A Year with the Saints/January
1. Consider all the past as nothing, and say, like David: Now I begin to love my God.----St. Francis de Sales
It was in this manner that the Apostle St. Paul acted; though, after his conversion, he had become a vessel of election, filled with the spirit of Jesus Christ, yet, to persevere and advance in the heavenly way, he made use of this means, for he said in his Epistle to the Philippians:
"Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended. But one thing I do: forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to those that are before, I press towards the mark, to the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus." [Phil. 3:13-14].
Thus the glorious St. Anthony went from day to day, stimulating himself to virtue. St. Anastasius said of him that he always looked upon himself as a beginner, as if every day were the first in which he was serving God, and as if in the past he had done nothing good and were but just setting foot in the way of the Lord and taking the first steps on the road to Heaven. And this was the very last admonition he left to his monks at his death: "My sons," he said to them, "if you wish to advance in virtue and perfection, never give up the practice of considering each day that you are then beginning, and of conducting yourselves always as you did on the day you began."
Thus also we find that St. Gregory, St. Bernard and St. Charles acted and advised others to act. To render clearer to all the necessity and utility of this method, they made use of two beautiful comparisons, saying that we must act in this like travelers who do not regard the road they have gone over, but, rather, what remains for them to traverse----and this they keep always before their eyes, even to their journey's end; or, like merchants eager for riches who make no account of what they have hitherto acquired, nor of the fatigue they have borne, but put all their thought and care upon new acquisitions, and upon daily multiplying their possessions, as if in the past they had made no profit at all.
2. We must begin with a strong and constant resolution to give ourselves wholly to God, professing to Him, in a tender, loving manner, from the bottom of our hearts, that we intend to be His without any reserve, and then we must often go back and renew this same resolution.----St. Francis de Sales
One of the means for the acquisition of perfection which was chiefly inculcated and much practiced by St. Philip Neri was a frequent renewal of good resolutions.
St. Francis de Sales made from time to time a spiritual renovation, and always conceived in it new desires to serve God better.
St. John Berchmans, at his very entrance into religion, planted in his heart a strong resolution to become a Saint, and then he not only remained constant in all the practices and resolutions which he took up for this end, but he went on daily gaining new vigor to his spiritual advantage. When a holy religious was giving the Exercises at Torre di Specchi in Rome, a nun called Sr. Marie Bonaventura, who was living a very relaxed life, did not wish to be present. By many entreaties she was finally induced to attend. The first meditation, on the end of man, enkindled such fervor in her heart that the Father had scarcely finished when she called him to her, and said: "Father, I mean to be a Saint, and quickly." She then withdrew to her cell, and, writing the same words on a scrap of paper, fastened them to the foot of her crucifix. From this moment, she applied herself with so much earnestness to the practice of perfection that a memoir of her was written at her death, which occurred eleven months later.
3. The Lord chiefly desires of us that we should be completely perfect, that we may be wholly one with Him. Let us aim, therefore, at whatever we need to reach this.----St. Teresa
Father Peter Faber, a companion of St. Ignatius and highly esteemed by St. Francis de Sales, often dwelt on the thought that God greatly desires our advancement. And so he endeavored to grow constantly, and not to let a day pass without some progress in virtue, so that he gradually rose to great perfection and a high reputation for sanctity.
St. Pachomius and St. Anthony, by studying the virtues of others, stimulated themselves to attain similar excellence.
The Venerable Sister Mary Villani had the following vision. On the Feast of St. Francis, for whom she had a particular devotion, this Saint appeared to her and led her to a lofty place, more beautiful than any she had ever seen. To reach it, one was obliged to ascend four very high terraces, which signified, as the Saint revealed to her, the four degrees of perfection. With great difficulty she ascended, by his help, the first terrace; and he explained to her that this was the first state of perfection, called purity of conscience, which borders on angelic purity. In it the soul becomes like that of a little child, enjoys a pure and holy tranquility, never thinks evil of others, nor interests itself in what does not belong to its own position. Thence he brought her up to the second terrace, telling her that whoever had arrived at purity of conscience becomes capable of prayer and of true love, which is the inseparable fruit of prayer. Here he enumerated to her the properties of true love, which is pure, simple, unselfish and founded upon the truth of God, who can give Himself only to souls already possessed of purity. Then he raised her to the third terrace, that of the cross and mortification, adding that from purity and love the soul passes on to taking up the cross courageously and to being itself crucified, and that to arrive at this state one must acquire four cardinal virtues. These are: a true mortification of all vices and of every earthly affection; a perfect poverty of spirit, which tramples underfoot all temporal goods; a living death, by which the soul dies to itself and to all affections of sense, and lives in a total annihilation and transformation into its crucified Lord, so as to be able to say: "I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me." [Gal. 2:20]. The soul that has gained this state seems to have conquered the world, and bears sufferings and crosses as if it could no longer feel them. The fourth terrace, he said, typified the state of real and perfect union.
4. I hear nothing talked of but perfection; yet I see it practiced only by few. Everyone forms his own ideal of it. Some place it in simplicity of attire; some in austerity; some in almsgiving; some in frequent reception of the Sacraments; this one, in prayer; that one, in passive contemplation; and another, in the gifts called gratuitous. But, by a general mistake, they take the effects for the cause, and the means for the end. For my part, I know of no other perfection than loving God with all the heart, and our neighbor as ourselves. Whoever imagines any other kind of perfection deceives himself, for the whole accumulation of virtues without this is but a heap of stones. And if we do not immediately and perfectly enjoy this treasure of holy love, the fault is in us. We are too slow and ungenerous with God, and do not give ourselves up entirely to Him, as the Saints did.----St. Francis de Sales
Who does not see that the perfection of this Saint must have been of a true and very sublime character, when his love for God and his neighbor was so great and so pure? The same may be said also of St. Vincent de Paul and many, others. St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi was truly admirable in both of these points. As we shall hereafter see, she was so much inflamed with the love of God that she could not bear the excessive ardor of this Divine fire, and was obliged to cool her glowing bosom with linen cloths soaked in water; and she carried the love of her neighbor so far as to desire and procure others' good in preference to her own.
5. All perfection is founded upon only two principles, by means of which, with due attention to the daily actions suited to our state, we shall certainly arrive at the summit and fullness of it. The first principle is a very low esteem for all created things, but, above all, for ourselves. This low esteem should show itself, in practice, by renouncing ourselves and all creatures; in our hearts, by a firm resolution; and in our lives, in such ways as may be suitable, especially by manifesting contentment and cheerfulness when the Lord takes from us any good. The second principle is a very high esteem of God, which may be easily acquired by the light of faith, as He is Omnipotent, the Supreme Good and our End; as also because He has loved us so much, and is ever present with us, and guides us in all things, both as to nature and grace, and, in particular, has called us and leads us by a special vocation to a lofty perfection. From this esteem there must certainly arise in us a great submission of will, and of every power and faculty, to His greater glory, without any mingling of our own interest, though it be ever so holy. At the same time, there will be great conformity with the Divine Will, which will be the actual measure of all our designs, affections, and works. In this manner, the soul arrives at union----not, indeed, at the mystic union of raptures, elevations of the spirit, and vehement affections; but the solid, real, and practical union of a will thoroughly conformed to the Divine Will by the perfect love which works out all things in God and for God without special lights. Of this, all are capable; and all, with certainty, though not without crosses, can arrive at it.----Fr. Achille Gagliardi
It was always the principal study of St. Vincent de Paul to establish and perfect himself in these two principles. Therefore, as his profound humility made him believe himself incapable of great things, he thought only of fulfilling faithfully towards God the obligations of a true and perfect Christian. And since he knew, by heavenly illuminations, that all Christian perfection depends upon a good use of these two principles, he aimed at them alone and sought above all to penetrate them well and to fix them in his soul, that they might serve as an unerring rule and guide for all his actions. And the plan succeeded well. For God, Who exalts the humble, did not think it enough to guide him by this means to that Christian perfection which he had prescribed to himself, but willed to exalt him to a sanctity equally solid and eminent, and which may truly be called singular, as, in fact, there are certainly few persons who without the help of extraordinary and mystic lights, under the guidance only of the lights of ordinary grace, have reached so lofty a sanctity as has this servant of God.
6. Perfection consists in one thing alone, which is doing the will of God. For, according to Our Lord's words, it suffices for perfection to deny self, to take up the cross and to follow Him. Now, who denies himself and takes up his cross and follows Christ better than he who seeks not to do his own will, but always that of God? Behold, now, how little is needed to become a Saint! Nothing more than to acquire the habit of willing, on every occasion, what God wills.----St. Vincent de Paul
More than in anything else the Saint just quoted showed the purity and solidity of his virtue, in always aiming to follow and obey the will of God. This was the great principle on which all his resolutions were founded, and by which he faithfully and firmly carried them into practice, trampling underfoot his own interest, and preferring the Divine Will and the glory and service of God to anything else, without exception.
The Lord said of David that he was a man after His own heart, and the foundation for such high praise is given in these words: "for in all things he will do My will."
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi was so much attached to this practice that she often said that she would never determine upon anything, however trivial, such as going from one room to another, if she thought it not in conformity with the Divine Will, nor would she omit to do anything she believed in conformity with it. And she added that if it came into her mind while she was in the midst of an action that such an act was contrary to the will of God, she would abandon it on the instant, though to do so might cost her life.
Taulerus relates of a certain holy and learned man that when his friends entreated him, on his deathbed, to leave them some good precept, he said: "The sum and substance of all instruction is to take all that comes as from the hand of God, and to wish for nothing different, but to do in all things His Divine Will."
The Venerable Seraphina of God had so great a love for the Divine Will that she often entreated her director to manifest it to her, saying, "Counsel me, Father, as to what I am to do, and do not let me do anything of myself, that I may please the Divine Majesty. For to see God ever so little displeased would be worse than the loss of a thousand worlds." One day there came to her so great a desire to do nothing according to her own will, but only according to that of God, that with the consent of her director, she made a vow to that effect.
7. A servant of God signifies one who has a great charity towards his neighbor, and an inviolable resolution to follow in everything the Divine Will; who bears with his own deficiencies, and patiently supports the imperfections of others.----St. Francis de Sales
The whole life of this Saint, as well as of St. Vincent de Paul, was but a faithful and continual exercise of these virtues, on the occasions which every day presented themselves. In this way they both became great servants of God.
In the Lives of the Fathers of the West, it is told of St. Fintan that he was daily visited by an Angel, but that once the visit was omitted for several days. When the Saint had the happiness of seeing him again, he asked the Angel why he had been so long deprived of his most sweet companionship. "Because," replied the Angel, "I had to be present at the death of Motua, who was a great servant of God, and better than yourself, for he did what you have not done. This man never spoke a harsh word to anyone present, nor an unkind word of anyone absent. He never complained of heat or cold, nor of anything else, whatever it might be, or however it might happen; but always conformed himself to the will of God, in whose hands are all things."
When St. Gertrude was one day mourning over a little fault into which she was accustomed to fall at times, she earnestly entreated the Lord to free her from it. But He said to her, with great sweetness: "Would you wish that I should be deprived of a great honor and you yourself of a great reward? Know that every time one perceives a fault of his own and resolves to avoid it for the future, he gains a great reward; and as often as he keeps himself from falling into it again for My sake, he does Me as much honor as a valiant soldier does his king, when he fights manfully against his enemies and conquers them."
8. To be perfect in one's vocation is nothing else than to perform the duties and offices to which one is obliged, solely for the honor and love of God, referring all to His glory. Whoever works in this manner may be called perfect in his state, a man according to the heart and will of God.----St. Francis de Sales
In the Lives of the Holy Fathers it is narrated of the Abbot Paphnutius, who was highly celebrated for sanctity, that one day he expressed a desire to know from the Lord whether he had any merit in His eyes. He received the reply that he had gained equal merit with a certain nobleman, whose name was given. The Saint immediately visited this gentleman, by whom he was kindly treated and hospitably entertained. When the repast was over, the Abbot begged of his host to tell him what was his manner of life. The Baron excused himself by saying that he did not possess any virtue, but after many entreaties, he said that he was very careful to entertain pilgrims, and provide them with whatever might be necessary for their journey; that he never despised the poor, but helped them in their need as much as he could; that he had justice administered equitably, and always gave honest decisions, never swerving from right through fear or favor; that he never oppressed his subjects; that he allowed anyone to become his tenant, and expected from no one more than what was justly his due; that no one could complain of ever having received harm or damage from his family or cattle; that he had never offended or slandered anyone, but treated all with respect, helped all as far as he was able and endeavored to keep all in peace and harmony. On hearing this the holy Abbot was greatly edified, and understood that true perfection consisted not in great deeds, but in fulfilling our duties. In San Cesario in the province of Lecce there lived in the time of St. Joseph da Cupertino a nun who had a great reputation for sanctity. One day, when the Saint happened to visit the house of the Marquis of that place, he was asked his opinion of this report in regard to the nun. He answered, "You have a real Saint here among you, who is not known"; and he named a poor widow, of whom not a word had ever been said. The Marquis inquired as to what were her good qualities, and found that she remained always shut up in her poor little home, with some of her daughters, and that they worked constantly to support themselves and were never seen abroad but once a day, which was very early in the morning when they were going to church to hear Mass.
9. Although in entering religion and taking care not to offend God, we may appear to have done everything, ah! how often certain worms remain, which do not allow themselves to be perceived until they have gnawed away our virtues! Such worms are self-love, self- esteem, harsh judgments of others, though in trifles, and a great want of charity towards our neighbor. But if, indeed, by dragging on, we satisfy our obligations, we do not do it with that perfection which God would expect of us.----St. Teresa
To one of these worms, self-esteem, Monseigneur de Palafox attributed his own relaxation after his conversion and his narrow escape from eternal ruin. "For," said he, "though I was humble, had I, therefore, a right to believe that I was truly humble? and though I desired and intended to be good, ought I, therefore, to presume that I was truly good? This hidden pride obliged the Divine Goodness to overwhelm me, in order that I might see that I was not good, but bad, weak, miserable, full of pride, sensuality and unfaithfulness, and a prodigal scorner of the gifts of grace."
It is told in the Lives of the Fathers that two of them had received the gift of beholding mutually the grace which was in the heart of the other. One of them, leaving his cell early one Friday morning, found a monk who was eating at the hour contrary to their custom. He judged him to be in fault, and reproved him. When he returned home, his companion did not see in him the usual sign of grace, and asked him what he had done. But when the other remembered nothing, he added, "Think whether you may not have said some idle word." Then he remembered his rash judgment, and related what had happened. For this fault they both fasted two whole weeks, at the end of which the usual sign appeared in the brother who had been culpable.
10. Observe that perfection is not acquired by sitting with our arms folded, but it is necessary to work in earnest, in order to conquer ourselves and to bring ourselves to live, not according to our inclinations and passions, but according to reason, our Rule, and obedience. The thing is hard, it cannot be denied, but necessary. With practice, however, it becomes easy and pleasing.-----St. Francis de Sales
Plutarch relates of Lycurgus that he once took two puppies of the same litter and trained up one in the kitchen and the other to hunting. When they were grown (one day when he was going to address the people), he took them into the forum, where he threw down some fish bones and at the same time let loose a hare. The first immediately began to gnaw the bones, while the other set off in pursuit of the hare. Then Lycurgus commanded silence, and turning to the people, said: "Do you see this? These two dogs are of the same breed, yet they are not inclined to the same thing, but each to that which he has been accustomed to. So true is it that habit ends in overcoming even the most violent inclinations of nature." It is written of St. Ignatius Loyola, that through the continual struggle which he had made to mortify himself and to bear contradictions patiently, he had arrived at such a point as to appear to have no longer any inclination. The same thing has also been noticed in many others.
11. All the science of the Saints is included in these two things: To do, and to suffer. And whoever has done these two things best, has made himself most saintly.----St. Francis de Sales
Anyone who reads the Lives of Sts. Ambrose, Basil, Jerome, Chrysostom, Dominic, Vincent de Paul and other great Saints will not be surprised that they became so remarkable for holiness, when he sees the innumerable good works which they wrought and the great sufferings which they endured.
We are told in the Lives of the Fathers that this was the method chiefly employed by St. Dorotheus, to sanctify his disciple Dositheus. This Saint kept the latter constantly occupied, especially in things opposed to his own wishes. If he saw in his possession any article that was convenient and well made, even though it might be necessary for his work, he took it from him; if Dositheus called his master's attention to anything which he had done well, the Saint sent him away without any answer; and thus, in every desire, the Saint sought to mortify his disciple, while the latter, in the meantime, obeyed promptly in everything and bore all without reply. And thus, in the course of only five years, he reached a very high perfection and sanctity.
12. I wish I could persuade spiritual persons that the way of perfection does not consist in many devices, nor in much cogitation, but in denying themselves completely and yielding themselves to suffer everything for love of Christ. And if there is failure in this exercise, all other methods of walking in the spiritual way are merely a beating about the bush, and profitless trifling, although a person should have a very high contemplation and communication with God.----St. John of the Cross
Cassian wrote concerning the Abbot Paphnutius that the road by which he arrived at such great sanctity was that of constantly mortifying himself; and that in this manner he extinguished in himself all vices, and perfected in himself all virtues.
Father Balthasar Alvarez practiced continual mortification and self-denial in all that nature desired, not only in great things but also in small; and by this he arrived at high perfection. The Blessed Angela di Foligno, in ecstasy, saw the Lord bestowing marks of love upon some of His servants, but upon one, more; upon another, less. Desiring to understand the cause of this difference, she advanced to inquire of Our Lord, who answered thus: "I invite all to Me, but all are not willing to come, because the way is interlaced with thorns. To all who come, I offer My bread to eat and My cup to drink. But My food is not pleasing to sense, and My cup is full of bitterness, so that all do not desire to satiate themselves with those labors which were My meat while I was in the world. But those who are most constant in bearing Me company, they certainly are My dearest and most favored ones." When the Saint had heard this, she was filled with so great a desire of suffering and denying herself in all ways that when many difficulties were afterwards placed in her way by her religious and by her own family, she experienced in them as great comfort as a worldling could have found in any plan made for his pleasure and advantage.
13. The greatest fault among those who have a good will is that they wish to be something they cannot be, and do not wish to be what they necessarily must be. They conceive desires to do great things for which, perhaps, no opportunity may ever come to them, and meantime neglect the small which the Lord puts into their hands. There are a thousand little acts of virtue, such as bearing with the importunities and imperfections of our neighbors, not resenting an unpleasant word or a trifling injury, restraining an emotion of anger, mortifying some little affection, some ill-regulated desire to speak or to listen, excusing an indiscretion, or yielding to another in trifles. These are things to be done by all; why not practice them? The occasions for great gains come but rarely, but of little gains many can be made each day; and by managing these little gains with judgment, there are some who grow rich. Oh, how holy and rich in merits we should make ourselves, if we but knew how to profit by the opportunities which our vocation supplies to us! Yes, yes, let us apply ourselves to follow well the path which is close before us, and to do well on the first opportunity, without occupying ourselves with thoughts of the last, and thus we shall make good progress.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Philip Neri, enkindled with a desire of martyrdom, had resolved to go to preach the Faith in India. But when God informed him, by revelation, that his India must be in Rome, he employed himself there, and by leading a life full of virtuous actions he became a great Saint.
St. John Berchmans, in only five years of religious life, certainly reached a lofty perfection. Now, how did he accomplish it? By nothing except striving to be faithful to do exactly all those things which he knew to be right and possible for him, in the way of not neglecting any part of perfection, which, with the aid of grace, he might be able to acquire.
St. Gertrude, feeling very weak one day, decided to make an effort to say Matins. When she had finished the First Nocturn, another sick sister came to ask her to say the Office with her; and she immediately went back to the beginning. That same morning she had a vision in which she saw her soul adorned with jewels of great value, and the Lord said to her that by the act of charity which she had performed for His love, she had merited this ornament in which the jewels equalled in number the words she had repeated.
We read of a young Jesuit student that, one morning in vacation, when he was just starting for a walk with some of his companions, he was requested by one of the Fathers to wait half an hour and serve Mass, which he did. When he had become more advanced in knowledge and age, he went to preach the Faith among the infidels, and there was found worthy to obtain the glory of Martyrdom. Then it was revealed to him that so great a grace had been given him by God in reward for the little mortification which he accepted in serving Mass.
14. Our greatest fault is that we wish to serve God in our way, not in His way----according to our will, not according to His will. When He wishes us to be sick, we wish to be well; when He desires us to serve Him by sufferings, we desire to serve Him by works; when He wishes us to exercise charity, we wish to exercise humility; when He seeks from us resignation, we wish for devotion, a spirit of prayer, or some other virtue. And this is not because the things we desire may be more pleasing to Him, but because they are more to our taste. This is certainly the greatest obstacle we can raise to our own perfection, for it is beyond doubt that if we wish to be Saints according to our own will, we shall never be so at all. To be truly a Saint, it is necessary to be one according to the will of God.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi knew this most important truth; and, with the guidance of so clear a light, she knew how to submit her will to that of God so perfectly that she was always contented with what came to her day by day, nor did she ever desire anything extraordinary. She was even accustomed to say that she would consider it a marked defect to ask of the Lord any grace for herself or others, with any greater importunity than simple prayers, and that it was her joy and glory to do His will, not that He should do hers. Even as to the sanctity and perfection of her own soul, she wished that it might be not according to her own desire, but to the will of God. And so, we find among her writings this resolution: To offer myself to God, and to seek all that perfection and only that perfection which He is pleased that I should have, and in the time and way that He shall wish, and not otherwise. In conversation with an intimate friend, she once said: The good which does not come to me by this way of the Divine Will, does not seem to me good. I would prefer having no gift at all except that of leaving my will and all my desires in God, to having any gift through desire and will. Yes, yes, in me sint, Deus, vola tua, et non vola mea----Thy will, not mine, be done. The grace which she asked most frequently and most earnestly of the Lord was this: that He would make her remain till death entirely subject and submissive to His Divine Will and pleasure; thus it is no wonder that she became so holy.
Even among the heathens, there are to be found those who by the light of reason alone clearly understood this truth. Plutarch disapproved of the common prayer of the people: May God give you all that good which you desire. No, he says, we ought rather to say, May God grant that you shall desire what He desires. And what is more, Epictetus practiced it; for he said: "I am always content with whatever happens, it all happens by the disposal of God, and I am certain that what God wills is better than what I can ever will."
15. Two mistakes I find common among spiritual persons. One is that they ordinarily measure their devotion by the consolations and satisfactions which they experience in the way of God, so that if these happen to be wanting, they think they have lost all devotion. No, this is no more than a sensible devotion. True and substantial devotion does not consist in these things, but in having a will resolute, active, ready, and constant not to offend God, and to perform all that belongs to His service. The other mistake is that if it ever happens to them to do anything with repugnance and weariness, they believe they have no merit in it. On the other hand, there is then far greater merit; so that a single ounce of good done thus by a sheer spiritual effort, amidst darkness and dullness and without interest, is worth more than a hundred pounds done with great facility and sweetness, since the former requires a stronger and purer love. And how great soever may be the aridities and repugnance of the sensible part of our soul, we ought never to lose courage, but pursue our way as travelers treat the barking of dogs.----St. Francis de Sales
A pious matron desiring to know what class of souls was most acceptable to the Lord, He gratified her wish by the following vision. One morning she was hearing Mass when, after the Elevation, she saw Jesus in the form of a most lovely Child, who began to walk about the altar. Thence He descended to a place where three devout nuns were kneeling at its foot. He took one of them by the hand and gave her many caresses. Then approaching the second, He raised her veil and gave her a slight blow on the cheek, and left her as if in anger; but soon returning, and finding her in grief and affliction, He devoted Himself to consoling her with a thousand endearments. Finally, He came to the third, and, with an appearance of great wrath, took her by the arm and drove her away from the altar, loading her with blows, and even tearing the hair from her head, while she bore all with great calmness, humbling herself and blessing God. Then Jesus, turning to the matron, said: "You must know that the first one is weak in virtue, and very changeable; therefore, to confirm her in the good way, I show Myself altogether amiable and kind; otherwise, she would leave it. The second is more perfect, yet she needs to experience, from time to time, some spiritual sweetness. But the third is so firm and constant in My service, that whatever adversity may come to her, she will not allow herself to be withdrawn from it, and she is My best beloved."
St. Philip Neri, in order to save his penitents from the first of these mistakes, used to tell them that in the spiritual life there are three degrees. The first, which is called animal, includes those who follow the sensible devotion which God usually gives to beginners, in order that, drawn by this delight as animals are by sensible objects, they may give themselves to the spiritual life. The second, which is called the life of man, is led by those who without sensible consolation fight for virtue against their own passions, which is the true characteristic of man. The third is called the angelic life. Those have arrived at it who, after long struggles in subduing their own passions, receive from God a life calm and tranquil and, as it were, angelic even in this world. And if anyone perseveres in the second degree, God will not fail, in His own time, to raise him to the third.
16. We are not to regard great favors from God so much as virtues, but consider who serves the Lord with the greatest mortification, humility, and purity of conscience; for the latter without the former will be the more holy.----St. Teresa
Were proofs of this truth wanting, the example of St. Vincent de Paul would be sufficient to confirm it. Very few extraordinary favors are recorded of him, yet he has been, and is now, regarded by all as a man of rare sanctity.
Rufinus of Aquilia tells of St. Macarius, that at one time he believed himself to have made much progress in virtue. But one day, when at prayer, he heard a voice which said to him, "Macarius, know that thou hast not attained as much virtue as two women who live at such a place?' Macarius went instantly to find them, and perceived, upon examination, that they possessed great merit, for they had lived together for fifteen years in the same house in perfect union and charity, without the slightest disagreement in word or act occurring between them. The Saint was amazed at this, and confessed that they were, in truth, better and more perfect than he, although he had been gifted by the Divine Goodness with many extraordinary favors.
17. Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? Here is the true token of a soul absolutely perfect: when one has succeeded in leaving behind his own will to such a degree as no longer to seek, to aim, or to desire to do what he would will, but only what God wills.----St. Bernard
These were the first words of the Apostle St. Paul as he recognized the Lord: "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" And they were uttered by him with so much sincerity of affection, and with such submission of will, that from that day forward he had no other desire and no other aim than to fulfill the Divine Will in all and through all. Nor in all the adversities, labors, sufferings, and torments which he encountered was there ever a thing sufficient to diminish, or even in the least to shake, his constancy and fidelity.
St. Jane Frances de Chantal had so great a desire to know and follow the Divine Will that on merely hearing those words, "Divine Will," she felt all on fire, as if a torch had been applied to her heart, and she remained in a kind of torture until she knew how she was to understand them. The venerable Mother Seraphina di Dio testifies of herself that the Lord showed her plainly, by an interior illumination, how good a thing it is to live without any will of one's own and to commit one's self entirely to His holy will. "I remained," she says, "fully persuaded that on account of His greatness and perfection it was the most suitable thing for all His creatures to have no other will than that of their most loving God; and that when one has reached this point, he belongs wholly to God and enjoys Paradise upon earth."
18. If you truly wish to make spiritual profit, you must apply yourself closely to that counsel of the Apostle, Attende tibi----Take heed to thyself. This implies two things: The first is not to become entangled in others' affairs, or watchful as to their defects; since he has no little to do who wishes to manage his own affairs well and correct his own failures. The second is to take our own perfection to heart and attend to it incessantly, without regarding whether others attend to theirs or not. For perfection is so purely individual a matter that, though men who belong to the same order, company, family, or country are here said to make one body; yet, in the world above, it is certain that each one will be separate by himself, and carry his profits and losses to his own account.----Abbot Pastor
A rare pattern of this was St. John Berchmans. From his first entrance into religion, it had been his fixed intention to become a Saint; and from the same time, he made it his aim and his only important business to watch over himself; and to this, in fact, he gave his attention as long as he lived. He did this with such application and such unwearied earnestness that he did not even have time to think of others' occupations or to notice their defects. And thus he never stopped to reflect why others said or did so and so, or whether they did well or ill. Nor did he ever enlist in the defense of one with the danger of offending another, but let everyone go his own way and manage his own affairs for himself. As to the faults of others, he thought of them so little that even when they were committed in his presence he did not notice them; and it was said of him that he was not able to tell what errors the others committed. All his care was to correct his own defects and to perform his own actions well; and so, the pains he took to keep his soul clear of every fault were something extraordinary. For besides carefully making the daily examens and a most rigorous retreat of one day in each month, he often and urgently entreated his superiors and companions to keep their eyes upon him, and inform him of anything they might see amiss. And when counsel of that kind was given him, he received it as a peculiar favor and offered special prayers for whoever gave it. But not content with this, as he had an ardent desire to render himself as pleasing as possible in the eyes of God, he employed every effort to this end. Therefore he devoted himself with admirable diligence to the most exact observance of his Rules; to executing promptly and faithfully whatever was imposed on him by obedience; to performing well and with particular devotion the spiritual exercises as things which immediately concern the honor of God and one's own profit, paying most attention of all to his Communions, to which he always gave two hours; and finally, to practicing all virtues, especially charity towards the sick. Though he had great fondness for study, he never allowed it to stand in the way of his spiritual exercises, nor of charity or obedience; for his heart did not seek for what afforded most delight, but most merit. And he did all these things without noticing at all whether others did the same or failed in them, because that one precept, attende tibi, ever remained planted deeply in his heart.
What harm does it cause the other Apostles now that the unhappy Judas remains suffering in Hell? All the loss falls upon Judas alone. And if Berchmans be higher in Heaven than so many others who were his companions in religion, is not all the gain his?
19. Do not let any occasion of gaining merit pass without taking care to draw some spiritual profit from it; as, for example, from a sharp word which someone may say to you; from an act of obedience imposed against your will; from an opportunity which may occur to humble yourself, or to practice charity, sweetness, and patience. All these occasions are gain for you, and you should seek to procure them; and at the close of that day, when the greatest number of them have come to you, you should go to rest most cheerful and pleased, as the merchant does on the day when he has had most chance for making money; for on that day business has prospered with him.----St. Ignatius Loyola
It was one of the principal maxims which St. John Berchmans kept fixed in his mind, as we read in his Life, to endeavor to gain merit in everything, and not to let any occasion, however small, escape, if it could be profitable to him. For this reason he continually went in search of such occasions, and when they came to him from others he embraced them all with courage and heartfelt joy, without ever remarking the want of discretion and virtue which they betrayed in others, attending only to his own advancement in humility. And so, from whatever he heard or saw, he was always wont to derive some good fruit for himself; and in this way he attained to the condition of a Saint, which was precisely what he desired.
When St. Matilda was visited by the Lord, accompanied by many Saints, one of them said to her: "Oh, how blessed are you who still live upon earth, on account of the great merit you can acquire!" If a man knew how much he could merit in a day, at the moment he arose in the morning his heart would be filled with joy because the day had appeared in which he could live to his Lord, and, by His grace, increase so greatly His honor and glory and his own merit. This would give him great confidence and strength to do and suffer everything with extreme satisfaction.
We read of St. Francis Xavier that he was stung with shame and self-reproach when he found that merchants had gone to Japan with their merchandise sooner than he himself with the treasures of the Gospel, to spread the Faith and extend the Kingdom of Heaven.
20. Give yourself in earnest to the acquisition of virtue; otherwise, you will remain always a dwarf in it. Never believe that you have acquired a virtue, if you have not made proof of it in resisting its contrary vice, and unless you practice it faithfully on suitable occasions which, for this reason, ought never to be avoided, but rather desired, sought, and embraced with eagerness----St. Teresa
St. Vincent de Paul was not contented, as so many are, with knowing and loving virtues, but he applied himself continually to the practice of them. It was his maxim that labor and patience are the best means of acquiring and planting them firmly in our hearts and that virtues acquired without effort or difficulty can be easily lost, while those which have been beaten by the storms of temptation and practiced amid the difficulties and repugnances of nature, sink their roots deep into the heart. And so, on such occasions, instead of being sad he appeared unusually cheerful. When a certain person was lamenting a mischance which had recently occurred as likely to give bad opinion of his community and give rise to comments injurious to himself, he replied, "This is good, for it will give us a more favorable occasion to practice virtue."
By this same sentiment, St. Philip Neri encouraged his penitents not to grieve when they suffer temptations and trials, telling them that when the Lord intends to confer on anyone some particular virtue, He is accustomed to permit him to be first assailed by the contrary vice. St. Francis de Sales illustrated the firmness of virtue in this manner: "If," said he, "the world comes to attack me, I will treat it as I would a viper: I will trample it underfoot, and obey none of its suggestions. If Satan arms his powers, I will not fear them at all. I am stronger than he. God is my Father, and He will have compassion on me, and will fight for me." Here is a fine example of virtue, and of the way to exercise it.
21. Humility and charity are the two master-chords: one, the lowest; the other, the highest; all the others are dependent on them. Therefore it is necessary, above all, to maintain ourselves in these two virtues; for observe well that the preservation of the whole edifice depends on the foundation and the roof.----St. Francis de Sales
Although there never was or can be any Saint destitute of these two most necessary virtues, yet there have been some who, in our eyes at least, have seemed to excel in their brightness. One of these was certainly St. Francis di Paula. Through his great humility, he was not contented with considering himself the least of all men, but he also desired that this should be the mark distinguishing his order from all others; and as to charity, he was so inflamed with love that he sometimes lit candles by touching them with his finger, just as if he had applied to them a burning torch.
22. The two feet upon which one walks to perfection are mortification and the love of God. The latter is the right, the former the left foot.
By the aid of these, St. Francis Assisi climbed to the loftiest perfection. He led a life so austere and rigid that at the point of death he felt that he must ask pardon of his body for having treated it so ill; and his love of God was so remarkable that he gained not only for himself, but for his order as well, the noble title of Seraphic.
When St. Francis de Sales wished to lead anyone to live in a Christian manner and renounce worldliness, he would not speak of the exterior----of the adornment of the hair, of rich dress, and similar things----but he spoke only to the heart and of the heart, for he knew that if this fortress is captured, all else surrenders and that when the true love of God comes to possess a heart, all that is not God seems to it of no account.
St. Philip Neri adopted the same course with his penitents. He was not accustomed to dwell very much upon any vanities in dress, but he would overlook them as much as possible for some time, that he might more easily arrive at his object. When a lady once asked him whether it was a sin to wear very high heels, his only answer was, "Take care not to fall." A man also came frequently to see him, wearing a collar with long stiff points. One day, he touched him lightly on the neck and said: "I would oftener give you such marks of friendship if your collar did not hurt my hand." And with these reproofs alone both corrected their faults. A clergyman of noble birth, dressed in bright colors and with much display, came to the Saint every day for a fortnight to consult him in regard to the affairs of his soul. During all this time he said not a word to him in regard to his dress, but only took pains to make him feel compunction for his sins. Finally, becoming ashamed of his style of dress, he changed it of his own accord, made a good general confession, and giving himself wholly into St. Philip's hands became afterwards one of his most intimate and familiar friends.
23. When one is going on really well, he feels in himself a continual desire to advance; and the more he grows in perfection, the more this desire grows. Since his light is increasing every day, it always seems to him that he has no virtue and is doing no good; or if, perhaps, he sees that he has and is doing some good, it yet appears to him very imperfect, and he makes little account of it. And so it comes to pass that he always goes on laboring for the acquisition of virtue without ever being weary. ----St. Lawrence Justinian
St. Fulgentius was so enamored of perfection that whatever he did towards it always seemed to him little, and he was always desiring to do better.
St. Vincent de Paul every day saw more of his own faults, yet he continually applied anew all his zeal to amend and perfect himself.
St. Ignatius constantly compared one day with another, and the gain on one day with the gain on another. Thus he advanced daily and entertained a constant desire of advancing still more, that he might reach the summit of perfection to which God called him.
St. James the Apostle received great praise because he went on advancing daily in the Divine service.
24. To be pleased at correction and reproofs shows that one loves the virtues which are contrary to those faults for which he is corrected and reproved. And, therefore, it is a great sign of advancement in perfection.----St. Francis de Sales
When a monk once visited the Abbot Serapion, he suggested that first of all, they should pray together. But the visitor refused, saying that he was a great sinner and unworthy to wear the habit. A little while after, the Abbot addressed him thus: "My brother, if you wish to become perfect, remain at work in your cell and do not talk much, for going about a great deal is not desirable for you." At these words the monk was not a little perturbed. When the Abbot perceived this, he added, "What is the matter, brother? A moment ago you said you were so great a sinner that you were not worthy to live; and now, when I have shown you, in charity, what you need, are you angry? From this, it would seem that your humility is not genuine. If you wish to be humble in truth, learn to receive admonitions humbly." At this reproof, the monk recollected himself, acknowledged his fault and went away greatly edified.
The Empress Leonora requested her confessor and those ladies of her court with whom she was most intimate that when they observed anything in her that needed amendment or improvement, to inform her of it with all possible freedom, as they would tell her the pleasantest news; and when they did it, she thanked them very cordially.
When St. Peter was reproved by St. Paul he was not angry; neither did he stand upon his dignity as Superior, nor look down upon the other for having been a persecutor of the Church, but received the advice in good part.
We read of St. Ambrose, that when anyone informed him of a fault, he thanked him as for a special favor; and there was a certain Cistercian who was especially pleased at an admonition, and used to say an Our Father for whoever gave it.
St. John Berchmans always entertained a great desire to have his faults told him in public and to be reproved for them, and if this ever happened he was much pleased. With this intention, he used to write them on scraps of paper, which he gave to the Superiors, that they might read them and reprimand him for them. Not content with this, he asked of the Superior that four of his companions might keep their eyes on him and admonish him. One of these testified that having once drawn his attention to a slight omission into which he had fallen, on account of being occupied in another work of charity at the time, he thanked him cordially for the warning and said the beads for him three times, promising that he would always do the same whenever he would inform him of any defect.
25. The finest assurance that we can have in this world of being in the grace of God does not consist at all in sentiments of love to Him, but in complete and irrevocable abandonment of our whole being into His hands, and in the firm resolution never to consent to any sin either great or small.----St. Francis de Sales
We read in old chronicles of a young lady who was so severely afflicted that she seemed to be suffering the pains of Hell. After remaining for a long time in this state, she one day turned her whole heart to God in this prayer: "My sweetest Lord, only remember that I am a poor creature of Thine! for the rest, do with me what pleases Thee, now and through eternity! I abandon myself into Thy hands, and am ready to suffer these torments as long as it shall please Thee." This act of resignation, which she made from her heart with all sincerity, was so pleasing to God that it was scarcely finished when He united her to Himself and immersed her blissfully in the immense ocean of His Divinity.
St. Catherine of Genoa said: "I am no more my own; whether I live or die, I am my Saviour's; I have no longer any possession or interest of my own. My God is all; my being consists in being wholly His. O world! thou art always the same, and until now, I have been always the same; but, from this time forth, I will be such no longer."
26. Let us learn from Jesus in the manger, to hold the things of the world in such esteem as they deserve.----St. Francis de Sales
The Ven. Beatrice of Nazareth saw, in a vision, the whole system of the universe beneath her feet and God alone above her head, so that she was standing, as it were, between God and the world----the world beneath, God above, and she herself in the middle. By this, she understood that the height of perfection is gained when one has over his head only God, and all else under his feet, making no more account of it than if it did not exist, placing all his love and interest in God, and nothing else, not even himself, except in God.
St. Hedwig, Queen of Poland, after becoming a nun would never mention or listen to any worldly news unless it concerned the honor of God and the salvation of souls.
27. If you wish for a method brief and compendious, one which contains in itself all other methods and is most efficacious in conquering all temptations and difficulties, and acquiring perfection, this is the exercise of the presence of God.----St. Basil
A priest who was an intimate friend of the same St. Basil suffered mny severe temptations and many grievous threats from Julian the Apostate, but always held his ground firmly against them. He himself assigned this reason for his victory: "It was because," he said, "in all that time, so far as I remember, the Divine Presence never escaped my mind."
Joseph, when solicited to evil, replied, "How shall I do this under the eye of God?" And Susanna said, "It is better for me to fall into your hands without fault, than to sin in the sight of God." St. Ephrem being solicited to sin by a woman of evil life, professed his readiness, provided the scene of their transgression should be the public square. But when the woman objected to this condition on account of the shame it would involve, "Then," replied the Saint, "you fear shame before the eyes of men, and do you not fear it before the Angels of God?" By this consideration, he brought about her conversion.
When Tais learned that God beheld her in the commission of sin, she resisted a thousand temptations and became a Saint.
28. To be able to advance much in perfection, it is necessary to apply ourselves to one thing by itself----to a single book of devotion, to a single spiritual exercise, to a single aspiration, to a single virtue, and so on. Not, indeed, that all other things ought to be quite rejected and passed by, but in such a way that this to which one is applying himself may usually be aimed at more in particular and as the special object of the most frequent effort, so that if one chance to turn to others, these may be like accessories. To do otherwise, by passing from one exercise to another, is to imitate those who spoil their appetite at a banquet by tasting a little of every delicacy. It is perpetually seeking, and never attaining, the science of the Saints, and so it results in losing that tranquillity of spirit in God, which is the "one thing needful" that Mary chose. We must, however, guard ourselves here from one fault, into which many fall. It is that of attaching ourselves too much to our own practices and spiritual exercises. This, naturally, makes us feel dislike for all methods not conformed to our own; for each one thinks that he employs the only suitable one, and considers as imperfect those who do not work in the same way. Whoever has a good spirit draws edification from everything, and condemns nothing.----St. Francis de Sales
Although the Saints profited by everything, yet each of them chose some practice of his own in which he exercised himself particularly. For example, the favorite author of St. Francis de Sales was Scupoli; that of St. Dominic, Cassian; the most frequent ejaculation of St. Francis was, "My God is my all!" that of St. Vincent de Paul, "In the name of the Lord!" that of St. Bruno, "Oh, Goodness!" Some had the presence of God for their spiritual exercise; some, purity of intention; some, resignation to the Divine Will; and others, the renunciation of themselves. The same was the case with regard to the virtues. One had a greater love for one virtue; another, for another. Whence it happens that almost all excelled particularly in some special virtue.
St. Catherine of Siena, in regarding these various preferences of good souls, disapproved of none of them, but rather rejoiced that the Lord should be served in so many and such different ways.
29. If you wish to arrive speedily at the summit of perfection, animate yourself to a true love of shame, insults, and calumny.----St. Ignatius
As this Saint was meditating one day on the great advantages which spring from shame and insults, he conceived a vehement desire to go through the public squares of Rome loaded with rags and other rubbish; and he was restrained from carrying it into execution only by the fear that he might not afterwards be as well able to promote the glory of the Lord.
We read of St. Catherine of Bologna that when she met with any slight or insult, she rejoiced at it and it only increased her desire for more. By this she advanced so much in the love of God that she would have been willing, as she herself protested, to endure not only all the trials of this world, but even the pains of Hell to obey His will.
St. Gregory relates of the Abbot Stephen that he had conceived so great a love for insults, calumnies, and vexations that when he received any he thought he had made great profit, and returned affectionate thanks to whoever gave them to him; and by this he attained such reputation for sanctity that whoever did him any harm felt sure that he had secured his friendship.
30. Place thyself under the discipline of a stern and austere man, who will treat thee harshly and with rigor; and then strive to drink in all his reproofs and ill treatment as one would drink milk and honey; and I assure thee that in a little time thou wilt find thyself on the pinnacle of perfection.----Abbot Moses
It is related in the Lives of the Fathers that the Abbot John diligently and affectionately served one of the old Fathers, who was ill, for a period of twelve years. Though this Father saw what severe and long fatigue the Abbot was enduring, he never gave him one gentle or amiable word, but always treated him with harshness. But when he was dying, he called for the Abbot, and, taking him by the hand, said to him three times, "Abide in God!" and then he recommended him to the Fathers, saying, "This is not a man, but an Angel."
31. As it is most certain that the teaching of Christ cannot deceive, if we would walk securely, we ought to attach ourselves to it with the greatest confidence and to profess openly that we live according to it, and not to the maxims of the world, which are all deceitful. This is the fundamental maxim of all Christian perfection.----St. Vincent de Paul
This was, indeed, the ordinary chosen basis upon which this Saint himself established his own life and in which he found all his confidence and peace. Whenever he felt that he was supported by a holy maxim he went on courageously, passing over his own judgment and all human respect, or fear that his conduct might meet with blame or opposition.
St. Francis de Sales was often blamed by his friends, as they did not approve of his course in not sustaining his dignity and defending himself more vigorously against the attacks of the malevolent. He replied to them that mildness ought to be the characteristic of bishops; and so, although the world and self-love has established maxims of another kind, he did not wish to make use of them, because they were contrary to those of Jesus Christ, in conformity to which he had always gloried.