The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales
Jean Pierre Camus
Part 7 out of 8
"This weaker sex is deserving of being treated with great tenderness; we
must take much more care of it than we do of the stronger one. St. Bernard
says that the charge of souls is for the weak far more than for the strong.
Our Lord never refused His assistance to women. He was generally followed
by several of them, and they did not forsake Him on the Cross, where he was
abandoned by all His disciples excepting His beloved John. The Church
who gives the title of devout to this sex does not hold it in such low
estimation as you do.
"Besides, do you reckon as nothing the good example which they may set
wherever God calls them? Is it unimportant in your opinion to be a sweet
odour in Jesus Christ, an odour of life eternal? Of the two requisites for
a good pastor, precept and example, which think you is the most estimable?
For my part I think more of an ounce of example than of a hundred pounds'
weight of precept. Without a good life doctrine turns into scandal; it is
like a church bell, it calls others, but itself never goes in; hence the
reproach: _Physician, heal thyself_.
"Even if holy women only served as perfumes for the Church they would not
be useless. A great deal of incense is employed by her in her ceremonies!
"It is true that there are, as you say, a great many other Congregations
already in the Church, into which some of those who are enrolled in this
new one might enter; but there are, besides, many in the Visitation who,
on account of their age or infirmities, or because of their feebleness
of constitution, though they be young, are quite incapable of enduring
the bodily austerities imposed by other Orders, and therefore cannot be
admitted into them. If we receive into this one some who are strong and
healthy, it is that they may wait upon the weak and delicate, for whom this
Congregation has chiefly been instituted, and to put in practice that holy
command: _Bear ye one another's burdens, and so you shall fulfil the law of
"As for your exhortation to me to think about forming a Congregation of
Priests, do you not see that that is already planned by M. de Berulle, a
great and faithful servant of God, who has far more capacity for the work,
and much more leisure also, than I can get? Remember how heavily burdened
I am with the charge of a diocese, in which is situated such a place as
Geneva, the very fountain-head of the errors which are troubling the whole
Church. In conclusion, let us leave great designs to great workmen. God
will do what He pleases with my little plan."
[Footnote 1: Gal. vi. 2.]
UPON THE ODOUR OF SANCTITY.
Our Blessed Father held in the very highest esteem the odour of sanctity,
and revered those who by their good example shed it abroad through the
world, not for their own glory, but for the glory of God.
On another occasion when some morose and captious person was finding fault
with the Visitation Order, and after taking exception to it because of its
newness, wound up by saying to Blessed Francis, "And then of what use will
it be to the Church?" The holy Prelate answered pleasantly: "To play the
part of the Queen of Sheba." "And what part is that?" returned the man, "To
render homage to Him who is greater than Solomon, and to fill the whole
militant Jerusalem with perfumes and sweet odours."
In one of his Conferences he expresses the same thought as follows: "In
my opinion the divine Majesty has made choice of you to go forth as
perfume-bearers, seeing that He has commissioned you to go and scatter far
and wide the sweet odours of the virtues of your Institute. And as young
maidens love sweet odours (for the Bride in the Canticle of Canticles says
that the name of her Beloved is _as oil_, or balm, shedding on all sides
the sweetest perfumes, and _therefore_, she adds, the _young maidens_
have followed Him, attracted by His divine perfumes), so do you, my dear
sisters, as perfume-bearers of the Divine Goodness, go forth, shedding
all around the incomparable sweetness of sincere humility, gentleness,
and charity, so that many young maidens may be attracted thereby, and may
embrace your manner of life, and that they may even in this world enjoy,
like you, a holy loving peace and tranquillity of soul, and in the world to
come eternal happiness."
HE REBUKES PHARISAISM.
On one occasion when the Sisters of the Visitation had made a foundation
in a city famous for the piety of its inhabitants and in which there
were already a number of Religious Houses highly esteemed for external
austerities and severe discipline, they met with much criticism and even
harsh treatment on account of their own gentler and apparently easier rule.
In the end, they made known to Blessed Francis what they had to put up
I ought, perhaps, to say that, among other ill-natured remarks, they had
been reproached with having strewn a path of roses to lead them to Heaven,
and with having brought our Saviour down from the Cross; meaning that they
did not practise many corporal austerities. Those who said this quite
forgot the fact that this Order of the Visitation was founded for the
reception and consolation largely of women, whether young or old, weak in
bodily health, though strong and healthy in mind, whose feeble frames could
not support the external rigour demanded by other Communities.
Our Blessed Father, as I told you, having heard from letters addressed to
him by the Superior, of the harsh treatment and sufferings of his poor
daughters, wrote to her several times on the subject. The following words
of his are especially remarkable for their beauty:
"Beware, my daughter, of replying in any way whatever to these good
Sisters, or to their friends in the world, unless, indeed, you do so
with unalterable humility, gentleness, and sweetness. Do not defend
yourselves, for such is the express command of the Holy Ghost. If they
despise your Order because it appears to them inferior to theirs, they
violate the law of charity, which does not permit the strong to despise the
weak, or the great the small. Granted that they are superior to you, do the
Seraphim despise the little Angels, or the great Saints in Paradise, those
of inferior, nay, of the lowest rank? Oh, my dear daughter, whoever loves
God the most will be the most loved by Him, and will be the most glorious
up in Heaven. Do not distress yourself, the prize is awarded to those who
[Footnote 1: Rom. xii. 19.]
UPON RELIGIOUS SUPERIORS.
Speaking of Superiors, I may tell you that Blessed Francis divided them
into four classes. "First," he said, "there are those who are very
indulgent to others, and also to themselves. Secondly, there are those who
are severe to others, and equally so to themselves. Thirdly, there are some
who are indulgent to their subordinates and rigid to themselves. Fourthly,
there are those who are indulgent to themselves and rigorous to others."
He condemned the first as careless and criminal persons, heedless of their
duties: they abandon the ship they should pilot, to the mercy of the waves.
A Superior of the second kind often spoils everything precisely because he
wishes to do too much, and falls into those exaggerations which have lent
truth to the saying, "Absolute right is absolute injustice." "He who would
rule well," runs an ancient aphorism, "must rule with a slack hand." We
must not hold our horse's bridle over tightly, for though we may save him
from stumbling we hinder him even from walking.
Superiors of the third class are better because they put a kindly
construction upon the faults and infirmities of others less known to them,
as they necessarily are, than their own. This is the reason why they are
severe to themselves and indulgent to others--a line of conduct which
generally meets with the approval of their subjects. The latter are the
more edified because they see their Superiors observing those very laws
from which they have dispensed them. It is just so with the laity: they are
mostly more anxious about the morals of their clergy than they are about
Superiors of the fourth and last kind are truly unfaithful servants. They
resemble those Pharisees who _laid on the shoulders of other men heavy
burdens which_ they themselves would not touch with the tip of their
Our Blessed Father wished that all these four classes could be merged in
a fifth, that of which the watchword should be holy equality according to
that precept both of nature and of the Gospel: "Do to others as you would
be done by; treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and
treat yourself as you know you ought to be treated." In fact, since each
man is to himself his nearest neighbour, we all recognise the injustice
of demanding in the life of others what we do not practise in our own. To
command others to do what we do not ourselves do is to be like Urias, who
carried his own condemnation and death-warrant in his bosom.
One day, in his presence, I was praising a certain Superior for his extreme
goodness, gentleness, patience, and condescension, which attracted all
hearts to him, just as flies are attracted to a honeycomb. He answered,
"Goodness is not good when it puts up with evil; on the contrary, it is bad
when it allows evils to go on which it can, and should, prevent. Gentleness
in such a case is not gentleness, but weakness and cowardice. Patience in
such a case is not patience, but absolute stupidity.
"When we suffer evil which we could prevent, we do not merely tolerate but
become accomplices in wrong-doing. I am of opinion that subjects are made
good by bad, I mean, by harsh and disagreeable Superiors. The severity of
a mother is more wholesome for a child than the petting of an indulgent
nurse, and the firmness of a father is always more useful to his children
than their mother's tenderness. The rougher the file the better it smoothes
the iron, and the more rust it rubs off; the hotter the iron, the better
the surface it gives to the cloth." He related with regard to this subject
an anecdote which will both please and profit you.
The head of a certain Religious Order, which was at the time undergoing
a vigorous reform, had, with the consent of the Provincial Chapter,
established a Novitiate House which was to serve as the one only Seminary
for the whole province. It was decided that no novice should be clothed
until he had been examined by three Fathers of the Order appointed for that
purpose. The first was to enquire into the birth and condition of those
who presented themselves for examination, the second into their literary
capacity, and the third into their manner of life and vocation. This last,
in order to get a firm grip on the pulse of the postulants, and to sound
their vocation to the very quick almost always asked them if they would
have courage and patience enough to put up with bad Superiors, bad in the
extreme, cruel, rude, peevish, choleric, melancholy, captious, pitiless,
those, in a word, whom they would find it impossible to please or satisfy.
Some, evading the question, replied that there could be none such in the
Order, or, at least, would not be suffered to remain in office, seeing that
it was governed with so much gentleness and benignity, and that its yoke
was so sweet and desirable. The examiner, who did not like evasive and
ambiguous replies of this sort, determined to get an answer that should
be straight-forward and to the point. Taking a much sterner tone, he
represented a Superior to them as a sort of slave-driver: a man who would
govern his subjects by blows and stripes, and who yet would expect them to
drink this chalice of bitterness as if offered to their lips by the hand of
Some of the postulants fearing the test, became pale or crimson with
agitation, and either answered nothing, showing by their silence that they
could not swallow the pill, or, if they answered at all, declared that
they could not believe he was speaking seriously, and that they were not
These he dismissed at once as unfit to be received into the Order.
Others, however, full of courage and constancy, still answered, that they
were prepared for any ill-treatment, and that nothing could deter them from
carrying out their God-inspiring resolution. That no creature, however
cruel and however unfeeling, could separate them from the love of Jesus
Christ, nor from His service. These the examining Father received with open
arms into the bosom of the Order.
You may judge from this how skilful was this master of novices in hewing,
hammering, and cutting the stones he was endeavouring to fit for the
spiritual edifice of the Order. Our Blessed Father himself, in spite of all
the sweetness and gentleness of his natural disposition, did not fail to
follow this plan to a certain extent, representing to all who came to him,
desiring to enter into religion, the interior and spiritual crosses which
they must resolve to carry all their life long, not the least heavy of
which, and at the same time not the least useful in helping them to make
great advance in perfection would perhaps be the severity of Superiors.
UPON UNLEARNED SUPERIORS.
A certain community having had their Superior taken from them on account of
their complaints of the severity of his rule, and having a new one set over
them in his place, came to Blessed Francis to pour out their grievances on
the subject of their recently appointed head. They declared that he was an
ignorant man. "What is to be done with you?" cried our Blessed Father, "you
remind me of the frogs to whom Jupiter could not give a king who was to
their taste. We ought certainly to wish to have good and capable Superiors,
but still whatever they may be we must put up with them." One of the
complainers was so wanting in discretion as to say that their one-eyed
horse had been changed into a blind one. Blessed Francis suffered this jest
to pass, merely frowning slightly, but his modest silence only unchained
the tongue of another scoffer who presumed to say that an ass had been
given to them instead of a horse. Then Blessed Francis spoke, and, rebuking
this last speech, added in a tone of gentle remonstrance, that the first
remark, though far from being respectful, was more endurable because it was
a proverb and implied that a Superior had been given to them who was less
capable than his predecessor, and that this was expressed in figurative
terms, as David speaks of himself in relation to Almighty God in one of
the Psalms when he says: _I am become as a beast before Thee._ "The
second sarcasm, however," he added, "has nothing figurative in it, and is
absolutely and grossly insulting. We must never speak of our Superiors in
such a manner, however worthless they may be. Remember that God would have
us obey even the vicious and froward, and he that _resisteth the power
resisteth the ordinance of God_."
Then taking up the defence of this much-abused Superior, "Do you imagine,"
he said, "that it is not within the power of God to exalt in a moment one
who is poor in spirit by bestowing on him the gift of intelligence? Is not
He the God of knowledge? Is it not He who imparts it to men? Are not all
the faithful taught of God?
"The science of the Saints is the science of Salvation, and this is a
knowledge more frequently given to those who are destitute of the knowledge
which puffs up. In what condition think you was Saul when God raised him to
the throne of Israel?
"He was keeping his father's asses. On what did Jesus Christ ride
triumphant on Palm Sunday? Was it not upon an ass?"
Again, in his eleventh Conference, he says: "If Balaam was well instructed
by an ass, we may with greater reason believe that God, Who gave you this
Superior, will enable him to teach you according to His will, though it may
not be according to your own."
He wound up his remarks on the subject of the new Superior by saying: "I
understand that this good man is most gentle and kind, and that if he does
not know much he does none the less well, so that his example makes up for
any deficiency in his teaching. It is far better to have a Superior who
does the good which he fails in teaching, than one who tells us what we
ought to do, but does not himself practise it."
[Footnote 1: 1 Peter ii. 18.]
[Footnote 2: Rom. xiii. 2.]
UPON THE FOUNDING OF CONVENTS.
You know, my Sisters, with what circumspection and prudence our Blessed
Father moved in the matter of foundations. During the last thirteen years
of his life, in which he established your Congregation, he only accepted
twelve convents and refused three times as many, saying, as was his wont,
"Few and good." He was always very particular about the Superiors to whom
he committed the charge of monastic houses, knowing the immense importance
of such choice and its influence upon all the members of a Religious
He was fond of comparing a convent to a beehive, and in one of his
Conferences applies this comparison to your own Order as follows:--"Your
Congregation," he says, "is like a bee-hive which has already sent forth
various swarms: but with this difference, that when bees go forth to
settle in another hive and to begin a new household each swarm chooses a
particular queen under whom they live and dwell apart.
"You, my dear souls, though you may go into a new hive, that is, begin
a new house of your Order, have always only one and the same King, our
crucified Lord, under Whose authority you will live secure and safe
wherever you may be. Do not fear that anything will be wanting to you, for,
as long as you do not choose any other King He will ever be with you;
only take great care to grow in love and fidelity to His divine goodness,
keeping as close to Him as possible. Thus all will be well with you. Learn
from Him all that you will have to do; do nothing without His counsel, for
He is the faithful Friend who will guide you and govern you and take care
of you, as with all my heart I beseech Him to do."
Very often I urged him to consent to certain foundations which it was
proposed to make, but He always gave me some good reason for refusing.
It was not without trouble and difficulty that we obtained a little colony
for Belley. He often said to me: "The Sisters are as yet but novices in
piety, they must be left to grow a little stronger; have patience, for we
shall be doing quite enough if the little we do is what pleases our divine
Master. It is better for them to grow at the roots by virtue rather than
in the branches by forming new houses. Will they, do you think, be more
perfect because they have more convents?"
[Footnote 1: Conf. 6.]
UPON RECEIVING THE INFIRM INTO COMMUNITIES.
Regarding the reception of the infirm, he might have exclaimed with St.
Paul: _Who is weak and I am not weak_? Blessed Francis shared largely in
this spirit, so much did he love the infirm, whether of body or of mind. He
loved the poor in spirit; poor, that is, whether in earthly goods or in the
wisdom of the world, and he used to say that their simplicity was a soil
suitable for the planting of all sorts of virtues, that it would yield much
fruit in due season. He was of opinion that during the year of Novitiate
established in all communities preparatory to the embracing of religious
life, too much attention was paid to the consideration of infirmities, both
spiritual and corporal, just as if convents were not in reality so many
hospitals for healing the diseases of body and mind. Hence, he added, came
the name of _Therapeutes_, that is, curers, healers, or operators, formerly
given to Monks.
It is true that there are certain bodily diseases which from the fact of
their being infectious necessitate the separation of such as are afflicted
with them from the healthy. So also there are spiritual maladies, such as
incompatibility of temper and incorrigibility of defects, which may make
it proper to refuse those who are thus disqualified for entering Religion,
just as in former days, persons suffering from these disabilities could be
dismissed even after Profession.
In one of his letters he thus expresses his feeling for the infirm: "I am,"
he says, "a great partisan of the infirm and am always afraid lest the
inconveniences to which they must naturally put the Community should excite
a spirit of human prudence in our convents and banish the spirit of charity
in which our Congregation was founded, and which is our safest guide in
selecting our Sisters. I take, then, the side of your infirm applicant,
and provided that she be humble and ready to recognise and appreciate your
charity, you must receive the poor girl; it will be a constant opportunity
for the Sisters to practise the holy virtue of loving-kindness."
Gentle and compassionate as his disposition was, full of tenderness, and
sympathy for the feeble and the frail, Blessed Francis was nevertheless
strict and severe in his dealings with those whom he knew to be too lenient
to themselves, either in temporal or spiritual matters.
He who practised so much severity in his own case, assuredly had the right
to advise others to do as much, and especially, like him, to refrain
from complaining at the inconveniences and sufferings endured in time of
sickness. He succeeded in inspiring his Daughters of the Visitation with
his spirit, teaching them that true Christian patience, which is neither
apathy nor insensibility, nor the dull stupid endurance of the Stoics; but
a sweet and reasonable submission to the Will of God, coupled with cheerful
obedience to the physician whom He commands us to honour, and a grateful
acceptance of the remedies prescribed for us.
UPON THE GOVERNMENT OF NUNS BY RELIGIOUS MEN.
It was never his opinion that nuns should be under the jurisdiction and
guidance of other Religious, especially of those of their own Order.
For this he alleged several very weighty reasons, which I have been careful
to bear in mind that I may impart them to you at the right time and place.
For the present, however, I will content myself with reading you one of his
letters, and with afterwards making a little comment upon it.
"I observe," he says, "that many influential people are inclined to think
that Religious Houses should be under the authority of the Ordinaries,
according to the old rule revived lately throughout almost the whole of
Italy; whilst others would have them to be under Superiors of their own
Order, conformably to a custom introduced about four or five hundred years
ago, and almost universally observed in France. For my own part, I confess
that I cannot bring myself to adopt the view of those who desire that
convents of women should be placed under the guidance of Religious men,
still less of the Fathers of their own Order. And in this I feel that I am
of the same mind as the Holy See, which always, where it can be reasonably
brought about, opposes itself to the government of nuns by Regulars.
"I do not say that such government is not sometimes advantageous, even at
the present day, but I do say that it would be far better if in general it
were done away with. And this for many reasons.
"It seems to me that it is no more difficult for the Pope to exempt the
nuns of any Order from the jurisdiction of the Fathers of that same Order,
than it is for him to exempt monasteries from the jurisdiction of their
Ordinary, a procedure inspired no doubt by the most excellent motives, and
that has been carried out successfully for so many centuries.
"The Pope has, as a matter of fact, kept our own nuns in France under the
rule of the Bishops, and it appears to me that these same good nuns do
not know what is good for them when they seek to be transferred to the
jurisdiction of a Religious Order, seeing that Regular Superiors are apt
to be a little rigorous in the exercise of their authority, and to deprive
those under them of holy liberty of spirit."
I would call your attention to the fact mentioned by our Blessed Father
that almost everywhere in Italy the nuns are under the guidance and
jurisdiction of the Bishops. Of this I was myself an eye-witness, and I
noticed at Florence, that out of fifty convents, only four are not under
the jurisdiction and direction of the Archbishop.
I would also remind you that the Holy Apostolic See has, as far as
possible, and for many reasons, revived this ancient form of government of
nuns. That these reasons exist it is well to bear in mind, though it may
not always be prudent to urge them in public.
Again, if in former times it was thought advisable to exempt nuns from the
guidance and jurisdiction of their Ordinaries, or Diocesan Pastors, at the
present day there are far more weighty reasons for replacing them under the
authority of the Bishops, and for taking from the Regulars this exceptional
This is exactly what our Blessed Father thought about the matter. Remember
then always that to put convents under the Bishops is to bring things back
to their first and purest state, for as regards exemption we can assuredly
say that _from the beginning it was not so_.
It seems, too, to me, that nuns who desire the guidance of Monks,
especially of Fathers of their own Order, are true daughters of Zebedee;
they know not what they ask, nor what they want, nor what they are doing.
THAT WE MUST NOT BE WEDDED TO OUR OWN PLANS.
Our Blessed Father used to praise very highly the conduct of Blessed
John of Avila as having been prompted by great strength of mind, and
extraordinary forgetfulness of self in that his zeal made him not only
love his neighbour as himself but even more than himself. I will give you
an instance of this in Francis' own words, addressed to Theotimus: "The
Blessed Ignatius of Loyola, having with such pains set up the company of
Jesus, which he saw produced many fair fruits, and foresaw many more that
would ripen in time to come, had, nevertheless, the nobleness of soul
to resolve that, though he should see it dissolved (which would be the
bitterest pain which could befall him) within half an hour afterwards,
he would be stayed and tranquil in the Will of God. John of Avila, that
holy and learned preacher of Andalusia, having a design to form a company
of reformed Priests for the advancement of God's glory, and having
already made good progress in the matter, as soon as he saw the Jesuits
in the field, thinking they were enough for that time, immediately, with
incomparable meekness and humility, renounced his own undertaking. Oh, how
blessed are such souls, bold and strong in the undertakings God proposes
to them, and withal tractable and facile in giving them up when God so
disposes. It is a mark of a most perfect Indifference to leave off doing a
good work when God pleases, and to return, our journey half accomplished
when God's Will, which is our guide, so ordains." I may tell you, my
Sisters, that you have only to change the name of John of Avila into that
of the Blessed Francis de Sales, and you can apply to an event in his life
these very words. I know that he had in his mind a scheme of forming a
Congregation of Priests, not bound by monastic vows, something on the
pattern of your Order of the Visitation in its beginning; but, of course,
conformable to the calling of the Priesthood. Hearing, however, that
Pierre de Berulle, that faithful servant of God, afterwards a Cardinal,
had established the Congregation of the French Oratory, now so greatly
distinguished for its piety and learning, he abandoned his enterprise,
rejoicing that God should have given this holy commission to one less busy
than himself, and therefore more capable of ordering all things in this
holy Society, and thus promoting the glory of God. I have said, that he
meant to take the Visitation as a model of this projected Congregation of
Priests, intending them to develop, and to prosper side by side. I must
add, however, that even before the formation of your Congregation he had
made an attempt in the same direction by drawing together a little company
of hermits on the gloomy but holy mountain of Notre Dame de Voiron, and
preparing for them laws and constitutions in the observance of which they
have lived with great sanctity ever since.
You know also that his zeal was so condescending in its nature, and that he
was so little wedded to his own opinions, that, though the Visitation had
flourished for four or five years with great edification to others as well
as to itself, yet as soon as His Grace the Archbishop of Lyons, afterwards
Cardinal de Marquemont, had represented to him that it would better for
it to be re-constructed with vows and enclosures like other Orders, he
consented to change its whole constitution.
Speaking of great works undertaken for the glory of God, which, owing to
the illness or death of their founder or head, sometimes seem in danger of
falling to the ground, Blessed Francis said: "There are some undertakings
which God wishes to be begun indeed by us, but completed by others. Thus
David gathered together materials for the temple which his son Solomon
built, St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Ignatius Loyola, sighed for the grace
of martyrdom, and sought for it by all possible means; yet God would not
crown them with it, contenting Himself with the offering of their will.
"To submit ourselves simply and cheerfully to the Will of God in the
failure of undertakings which concern His glory is an act of no small
[Footnote 1: Book ix. chap. 6.]
HIS VIEWS REGARDING ECCLESIASTICAL DIGNITIES.
It is certain that two great Pontiffs, Clement VIII. and Paul V., held
Blessed Francis in the highest possible esteem. Paul V. more than once when
speaking to me dwelt upon his merit, and said how suitable and indeed how
necessary such a Bishop was for a diocese like that of Geneva.
We know, too, that the same Pope often thought of raising him to the
dignity of Cardinal. Our Blessed Father was himself well aware of this, and
mentioned it in letters written to his confidential friends, some of which
have since been published.
It is probable that the fact that this honour was never conferred upon him
was owing to the political difficulties which beset the Supreme Pontiff in
Puzzled at his not receiving the hat, I one day expressed to him my great
surprise at the delay. "Why," he answered, "can you really think this
dignity would in any way conduce to my serving our Lord and His Church
better than I can now do? Would Rome, which would be the place of my
residence, afford me more opportunities for so doing, than this post in
which God has placed me? Should I have more work there, more enemies to
fight against, more souls to direct, more cares, more pious exercises, more
visits to make, or more pastoral functions to discharge?"
"You would enter," I replied, "into the solicitude of all the churches; and
from the direction of one particular Church you would be promoted to share
in the care of the Universal Church, becoming, as it were, the co-assessor
of the Holy See." "Nevertheless," he replied, "you see Cardinals of our
own day, who when they were Bishops and had dioceses were distinguished
for their piety, quit their residence at Rome, which is only theirs by a
positive and ecclesiastical law, in order to return to their flocks among
which the law of God has fixed their homes, bidding them watch over these
flocks and feed and guide the souls entrusted to them."
He then told me a memorable circumstance concerning the great Cardinal
Bellarmine of saintly memory. That Prelate was promoted to the dignity,
unknown to himself and against his will, by Clement VIII. Under the
pontificate of Paul V., who succeeded Leo XI., he was promoted to the
Archbishopric of Capua, again contrary to his own wishes, but by the desire
of the Pope. He bowed beneath this yoke, but not until he had remonstrated
with the Holy Father, who, in reply, simply commanded him to take upon
himself the episcopal charge.
Immediately after his consecration he prepared to take up his residence at
Capua. The Pope, who desired his services at Rome, sent for him, and asked
him if he was quite resolved to live in his diocese. The Cardinal replied
that he was, because unwillingly as he had accepted this charge he had done
so with the conviction that his Holiness felt he could dispense with his
services at Rome, nor would otherwise have placed him over the diocese of
Capua. The Pope replied that he would dispense him from residing in his
diocese. "Holy Father," he answered, "that is not what I have been teaching
in the schools all my life. I have always held that the residence of
Bishops in their diocese is commanded by the law of God, and that therefore
they cannot be dispensed from observing it." "At least," returned the Pope,
"give us half the year." "And during those six months," replied Bellarmine,
"at whose hands will the blood of the lost sheep of my flock be required?"
"Then, at least, three months," pleaded the Pope. The Cardinal gave the
same answer as he had given about the six, and, in fact, soon took his
departure for Capua, where he remained in uninterrupted residence for three
years, in the course of which time, as a relaxation from the labours of his
office, he wrote his beautiful Commentary on the Psalms.
Such was the high value set by the holy Cardinal upon the residence of a
Bishop among his flock: and St. Charles Borromeo, and more recently his
worthy successor, Cardinal Borromeo, have been as uncompromising as
Bellarmine was. As for our Blessed Father, he only valued the Honours and
dignities of the Church and of the world in proportion as they afford means
for serving God and advancing His glory. This was the golden standard with
which he measured the holy City of Jerusalem.
HIS PROMOTION TO THE BISHOPRIC OF GENEVA AND HIS REFUSAL OF THE
ARCHBISHOPRIC OF PARIS.
Although in the life of our Blessed Father his promotion to the Bishopric
of Geneva is described at great length, yet, in my opinion, the subject has
been treated very superficially, and no attempt has been made to give a
full account of the matter.
The truth is that the Saint had all his life but one aim in regard to the
following out of his holy vocation, namely, to serve God in whatever sacred
office he might be called to fill. He had passed through all the various
ecclesiastical offices of Canon, Parish Priest, Provost, Dean of the
Cathedral Church, Preacher, Confessor, and Missionary, when M. de Granier,
at that time Bishop of Geneva, inspired by God, desired to make him his
successor. In this, as in all other matters, our Saint recognised the
inspiration, and with a single eye, that saw God only, committed himself
entirely to His providence.
He did nothing at all either to hinder or to further the design, leaving
it all to M. de Granier, who obtained the consent of the Duke of Savoy
to propose Francis to his Holiness. It was, however, a condition that he
should at once present himself at Rome to be examined in full Consistory.
He was therefore obliged to undertake the journey thither. This journey,
as we know, is fairly well described by the writers of his life. They tell
also of his success, and of the approval bestowed upon him by Pope Clement,
who used the inspired words: _Drink water out of thine own cistern, and the
streams of thine own well. Let thy fountains be conveyed abroad, and in the
streets divide thy waters._ From so excellent a vocation what but good
results could be expected? A good tree cannot bear evil fruit. We know well
how worthily Blessed Francis walked in the vocation to which he had been
called, and how the light of his holy life, like the dawn of morning, shone
more and more unto the perfect day.
In the year 1619, having come to Paris with the Princes of Savoy, he
remained there for eight months, during which time it is impossible to give
any idea of all that he did for the glory of God and the good of souls. The
eyes of all men in this great theatre were turned upon him, as were those
of the Romans upon Cato, when one day he showed himself in their assembly.
It was not only by the people of Paris that he was thought so much of, but
also by their pastor, the Cardinal de Retz (Peter de Gondi), a Prelate of
incomparable gentleness, benignity, liberality, modesty, and every other
delightful quality. The sweet attractive grace of Blessed Francis' manners
and conversation produced such an effect upon him that he at once desired
to make him his coadjutor, with right of succession.
Not expecting any opposition from the holy Bishop, and having gained the
consent of the King, he thought that nothing remained to be done but to
carry out the formalities prescribed by the Roman Congregations. Francis,
however, with marvellous adroitness, warded off the blow, leaving the
great Cardinal penetrated with admiration of his virtue if without the
satisfaction of gaining his compliance.
Among the various reasons for this refusal which are to be found in his
letters, one or two please me especially. For instance, he said that he did
not think he ought to change a poor wife for a rich one; and again, that if
he did ever quit his spouse it would not be to take another, but in order
not to have one at all, following the Apostolic counsel: _Art thou bound,
to a wife, seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife, seek not a
It is true that honours and dignities are but trifles; yet to despise
and refuse them is not a trifling thing. It is easy to disdain them from
a distance, but difficult to deal with them face to face, and either to
quit them when we possess them, or to refuse them when they are offered.
_Blessed is the rich man that is found without blemish, and that hath not
gone after gold nor put his trust in money, nor in treasures. Who is he?
and we will praise him, for he hath done wonderful things in his life._
Such a one, my Sisters, believe me, was your Father and mine, my preserver
and your Founder, Blessed Francis de Sales.
[Footnote 1: Prov. v. 15, 16.]
[Footnote 2: 1 Cor. vii. 27.]
[Footnote 3: Eccle. xxxi. 8, 9.]
A BISHOP'S CARE FOR HIS FLOCK.
Good digestions assimilate all kinds of food, and convert it into wholesome
nourishment, and so in like manner holy souls turn all that they meet with
into material for instruction and into help towards their eternal profit.
Thus, the great St. Anthony, saw the Creator on every page of the book
of nature and in all living creatures. The tiniest flower, growing and
blossoming at his feet, raised his thoughts to Him Who is the Flower of the
Field and the Lily of the Valley, the Blossom springing from the root of
Those who are smitten by some passionate human love are so absolutely
possessed by it that they think of nothing else, and since their tongue
speaks out of the abundance of their heart this is their one subject of
conversation, all others being distasteful to them. They write the name of
the beloved object on rocks and trees, and wherever they can they leave
behind them some carved token or emblem of their affection.
Just so was it with our Blessed Father. His delight was to make all
subjects of conversation, all incidents that might occur, further in one
way or another the glory of God, and kindle His divine love in the hearts
of others. On one occasion, when he was visiting that part of his diocese
which lies among the lofty and bleak mountains of Faucigny, where it is
always winter, he heard that a poor cowherd had lost his life by falling
over a steep precipice while trying to save one of his herd. From this
incident he drew a marvellous lesson upon the care which a Bishop ought to
take of the flock entrusted to his charge by God, showing that he ought to
be ready to sacrifice even life itself for its salvation. He thus relates
the incident, and gives his comments on it in one of his letters.
"During the past few days I have seen mountains, terrible in their
grandeur, covered with ice ten or twelve inches thick; and the inhabitants
of the neighbouring valleys told me that a herdsman going out to try and
recover a cow which had strayed away fell over a precipice from a height of
thirty feet, and was found frozen to death at the bottom. Oh, God! I cried,
and was the ardour of this poor herdsman in his search for the beast that
had strayed, so burning that even the cold of those frozen heights could
not chill it? Why, then, am I so slothful and lax in the quest after my
wandering sheep? This thought filled my heart with grief, yet in no wise
melted its frozen surface. I saw in this region many wonderful sights. The
valleys were full of happy homesteads, the mountains coated with ice and
snow. Like the fertile and smiling valleys, the village mothers play their
homely part, while a Bishop, raised to such a lofty eminence in the Church
of God, remains ice-bound as the mountains. Ah! will there never rise a sun
with rays powerful enough to melt this ice which freezes me!" What zeal for
souls, what humility, what holy fervour breathe in these words!
ON THE FIRST DUTY OF BISHOPS.
"Being a Bishop," he used to say to me, "you are at the same time a
superintendent, sentinel, and overseer in the House of God, for this is
what the word Bishop means. It is then your part to watch over and guard
your whole diocese, making continual supplications, crying aloud day and
night like a watchman on the walls, as the prophet bids you do, knowing
that you have to render an account to the great Father of the family of all
the souls committed to your care.
"But especially you ought to watch over two classes of people who are the
heads of all the others, namely, the Parish Priests and the fathers of
families, for they are the source of most of the good and of most of the
evil which is to be found in parishes or households.
"From the instruction and good example given by Parish Priests, who are the
shepherds of the flock, proceeds all the advance of that flock in knowledge
and virtue. They are like the rods of which Jacob made use to give the
colours he wanted to the fleeces of the lambs. Teaching does much, but
example does incomparably more. It is the same with fathers and mothers of
families: on their words, but still more on their conduct, depends all the
welfare of their households.
"As Bishop you are the master-builder, the superintendent. It is your duty
then to watch over the leaders of your flock and over those who, like Saul,
are a head taller than the rest. Through them healing and blessing flows
down upon others, even as Aaron's ointment descended from his head to the
very hem of his garment.
"This is why you ought continually to exhort and instruct, in season and
out of season, for you are the Parish Priest of all Parish Priests, and the
Father of all Fathers of families."
UPON THE PASTORAL CHARGE.
On one occasion I was complaining to him of the difficulties which I met
with in the discharge; of my episcopal duties. He replied that on entering
the service of God we must prepare ourselves for temptation, since no one
could follow Jesus Christ or be of the number of His true disciples except
by bearing His Cross, nor could anyone enter Heaven except by the path and
through the gate of suffering. "Remember," he said, "that our first father
even in the state of innocence was put into the earthly Paradise to work in
it and to keep it. Do you imagine that he was banished from it in order to
do nothing? Consider how God condemned him and all his posterity to labour,
and to till an ungrateful earth which produced of itself nothing but
thorns and thistles. There is much more toil and difficulty in weeding and
cultivating souls than any earthly soil, rough, stony, and barren though
it may be. The art of arts is the direction of souls, it is of no use to
undertake it unless we have made up our minds to innumerable labours and
"The Son of God being a sign of contradiction, can we wonder if His work is
exposed to the same; and if He had so much difficulty in winning souls,
is it likely that his coadjutors and those who labour with Him will have
Then fearing to depress me by the enumeration of so many difficulties, he
went on to cheer me with the example of the Prince of Pastors, the Bishop
of our souls, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who preferred shame and
toil to joy, that He might further the work of oar salvation.
He added that of the Apostles, and other Pastors of the Church, reminding
me that if we think much of the honour of being their successors we
must, with the inheritance, accept its burdens, nor shelter ourselves
by, in legal phrase, _disclaiming liability for debts beyond the assets_
inherited. Otherwise, he said, we should be like that kinsman of Ruth who
wished to have the inheritance of the first husband, but not to marry the
widow and raise up to him an heir.
He generally wound up his remarks with some reminder of that love which
makes all that is bitter to be sweet: sometimes quoting to me those words
of St. Augustine, "Where we love, there is no labour, or if there is any we
love the labour itself, for he who labours in loving, loves to labour for
the beloved object."
UPON THE CARE OF SOULS.
A Priest once complained to Blessed Francis of the thorns besetting his
path in life, of the difficulties of his holy calling, of the anxieties
inseparable from it, but chiefly of the intractableness of stiff-necked
Christians, who refuse to submit to the easy yoke of Jesus Christ, and to
do what their duty requires. The Bishop replied that their obstinacy was
not so much to be wondered at as the weakness of their Pastors who were so
easily discouraged and impatient, just because they saw that the seed sown
by their labours did not forthwith produce the plentiful harvest they
"The peasant is not blamed for failing to reap an abundant harvest, but
only for not carefully cultivating his field, and for not doing all that
is necessary to make his land productive. Discouragement is a mark of
excessive love of self and of zeal unaccompanied by knowledge.
"The best lesson for those who have the care of souls, is that which the
Apostle gives to all in the person of one: _Preach the word: be instant
in season and out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and
"In this text the word _patience_ is the key to the whole mystery, for
patience has its perfect work when it is accompanied by charity, which is
patient, kind, and is the virtue by which we possess our souls in peace."
The charge of souls means having to bear with the weak, for the strong
are able to go on by themselves in their progress towards what is good.
Our holy Bishop explained this by two beautiful similitudes: "The plumage
of birds is heavy, and yet without this load they could neither raise
themselves from the ground nor hover in the air. The burden borne by holy
souls is like a load of cinnamon, which, by its perfume invigorates him who
carries it. So souls which are weak serve to make their Pastors, who bear
the burden of them, rise on wings towards Heaven, and on earth to run in
the way of God's commandments."
The other comparison Is this: "Notice," he said, "a shepherd driving a
flock of sheep: if one of them breaks a leg the shepherd at once takes
it on his shoulders to carry it back to the fold, and this single one
is certainly a heavier load than all the rest together, who go along of
themselves. In like manner souls which of themselves advance in the way
of God afford little occasion for their Pastors to exercise care and
vigilance. It is of the faulty and intractable they have chiefly to think,
St. Bernard says that the care of souls is not a care of the strong, but of
the infirm, for if any one helps thee more than he is helped by thee, know
that thou art not his father but his equal."
Even the prophets complain of men of obstinate and rebellious hearts. To
work among them is to go down to the sea in ships and to do our business in
great waters, for these waters are God's people with whom we have to deal.
[Footnote 1: 2 Tim. iv. 2.]
UPON LEARNING AND PIETY.
By rights, the more learned a man becomes the more pious should he be. This
does not, however, always happen, and if we must choose between the two,
there is no doubt that it is better to be uneducated but pious, rather than
to be learned without being religious-minded.
Blessed Francis remarked one day when we were speaking of a Parish Priest
whose holy life was highly praised, but with whose defects as a teacher
great fault was found: "It is quite true that knowledge and piety are, as
it were, the two eyes of a Priest; still, as a man can, by dispensation,
receive Holy Orders even though he has only one eye, so also it is quite
possible for a Parish Priest to be a most faithful servant in his ministry
by simply leading a zealous, exemplary, and well-regulated life. The
function of teaching may be discharged by others, who, as St. Paul says,
are instructors but not fathers. But no one can be a pattern to others
except by giving good example, and this cannot be done by proxy."
Besides, the Gospel tells us that we are to pluck out the eye which
offends. It is better to enter heaven with one eye, than to be cast into
hell-fire with two. "There is, indeed," he continued, "a degree of
ignorance so gross as to be inexcusable and to render him who is plunged
into it in very truth a blind leader of the blind. When, however, a man is
in good repute for his piety he surely has within him that true light which
leads him to Jesus Christ and enables him to show light to others. It is as
though he said to them, like Gideon, _Do as I do_, or with St. Paul, _Be ye
followers of me, as I also am of Christ_. Such a one does not walk in
darkness and those who follow him are sure to reach the haven. Though he
has not talents of learning and erudition such as would make him shine in
the pulpit, yet he has enough if he can, as the Apostle says, _exhort in
sound doctrine and convince the gainsayers_. Remark," he added, "how
God taught Balaam by the mouth of his ass." Thus, his charity dexterously
covered the defects of his neighbour, and by this lesson he taught us to
value an ounce of piety more than many pounds of empty learning.
[Footnote 1: 1 Cor. iv. 15.]
[Footnote 2: Matt. xviii. 9.]
[Footnote 3: 1 Cor. iv. 16.]
[Footnote 4: Tit. i. 9.]
ADVICE TO BISHOP CAMUS AS TO RESIGNING HIS SEE.
When I was consulting him once as to whether or not I should follow the
bent of my own inclination in the matter of retiring into a private and
solitary life, he, wishing to ascertain by what spirit I was led, answered
me in the beautiful words of St. Augustine: _Otium sanctum diligit charitas
veritatis, et negotium justum suscipit veritas charitatis_. Charity, the
holy love of eternal truth, draws us into retirement, that we may in that
calm leisure contemplate things divine; but when our hearts are filled with
true charity we are none the less urged to undertake good works in order to
advance the glory of God by serving our neighbour.
Although he esteemed Mary's part--called in the Gospel "the better
part"--much more highly than Martha's, yet it was his opinion that
Martha's, undertaken purely for the love of God, was more suitable to
this present life, and that Mary's had more in common with that of a
blessed eternity. He only made an exception as regards some special and
extraordinary vocations, some irresistible and most powerful attractions,
acting upon the soul, and in the case of those who do not possess the
talents requisite for serving as Martha served, and have only those
suitable for a purely contemplative life. Also those who, having expended,
all their physical strength in the service of the Church, withdraw into
solitude towards the close of their life, there to prepare for that last
journey which is ordained for all flesh.
For this reason he repulsed and silenced me--not indeed harshly, for his
incomparable sweetness was incompatible with harshness--but firmly and
decidedly whenever I spoke to him of quitting my post and of resigning the
helm into the hand of some more skilful pilot. He called my desire to do so
a temptation, and in the end closed the discussion so peremptorily that,
during his lifetime, I never ventured to revive it with anyone.
He dealt in almost exactly the same manner with that virtuous soul the
corner-stone of the spiritual edifice of the Congregation of the Visitation
which he founded, for he kept her in the world for more than seven years,
bringing up and educating the children whom God had given her and affording
spiritual help to her father and father-in-law. He kept her back, I say,
for this long period, before permitting her to retire into the solitude of
the cloister; so exact was he in himself following, and in leading those
who were under his direction to follow, the holy light of faith rather than
the false and lurid glimmers of their natural inclinations.
On a previous occasion a certain Bishop whom I knew well asked him whether
in his opinion it would be allowable for him to give up his Bishopric with
its heavy burdens and retire into private life, bringing forward as an
example St. Gregory of Nazianzen, surnamed the Theologian, the oracle of
his time, who gave up the charge of three Bishoprics, Sozima, Nazianzen,
and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, that he might go and end his days
In rural life, on his paternal estate of Arianzen.
Our Blessed Father replied that we must presume that these great Saints
never did anything without being moved to do it by the Spirit of God, and
that we must not judge of their actions by outward appearances. He added
that St. Gregory in quitting Constantinople was only yielding to pressure
and violence, as is proved by the manner in which he said his last Mass in
public, and which brought tears into the eyes of all who heard him.
This same Bishop replying that the greatness of his own charge terrified
him, and that he was overpowered by the thought of having to answer for
so many souls: "Alas!" said Blessed Francis, "what would you say, or do,
if you had such a burden as mine on your shoulders? And yet that must not
lessen my confidence in the mercy of God."
The Bishop still complaining and declaring that he was like a candle which
consumes itself in order to give light to others, and that he was so much
taken up with the service of his neighbour that he had scarcely any leisure
to think of himself and to look after the welfare of his own soul, our
Blessed Father replied: "Well, considering that the eternal welfare of your
neighbour is a part, and so large a part, of your own, are you not securing
the latter by attending to the former? And how, indeed, could you possibly
work out your own salvation except by furthering that of others, seeing
that you have been called to do so precisely in this manner?"
The Bishop still objecting and saying that he was like a whetstone which is
worn out by the mere sharpening of blades, and that while trying to lead
others to holiness he ran the risk of losing his own soul, our Holy Prelate
rejoined: "Read the history of the Church and the lives of the Saints,
and you will find more Saints among Bishops than in any other Order or
avocation, there being no other position in the Church of God which
furnishes such abundant means of sanctification and perfection. For
remember that the best means of making progress in perfection is the
teaching others both by word and example. Bishops are by their very office
compelled to do this and to strive with all their heart and soul to be a
pattern and model to their flocks. The whole life of a Christian on earth
is a warfare, and should be one unceasing progress towards the goal of
perfection. Were you to do as you propose it would be in a manner to look
behind you, and to imitate the children of Ephraim, who turned back when
they should have faced the enemy. You were going on so well, who is it who
is holding you back? Stay in the ship in which God has placed you to make
the voyage of life; the passage is so short that it is not worth while
changing the boat. For, indeed, if you feel giddy in a large vessel, how
much more so will you in a slight skiff tossed by every motion of the
waves! A lower condition of life, though less busy and apparently more
tranquil, is none the less equally subject to temptation."
This reasoning so convinced the Bishop that he remained faithful to his
post in the army of Holy Church.
[Footnote 1: De Civit. Dei. Lib. 19. cap 19.]
[Footnote 2: St. Jane Frances de Chantal.]
[Footnote 3: This Bishop was evidently M. Camus himself. [Ed.]]
THE JOYOUS SPIRIT OF BLESSED FRANCIS.
So light-hearted and gay was he, so truly did his happy face express the
serenity and peace of his soul that it was almost impossible to remain for
any time in his company without catching something of this joyous spirit.
I feel sure that only those of dull and gloomy temperament can take
exception to what I am going to relate in order to illustrate our Blessed
Father's delightful gift of pleasantry in conversation.
On one occasion when I was paying a visit to him at Annecy two young girls,
sisters, and both most virtuous and most devout, were professed in one of
the convents, he performing the ceremony, and I, by his desire, giving
the exhortation. While preaching, although I said nothing to my mind very
heart-stirring, I noticed that a venerable Priest who was present was so
much affected as to attract the attention of everyone. After the ceremony,
when we were breakfasting with the holy Bishop, the Priest being also at
table, I asked Blessed Francis what had been the cause of such emotion. He
replied that it was not to be wondered at seeing that this good Priest had
lost his aureola, and had been reduced from the high rank of a martyr to
the lowly one of a Confessor!
He went on to explain that the Priest had been married, but that on the
death of his wife, who was a most saintly woman, he had become a Priest,
and that all the children of that happy marriage had been so piously
brought up that every one of them had devoted himself or herself to the
service of the Altar, the young girls just professed being of the number.
The tears shed by the Priest were therefore of joy, not of sorrow, for he
saw his most ardent desire fulfilled, and that his daughters were now the
Brides of the Lamb. "But," I cried, "what did you mean by saying that a man
married to such a wife as that was a Martyr? That may be the case when a
man has a bad wife, but it cannot be true in his case."
Our Blessed Father's manner changed at once from gaiety to seriousness.
"Take care," he said to me in a low voice, "that the same thing does not
happen to you; I will tell you how, by-and-by, in private."
When we were alone afterwards I reminded him of his promise. "Take care,"
he said again with some severity of aspect, "lest if you yield to the
temptation which is now assailing you something worse does not befall you."
He was alluding to my desire to give up the burden of my Bishopric and to
retire into more private life.
"Your wife," he went on to say, meaning the Church, whose ring when he
consecrated me he had put on my finger, "is far more holy, far more able
to make you holy than was that good man's faithful wife, whose memory is
blessed. It is true that the many spiritual children whom she lays in your
arms are a cause of so much anxiety that your whole life is a species
of martyrdom, but remember that in this most bitter bitterness you will
find peace for your soul, the peace of God which is beyond all thought
or imagination. If you quit your place in order to seek repose, possibly
God will permit your pretended tranquillity to be disturbed by as many
vexations as the good brother Leone's, who, amid all his household cares in
the monastery, was often visited by heavenly consolations. Of these he was
deprived when, by permission extorted from his Superior, he had retired
into his cell in order, as he said, to give himself up more absolutely to
contemplation. Know (Oh! how deeply these words are engraven on my memory)
that God hates the peace of those whom He had destined for war.
"He is the God of armies and of battles, as well as of peace, and he
compares the Sulamite, the peaceful soul, to an army drawn up in battle
array and in that formation terrible to its enemies." I may add that our
Blessed Father's predictions were perfectly verified, and after his death
when the very things he had spoken of happened to me I remembered his words
As I write I call to mind another instance of his delightful manner which
you will like to hear.
Young as I was when consecrated a Bishop, it was his desire that I should
discharge all the duties of my holy office without leaving out any single
one of them, although I was inclined to make one exception, that of hearing
confessions. I considered myself too young for this most responsible work,
and wanting in that prudence and wisdom which are born of experience.
Our Blessed Father, however, thought differently in the matter, and I,
holding this judgment in so much higher esteem than my own, gave way, bent
my neck under the yokes and took my place in the confessional. There I
was besieged by penitents, who scarcely allowed me any time for rest or
One day, worn out with this labour, I wrote to St. Francis, saying, among
other things, that intending to make a Confessor he had really made a
In answering my letter he said that he knew well that the vehemence of
my spirit suffered the pangs of a woman in travail, but then I must take
courage and remember that it is written, _a woman when she is in labour
hath sorrow because her hour is come; but when she hath brought forth the
child she remembereth no more the anguish for joy that a man is born into
[Footnote 1: John xvi. 21.]
UPON DAILY MASS. HIS ADVICE TO A YOUNG PRIEST.
To a Priest whom I know well, and whom our Blessed Father loved much in Our
Lord, he gave most excellent advice, and in a very kindly manner, conveyed
it to him by means of an ingenious artifice.
The Priest was young, and owing to his extreme youth, although he was a
Parish Priest, he dreaded saying Mass often, contenting himself with doing
so on Sundays and holidays.
Our Blessed Father, wishing to lead him to say his Mass every day, devised
this plan. He presented him with a little box covered with crimson satin,
embroidered in gold and silver and studded with pearls and garnets. Before
he actually put it into his hands, however, he said to him, "I have a
favour to ask of you which I am sure you will not refuse me, since it only
concerns the glory of God, which I know you have so much at heart." "I am
at your command," replied the Priest. "Oh, no," said the Bishop, "I am not
speaking to you as one who commands, but as one who requests, and I make
this request in the name and for the love of God, which is our common
watchword." After that, what could the Priest possibly refuse him? His
silence testified his readiness to obey, better than any words could have
Blessed Francis then opening the box showed him that it was quite full of
unconsecrated hosts, and said, "You are a Priest, God has called you to
that vocation, and also to the Pastoral Office in His Church. Would it be
the right thing if an artisan, a magistrate, or a doctor only worked at his
profession one or two days in the week? You have the power to say Holy Mass
every day. Why do you not avail yourself of it?
"Consider that the action of saying Mass is the loftiest, the most august,
of all the functions of religion, the one which renders more glory to God
and more solace to the living and the dead than any other.
"I conjure you, then, by the glory of Him in whom we live and move and have
our being, to approach the Altar every day, and never, except under extreme
necessity, to fail to do so.
"There is nothing, thank God, to prevent your doing this. I know your
soul as well as a soul can be known, and of this you are yourself quite
aware, you who have so frankly unfolded to me the inmost recesses of
your conscience. Far from seeing any impediment, I see that everything
invites you to do what I ask, and that you may so use the daily and
supersubstantial Bread I make you this present, entreating you not to
forget at the holy Altar him who makes you this prayer on the part of God
The young Priest was somewhat surprised, and without attempting to evade
the implied rebuke contented himself with submitting to the judgment of the
holy Bishop his secret unworthiness, his youth, his unmortified passions,
his fear of misusing so divine a mystery by not living as they should live
who each day offer it up.
"All this excusing yourself, replied our Blessed Father, is only so much
self-accusing as would appear if I chose to examine your reasons in detail
and weigh them in the scales of the sanctuary. But without entering into
any discussion of them let it suffice that you refer the matter to my
judgment. I tell you then, and in this I think that I have the Spirit of
God, that all the reasons which you bring forward to dispense yourself
from so profitable an exercise of piety are really those which oblige you
to practise it. This holy exercise will ripen your youth, moderate your
passions, weaken your temptations, strengthen your weakness, illuminate
your path, and the very act of practising it will teach you to do so with
greater perfection. Moreover, if the sense of your unworthiness would make
you abstain from it out of humility, as happened to St. Bonaventure, and if
your own unfitness makes the custom of daily celebrating productive in your
soul of less fruit than it should, consider that you are a public person,
and that your flock and your Church have need of your daily Mass. More than
that, you ought to be stimulated and spurred on by the thought that every
day on which you refrain from celebrating you deprive the exterior glory
of God of increase, the Angels of their delight, and the Blessed of a most
The young Priest deferred to this counsel, saying "_Fiat, fiat_," and from
that time for a space of thirty years has never failed to say Mass daily,
even when on long journeys through France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and in
heretical countries. He never failed, I repeat, even under conditions which
seemed to make the saying of Mass impossible.
Such power have remonstrances when tempered with kindness and prudence.
[Footnote 1: Possibly M. Camus himself. [Ed.]]
A PRIEST SAYING MASS SHOULD BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS.
He was told that I was very lengthy in my preparation for saying Holy Mass,
and that this was a cause of inconvenience to many who either wished to
be present at it or to speak to me afterwards. I was accustomed, by his
orders, to say daily Mass at a fixed hour, and not in the private chapel
of the Bishop's house, unless I happened to be ill, but in a large chapel
adjoining the Cathedral Church, where synods, ordinations, and similar
pastoral functions were held. The bell rang for this Mass always at a few
minutes before the appointed hour, but those who knew the length of my
preparation in the sacristy did not hurry to come to it, and those who did
not know lost patience, and in winter time often got chilled to the bone.
Our Blessed Father, wishing to correct this fault in me, waited quietly
till the right moment came for doing so. He was paying me one of his annual
visits at Belley, when it chanced that one morning he was detained very
late in his room writing some letters which he had to send off without loss
of time. When eleven o'clock drew near, his servants, knowing that he never
failed to say Mass unless hindered by illness or some real impediment, came
to remind him that he had not yet done so.
The Altar in the private Chapel had been prepared for him. He came out of
his room, wearing as usual his rochet and mosetta, and after saluting those
who had come to see him and to hear his Mass, said a short prayer at the
foot of the Altar, then vested and celebrated the holy sacrifice. Mass
ended, he knelt down again, and, after another short prayer, joined us with
a face of angelic serenity. Having greeted each of us affectionately, he
entered into conversation with us, until we were called, as we soon were,
to table. I, who watched his actions most closely and ever found them
regular and harmonious as a stave of music, was amazed at the brevity of
this preparation and thanksgiving. In the evening, therefore, when we were
alone together, I said, using the filial privilege which I knew was mine,
"Father, it seemed to me this morning that your preparation for Mass and
your thanksgiving were very hasty and short."
He turned suddenly, and, embracing me, exclaimed, "Oh, how delighted I am
that you are so straightforward in telling me home truths! For three or
four days I have been wanting to do the same thing to you, but did not know
how to begin! Now, tell me what do you say as to that lengthiness of yours
which inconveniences everybody? All complain, and quite openly, though
possibly these complaints have not yet reached your ears, so few dare speak
the truth to Bishops. Doubtless it is because no one loves you as I do that
I have been asked to speak about this. My commission is quite authentic,
though I do not show you the signatures. A little of your superfluity
handed over to me would do us both good, by making you go more quickly and,
me more slowly.
"Do you think," he continued, "that the people who are so anxious to assist
at your Mass have any sympathy with your long preparation before-hand in
the sacristy? Still less those who are waiting to speak to you after Mass,
with your interminable thanksgiving.
"Many of these people come from a distance, and have business engagements
in the town."
"But, Father," I said, "how ought we to make our preparation? Scripture
says, _Before prayer prepare thy soul, and be not as a man that tempteth
God_. How much more, then, must we prepare with all care for the
stupendous act of celebrating Mass, before which, in the words of the
Preface, the powers of Heaven tremble? How can one play on a lute without
tuning it?" "Why do you not make this preparation earlier, in your morning
exercise, which I know, or at least I think, you never neglect?" "I rise at
four o'clock in the summer, sometimes sooner," I replied, "and I do not
go to the Altar till about nine or ten o'clock." "And do you suppose," he
returned, "that the interval from four to nine is very great to Him, in
_Whose sight a thousand years are as yesterday?_"
This passage, so well applied, was like a sudden illumination to me. "And
what about the thanksgiving?" I said. "Wait till your evening exercise to
make it," he answered; "you make your examination of conscience, surely
so great an act will have its weight; and is not thanksgiving one of the
points of self-examination? Both these acts can be made more at leisure and
more calmly in the morning and evening: no one will be inconvenienced by
them, and they will interfere with none of your ordinary duties." "But,"
I objected, "will it not be a cause of disedification to others to see me
so quick over things? _God should not be adored hurriedly_." "We may hurry
as much as we like," he replied; "God goes faster than we do. He is as the
lightning which comes forth from the east and the next moment flashes in
the west. All things are present to Him; with Him there is neither past nor
future. How can we escape from His spirit?" I acquiesced, and since then
all has gone well in this matter.
[Footnote 1: Eccle. xviii. 23.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm lxxxix. 4.]
BLESSED FRANCIS ENCOURAGES THE BISHOP OF BELLEY.
Owing to the fact that the See of Belley had been vacant for four years,
a dispensation was obtained from the Bishop enabling me, at the age of
twenty-five, to be consecrated Bishop, and at the same time to be put in
possession of that See to which the King, Henry IV., had already appointed
Blessed Francis Himself consecrated me, in my own Cathedral Church of
Belley, August 30th, 1609.
After a while scruples began to disturb my mind on account of this
consecration, seemingly so premature. I had, as it were, been made a
captain when I had scarcely enlisted as a soldier. I carried my troubles to
the director of my conscience, this Blessed Father who consoled and cheered
me by suggesting many excellent reasons for this unusual state of things.
The necessities of the diocese, the testimony to my character of so many
persons of dignity and piety, the judgment of Henry the Great, whose memory
he held in high honour, and, last of all, and above all, the command of His
Holiness. He concluded by urging me not to look back, but rather to stretch
forward to the things which were before me, following the advice of St.
"You have come to the vineyard," he went on to say, "in the first hour of
your day. Beware lest you labour there so slothfully, that those who enter
at the eleventh hour outstrip you both in the work and in reward."
One day I said jestingly to him: "Father, virtuous and exemplary as you are
considered to be, you have committed one fault in your life, that of having
consecrated me too early."
He answered me with a laugh which opened a heaven of joy to me. "It is
certainly true," he said, "that I have committed that sin, but I am much
afraid God will never forgive me for it, for up to the present moment I
have never been able to repent of it. I conjure you by the bowels of our
common Master to live in such a manner that you may never give me cause for
regret in this matter and rather, often to stir up in yourself the grace
which was bestowed upon you from on high by the imposition of my hands. I
have, you must know, been called to the consecration of other Bishops, but
only as assistant. I have never consecrated any one but you: you are my
only one, my apprenticeship work.
"Take courage. God will help us.
"_He is our light and our salvation, whom shall we fear? He is the
Protector of our life, of whom shall we be afraid?_"
UPON A COMPASSIONATE MIND.
Although his soul was one of the strongest and most well-balanced possible,
yet it was capable of the tenderest and most compassionate feelings for the
sorrows of others. He did not repine over the miseries and infirmities of
human nature, he only desired that all souls should be strengthened by
To a lady who was heart-broken at the death of a sister whom she
passionately loved, he wrote:
"I will not say to you, do not weep, for, on the contrary, it is just
and reasonable that you should weep a little--but only a little--my dear
daughter, as a proof of the sincere affection which you bore her, following
the example of our dear Master, who shed a few tears over His friend
Lazarus, but not many, as do those whose thoughts, being bounded by the
moments of this miserable life, forget that we, too, are on our way to
Eternity, in which if we live well in this life we shall be reunited to our
beloved dead, nor ever be parted from them again. We cannot prevent our
poor hearts from being affected by the changes of this life, and by the
loss of those who have been our pleasant companions in it. Still never must
we be false to our solemn promise to unite our will inseparably to the Will
Again, let me remind you how tenderly he expresses himself on the sorrowful
occasions of the death of his dearest relatives and friends. "Indeed," he
says, "at times like these I myself weep much. Then my heart, hard as a
stone with regard to heavenly things, breaks and pours forth rivers of
tears. But God be praised! They are always gentle tears, and, speaking to
you as to my own dear daughter, I never shed them without a loving grateful
thought of the providence of God. For, since our Saviour loved death and
gave His death to be the object of our love, I cannot feel any bitterness,
or grudge against it, whether it be that of my sisters or of anyone else,
provided it be in union with the holy death of my Saviour."
And in another place he says:
"I must say just one word in confidence to you. There is not a man living
who has a heart more tender and more open to friendship than mine, or who
feels more keenly than I do the pain of separation from those I love;
nevertheless. I hold so cheap this poor earthly life which we lead that I
never turn back to God with a more ardent affection than when He has dealt
me some blow of the kind or permitted one to be dealt me."
UPON DOING ONE'S DUTY, WITHOUT RESPECT OF PERSONS.
After I had preached several Advents and Lents in various towns of my
diocese of Belley, he thought it well that I should do so in my own native
Well knowing, as he did, the various views and judgments of the great world
which rules there, he wished to teach me to care very little what people
said about me, and he impressed the lesson upon me by relating to me the
following story of an aged Priest and the college clock.
A good Father being incapacitated by infirmities even more than by age from
fulfilling the duty of teaching binding on his Order, and yet being anxious
to have some little useful employment, was entrusted by his Superior with
the winding and regulating the college clock.
Very soon, however, he came to complain of the difficulty and almost
impossibility of his work; not, he said, that it was at all beyond his
strength, but that it was quite beyond him to satisfy everyone. When the
clock was a little slow, he said, the young men who had difficult and
troublesome work to do indoors, complained, declaring that the town clocks
were much faster, and to please them he would put it on a little. As soon
as this was done complaints burst forth from those whose work lay outside
the college, in visiting the sick and prisoners, or providing for the needs
of the household in the city. They came back declaring that the town clocks
were much slower, and reproaching me for having put theirs on.
The Superior settled the matter by telling the good Father to let the
clock take its own course, but always to use soft words to those who might
complain, and to assure each one of them that he would do his best to keep
the clock right if possible. "So let it be with you," concluded our Blessed
Father. "You are going to be exposed to the criticism of many; if you
attend to all that they say of you, your work, like Penelope's, will never
be done, but every day you will have to begin it over again.
"Even some of your friends will in perfect good faith give you suggestions
on matters which seem to them important, but which in reality are not so at
"One will tell you that you speak too fast, another that you gesticulate
too much, a third that you speak too slowly, and don't move enough--one
will want quotations, another will dislike them; one will prefer doctrinal,
another moral lessons; some one thing, some another.
"They will be like drones who do nothing but disturb the working bees, and
who, though they can sting, yet make no honey."
"Well! what is to be done in all this?"
"Why, you must always answer gently, promising to try and correct yourself
of your faults whatever they may be, for there is nothing which pleases
these counsellors so much as to see that their suggestions are accepted
as judicious, and, at least, worthy of consideration. In the meantime go
your own way, follow the best of your own character, pay no heed to such
criticisms, which are often contradictory one of the other.
"Keep God before your eyes, abandon yourself to the guidance of the spirit
of grace, and say often with the Apostle, 'If I yet pleased men I should
not be the servant of Christ,' who said of Himself that He was not of this
world. Neither, indeed, were His Apostles, for the friendship of the world
is enmity with God.
"It is no small matter for a steersman in the midst of a storm to keep
the rudder straight. Of little consequence ought it to be to us that we
are judged by men. God is our only true judge, and it is He Who sees the
secrets of our hearts, and all that is hidden in darkness."
THE HONOUR DUE TO VIRTUE.
Honour is like thyme which the pagans thought ought only to be burnt on the
Altar of Virtue. In ancient Rome the Temple of Honour could only be entered
through the Temple of Virtue.
The virtue of Blessed Francis de Sales was so generally recognized by
both Catholics and Protestants that he may be truly said to have been
A remarkable instance of this occurred at Grenoble, the chief town of
Dauphine, in the year in which he went there to preach during Advent and
Lent. Monsieur de Lesdigiueres, the King's Viceroy at Grenoble, and Marshal
of France, was not yet converted to the Catholic Faith. He, however,
received the Bishop with affectionate warmth, and paid him extraordinary
honours. He frequently invited him to his table, and often visited him
in his house, sometimes even being present at his sermons, for he really
valued the teaching of the holy Bishop, and thought most highly of his
virtue. The Protestants of Grenoble took fright at this, more particularly
because of the long, private interviews which took place between the
Magistrate and the holy Bishop.
Wherever he went the King's representative spoke of Blessed Francis in the
highest terms, and invariably made a point of giving him his title, Bishop
of Geneva. In short, he paid him such deference as excited universal
In vain did the Huguenot clergy storm and rage, in vain did they threaten
to excommunicate anyone having dealings with the Bishop. They could not
prevent the majority of their congregations from pressing every day to hear
the Saint's sermons, which created a great sensation amongst them.
The Huguenot preachers, far from gaining fresh adherents, saw their flock
steadily dwindling away.
At last, in despair, the Consistory determined to send a deputation to
remonstrate with M. de Lesdigiueres on the warm welcome he was giving the
holy Bishop, and on his own behaviour in scandalizing the whole Protestant
party by attending Blessed Francis' sermons.
The deputation, formed of the elders and most notable men of the sect,
reached the Marshal's house early in the morning, so that he was not even
dressed when their request for an interview was brought to him.
Being a man who would not be dictated to, he sent down word to the
Huguenots that if they came to visit him as friends, or to communicate any
matter of business to him, he would receive them gladly, but if they meant
to remonstrate with him, in the name of the Consistory or ministers, on the
politeness he was showing to the Bishop of Geneva, they might rest assured
that they would go out through the window faster than they had come in by
This message was enough. The deputation broke up at once; but with how many
lamentations over this unexpected reception, given by one whom they had
reckoned upon as the chief stay and prop of their sect.
Their next plan was to send one of the principal noblemen of the province,
a Protestant like themselves, upon the same errand as before. He, however,
fared no better than the deputation.
Tell those gentlemen (said M. de Lesdigiueres) that I am old enough to know
the rules of politeness.
Up to the age of thirty I was myself a Roman Catholic. I know how Roman
Catholics treat their Bishops, and with what respect these Bishops are
treated by Kings and Princes. They hold a rank altogether different from
that of our ministers, who, even the highest among them, are only Parish
Priests, since they themselves deny the very existence of the order of
Bishop, however good a foundation for it there may seem to be in the
teaching of Holy Scripture. As for me, my belief is that they will in the
end be sorry they have given up this distinction of rank. "Tell M. B. (he
was a minister of low birth, had formerly been M. de Lesdigiueres' servant,
and owed to him his actual position in the so-called Reformed Church of
Grenoble) that when I see among Huguenot ministers, sons and brothers of
sovereign Princes, as I do among Roman Catholic Bishops, Archbishops, and
Cardinals, I will perhaps change my mind as to how to treat them socially.
"As regards the Bishop of Geneva, I can only say that if I were in his
place and were, as he is, sovereign Prince of this city, I would see that I
was properly obeyed, and that my authority was duly recognised. I know what
are his rights and titles better than B ... or any of his colleagues can
possibly do; it is for me to give them a lesson on the subject, and for
them, if they are wise, to listen. It is not for young, uneducated men to
presume to show a man of my age and rank how to behave himself."
After this the Viceroy redoubled his attentions to the holy Bishop, to whom
he paid every honour in his power.
On the other hand, he himself received such good impressions of our
religion from what he saw of the Bishop that they greatly facilitated his
conversion, which took place after he had been promoted to the rank of
He died an excellent Catholic, and most happily.
UPON MEMORY AND JUDGMENT.
On one occasion Blessed Francis was complaining to me of the shortness of
his memory. I tried to console him by reminding him that even if it were
true, there was no lack in him of judgment, for in that he always excelled.
In reply, he said that it was certainly unusual to find a good memory and
excellent judgment united, although the two qualities might be possessed
together by some in a moderate degree. He added that there were of course
exceptions to the rule, but such exceptions were mostly of rare and
He gave as an instance one of his most intimate friends, the great Anthony
Favre, first President of Savoy, and one of the most celebrated lawyers of
his time, who united in his own person remarkable keenness of judgment with
a marvellous memory. "In truth," he went on to say, "these two qualities
are so different in their nature, that it is not difficult for one to push
the other out. One is the outcome of vivacity and alertness, the other is
not unfrequently characteristic of the slow and leaden-footed."
After some more conversation with me on this subject, in which I deplored
my want of judgment, he concluded with these words: "It is a common thing
for people to complain of their defective memory, and even of the malice
and worthlessness of their will, but nobody ever deplores his poverty of
spirit, i.e., of judgment. In spite of the Beatitude, everyone rejects such
a thought as a doing an injustice to themselves. Well, courage! advancing
years will bring you plenty of judgment: it is one of the fruits of
experience and old age.
"But as for memory, its failure is one of the undoubted defects of old
people. That is why I have little hope of the improvement of my own;
but provided I have enough to remember God that is all I want. _I
remembered, O Lord, Thy judgments of old: and I was comforted._"
[Footnote 1: Psalm cxviii. 52.]
A PRIEST SHOULD NOT AIM AT IMITATING IN HIS SERMONS ANY PARTICULAR
I esteemed him so highly, and not without reason, that all his ways
delighted me. Among others, I thought that I should like to imitate his
style of preaching. Can it be said that I chose a bad model or was wanting
Do not, however, imagine for a moment that I have ever aimed at reproducing
his lofty and deep thoughts and teaching, the eloquent sweetness of his
language, the marvellous power which swayed the hearts of his audience. No,
I have always felt that to be beyond my powers, and I have only tried to
mould my action, gestures, and intonation after the pattern set by him.
Now, as it happened, that owing to his constitution and temperament his
speech was always slow and deliberate, not to say prosy, and my own quite
the opposite, I became so strangely changed that my dear people at Belley
(where the above incident occurred) almost failed to recognise me. They
thought a changeling had been foisted upon them in the place of their own
Bishop, whose vehement action and passionate words they dearly loved, even
though sometimes they had found his discourses hard to follow. In fact, I
had ceased to be myself; I was now nothing more than a wretched copy with
nothing in it really recalling the original.
Our Blessed Father heard of this, and being eager to apply a remedy chose
his opportunity, and one day, when we were talking about sermons, quietly
remarked that he was told I had taken it into my head to imitate the Bishop
of Geneva in my preaching. I replied that it was so, and asked if I had
chosen a bad model, and if he did not preach better than I did.
"Ah," he replied, "this is a chance for attacking his reputation! But, no,
he does not preach so badly, only the worst of it is that they tell me you
imitate him so badly that his style is not recognisable: that you have
spoiled the Bishop of Belley yet have not at all succeeded in reproducing
the Bishop of Geneva. You had better, like the artist who was forced to put
the name of his subject under every portrait he painted, give out that you
are only copying me." "Well, be it so," I replied, "in good time you will
see that little by little from being a pupil I have become a master, and in
the end my copies will be taken for originals."
"Jesting apart," he continued, "you are spoiling yourself, ruining your
preaching, and pulling down a splendid building to re-fashion it into one
which sins against the rules of nature and art. You must remember, too,
that if at your age, like a piece of cloth, you have taken a wrong fold, it
will not be easy to smooth it out."
"Ah! if manners could be changed, what would I not give for such as yours?
I do what I can to stir myself up, I do not spare the spur, but the more I
urge myself on, the less I advance. I have difficulty in getting my words
out, and still more in pronouncing them. I am heavier than a block, I can
neither excite my own emotions, nor those of others. You have more fire in
the tip of your fingers than I have in my whole body. Where you fly like
a bird, I crawl like a tortoise. And now they tell me that you, who are
naturally so rapid, so lively, so powerful in your preaching, are weighing
your words, counting your periods, drooping your wings, dragging yourself
on, and making your audience as tired as yourself. Is this the beautiful
Noemi of bygone days? the city of perfect loveliness, the joy of the whole
Why should I dwell more on his reproof? Sufficient to say that he cured me
of my error, and I returned to my former style of preaching, God grant that
it may be for His glory!
UPON SHORT SERMONS.
He highly approved of brevity in preaching, and used to say that the chief
fault of the preachers of the day was lengthiness.
I ventured to ask how that could be a fault, and how he could speak of
abundance as if it were famine?
He answered: "When the vine is thick in leaves it always bears less fruit,
multiplicity of words does not produce great results. You will find that a
powerful and spirited horse will always start off promptly, and as promptly
pull up. A poor post hack, on the contrary, will go on several paces after
his rider has reined him in. Why is that? Because he is weak. So it is
with the mind and intellect. He who is strong leaves off speaking when
he pleases, because he has great control over himself, and readiness of
judgment. A weak-minded man speaks much, but loses himself in his own
thoughts, nor thinks of finishing what he has to say. Look at all the
homilies and sermons of the ancient Fathers and observe how short they
were, yet how much more efficacious than our lengthy ones! Wise St.
Francis of Assisi, in his Rule, prescribes that the preachers of his Order
shall preach the Gospel with brevity, and gives an excellent reason:
'Remembering,' he says, 'that: _a short word shall the Lord make upon the
earth_.' The more you say, the less your hearers will retain. The less
you say, the more they will profit. Believe me in this, for I speak from
experience. By overloading the memory of a hearer we destroy it, just as
lamps are put out when they are filled too full of oil, and plants are
spoilt by being too abundantly watered. When a discourse is too long, by
the time the end is reached, the middle is forgotten, and by the time the
middle is reached the beginning has been lost. Moderately good preachers
are accepted, provided they are brief, and the best become tiresome when
they are too lengthy. There is no more disagreeable quality in a preacher
Our Blessed Father sometimes surprised me by saying that we ought to be
pleased if, when going up into the pulpit to preach, we saw before us a
small and scattered audience. "Thirty years of experience," he said, "have
made me speak thus: I have always seen greater results from the sermons
which I have preached to small congregations than from those which I have
delivered in crowded churches. An occurrence which I am going to relate
will justify what I say.
"When I was Provost, or rather Dean, of my church, my predecessor in this
diocese, sent me, in company with some other Priests, to instruct in the
Faith the inhabitants of the three bailiwicks of the Chablais, namely,
Thonon, Ternier, and Gaillard. The towns being full at that time of
Huguenots, we had no access to them, and could only say Mass and give
instruction in some scattered and rather distant chapels.
"One Sunday, when the weather was very bad, there were only seven persons
at my Mass, and these few suggested to some one to tell me that I ought
not to take the trouble of preaching after Mass, as it was the custom then
to do, the number of hearers being so small. I replied that neither did a
large audience encourage me, nor a scanty one discourage me; provided only
that I could edify one single person, that would be enough for me.
"I went up; therefore, into the pulpit, and I remember that the subject
of my sermon was praying to the Saints, I treated it very simply and
catechetically, not at all controversially, as you know that is neither my
style nor is the doing so to my taste. I said nothing pathetic, and put
nothing very forcibly, yet one of my small audience began to weep bitterly,
sobbing and giving vent to audible sighs. I thought that he was ill, and
begged him not to put any constraint upon himself, as I was quite ready to
break off my sermon, and to give him any help he needed. He replied that he
was perfectly well in body, and he begged me to go on speaking boldly, for
so I should be administering the needful healing to the wound.
"The sermon, which was very short, being ended, he hurried up to me, and
throwing himself at my feet cried out: 'Reverend sir, you have given me
life, you have saved my soul to-day. Oh, blessed the hour in which I came
here and listened to your words! This hour will be worth a whole eternity
"And then, being asked to do so, he related openly before the little
congregation, that, having conferred with some ministers on this very same
subject of praying to the Saints, which they made out to be sheer idolatry,
he had decided on the following Thursday to return to their ranks (he was a
recent convert to Catholicism), and to abjure the Catholic religion. But,
he added, that the sermon which he had just heard had instructed him so
well, and had so fully dispersed all his doubts, that he took back with his
whole heart the promise he had given them, and vowed new obedience to the
"I cannot tell you what an impression this great example, taking place in
so small a congregation, made throughout the country, or how docile and
responsive to the words of life and of truth it made all hearts. I could
allege other similar instances, some even more remarkable."
For myself I now prefer small congregations, and am never so well pleased
as when I see only a little group of people listening to my preaching.
Seneca once said to his friend Lucillus that they themselves formed a
theatre wide enough for the communication of their philosophy, and,
speaking of those who came to hear his teaching, he says: _Satis sunt
pauci, satis est alter, satis est unus. A few are enough--two are
enough--nay, one is enough._ Why should not a Christian Philosopher be
content with what was enough for this Stoic?
[Footnote 1: Rom. ix. 28.]
UPON PREACHING AND PREACHERS.
On the subject of preaching, Blessed Francis had very definite and weighty
thoughts. He considered that it was not sufficient for a preacher to teach
the ways of God to the unrighteous, and by converting the wicked, to build
up by his words the walls of Jerusalem, that is, of holy Church, while
making known to God's people the ways of divine providence. He wanted more
than this, and said that every sermon ought to have some special plan,
with always for its end the giving glory to God and the converting and
instructing of those who were to hear it. Sometimes this would be the
setting forth of a mystery, sometimes the clearing up of some point of
faith, sometimes the denouncing of a particular vice, sometimes the
endeavouring to plant some virtue in the hearts of the hearers.
"No one," he said, "can sufficiently lay to heart the importance of having
a definite aim in preaching; for want of it many carefully studied sermons
are without fruit. Some preachers are content to explain their text with
all the painstaking and mental effort that they can bring to bear upon the
subject. Others give themselves up to elaborate and exhaustive research
and excite the admiration of their hearers, either by their scientific
reasonings, their eloquence, the studied grace of their gestures, or
by their perfect diction. Others add to all this beautiful and useful
teaching, but so that it only slips in here and there, as it were, by
chance, and is not expressly dwelt upon. But when we have only one aim, and
when all our reasonings and all our movements tend towards it and gather
round it, as the radii of a circle round the unity of its centre, then the
impression made is infinitely more powerful. Such speaking has the force
of a mighty river which leaves its mark upon the hardest of the stones it
"Drones visit every flower, yet gather no honey from any. The working
bee does otherwise: it settles down upon each flower just as long as is
necessary for it to suck in enough sweetness to make its one honeycomb. So
those who follow my method will preach profitable sermons, and will deserve
to be accounted faithful dispensers of the divine mysteries; prudent
administrators of the word of life and of eternal life."
When our Blessed Father heard a certain preacher praised up to the skies,
he asked in what virtues he excelled; whether in humility, mortification,
gentleness, courage, devotion or what? When told that he was said to preach
very well, he replied: "That is speaking, not acting: the former is far
easier than the latter. There are many who speak and yet act not, and who
destroy by their bad example what they build up with their tongue. A man
whose tongue is longer than his arm, is he not a monstrosity?"
On one occasion, of some one who had delighted all his hearers by a sermon
he had preached, it was said: "To-day he literally did wonders." The Saint
replied: "If he did that he must be one of those absolutely blameless men
of whom Scripture says 'they have not sought after gold, nor hoped for
treasures of gold and silver.'" Another time he was told that this same
preacher had on a particular day surpassed himself. "Ah!" he said, "what
new act of self-renunciation has he made? What injury has he borne? For it
is only after overcoming ourselves in this way that we surpass ourselves."
"Do you wish to know," he continued, "how I test the excellence and value
of a preacher? It is by assuring myself that those who have been listening
to him come away striking their breasts and saying: 'I will, do better';
not by their saying: 'Oh how well he spoke, what beautiful things he said!'
For to say beautiful things in fluent and well-chosen words shows indeed
the learning and eloquence of a man; but the conversion of sinners and
their departing from their evil ways is the sure sign that God has spoken
by the mouth of the preacher, that he possesses the true power of speech,
which is inspired by the science of the Saints, and that he proclaims
worthily in the name of Almighty God that perfect law which is the
salvation of souls.
"The true fruit of preaching is the destruction of sin and the
establishment of the kingdom of justice upon earth. By this justice, of
which the prophet speaks, is meant justification and sanctification. For
this, God sends his preachers, as Jesus Christ sent His Apostles, that
they may bring forth fruit, and that this fruit may remain, and by
consequence that they may labour for a meat which perishes not, but which
endures unto life everlasting."
When I was in residence in my diocese I never failed to preach on every
possible day in Advent and Lent, besides doing so on all Sundays and
holidays. Some good people who set themselves up as judges in such matters,
full of worldly prudence said that I was making myself too common, and
bringing the holy function of preaching into contempt.
This came to the ears of our Blessed Father, and he, despising such poor
earthly wisdom, observed, that to blame a husbandman or vinedresser for
cultivating his land too well was really to praise him. Speaking to me on
the subject, and fearing that all that had been said might discourage me,
he related to me what follows: "I had," he said, the best father in the
world, but as he had spent a great part of his life at court and in the
camp, he knew the maxims that hold in those conditions of life far better
than he did the principles of holy living.
"While I was Provost," he continued, "I preached on all possible occasions,
whether in the Chablais, where I was busy for many years uprooting heresy,
or, on my return, in the Cathedral, in parish churches, and even in the
chapels of the most obscure Confraternities. While at Annecy I never
refused any invitation whencesoever it came to preach. One day my good
father took me aside and said to me: 'Provost, you preach too often. Even
on week days I am always hearing the bell ringing for sermons, and when I
ask who is preaching I invariably get the same answer: "The Provost, the
Provost." In my time, it was not so; sermons were rare, but then they
_were_ sermons! They were learned and well studied, more Greek and Latin
was quoted in one of them than in ten of yours; people were delighted and
edified, they crowded to hear them, just as they would have crowded to
gather up manna. Now, you make preaching so common that no one thinks much
of it, and you yourself are held in far less esteem.'
"You see my good father spoke according to his lights and quite sincerely.
You may be sure he was not wishing me ill, but he was guided by the maxims
of the world in which he had been brought up.
"Yet what folly in the sight of God are all the principles of human wisdom!
If we pleased men we should not be the servants of Jesus Christ, He
Himself, the model of all preachers, did not use all this circumspection,
neither did the Apostles who followed in His footsteps. _Preach the word:
be instant in season out of season._
"Believe me, we can never preach enough, especially in this border-land of
heresy, heresy which is only kept alive by sermons, and which will never be
destroyed except by that very breath of God which is holy preaching.
"If you will take my advice, therefore, you will shut your eyes against the
counsels of your worldly-wise monitors and listen rather to St. Paul, who
says to you: _But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an
evangelist, fulfil thy ministry._
"Moreover, when the Apostle continues, _Be sober_, he refers to temperance
in eating and drinking, not to sobriety or restraint in the discharge of
pastoral duties. Blessed is the pastor who shall be found watching and
feeding his flock! I tell you that the divine Master will set him over all
his goods. And when the Prince of Pastors shall come he will receive from
His hand a crown of glory which can never fade."
[Footnote 1: Dan. ix 24.]
[Footnote 2: John xv. 16.]
[Footnote 3: Id. vi. 27.]
[Footnote 4: 2 Tim. iv. 2, 3.]
[Footnote 5: 2 Tim. iv. 5.]
BLESSED FRANCIS AND THE BISHOP OF BELLEY'S SERMON.
One day I was to preach at the Visitation Convent at Annecy, the first
established convent of the Order, and I knew that our Blessed Father, as
well as a great congregation, would be present. I had, to tell the truth,
taken extra pains in the consideration of my subject, and intended to do my
very best. I had chosen for text a passage in the Canticle of Canticles,
and this I turned and twisted into every possible form, applying it to the
Visitation vocation which I extolled far too extravagantly to please the
When he and I were alone together afterwards, he told me that, though my
hearers had been delighted with me, and could not say enough in praise of
my sermon, there was one solitary exception, one individual who was not
pleased with it. On my expressing surprise and much curiosity to know whom
I could have hurt or distressed by my words, he answered quietly that I
saw the person now before me. I looked around--there was no one present
but himself. "Alas!" I cried, "this is indeed a wet blanket thrown upon
my success. I had rather have had your approbation than that of a whole
province! However, God be praised! I have fallen into the hands of a
surgeon who wounds only to heal.
"What more have you to say, for I know you do not intend to spare me?"
"I love you too much," he replied, "either to spare or to flatter you,
and had you loved our Sisters in the same way, you would not have wasted
words in puffing them up in place of edifying them, and in praising their
vocation, of which they have already quite a sufficiently high opinion.
"You would have dealt out to them more salutary doctrine, in proportion as
it would have been more humiliating. Always remember that the whole object
of preaching is to root out sin, and to plant justice in its stead."
On my replying to this that those whom I addressed were already delivered
from the hands of their enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, and
were serving God securely in holiness and justice, "Then," he said, "since
they are standing, you should teach them to take heed lest they fall, and
to work out their salvation with fear and trembling.
"It is right, indeed, for you to encourage them to persevere in their holy
undertaking, but you must do so without exposing them to the danger of
presumption and vanity. Enough said; I know that for the future you will be
careful in this matter."
The next day he sent me to preach in a convent of Poor Clares, an Order
renowned for the exemplary life of its members and for their extraordinary
austerities. I took good care to avoid the rock on which I had struck
the day before, and against which he had warned me. There was as large a
congregation as before, but I confined myself to plain and simple language,
without a thought of studied rhetoric.
I did not praise the austerities of the good nuns, nor did I labour to
please any of my hearers, their edification was my sole object.
On our return to the house, our Blessed Father said, embracing me tenderly,
that though most of those present were dissatisfied, and compared my sermon
most unfavourably with that of the preceding day, yet, that he, on the
contrary, who had then found fault with me, was now perfectly contented and
pleased, and that he believed that God was pleased also. "As for your past
faults," he continued, "I give you a plenary indulgence for them all.
"If you continue to preach as you have just done, whatever the world may
say, you will be doing much service for the Master of the Vineyard, and
will become a fitting servant of His Testament."
One day I was preaching before him at Annecy in the church which he used
as his cathedral. He was surrounded by all his canons, who, with the whole
Chapter, attended him to the bench where he was in the habit of sitting to
This particular one of mine pleased him as regarded its matter and
delivery, but I suffered an allusion to escape me referring to his own name
of Sales, and implying, or rather affirming, that he was the salt (_Sal
es_) with which the whole mass of the people was seasoned.
This praise was so distasteful to him that, on our return from the church,
he took me to task for it, in a tone and with a manner as severe as was
possible to his gentle nature. "You were going on so well," he said. "What
could have induced you to play these pranks? Do you know that you spoilt
your sermon by them? Truly, I am a fine sort of salt, fit only to be thrown
into the street and trampled under foot by the people. For certainly you
must have said what you did say in order to put me to shame--you have found
out the right way to do that--but, at least, spare your own friends."
I tried to excuse myself, alleging that what the Bishop of Saluces once
said to him had suddenly come into my heads and that, quite without
premeditation, the very same words escaped my lips, "But," he replied, "in
the pulpit such things must not escape our lips. I am quite aware that
this time they really did escape you, but you must not allow it to happen
I may here explain, for your benefit, what I meant by this reference to a
saying of the Bishop of Saluces. That holy prelate, who died in the odour
of sanctity, and who was a disciple of Sr. Philip Neri, was an intimate
friend of our Blessed Father's.
On one occasion, when the latter was passing through Saluces on his way
to the shrine of Our Lady of Montdeay, the good Bishop received him with
every mark of respect, and begged him to preach in his cathedral. After
the sermon, he said to him, "My Lord, truly _tu Sal es; at ego, neque sal,
neque lux_." That is to say, "You are a true salt (_Sal es_), and I am
neither salt nor light," alluding to the word Saluces (_Sal lux_), his
[Footnote 1: NOTE.--Another version says that it was St. Francis who
answered: "On the contrary, _tu sal et lux_." See "Vies de S. F. de Sales."
by his nephew, Charles Auguste de Sales and Hamon. Also the life of Blessed
Juvenal Ancina, the said Bishop of Saluces. [Ed.]]
The gentleness of his disposition made Blessed Francis averse to disputing,
either in private or public, in matters of religion. Rather, he loved to
hold informal and kindly conferences with any who had wandered from the
right way; and by this means he brought back countless souls into the
Catholic Church. His usual method of proceeding was this. He first of all
listened readily to all that his opponents had to say about their religion,
not showing any sign of weariness or contempt, however tired he might be
of the subject. By this means he sought to incline them to give him in his
turn some little attention. When, if only out of mere civility, he was
given in his turn an opportunity of speaking, he did not lose a moment of
the precious time, but at once took up the subject treated by the heretic,
or perhaps another which he considered more useful, and deduced from it
briefly, clearly, and very simply the truth of the Catholic belief, and
this without any air of contending, without a word which breathed of
controversy, but neither more nor less than as if dealing in a catechetical
instruction with an Article of the Faith.
If interrupted by outcries and contemptuous expressions, he bore the
annoyance with incredible patience, and, without showing himself disturbed
in the least, continued his discourse as soon as ever an opportunity was
given to him.
"You would never believe," he said, "how beautiful the truths of our holy
Faith appear to those who consider them calmly. We smother them when we
try to dress them up, and we hide them when we aim at rendering them too
conspicuous. Faith is an infused, not a natural, knowledge; it is not a
human science, but a divine light, by means of which we see things which,
in the natural order, art invisible to us. If we try to teach it as human
sciences are taught, by ocular demonstrations and by natural evidence, we
deceive ourselves; Faith is not to be found where human reason tries only
to support itself by the experience of the senses.
"All the external proofs which can be brought to bear upon our opponents
are weak, unless the Holy Spirit is at work in their soul's, teaching them
to recognise the ways of God. All that has to be done is to propose to
them simply the truths of our Faith. To propose these truths is to compel
men to accept them, unless, indeed, they resist the Holy Spirit, either
through dullness of understanding, or through uncircumcision of the heart.
The attaching over much importance to the light of natural reason is a
quenching of the Spirit of God. Faith is not an acquired, but an infused
virtue; it must be treated with accordingly, and in instructing heretics we
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