnote 2: Part i. chaps. 6, 7, 22, 23, 24.]
UPON VENIAL SIN.
He compares venial sin to the diamond which was thought by its presence to
prevent the loadstone from attracting iron. A soul attached to venial sin
is retarded in its progress in the path of justice, but when the hindrance
is removed God dilates the heart and makes it to run in the way of His
You ask me if a great number of venial sins can ever make up a mortal one,
and consequently cause us to lose the grace of God.
No, indeed! Not all the venial sins which ever existed could make one
mortal sin: but nevertheless, not many venial sins are needed to dispose
us to commit a mortal one, as it is written that _he that contemneth small
things shall fall by little and little, and that he who loves danger
shall perish in it_.
For, according to the maxim of St. Bernard, received by all spiritual
writers, not to advance in the way of God is to fall back, not to sow with
Him is to scatter, not to gather up is to lose, not to build is to pull
down, not to be for God is to be against Him, not to reap with Him is to
lay waste. Now to commit a venial sin is essentially a not working with
God, though it may not be a positive working against Him.
"Charity," says our Blessed Father, "being an active quality cannot be long
without either acting or dying: it is, say the early Fathers, symbolized
by Rachel. _Give me children_, she said to her husband, _otherwise I shall
die_. Thus charity urges the heart which she has espoused to make her
fertile in good works; otherwise she will perish."
Venial sin, especially when the soul clings to it, makes us run the risk of
losing charity, because it exposes us to the danger of committing mortal
sin, by which alone charity is driven forth and banished from the soul. On
this subject our Blessed Father, in the chapter from which we have already
quoted, speaks as follows: "Neither venial sin, nor even the affection to
it, is contrary to the essential resolution of charity, which is to prefer
God before all things; because by this sin we love something outside reason
but not against reason. We make too much and more than is fit of creatures,
yet we do not positively prefer them before the Creator. We occupy
ourselves more than we ought in earthly things; yet we do not, for all
that, forsake heavenly things.
"In fine, venial sin impedes us in the way of charity, but does not put us
out of it, and, therefore, venial sin, not being contrary to charity, never
destroys charity either wholly or partially."
Further on he says: "However, venial sin is sin, and consequently it
troubles charity, not as a thing that is contrary to charity itself, but as
being contrary to its operations and progress and even to its intention.
For, as this intention is that we should direct all our actions to God, it
is violated by venial sin, which is the referring of an action to something
outside of God and of the divine will."
[Footnote 1: Eccle. iii. 27.]
[Footnote 2: Id. iii. 27.]
[Footnote 3: _The Love of God_. Book iv. chap. 2.]
UPON COMPLICITY IN THE SINS OF ANOTHER.
There are some scrupulous minds which are perplexed by everything and
frightened at shadows. In conversation, and in mixing with others, a faulty
word which they may hear or a reprehensible action they may witness,
however much they may in their secret hearts detest it, is at once charged
upon their own conscience as a partaking in the sins of others.
They are also troubled with doubts, and are uncertain whether it is their
duty or not to denounce the faults of their neighbour, to express their
own disapproval, and to rebuke the offender. To a soul perplexed on this
subject our Blessed Father gives the following wholesome advice: "As
regards conversation, my dear daughter, do not worry about anything said
or done by others. If good, you can praise God for it, if evil, it will
furnish you with an opportunity of serving God by turning away your
thoughts from it, showing neither surprise nor irritation, since you are
not a person of sufficient importance to be able to put a stop to bad or
idle talk. Indeed, any attempt on your part to do so would make things
worse. Acting as as I bid you to do you will remain unharmed amid the
hissing of serpents and, like the strawberry, will not assimilate their
poison even though licked by their venomous tongues."
Our Saint used to say that to equivocate was, in his opinion, to canonize
lying, and that simplicity was, after all, the best kind of shrewdness. The
children of darkness, he said, use cunning and artifice in their dealings
with one another, but the children of God should take for their motto the
words: He that walketh sincerely walketh confidently.
Duplicity, simulation, insincerity always betray a low mind. If, in the
language of the wise man, _the lips that lie kill the soul_, what can be
the effect of the conversation of one who habitually speaks with a _double
[Footnote 1: Psalm xii. 3.]
Some one was praising country life, and calling it holy and innocent.
Blessed Francis replied that country life has drawbacks just as city life
has, and that as there is both good and bad company, so there is also good
and bad solitude. Good, when God calls us into it, as He says by a prophet,
_I will lead her into the wilderness and I will speak to her heart_.
Bad, when it is of that kind of which it is written, _Woe to him that is
As regards holiness and innocence, he said that country folk were certainly
far from being, as a matter of course, endowed with these good qualities.
As for temptations and occasions of sin, he said: "There are evil spirits
who go to and fro in desert places quite as much as in cities; if grace
does not hold us up everywhere, everywhere we may stumble. Lot, who in the
most wicked of all cities was holy and just, when in solitude fell into
the most dreadful of sins. Men carry themselves about with them and find
themselves everywhere, and frailty can no more be got rid of by them than
can the shadow by the body that casts it.
"Many deceive themselves greatly and become their own seducers by imagining
that they possess those virtues, the sins contrary to which they do not
commit. The absence of a vice and the possession of its contrary virtue are
very different things.
"To be without folly is, indeed, to have the beginning of wisdom, but it is
a beginning so feeble as by itself scarcely to deserve the name of wisdom.
"Abstaining from evil is a very different thing from doing good, although
this abstaining is of itself a species of good: it is like the plan of a
building compared with the building itself. Virtue does not consist so much
in habit as in action. Habit is in itself an indolent sort of quality,
which, indeed, inclines us to do good, but does no more, unless inclination
be followed by action.
"How shall he who has no one in command set over him learn obedience? He
who is never contradicted, patience? He who has no superior, humility? And
how shall he who, like a misanthrope, flies from intercourse with other
men, notwithstanding that he is obliged to love them as himself, how shall
he, I say, learn brotherly love?
"There are many virtues which cannot be practised in solitude; above all,
mercy, upon the exercise of which we shall be questioned and judged at the
last day; and of which it is said: _Blessed are the merciful, for they
shall obtain mercy_."
[Footnote 1: Osee ii. 14.]
[Footnote 2: Eccle. iv. 10.]
[Footnote 3: Matt. v. 7.]
It is a vanity of the understanding to think ourselves more than we really
are; but it is a far more dangerous vanity of the will to aspire to a
condition higher than our own, and to persuade ourselves that we are
deserving of it. He who thinks himself to be more than he is has in his
mind some picture of content and satisfaction, and consequently some sort
of tranquillity like one who finds his peace and repose in his riches.
But he who aspires to a condition more exalted than his own is in a
constant state of disquietude, like the needle of the compass which
trembles incessantly until it points to the north. An ancient proverb makes
the happiness of this life to consist in wishing to be what we are and
_Quod sis esse velis, nihilque malis._
Blessed Francis who, in his own opinion, had already risen too high in
the hierarchy of the Church, turned his thoughts rather to giving up his
dignities than to seeking promotion. He looked forward to the calm retreat
of solitude rather than the dignity of illustrious offices.
He was even apprehensive of the high esteem in which he knew that he
was held, dreading lest he should be less the servant of God for thus
On one occasion some worthy soul having warned him to keep humble amid
the praises and acclamations bestowed on him, he answered: "You please me
greatly by recommending holy humility to me, for, do you know, when the
wind gets imprisoned in our valleys, among our mountains, even the little
flowers are beaten down and the trees are uprooted. I am situated rather
high up and, in my post of Bishop, am tossed about most of all. O Lord!
save us: command these winds of vanity to cease to blow and there will be a
great calm. Stand firm, O my soul, and clasp very tightly the foot of our
Saviour's holy Cross: the rain which falls there in plenteous showers on
all sides stills the wind, however violent it may be.
"When I am there, O my God, as I sometimes am, how sheltered is my soul,
and how refreshed by that crimson dew! but no sooner have I moved a single
step away than the wind again takes me off my feet!"
UPON THE KNOWLEDGE WHICH PUFFS UP.
You wish to know what St. Paul means when he says that _knowledge puffs up_
and that _charity edifies_. I imagine he means by the knowledge which
puffs up, that which is destitute of charity and which consequently tends
only to vanity. _All those are vain_, say the sacred Scriptures, _who have
not the knowledge of God_; and what is this knowledge of God if not
the knowledge of His ways and of His will? It is the God of knowledge who
teaches this knowledge to men; the science of the saints, the science which
makes saints, the science of salvation, a science without which all else is
absolute ignorance. He who thinks that he knows something and does not know
how to save his soul, does not yet know what it is most important to know.
Those who know many things without knowing themselves, and without knowing
God in the manner in which even in this present life he can be known
and desires to be known, resemble the giants in the fable, who piled up
mountains and then buried themselves beneath them.
Do not, however, think for a moment that, in order to save our souls, or to
be truly devout, we must be ignorant; for, as sugar spoils no sauce,
true knowledge is in no wise opposed to devotion. On the contrary, by
enlightening the understanding it contributes much to fervour in the will.
Listen to what our Blessed Father says on this subject in his Theotimus:
"Knowledge is not of itself contrary, but very useful to devotion. Meeting,
they should marvellously assist one another; though it too often happens
through our misery that knowledge hinders the birth of devotion, because
_knowledge puffeth up_ and makes us proud, and pride, which is contrary
to all virtue, ruins all devotion. Without doubt, the eminent science
of a Cyprian, an Augustine, a Hilary, a Chrysostom, a Basil, a Gregory,
a Bonaventure, a Thomas, not only taught these Saints to value, but
greatly enhanced their devotion; as again, their devotion not only
supernaturalized, but eminently perfected their knowledge."
[Footnote 1: 1 Cor. viii. 1.]
[Footnote 2: Sap. xiii. 1.]
[Footnote 3: Book vi. chap. 4.]
It was Blessed Francis' opinion that scruples have their origin in a
_cunning_ self-esteem. I call it _cunning_ because it is so subtle and
crafty as to deceive even those who are troubled by it. As a proof of this
assertion he evidenced the fact that "those who suffer from this malady
will not acquiesce in the judgment of their directors, however discreet and
enlightened in the ways of God they may be; obstinately clinging to their
own opinions instead of, by humble submission, accepting the remedies
and consequent peace offered to them. Who can wonder at the prolonged
sufferings of the sick man who resolutely refuses every salutary remedy
which he is entreated to take? Who will pity one who suffers himself to die
of hunger and thirst, although everything that could satisfy the one and
quench the other be placed within his reach?
"Holy Scripture teaches us that the crime of disobedience is equal in
guilt to that of idolatry and witchcraft. But what shall we say of the
disobedience of the scrupulous, who so idolize their own opinions as to be
absolutely slaves to them, and whom no sort of remonstrance or reasoning
will convince of the idleness of their unfounded fears.
"They will tell you, in answer to your judicious and soothing arguments,
that you are only flattering them, that they are misunderstood, that they
do not explain themselves clearly, and so on.
"This is, indeed, a malady difficult of cure, because, like jealousy,
its fires are fed by everything with which it comes in contact. May God
preserve you from this lingering and sad disease, which I regard as the
quartan fever or jaundice of the soul."
"If we only knew how to make a good use of temptations," said our Blessed
Father, "instead of dreading, we should welcome them--I had almost said
desire them. But because our weakness and our cowardice are only too well
known to us, from our long experience, and from many sorrowful falls, we
have good reason to say, _Lead us not into temptation_.
"If to this just mistrust of ourselves we united confidence in God, who is
stronger to deliver us from temptation than we are weak in falling into it,
our hopes would rise in proportion to the lessening of our fears. _For by
Thee I shall be delivered from temptation, and through my God I shall go
over a wall._"
With such a support can we not boldly tread upon the asp and the basilisk,
and trample under foot the lion and the dragon? As it is in temptation
that we learn to know the greatness of our courage and of our fidelity to
God, so it is by suffering temptation that we make progress in strength of
heart, and that we learn to wield the weapons of our warfare, which are
spiritual against the spiritual malice of our invisible enemies. Then it is
that our soul, clothed in the panoply of grace, appears terrible to them as
an army in battle array, and as the hosts of the Lord.
Some think that all is lost when they are tormented by thoughts of
blasphemy and impiety, and fancy that their faith is gone. Yet as long as
these thoughts merely distress them and they are resisted, they cannot harm
them, and such stormy winds only serve to make souls become more deeply
rooted in faith. As much has to be said of temptations against purity and
other virtues, for the maxim is quite a general one.
There is no good Christian who is not tempted. The angel said to Tobias:
_Because thou wast acceptable to God it was necessary that temptation,
should prove thee._
[Footnote 1: Psalm xxvi. 30.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm xc. 13.]
[Footnote 3: Job xii. 13.]
UPON THE SAME SUBJECT.
You ask me why God permits the enemy of our salvation to afflict us with so
many temptations, which put us into such great danger of offending God and
losing our soul. I might answer you in words from Holy Scripture, but I
will give you our Blessed Father's teaching on the subject, which is only
an interpretation of what St. Paul and St. James tell us in their epistles:
"Do you know," he says, "what God does in temptation?"
He permits the evil one to furbish up his wares and to offer them to us for
sale, so that by the contempt with which we look upon them we may show our
affection for divine things.
Must you then, my dear sister, my dearest daughter, because of this
temptation, fret and disquiet yourself and change your manner of thought?
Oh, no! by no means, it is the devil who prowls round about your soul,
peeping and prying to see if he can find an open door. He did this with
Job, with St. Anthony, with St. Catherine of Siena, and with an infinity of
good souls whom I know, as well as with my own, which is good-for-nothing,
and which I do not know. And have you, my good daughter, to distress
yourself about what the devil attempts? Let him wait outside and keep all
the avenues of your soul fast shut. In the end he will be tired out, or if
not God will force him to raise the siege.
Remember what I think I have told you before. It is a good sign when the
devil stirs up such a tumult outside the fortress of your will, for it
shows he is not inside it.
One cause of our interior trouble and mental disturbance is the difficulty
we experience in discerning whether a temptation comes from within or from
without, whether it is from our own heart or from the enemy, who takes up
his position as a besieger before that heart? You may apply the following
test in order to find out.
Does the temptation please or displease you? One of the ancient Fathers
says that sins which displease us cannot harm us. How much less then
Notice that, as long as the temptation displeases you there is nothing to
fear, for why should it displease if not because your will does not consent
"But," you say, "if I, as it were, dally with the temptation, either from
inadvertence or torpor, or slothful unwillingness to reject and repel it,
is not that in a way taking pleasure in it?" "The evil of temptation is
not measured by its duration: it may be working against us all our life
long, but while it displeases us it cannot make us fail into sin; on the
contrary, being repulsive to us, this very antipathy not only preserves
us from being infected by its venom, but adds strength to our virtue and
jewels to our crown."
"But I am so much afraid of taking pleasure in it!"
"That very fear is a proof that it displeases you, for we are not afraid of
that which pleases us. We are not terrified except by what displeases us,
just as we can only enjoy what is good or has the appearance of being good.
"If you were able all the time to look upon temptation as an evil it cannot
have pleased you."
"Still, is it wrong to find pleasure in thinking of what is sinful?" "If
this pleasure is felt before we reflect that the thing is evil it is of no
consequence, since voluntary malice and consent are needed to make this
pleasure a sin."
"How shall we know whether or not we have yielded this consent?"
"Assuredly, it is difficult to define the nature of voluntary consent. This
difficulty gave rise to the saying of the Psalmist, _Who can understand
"This, too, is why he prays to be delivered from his secret faults, that is
to say, from sins which he cannot easily discern."
I will, however, on this subject give you another excellent lesson which I
learned from our Blessed Father.
"When you are doubtful," he said to me, "whether or not you have consented
to evil, always take the doubt for a negative, and for this reason. A true
and full consent of the will is necessary to form a real grave sin, there
being no sin in what is not voluntary. Now full consent is so clear that
there can never be left in the mind a shadow of doubt about its having
This plain teaching surely cuts the gordian knot of our perplexities.
[Footnote 1: Psalm xviii. 13.]
THOUGHTS ON THE INCARNATION.
There are two opinions held by theologians on the subject of the
Incarnation. Some hold that had Adam never sinned the Son of God would not
have become incarnate, others that the Incarnation would have taken place
even had our first parents remained in the state of innocence and original
justice in which they were created. For, as they urge, the Word was made
flesh, not to merely be a redeemer and restorer of the human race, but that
through Him God might be glorified. Our Blessed Father held this second
opinion, which he advanced, not only in familiar conversation and in the
pulpit, but also in his writings. In his Theotimus he expresses himself
thus: "God knew from all eternity that He could create an innumerable
multitude of beings with divers perfections and qualities, to whom He
might communicate Himself. And considering that amongst all the different
communications which were possible, none was so excellent as that of
uniting Himself to some created nature, in such sort that the creature
might be engrafted and implanted in the Divinity, and become one single
person with it: His infinite goodness, which of itself and by itself tends
towards communication, resolved and determined to communicate Himself in
this manner. So that, as eternally there is an essential communication in
God, by which the Father communicates all His infinite and indivisible
divinity to the Son in producing Him, and the Father and the Son together
producing the Holy Ghost, communicate to Him also their own singular
divinity; so this sovereign sweetness was so perfectly communicated
externally to a creature that the created nature and the divinity retaining
each of them its own properties were, notwithstanding so united together
that they were but one same person. Now of all the creatures which that
Sovereign Omnipotence could produce, He thought good to make choice of
human nature which afterwards in effect was united to the person of God
the Son, He created it, and to it He destined the incomparable honour of
personal union with His divine majesty, to the end that for all eternity it
might enjoy above all others the treasures of His infinite glory."
This thought has always pleased me exceedingly; this thought, I mean, of
the communication of God, in the worthiest manner possible, namely, through
the mystery of the Incarnation. But ah! What shall we then say of the
mystery of the most holy Eucharist, which is, as it were, an extension of
the Incarnation! In the holy Eucharist the Son of God, in His overflowing
mercy, not content with having made Himself the Son of Man, a sharer in
our humanity and our Brother, has invented a wondrous way of communicating
Himself to each one of us in particular. By this He incorporates Himself in
us, and us in Him. He dwells in us, and makes us dwell in Him, becoming
our food and support, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, by a grace
which surpasses every other grace, since it contains in itself the author
of all grace! Truly, we possess in this divine mystery, though veiled and
hidden under the sacramental species, Him whom the angels desire to see,
even while they see Him continually. Nor is there any difference between
their possession and ours, except in the manner in which it is effected.
For if they have the advantage of sight, we have that of a closer intimacy,
seeing that He is only before them as the Beatific Vision, while He
is actually within us, as the living and life-giving bread, a bread
strengthening our heart, or, rather, the very heart of our heart, or the
soul of our heart, or the heart of our soul. And if the heart of the
disciples of Emmaus burned within them when He only spoke to them on their
way, what ardour should be kindled in our breasts by the receiving of Him
who came to bring the fire of divine love upon earth, that it might inflame
and kindle all hearts!
You ask me whether we are happier in having been redeemed from that state
of original sin into which our first parents fell than had we been born in
the innocence which was theirs at their creation.
At first sight it would seem that never to have been bound by the chain of
misery and evil with which the first sin of Adam fettered us would surely
have been more desirable than even to be loosed from it by the divine
goodness! This, however, is a merely human judgment, revealed to us by
flesh and blood. The light of faith, far brighter and more ennobling,
teaches us a sublimer lesson. This is what our Blessed Father says on the
"Who can doubt of the abundance of the means of salvation, since we have
so great a Saviour, for the sake of whom we have been made, and by whose
merits we have been ransomed. For He died, for all, because all were dead,
and His mercy was more far-reaching when He built up anew the race of men
than Adam's misery when he ruined it.
"Indeed, Adam's sin was so far from quenching God's love for mankind, that,
on the contrary, it stirred it up, and invited it. So that by a most sweet
and loving re-action, love was quickened by the presence of sin, and as if
re-collecting its forces for victory over evil, made _grace to superabound
where sin had abounded_. Whence, Holy Church, in an excess of devout
wonder, cries out (upon Easter-eve), 'O truly necessary sin of Adam, which
was blotted out by the death of Jesus Christ! O happy fault which merited
to have such and so great a Redeemer!' Truly, Theotimus, we may say, as did
he of old, 'We were ruined, had we not been undone; that is, ruin brought
us profit, since in effect human nature, through being redeemed by its
Saviour, has received more graces than ever it would have received if Adam
had remained innocent.'"
One of the marvels of divine Omnipotence is that it knows by a secret
power, reserved to itself alone, how to draw good from evil, the contrary
from the contrary; water from, fire, as in the furnace of the three
children and fire from water, as in the sacred fire which was found in a
well, the thick water of which was changed into fire. By this secret power
He makes all things work together for good to those who love Him.
"Truly," says our Blessed Father, in the same place, "as the rainbow
touching the thorn _aspalathus_, makes it more odoriferous than the
lily, so our Saviour's Redemption, touching our miseries makes them more
beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been.
"_I say to you_, says our Saviour, _there shall be joy in Heaven upon one
sinner that doth penance; more than upon ninety-nine just, who need not
penance_, and so the state of redemption is a hundred times better than
that of innocence.
"Verily, by the watering of our Saviour's Blood, made with the hyssop
of the Cross, we have been re-clothed in a whiteness incomparably more
excellent than the snowy robe of innocence. We come out, like Naaman, from
the stream of salvation more pure and clean than if we had never been
leprous, to the end that the divine majesty, as He has ordained also for
us, should not be _overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good_, _that
mercy_ (as a sacred oil) should keep _itself above judgment_, and _God's
tender mercies be over all His works_."
[Footnote 1: Book ii. chap. 4.]
[Footnote 2: Col. i. 16.]
[Footnote 3: _The Love of God_. Book ii, c. 5.]
[Footnote 4: Daniel iii. 50.]
[Footnote 5: Luke xv. 7.]
[Footnote 6: Rom. xii.]
[Footnote 7: James ii. 13.]
[Footnote 8: Psalm cxliv. 9.]
UPON CONFESSION AND COMMUNION.
These two Sacraments were styled by Blessed Francis the two poles of the
christian life, because around them that life ever revolves. One purifies
the soul, the other sanctifies it. He greatly admired the saying of St.
Bernard that all the spiritual good which we possess is derived from the
frequent use of the Sacraments. He would say that those who neglect the
Sacraments are not unlike the people in the Parable, who would not accept
the invitation to the Marriage Feast, and who thus incurred the wrath of
the Lord who had prepared it. Some plead as their excuse that they "are not
good enough"; but how are they to become good if they keep aloof from the
source of all goodness? Others say: "We are too weak"; but is not this the
Bread of the strong? Others; "We are infirm"; but in this Sacrament have
you not the Good Physician Himself? Others: "We are not worthy"; but does
not the Church direct that even the holiest of men should not approach
the Feast without having on his lips the words: _Lord! I am not worthy
that Thou shouldst enter under my roof?_ To those who plead that they are
overwhelmed with cares and with the business of this life, He cries: _Come
to me all you that labour and are burdened and I will refresh you._ If
any fear to come lest they should incur condemnation, are they not in yet
greater danger of being condemned for keeping away? Indeed, the plea of
humility is as false as that of Achaz, who detracted from the glory of God
when he feigned to be afraid of tempting Him. What better way of learning
to receive Him well can there be than receiving Him often? Is it not so
with other acts which are perfected by frequent repetition?
He extolled highly the precept of St. Augustine on this subject. It was his
desire that any person (he was speaking of the laity) free from mortal sin,
and without any affection for it, should communicate confidently yet humbly
every Sunday, if not advised by his confessors to do so oftener. He does
not say "anyone who is without venial sin," for from that who is exempt?
His sentiments with regard to Holy Communion were most sweet and so
tempered by divine love, that reverent fear was in no way prejudicial to
confidence, neither was confidence to reverence. He fervently desired that
we should annihilate ourselves when receiving the Blessed Sacrament, as
our Lord annihilated Himself in order to communicate Himself to us, bowing
down the heaven of His greatness to accommodate and unite Himself with our
But you will be better satisfied to hear his feelings expressed in his own
They were addressed, not directly, but through the medium of another, to a
person, who from a false idea of humility dared not approach this divine
mystery, and who, in the words but not in the spirit of St. Peter,
entreated her Saviour to depart from her.
"Tell her," he says, "to communicate fearlessly, calmly, yet with all
humility, in order to correspond with the action of that Spouse who in
order to unite Himself with us annihilated Himself and lovingly abased
Himself to the extent even of becoming our food and our pasturage;
condescending thus to us who are the food and pasturage of worms. Oh! my
daughter, those who communicate according to the spirit of the Heavenly
Bridegroom, annihilate themselves and say to our Lord: feed on me, change
me, annihilate me, convert me into Thyself. There is nothing, I think,
in the world of which we have more absolute possession, or over which we
have more entire dominion, than over the food which, for our own
self-preservation, we annihilate.
"Well, our Lord has condescended to this excess of love, namely, to give
Himself to us for our food; and as for us, what ought not we to do in order
that He may possess us, that He may feed on us, that He may make us what He
Read what is said on this subject in the "Devout life" and the
[Footnote 1: Matt. xi. 28.]
[Footnote 2: By the recent Decree of Pope Pius X., His Holiness
desires that, with such dispositions, it should be daily.--[Ed.]]
Our Blessed Father thought so much of frankness, candour and ingenuousness
in Confession, that when he met with these virtues in his penitents he was
filled with joy and satisfaction.
It happened one day that he received a letter from one of his spiritual
daughters telling him that she had been betrayed into the sin of malicious
envy (by which she meant jealousy) of one of her sisters. He answered her
letter as follows: "I tell you with truth that your letter has filled my
soul with so sweet a perfume, that I can affirm that I have not for a long
time read any thing so consoling. I repeat, my dear daughter, that this
letter awakens in me such fresh ardour of love towards God who is so good,
and towards you whom He desires to make so good, that I can only make an
act of thanksgiving for this to His divine Providence. Thus it is, my
daughter, that we must always without a moment's hesitation thrust our
hands into the secret recesses of our hearts to tear out the foul growths
which have sprung up there, from the mingling of our self-love with our
humours, inclinations, and antipathies. Oh, my God! What satisfaction for
the heart of a most loving Father to hear a beloved daughter protest that
she has been envious and malicious! How blessed is this envy, since it is
followed by so frank a confession! Your hand in writing your letter made a
stroke more valiant than ever did that of Alexander!"
UPON A CHANGE OF CONFESSOR.
I have told you by word of mouth, and now I repeat in writing, so that you
may better remember it, that the scruple of scruples is not to dare to
change one's Confessor. The Priest who should put this scruple into your
head deserves to be left, as himself scrupulous, and unsafe. Virtue, like
truth, is always to be found half way between two faulty extremes. To be
always changing one's Confessor, and never to dare to do so, or sooner to
omit Confession than to confess to any one but our usual Confessor, are two
In the one case we show ourselves volatile and ill-balanced; in the other
we are cowardly. If you ask me which of the two is the more to be avoided
I should say the second, and this because it seems to me to indicate a low
tone of mind, human respect, attachment to the creature, and in general
a slavish spirit which is quite contrary to the spirit of God, who only
dwells there, where there is perfect liberty.
St. Paul tells us that being redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ
we ought not to make ourselves slaves of men.
Possibly, however, you would more readily submit your judgment to that of
our Blessed Father than to mine.
I remind you then how highly he thought of this holy christian liberty. You
may be quite sure that he inculcated it on persons like yourself living in
the world since, as I am going to show you, he made a great point of it
with his Religious.
The Holy Council of Trent having decreed that three or four times a year
all nuns should have extra-ordinary Confessors given to them to relieve
them from the yoke and constraint which might ensue from being always under
the direction of one and the same ordinary Confessor, our Blessed Father
decreed that every three months, in the four Ember weeks the Sisters of the
Visitation, of which Order he was the Founder, should have an Extraordinary
Confessor, carefully recommending to the Superiors to ask for one even
oftener for any Sisters who might desire or really need his help.
Blessed Teresa was also very careful to ensure to her Sisters this holy
and reasonable liberty, which renders the yoke of the Saviour sweet and
light as it should be, and her daughters, the Carmelites, still value their
privilege as she did.
Our Blessed Father used, moreover, to say that Religious men to whom
the direction of nuns was entrusted, and all convents subject to their
jurisdiction, would do well to observe the excellent rule and custom
some of them have of never leaving a Confessor for more than a year in a
He added that Superiors should reserve to themselves the power of
withdrawing Confessors even before the time for which they were appointed
had expired, and indeed whenever it may please them, and should not keep
any Confessor longer than the time for which he was appointed, unless for
some very urgent reason or pressing necessity.
To show you that it was not only to me that our Blessed Father expressed
his opinion on this point, this is how he wrote about it to a Superior of
"We ought not to be so fickle as to wish without any substantial reason to
change our Confessor, but, on the other hand, we should not be immovable
and persistent when legitimate causes make such a change desirable, and
Bishops should not so tie their own hands as to be unable to effect the
change when expedient, and especially when either the Sisters or the
Spiritual Father desire it."
[Footnote 1: St. Teresa was not then canonised. [Ed.]]
UPON DIFFERENT METHODS OF DIRECTION.
In the year 1619 our Blessed Father went to Paris where he remained for
eight or nine months. I was there at the same time, having been summoned
for the Advent and Lent sermons.
Many pious persons came to consult him on their spiritual concerns, and
thus gave him the opportunity of observing the variety of methods employed
by God to draw souls to Himself, and also the different ways in which His
Priests guide and direct these same souls.
Among others, he told me of two priests celebrated for their preaching, and
who also applied themselves most zealously to the administration of the
Sacrament of Penance. Both were faithful servants of God and exemplary in
the discharge of their functions, but yet so different in their methods of
direction, that they almost seemed to oppose one another, though both had
the one single aim in view, namely, to promote the service and the glory of
God, "One of them," said the Saint, "is severe and almost terrible in his
preaching. He proclaims the judgments of God like the very trump of doom.
In his special devotions, too, he speaks of nothing but mortifications,
austerities, constant self-examination and such like exercises. Thus,
by the wholesome fears with which he fills the minds of his penitents,
he leads them to an exact observance of God's law, and to an anxious
solicitude for their own salvation. He does not harass them with scruples,
and yet keeps them in a marvellous state of subjection.
"The effect of his direction is that God is greatly feared and dreaded by
them, that they fly from sin as from a serpent, and that they earnestly
practise virtue. This divine fear is coupled with a high esteem for their
Director, and a friendship for him, holy indeed, but so strong and vehement
that it seems to these souls as though, were they to lose their guide, they
must needs go astray.
"The other Director leads souls to God by quite a different path. His
sermons are always on the love of God. He inculcates the study of virtue
rather than the hatred of vice. He makes his penitents love virtue more
because it pleases God, than because it is itself worthy of love, and he
makes them hate vice more because it displeases God than because of the
sufferings which it brings upon those who are slaves to it.
"The effect of this direction is to make souls conceive a love for God
that is great, pure and disinterested; also a great affection for their
neighbour for the love of God; while, as for their sentiments towards their
Director, they approach him with reverential awe, beholding God in him and
him in God, having no affection for his person beyond that due to all our
Our Blessed Father never told me the name of this Director, nor even gave
me the slightest hint as to who he was, and I therefore sought no further
explanation, contenting myself with admiring the ways of God and His
various desires for the good of the souls whom He calls to His service. I
became penetrated, too, with the conviction that by many different routes
we can reach one and the same goal. _Let every spirit praise the Lord_.
ADVICE UPON HAVING A DIRECTOR.
I asked him one day who was his Director. Taking from his pocket the
_Spiritual Combat_, he said: "You see my Director in this book, which,
from my earliest youth, has, with the help of God, taught me and been my
master in spiritual matters and in the interior life. When I was a student
at Padua, a Theatine Father instructed and gave me advice from it, and
following its directions all has been well with me. It was written by a
very holy member of that celebrated congregation, the author concealing his
own name under that of his Orders which makes use of the book almost in the
same way as the Jesuits make use of the Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola."
I reminded him that in his Philothea he recommends people to have a
living Director. "That is true," he answered, "but have you not noticed
that I say he must be chosen out of ten thousand? Because there is
scarcely one in a thousand to be found having all the qualities necessary
for this office, or who, if he has them, displays them constantly and
perseveringly; men being so variable that they never remain in one state,
as Holy Scripture assures us."
I asked him if we must then run uncertainly and pursue our way without
guidance. He answered: "We must seek it among the dead; among those who are
no longer subject to passion or change, and who have ceased to be swayed
by human interests. As an Emperor of old said that his most faithful
counsellors were the dead, meaning books, so we may say that our safest
spiritual directors are books of piety."
"But what," I asked, "are those who cannot read to do?" "They," he replied,
"must have good books read to them by people in whom they can have absolute
confidence. Besides, such simple souls as these do not, as a rule, trouble
themselves much about methods of devotion, or, if they do, God for the most
part bestows on them such graces as to make it plain that He Himself is
their Teacher, and that they are truly _Theodidacts, or taught by God_."
"Must we then," I asked, "give up all spiritual guides?" "By no means," he
answered, "for besides the fact that we are bound to obey the law of God
coming to us through our Superiors, both spiritual and temporal, we must
also defer most humbly to our Confessors, to whom we lay bare the secrets
of our conscience. Then, when we find difficulties in the books which we
have chosen for our guidance, difficulties which, as we read, we cannot
settle to our satisfaction, we must consult those who are well versed in
mystic language, or rather, I should say, in spiritual matters, and listen
humbly to their opinion. We must not, however, always consult the same man;
for, besides the fact that Holy Scripture warns us that _there is safety
where there is much counsel_, we must remember that if we always
consulted the same living oracle, he would in time become superior to the
dead one; that he would make himself a supplanter, a second Jacob, pushing
aside the book which we had chosen for our guide, and assuming dominion and
mastery over both dead and living, that is, over the book and the reader
who had chosen it for his direction. To prevent this encroachment, I had
almost said this unfelt and imperceptibly increasing tyranny, it is well
when we meet with difficulties to consult several persons, following the
advice given by the Holy Ghost through the Apostle St. Paul not to make
ourselves the slaves of men, having been delivered and redeemed at so great
a price, even that of the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ."
In answer to my remark that I very much preferred as a book _The Imitation
of Christ_ to the _Spiritual Combat_, he said that they were both the works
of writers truly animated by the Spirit of God, that they were indeed
different in many respects, but that it might be said of each of them as it
is of the Saints: _There was not found the like to him._
He added that in such matters comparisons were always more or less odious;
that beauty, however it might vary, was always beauty; that the book of
_the Imitation_ had in some respects great advantages over _the Combat_,
but that the latter had also some advantages over _the Imitation_. Among
these he mentioned with special commendation its arrangement and that it
goes deeper into things and more thoroughly to the root of the matter. He
concluded by saying that we should do well to read the one and not neglect
the other, for that both books were so short that to do this would not put
us to much expenditure of time or trouble.
He valued _the Imitation_, he said, greatly for its brevity and conciseness
as an aid to prayer and contemplation, but _the Combat_ as a help in active
and practical life.
[Footnote 1: Book 1. c. 10.]
[Footnote 2: This hyperbole of St. Francis is sometimes pushed to excess,
It is a question, too, if M. Camus always understood him rightly. [ED.]]
[Footnote 3: Job xiv. 2.]
[Footnote 4: Prov. xi. 14.]
[Footnote 5: 1 Cor. vii. 23.]
[Footnote 6: Eccle. xliv. 20.]
UPON TRUE AND MISTAKEN ZEAL.
Zeal was a virtue which Blessed Francis ever regarded with a certain amount
of suspicion, "It is," he used to say, "generally speaking, impetuous, and
although it strives to exterminate vice by reproving sinners, it is apt, if
not guided by moderation and prudence, to produce most disastrous effects.
"There is a zeal so bitter and fierce that it pardons nothing, exaggerates
the smallest faults, and, like an unskilful physician, only makes the
disease of the soul more serious. There is zeal of another kind, which is
so lax and weakly tender, that it forgives everything, thinking in so doing
to practise charity, which is patient and kind, seeks not her own, and
bears all wrongs done to her even joyfully; but such zeal, too, is quite
mistaken, for true charity cannot endure without grief any wrong done to
God, that is to say, anything contrary to His honour and glory.
"True zeal must be accompanied by knowledge and judgment. It pardons
certain things, or, at least, winks at them, until the right time and place
are come for correcting them; it reproves others when it sees there is
hope of amendment, leaving no stone unturned when it thinks there is a
possibility of preserving or advancing the glory of God.
"It is certain that zeal tempered with gentleness is far more efficacious
than that which is turbulent and boisterous. This is why the Prophet,
wishing to demonstrate the power of the Messiah to bring the whole universe
under the sweet yoke of obedience to Him, does not speak of Him as the Lion
of the Tribe of Juda, but as the Lamb, the Ruler of the Earth. The Psalmist
says the very same thing in a few words: _Mildness is come upon us, and we
shall be corrected._"
I was complaining one day to our Saint of injuries which I had suffered
through the mistaken zeal of some persons of eminent virtue, and he replied
thus: "Do you not know that the best honey is made by the bees which have
the sharpest sting?" It is true, indeed, that nothing hurts us so much as
wrong done by those on whose support we reckoned, as David knew well when
he said: "_For if my enemy had reviled me, I would verily have borne with
it, and if he that hated me had spoken great things against me, I would
perhaps have hidden myself from him, but thou, a man of one mind, my guide,
and my familiar--who together didst take sweet meats with me: in the house
of God we walked with consent._"
"Consider," the Saint went on to say, "by whom Jesus Christ was betrayed."
Listen to the words spoken by him through the mouth of His Prophet, spoken
moreover of His most sacred wounds, "_With these I was wounded in the house
of them that loved me._"
And, after all, is not hope always at the bottom of Pandora's box? Virtuous
people carried away by this mistaken zeal, will, directly their eyes are
opened, only too gladly recognise the truth, and will love you more than
ever. Pray to God to enlighten them and to deliver you from the attacks of
calumny. And if the worst comes to the worst, is it not the duty of a true
Christian to bless those who curse him, to pray for those who persecute
him, and to render good for evil, provided he really wishes to be a
faithful child of the Heavenly Father, who makes His sun to shine, and His
rain to fall, on the wicked as well as on the good.
Let your sighs and lamentations be breathed softly into the ear of God
alone, saying to Him:
"_They will curse, and Thou wilt bless, and they that look to Thee shall
not be confounded._"
[Footnote 1: Psalm liv. 13-16.]
[Footnote 2: Zach. xiii. 6.]
[Footnote 3: Matt. v. 44-45.]
[Footnote 4: Psalm cviii. 28.]
UPON THE INSTITUTION OF THE VISITATION ORDER.
When he instituted the Congregation of the Visitation of Holy Mary in the
town of Annecy, where he resided, he had no intention either of multiplying
Religious Houses or of forming a new Order or Institute with vows, of which
he said there were already enough in the Church. His idea was to form an
assembly of devout widows and maidens, free and unbound either by monastic
vows or enclosure, who should, in their house, occupy themselves with
prayer and manual labour, only going out for two objects, namely, to
discharge their own domestic duties or to perform works of mercy done for
their neighbour to the glory of God. Those who embraced this mode of life
practised it with such success that not only the town of Annecy, but all
the country round felt the influence of their holy life, and was greatly
edified by their example; while the sick and poor, whom they visited in
their distress, were both consoled and relieved by them.
Later on, these holy women formed a little settlement at Lyons, but not
to the satisfaction of the then Archbishop, afterwards Cardinal, de
Marquemont. This Prelate, although a person of much excellence, having
lived the greater part of his life in Rome, where he was Auditor to the
Rota, was so thoroughly imbued with all the Italian maxims as to the
management of women that he could not endure their living thus without
vows or enclosure. He therefore not only advised, but even urged our
Blessed Father to insist upon their choosing some one of the monastic
Rules approved by the Church, and upon their taking perpetual vows, and
preserving an inviolable enclosure. Our Blessed Father, who was extremely
pliable, condescending, and ready to yield to the will of others, allowed
himself to be persuaded by this great Prelate.
The Archbishop then promised that he would submit to the approbation of
Rome the Constitutions which the holy Bishop had prepared for the guidance
of this simple community, provided that they were in accordance with the
Rule of St. Augustine.
Our Blessed Father also induced his dear daughters to lay aside their
original manner of life in order to embrace this second, which took the
shape of an Order properly so called, having perpetual vows.
Since this change he has often told me that the Congregation owed its
establishment simply to the providence and ordering of God, Whose Spirit
breathes where He wills, and Who effects changes with His own right hand
when it pleases Him; and Whose own perfection it is which makes His works
admirable in our eyes.
"As for me," he once said to me, "I am filled with astonishment when I
reflect that, alone and unaided, but with extraordinary calmness of mind, I
have done what I wished to undo, and undone what I wished to do."
"What do you mean by that?" I asked. And he replied: "I never thought for a
moment of forming a Religious Order, being of opinion that their number is
already amply sufficient. No, I only intended to gather together a little
company of maidens and widows without solemn vows and without enclosure,
having no wealth, but that of holy charity, which is indeed all silk and
gold, and is the great bond which unites all Christians, the true bond
of all perfection, the bond of the Spirit of God, the spirit of holy and
absolute liberty." He went on to say that their occupation had hitherto
been, as I have already told you, prayer, manual labour, and visiting the
sick and destitute. "I fear," he added, "that there will be quite an uproar
in the little town when, under the new system, their vows and enclosure
oblige them to abandon their works of mercy. Indeed, I gave their Order the
title of the Visitation of Holy Mary that they might take for their pattern
in their visits to the sick, that visit which the Blessed Virgin paid to
her cousin St. Elizabeth, with whom she dwelt for three months, to help
her and to wait upon her. Now that they are enclosed, they will be rather
visited than visitors; but since the holy providence of God so orders it,
may that providence be for ever blessed." All that I have just told you is
clearly expressed in the letter written by him on the subject of the change
to Cardinal Bellarmine, which can be seen in the volume of his letters. In
remembrance, as it were, of his first design, he expresses his desire to
obtain from the Holy See, through the intervention of the great Cardinal,
three privileges for this Institution. The first, that it should only be
obliged to recite the office of the Blessed Virgin. The second, that widows
should be allowed to be received and to live there, wearing their secular
dress, without taking any vows, and with power to come out if at any time
the necessity of their affairs should oblige them to do so. The third, that
even married women should be allowed to enter, and to remain for a short
time with the permission of their husbands and of the Spiritual Father,
without being either Benefactresses or Foundresses. The letter justifies
all this, and is full of beautiful and sensible reasons for it. I know also
that during his lifetime, when the twelve first Houses of the Order were
established, he saw that in them all those rules were carried out.
I cannot here refrain from quoting for you a passage from Cardinal
Bellarmine's reply to the letter written to him by our Blessed Father
on this subject. It shows very plainly how highly that good and learned
Prelate approved of the first design for the constitution of this Order,
and how little he favoured the change of plan, which has, nevertheless, we
must admit, redounded greatly to the glory of God and to the edification of
the whole Church.
The Cardinal says in this letter: "I will give you the same advice as I
should take for myself were I in similar circumstances. I should then keep
these maidens and widows exactly as they are at present, not making any
change in a state of things which is so admirable. For, before the time of
Boniface VIII. there were consecrated persons in the Church, the Eastern
as well as the Western, mentioned by the Fathers. Among the Latins, St.
Cyprian, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine; among the Greeks, St.
Athanasius, St. Chrysostom, St. Basil, and many others; but they were not
enclosed in their convents in such a manner that they could not come out of
them when, necessary. And your most Reverend Lordship is aware that simple
vows are no less binding and are of no less merit in the sight of God
than solemn ones. Indeed, the solemnizing of vows, as well as the rule of
Enclosure, was originated by an ecclesiastical decree of the said Boniface
VIII. Even at the present day, the convent of noble ladies, founded by St.
Frances of Rome, nourishes in that city, although without any enclosure or
solemn profession. Therefore, if in your country maidens and widows live in
so holy a manner, without being either cloistered or enclosed, and are able
thus to be of use to those in the world, I do not see why their mode of
living should be changed."
What our Blessed Father dreaded for the Institute was what happens to those
Institutes which fail in exactitude of observance. And he often quoted
Saint Bernard's saying that though devotion had given birth to riches,
these unnatural daughters had stifled their mother. Whenever he heard of
any House established in his time beginning to complain of want of comforts
or conveniences he would say: "One day they will have only too many."
All his letters are full of exhortations to put up with discomforts, and
to lean upon Providence, casting all care upon God, Who feeds the young
ravens, satisfies the hunger of all flesh, and fills every living creature
with blessings. Wealth, not poverty, was what he feared for his Order. This
is what he says in the Constitutions: "For the more perfect observance of
the holy virtue of poverty, when once the buildings of the convents are
finished, the revenues shall be limited according to the place where each
convent is situated, to the end that even in this a proper mean may be
kept, and that there be no superfluity of goods in the Community, but only
a fair sufficiency, and when this is once attained nothing further shall
be taken for the reception of the Sisters coming to it, but what shall
be requisite to keep up and maintain well the just competency of the
And in the letter which he wrote to the most Serene Infanta, Margaret of
Sovoy, Dowager Duchess of Mantua, to invite her to take this Congregation
under her protection, he says:
"This Congregation does not solicit alms, but is established in such a
manner that the ladies who enter it give a dowry in order to maintain
the buildings, the sacristy, the chaplain, and to defray the expenses of
illness, etc., either by means of a regular and perpetual income, or by
some other way which cannot injure anyone or interfere in any possible
manner with the payment of the taxes and subsidies due to his most Serene
Highness the Duke. I hope also that the above-mentioned Congregation will
in a few years' time be endowed with revenues sufficient for the support
of the Community, Thus widows without children, and young girls who desire
to serve God in chastity, obedience, and poverty, will have every facility
for entering it, since they will be received without any other payment than
that of a dowry or pension provided by their family for their support."
[Footnote 1: Constitution 5.]
HIS DEFENCE OF HIS NEW CONGREGATION OF THE VISITATION.
On one occasion, some one speaking to him, my Sisters, of your
"Congregation," said: "But what do you mean to do with all this crowd of
women and maidens? Of what use will they be to the Church of God? Are there
not already enough of such institutions into which these applicants might
be drafted? Would you not be doing better if you were to establish some
College for the training and education of Priests, and spend your time on
them instead of on these persons to whom one must repeat a thing a hundred
times before they can retain it? And then, after all, if they do, it is a
treasure buried, a candlestick under a bushel. Is it not a case of painting
on water and sowing on sand?"
Our Blessed Father, smiling graciously, answered with his extraordinary
serenity and sweetness: "It is not for me to work with costly materials;
goldsmiths handle the precious metals, potters only clay. Believe me, God
is a skilled workman; with poor tools He can accomplish wonderful work. He
is wont to choose weak things to confound the strong; ignorance to confound
knowledge, and that which is nothing to confound that which seems to be
something. What did He not do with a rod in the hand of Moses? With the
jaw-bone of an ass in that of Samson? With what did He vanquish Holofernes?
Was it not by the hand of a woman? When He willed to create the world, out
of what did He form it, save nothingness? Believe me, great fires are often
kindled from small sparks. Where was the sacred fire found when the Jews
returned from their captivity among the Medes? In a little mud!
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