The Complete Ascetical Works of St. Alphonsus/Volume 6/The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ/Chapter 10
CHARITY BEARETH ALL THINGS.
(Charitas omnia suffert.)
He that loves Jesus Christ bears all Things for Jesus Christ, and especially Illnesses, Poverty, and Contempt.
In Chapter I. we spoke of the virtue of patience in general. In this we will speak of certain matters in particular, which demand the especial practice of patience.
Father Balthazar Alvarez said that a Christian need not imagine himself to have made any progress until he has succeeded in penetrating his heart with a lasting sense of the sorrows, poverty, and ignominies of Jesus Christ so as to support with loving patience every sort of sorrow, privation, and contempt, for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Patience in Sickness.
In the first place, let us speak of bodily infirmities, which, when borne with patience, merit for us a beautiful crown.
St. Vincent de Paul said: "Did we but know how precious a treasure is contained in infirmities, we should accept of them with joy as the greatest possible blessings." Hence the saint himself, though constantly afflicted with ailments, that often left him no rest day or night, bore them with so much peace and such serenity of countenance that no one could guess that anything ailed him at all. Oh, how edifying is it to see a sick person bear his illness with a peaceful countenance, as did St. Francis de Sales! When he was ill, he simply explained his complaint to the physician, obeyed him exactly by taking the prescribed medicines, however nauseous; and for the rest he remained at peace, never uttering a single complaint in all his sufferings. What a contrast to this is the conduct of those who do nothing but complain even for the most trifling indisposition, and who would like to have around them all their relatives and friends to sympathize with them! Far different was the instruction of St. Teresa to her nuns: "My sisters, learn to suffer something for the love of Jesus Christ, without letting all the world know of it." One Good Friday Jesus Christ favored the Venerable Father Louis da Ponte with so much bodily suffering, that no part of him was exempt from its particular pain: he mentioned his severe sufferings to a friend; but he was afterwards so sorry at having done so, that he made a vow never again to reveal to anybody whatever he might afterwards suffer. I say "he was favored;" for, to the saints, the illnesses and pains which God sends them are real favors. One day St. Francis of Assisi lay on his bed in excruciating torments; a companion said to him: "Father, beg God to ease your pains, and not to lay so heavy a hand upon you." On hearing this, the saint instantly leaped from his bed, and going on his knees, thanked God for his sufferings; then, turning to his companion, he said: "Listen, did I not know that you so spoke from simplicity, I would refuse ever to see you again."
Some one that is sick will say, it is not so much the infirmity itself that afflicts me, as that it disables me from going to church to perform my devotions, to communicate, and to hear Holy Mass; I cannot go to choir to recite the divine Office with my brethren; I cannot celebrate Mass; I cannot pray; for my head is aching with pain, and is light almost to fainting. But tell me now, if you please, why do you wish to go to church or to choir? why would you communicate and say or hear Holy Mass? is it to please God? but it is not now the pleasure of God that you say the Office, that you communicate, or hear Mass; but that you remain patiently on this bed, and support the pains of this infirmity. But you are displeased with my speaking thus; then you are not seeking to do what is pleasing to God, but what is pleasing to yourself. The Venerable John of Avila wrote as follows to a priest who so complained to him: "My friend, busy not yourself with what you would do if you were well, but be content to remain ill as long as God thinks fit. If you seek the will of God, what matters it to you whether you be well or ill?"
You say you are unable even to pray, because your head is weak. Be it so: you cannot meditate; but why cannot you make acts of resignation to the will of God? If you would only make these acts, you could not make a better prayer, welcoming with love all the torments that assail you. So did St. Vincent of Paul: when attacked by a serious illness, he was wont to keep himself tranquilly in the presence of God, without forcing his mind to dwell on any particular subject; his sole exercise was to elicit some short acts from time to time, as of love, of confidence, of thanksgiving, and more frequently of resignation, especially in the crisis of his sufferings. St. Francis de Sales made this remark: "Considered in themselves, tribulations are terrifying; but considered in the will of God, they are lovely and delightful." You cannot say prayers; and what more exquisite prayer than to cast a look from time to time on your crucified Lord, and to offer him your pains, uniting the little that you endure to the overwhelming torments that afflicted Jesus on the cross!
There was a certain pious lady lying bedridden with many disorders; and on the servant putting the crucifix into her hand, and telling her to pray to God to deliver her from her miseries, she made answer: "But how can you desire me to seek to descend from the cross, whilst I hold in my hand a God crucified? God forbid that I should do so. I will suffer for him who chose to suffer torments for me incomparably greater than mine." This was, indeed, precisely what Jesus Christ said to St. Teresa when she was laboring under serious illness; he appeared to her all covered with wounds, and then said to her: "Behold, my daughter, the bitterness of my sufferings, and consider if yours equal mine." Hence the saint was accustomed to say, in the midst of all her infirmities: "When I remember in how many ways my Saviour suffered, though he was innocence itself, I know not how it could enter my head to complain of my sufferings." During a period of thirty-eight years, St. Lidwine was afflicted with numberless evils fevers, gout in the feet and hands, and sores, all her lifetime; nevertheless, from never losing sight of the sufferings of Jesus Christ, she maintained an unbroken cheerfulness and joy. In like manner, St. Joseph of Leonessa, a Capuchin, when the surgeon was about to amputate his arm, and his brethren would have bound him, to prevent him from stirring through vehemence of pain, seized hold of the crucifix and exclaimed: "Wherefore bind me?—wherefore bind me? behold who it is that binds me to support every suffering patiently for love of him;" and so he bore the operation without a murmur. St. Jonas the Martyr, after passing the entire night immersed in ice by order of the tyrant, declared next morning that he had never spent a happier night, because he had pictured to himself Jesus hanging on the cross; and thus, compared with the torments of Jesus, his own had seemed rather caresses than torments.
Oh, what abundance of merits may be accumulated by patiently enduring illnesses! Almighty God revealed to Father Balthazar Alvarez the great glory he had in store for a certain nun, who had borne a painful sickness with resignation; and told him that she had acquired greater merit in those eight months of her illness than some other religious in many years. It is by the patient endurance of ill-health that we weave a great part, and perhaps the greater part, of the crown that God destines for us in heaven. St. Lidwine had a revelation to this effect. After sustaining many and most cruel disorders, as we mentioned above, she prayed to die a martyr for the love of Jesus Christ; now as she was one day sighing after this martyrdom, she suddenly saw a beautiful crown, but still incomplete, and she understood that it was destined for herself; whereupon the saint, longing to behold it completed, entreated the Lord to increase her sufferings. Her prayer was heard, for some soldiers came shortly after, and ill-treated her, not only with injurious words, but with blows and outrages. An angel then appeared to her with the crown completed, and informed her that those last injuries had added to it the gems that were wanting; and shortly afterwards she expired.
Ah, yes! to the hearts that fervently love Jesus Christ, pains and ignominies are most delightful. And thus we see the holy martyrs going with gladness to encounter the sharp prongs and hooks of iron, the plates of glowing steel and axes. The martyr St. Procopius thus spoke to the tyrant who tortured him: "Torment me as you like; but know at the same time, that nothing is sweeter to the lover of Jesus Christ than to suffer for his sake." St. Gordius, Martyr, replied in the same way to the tyrant who threatened him death: "Thou threatenest me with death; but I am only sorry that I cannot die more than once for my own beloved Jesus." And I ask. did these saints speak thus because they were insensible to pain or weak in intellect? "No," replies St. Bernard; "not insensibility, but love caused this." They were not insensible, for they felt well enough the torments inflicted on them; but since they loved God, they esteemed it a great privilege to suffer for God, and to lose all, even life itself, for the love of God.
Above all, in time of sickness we should be ready to accept of death, and of that death which God pleases. We must die, and our life must finish in our last illness; nor do we know which will be our last illness. Where fore in every illness we must be prepared to accept that death which God has appointed for us. A sick person says: "Yes; but I have committed many sins, and have done no penance. I should like to live, not for the sake of living, but to make some satisfaction to God before my death." But tell me, my brother, how do you know that if you live longer you will do penance, and not rather do worse than before? At present you can well cherish the hope that God has pardoned you; what penance can be more satisfactory than to accept of death with resignation, if God so wills it? St. Aloysius Gonzaga, at the age of twenty-three, gladly embraced death with this reflection: "At present," he said, "I am, as I hope, in the grace of God. Hereafter, I know not what may befall me; so that I now die contentedly, if God calls me to the next life." It was the opinion of Father John of Avila that every one, provided he be in good dispositions, though only moderately good, should desire death, to escape the danger, which always surrounds us in this world, of possibly sinning and losing the grace of God.
Besides, owing to our natural frailty, we cannot live in this world without committing at least venial sins; this should be a motive for us to embrace death willingly, that we may never offend God any more. Further, if we truly love God, we should ardently long to go to see him, and love him with all our strength in Paradise, which no one can do perfectly in this present life; but unless death open us the door, we cannot enter that blessed region of love. This caused St. Augustine, that loving soul, to cry out: "Oh, let me die, Lord, that I may behold Thee!" O Lord, let me die, otherwise I cannot behold and love Thee face to face.
Patience in Poverty.
In the second place, we must practise patience in the endurance of poverty. Our patience is certainly very much tried when we are in need of temporal goods. St. Augustine said: "He that has not God, has nothing; he that has God, has all." He who possesses God, and remains united to his blessed will, finds every good. Witness St. Francis, barefooted, clad in sackcloth, and deprived of all things, yet happier than all the monarchs of the world, by simply repeating, "My God and my all." A poor man is properly he that has not what he desires; but he that desires nothing, and is contented with his poverty, is in fact very rich. Of such St. Paul says: Having nothing, yet possessing all things. The true lovers of God have nothing, and yet have everything; since, when temporal goods fail them, they exclaim: "My Jesus, Thou alone art sufficient for me;" and with this they rest satisfied. Not only did the saints maintain patience in poverty, but sought to be despoiled of all, in order to live detached from all, and united with God alone. If we have not courage enough to renounce all worldly goods, at all events let us be contented with that state of life in which God has placed us; let our solicitude be not for earthly goods, but for those of Paradise, which are immeasurably greater, and last for ever; and let us be fully persuaded of what St. Teresa says: "The less we have here, the more we shall have there."
St. Bonaventure said that temporal goods were nothing more than a sort of bird-lime to hinder the soul from flying to God. And St. John Climacus said, that poverty, on the contrary, is a path which leads to God free of all hindrances. Our Lord himself said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In the other Beatitudes, the heaven of the life to come is promised to the meek and to the clean of heart; but to the poor, heaven (that is, heavenly joy) is promised even in this life: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Yes, for even in the present life the poor enjoy a foretaste of paradise. By the poor in spirit are meant those who are not merely poor in earthly goods, but who do not so much as desire them; who, having enough to clothe and feed them, live contented, according to the advice of the Apostle: But having food, and wherewith to be covered, with these we are content. Oh, blessed poverty (exclaimed St. Laurence Justinian), which possesses nothing and fears nothing; she is ever joyous and ever in abundance, since she turns every inconvenience into advantage for the soul. St. Bernard said: "The avaricious man hungers after earthly things as a beggar, the poor man despises them as a lord." The miser is always hungry as a beggar, because he is never satiated with the possessions he desires; the poor man, on the contray, despises them all as a rich lord, inasmuch as he desires nothing.
One day Jesus Christ thus spoke to the Blessed Angela of Foligno: "If poverty were not of great excellence, I would not have chosen it for myself, nor have bequeathed it to my elect." And, in fact, the saints, seeing Jesus poor, had therefore a great affection for poverty. St. Paul says, that the desire of growing rich is a snare of Satan, by which he has wrought the ruin of innumerable souls: They that will become rich, fall into temptation, and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition. Unhappy beings who, for the sake of vile creatures of earth, forfeit an infinite good, which is God! St. Basil the Martyr was quite in the right, when the Emperor Licinius proposed to make him the chief among his priests, if he would renounce Jesus Christ; he was right, I say, to reply: "Tell the emperor, that were he to give me his whole kingdom, he would not give me as much as he would rob me of, by depriving me of God." Let us be content then with God, and with those things which he gives us, rejoicing in our poverty, when we stand in need of something we desire, and have it not; for herein consists our merit. "Not poverty," says St. Bernard, "but the love of poverty, is reckoned a virtue." Many are poor, but from not loving their poverty, they merit nothing; therefore St. Bernard says, that the virtue of poverty consists not in being poor, but in the love of poverty.
This love of poverty should be especially practised by religious who have made the vow of poverty. "Many religious," says the same St. Bernard, "wish to be poor; but on the condition of wanting for nothing." "Thus," says St. Francis de Sales, "they wish for the honor of poverty, but not the inconveniences of poverty." To such persons is applicable the saying of the Blessed Salomea, a nun of St. Clare: "That religious shall be a laughing-stock to angels and to men, who pretends to be poor, and yet murmurs when she is in want of some thing." Good religious act differently; they love their poverty above all riches. The daughter of the Emperor Maximilian II., a discalced nun of St. Clare, called Sister Margaret of the Cross, appeared on one occasion before her brother, the Archduke Albert, in a patched-up habit, who evinced some astonishment, as if it were unbecoming her noble birth; but she made him this answer: "My brother, I am more content with this torn garment than all monarchs with their purple robes." St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi said: "O happy religious! who, detached from all by means of holy poverty, can say, The Lord is the portion of my inheritance. "My God, Thou art my portion and all my good." St. Teresa, having received a large alms from a certain merchant, sent him word that his name was written in the Book of Life, and that, in token of this, he should lose all his possessions; and the merchant actually failed, and remained in poverty till death. St. Aloysius Gonzaga said that there could be no surer sign that a person is numbered among the elect, than to see him fearing God, and at the same time undergoing crosses and tribulations in this life.
The bereavement of relatives and friends by death belongs also, in some measure, to holy poverty; and in this we must especially practise patience. Some people, at the loss of a parent or friend, can find no rest; they shut themselves up to weep in their chamber, and giving free vent to their sorrow, become insupportable to all around them, by their want of patience. I would ask these persons, for whose gratification they thus lament and shed tears? For that of God? Certainly not; for God's will is, that they should be resigned to his dispensations. For that of the soul departed? By no means: if the soul be lost, she abhors both you and your tears; if she be saved, and already in heaven, she would have you thank God on her part; if still in purgatory, she craves the help of your prayers, and wishes you to bow with resignation to the divine will, and to become a saint, in order that she may one day enjoy your society in paradise. Of what use, then, is all this weeping? On one occasion, the Venerable Father Joseph Caracciolo, the Theatine, was surrounded by his relatives, who were all bitterly lamenting the death of his brother, whereupon he said to them: "Come, come! let us keep these tears for a better purpose, to weep over the death of Jesus Christ, who has been to us a father, a brother, and spouse, and who died for love of us." On such occasions we must imitate Job, who, on hearing the news of the death of his sons, exclaimed, with full resignation to the Divine will, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; God gave me my sons, and God hath taken them away. As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord; it hath pleased God that such things should happen, and so it pleaseth me; wherefore may he be blessed by me forever.
Patience under Contempt.
In the third place, we must practise patience, and show our love to God, by tranquilly submitting to contempt.
As soon as a soul delivers herself up to God, he sends her from himself, or through others, insults and persecution. One day an angel appeared to the Blessed Henry Suso and said to him, "Henry, thou hast hitherto mortified thyself in thy own way; henceforth thou shalt be mortified after the pleasure of others." On the day following, as he was looking from a window on the street, he saw a dog shaking and tearing a rag which it held in its mouth; at the same moment a voice said to him, "So hast thou to be torn in the mouths of men." Forthwith the Blessed Henry descended into the street and secured the rag, putting it by to encourage him in his coming trials.
Affronts and injuries were the delicacies the saints earnestly longed and sought for. St. Philip Neri, during the space of thirty years, had to put up with much ill-treatment in the house of St. Jerome at Rome; but on this very account he refused to leave it, and resisted all the invitations of his sons to come and live with them in the new Oratory, founded by himself, till he received an express command from the Pope to do so. So St. John of the Cross was prescribed change of air for an illness which eventually carried him to the grave; now, he could have selected a more commodious convent, of which the Prior was particularly attached to him; but he chose instead a poor convent, whose Prior was his enemy, and who, in fact, for a long time, and almost up to his dying day, spoke ill of him, and abused him in many ways, and even prohibited the other monks from visiting him. Here we see how the saints even sought to be despised. St. Teresa wrote this admirable maxim: "Whoever aspires to perfection must beware of ever saying: They had no reason to treat me so. If you will not bear any cross but one which is founded on reason, then perfection is not for you." Whilst St. Peter Martyr was complaining in prison of being confined unjustly, he received that celebrated answer from the Crucifix: our Lord said to him, "And what evil have I done, that I suffer and die on this cross for men?" Oh, what consolation do the saints derive in all their tribulations from the ignominies which Jesus Christ endured! St. Eleazar, on being asked by his wife how he contrived to bear with so much patience the many injuries which he had to sustain, and that even from his own servants, replied: "I turn my looks on the outraged Jesus, and I discover immediately that my affronts are a mere nothing in comparison with what he suffered for my sake; and thus God gives me strength to support all patiently."
In fine, affronts, poverty, torments, and all tribulations, serve only to estrange further from God the soul that does not love him; whereas, when they befall a soul in love with God, they become an instrument of closer union and more ardent love of God: Many waters cannot quench charity. However great and grievous troubles may be, so far from extinguishing the flames of charity, they only serve to enkindle them the more in a soul that loves nothing else but God.
But wherefore does Almighty God load us with so many crosses, and take pleasure in seeing us afflicted, reviled, persecuted, and ill-treated by the world? Is he, perchance, a tyrant, whose cruel disposition makes him rejoice in our suffering? No: God is by no means a tyrant, nor cruel; he is all compassion and love towards us; suffice it to say, that he has died for us. He indeed does rejoice at our suffering, but for our good; inasmuch as, by suffering here, we are released hereafter from the debt of torments justly due from us to his divine justice; he rejoices in them, because they detach us from the sensual pleasures of this world: when a mother would wean her child, she puts gall on the breast, in order to create a disgust in the child; he rejoices in them, because we give him, by our patience and resignation in bearing them, a token of our love; in fine, he rejoices in them, because they contribute to our increase of glory in heaven. Such are the reasons for which the Almighty, in his compassion and love towards us, is pleased at our suffering.
Let us now draw this chapter to a conclusion. That we may be able to practise patience to advantage in all our tribulations, we must be fully persuaded that every trial comes from the hands of God, either directly, or in directly through men; we must therefore render God thanks whenever we are beset with sorrows, and accept, with gladness of heart, of every event, prosperous or adverse, that proceeds from him, knowing that all happens by his disposition for our welfare: To them that love God all things work together unto good. In addition to this, it is well in our tribulations to glance a moment at that hell which we have formerly deserved: for assuredly all the pains of this life are incomparably smaller than the awful pains of hell. But above all, prayer, by which we gain the divine assistance, is the great means to suffer patiently all affliction, scorn, and contradictions; and is that which will furnish us with the strength which we have not of ourselves. The saints were persuaded of this; they recommended themselves to God, and so overcame every kind of torments and persecutions.
Affections and Prayers.
O Lord, I am fully persuaded that without suffering, and suffering with patience, I cannot win the crown of Paradise. David said: From Him is my patience. And I say the same; my patience in suffering must come from Thee. I make many purposes to accept in peace of all tribulations; but no sooner are they at hand than I grow sad and alarmed; and if I suffer, I suffer without merit and without love, because I know not how to suffer them so as to please Thee. O my Jesus, through the merits of Thy patience in bearing so many afflictions for love of me, grant me the grace to bear crosses for the love of Thee! I love Thee with my whole heart, O my dear Redeemer! I love Thee, my sovereign good! I love Thee, my own love, worthy of infinite love. I am grieved at any displeasure I have ever caused Thee, more than for any evil whatever. I promise Thee to re ceive with patience all the trials Thou mayest send me; but I look to Thee for help to be faithful to my promise, and especially to be enabled to bear in peace the throes of my last agony and death.
Mary, my Queen, vouchsafe to obtain for me a true resignation in all the anguish and trials that await me in life and death.
- Life, ch. 3.
- Way of Perf. ch. 12.
- Vita, c. 14.
- Part 2, Ep. 54.
- Love of God B. 9, ch. 2.
- Life, addit.
- Ap. Sur. 8 Jul.
- S. Bas. hom. in Gord. M.
- "Neque hoc facit stupor, sed amor."—In Cant. s. 61.
- Life, ch. 25.
- "Eia, Domine! moriar, ut te videam."—Sol. an. ad D. c. 1.
- Serm. 85, E. B.
- "Deus meus, et omnia."
- "Nihil habentes, et omnia possidentes."—2 Cor. vi. 10.
- Found. ch. 14.
- Scala sp. gr. 17.
- "Beati pauperes spiritu, quoniam ipsorum est regnum cœlorum."—Matt. v. 3.
- "Habentes autem alimenta et quibus tegamur, his contenti sumus."—1 Tim. vi. 8.
- De Disc. mon. c. 2.
- "Avarus terrena esurit ut mendicus, fidelis contemnit ut dominus."—In Cant. s. 21.
- "Qui volunt divites fieri, incidunt … in laqueum diaboli et desideria … nociva, quæ mergunt homines in interitum et perditionem."—1 Tim. vi. 9.
- Boll. April 26, Act. n. 11.
- "Non paupertas virtus reputatur, sed paupertatis amor."—Epist. 100.
- "Pauperes esse volunt, eo tamen pacto, ut nihil eis desit."—In Adv. D. s. 4.
- Introd. ch. 6.
- "Dominus pars hæreditatis meæ."—Ps. xv. 5.
- Cepar. c. 22.
- "Dominus dedit, Dominus abstulit: sicut Domino placuit, ita factum est; sit nomen Domini benedictum."—Job, i. 21.
- Life, ch. 22.
- "Aquæ multæ non potuerunt exstinguere charitatem."—Cant. viii. 7.
- "Diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum."—Rom. vii. 28.
- "Ab ipso patientia mea."—Ps. Ixi. 6.