A Year with the Saints
TAN BOOKS and PUBLISHERS
Qui manet in charitate, in Deo manet, et Deus in eo----Who abideth in charity, abideth in God,
and God in him.----1 John 4:16
1. The object of all virtues is to bring us into union with God, in which alone is laid up all the happiness that can be enjoyed in this world. Now, in what does this union properly consist? In nothing save a perfect conformity and resemblance between our will and the will of God, so that these these two wills are absolutely alike----there is nothing in one repugnant to the other; all that one wishes and loves, the other wishes and loves; whatever pleases or displeases one, pleases or displeases the other.----St. John of the Cross
The Blessed Virgin possessed this perfect union, and St. Bernard says of her that she kept her eyes on the watch and her consent fully prepared for every token of the Divine Will.
The Venerable Mother Seraphina di Dio had advanced far on this road, for in an account which she gave of herself to her director, she was able to say: "My soul seems to be so much in harmony with Our Lord, that whatever He operates in it always appears most fitting, for it is the very thing which it wills for itself. Whatever comes to my soul is a sweet morsel made on purpose for it, and it seems unable to desire anything else, so that it never experiences bitterness or trouble." Once when she accused herself of want of conformity to the Divine Will, she received at that moment a ray of light by which she saw how beautiful is the will of God so clearly that she remained for some time overcome with astonishment that a creature, sprung from nothing, should fail to love the most holy and beautiful will of its Creator.
2. Those deceive themselves who believe that union with God consists in ecstasies or raptures, and in the enjoyment of Him. For it consists in nothing except the surrender and subjection of our will with our thoughts, words and actions, to the will of God and it is perfect when the will finds itself separated from everything, and attached only to that of God, so that every one of its movements is solely and purely the volition of God. This is the true and essential union which I have always desired, and which I constantly ask of the Lord. Oh, how many of us there are who say this, and who think we desire only this! But, wretched that we are, how few are ever to attain it!----St. Teresa
This Saint never ceased to wonder at the great privilege which man possesses in being able to unite himself to his Creator, and at the wonderful desire which so great a sovereign entertains to see him united to Himself. This, therefore, was the object of her keenest desires, and for this she strove more ardently than for anything else.
St. John the Baptist abode in the desert for twenty-four years. God knows how his heart was touched with love for his Saviour even from his birth, and how earnestly he desired to enjoy His presence; and yet, devoted to the simple will of God, he remained there discharging his duty, without even once seeing Him. And after he had Baptized Him, he did not follow Him, but continued in his office. What can we say of all this, if not that his was a spirit detached from all things and from God Himself, to perform His will? "This example," said St. Francis de Sales, "overwhelms my soul with its grandeur."
3. Union with God takes place in three ways: by conformity, by uniformity, and by deiformity. Conformity is a complete subordination of our will to the Divine Will in all our actions, and in all occurrences and events, so that we will and accept all that God wills and sends, however painful and repulsive it may be. Uniformity is a close union of our will with the Divine Will, by which we will, not only all that God wills, but we will it solely because He wills it, and so all repugnances are banished. Deiformity is a transformation which renders our will one with that of God, so that it is no longer conscious of itself, as if it were no longer in existence, but only feels in itself the Divine Will, and, as if it were changed into it, no longer desires in any of its acts and operations anything, even what is most holy, with or through the created will, but only in the uncreated, made its own by transformation.----Fr. Achilles Gagliardi
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi attained to all three degrees of union. As to the first, she often said with great feeling: "If I should see Hell open, and believe that it was the Lord's will that I should suffer eternally in those flames, I would plunge into them instantly, of my own accord, to accomplish His Divine Will." For the second, she said in an ecstasy that she had at Pentecost, "I protest that I do not seek or desire the Holy Spirit, except according to the will of God. I desire His presence, and I do not desire it, because I do not wish to desire it of myself as of myself; so that if God should give it to me to do my will, and not His as His, but as mine, even though His will were to be found in this, yet not primarily and totally His, I should be in no wise content. So much does it concern me not to wish to possess or make my own, what I have given to Him, and what I wish should be wholly His, that I may be able to say with perfect truth in everything, Fiat voluntas Tua." For the third, she lived as one dead to herself, without any intention or will of her own. In another ecstasy, the Lord showed her her own soul in this condition, under the form of another soul, which she described in these terms: "She follows her Spouse without understanding, without speaking, without hearing, without tasting, and, so to speak, without acting, and as if dead. She thinks only of following the interior attraction of the Divine Word, that she may not offend Him."
4. Conformity to the Divine Will is a most powerful means to overcome every temptation, to eradicate every imperfection, and to preserve peace of heart. It is a most efficacious remedy for all ills, and the treasure of the Christian. It includes in itself in an eminent degree mortification, abnegation, indifference, imitation of Christ, union with God and in general all the virtues, which are not Virtues at all, except as they are in conformity with the will of God, the origin and rule of all perfection.----St. Vincent de Paul
St. Vincent de Paul was himself so much attached to this virtue that it might be called his characteristic and principal one, or a kind of general virtue which spreads its influence over all the rest, which aroused all his feelings and all his powers of mind and body and was the mainspring of all his actions. If he placed himself in the presence of God in his prayers or other exercises, his first impulse was to say with St. Paul, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me do?" If he was very attentive in consulting and hearkening to God, and showed great circumspection in distinguishing between true inspirations proceeding from the Holy Spirit and false ones which come from the devil or from nature, this was in order to recognize the will of God with greater certainty and be in a better position to execute it. And, finally, if he rejected so resolutely the maxims of the world and attached himself solely to those of the Gospel, if he renounced himself so perfectly; if he embraced crosses with so much affection, and gave himself up to do and suffer all for God----this, too, was to conform himself more perfectly to the whole will of his Divine Lord.
The blessed Jacopone being astonished that he no longer felt any disturbances and evil impulses, as he did at first, heard an interior voice saying: "This comes from your having wholly abandoned yourself to the Divine Will, and being content with all it does."
5. So great is the delight which the Angels take in executing the will of God, that if it were His will that one of them should come upon earth to pull up weeds and root out nettles from a field, he would leave Paradise immediately and set himself to work with all his heart, and with infinite pleasure.----Bl. Henry Suso
He himself was so satisfied with the will of God, so completely attached and submissive to it, that he said, "I would rather be a bat at the Divine Will, than a seraph at my own."
So great was the love and tenderness which St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi entertained for the Divine Will that at the mere mention of it, she would be lost in an ocean of spiritual joy, and sometimes rapt into ecstasies. One evening, after most of the others had retired to sleep, someone said of a certain Sister that she had a great desire to do the will of God. The Saint replied joyously, "She is right, for to do the will of God is a thing most lovely"----and with that she remained bereft of sense, for she could not bear the flood of sweetness that flowed over her at the thought of the loveliness of the Divine Will. She then ran through the dormitory, exclaiming, "How amiable is the Divine Will!" and calling upon the rest to come and confess this with her. She excited such a tender emotion in them all, that they arose and went with her to the chapel, where they all unitedly confessed with a loud voice that the Divine Will was worthy of all love, and the hearts of all were deeply stirred.
6. A soul truly resigned to God has no affection for any created thing, for it sees clearly that all its possessions, except God, are vain and a nullity. So its single object and aim is to die to itself, and to resign itself actually and always in all things.----Bl. Henry Suso
St. Vincent de Paul excelled in this, for he lived quite apart from all creatures, and even from himself, taking no care but to depend in everything upon the will of God and the disposal of His holy providence.
The soul of the Venerable Mother Seraphina had arrived at this happy state, as appears from an account she gave of herself to her director in these terms: "The state in which I find my soul at present is that I wish for nothing except what God wills. The will and pleasure of God has so penetrated me, and has become so wrought into my own will and pleasure, that it has made itself mine and I desire that alone which God wills, and not only do I will it, but I am not able to will otherwise, nor to have any pleasure or will but His. This is my sole and complete will, nor have I need to produce or repeat acts of it, for I have it deeply impressed upon my soul; I love and esteem it, and rejoice in it supremely."
7. As the Lord knows for what we all are adapted, He gives to all their positions as He sees to be most for His own glory, for their salvation, and the good of their neighbors. Our mistake, then, is in not submitting ourselves totally to whatever He wishes to do with us.----St. Teresa
When her director expressed a doubt as to the spiritual course she was following and bade her try another, St. Teresa was only able to place herself in the hands of God, that He who knew what was best for her might wholly accomplish His holy will in her heart.
The Lord one day gave St. Francis Borgia the choice of life or death for his wife, who was seriously ill. But he replied with emotion, "Why, O Lord, commit to my judgment what lies solely in Thy power? What concerns me is to follow Thy holy will in all things, since no one knows better than Thou what is best for me. Do, then, what is most pleasing to Thee, not only with my wife, but with my children also, and with myself. Fiat voluntas Tua!"
A blind man earnestly entreated St. Vedastus, on the day of his festival, to give him sight, and obtained it. Then, continuing his prayer, he said that he would not have asked it except as a help towards his salvation, when it was immediately taken away again. The same thing happened to another, who was cured of a painful infirmity by the intercession of St. Thomas of Canterbury, but who protested to the Saint that if health was not best for him, he did not desire it. Upon this, his previous illness instantly returned, at which he felt no disappointment.
8. We ought to submit to the will of God, and be content in whatever state it may please Him to put us; nor should we ever desire to change it for another, until we know that such is His pleasure. This is the most excellent and the most useful practice that can be adopted upon earth.----St. Vincent de Paul
The venerable Father Daponte told an intimate friend that he was glad of all his natural defects of appearance and speech, since it had pleased the Lord to mark him with them; that he was glad also of all his temptations and miseries, both interior and exterior, since God so willed it, and that if it were the will of God that he should live a thousand years, oppressed by far greater trials and in the deepest darkness, provided that he should not offend Him, he would be quite content.
When the news of her husband's death in the war was brought to St. Elizabeth, she instantly raised her heart to God, and said: "O Lord, Thou knowest well that I preferred his presence to all the delights of the world! But since it has pleased Thee to take him from me, I assent so fully to Thy holy will, that if I could bring him back by plucking out a single hair from my head, I would not do it, except at Thy will."
9. Never believe you have attained such purity as you should, whilst your will is not freely and gladly submissive to the holy will of God, as to all, and in all, even in things the most repugnant.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Jane Frances de Chantal said that he arrived at such purity, as she knew from himself, for in his deepest afflictions he experienced a sweetness a hundred times greater than usual. This came from the intimate union with God that he enjoyed, which made the bitterest things most delicious to him.
The Congregation of St. Vincent de Paul met with a serious loss of property. He informed a friend of it in this way: "As you are one of our best friends, I cannot do less than let you know of the loss we have met with----not, indeed, as a misfortune that has befallen us, but as a favor which the Lord has bestowed on us, and in the intention that you may help us to render Him due thanks. Favors and benefits are the name I give to the afflictions that He sends us, especially when they are well received. And as His infinite goodness has ordained this loss, He has made us accept it with perfect and entire resignation, and, I can safely say, with as much gladness as we should have felt at any prosperous event."
10. One act of resignation to the Divine Will, when it ordains what is repugnant to us, is worth more than a hundred thousand successes according to our own will and pleasure.----St. Vincent de Paul
How much, in the midst of all his disasters, did holy Job merit before God by his "Dominus dedit, Dominus abstulit---The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away."
11. Perfect resignation is nothing else than a complete moral annihilation of thoughts and affections, when one renounces himself totally in God, that He may guide him as He wills and pleases, as if one no longer knew or cared for either himself or anything else except God. It is thus that the soul, so to speak, loses itself in God, not, indeed as to its nature, but as to the appropriation of its powers.----Bl. Henry Suso
St. Catherine of Genoa was one of those happy souls who attained to a share in this holy annihilation in which, as she herself attests, she had no longer thoughts, affections or desires as to anything, except to leave God to do with her, and in her, all that He might will, without any choice or resistance on her part, and that this gave her in all circumstances and occasions a delight like that of the blessed, who have no will but that of their God. And so she was able to say: "If I eat, if I drink, if I speak, if I am silent, if I sleep, if I wake, if I see, if I hear, if I meditate, if I am in the church, if I am in the house, if I am in the street, if I am sick or well, in every hour and moment of my life, I would do only God's will and my neighbor's for His sake; or rather, I would not wish to be able to do, to speak, or to think anything apart from the will of God; and if anything in me should oppose itself to this, I would wish that it might instantly become dust and be scattered to the winds."
A young girl, whom she had never seen, once appeared to St. Aldegonde and told her, in the name of the Blessed Virgin, that she might ask what she chose, and it would be given her. But the Saint replied cheerfully that she desired nothing, except that in all things the holy will of God should be accomplished, to which she would be resigned with all possible satisfaction and pleasure.
12. When shall it be that we shall taste the sweetness of the Divine Will in all that happens to us, considering in everything only His good pleasure, by whom it is certain that adversity is sent with as much love as prosperity, and as much for our good? When shall we cast ourselves unreservedly into the arms of our most loving Father in Heaven, leaving to Him the care of ourselves and of our affairs, and reserving only the desire of pleasing Him, and of serving Him well in all that we can?----St. Jane Frances de Chantal
When St. Peter was about to hold a disputation with Simon Magus, he received word from his opponent that on account of important business, he should be obliged to defer the debate for three days. St. Clement, who had just been converted and who was with St. Peter, was grieved at this delay. But St. Peter consoled him by saying: "My son, it is to be expected of the heathens that they will be troubled when things do not turn according to their wishes; but for us, who know that the Lord guides and disposes all things, we ought in all cases to abide in great peace and consolation. I will show you that this event which displeases you is in reality for your good, for if the discussion had taken place now, you would have understood but little of it; but later you will understand it better, for in the meantime I will instruct you so that you will be able to derive greater advantage from it. So, for the future, beware of separating yourself from the Divine Will, and always be sure that whatever happens will be for the best." We read of the wife of a soldier, who used to say when a misfortune happened to anyone, "It will be the best thing for him." She made the same remark on the occasion of her husband's losing an eye. Some time after, it happened that the king was near death, and, according to the custom of the country, someone was chosen to honor his death by dying with him. It happened that this soldier was chosen, but when he was informed of his ill-fortune, he immediately said: "But no! It is not proper that so great a king should have a one-eyed man for his companion in death!" This was approved by all, so that the loss of an eye was no evil, but a great piece of good fortune.
13. To lose ourselves in God is simply to give up our own will to Him. When a soul can say truly, "Lord, I have no other will than Thine," it is truly lost in God, and united to Him.----St. Francis de Sales
The venerable Father Daponte made this prayer, and repeated it every day: "Fiat, Domine de me, in me, pro me, et circa me et omnia mea, sancta voluntas Tua, in omnibus et per omnia et in aeternum----Concerning me, in me, for me, in regard to me, and all that I have, may Thy holy will, O Lord, be done, in all things, and through all things, and to eternity."
The Lord appeared one day to St. Gertrude and said to her: "Daughter, behold I bring you in one hand health, and in the other sickness. Choose which you please!" The Saint, throwing herself at His feet, with her hands crossed upon her bosom, answered: "O Lord, I pray Thee not to consider my will at all, but solely Thine own, and to do with me whatever will result in Thy greatest glory and satisfaction; for I have no desire except to have whatever Thou wishest me to have." The Lord was much pleased with this reply, and added: "Let those who desire that I should often visit them give Me the key of their will, and never take it back?' Instructed by these words, the Saint composed for herself this aspiration, which she frequently repeated ever after: "Non mea, sed Tua voluntas fiat, Jesu amantissime!----Not my will, but Thine be done, O most loving Jesus!"
14. There are many who say to the Lord, "I give myself wholly to Thee, without any reserve," but there are few who embrace the practice of this abandonment, which consists in receiving with a certain indifference every sort of event, as it happens in conformity with Divine Providence, as well afflictions as consolations, contempt and reproaches as honor and glory.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Vincent de Paul was a brilliant example of this. In all places, times, occupations, and circumstances, in tribulation and consolation, in illness, in cold and heat, in encountering reproaches, calumnies, the loss of friends or property, he was never troubled or disturbed; but, as if all these events had been similar, he remained in great peace and tranquillity of soul, which he manifested by the sweetness of his words and the serenity of his countenance; for he never lost sight of his maxim that nothing happens to this world except as ordained by Divine Providence, into whose hands he had entirely abandoned himself. This once made a priest say in astonishment, "M. Vincent is always M. Vincent!"
Particular examples may be of use to illustrate this. When he received news that parties were endeavoring to bring lawsuits and disturb his missionaries in their possessions and in houses and lands which they had acquired, his usual reply was that nothing would succeed except what God pleased, and that as He was master of all their goods, it was just that He should dispose of them according to His Divine Will. When one of the most important and useful members of his Congregation was seriously ill, he wrote thus to a person who was much grieved at the misfortune: "It seems as if Our Lord wished to take His portion of our little company. It is, I hope, entirely His, and so He has a right to make use of it as He sees best. For myself, the chief desire that I have is to wish nothing except the fulfillment of His Divine Will."
In fact, though the preservation of his Congregation was so dear to him, he never desired either that or its increase and progress, except insofar as he was sure that God willed it----so that, as he once said, he would not have taken a step or uttered a word to that end, except in entire dependence on the Divine Will. His practice was the same in what regarded himself personally, for he bore his many and great infirmities with much peace and tranquillity of soul. In the last year of his life he perceived clearly, and often said, that he was gradually failing, but always with a perfect indifference, which proved that living and dying, suffering and relief, were the same to him. He was indifferent as to the food and the remedies given him, and though he would sometimes express the opinion that one thing or another did him harm, still he always took what the physicians ordered him, and seemed as well pleased with bad results as with good. In everything he regarded only the accomplishment of God's good pleasure as the sole object of his desire and of his joy; nor was there ever observed in him, either in sickness or health, the least token of a feeling opposed to this holy disposition.
St. Jane Frances de Chantal had attained the same height, for we read of her that she received with equal indifference whatever occurred, whether adverse or prosperous, as she had no desire but that God would do with her and in her regard whatever He might please. For this reason, she never cared to think about what might happen to herself or others in the future; that is, about what she should do in such or such circumstances; as, for example, if she were in extreme want, whether she would go out and beg, or wait for help from Divine Providence; she said that in such a case, she would ask the Lord with fresh confidence what she was to do, leaving herself, meantime, in His hands. She was once asked whether, in the various dangers she had encountered by land and water in her frequent journeys, she had always hoped that God would rescue her from them. She replied that she had hoped not for rescue, but only that the Lord would do what might be for His greater glory, by freeing her from the danger or by leaving her to perish in it, and that in this total dependence on the divine disposal, her heart remained peaceful, tranquil and at rest.
To conclude, a holy and learned man said that a soul perfectly resigned is like a body that forms a perfect square, which stands firmly on whichever side it may be thrown.
15. If you give yourself to the practice of holy abandonment, though you may not perceive that you gain at all, you will, in fact, advance greatly, as it is with those who sail upon the open sea with favorable winds, trusting wholly to the care of the pilot.----St. Francis de Sales
There was in a certain monastery a Religious whose power of working miracles was so great that the sick were cured by merely touching his garments or his cincture. The Abbot wondered at this, as he saw nothing remarkable about him, and one day asked him for what cause God worked so many miracles by his means. "I do not know," he replied, "for I do not fast, nor use the discipline, nor watch, nor pray, nor labor any more than others. This only I perceive in myself----that nothing which happens disturbs or disquiets me, but my soul remains in equal tranquillity in the midst of all events, however unfortunate they may be for myself or others, because I have left everything in the hands of God. And so, whether it be prosperity or adversity, whether it be little or much, I take all as coming from His hands." "Then were you not troubled the other day," rejoined the Abbot, "when the enemy burned our granary?" "Not in the least," was his answer. "Here, then, is the cause of your miracles," returned the Abbot.
A farmer who always had larger and better crops than his neighbors was once asked the reason by one of them. "Why, I always have the weather to suit me," he answered, "for I always wish it to be as God wishes it, and not otherwise."
16. One of the principal effects of holy abandonment in God is evenness of spirits in the various accidents of this life, which is certainly a point of great perfection, and very pleasing to God. The way to maintain it is in imitation of the pilots, to look continually at the Pole Star, that is, the Divine Will, in order to be constantly in conformity with it. For it is this will which, with infinite wisdom, rightly distributes prosperity and adversity, health and sickness, riches and poverty, honor and contempt, knowledge and ignorance, and all that happens in this life. On the other hand, if we regard creatures without this relation to God, we cannot prevent our feelings and disposition from changing, according to the variety of accidents which occur.----St. Francis de Sales
Taulerus relates that there was once a great theologian who for eight years in succession prayed to God to show him someone who would teach him the way of truth, and that finally, when he was one day offering this prayer with great fervor, he heard a voice from Heaven saying to him, "Go to the temple, and there you shall find him!" He went, and found a poor beggar on the church steps, half-clothed with a few rags, and covered with sores. Moved with compassion, he saluted him kindly with the words, "God give you good day, my good man!" "I never have a bad day," said the beggar, with a cheerful look. "God give you good fortune!" went on the theologian. "I have never experienced any misfortunes," answered the other. "How is this!" exclaimed the theologian; "you have never had bad days, and never experienced misfortunes, loaded as you are with woes and miseries!" "I will tell you," replied the mendicant. "I have cast myself wholly upon the Divine Will, to which I so conform my own that whatever God wills, I will also. So when hunger, thirst, cold, heat or sickness molest me, I do nothing but praise God, and whatever happens to me----whether it be prosperous or adverse, whether it be pleasing or unpleasant----I take all from the hand of God with great gladness, as that which can but be good, since it comes from a Cause which can produce only what is best." "But," went on the theologian, "if God should choose to send you to Hell, what would you do?" "I would immediately plunge into it," returned the beggar. "For, see! I have two arms: one is humility, by which I keep myself always attached to His most sacred humanity; the other is love, which attaches me to His Divinity. Now, if He were to cast me into Hell, I would cling to Him so tightly with these two arms, that He would be obliged to come with me, and with such companionship it would not grieve me much even to be in Hell." "Who can you be?" wondered the theologian. "I am a king," was the answer. "And where is your kingdom?"
"In my soul, for I know so well how to rule my faculties, both interior and exterior, that all the powers, inclinations, and affections of my soul are completely subject to me." "Tell me, how did you learn such great perfection?" "By recollection, meditation, and union with God. I was never able to find peace in anything less than God before I succeeded in finding Him, and since then I enjoy continual peace." "And where did you find Him?" "Where I left affection for all other things."
17. In this holy abandonment springs up that beautiful freedom of spirit which the perfect possess, and in which there is found all the happiness that can be desired in this life; for in fearing nothing, and seeking and desiring nothing of the things of the world, they possess all.----St. Teresa
One of these beautiful souls was that of St. Francis de Sales. In whatever happened to him, he always showed as much satisfaction as if all had gone according to his wishes. For example, when a fierce persecution had been raised against him and the Order he had founded, he wrote thus to St. Jane Frances de Chantal: "I leave all these opposing blasts to the providence of God. Let them blow or cease, as shall please Him; tempest and calm are equally dear to me. If the world did not speak ill of us, we should not be the servants of Christ."
The Emperor Ferdinand II made this prayer every day: "O Lord! if it be indeed for Thy glory and my salvation that I retain the position in which I am, keep me in it, and I will glorify Thee. If it be to Thy praise and my good that I sink to a lower place, abase me, and I will glorify Thee."
Father Alvarez never thought about what was to happen to him, and if any thought of the kind offered itself, he would say, "It will be as God wills." Then, raising his heart to God, he would add: "O Lord, I wish for nothing but to please Thee and satisfy Thee!"
18. How beautiful it is to behold a person destitute of all attachment, ready for any act of virtue or charity, gentle to all, indifferent as to any employment, serene in consolations and tribulations, and wholly content if only the will of God be done!----St. Francis de Sales
Behold how this Saint, without intending it, has depicted himself to the life! For he was precisely such a person as is here described, as may be seen from many incidents recorded in this work.
19. When we have totally abandoned ourselves to the pleasure of God, submitting without any reserve our will and affections to His dominion, we shall see our souls so united to His Divine Majesty that we shall be able to say with that perfect model of Christians, St. Paul: "In myself I no longer live, but Jesus Christ in me."----St. Francis de Sales
This Saint, according to the testimony of one who knew him intimately, in the last years of his life had reached such a point that he desired, loved, or regarded only God in all things. As a result, he seemed always absorbed in God and said that there was nothing in the world which could satisfy him except God. He frequently uttered with ecstatic feeling these words of the Psalmist: "Lord, what is there in Heaven for me, or what do I desire upon earth save Thee? Thou art my portion and my inheritance forever." All that was not God was nothing for him, and this was one of his principal maxims.
20. When one seeks to unite himself to God, he should endeavor to discover, by self-examination, whether there is anything which forms a barrier between his soul and God, and whether in anything he seeks himself or turns back to himself.----Bl. Henry Suso
St. John Berchmans, after examining himself to see whether he had an attachment to anything whatever, found that there was nothing on earth for which he felt or could feel affection. This he expressed in a sentence found among his manuscripts: "Nulli rei sum affectus, et nihil habeo cui afficiar."
A gentleman of very high family who had passed most of his life at court, guiding himself by the maxims of the world, was finally gained over for God by St. Vincent de Paul and applied himself so earnestly to the pursuit of perfection that he became a model to all. Desiring still to advance, and feeling sure the more he separated himself from creatures, the more he would be united by God, he often examined himself as to whether he had any attachment for relatives, friends, honors, property or comforts, and whenever he discovered anything that was an entanglement to him, he immediately broke or cut it away. One day he made his usual examination while riding on horseback, and could think of nothing for which he specially cared until he finally perceived that he had a fondness for his sword, which had saved his life in many duels. Instantly springing from the horse, he went up to a large stone, upon which he shivered it to pieces. Afterwards he told the incident to St. Vincent and assured him that this act gave him such complete freedom that he never after felt affection for any perishable thing.
21. The condition of union seems to be nothing else than dying, so to speak, entirely to all the things of the world, and living in the enjoyment of God.----St. Teresa
This was the blessed state of St. Catherine of Genoa, who confessed that she once had a vision in which it was shown her how all good proceeds from God, without any previous cause except His pure and simple goodness, by which He was moved to do us good in so many ways and forms. "From that sight," she said, "there rose in my heart such an interior flame of love that I lost all understanding, thought, wish or love for anything except God; so that my soul neither knows nor can wish for anything more or other than it is enjoying at present, and is more pleased and satisfied with this than with anything it could obtain by all its efforts and exertions. And if I should ask myself what I desire or aim at, I could only answer, 'Nothing except what Love gives me!' He keeps me so occupied and satisfied with Himself that I have no need to plan or seek for anything to sustain my powers, supported and sustained as they are."
22. The soul which remains attached to anything, even to the least thing, however many its virtues may be, will never arrive at the liberty of the Divine union. It matters little whether a bird be fastened by a stout or a slender cord----as long as he does not break it, slender as it may be, it will prevent him from flying freely. Oh what a pity it is to see some souls, like rich ships, loaded with a precious freight of good works, spiritual exercises, virtues and favors from God, which, for want of courage to make an end of some miserable little fancy or affection, can never arrive at the port of divine union, while it only needs one good earnest effort to break asunder that thread of attachment! For, to a soul freed from attachment to any creature, the Lord cannot fail to communicate Himself fully, as the sun cannot help entering and lighting up an open room when the sky is clear.----St. John Chrysostom
It is related in the Life of St. Gregory that a rich man left the world and retired into a wood, taking with him, to afford him some recreation in that solitude, only a little cat, as he loved it and often caressed it. After living thus for some years in a constant course of prayers and penances, he prayed the Lord to be pleased to show him what reward was prepared for him. Then God revealed to him that he might hope for a place in Heaven equal to that which Pope Gregory would receive. The good hermit was much grieved at this information and could not understand why one who had left all he had for God, and had served Him with such austerity, should not receive a greater reward than one who was living in the midst of riches and luxury. But the Lord opened his eyes by showing him that he was more attached to his cat than Gregory to all the riches and honors he enjoyed; and that perfection consists precisely in detachment from all that is not God.
The nuns of the Visitation make special profession of detachment from everything, as they cannot appropriate to themselves the smallest article, not even a needle. They maintain this excellent spirit in its full vigor and prevent them from becoming attached to any object, their Rule requires them to exchange with one another every year the articles of which they make use----their rooms, books, furniture, everything----even the crosses they wear upon their bosoms.
23. See why we never arrive at sanctification after so many Communions as we make! It is because we do not suffer the Lord to reign in us as He would desire. He enters our breasts and finds our hearts full of desires, affections and trifling vanities. This is not what He seeks. He would wish to find them quite empty, in order to render Himself absolute master and governor of them.----St. Francis de Sales
The Saint himself possessed a heart of this latter kind. His confessor testifies of him that he would permit no affection to remain in it that was not of God and for God. And so, if he saw anything alien to this springing up, he was ready to extirpate it, as it were, with steel and fire.
The Lord once said to a good soul that the best disposition for receiving abundant graces in Holy Communion is to empty the heart of everything. For if a great noble goes to the house of one of his retainers with the intention of filling all his boxes and chests, but finds them full of chaff and earth and sand, he is forced to retire with regret.
This is the reason why holy souls have been so earnest in making good Communions. The Empress Leonora, who received three times a week, spent two hours in previous meditation, and wore a girdle of hair-cloth and chains, with sharp points wound several times about her arms. After receiving, she remained for a quarter of an hour prostrate with her face upon the ground, conversing with her Divine Guest in sweet and tender welcome. Then, to retain the warmth of devotion through the day, she remained in silence and solitude in her room. St. Aloysius Gonzaga gave the whole week to his Communion. He offered the actions of the three days preceding it as a preparation, and so endeavored to do them well; and those of the three following days he intended for a thanksgiving.
The venerable Monseigneur de Palafox, after his conversion and while still a secular, communicated often, that is, once a week. He took up the practice of asking God for one virtue at each Communion, and resolving to extirpate some particular fault, occupying in this sometimes days, sometimes whole weeks. He thus endeavored, by the aid of Divine grace, to conquer his evil inclinations and to change his long-established habits, with a success that could be noticed from day to day.
St. John Berchmans was unwilling to receive Communion on holidays, because, as he said, he could not preserve the necessary quiet and devotion on such days; and if he was to Communicate, he asked permission to remain in the house. He said on one occasion that each time he received Holy Communion he felt his soul perceptibly revived and invigorated.
24. To arrive at perfect union, there is needed a total and perfect mortification of the senses and desires. The shortest and most effectual method of obtaining it is this: As to the senses whatever pleasing object may offer itself to them, unconnected with pure love to God, we should refuse it to them instantly, for the love of Jesus Christ, who in this life neither had nor desired to have any pleasure except to do the will of His Father, which He called His food. If, for example, there should arise a fancy or wish to hear or see things which do not concern the service of God or lead especially to Him, we should deny this fancy, and refrain from beholding or hearing these things; but if this is not possible, it is sufficient not to consent with the will. Then as to the desires, we should endeavor to incline always to what is poorest, worst, most laborious, most difficult, most unpleasant, and to desire nothing except to suffer and be despised.----St. John of the Cross
Such, in truth, was the life of this Saint, which he passed in the continual exercise of interior and exterior mortification, of which he never seemed to have enough----and in this way he attained to great union with God.
St. Francis Borgia often prayed the Lord to make all the pleasures of this life painful to him, and he strove to render them so himself, as far as he was able. And so he desired with avidity, sought with solicitude and embraced with gladness all that was contrary to self-love, in food, clothing and habitation. By this means he made great progress in virtue and holy union.
25. If you desire to arrive at union with God, let your conversation and manner of life be as interior as possible. Do not reveal yourself, or come forth from yourself, either by words, gestures or manners, but strive to keep yourself within yourself, turning to God alone, who is present within you, and excluding from your heart all that you shall see or hear.----Bl. Henry Suso
Father Alvarez, being asked the reason why he had seemed unusually thoughtful for some days, answered: "I am trying to live as if I were in the deserts of Africa, and to keep my heart as much at a distance from all creatures as if I were really in a desert." And in this he succeeded.
St. Rose of Lima made unusual efforts to conceal not only the good works and penances that she performed, but even the spiritual gifts which she received from the Lord----never revealing them without necessity, even to her directors. A person of high rank once had a great desire to know the special favors this Saint enjoyed, and pressed her spiritual Father to elicit an account of them from her. Though he foresaw that it would be very difficult, yet he was so desirous to grant the favor that he tried to accomplish it under various pretexts, and with much persuasion. The pious maiden soon perceived the object of these artifices, and in the humblest words entreated him not to question her about the matter. She said that from her earliest years she had most frequently supplicated her Spouse that no one might ever discover what He had wrought in her out of His pure goodness; and as the good God had granted this, His minister should not take away a favor which He had bestowed.
St. Thomas Aquinas, from his earliest youth, was constantly seeking to know God. When he had become a Religious, his sole gratification was to think, to speak and to hear of God; so that if anything was introduced in general conversation which was not connected with God, he paid no attention to it, as a matter which did not concern him. He so directed to God and His good pleasure all his works and actions, that when the Lord Himself asked him what reward he would desire for the many works he had written for Him, "No other," he replied, "but Thyself alone, my Lord and my Love!"
26. Be immovable in this resolution, to remain simply in the presence of God, by means of an entire renunciation and abandonment of yourself into the arms of His most holy will. Every time that you find your spirit outside this dear abode, lead it back gently, this love of simple confidence, and this reliance and repose of the soul upon the paternal bosom of the Divine Goodness, includes all that can be desired to please God.----St. Francis de Sales
This was the favorite exercise of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, which she practiced by means of a simple glance towards God, a simple acquiescence in His most holy will, by resting simply in it, as a little child in the arms and upon the bosom of its mother, without seeking to do anything else or trying to examine what the Lord was working in her, or why He was doing it. In this she found her most complete repose, as she confessed in an account that she gave of herself to her director. "I feel my soul," she said to him, "much inclined to sustain itself by a simple glance raised to God and His Divine Goodness. Though I no longer feel that total abandonment and sweet confidence which I once felt, and though I cannot even make an act of it, yet it seems to me that by this glance alone these virtues become more firm and solid than ever, and if I were to follow my interior impulse, I should practice nothing else." To check any disposition to a redundancy of words, she wrote upon a card a long prayer, including many petitions, praises and thanksgivings for her friends and relatives, and all for whom she was under obligation to pray, whether living or dead. She hung this card around her neck and wore it night and day, having previously stipulated with Our Lord that whenever she pressed it to her bosom she should be considered as offering all the prayers it contained.
Among the many practices of devotion which the venerable Sister Maria Crucifixa employed in thanksgiving after Communion, one was to place Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament at rest in her soul, as if He were sleeping there, while she stood at His side, watching Him in humble silence, and obliging all her faculties, both interior and exterior, to refrain from all exercise which was not directed to Him, and from every act except such as showed reverence for Him, that by an ill-timed activity they might not awake her Beloved. Thus she kept all her powers long abased in silent reverence, occupied only with Jesus lying in her heart. She confessed that she had derived greater profit from this exercise than from any other. She took care, however, in her previous preparation, to furnish the place well for Him, with devout affections and various acts, that He might rest with less discomfort.
27. When I see some persons very anxious about being attentive in prayer, and keeping their heads bowed while occupied in it, as if they did not dare to stir in the least, or to move even in thought, that the joy and sensible devotion they have may not leave them even in the slightest degree; this shows me how little they understand the road which leads to union, while they imagine that the whole affair consists in keeping their thoughts fixed. No, no, the Lord desires works. Therefore, when things present themselves to be done, to which obedience or charity obliges you, do not at all regard losing that devotion and enjoyment of God, that you may give Him pleasure by doing these things; for they will lead you more quickly than the others to holy union.----St. Teresa
The blessed Clara di Montefalco willingly employed herself in the work of the convent, and said that in it the gift of prayer even comes to its perfection.
When St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi was a novice, she sometimes had permission from the Mistress to spend in prayer the time which was allotted to her companions for work. But she did not accept this favor, saying that she was more willing to be occupied in any exercise of obedience, however laborious and humble, than in the very loftiest contemplation. When asked the reason, she replied: "Because in performing the duties of the Order and of obedience, I am sure of doing the will of God, of which I am not sure when I engage in prayer or other exercises, no matter how good and holy, which have been chosen by my own will." She had the same feeling in regard to charity to her neighbor, and preferred it to contemplation, dear as that was to her. For to aid her neighbor in spiritual or temporal employments, she was ever ready to leave prayer, contemplation and every other spiritual delight.
28. Self-will, as God says by the Prophet, is what spoils and corrupts our devotions, labors, and penances. Therefore, not to lose time and trouble, we must endeavor never to act from the impulse of nature, interest, inclination, temper, or caprice, but always from the pure and single motive of doing the will of God, and accustom ourselves to this in all things. This is the most effectual, nay rather the only means of arriving safely and quickly at union with God.----St. Vincent de Paul
It was the great and only anxiety of this Saint not to undertake anything to which he might not seem impelled by the Divine Will. And so he made it a rule never to engage by himself in new enterprises even for the glory of God, which he had so much at heart, but always waited until the will of the Lord should be manifested to him by Superiors, or at least by the opinion of others, or the prayers which he made or asked; for his humility made made him always distrust his own light, and fear to be deceived.
This most important truth was well understood by St. Catherine of Genoa, who spoke thus on the subject: "There is no pest more malignant than that of self-will, which is so subtle, so malicious, so deeply seated, which conceals itself in so many ways and defends itself by so many reasons, that it seems indeed a demon. When it cannot gain direct obedience, it knows well how to win its way in some other form and under various excuses and pretexts, such as health, necessity, charity, justice, perfection, suffering for God, giving good example, finding spiritual consolation, condescending to the weakness of others, while we are all the while seeking, contriving and cherishing our own interests. I behold in it a sea of malice so envenomed, so opposed to God, that He alone can rescue us from it, and since He sees this better than we He has great compassion on us and never ceases to send us inspirations, contradictions, and helps of all sorts to deliver us."
29. To attain union with God, all the adversities that He sends us are necessary; for His only aim is to consume all our evil inclinations from within and from without. Therefore, slights, injuries, insults, infirmities, poverty, abandonment by friends and relatives, humiliations, temptations of the devil and many other things opposed to our human nature----all are extremely needed by us, that we may fight until by means of victories we have extirpated all our evil inclinations, so that we may feel them no longer. Nay more, until all adversities no longer seem bitter to us, but rather sweet for God, we shall never arrive at the divine union.----St. Catherine of Genoa
"That such is the truth in this matter," added the Saint, "I have proved by my own experience. For Divine Love sees that we hold so tenaciously to what we have chosen, because it seems to us good, and right, and beautiful, and that we will not listen to a word against it, as we are blinded by self-love; and so it makes a ruin of all that we love, by means of death, illness, poverty, hatred, discord and detractions, together with scandals, lies and disgrace falling upon our relatives, our friends, or ourselves, so that we do not know what to do with ourselves, as we are thus drawn away from everything we had cared for, and receive from all only pain and confusion and know not why the Lord permits these events, which seem quite contrary to reason, both as regards God and the world; therefore, we torment ourselves, and strive and seek and hope to escape from so many ills, but can find no outlet. "When Divine Love has held the soul for a time in this suspense, and in despair and disgust with all she had hitherto loved, then He reveals Himself to her with a countenance full of beauty and splendor. And as soon as the soul, stripped and destitute of every other help, beholds Him, she casts herself into His arms, and after considering the divine operations of pure love, she says to herself: 'O blind one! with what wast thou occupied? What didst thou seek? Seest thou not that here is all thou seekest and desirest, and all the delights thou wouldst possess? Dost thou not find here more than thou couldst ever desire? O Divine Love! with what sweet art Thou hast drawn me to put aside all love of self, and to clothe myself with a love pure and full of all true joys. Now that I see the truth, I no longer complain except of my ignorance and blindness. And now I leave to Thee all care of myself, seeing clearly that Thou doest for me far better than I have the skill or power to do for myself. I no longer wish to regard anything but Thy operations, which only aim at what the soul truly wishes and desires, though from her blindness she knows not how to gain it.' "
St. Elizabeth, daughter of the King of Hungary, after being left a widow was expelled from her home, abandoned by all and tried by detraction, affronts and contempt. She endured all with much patience, or rather, she was most happy to be able to bear such sufferings for the love of God, Who rewarded her abundantly with the most precious gifts.
30. To acquire perfection in general and all the virtues in particular, even to attaining union with God, it is necessary to set before ourselves an example which may serve as a guide for all our actions and all our progress. Now, it is certain that we can find no safer or grander example than that which God Himself has offered us in the person of His Divine Son, and happy is he who shall make the best copy of it. This, then, should be our book and our mirror, in which we ought to look, whatever circumstances may occur; that is, we should consider in what manner Our Lord behaved in similar cases, and what instruction He has left us in regard to them, and then follow generously His sentiments and example.----St. Vincent de Paul
It was the constant practice of this Saint to guide himself thus in all affairs, by the example and teaching of the Saviour, which he kept before his eyes as a pattern in every action; so that when he had to make any decision, to give any advice or recommendation, he instantly sought in the life and words of Christ some ground upon which to base it. And so he scarcely ever spoke without bringing in some word or action of the Son of God, which he would introduce in a wonderfully apposite manner. But if he could think of nothing which had any bearing upon the point, he would meditate a little before acting, and say to himself, "How would Christ speak or act in this case?" and then immediately did what he thought the Lord would have done.
In the Chronicles of St. Francis we are told that one of his Religious had a vision in which he saw a path thickly set with briars, and at the opening of it stood St. Francis with many of his followers. In their midst was Jesus Christ, Who said to them, "This is the way we must go," and He immediately began to advance into it. The Religious were alarmed, and considered the undertaking too difficult; but the Saint encouraged them, saying that it should be enough for them to walk in the footprints of the Lord. He then set the example, and they all followed with much ease.
31. Oh what remorse we shall feel at the end of our lives, when we look back upon the great number of instructions and examples afforded by God and the Saints for our perfection, and so carelessly received by us! If this end were to come to you today, how would you be pleased with the life you have led this year?----St. Francis de Sales
St. Vincent de Paul used often to say: "Oh wretched me! what an account I shall have to render at the tribunal of God, where I am so soon to appear, of the many graces His Divine Goodness has bestowed upon me, if I have derived no fruit from them!"
St. John Berchmans was so attentive to his own perfection that whatever he learned in regard to it remained impressed upon his mind, and he put it into practice with
the greatest exactness.
Thomas à Kempis tells of a pious person who one day fell into great anxiety in regard to his final perseverance.
Prostrating himself before an altar, he raised his eyes, and exclaimed: "Oh, if I only knew that I was to persevere in good to the end!" He instantly heard an interior voice that replied, "Well, if you knew, what would you do? Do now what you would wish to have done in that hour, and you will be in perfect security." Consoled by this, he abandoned himself entirely into the hands of God, without further inquiry as to the good or bad state of his conscience, and rather endeavored to discover and fulfill the will of God to the best of his ability.
In the Lives of the Fathers we read of an old monk who, when asked what exercise should be employed to attain perfection, made this answer: "From the day I left the world, I have said to myself every morning: 'Today thou art born again! Begin now to serve God, and to live in this holy place! Commence thy life each day as if the following one were to end it!' This I have done without missing a day."
Monseigneur de Palafox, as we read in his Life, at the very beginning of his conversion had a light from on high by which he understood that he ought to live day by day, that is, to take all possible care to live as if he believed each day that he was then to die and render his account to God. He acted in this manner through the whole remainder of his life, and he confessed that a method so sure to give him satisfaction at the hour of death had also been of great value during his life. It is thus that we should profit in our lives by the lights that God gives us, if we desire in death to rejoice at having received them.