A Year with the Saints/February
1. Humility is the foundation of all the virtues; therefore, in a soul where it does not exist there can be no true virtue, but the mere appearance only. In like manner, it is the most proper disposition for all celestial gifts. And, finally, it is so necessary to perfection, that of all the ways to reach it, the first is humility; the second, humility; the third, humility. And if the question were repeated a hundred times, I should always give the same answer.----St. Augustine
St. Vincent de Paul perceived that all his advancement and almost all the graces he had received were due to this virtue; and for this reason he inculcated it so much and so greatly desired to introduce it into his congregation.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who knew this truth well, took no greater pains in acquiring any other virtue. For this purpose he recited every day a special prayer to the Angels that they would aid him to walk in this royal road, which they themselves had first trodden, that he might finally succeed in gaining the position of one of those stars that fell from Heaven through pride.
A certain man named Pascasius said that for twenty years he had never asked anything of God except humility, and yet that he had but little of it. However, when no one was able to expel a devil from a possessed person, Pascasius had scarcely entered the church before the devil cried out, "This man I fear," and immediately departed.
Fra Maffeo, a companion of St. Francis, once heard, in a conference on humility, that a great servant of God was very remarkable for this virtue, and that on account of it God loaded him with spiritual gifts. He was thus inspired with so great a love for it, that he made a vow never to rest until he should perceive that he had acquired it. He remained, then, shut up in his cell, asking of God true humility, with tears, fasting, mourning, and many prayers. One day he went out in the woods, and while he was sighing and asking this grace from God, with ejaculatory prayers, he heard the Lord saying to him, "Fra Maffeo, what would you give for humility?" He answered, "I would give my eyes!" "And I," replied the Lord, "desire that you should have your eyes, and the grace you seek." Suddenly there entered his heart a great joy, and at the same time he had the lowest possible opinion of himself, so that he considered himself the least of all men.
2. Humility is the mother of many virtues. From it spring obedience, holy fear, reverence, patience, modesty, mildness, and peace; for, whoever is humble easily obeys all, fears to offend any, maintains peace with all, shows himself affable to all, is submissive to all, does not offend or displease any, and does not feel the insults which may be inflicted upon him. He lives happy and contented, and in great peace.----St. Thomas of Villanova
Here we see the reason why St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Vincent de Paul and so many others became remarkable for all the virtues above mentioned. It is because they were remarkable for humility.
St. Jane Frances de Chantal had conceived so much affection for this virtue, that she watched over herself with !the greatest attention, in order that she might not allow even the smallest occasion of practicing it to escape. And she once said to St. Francis de Sales, "My dearest Father, I beg you, for the love of God, help me to humble myself."
3. Whoever is not very humble, can never draw profit from contemplation, in which any little atom of insufficient humility, though it may seem nothing, works the greatest harm.----St. Teresa
One day, the Blessed Virgin prayed her most holy Son that He would bestow some spiritual gifts upon St. Bridget. But He gave her this reply: "Whoever seeks lofty things ought first to be exercised in the lowly, by the paths of humility." Because the blessed Clara of Montefalco experienced a vain pleasure in some things she had done, the Lord withdrew from her for fifteen years, His lights and celestial consolations, which she could not regain during all that time, though she begged for them earnestly, with tears, prayers, and the use of the discipline.
4. Humility is necessary not only for the acquisition of virtues, but even for salvation. For the gate of Heaven, as Christ Himself testifies, is so narrow that it admits only little ones.----St. Bernard
The Pharisee was separated by his condition in life from the rest of the people, as this sect formed a kind of religious order, in which they prayed, fasted, and performed many other good works; but he was, notwithstanding, reproved by God. Why, then, was this? For no other reason than that he was wanting in humility; for he felt much satisfaction in his good works, and gloried in them as if they were the result of his own virtue.
William, Bishop of Lyons, tells in his Chronicles, of a monk who often violated the prescribed silence, but upon being admonished spiritually by his Abbot he amended, and became so recollected and so devout that he was worthy to receive from God many revelations. Now, it happened that the Father Abbot was sent for by a hermit, who, having reached the close of a virtuous life, desired to receive from him the last Sacraments. The Abbot went, and took with him the silent monk. On the road, a robber, hearing the little bell, accompanied the Blessed Sacrament as far as the cell of the dying man; but he stopped outside, considering himself unworthy to enter the abode of a saint. After the hermit had confessed and received Communion with humility, the robber kept repeating at the door, "Oh, Father, if I were but like you, oh, how happy should I be!" The hermit hearing this, said in his heart, with presumption and complacency, "You are right to desire this; who can doubt it?" and immediately expired. Then the good Religious began to weep, and withdrew from the Abbot. The robber followed them, with tears and hatred for his sins, and the full purpose of confessing and doing penance for them, as soon as they should arrive at the monastery. But he was not able to reach it, for on the way he fell unexpectedly to the ground and died. At this accident, the Religious became joyous again and laughed; and when the Abbot asked him why he had been sad at the death of the hermit, and joyful at that of the robber, he replied: "Because the former is lost, in punishment for his presumption, and the latter saved, on account of his strong resolution to do fitting penance for his sins; and the sorrow he felt for them was so great that it has cancelled even all their penalty."
5. The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.----St. Vincent de Paul
When Macarius was returning one day to his cell, he met the devil, who, wIth a scythe in his hand, tried to cut him in pieces. But he could not do it, because as soon as he came near, he lost his strength. Then, full of rage, he said, "Great misery do I suffer from thee, O Macarius; for, though I wish so much to hurt thee, I am not able. It is strange! I do all that thou doest, and even more; thou dost fast sometimes, and I never eat; thou sleepest little, and I never close my eyes; thou art chaste, and so am I. In one thing only thou surpassest me." "And what is that one thing?" inquired Macarius. "It is thy great humility," replied the demon. Saying this, he disappeared, and was seen no more.
The devil once appeared to a monk in the form of the Archangel Gabriel, and said that he was sent to him by God. The monk replied, "See that thou be not sent by another!" And the devil immediately disappeared.
When an old priest was exorcising a possessed person, the demon said that he would never come out, if he did not first tell him what the goats and what the lambs were like. The good priest quickly answered: "The goats are all those who are like me. What the lambs may resemble, God knows." At these words, the devil cried out: "Through your humility I can no longer remain here," and immediately departed.
6. Persons who keep themselves low in their own estimation and love to be considered of little account and despised by others please God in the highest degree; and, therefore, He willingly lowers Himself to them, pours upon them the treasures of His graces, reveals to them His secrets, invites and draws them sweetly to Himself. Thus, the more one lowers and abuses himself before men, the more he rises and becomes great in the sight of God, and the more clearly he will, one day, behold the Divine Essence.----Thomas a Kempis
St. Gertrude, one day hearing the little bell ring for Communion and not feeling as well prepared as she desired, said to the Lord: "I see that Thou art even now coming to me; but why hast Thou not first adorned my heart with some ornaments of devotion, with which I might be more suitably prepared to come and meet Thee?" But the Lord answered: "Know that sometimes I am more pleased with the virtue of humility than with exterior devotion."
A Religious, not being able to understand a passage of Holy Scripture, fasted for seven weeks, and not understanding it then resolved to go to another monk and inquire about it. But scarcely had he gone out of his cell when there appeared to him an Angel sent expressly from God, who said to him: "Thy fast has not rendered thee pleasing to God, but rather this humiliation of thine"; and then he solved for him the doubt.
After Tais was converted, she held herself always so low in her own eyes, on account of her past evil life, that she did not dare to utter the holy name of God even in invoking Him, but only said, "My Creator, have mercy on me!" And by this humility, she arrived at such a sublime degree of perfection that when Paul the Simple saw a most beautiful place in Paradise, which he supposed to be intended for St. Anthony, he was informed that it would be occupied by Tais within a fortnight.
St. Bonaventure [pictured above] said: "I know a thing to do which will please the Lord. I will consider myself as refuse, I will become intolerable to myself. And when I find myself shamed, degraded, trampled upon and loaded with insults by others, I will rejoice and exult, because of myself I cannot abuse or detest myself as much as I ought. I will call in help from all creatures, desiring to be confounded and punished by them all, because I have despised their Creator. This shall be my dearest treasure----to solicit insults and slights upon myself, to love above all others those who will help me in this, and to abhor all the consolation and honors of the present life. If I do this, I believe it certain that the treasury of Divine Mercy will open above me, miserable and unworthy as I am."
St. Francis of Assisi considered himself not only a mere nothing, the greatest sinner in the world, and deserving of Hell, but unworthy even that God should give him a thought. One day while he was speaking in this manner to one of his companions, the latter saw, in spirit, that there was prepared for him in Heaven a seat among the Seraphim.
7. One day of humble self-knowledge is a greater grace from the Lord, although it may have cost us many afflictions and trials, than many days of prayer.----St. Teresa
St. Gertrude, once reflecting upon the benefits she had received from God, blushed for herself and became so odious in her own eyes that she seemed unworthy to remain in the sight of God, and she would gladly have found some nook, where she might conceal from man, if not from God, the odor of corruption with which she felt herself tainted. At this, Christ humbled Himself to her with so much goodness that the whole celestial court stood amazed.
The venerable Mother Seraphina di Dio received, one day, a spiritual light, by means of which (as she states in her account of it to her director) she perceived clearly that God, being by His nature luminous truth, can behold in Himself only that which He really is----that is, infinite perfection, in which He rejoices and delights. Therefore, when He wishes to unite a soul to Himself, He communicates to it a light of truth, by which it sees, without error or deception, its own nature; that is, that by itself it has never done any good, neither is it able to do any; that in itself it has only inclination to evil, and what good it has is altogether from God. And such a person has no need of much consideration and analysis, because with such a light of truth, all appears so clear that to think otherwise would be mere darkness and deceit. But though the soul, in this clear light, appears ugly, deformed and odious in its own eyes, yet, in the eyes of God, it seems beautiful and very pleasing, because it becomes like His own most true and luminous nature. It happened that this same servant of God, after leading an innocent and most perfect life, came at one time to know her imperfections with such clearness that they seemed to her to become very grave and frightful sins, so that she experienced great bitterness of spirit and could obtain no peace; when she was reproved for any failure, she was not at all disturbed, but said in her heart: "What you see is nothing. Oh, if you saw all, how you would abhor me!" But the Lord consoled her by telling her interiorly that her past imperfections seemed to her so unusually great because her soul was in a state of clear light, but that these deformities were no longer in existence, as He had already cancelled them by His Blood.
8. Hold thyself as vile; rejoice to be so held by others; never exalt thyself by reason of the gifts of God, and thou shalt be perfectly humble.----St. Bonaventure
A soul of precisely this type was St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi. It is recorded of her that she was so vile in her own eyes that she constantly looked upon herself as the lowest of creatures and the most disgraceful and abominable thing upon earth. Being one day called to the grate by the Duchess of Bracciano, she said with great feeling, "If my lady Duchess knew that Sister Mary Magdalen is the abomination of this convent, she would not think of naming her, much less of sending for her." In the same light in which she looked upon herself, she desired also to be viewed by others; and when she was treated contemptuously, or in any way humiliated, she rejoiced so much that in reward for the great gladness with which she received humiliations, she was often rapt in ecstasy after them. For this reason she could not bear to see that she was honored and esteemed, and that others had a good opinion of her; and to prevent this, she would often accuse herself in public and in private of her smallest defects, even with exaggeration.
And so, with things which were not really faults, she mentioned them in such a way as to make them seem grave faults. For example, in cutting up a pineapple one day, she ate two morsels that fell from it. Therefore, she accused herself of gluttony, and of eating outside of the refectory, contrary to the Constitution. She took, besides, all possible pains to conceal from others her virtues and holy works, and when she could not do this, she would try to depreciate them by showing that they were full of defects; in this way she would make the most perfect actions seem worthy of reproof, or, at least, merely natural, and springing from her own inclination. And as she could neither prevent nor conceal the ecstasies which were granted to her, it displeased her exceedingly to be looked at, or listened to, while they lasted, even to such a degree that she once complained to the Lord, saying: "O my Jesus! how is it that Thou hast conferred upon me so much that is known only to Thee and myself, and now Thou wilt have me reveal it? Hast Thou not promised me that as Thou wast hidden, so should I also be?" Once when her confessor ordered her to report to her companions what happened to her in these ecstasies, she wept bitterly, as she did also in making the relation, so that finally she went so far as to entreat the Lord to make her no more communications of the kind. She was so far from drawing any complacency or self-esteem from this source that, as if she had committed a fault, she would humble herself after these favors, even to the last novice or lay-sister, and set herself to perform the daily exercises with them, and converse with them with so much humility and charity that it was an admirable thing to see and hear her, first holding communion with the Divine Majesty with such loftiness of ideas, and then, immediately after, to behold her so humble, dependent, and submissive to her neighbors.
9. Humility, which Christ recommended to us both by word and example, ought to include three conditions. First, we are to consider ourselves, in all sincerity, worthy of the contempt of men; secondly, to be glad that others should see what is imperfect in us and what might cause them to despise us; thirdly, when the Lord works any good in us or by our means, to conceal it, if possible, at the sight of our baseness, and if this cannot be done, to ascribe it to the Divine Mercy, and to the merits of others. Whoever shall attain to this humility, happy is he! and to him who shall not attain it, griefs will never be wanting.----St. Vincent de Paul
The first condition was certainly to be found in the heart of St. Clare, who used to say to her companions: "Oh, Sisters, if you knew me well, you would abhor and avoid me, like one stricken with the plague, because I am not what you believe me, but a wicked woman." The venerable Sister Maria Crucifixa, who considered herself the vilest creature upon earth, often spoke thus of herself to her companions, and with feelings of such sincere and perfect humiliation as excited her to a high degree of compunction. This even led her to ask leave to retire to a convent of Penitents, which she said was a fitting place for her, as she ought to live the life of a penitent.
St. Francis Borgia, too, was so deeply grounded in a low opinion of himself, that he wondered how the people could salute, and not rather stone him, as he passed through the streets. The second condition was also possessed in a high degree by St. Clare. She revealed the greatest faults of her life to all her confessors, intending that they should conceive a bad opinion of her; but when she found this plan failed, she changed her confessors often, in the hope of finding one who would consider her the wretched creature that she really believed herself to be. St. Catherine of Bologna, likewise, not only told all her sins to her confessors, but even intentionally dropped the paper on which they were written, that she might be despised by all. St. John of the Cross, too, when he went to Granada, where he was sent as Provincial Vicar, happened to meet there a brother of his, who was so poor that he lived by alms. When he saw him with his cloak all torn, he was as much pleased as another would have been to see his brother in a rich dress; and when the Grand Duke came to visit him, he brought him forward, saying that was his brother, who was working in the monastery. The third condition was possessed, in the highest degree, by St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi, who when asked or commanded by her Superior to make the Sign of the Cross over the sick, or to offer a prayer for anyone in need, always called another to join her in this action or prayer, so that when the favor came it might be attributed not to her, but to the virtue of the other, as she always attributed it herself. The same may be said of an abbess named Sara, of whom it is related, in the Lives of the Fathers, that she had been assailed by a demon for thirteen years, but was finally liberated by her fervent prayers. Then the demon said to her, "Thou hast conquered me, Sara!" But she replied, "It is not I who have conquered thee, but truly it is my Lord Jesus Christ."
Monseigneur de Palafax showed that he possessed in a singular degree this beautiful quality of attributing to God all the good he did. For he looked upon his good actions not as his own choice, but as pure effects of grace; and so, instead of believing, as people in general do, that he acquired by them merit before God, he believed that his obligations to God were increased by doing them. And so he thought, so he spoke; for he was accustomed to confess himself to be under the greatest obligations to God, because He had bestowed upon him great peace of mind, constant repentance for his sins, great patience and consolation in vexations and labors, great love and respect for the poor and for his persecutors, and had taken from him all attachments to riches, honors, convenience, and his own judgment, and had also given him the grace to perform with fervor penances, the visitation of the sick, and many practices of devotion, as well as strength and talent to make wise and useful regulations, to build many churches, and to accomplish everyone of his actions purely and solely for the honor and service of His Divine Majesty. And what is certainly most to be admired is that he derived only confusion and fear from so many good and holy works, which ordinarily produce, even in excellent persons, a certain good opinion and esteem of themselves and make them believe themselves deserving of praise from men and reward from God. He looked upon them, on the contrary, as special graces granted to him by the Divine Goodness, for which he must one day give a strict account; and he thought that on the last day, in presence of all the world, they would be so many points of accusation against him because he had not corresponded to so many Divine favors by a better and more perfect life. The humility of St. Vincent de Paul was accompanied by all three of these conditions. He had so low an opinion of himself that he considered himself a great sinner, a cause of scandal, and unworthy to remain even in his own Congregation. Wherefore, he often spoke of himself as a hardened sinner, an abominable sinner, unworthy to live, and standing in the utmost need of the mercy of God on account of the abominations of his life. One day, prostrate before his missionaries, he said with great feeling: "If you could see my miseries, you would drive me from the house, to which I am a loss, a burden, and a scandal. I am surely unworthy to remain in the Congregation, on account of the scandal that I give." Because he truly felt thus, he desired that others, too, should feel so; and, therefore, he was pleased to have his imperfections visible to all, and he even manifested them openly on occasions, to the end that he might be despised and lightly regarded by all. For this reason, he often said that he was the son of a swineherd, a poor grammar student, and no scholar. For the same cause, he acknowledged as his nephew, before all in the house and even before some noble visitors, a poor young man who had come to ask his aid. And as he felt at first some unwillingness to acknowledge him when he heard of his arrival, he often accused himself of this to his companions as a great fault, exaggerating too the pride that caused it. He could not bear to hear himself praised, or see himself held in high esteem; and so when a poor woman told him, in presence of some persons of rank, that she had been a servant of his mother, hoping to induce him to give her alms, the Saint, to whom such flattery was unpleasant, answered quickly: "My poor woman, you are mistaken. My mother never kept a servant, but she was a servant herself, and afterwards, the wife of a poor peasant." For this cause, too, he was never heard to speak of the excellent works which he had carried on, nor of the wonderful circumstances in which he had been placed. A remarkable proof of this is that though innumerable occasions offered themselves to speak of his slavery in Tunis, especially in the exhortations which he addressed to his Congregation and others, to move them to aid the poor slaves in Barbary, he never let fall a word concerning himself, nor about what he had said or done to convert his master, and escape with him from the hands of the Infidels, nor as to anything else that happened to him in that country.
This is a rare case, on account of the pleasure which everyone naturally feels in narrating the perils, the dangers and difficulties from which he has happily escaped, especially when his success reveals some virtue and gives occasion for praise. But when necessity, or the good of others, sometimes constrained him to tell something which he had done for the glory of God, if anything had gone ill he attributed to himself whatever might cause humiliation, though he had given no occasion for it; but if all went well, he told of it in very humble terms, setting all to the account of the zeal and labor of others, and suppressing so far as he could those circumstances which would bring praise to himself; and he always ascribed even the slightest good that he did to God, as its primary and only cause. For example, he never said, "I did this; I said this; I thought of this"; but rather, "God inspired me with this thought; put into my mouth these words; gave me strength to do this"; and so on. The humility of St. Francis de Sales was, says St. Jane Frances de Chantal, humility of heart. For it was his maxim that the love of our abjection ought to be with us at every step; and, therefore, he strove to conceal the gifts of grace as much as he could, and endeavored to appear of less account than he really was, so that he was often slow and late in giving his opinion upon subjects with which he was well acquainted.
10. We ought always to consider others as our superiors, and to yield to them, even though they be our inferiors, by offering them every kind of respect and service. Oh, what a beautiful thing it would be, if it should please God to confirm us well in such a practice.----St. Vincent de Paul
This was precisely the practice of this Saint. He made great account of all, and considered all better than himself, more prudent, more perfect, more capable, and more fit for any employment, and therefore he felt no difficulty in yielding his own opinion to anyone. We read of a good nun named Sister Rachel Pastore who had formed such an humble opinion of herself that she regarded all persons, without exceptions, as her superior; and with this sentiment deeply fixed in her heart, she abased and humbled herself in the presence of all.
11. Our Lord says that whoever wishes to become greatest of all must make himself least of all. This is a truth that all Christians believe; how happens it, then, that so few practice it?----St. Vincent de Paul
The same Saint was one of these few. As he had always but a low opinion of himself and had taken so much pains to lower himself beneath all, God continually exalted him by the many great works which He entrusted to him, by the high regard in which he was generally held and by the abundant benedictions which God bestowed on all his actions. St. Paula, by the testimony of St. Jerome, excelled so much in self-abasement that if a stranger attracted by her fame had come to visit her, he would never have recognized her, but would rather have supposed her to be one of the least of her own servants. And when she was surrounded by bands of young maidens, in dress, speech and manner, she always seemed the humblest of them all.
12. Do not believe that thou hast made any advance in perfection unless thou considerest thyself the worst of all, and desirest that all should be preferred to thee; for it is the mark of those who are great in the eyes of God to be small in their own eyes; and the more glorious they are in the sight of God, the more vile they appear in their own sight.----St. Teresa
One day when St. Anthony was praying, he heard a voice saying, "Anthony, thou hast not reached the perfection of a man named Coriarius, who lives in Alexandria." The Saint went immediately to find him, and inquired about his life. Coriarius answered: "I do not know that I have ever done anything good, and so, when I rise in the morning, I say in my heart that all people in this city will be saved by their good works, and I alone shall be lost for my sins; and I say the same thing in the evening, in all sincerity, before going to rest." "No! no! no!" replied St. Anthony, "thou hast secured Heaven for thyself by thy wise practice; but I have unwisely failed to attain this excellence of thine."
In the Lives of the Fathers, a certain monk is mentioned who, in giving an account of his interior to the Abbot Sisois, said that he kept continually before his mind the thought of God. The Abbot answered: "That is nothing great. The great thing would be that you should see yourself below every creature."
One of the chief men of Alexandria, having been received into a monastery, the Abbot judged from his appearance and other signs that he was a hard man, haughty, and inflated with worldly pride. Wishing to lead him by the safe road of humility, he placed him in the porter's lodge, with instructions to throw himself at the feet of all who passed in or out and to beg them to pray to God for him, because he was a great sinner. He obeyed with exactness, and persevered in this exercise for seven years, acquiring thereby great humility. The Abbot then thought it time to give him the habit and admit him to the society of the other members of the Order. But when he heard of this, he implored and entreated to be left as he was for the short time which, as he said, remained to him of life. His request was granted, and he proved to be a true prophet----for, after ten days he died, in great peace and confidence in regard to his salvation. This is related by St. John Climacus, who says that he had spoken with this man, and when he inquired how he occupied himself in all that time when he was remaining at the gate, he replied: "My constant exercise was to consider myself unworthy to stay in the monastery, and to enjoy the sight and company of the Fathers, or even to raise my eyes to look at them."
We read of the venerable Maria Seraphina di Dio that she seemed to have no eyes except to see and exaggerate her own defects, and to admire the virtues of others. So, when she saw others performing any good action, she would say, with feeling: "How happy they are! All, except me, attend to the services of God!" When she saw any going to the confessors, she thought they would only have to hear and speak of God, while she reproached herself that she went solely to tell her errors and sins. If she ever saw anyone commit a fault, she always found means to excuse or palliate it, and thus she was able, in spite of the sins of others, to retain the opinion which she held of herself as being the worst of all.
13. When one is very remarkable for virtue, and truly great before God, and favored and esteemed by Him, yet with all this remains little and vile in his own eyes----here is that humility so grateful to God and so rare among men, which was found most perfect in the Blessed Virgin, who, on hearing herself chosen to be the Mother of God, acknowledged herself to be a servant and handmaiden.----St. Bernard
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi was an admirable example of this. Though she had arrived at high perfection and sanctity and saw herself enriched by God with extraordinary graces and favors, even to the power of working miracles; yet with all this, she had so low an esteem and so poor an opinion of herself as to astonish those who knew her. Nor was this a matter of pure imagination or of mere words, but true and sincere, and was clearly shown by an ecstasy, in which the Lord showed her the strength and virtue He intended to communicate to her against the fierce temptations she had endured from the devil, and she broke forth with these words: "What confusion for me! that upon the lowest and vilest creature upon earth, as I am, Thou designest to bestow the immensity of the treasures of Thy liberality and mercy!"
It was the same with St. Vincent de Paul. Though his virtues were known to all, in spite of the contrivances that he used to conceal them, yet to him alone they remained unknown; because, by putting his own baseness continually before his eyes, he cut off the view of them; so that, although he was rich and abounding in virtues and celestial gifts, he always esteemed himself poor, needy, and destitute of all spiritual good. Thence came the title that he usually gave himself: "This poor wretch."
When St. Teresa reflected upon the favors she received from God in such great abundance, she humbled herself the more on account of them, saying that the Lord sustained her extreme weakness in this way, and that these supports proved how great was her tendency to fall, as a house is shown to be tottering, by the props set up to hold it.
14. Vain self-complacency and the desire of making a show of being spoken of, of having our conduct praised, and of hearing it said that we succeed well and are doing wonders----this is an evil which makes us forget God, which infects our holiest actions, and is, of all vices, the most injurious to progress in the spiritual life. I do not understand how anyone can believe and hold it as a truth of faith that he who exalts himself shall be abased if he desires to pass for a man of worth, a person of prudence, foresight, and ability.----St. Vincent de Paul
The widely known Franciscan, Brother Justin, entered the Order of St. Francis after refusing great favors and most honorable offices which the King of Hungary offered him. He then advanced so far in religion, that he had frequent ecstasies. One day while dining at the table in the monastery, he was raised in the air and carried over the heads of the Religious, to pray before a picture of the Virgin which was painted high on the wall. On account of this wonder, Pope Eugenius IV sent for him and embraced him, not allowing him to kiss his feet; then, seating him by his side, he had a long conversation with him, and gave him many presents and indulgences. This favor made him vain, and St. John Capestran meeting him on his return, said: "Alas! thou didst go forth an angel, and thou art come back a demon!" In fact, increasing every day in insolence, he killed a monk with a knife. After a term of imprisonment, he escaped into the kingdom of Naples, where he committed many crimes, and finally died in prison.
A holy monk once passed a night in a convent of nuns where there was a boy continually tormented by a devil. Through all that night the child remained undisturbed, and so, in the morning, the monk was requested to take him home to his monastery and keep him until the cure was complete. He did this, and then as nothing more happened to the boy he said to the other monks, with some complacency: "The devil made light of those nuns in tormenting this boy; but since he has come into this monastery of God's servants, he has no longer dared to approach him." No sooner had he said this than the boy, in the presence of them all, began to suffer as he had previously, and the monk bewailed his error. Another monk once boasted, in presence of his abbot St. Pachomius, that he had made two mats in one day, when the Saint reproved him and ordered him to carry the two mats on his shoulders before the other monks and ask the pardon and prayers of all, because he had valued these two mats more than the Kingdom of Heaven. He also commanded him to remain five months in his cell without ever allowing himself to be seen, and to make two mats a day for all that time. From his earliest years, St. Thomas Aquinas was always opposed to receiving praise, and he never uttered a word which might lead to it. Therefore, he never felt any temptation to vanity or self-complacency, as he himself testified to Brother Reginald, saying he rendered thanks to God that he had never been tempted by pride. St. Vincent de Paul made this resolution to close the path against self-complacency: "When I am performing some public action, and may complete it with honor, I will perform it indeed, but I will omit those details which might give it luster or attract notice to myself. Of two thoughts which come into my mind, I will manifest the lower, to humble myself, and I will keep back the higher, to make in my heart a sacrifice of it to God; for it is at times expedient to do a thing less well outwardly, rather than to be pleased with ourselves for having done it well, and to be applauded and esteemed for it; and it is a truth of the Gospel that nothing pleases the Lord so much as humility of heart and simplicity of word and deed. It is here that His spirit resides, and it is in vain to seek it elsewhere." This resolution he observed carefully. One day when traveling with three of his priests, he told them, by way of diversion, an adventure which had once happened to him. But in the midst of his story he stopped short, striking his breast, and saying that he was a wretch, full of pride and always talking of himself. When he reached home, prostrating himself before them, he asked pardon for the scandal he had given them by talking about himself.
15. What is it, O my God, that we expect to gain by appearing well before creatures, and by pleasing them? What does it matter to us if we are blamed by them, and considered worthless, provided we are great and faultless before Thee? Ah, we never come fully to an understanding of this truth, and so we never succeed in standing upon the summit of perfection! The Saints had no greater pleasure than to live unknown and abject in the hearts of all.----St. Bernard
A holy bishop, in order to live unknown, left his diocese, and putting on a poor dress went secretly to Jerusalem, where he worked as a laborer. There a nobleman saw him several times sleeping on the ground, with a column of fire rising from his body even to the heavens. Wondering at this, he asked him privately who he was. He answered he was a poor man who lived by his work, and had no other means of support. The count, not satisfied with this, urged him to reveal the whole truth, and the bishop, after exacting a promise of secrecy during his lifetime, told him who he was, and how he had left his country to escape from renown and esteem, as he held it to be unworthy of a Christian, who ought always to have in mind the insults and reproaches heaped upon his Lord, to enjoy the honor and reverence of men.
St. Nicholas of Bari twice threw money secretly, by night, into the house of a gentleman of ruined fortune, that he might be able to give dowries to his daughters, without which they could not be married. On a third visit for the same purpose, he was discovered, and hastily fled.
The Abbot Pitirus, a man celebrated for sanctity, desired to know whether there was in the world any soul more perfect than his own, that he might be able to learn from such a one how to serve God better. Then an Angel appeared to him, and said: "Go to a certain convent in the Thebaid. Four hundred and ninety nuns dwell there, among them one called Isidora, who wears a diadem upon her head. Know that she is very far more perfect than thyself." Isidora was a good young girl, who had set her heart upon abasing herself for Christ's sake as much as she could. So she wore a rag twisted around her head, went barefoot, remained always alone, except when she was obliged to be present at the common exercises; she did not eat with the others, but collected for her own food the scraps they had left; and for drink she used the water in which the dishes had been washed: so that all the rest looked on her with so much aversion, that no one could have been induced ever to eat with her. She was, in fact, the jest and scorn of all, and by all insulted, ill-treated, and looked upon as a fool. She, however, never spoke ill of any, harmed no one, never murmured nor complained of any ill treatment she received. Pitirus then arrived at the convent, and after requesting the abbess to send all the nuns to the grate, he could discover upon none of them the sign given by the Angel, so that he confidently asserted that they were not all there. "Indeed," they answered, "no one is absent, except a fool, who always stays shut up in the kitchen." "Well, send for her," he replied. But she, who had known interiorly what was to happen, had hidden herself that she might escape all connection with the matter. Being found after a long search, and earnestly entreated by her superior, she at last came. Pitirus recognized her as soon as he beheld her, and instantly falling at her feet, recommended himself to her prayers. Astonished at such an action, the nuns said to him, "Father, you are mistaken; this is a fool." "You are the fools:' replied the Abbot. "Know that she is holier than myself or you!" Then they all threw themselves at her feet, confessed their error, and asked pardon for the wrong they had done her. But she could not bear to receive so much honor, so that she fled from the house a few days after, and was never again seen.
The Empress Leonora, having discovered that her confessor, in response to many requests, had written out some of her heroic and virtuous actions that they might be published after her death, went many times to visit him in his last illness. On one of these occasions she came from his room with a bundle of manuscripts, and when she reached the courtyard where a fire was burning, she threw them into it. It was commonly believed that these were the papers relating to herself, which she had obtained from him by many entreaties, for after his death no such record was found among his writings, though it was known to have existed. But in another matter she did not succeed so well, though she made every effort. When very near death, she remembered a certain chest in which she kept the treasure of her instruments of penance. She had not previously been able to take them out herself, and now she could do nothing, as her speech had failed. And so, in great distress, she made signs to her confessor, pointing to the spot, and urging him to take out and carry away what was there. But the Lord, Who exalts the humble, did not permit these signs to be fully understood, until after her death, when this hidden treasure was revealed. All were moved to tears as they drew out garments stained with blood, scourges----some, bloodstained; others, frayed and worn with long use; many little chains with sharp points, and shirts woven of horsehair, all instruments with which she had macerated her innocent flesh.
16. When you see anyone who desires esteem and honors and avoids contempt, and who, when contradicted or neglected, shows resentment and takes it ill, you may be sure that such a one, though he were to perform miracles, is very far from perfection, for all his virtue is without foundation.----St. Thomas Aquinas
That the Angelic Doctor held this belief truly before God is certain, for his conduct proves it. Not only did he not desire honors and applause, but he abhorred them and avoided them as far as he could. He was offered the Archbishopric of Naples by Clement IV, at a time when his family, being out of favor with the Emperor, had fallen into great poverty. He was, therefore, earnestly entreated by them, as well as by others, to accept it. However, he not only refused it but obtained from the same Pope a promise that no dignity should ever be offered him for the future. Besides, he entreated his superiors not to compel him to take the degree of Doctor, as he greatly preferred being learned to being called so; and if he finally took it, it was purely from obedience. But instead of avoiding contempt, he always accepted it with a tranquil soul and a serene countenance. When he was a student, he did not disdain to receive as monitor a fellow student who, finding that he talked but little, attributed it to ignorance and want of talent, and called him 'the dumb ox?' But he was soon undeceived, when he saw that he had so much talent that he could easily serve not only as a monitor but even as a master to himself. One day when the Saint was reading aloud in the refectory at dinner, he was corrected for mispronouncing a word, and though he knew that he had pronounced it properly, he nevertheless repeated, it in the way he was told. Being afterwards asked by his companions why he had done so, "Because," he replied, "it matters little whether we pronounce a syllable long or short, but it matters very much to be humble and obedient."
St. Clare once said: "If I should see myself honored by all the world, it would not arouse in me the slightest vanity; and if I should see myself contemned and despised by all the world, I should not feel the least perturbation." St. Philip Neri never seemed grieved or displeased at any insult or contempt he might receive. This was a trait so visible and so well known among his associates, that they used to say, "Anything can be said to Father Philip, for nothing ever troubles him." When it was one day reported to him that some people had called him an old simpleton, he laughed and was much pleased at it.
St. Anthony, hearing a monk very much praised, treated him contemptuously; and when he saw that he took this ill, he said: "This man is like a palace, rich and elegant without, but within, plundered by robbers."
17. I am despised and derided, and I resent it; just so do peacocks and apes. I am despised and derided, and I rejoice at it; thus did the Apostle. This is the deepest grade of humility, to be pleased with humiliation and abjection, as vain minds are pleased with great honors; and to find pain in marks of honor and esteem, as they find it in contempt and affronts.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Dominic remained more willingly in the diocese of Carcassone than in that of Toulouse, where he had converted so many heretics. On being asked his reason, he replied that in the latter he received many honors, but in the former only injuries and insults.
St. Felix the Capuchin experienced great affliction in seeing himself honored and esteemed; and he was often heard to say that he would have been glad to be frightfully deformed, that all might abhor him. He repeated many times that it would have been more agreeable to him to have been dragged and scourged through the streets of Rome, than to have been reverenced by the people.
St. Constantius, when he had taken minor orders, served in a church near Ancona, where he lived so much apart from the world that he had a widespread reputation for sanctity, and people came from different countries to see him. Among others came a peasant, and inquired for him. The Saint was standing upon a ladder, trimming the lamps; but as he was of a small and delicate figure, the peasant, on looking at him, was sorry that he had made the journey, as it seemed to him for nothing, and ridiculing him in his heart, said to himself, but aloud: "I supposed this would be a great man; but for anything that I can see, he has not even the shape of a man." Constantius, hearing this, instantly left the lamp, and coming down with great haste and gladness, ran up to the rustic and embraced him, saying, "You, alone, out of so many, have your eyes open and have been able to recognize me as I am."
The venerable Sister Maria Crucifixa disliked nothing so much as to hear herself praised, so that when she found others had a good opinion of her, she could not refrain from weeping. She was most unwilling that her supernatural favors should come to the knowledge of others. Therefore when she had ecstasies, the nuns all left her at the first sign of returning to herself, to avoid wounding her feelings. Only her own sister remained with her, who gave her to understand that she looked upon these trances only as fainting fits, caused by weakness, for which she pitied her and offered her remedies. But all this was not enough; so great was her abhorrence of self-esteem, that she believed the love of God to be inseparable from the plausible conceit of being considered a Saint. She, therefore, went so far as to make this prayer: "O Lord! I wish to obey Thee; I wish, at Thy touch, to spring up towards Heaven; but Thy way harbors a horrible monster, human esteem, which is for me an insufferable danger; for no one can love Thee without gaining high reputation. I would wish to walk always in Thy way, and this alone is bitter to me, nor do 1 find any obstacles interposed by Hell but this. So I remain here waiting until Thou shalt either slay this monster, or change my path."
18. I pray you, do not make much account of certain trifles which some call wrongs and grievances; for we seem to manufacture these things out of straws, like children, with our points of honor. A truly humble person never believes that he can be wronged in anything. Truly, we ought to be ashamed to resent whatever is said or done against us; for it is the greatest shame in the world to see that our Creator bears so many insults from His creatures, and that we resent even a little word that is contradictory. Let contemplative souls, in particular, take notice that if they do not find themselves quite resolved to pardon any injury or affront which may be inflicted upon them, they cannot trust much to their prayer. For the soul which God truly unites to Himself by so lofty a method of prayer, feels none of these things, and no longer cares whether she is esteemed or not, or whether she is spoken well of or ill; nay rather honors and repose give her more pain than dishonor and trials.----St. Teresa
If St. Francis de Sales saw that his friends showed displeasure at the malignity of those who spoke ill of him, he would say to them: "Have I ever given you authority to show resentment in my place? Let them talk! This is a cross of words, a tribulation of wind, the memory of which dies out with the blaze! He must be very delicate, that cannot bear the buzzing of a fly. Would it be well for us to pretend to be blameless? Who knows if these people do not see my faults better than I myself do, and if they are not the ones who truly love me? Often we call a thing evil-speaking, because it is not to our taste. What injury is it if one has a bad opinion of us, since we ought to have the same of ourselves?"
The venerable Maria Crucifixa showed extreme pleasure when she saw herself little regarded or esteemed. Therefore the nuns, to accommodate themselves to her disposition, usually treated her with disrespect, and made little account of her, calling her awkward, stupid, and ignorant. So, when they wished to lead her into spiritual conversation, by which their fervor was greatly increased, they said to her: "Come now, Sister Maria Crucifixa, bring out some of your blunders; let us hear your nonsense." Then believing that she was truly to serve as the butt of their jesting, she would readily begin to speak. But it was still necessary that they should appear to disregard what she was saying by seeming inattentive, and whispering together now and then while she was speaking; otherwise, she would stop. And, for the same reason, they could none of them recommend themselves to her prayers, because this seemed to her a proof that they considered her fit to intercede for them with God. So, in order to obtain her prayers, they would tell her that she was known to be such a miserable creature that the others were obliged to recommend her to God, and therefore, not to be ungrateful, she ought to do as much for them.
19. Whoever is humble, on being humiliated, humbles himself the more; on being rejected, rejoices in the disgrace; on being placed in low and mean occupations, acknowledges himself to be more honored than he deserves, and performs them willingly; and only abhors and avoids exalted and honorable offices.----St. Jane Frances de Chantal
A young knight, in a transport of boyish rage, once told St. Vincent de Paul that he was an old fool. Thereupon, the Saint instantly threw himself at his feet and asked pardon for the occasion he had perhaps given him to use such words. A Jansenist, who had tried to instill his false doctrines into the same Saint, at last grew angry at his failure and loaded him with abuse, saying, among other things, that he was an ignorant fellow, and he was astonished that his Congregation could endure him as Superior General. To which he replied: "I am still more astonished at it myself, for I am more ignorant than you can possibly imagine." Some monks who had heard of the great fame of the Abbot Agatho resolved to test his virtue. Accordingly, they went to him and said that many were disedified by him, because he was proud, sensual, given to complaint, and, moreover, covered his own defects by laying them to others. He replied that he indeed had all these vices, and prostrate at their feet, he entreated them to recommend him to God and obtain for him the pardon of so many sins. They departed with great astonishment and edification.
When the Abbot Moses was ordained priest, his bishop ordered the clergy to drive him contemptuously away when he should approach the altar, and to listen to what he would say. They did so, saying to him, "Go away, wicked heathen!"
But he humbly withdrew, saying to himself: "This is suitable for thee, wicked wretch, who, though unworthy to be called a man, hast presumed to dwell among men!"
On account of the singularity of her life, St. Rose of Lima was often reproached and abused by her mother and brothers. But so great was her humility that she always thought she deserved worse treatment, and therefore never even excused herself, but rather amplified and added to what she had done, that they might not seem to be wrong in punishing her; and all this afforded her the greatest happiness.
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi willingly occupied herself in laborious tasks; and the lower and meaner they were, with the more pleasure and readiness did she accomplish them. The same thing was done by St. Aloysius Gonzaga.
What efforts were made by many great men, especially in the ecclesiastical state, to avoid being raised to lofty positions! St. Philip Benizi, hearing that the cardinals, immediately after the death of the Pope, wished to elect him as his successor, concealed himself on a mountain until the election of another had taken place.
St. Gregory the Great, after being elected Supreme Pontiff, escaped by stealth and hid himself in a grotto. After being discovered there, by means of a column of fire which appeared above the cave, he was forced to accept the dignity; but he still entreated the Emperor Maurice, though without success, not to confirm his election. St. Ambrose, being miraculously chosen Bishop of Milan by the mouth of an infant too young to speak, fled from his house by night, and even did many things to make the people believe him a man of evil life.
St. John Chrysostom, to avoid being made a bishop, fled into the solitude of the deserts; and St. Amonius the hermit, to escape being made a priest, went so far as to cut off one of his ears.
20. Missionaries should rejoice to be considered poor in talent, birth and virtue, the dregs and off scouring of the world. They should be glad whenever there arises any opportunity for abjection and contempt, even though it be not for themselves alone, but also extending to the Congregation. And by this test they will be able to know what progress they are making in humility.----St. Vincent de Paul
This Saint, who knew well the great value of humiliations, was so fond of them that a worthy ecclesiastic, who knew him thoroughly, said that he had never been acquainted with any man in the world, who was so ambitious to rise and to be esteemed and honored, as this humble servant of God was desirous to lower and abase himself, and to receive humiliation, confusion, and contempt, so that he seemed to have chosen them as his treasure even in this life. For this cause, he used every effort to take advantage of all occasions of the kind that might offer themselves, and from everything he derived motives for humiliation. And with the same earnestness that he sought it for himself, he desired it also for his Congregation, which he was eager to have despised and held in low estimation. And whenever this happened, he rejoiced not a little. St. Jane Frances de Chantal once undertook an affair of much importance, and then instantly abandoned it, on considering that success would reflect great credit upon herself. To those who wondered how she had been able to wind up and dispose of so important a matter so readily, she answered: "As soon as the splendor of the Sovereign's majesty revealed itself to my eyes, I was so dazzled and blinded that I could no longer see anything. Ah!" she repeated many times, "the splendor of the daughters of the Visitation is to be without splendor, and all their glory lies in humility and abjection."
21. To bear abasement and reproach is the touchstone of humility, and, at the same time, of true virtue. For in this, one becomes conformed to Jesus Christ, Who is the true model of all solid virtues.----St. Francis de Sales
The blessed Seraphino, a Capuchin lay-brother, being gate keeper, was accustomed to pass much time in prayer in a little chapel in the garden, opposite to the gate. One day the Father Guardian, passing that way with a visiting Father, said to his companion, "Would you like to see a Saint?" Then approaching the chapel, he reproved Seraphino severely, saying: "What are you doing here, hypocrite? The Lord teaches us to pray in a room with closed doors, and do you pray in public to be seen? Get up, rascal, and be ashamed of deceiving poor strangers in such a way!" Delighted with these reproofs, Brother Seraphino kissed the ground, and then went away with a countenance as full of satisfaction as if he had just heard some news which was much to his pleasure or advantage. Another day, he was asked by a companion for a needle and a little thread. He replied that he had a needle but no thread; when the other said angrily: "It is plain that you are a fool, and were never good for anything! What can the Order do with such an incapable man as you are? Go away, for I cannot bear to look at you!" Then, without any anger or discomposure, he turned away from the monk who had reproached him, and after a little while came back with his usual serenity of countenance, to the great edification of his fellow religious. In the Lives of the Fathers, we read that St. Amonius had arrived at such great perfection that he was as insensible to insults as a stone; and no matter how many were inflicted upon him, he never considered that any injury had been done him. In the same Lives, it is related that the Abbot John one day told his disciples the story of a youth, who, for having grievously insulted his master, was condemned to remain for three years in menial employment and to receive all the insults that might be inflicted upon him, without ever avenging himself at all. Returning to his master after this time had expired, he was told that for the next three years he must reward whoever did him an injury. Having faithfully done this, he was sent to Athens to study philosophy. He entered the school of an old master who was accustomed to ill-treat all his scholars at their entrance. He did the same in this case; but the newcomer only laughed, and on being asked the reason of his conduct, he answered: "How can I help laughing, when I have so long paid for ill-usage, and now I find it without paying anything?" "My children," added the holy Abbot, when he had finished his story, "submission to injuries is the road by which our Fathers have passed to go to the Lord; and difficult as it appears at first, you see that by habit it becomes not only easy, but even pleasant."
22. He who is truly humble must desire in truth to be despised, mocked, persecuted, and blamed, although wrongfully. If he wishes to imitate Christ, how can he do it better than in this way? Oh, how wise will he, one day, be seen to be, who rejoiced in being accounted vile and even a fool! for such was wisdom itself esteemed.----St. Teresa
Cassian narrates of the Abbot Paphnutius that, being Superior of a monastery and much revered and esteemed by his monks on account of his venerable age and admirable life, he disliked so much honor, and preferring to see himself humiliated, forgotten and despised, he left the monastery secretly, by night, in the dress of a secular. He then went to the monastery of St. Pachomius, which was at a great distance from his own, and remained many days at the gate, humbly asking for the habit. He prostrated himself before the monks, who scornfully reproached him with having spent his life in the enjoyment of the world and then coming at last to serve God, urged by necessity, because he had no means of living. Finally, moved by his urgent entreaties, they gave him the habit, with the charge of the garden, assigning to him another monk as his superior, to whom he was to look for everything. Now, not content with performing his duties with great exactness and humility, he consequently took pains to do all that the rest avoided----all the lowest and most disagreeable tasks in the house----and would often rise secretly in the night and do many things that the others were to perform, so that in the morning they would wonder, not knowing how their work came to be done. He continued to live in this manner for three years, much pleased with the good opportunity he had to labor and be despised, which was the thing he had so greatly desired. Meanwhile his monks, feeling grievously the loss of such a Father, had gone out in different bands to seek him; they finally found him as he was manuring the ground, and threw themselves at his feet. The bystanders were amazed, but still more so when they heard that this was Paphnutius, whose name was so celebrated among them; and they immediately asked his pardon. The holy old man wept at his misfortune in having been discovered through the envy of the demon, and at having lost the treasure which he had seemed to find. Even by force he was carried back to his monastery, where he was received with indescribable gladness, and watched and guarded with the utmost diligence, that he might not again escape.
23. If we should well consider all that is human and imperfect in us, we should find but too much cause to humiliate ourselves before God and men, even before our inferiors.----St. Vincent de Paul
A holy woman, once having asked light of the Lord that she might know herself well, saw so much ugliness and so many miseries in her own heart that, not being able to bear the sight, she prayed to God to relieve her from such distress; for she said if it had lasted longer she would have sunk under it.
The venerable Mother Seraphina di Dio once had a very clear supernatural illumination which made her see her soul full of so many and such abominable faults that it seemed like a receptacle of all that was foul; and she judged it must be even worse in reality; for she said, "If I had more light, I should see more." "It has often come into my mind," she added, "to retire to some cave, when I think how little I exercise myself in virtue; as to humility, in particular, I seem to myself a Lucifer. Religion is beautiful for those who practice virtue, but not for me, who cultivate only vices." Therefore, when she received insults and contempt, she was never disturbed, nor complained, but said: "They speak well; they do well; that suits me well." Nor was any adversity or trial in her whole life ever sufficient to make her change her sentiments.
24. In my opinion, we shall never acquire true humility unless we raise our eyes to behold God. Looking upon His greatness, the soul sees better her own littleness; beholding His purity, she is the more aware of her own uncleanness; considering His patience, she feels how far she is from being patient; in fine, turning her glance upon the Divine perfections, she discovers in herself so many imperfections that she would gladly close her eyes to them.----St. Teresa
This was, in truth, one of the principal fountains from which St. Vincent de Paul drew that humble opinion which he had of himself, as well as his great desire for humiliations. That is to say, he derived them from the profound knowledge which he had of the infinite perfections of God, and of the extreme weakness and misery of creatures; so that he thought it a manifest injustice not to humiliate himself always and in all things. In a conference one day with his priests, he spoke thus: "In truth, if each of us will give his attention to knowing himself well before God, he will find it to be the most just and reasonable thing to despise and humble himself. For, if we seriously consider the natural and continual inclination we have to evil, our natural incapacity for good, and the experience we all have had that even when we think we have succeeded well in something and that our plans are wise, the matter often turns out quite different from our anticipations, and God permits us to be considered wanting in judgment; and that, finally, in all we think, say, or do, both in substance and circumstances, we are always filled and encompassed with motives for humiliation and confusion----how shall we not consider ourselves worthy to be repulsed and despised in reflecting upon such things, and in seeing ourselves so far from the holiness and sublime perfections of God, and from the marvellous operations of His grace, and from the life of Christ our Lord?"
25. One who wishes to become truly holy ought not, except in a few unusual cases, to excuse himself, although that for which he is blamed be not true. Jesus Christ acted thus. He heard Himself charged with evil which He had not done, but said not a word to free Himself from the disgrace.----St. Philip Neri
The Empress Leonora was treated by her mother always with harshness, and without any appearance of affection. For the smallest things that were observed by no one else, her mother reproved her sharply at every turn, and frequently struck her. The good child remained always in silence, with her eyes cast down, uttering not a word in her defense, still less complaining or weeping. Often when the tempest has passed, she would kneel and kiss her mother's feet, asking her pardon and promising amendment.
St. Vincent de Paul never justified himself against the complaints and calumnies brought against him and his Congregation, whatever trouble or loss they might cause. Once when he had used his influence to prevent a bishopric from being conferred on one of his subjects, whom he considered unworthy of it, the disappointed candidate invented an enormous calumny against him, which came to the ears of the Queen. One day, meeting the Saint, she told him laughingly that he had been accused of such and such a thing. He calmly replied, "Madam, I am a great sinner." When her Majesty said that he ought to assert his innocence, he answered, "Quite as much was said against Christ our Lord, and He never justified Himself." It happened that, one time, in a public hall, a nobleman said that the missionary zeal of St. Vincent's followers had greatly cooled. When the Saint heard this, he would not say a word in defense, though he could easily have proved the contrary of the assertion, for in that year and the preceding more missions had been given than ever before. To one who urged him to take notice of the affair by telling him that this gentleman, though not knowing the truth, was continuing to speak evil of the Congregation, he answered, "We will let him talk. For my part, I will never justify myself except by my works." It chanced, one day, that a prelate, having summoned the Saint to an assembly where many persons of rank were present, reproved him publicly for a thing for which he was not at all to blame. But he, without a word of complaint or excuse, immediately knelt and asked pardon, to the great admiration of those present, to whom his innocence was known. One of them, a man of much piety and learning, after the assembly was over and the Saint was gone, said that he was a man of extraordinary virtue and of a supernatural and Divine spirit.
The venerable Mother Seraphina never excused herself, even to her confessors, though they might blame her wrongfully; nor did she explain how matters really stood, unless obliged by obedience. Once, in particular, when she was sharply reproved by her director, though the thing laid to her charge was not true, she replied only: "You are right." Afterwards, he commanded her to tell him the truth, and on hearing it he was sorry for his wrongful accusations.
26. Sometimes a soul rises more towards perfection by not excusing herself than by ten sermons. Since by this means one begins to acquire freedom, and indifference as to what good or evil may be said. Nay more; by a habit of not replying, one arrives at such a point that when he hears anything said of himself, it does not seem as if it related to him, but rather like an affair belonging to someone else.----St. Teresa
Father Alvarez, the confessor of St. Teresa, having been falsely accused of a grave fault in a provincial assembly and seriously reproved for it in public, said nothing, either in public or private, in his own defense. Afterwards, God rewarded this heroic silence with extraordinary favors.
Among the ancient monks, there was one named Eulogius, very humble and patient. Wherefore, the lax and negligent threw all their faults upon him; and he, being corrected and reproved for them, humbly accepted, without any denial or excuse, the penances which were given for them and performed them with great patience. The older Fathers, seeing him every day under reprehension, were displeased with him, and told the Abbot that he ought to apply some remedy, for they could not bear this state of things any longer. The Abbot took time, and, in prayer, entreated the Lord to enlighten him, and teach him what he ought to do with this brother. Then God revealed to him his innocence and great sanctity. Being extremely astonished at this, he called together all the monks, and said to them: "Believe me, I would prefer the faults of Eulogius with his patience and humility, to all the good works and virtues of many others who murmur against him, and think they are doing well themselves. And that you may see how great is the virtue of our companion, let each of you bring here the mat on which he sleeps." When all the mats were brought, he had a good fire lit and threw them all into it. Everyone was instantly burned except that of Brother Eulogius, which remained. Then, prostrate upon the ground, they all asked pardon of God, and conceived the highest opinion of their brother. But he was grieved at being discovered, and the next night fled to the desert, where he would be unknown; for he knew very well that no one can be honored in this world and in the next.
27. Here is one of the best means to acquire humility: fix well in mind this maxim: One is as much as he is in the sight of God, and no more.----Thomas a Kempis
St. Francis made a beginning of sanctity by trampling underfoot human respect; for he had thoroughly penetrated the truth of this holy maxim which he often revolved in his mind.
In this solid maxim, St. Francis de Sales was equally well-founded and established. Therefore, he had his own reputation very little at heart, and did not care at all how others might feel in regard to him. In conversation, he once said: "Oh that it were God's pleasure that my innocence should never be recognized even in the day of universal judgment, but that it should remain always hidden and eternally concealed in the secret recesses of the eternal wisdom!" And again: "If the grace of God had caused me to perform any work of righteousness, or had wrought any good by my means, I should be content that in the day of judgment, when the secrets of hearts are manifested, God alone should know of my righteousness; and my unrighteousness, on the contrary, should be seen by every creature."
28. All those who have truly wished to arrive at the possession of humility have applied themselves with all their power to the practice of humiliation, because they know that this is the quickest and shortest road thereto.----St. Bernard
The blessed Alessandro Sauli, Bishop of Aleria, a man of learning and esteemed in his Order, willingly occupied himself, even when he was Superior, in humble employments such as sweeping the house, washing the dishes, drawing water, bringing wood to the kitchen, working in the garden, serving the old and the sick, carrying heavy burdens on his back, taking charge of the door, ringing the bells, or helping the sacristan. When, on account of preaching or other spiritual works, he was at any time prevented from performing these daily exercises, he was accustomed to supply the omission by doing double work on the next day.
St. Camillus de Lellis was also remarkable in this way. When he was Superior General of his Order, he was often seen serving in the refectory, washing dishes in the kitchen, carrying the cross, and sometimes even the coffin, at funerals, and going about Rome with a wallet on his shoulders, begging bread----though he was blamed for it by some great nobles and cardinals who were his friends and happened to meet him in the streets in this guise. The venerable Mother Seraphina often employed herself in humble tasks; she was also seen many times rubbing her face with an old shoe.
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi, of her own accord, adopted practices that might bring her into contempt, such as having her eyes bandaged, her hands tied behind her back, being trampled upon, struck, or rudely addressed.
We read of St. Policronius that he wore a wretched habit, ate poor and very scanty food, and passed almost all night in prayer with an oak log on his shoulders, so heavy that Theodoret, the author of his life, who had seen the log, found by experiment that he could scarcely lift it from the ground with both hands.
St. Rose of Lima, besides occupying herself as a servant in the lowest offices every day, invented a strange method of lowering herself still more. Having in the house a woman-servant of harsh temper and exceedingly coarse nature, she induced her, by urgent entreaties, to maltreat her both in words and acts. Retiring with her into a lonely part of the house, and throwing herself upon the floor, the Saint would cause this person to spit in her face, trample her underfoot, strike her with her fist, kick and beat her, as teamsters sometimes do a horse; nor would she rise to her feet until she had obtained as much of this treatment as she desired.
St. John Climacus tells of a monk who had a great love for humility, that he devised this plan to overcome the thoughts of pride with which the devil inspired him. He wrote upon the wall of his cell these memorable words: Perfect charity. Loftiest contemplation. Total mortification. Unalterable sweetness. Unconquerable patience. Angelic chastity. Profoundest humility. Filial confidence. Promptest diligence. Utter resignation. So, when the devil began to urge him to pride, he answered within himself, "Let us try the test." Then approaching the wall, he read these headings: "Perfect charity. Charity, yes, but how perfect, if I speak evil of others? Profoundest humility. This I have not; it is quite enough if I claim the profound. Angelic chastity. How can this be mine, when I allow admittance to unchaste thoughts? Loftiest contemplation. No, I have many distractions. Total mortification. No, for I seek my own gratification. Unalterable sweetness. No, for at the least vexation I lose my self-control." And so with all the rest. In this way he banished the temptation to vanity.
29. Humility, to be true, must be always accompanied by charity; that is, loving, seeking, and accepting humiliations to please God, and to become more like Jesus Christ; to do otherwise, would be to practice it in the manner of the heathen.----St. Francis de Sales
It cannot be said that St. Vincent de Paul was wanting in true humility. However much he did to conceal, abase, humiliate, and render himself despicable in the eyes of the world, allowing no opportunity for humbling himself to pass without accepting it with all willingness and joy, he yet did it all because it expressed the sentiments of his own heart in regard to himself and his nothingness, as well as to act out and imitate the humiliations of the Son of God, Who, as he said one day in a conference, being the brightness of His Father's glory and the image of His substance, not content with having led a life which might be called a continual humiliation, willed even after His death to remain before our eyes in a state of extreme ignominy, when He hung upon the Cross. Thus the humility of this servant of God was from his heart, and so sincere that it could be read on his brow, in his eyes, and in his whole exterior.
St. Jerome relates of St. Paula that when she heard it said that she had become a fool through too much spiritual fervor and that it would be well if a hole were made in her head to give air to her brain, she answered modestly, in the words of the Apostle, "Nos stulti propter Christum"----We are fools for Christ's sake. She added also that the same thing had happened to Jesus Christ, when His relations wished to confine Him as a madman. St. Jerome also says that when she received insults, contempt, or ignominy, she never allowed the slightest word of resentment to escape from her lips, but was accustomed in such cases to repeat to herself the words of the psalm: Ego autem quasi surdus non audiebam, et quasi mutus, non aperiens os suum----But I as a deaf man, heard not, and as a dumb man, who opens not his mouth.