A Year with the Saints/March
1. The first step to be taken by one who wishes to follow Christ is, according to Our Lord's Own words, that of renouncing himself---that is, his own senses, his own passions, his own will, his own judgment, and all the movements of nature, making to God a sacrifice of all these things, and of all their acts, which are surely sacrifices very acceptable to the Lord. And we must never grow weary of this; for if anyone having, so to speak, one foot already in Heaven, should abandon this exercise, when the time should come for him to put the other there, he would run much risk of being lost.----St. Vincent de Paul
The same Saint made himself such a proficient in this virtue that it might be called the weapon most frequently and constantly handled by him through his whole life until his last breath; and by this he succeeded in gaining absolute dominion over all the movements of his inferior nature. Therefore, he kept his own passions so completely subject to reason, that he could scarcely be known to have any.
St. John Climacus says that the ancient Fathers, even those who were most perfect, exercised themselves in many kinds of mortification and contempt. For they said that if they should give up training themselves because men thought them already consummate in virtue, they would come, in time, to abandon and lose that modesty and patience which they possessed; just as a field, though rich and fertile, if it be no longer cultivated, becomes unsightly and ends in producing only thorns and thistles.
2. The measure of our advancement in the spiritual life should be taken from the progress we make in the virtue of mortification; for it should be held as certain that the greater violence we shall do ourselves in mortification, the greater advance we shall make in perfection.----St. Jerome
When St. Francis Borgia heard it said that anyone was a Saint, he used to answer, "He is, if he is mortified." In this way he himself became so great a Saint; for he exercised himself in mortification to such a degree that only that day seemed to him truly wretched in which he had not undergone some mortification, either bodily or spiritually.
When a young monk once asked an aged Saint why, among so many who aim at perfection, so few are found perfect, he replied, "Because in order to be perfect it is necessary to die wholly to one's own inclinations, and there are few who arrive at this."
3. It should be our principal business to conquer ourselves, and, from day to day, to go on increasing in strength and perfection. Above all, however, it is necessary for us to strive to conquer our little temptations, such as fits of anger, suspicions, jealousies, envy, deceitfulness, vanity, attachments, and evil thoughts. For in this way we shall acquire strength to subdue greater ones.----St. Francis de Sales
A certain physiognomist, looking at Socrates, pronounced him to be inclined to dishonesty, gluttony, drunkenness, and many other vices. His disciples, being angry at this, wished to lay violent hands on the man who had spoken so ill of their master. But Socrates said: "Be calm, for he has told the truth. I should have been just such a man as he describes, if I had not given myself to mortification."
When an old monk was asked how he could bear the noise of some shepherd boys near him, he answered: "I was at first inclined to say something to them; but I thought better of it, and said to myself, 'If I cannot endure so little as this, how shall I endure greater trials, when they come to me?' "
St. Francis Xavier acted in the same way on occasion, and said that we must not deceive ourselves; for whoever does not conquer himself in trifles, will not be able to do so in greater matters.
4. He who allows himself to be ruled or guided by the lower and animal part of his nature, deserves to be called a beast rather than a man.----St. Vincent de Paul
Philip, Count of Nemours, after leading a very bad life, experienced on his deathbed wonderful contrition, so that he begged his confessor to have his body carried to the public square and left there, saying, "I have lived like a dog, and like a dog I ought to die."
5. Whoever makes little account of exterior mortifications, alleging that the interior are more perfect, shows clearly that he is not mortified at all, either exteriorly or interiorly.----St. Vincent de Paul
This Saint was always an enemy to his body, treating l it with much austerity----chastising it with hair-cloth, iron chains, and leather belts armed with sharp points. Every morning on rising, he took a severe discipline----a practice which he had begun before founding the Congregation, and which he never omitted on account of the hardships of journeys, or in his convalescence from any illness; but, on the contrary, he took additional ones on special occasions. All his life he slept upon a simple straw bed, and always rose at the usual hour for the Community, though he was generally the last of all to retire to rest, and though he often could not sleep more than two hours out of the night, on account of his infirmities. From this it frequently happened that he was much tormented during the day by drowsiness, which he would drive away by remaining on his feet or in some uncomfortable posture, or by inflicting on himself some annoyance. Besides, he willingly bore great cold in winter, and great heat in summer, with other inconveniences; in a word, he embraced, or rather sought, all the sufferings he could, and was very careful never to allow any opportunity for mortifying himself to escape.
A holy woman, being compelled by her husband to go to a ball, put dry mustard on her shoulders, which, in dancing, caused her such intense pain that she fainted several times, and had to be carried from the ballroom.
St. Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, wore for thirty successive years a band of hair-cloth next to his skin, and always slept on the floor without pillow or coverlet. St. Louis, King of France, constantly chastised his body with fasts and hair-cloth. St. Casimir, son of the King of Poland, did the same, and also slept on the bare ground. St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, as well at St. Cajetan, often used the discipline during whole nights.
Finally, there can be found among the Confessors no Saint, either man or woman, who did not have great love for exterior mortifications, and who did not practice them as much as possible.
6. Mortification of the appetite is the A, B, C of spiritual life. Whoever cannot control himself in this, will hardly be able to conquer temptations more difficult to subdue.----St. Vincent de Paul
This Saint had, by long habit, so mortified his sense of taste that he never gave a sign of being pleased with anything, but took indifferently all that was given him, however insipid or ill-cooked it might be; and so little did he regard what he was eating, that when a couple of raw eggs were once set before him by mistake, he ate them without taking the least notice. He always. seemed to go to the table unwillingly, and only from necessity, eating always with great moderation, and with a view solely to the glory of God; nor did he ever leave the table without having mortified himself in something, either as to quantity or quality. For many years, too, he kept a bitter powder to mix with his food; and he usually ate so little that he frequently fainted from weakness.
The Empress Leonora was remarkable for this virtue. Her usual dinner was of herbs, pulse, and other food of the poor, always the same both in kind and quantity. She had four dishes at dinner, and three at supper, frequently setting aside some of them for no reason except that they pleased her. And if these dishes came to the table covered with pastry or other delicacies used by the rich, they always went back whole and untouched. When she was at the Emperor's table or at formal banquets, she spent the time in cutting into the smallest bits whatever was placed before her; then when another course was brought, she sent away the first without having tasted it, and went on as before. When she ate apples baked in the ashes, she never peeled them, but ate them with whatever ashes were upon them. On Fridays she lived on bread and water alone, in memory of the Redeemer's Passion. She bore the most parching thirst on the hottest summer days, without permitting even a sip of water to pass her burning lips. St. Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal, fasted on bread and water about half the year. St. Francis Xavier waged as constant and lasting war against his appetite, so that he never took food or drink for pleasure, but from pure necessity; nor did he ever take as much as he desired, even of bread. St. Edmund of Canterbury never ate either meat or fish, but only bread and other common food, and suffered so much from thirst that his lips chapped. The blessed Henry Suso drank nothing for six successive months; and in order to feel thirst more acutely, he ate salt food, and then going to a stream, he bent his head down close to its surface, yet without allowing his lips to touch it. The blessed Joanna of St. Damien practiced such great austerities in regard to food, that she was entreated by the other nuns to moderate them. But she answered: "I am sorry that I cannot feed this body of mine on straw. I know how much harm liberty does to it, and I thank God, Who has given me this knowledge." When St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi was seriously ill, extremely weak, and suffering from nausea, if she happened to think of any kind of food which would please her, she considered it a fault to ask for it or allude to it, and carefully abstained from doing so.
The blessed Jacopone, having one day a desire for meat, bought a piece. He hung it up in his room and kept it until it was spoiled; then he had it cooked and ate it with unspeakable disgust. By a long and constant habit of abstinence and mortification, St. Anselm became unable to perceive the taste of food. It was the same with St. Bernard, who for that reason drank oil one day instead of wine, without perceiving it at all, and he reached such a point that going to the table seemed to him a kind of torture.
St. Teresa said that she experienced a similar difficulty in eating; and St. Isidore suffered from it so excessively that he could not go to the table without tears, and the command of his Superior was needed to force him to take some nourishment.
7. One of the things that keep us at a distance from perfection is, without doubt, our tongue. For when one has gone so far as to commit no faults in speaking, the Holy Spirit Himself assures us that he is perfect. And since the worst way of speaking is to speak too much, speak little and well, little and gently, little and simply, little and charitably, little and amiably.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Ignatius Loyola governed his tongue so well that his speech was simple, grave, considerate, and brief.
St. John Berchmans was a man of few words, and so considerate in his speech that there was never heard from his mouth an idle word, one contrary to rule, one that was neither necessary, useful, nor directed to any good purpose. Being once asked by a brother novice how he managed never to commit a fault in speaking, he replied thus: "I never say anything without first considering it, and recommending it to God, that I may say nothing which can displease Him." Besides, he was never observed to violate silence and when asked how he could keep this rule so perfectly, he answered: "This is the way I do: I salute humbly all those I meet; if anyone asks any service of me, I show the greatest readiness to render it; if anyone asks me a question, I listen, and answer briefly; and I avoid saying a single superfluous word."
St. Vincent de Paul made himself so completely master of his tongue, that useless or superfluous words were rarely heard from his mouth, and never a single one inconsiderate, contrary to charity, or such as might savor of vanity, flattery, or ostentation. It often happened that after opening his mouth to say something unusual that came into his mind, he closed it suddenly, stifling the words, and apparently reflecting in his own heart, and considering before God whether it was expedient to say them. He then continued to speak, not according to his inclination, for he had none, but as he felt sure would be most pleasing to God. When anything was told him which he already knew, he listened with attention, giving no sign of having heard it before. He did this to mortify self-love, which always makes us desire to prove that we know as much as others. When insult, reproach, or wrong of any kind was inflicted upon him, he never opened his lips to complain, to justify himself, or to repel the injury; but he recollected himself, and placed all his strength in silence and patience, blessing in his heart those who had ill-treated him, and praying for them. When he found himself overwhelmed with excessive work, he did not complain, but his ordinary words were: "Blessed be God! we must accept willingly all that He deigns to send us."
St. Aloysius Gonzaga, when about to converse with anyone, fervently repeated this prayer: Pone Domine, custodiam ori meo, etc.----Set a watch, O Lord, before my lips, etc.
A certain virgin once observed silence from the Festival of the Holy Cross, in September, until Christmas, with such rigor that in all that time she did not speak one word. This mortification was so pleasing to God, that it was revealed to a Holy Soul, that as a reward for it, she should never pass through Purgatory.
Among the lofty eulogiums that St. Jerome bestows upon his pupil St. Paula is this----that she was as cautious in speaking as she was ready to listen.
8. It is a common doctrine of the Saints that one of the principal means of leading a good and exemplary life is modesty and custody of the eyes. For, as there is nothing so adapted to preserve devotion in a soul, and to cause compunction and edification in others, as this modesty, so there is nothing which so much exposes a person to relaxation and scandals as its opposite.----St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
In his life of St. Bernard, Surius relates that when Pope Innocent III went with his Cardinals to visit Clairvaux, the Saint, with all his monks, came out to meet him, but with such a modest and composed exterior as moved to compunction the Cardinals and the Pope himself; for they were astonished that on such a festival, and such an unusual and solemn occasion of rejoicing, they all kept their eyes cast down and fastened upon the ground without turning them in any direction, and that while all were gazing at them, they looked at no one. He also tells of St. Bernard, that he practiced custody of the eyes to such a degree that after a year's novitiate he did not know how the ceiling of his cell was made, whether it was arched or flat; that he always believed there was one window in the church, while there were three; that he walked, one day, with his companions on the short of a lake, without knowing it was there, so that when they were speaking of the lake in the evening, he asked where they had seen it.
It is narrated of St. Bernardine of Siena that his modesty was so great that his mere presence acted as a restraint upon his companions; so that if one only said, "Bernardine is coming," they would check themselves immediately. Surius also tells, in his Life of St. Lucian the Martyr, that the heathens were converted and became Christians by merely looking upon him, on account of his composure and modesty.
The blessed Clara di Montefalco never raised her eyes to the face of anyone with whom she was speaking. When she was asked by a monk the reason of this, she answered: "As we speak only with the tongue, what need is there of looking in the face of the person we are talking with?"
St. John Berchmans was greatly to be admired for mortification of the eyes. He would never turn to look at anything, however new and unexpected it might be, and even a noise behind him would never cause him to turn, natural as it is to do so. Happening to be present one day at a college exhibition, he took a seat on a bench and remained motionless, without ever raising his eyes, and with so much recollection that a nobleman who occupied the next seat was amazed, and said, "This Father must be a Saint."
There are, on the other hand, innumerable instances of those who have become relaxed and a cause of scandal through want of custody of the eyes. It will be enough to cite the example of David, who, by a simple unguarded glance, prompted by curiosity, was suddenly changed from a great Saint into a great sinner, the scandal of his whole kingdom.
9. Believe me that the mortification of the senses in seeing, hearing, and speaking, is worth much more than wearing chains or hair-cloth.----St. Francis de Sales
It is known of St. Catherine of Siena that while her family were celebrating the Carnival in their house, she was not willing to join them, protesting that as she had no other love, so she had no other pleasure, but in her Jesus. He then appeared to her in company with the Blessed Virgin and other Saints, and espoused her with so much clearness and certainty, that the Dominicans, by Apostolic Indulgence, celebrate a festival in commemoration of it on the last day of the Carnival.
A very devout penitent of his once confessed to St. Francis Xavier that she had looked upon a man with more tenderness than was suitable. The Saint closed what he had to say to her with these words: "You are unworthy to have God look upon you, since for the sake of looking upon a man, you do not regard the risk of losing God." This was enough, for, during the rest of her life, she never again turned her eyes toward any man.
The Empress Leonora kept her eyes down, and raised them only when she was welcomed by monks or nuns to their house; she returned their salutations courteously, with a cheerful countenance and a kind smile. When present at the theater, to which she was obliged to go, she rarely glanced at the splendid gathering of the nobility or at the superb scenes which succeeded each other, with views of gardens, forests, and palaces, in perspective. She spent all this time with her mind in Heaven, contemplating the delights of Paradise, and reciting Psalms, which, to avoid notice, she had bound in the same style as the books of the plays, so that she seemed to everyone very attentive to the play, while she was, in reality, enjoying a very different sight. St. Vincent de Paul practiced continual mortification of the senses, depriving them even of lawful gratifications, and often inflicting on them voluntary sufferings. When he was traveling, instead of allowing his eyes to wander over the country, he usually kept them on his crucifix. When walking in the city, he went with eyes cast down or closed, that he might see God alone. Visiting the palaces of the nobility, he did not look at the tapestry or other beautiful objects, but remained with downcast glance and full of recollection. He practiced the same thing in the churches, never raising his eyes except to behold the Blessed Sacrament, not to look at the decorations, however beautiful they might be. He was never seen to gather flowers in the gardens, or take up anything that was pleasing to the sense of smell; on the contrary, he greatly enjoyed remaining in places where there was an unpleasant odor, such as hospitals and the houses of the sick poor. His tongue he employed only in praise of God and virtue, in opposing vice and in consoling, instructing, and edifying his neighbor. His ears he opened only to discourse which tended to good, for it gave him pain to hear news and worldly talk, and he made every effort to avoid listening to what would delight the hearing without profit to the soul. When a penitent who was somewhat reckless in his speech asked his director for a hair shirt to mortify the flesh, "My son," said the priest, laying his finger upon his lips, "the best hair shirt is to watch carefully all that comes out at this door."
St. Aloysius Gonzaga was admirable for mortification of the eyes, for it is narrated in his Life that he never looked any woman in the face. After he had served the Empress as page for two years, a report was spread that she was coming into Italy, where he happened to be, and some congratulated him on the prospect of seeing his mistress again. But he replied: "I shall not recognize her except by her voice, for I do not know her face." His rare mortification was well rewarded by God even in his life, for he was never attacked by temptations of the flesh.
10. There are some so much inclined to mortify themselves that they take care to find in everything some means of mortification. What a beautiful practice is this, and of how much advantage.----St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
Sister Joanna Maria of the Trinity, a Discalced Carmelite, had this excellent custom of seeking and finding mortification in everything. And so she always selected what was most insipid in food; poorest in clothing and shelter; most laborious in work; most unpleasant in matters of inclination. In a word, she always chose what was most inconvenient and disagreeable for herself, seeking in all things only the pleasure, honor, and glory of God.
St. Francis Borgia also made much use of the same practice. He wore pebbles in his shoes; slept little at night; when walking in the sun in summer, he remained out as long as possible; he swallowed medicine slowly, and chewed pills, that he might keep them longer in his mouth.
11. Upon interior mortification depends the right adjustment of our whole exterior, its arrangement with most perfection, with most sweetness and peace.----St. Teresa
St. Philip Neri, when anyone asked him what he should do to become a Saint, used to put his hand to his forehead, saying, "Give me those four fingers, and I will make you a Saint"; meaning that all sanctity depends on denying one's own will and one's own judgment. And to a penitent who often asked permission to take the discipline, he once gave this answer: "How are the shoulders to blame, if the head is hard?"
12. Our profit does not depend so much upon mortifying ourselves, as upon knowing how to mortify ourselves; that is, upon knowing how to choose the best mortifications, which are those most repugnant to our natural inclinations. Some are inclined to disciplines and fasts, and though they be difficult things, they embrace them with fervor, and practice them gladly and easily, on account of this leaning which they have toward them. But then they will be so sensitive in regard to reputation and honor, that the least ridicule, disapproval, or slight is sufficient to throw them into a state of impatience and perturbation and to give rise to such complaints as show an equal want of peace and reason. These are the mortifications which they ought to embrace with the greatest readiness, if they wish to make progress.----St. Francis de Sales
The venerable Monseigneur de Palafox understood this doctrine well, for he said that the reason why he had never advanced in virtue was that he had never taken special pains to avoid all that was most conformed to his inclinations. Whoever, then, perceives in himself any disposition to contradict, for example, or to rely on his own judgment, and is not very attentive to combat, and to keep at a distance from all that can entice or subject him to it, will not only fail to go forward, but will go backward, and perhaps so far backward as to arrive at his own ruin. A religious who was a priest, having been chosen as assistant to the cook, experienced the greatest repugnance and temptations in regard to this charge. To conquer himself, he made a vow before a crucifix to remain in this office all his life, if the Superiors should be willing. Through this and similar victories he arrived at such perfection as to be able to say that he believed no work could be offered to him, however repugnant to the senses, that he could not do, by the help of God, with perfect ease.
13. The mortifications which come to us from God, or from men by His permission, are always worth more than those which are the children of our own will; for it must be considered a general rule, that the less our taste and choice intervene in our actions, the more they will have of goodness, solidity, devotion, the pleasure of God, and our own profit.----St. Francis de Sales
Aldolphus, Count of Alsace, having entered the Order of St. Francis, was one day collecting alms in the form of milk, when he met his sons and felt ashamed of his occupation. Then instantly recollecting himself, he emptied the can of milk upon his head, saying, "Unhappy one! thou art ashamed of the poverty of Jesus Christ! Let them see now what thou art carrying!" After that, he suffered no more from any similar temptation.
It is narrated in the Lives of the Fathers, that an old solitary, who had heard the virtue of a certain youthful monk greatly praised, resolved to test it. For this purpose he went to the monk's cell, and entering the garden, which he found well cultivated and in excellent order, he began, as if in sport, to break down with his staff all the herbs and plants which were there, not leaving any untouched. Afterwards, according to the custom of the monks, they began to recite Psalms together; and when this was ended the youth, with a cheerful and modest air, asked the old man if he would like to have him prepare such of the herbs as were left for his repast. Astonished at such an invitation, he, for answer, threw his arms around his neck, exclaiming: "Now I see, my son, that you are truly dead to your inclinations, as was told me!"
14. The more one mortifies his natural inclinations, the more he becomes capable of receiving the Ddivine inspirations, and the more he gains in virtue.----St. Francis de Sales
The celebrated Father Laynez, one of the companions of St. Ignatius, by means of this practice arrived at great purity of mind and imperturbable tranquillity of soul.
St. Philip Neri made great use of this practice, both with his penitents and for himself. One example out of many will suffice. A nobleman of high rank had a dog, named Capriccio, of which he was very fond. One morning, an attendant of his brought the dog with him to the lodging of St. Philip, who, on seeing him, caressed him a little. Upon this, the dog took such a fancy to him that he could not in any way be persuaded to leave him. He was again and again sent back to his master, who had him kindly treated and kept tied up for a while; but immediately on being released, he would go back to the Saint's rooms, so that finally they were obliged to let him remain there. St. Philip afterwards made much use of this dog for his own mortification, and that of his spiritual children. Sometimes he made them wash and comb him; sometimes, carry him in their arms, or lead him by a chain through the streets of Rome; and he himself would walk with them. These and similar mortifications lasted for a space of fifteen years.
15. The greater part of Christians usually practice incision instead of circumcision. They will make a cut indeed in a diseased part; but as for employing the knife of circumcision, to take away whatever is superfluous from the heart, few go so far.----St. Francis de Sales
The example of the venerable Sister Francesca Farnese confirms this truth. Immediately after her profession, she began to yield to relaxation, into which she fell so far that she cared for nothing except vain ornaments in dress, flirting, remaining all day at the grate, and, finally, covering the walls of her cell with hangings and mirrors. She was many times warned, corrected, and sharply reproved by her Superior, her confessor and, above all, by a nun who was her aunt. She felt and understood the force of these admonitions and reproofs and often formed good resolutions; she even put them in practice by taking off her vain ornaments, abandoning the grate, and breaking and throwing from the windows her mirrors and tapestry; but a little while after, she went back again to all these things, and became as she was before. These miserable alternations lasted for a long time, and might have continued for her whole life, as the reforms which she made were nothing more than incisions. But, happily, the Divine Mercy was pleased to stir her heart by a strong inspiration, so that, unable to resist the reproaches of her own conscience, she had courage to make a true circumcision, by leaving not only all vain amusements, but also by forming for herself a rule more rigorous than her own, and so well planned that it made her foundress of a new order, in which she spent the rest of her life in an exemplary manner, and died in the odor of sanctity, as is sufficiently proved by the fact that her body remained unchanged for many years. Somewhat different was the career of St. Paula, who, as St. Jerome relates, even from her earliest years, undertook to practice a true circumcision of the heart, and with increasing age applied herself to it more and more, cutting off and retrenching on all sides whatever seemed superfluous or beyond what was suited to her state. So, while her husband was living, she led a life so well regulated and dutiful that she was an example to all the matrons of Rome, and no one ever dared to charge her with the slightest error. But when she was freed from the restraints of the world, after God took away her husband, she began a most austere life and never wavered in it until death. She no longer slept upon a mattress, but upon the bare ground, covered only with hair-cloth. Indeed, she slept but little, for she passed almost the whole night in prayer and tears. She chastised her body with rigorous fasts and very severe disciplines, without stint or mercy. In confessing her slightest faults, she shed so many tears that anyone who did not know her might have supposed her guilty of the gravest offenses; and when she was entreated not to weep so much, that she might preserve her sight for reading; and not to practice so many austerities and penances, that she might not wholly lose her health, "No," she replied, "with all reason should this face be disfigured, which I have so often beautifed with washes contrary to the precept of the Lord; this body ought, indeed, to be afflicted, which has enjoyed so many delights; long laughter ought to be compensated for by continual weeping; rich and delicate garments ought to be changed into hair-cloth: for I, who have taken so much pains to please the world, now desire to please God." Thus she spoke and acted, in reparation for the disorders of her past life, which, nevertheless, had been most circumspect and modest.
16. Whoever wishes to make progress in perfection should use particular diligence in not allowing himself to be led away by his passions, which destroy with one hand the spiritual edifice which is rising by the labors of the other. But to succeed well in this, resistance should be begun while the passions are yet weak; for after they are thoroughly rooted and grown up, there is scarcely any remedy.----St. Vincent de Paul
St. Dorotheus tells us of an old monk, who, walking with one of his disciples in a grove of cypresses, commanded him to pull some of them up, pointing out to him first, one which was but just beginning to sprout from the ground; after that, another, which had grown into a sapling; and finally, one that was a full-grown tree. The disciple set himself to the work and tore up the first with one hand and with all possible ease; the second also with one hand, but with some difficulty; to pull up the third he was obliged to try several times, with both hands and all his strength. But when he arrived at the fourth, he encountered the real difficulty; and though he tried again and again, with all his force, and in every way that his ingenuity could suggest, he was not able to stir it in the least from the spot. Then the aged Saint said: "Now, my son, it is the same as this with our passions. While they are still small, with a little vigilance and mortification one can easily repress and disable them; but, if we let them take root in our souls, there is no human force sufficient to conquer them; it requires the omnipotent hand of God. Therefore, my son, if you wish to acquire virtue, watch the first irregular movements of your soul, and study to repress them promptly, by contrary acts, at their very birth. Upon this, everything depends."
17. The ignorance of some is greatly to be pitied, who load themselves with unwise penances and other unsuitable exercises of their devising, putting all their confidence in them, and expecting to become saints by their means. If they would put half of this labor upon mortifying their appetites and passions, they would gain more in a month than by all their other exercises in many years.----St. John of the Cross
We read of St. Ignatius that by means of continual mortification he had arrived at such a point that he seemed to be a man without passions; and if it was sometimes desirable to bring them into action, they appeared like so many modest slaves who dared not move of themselves, nor farther than reason, their absolute mistress, ordered them to go.
A Genoese lady, on account of the desire she had to listen to the contract for her marriage made by her father, left the world and became a nun and a Saint.
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi impressed this, above all things, upon the minds of the novices, when she was their mistress. And so, when she saw one too much inclined to pray, she sent her to sleep or to perform some active labor. Upon another who was inclined to exterior works, she imposed prayer or some other interior work. To whoever wished for many penances and mortifications, she gave one Pater and Ave. To whoever felt repugnance for them, she prescribed severe mortifications and humiliations. Among other instances, she made one of the novices throw into the fire a little book of spiritual exercises, which she had written with her own hand, and to which she showed attachment. And thus, the Saint constantly accustomed her novices to subject their inclinations, and, at the same time, their judgment and their will.
18. The principal thing upon which we have to turn our attention, that we may mortify it and eradicate it from our hearts, is the predominant passion----that is, the affection, inclination, vice, or bad habit, which reigns most in us, which makes us its captive, which brings us into greatest danger, and most frequently causes us to fall into grave transgressions. When the king is taken, the battle is won. And until we do this, we shall make no great advance in perfection.----St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
An event of the kind upon which Rodriguez founds his comparison occurred, as Holy Scripture narrates, in the war between the King of Syria and the King of Israel. The latter commanded all his captains to attack no one in the hostile army except the king himself, wisely judging that if the king should be conquered, the whole army would be overcome. This happened in fact, for when King Achab was struck down, the battle ended.
St. Ignatius once had a novice of a fiery disposition, to whom he often said: "My son, conquer this temperament of yours, and you will have in Heaven a more resplendent crown than many who are gentle by nature." One day, the Father in charge accused this young man to him as intractable. "Not so," answered the Saint; "for I believe he has made more improvement in a few months, than such a one, who is naturally gentle, in a year." The same Saint was himself of a bilious-sanguine temperament. But he took his predominant passion so steadily in hand, and so conquered and changed himself by the grace of God, that he was considered by all, even by physicians, to be phlegmatic.
St. Francis de Sales confessed that the dominant passions he had most difficulty in subduing were love and anger, and that he had conquered the former by stratagem, the latter by open force; that is, he had conquered love by diverting his mind, and proposing to himself another object of love; for he said that as the human soul cannot exist without some love, the whole secret lies in giving to it only what is good, pure, and holy. Anger, on the other hand, he had subdued by attacking it in front, and never yielding to it at all. Whence it happened that though he was naturally passionate, he was thought to be of a gentle temper.
19. Every time that one sees himself urged on, with vehemence of affection, to any particular work, even though it be holy and important, he ought to put it off to another occasion, and not take it up again until his heart has recovered perfect tranquillity and indifference. This should be done to prevent self-love from sullying the purity of our intention.----St. Vincent de Paul
The Saint who gives this advice practiced it faithfully himself. One day a business proposition was made to him that was very important for his Congregation. When he was urged by some of them to give his consent to it immediately, he answered: "I do not think we ought to pay attention to this matter at present, that we may blunt the natural inclination which leads us to pursue promptly what is to our own advantage, and also that we may practice holy indifference, and give time to God to manifest His will to us, while we continue offering our prayers to recommend the affair to Him." Another time, when someone importuned him about a similar matter, his reply was this: "I desire always to keep up the practice of not deciding or undertaking anything while I find myself agitated by the hope and desire of something great." Still another incident is even more admirable. As he saw, by experience, the great utility of missions, he embraced them with much fervor and earnestness. But when he perceived that his thoughts and ardent desires were gradually taking away the peace of heart he had hitherto enjoyed, he began to suspect that nature might have some part in them; therefore, he esteemed it necessary to interrupt this exercise for some time. The better to understand the movements of his heart, he retired for a few days of spiritual retreat, and perceiving in this that his great gladness and excessive solicitude were, in part, caused by self-love, he asked pardon of God with many tears, praying Him to change his heart and purify it from every inordinate affection, to the greater glory of His Divine Majesty. Afterwards, he found himself quite free from all anxiety and superfluous care, nor had he any other object than the Divine love; so that he was able to thank God that for thirty years he was not conscious of having done anything deliberately that was not directed to His greater glory.
St. Francis de Sales once stopped in the course of a journey to visit St. Jane Frances de Chantal, who had been eagerly expecting him, that she might confer with him about her own spiritual interests. She was the more desirous of doing this, because she had enjoyed no such opportunity for three years and a half, on account of the numerous occupations in which he was engaged. When they met, the holy prelate said: "We have a few hours free, Mother; which of us two shall be the first to speak?" "Myself," she answered, with some haste, "for certainly my soul greatly needs to pass under your eye." At this, the Saint, wishing to correct the anxiety she showed about speaking to him, with serious but gentle gravity rejoined: "Do you then still nourish desires, Mother? Have you yet a choice? I expected to find everything angelic. We will then put off speaking of you until we meet next, and for the present talk about the affairs of our Congregation." The good and holy Mother, without a word of objection, laid aside all that related to herself, though she was holding in her hands a list of things she had wished to speak of; and for four successive hours they discussed the interests of the Institute, and then parted.
St. Dorotheus, being sick and hearing raw eggs recommended as a remedy, after some time told his master of it, but, at the same time he asked him not to give them to him, because the thought of them was a distraction to him.
20. Do not weary thyself in vain; for thou wilt never succeed in possessing true spiritual sweetness and satisfaction, unless thou first deny all thy desires.----St. John of the Cross
The Abbot Ellem, as we read in the Lives of the Fathers, saw a honeycomb hanging from a rock and some fruit that had fallen from a tree, but he abstained from them. He then fell into a sleep, from which he was wakened by an Angel, when he found himself by the side of a fountain surrounded by the freshest herbs, some of which he ate, and declared that he had never before tasted so great a delicacy.
Eriberto Rosveido relates of St. Macarius of Alexandria that, to overcome drowsiness, which annoyed him greatly, he never entered his cell for twenty consecutive days and nights; and when he was compelled by necessity to take some sleep, he took it with his head resting against a wall. He also says that being grievously assailed by sensual temptations, he remained for six months in a swamp, with his naked body exposed to the stings of the gnats, which in that region are as large as wasps; and when he came out he was so covered with swellings and sores that he looked like a leper. The Saint also once said of himself that he never took what he desired either of bread or water, but always took bread by weight, and water by measure; and that by mortifying his appetites in this manner, he merited so many graces from God, and advanced so much in the love and knowledge of Him, that he was wont to pass whole days and nights uninterruptedly in the sweetest contemplation.
21. Some pursue their own taste and satisfaction in spiritual things in preference to the way of perfection, which consists in denying their own wishes and tastes for the love of God. If such persons perform some exercise through obedience, even though it suit their inclination, they soon lose the wish for it, and all devotion in it, because their only pleasure is in doing what their own will directs, which ordinarily would be better left undone. The Saints did not act thus.----St. John of the Cross
The blessed Seraphino, a Capuchin lay-brother, said to a friend that he would be glad to be in the house of Loretto or at Rome, that he might serve as many Masses as possible. When it was suggested that he might ask this favor of the Superiors, who would have readily granted it, he replied: "Oh, not that! Any holy desire would be profaned by one's own will, and every good intention ought to be subject to obedience, the only true directress of all holy thoughts."
St. Felix the Capuchin never did anything without the consent and express wish of his Superiors, though his employment of seeking alms would give occasion for some liberty. And when these Superiors, being well acquainted with his integrity and virtue, were accustomed to leave everything at his free disposal, he----instead of being pleased at this----found it rather a cause of sorrow and bitterness, as he saw that it hindered that entire subjection and dependence which he desired so much, and constrained him to do his own will, which he abhorred extremely.
22. If we do not pay great attention to mortifying our own will, there are many things that can take from us that holy liberty of spirit, which we seek in order to be able to mount freely towards our Creator, without being always weighed down with earth and lead. Besides, in a soul that belongs to itself, and is attached to its own will, there can never be solid virtue.----St. Teresa
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi said one day that she asked nothing of the Lord except that He would take her own will from her; for she knew that through the vivacity of her disposition, she did not advance so much as she desired in those virtues which render a soul most pleasing to the Lord. After saying this, she raised her eyes to Heaven and fell into an ecstasy, in which she was shown by God how much harm is done to souls, especially those of religious, when they are guided by their own will----which they once consecrated to God by vow. In the course of the ecstasy, she took her Superior by the hand and led her to the oratory, where she knelt and prayed the Virgin to enlighten her Superior also, that she might take pains to despoil her of her will; and after prostrating herself three times upon the ground, she recovered from her trance. She was so much in earnest in this matter that she once said she did not remember ever to have tried, either secretly or openly, to incline the will of her Superior to her own.
23. Make it your constant effort to mortify and trample underfoot your own will, to such a degree as not to satisfy it in anything, if it be possible. Be careful, therefore, to desire and rejoice that it may be often crossed; and when you see anyone oppose it either in temporal or spiritual things, follow his will rather than your own, if only his be good, even though your own be better. For, contending with another, by lessening your humility, tranquillity, and peace, will always inflict upon you a loss greater than the advantage brought by any exercise of virtue performed through your own will, in opposition to another's.----St. Vincent Ferrer
St. Catherine of Genoa practiced this. She loved to submit her preference to that of others, in all things; and if a wish to pursue any course arose in her own mind, it was sufficient to make her avoid it.
When Father Thomas Sanchez would to go his Superiors to make a request, he used first to ask God, if it might be according to His pleasure, to move their hearts to refuse it.
24. Thou oughtest not to let a day pass in which thou hast not trampled upon thy will; and if such a thing should happen, consider that on that day thou hast not been a religious.----St. John Climacus
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi was extremely fond of not doing her own will, and made a study of it, so that she regarded that day as utterly lost in which she had not in some manner broken and denied it.
25. Do you know what is the highest degree of abnegation of one's own will? It consists in allowing ourselves to be employed in such things as others choose, without ever making any resistance.----St. Francis de Sales
When St. Basil was visiting the monasteries of his diocese, he asked an abbot if he had no monk who showed more than the rest that he belonged to the number of the predestinate. The Abbot presented to him one who was very simple. The Saint ordered him to bring some water, and when he had quickly brought it, told him to sit down and wash his feet, which he did immediately, without showing the slightest reluctance. The following day, as he was going into the sacristy, he bade him approach the altar, as he wished to ordain him priest; and he received the priesthood without any resistance. From these things, the Saint considered him dead to his own will and his own judgment, and therefore worthy to be held as one of the predestinate. A little while after, some strangers entered his cell by night, took him, and led him unresistingly into their country, and there shut him up in a wretched hut, where he remained quietly, without a word to anyone. But a few days after, some men from another region took him out, still without a word on his part, and carried him away to the place from which they came, and there he stayed contentedly, as one dead to the world.
26. The greatest gift one can receive from God in this world is wisdom, power and will to conquer himself, by denying self-will.----St. Francis of Assisi
The Abbot Pastor had the highest opinion of this exercise, and used to say that our own will is an iron wall that disunites and separates us from God.
St. Colette, of the Order of St. Francis, often said that she thought it a greater mortification to deny one's own judgment and will than to abandon all the riches in the world, and therefore she practiced it to the utmost of her ability. St. Bernard also entertained the same sentiments, and said that all evils spring from a single root, which is self-will.
27. Take heed not to foster thy own judgment, for, without doubt, it will inebriate thee; as there is no difference between an intoxicated man and one full of his own opinion, and one is no more capable of reasoning than the other.----St. Francis de Sales
The blessed Alexander Sauli, a Corsican bishop, always asked others' advice in the affairs of his diocese, not trusting to his own opinion. He considered himself ignorant and totally unfit for the duties of his office, though he had been a famous professor of theology and director of St. Charles, and had even been called the ideal of bishops.
St. Francis de Paula, though endowed with the gift of prophecy, in doubtful cases always took counsel, even in the smallest matters, and with his own subjects.
28. Everyone has opinions of his own, nor is this opposed to virtue. It is only the love and attachment we have to our own opinions, and the high value we set on them, which is infinitely contrary to our perfection. This is the last thing to be abandoned, and the cause why so few are perfect.----St. Francis de Sales
This Saint succeeded in abandoning this last thing, so that he was once able to write to a friend that he had no such attachment to his own opinion as to wish anyone ill who did not follow it, and that he did not claim that his sentiments should serve as a rule to anyone.
The venerable Father John Leonardi, founder of the Regular Clerics of the Mother of God, although he was gifted with the highest degree of prudence and had brought to a successful issue many affairs of great note, nevertheless depended so much upon the advice of his subjects, nay even of the young and inexperienced among them, that he never decided on anything of importance without first hearing their opinion and gaining their approval. Often he even followed their judgment in preference to his own.
Father Suarez, though he possessed much talent and learning, often gave his books even to his pupils to be revised; and if one of them disapproved of anything, he altered it with great readiness. St. Vincent Ferrer also had so little regard for his own opinion that he gave his writings to his companions to be reviewed, even though they were inferior to him in learning; and he did this not only when he was a student, but afterwards when a lecturer.
29. The true and only remedy for this evil is to make little account of what suggests itself to our mind. When asked for our opinion, let us give it frankly, but with indifference as to whether or not it be accepted or approved, and let us be careful to follow the judgment of others rather than our own, whenever it can be lawfully done.----St. Francis de Sales
It is narrated in the Lives of the Fathers that when the Abbot John, who was very celebrated for holiness, was about to die, his disciples begged him to leave them some good advice for acquiring perfection. He replied to them: "This is all is I can tell you: I have labored not according to my own judgment, but according to the judgment of others; nor have I ever commanded another to do anything, without having first done it myself."
St. Jane Frances de Chantal had a mind at once lofty, and quick to reach the point at which it aimed. But for all this, when she was asked for advice in important affairs, she never trusted wholly to the knowledge she had acquired by long experience; but besides having recourse to God in prayer, she wished to consult with her spiritual fathers and with persons acquainted with those affairs. She would then express her own sentiments in this way: "This is my opinion, but take in addition the advice of someone wiser and more judicious."
St. Vincent Ferrer, in matters relating to the direction and government of that Order of which he was the head, as a general thing, followed the wishes and opinions of his companions rather than his own.
30. As to be holy is nothing else than to will what God wills, so to be wise is nothing else than to judge of things as God judges of them. Now, who knows whether thy sentiments be always in conformity with those of God? How many times hast thou discovered thyself to be deceived in thy judgments and decisions?----St. Vincent de Paul
St. Vincent de Paul excelled in this mortification of his own judgment. He was gifted with so much foresight that he was considered one of the most prudent men of his time; yet he always distrusted himself, and in all his affairs had recourse not only to God, but also to men. He would ask their opinion and follow it rather than his own, as far as justice and charity permitted, even though they had but little talent, or were his inferiors. When he was asked for advice, after raising his mind for a moment to God, he gave it, not setting things arbitrarily, but explaining his views with modesty, and leaving the person to decide for himself. His way of speaking was: "It seems that it might be done so." "There would be this reason, which seems to lead to such a conclusion," and if he was urged to decide absolutely, he would say: "It seems to me that it would be well or expedient to do such a thing, to act in such a way." Besides, he always preferred, and himself suggested, that the opinion of others also should be asked, and was pleased to have it followed rather than his own----not because he did not usually know best, on account of his long experience and the great light he received from God, but purely from love of submission and mortification, and because of his great love of humility, which made him esteem everyone better than himself. At a meeting of the Ladies of Charity, an institution established by him to promote several pious objects, a matron present observed this trait. She informed the servant of God of it very gracefully, at the end of the conference, expressing to him her surprise that he would not support his views, which deserved to be preferred to all the others. "May it never be," he answered, "that my poor, weak judgment should prevail over that of others! I shall always rejoice to have God work what He will without me, a wretched sinner." He was so fully persuaded that resolutions taken with mature consideration and the advice of others were pleasing to the Lord, that he rejected as a temptation anything op- posed to them which came into his mind. He was accustomed to say that when an affair had been recommended to God and consulted upon with others, we ought to be firm in what we undertake, and believe that God will not impute it to us for a fault, as we can offer this legitimate excuse: "O Lord, I recommended the affair to Thee, and took the advice of others, which was all that could be done to know Thy will."
31. The life of our flesh is the delight of sensuality; its death is to take from it all sensible delight. The life of our judgment and our will is to dispose of ourselves and what is ours, according to our own views and wishes; their death, then, is to submit ourselves in all things to the judgment and will of others. The life of the desire for esteem and respect is to be well thought of by everyone; its death, therefore, is to hide ourselves so as not to be known, by means of continual acts of humility and self-abasement. Until one succeeds in dying in this manner, he will never be a servant of God, nor will God ever perfectly live in him.-----St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi
With great frankness this beautiful soul expressed to others so lofty a sentiment, because she knew that it was precisely in this way that, to her infinite profit, she had attained to the death of her own flesh, her own judgment and will, and her own human respect; of her own flesh, which she never ceased to treat with the greatest harshness and rigor; of her own judgment and will, which she always strove to keep subject to, and dependent upon, others; of her human respect, by abhorring and avoiding constantly every occasion of being honored and esteemed.
Another great example of this was the glorious St. Philip Neri, who chastised his body severely with hair-cloth and the discipline. While quite young, he lived for years almost entirely upon bread and water. When he became a priest, he added to this spare diet only a little wine, some herbs or fruit, or perhaps an egg. He rarely took any other dairy products, or fish, or meat, or soup, except on account of illness, or when at table with strangers. As to his own judgment and will, he showed all possible earnestness in banishing all that could feed either, and in trampling upon both to the extent of his power. But he rendered himself especially admirable in combating and annihilating that regard for human esteem, which is so dangerous an enemy to corrupt humanity, and from which even the holiest souls are not exempt. To subdue this common adversary, he made it his object to be considered by all a vile and abject creature, and took care, on every occasion, to give cause for such an idea of him. With this intention, he would do things that, both at home and abroad, appeared like folly.
Many examples of this are recorded, of which we will mention a few. Once he began to jump and dance in front of a church, where there was a great concourse of people on account of a festival held there, and one in the crowd was heard to say: "Look at that old fool!" Again, meeting a water carrier in a busy street, he asked leave to drink from one of his casks; and when it was granted, he put his mouth to the opening and drank with much apparent satisfaction, while the carrier wondered that a man of his position should drink in that way in the presence of so many people. Another time, he drank in the same manner from the flask of St. Felix the Capuchin, in view of many. Being invited one day to dinner by Cardinal Alexandrino, he took with him one of his penitents, whom he told to bring him a handful of beans ready cooked, concealed under his mantle. When all were seated at the table, he had them brought out, for the sake of appearing ill-bred. But the Cardinal, who knew his virtues, instead of taking the matter ill and despising him, asked for some himself, and so did all the guests. Cardinal Gesualdo, who loved him tenderly, thought a coat of martin fur would be useful to him, on account of his advanced age and constant attendance in the confessional. He gave him one, exacting, at the same time, a promise that he would wear it. The Saint kept the promise, but made use of the occasion to cause himself to be laughed at, by wearing it all the time in public for a month, walking with a dignified air, and stopping now and then to look at it. For the same purpose, he went many times through Rome, accompanied by his penitents, carrying an immense bunch of flowers. Once when he had had his beard shaved only on one side, he came out in public, leaping and rejoicing, as if it were a great victory.
At home he was continually doing such things. He often wore a pair of white slippers, with a little cap on his head, and a red vest, which came down to his knees, over his long cassock. In this costume he received whoever came to visit him, even if they were men of rank or great nobles. He kept in his room books of stories, jest books, and others of a similar sort, and when gentlemen came to see him, especially if they were of high rank, he would have one of them read, and listen to it with a great show of attention and pleasure. He did this in a marked manner when Pope Clement VIII sent him some Polish nobles, that they might gain fervor and edification from his discourse. When he was informed that they were coming, he immediately told one of his household to take one of these books and read it to him, not stopping till he should tell him. When the noblemen arrived, he said to them, without disturbing himself at all: "Please wait till we come to the end of this interesting story." While the reading went on, he showed great attention and pleasure, like a person who is listening to something important and profitable. Finally he stopped it and said to the visitors: "Have I not still some fine books? Was not that one worth listening to?" And so he went on, without uttering a word on spiritual subjects. The strangers remained for a time, exchanging glances with one another, and then went away astonished and annoyed. After they were gone, he had the book put away, saying, "We have done what was necessary." For it was precisely what he desired----that these distinguished strangers should have a low opinion of him.