A Year with the Saints
TAN BOOKS and PUBLISHERS
Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.----Matt. 5:4
1. Meekness and mildness of heart is a virtue rarer than chastity, and yet it is more excellent than that and all other virtues, for it is the end of charity, which, as St. Bernard says, is in its perfection when we are not only patient, but also kind. It is necessary, however, to have a great esteem for this virtue, and to use every effort to acquire it.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Francis de Sales himself had the very highest regard for this virtue. He spoke of it so frequently and with so much love, as to show clearly it was his chosen one among all. So, though he excelled in all the virtues, he was singular and remarkable in this. He always wore a serene countenance, and there was a special grace upon his lips, so that he generally appeared to be smiling, and his face breathed a sweetness which charmed everyone. Though he usually showed great recollection, he sometimes thought it desirable to give proof of amiability, and then he consoled all who met him, and won the love and regard of whoever looked upon him. His words, gestures and actions were never without great suavity and gentleness, so that it seemed that this virtue had taken in him the form of man, and that he was rather meekness itself than a man endowed with that quality. He, too, justly merited the praise bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon Moses, "that he was the meekest man of his time upon earth." And so St. Jane Frances de Chantal was able to say that there was never known a heart so sweet, so gentle, so kind, so gracious and affable, as his. St. Vincent de Paul expressed the same sentiment, saying that he was the kindest man he had ever known, and the first time he saw him, he noticed in the serenity of his countenance and in his manner of conversing such a close resemblance to the meekness of Christ our Lord as instantly won his heart.
The same may be said of St. Vincent de Paul. He was of a bilious-sanguine temperament and, consequently, much inclined to anger, as he himself admitted to a friend, saying that when he was in the house of Conde, he allowed himself to be conquered more than once by his disposition to melancholy and to fits of passion. But having seen that God called him to live in community, and that in such a state he would have to deal with people of every variety of nature and disposition, he had recourse to God, and earnestly prayed Him to change his harsh and unyielding temper into gentleness and benignity; and then he began with a firm purpose to repress those ebullitions of nature. By prayer and effort combined, he succeeded in making such a change that he seemed no longer to feel any temptations to anger, and his nature was so altered that it became a source of benignity, serenity of countenance and sweetness of manner, which won for him the affection of all who shared his acquaintance. As a rule, he received all those who went to his house with pleasant words, full of respect and esteem, by which he showed his regard for them and his pleasure in seeing them. This he did with all, with the poor as well as those of high rank, adapting himself always to the position of each.
2. Meekness is a virtue which implies loftiness of soul. For this reason worldlings usually are wanting in meekness, for this loftiness is found in them but rarely and imperfectly. If they are not the first to use harsh and discourteous expressions, yet when they are addressed to them by others, they resent and return them promptly, showing by their revenge that they have a rude and ignoble heart. And so the servants of God, remaining always quiet and peaceable, though provoked by words or acts, manifest a perfect loftiness of soul superior to all rudeness.----St. Thomas Aquinas
This holy Doctor confirmed this noble sentiment by his actions, for in whatever trying position he was placed, he never gave the least sign of resentment, but at all times and on all occasions showed a calm and spiritual insensibility to everything.
The Emperor Constantine illustrated the same thing by his actions, especially on one occasion when he had received a marked affront from his subjects, but was so sustained by his habitual meekness as not to be at all perturbed by it. When some of the court urged him to take a signal vengeance, telling him that it was not right for him to bear such a stain on his face, he replied with a smile, passing his hand gently over his face, "I do not find any stain there."
The same is recorded of the glorious St. Vincent Ferrer, who was never seen angry, whatever insult or injury he received.
3. There is nothing which edifies others so much as charity and kindness, by which, as by the oil in the lamp, the flame of good example is kept alive.----St. Francis de Sales
We read of St. Francis Xavier that his brother Jesuits often visited him, only to enjoy his admirable mildness.
When St. Ignatius was passing one day with a companion, near some reapers, they began to jeer and mock at him. The Saint, not to deprive them of this amusement, stood still, with a tranquil countenance, until they had finished; then he blessed them, and went away. But they, amazed at such conduct, proclaimed him to be a Saint.
4. We ought to deal kindly with all, and to manifest those qualities which spring naturally from a heart tender and full of Christian charity; such as affability, love, and humility. These virtues serve wonderfully to gain the hearts of men, and to encourage them to embrace things that are more repugnant to nature.----St. Vincent de Paul
St. Francis de Sales dealt with everyone with so much meekness that without any rough measures he arranged everything according to his own will, and always did what he wished. He did this in a manner so gentle, and at the same time so full of authority, that no one could resist his persuasions. He treated all with respect, welcomed all amiably, and granted requests with great suavity and cordiality. This gave him such influence and power over hearts, that all yielded to him. And as he sought to adapt himself to all, and to be everything to everybody, all willingly fulfilled his desires, which had no other object than to see them occupied in the divine service, and walking in the way of salvation.
St. Francis Xavier treated everyone with great mildness and kindness, which drew to him all----both small and great, won the hearts of all and induced all to do what he wished.
The Abbot Servius being one day treated with great rudeness by a countryman, not only bore it with extreme patience, but replied with much sweetness. At this the man, struck with admiration and compunction, at once threw himself at his feet to ask his pardon, and afterwards became one of his monks.
5. At times a single word is sufficient to cool a person who is burning with anger; and, on the other hand, a single word may be capable of desolating a soul, and infusing into it a bitterness which may be most hurtful.----St. Vincent de Paul
One day when St. Macarius was traveling with a disciple in Nitria, the disciple went a little in advance of him, and then met an idol-priest who was hurrying along with a heavy stick on his shoulders. "Where are you going, demon?" he called out. Upon this, the priest laid down his wood, ran upon him, and gave him so many blows that he left him for dead. Then he picked the wood up again, and went on his way in haste. Soon after, Macarius met him and saluted him with the words, "God save you, toiler!" "You have done well," he replied, "to salute me civilly." "I saw you were fatigued," continued the Saint, "and that you were running without regard to your health, and I saluted you, that by stopping, you might get a little rest." "By this I know that you are a true servant of God," replied the idolator, and throwing himself at the Saint's feet, he said that he would never leave him, until he had invested him with the habit of a monk.
Three monks, being on a journey, lost their road, and so were obliged to pass through a field of grain, which they consequently injured. A peasant, seeing this, began to reproach them and call them false monks. Then the oldest told his companions not to reply, and when he came near the man, he said to him, "My son, you have said well." And as he continued to insult them, he added: "You tell the truth, my son; for if we were true monks, we should not have done you this harm. Now, pardon us for the love of God, for we know that we have done wrong." At these words, the rustic, amazed at such great meekness, threw himself at their feet, asked for pardon, and then for the habit, and went away with them.
St. Francis de Sales always spoke with so much sweetness and mildness, that with two or three words he often restored the most troubled hearts to tranquillity.
6. As it is not possible, in this pilgrimage of ours, not to meet and become entangled with each other, if we would preserve interior peace we must possess a great fund of meekness to oppose to the unexpected assaults of anger.----St. Francis de Sales
Philip II, King of Spain, had spent many hours of the night in writing a long letter to the Pope, and when it was finished he gave it to his secretary to be folded and sealed. But he being half-asleep, poured ink over it instead of sand, and nearly died of fright when he saw what he had done. But the king, without any excitement, only said, "Here is another sheet of paper:' and went back calmly to his writing. Another day, when he was going to hunt, he took a seat to have his boots put on. When one was on, the other was not to be found, and he waited for it a long time, without giving any sign of impatience, or saying a single word. At the time of his coronation, a soldier, in trying to keep back the crowd with a pole, broke thereby three crystal lamps that were over the throne, so that the oil fell on the rich dresses of the king and queen. "Well," said the king, "this is a sign that in my reign there will be the unction of peace and abundance."
St. Remigius, foreseeing a great famine, had collected a large quantity of grain, and being informed one day that some ill-disposed person had set it on fire, he quickly mounted his horse and hurried to the spot. He found the fire so advanced that there was no hope of extinguishing it; but he was chilled by his ride, as the weather was very cold, so he dismounted, and with perfect tranquillity both of mind and countenance, he began to warm himself, remarking, "Fire is always good!"
As the venerable Cardinal d'Arezzo was about to give ordination one morning, one of the candidates was not present. He sent for him, and remained waiting in the meantime with perfect composure. At his arrival, without any resentment, he quietly proceeded with the ceremony.
7. There are some characters which appear very gentle as long as everything goes well with them; but at the touch of any adversity or contradiction, they are immediately enkindled, and begin to throw forth smoke like a volcano. Such as these may be called burning coals hidden under ashes. This is not the meekness which Our Lord aimed to teach, that He might make us like Himself. We ought to be like lilies among thorns, which, though they come from amid such sharp points, do not cease to be smooth and pliable.----St. Bernard
This test shows how true was the meekness of St. Francis de Sales, for it is recorded of him that the more he was ill-treated, the more tranquil he appeared. It may be said that he found peace in war, roses among thorns and sweetness amidst the greatest bitterness. He once even said himself: "Of late, the open contradiction and secret opposition which I meet bring me a peace so sweet and soothing that it has no equal, and presages the approaching rest of the soul in its God, which most truly is the single ambition and the single desire of my heart and soul." In nothing does this admirable peace and tranquillity shine forth more than in the persecutions he suffered on account of the Order of the Visitation----the work of his hands and of his mind, which had cost him prayers, journeys and labors without number, and was certainly dear to him as the apple of his eye. Such great opposition was raised against this most worthy Institute, that several times it was on the point of extinction; yet he never lost his imperturbable peace for that. On the other hand, he wrote that he praised God that his little Congregation had been calumniated, as that was one of the most evident marks of the approbation of Heaven. One day when the Saint was preaching, two lawyers sent up to him a note full of insulting remarks, in the hope of breaking up the sermon. He took the paper, thinking it contained some notice to be given to the people, had the patience to read it through to himself, and then, undisturbed, went on with his sermon. When it was over and he had rested a little, he inquired of the cleric from whom he had received the note and went to visit the two lawyers, one after the other. Without speaking of the letter, he begged them to say in what he had given them offense. When he heard the occasion, he assured them that he had never had the intention of doing so, and asked their pardon on his knees. This caused them much confusion, and they asked his pardon in turn. Thenceforth, they lived on the best terms with him, venerating, as they did, a virtue so heroic and Christian.
This virtue also shone forth in St. Jane Frances de Chantal. When she was, on various occasions, ill-treated by many, she never showed the least sign of resentment or displeasure, but in return gave presents to one, bestowed favors obtained from God or from persons of rank, upon another. Nor was her love for any of them diminished.
A certain youth who was very angry because a young lady whom he wished to marry had embraced the religious state went to see her, and said many insulting things to her. She listened to them all with great serenity of countenance and so much joy of heart that on leaving the parlor she said to her companion, who had been present at the interview, "I never heard a eulogium more agreeable to me than the one this good youth has just made." Then, moved with compassion at his sinful state, she added, "Let us pray the Lord to give him light." Her prayers were indeed heard, for he repented of his error, came again to ask her pardon, then himself entered religion and finally became a great preacher and a good servant of God.
8. When you have to make arrangements, settle quarrels, or win others to your views, take care to be as mild as possible. You will accomplish more, and conquer more readily, by yielding and humbling yourself, than by harshness and disputation. Who does not know that more flies are caught with an ounce of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar?----St. Francis de Sales
The venerable Cardinal d'Arezzo excelled in this. He not only knew how to keep his own household in peace and banish all differences from among them when he was bishop and cardinal; but when he was a simple religious, he was considered to be a man very well adapted to settle lawsuits, to quiet discord and to calm the most inflamed spirits. He succeeded in this not only by his prudence and dexterity in management, but also by his great affability and mildness, which won the affection of all, and so gave him great power to soften the most obstinate hearts.
St. John Berchmans, even when a child, had great success in settling the little disputes that arise among children, and the reason was that prayers and gentleness were
the means he employed.
9. If you wish to labor with fruit in the conversion of souls, you must pour the balsam of sweetness upon the wine of your zeal, that it may not be too fiery, but mild, soothing, patient, and full of compassion. For the human soul is so constituted that by rigor it becomes harder, but mildness completely softens it. Besides, we ought to remember that Jesus Christ came to bless good intentions, and if we leave them to His control, little by little He will make them fruitful.----St. Francis de Sales
This holy Bishop proceeded in this way himself with the most perverse sinners, striving to bring them to repentance in the gentlest ways possible, guiding himself by the great maxim that the spirit of meekness is the spirit of God, as the spirit of mortification is that of the Crucified. A man who had been guilty of enormous crimes once came to his confessional, and went on accusing himself of them with indifference and without any spirit of penitence. After bearing this for some time, the Saint began to weep, and when his penitent asked if anything had happened to him, he merely answered, "Go on." As he went on with the same ease as before, telling even greater sins, he wept again and again. On being urged to tell the cause, he at last said, in a voice full of compassion, "I weep because you do not weep." These words struck the heart of the sinner with compunction, and he became a true penitent. His gentleness manifested itself especially in his manner of giving advice, encouraging souls at the same time to advance to perfection. When he found them lost in sin and in dangerous occasions of it, he would indeed cry out: "Cut, break, rend, for there are certain bonds which we must not treat with ceremony, or stop to disentangle, but we must dissever and sunder them at once?' But on other occasions, where there was no danger, he would lead his peni- tents step by step to retrench superfluities and banish worldliness from their lives. "Do you not see," he wrote to a lady, "that vines are not pruned with the rough strokes of an axe, but with a fine-edged hook, one shoot after another? I have seen some statues which the sculptor worked on for ten years before they were perfect, cutting with chisels a little here and a little there, until he had removed all that was contrary to accuracy of proportion. No, certainly it is not possible to arrive in a day at the point you aspire to reach. It is necessary to gain one step today, another tomorrow, and to strive to become masters of ourselves by degrees; for this is no small conquest."
St. Vincent de Paul also was accustomed, even in preaching, to speak with the greatest suavity and gentleness, so that he infused into the minds of his hearers, especially the poor, such confidence in himself and such readiness to follow his directions, that after a sermon they would often run after him and entreat him with tears, in the midst of the crowd, to hear their confessions, in which they revealed to him with great frankness the most hidden wounds of their souls, that they might receive from him a remedy. He once committed a great sinner to the care of one of his priests, that he might do what he could to bring him to repentance. The priest soon found that whatever he said had no effect upon that obstinate heart, and he therefore entreated the Saint to say something himself. He did so, and with such efficacy that he converted him; and in order that the conversion might be lasting, he induced him to make the Spiritual Exercises. The sinner afterwards acknowledged that it was the singular sweetness and charity of the Saint which had gained his heart, and that he had never heard any person speak of God as he did. For this reason the Saint would not permit his missionaries to treat penitents with austerity and harshness; he told them that it was necessary to encourage repentant sinners, and that the infernal spirit ordinarily makes use of rigor and bitterness on the part of priests to lead souls more astray than ever. He used the same method in the conversion of heretics, and succeeded by it in converting many, who afterwards confessed that they had been gained to God by his great patience and cordiality. The Saint explained this when he said: "You see, when one begins to argue with another, the latter easily persuades himself that he wishes to conquer him, and therefore is more prepared to resist than to embrace the truth; so that the contest, instead of disposing his mind to conversion, rather closes his heart, which, on the contrary, remains open to sweetness and affability. We have," he added, "a fine example of this in Monsignor de Sales, who, though very well versed in controversy, converted heretics rather by mildness than by learning, so that Cardinal di Peron used to say that intellect was enough to convince heretics, but it needed Monsignor de Sales to convert them."
When St. Francis Xavier was preaching in Macao to a great multitude of people, some of the mob threw stones at him. He went on without the least sign of resentment, and he made more conversions in this way than by his preaching.
St. Ludwina, by her great sweetness, converted a sinner whom no preacher or confessor had ever been able to bring to repentance.
St. Philip Neri labored much in the conversion of souls. He drew them to the Lord with so much dexterity that the penitents themselves wondered, for he seemed to charm them in such a way that whoever came to him once appeared unable to refrain from coming again. He was very careful to accommodate himself to the nature of each one. If great sinners and men of evil life came to him, he commanded them in the beginning to abstain from mortal sin, and then led them, by degrees, with admirable skill, to the point he aimed at. There once came to his feet a penitent so addicted to a certain sin that he fell into it almost every day. The only penance he gave him was to come to confession immediately after he committed the sin, without waiting to fall a second time. The penitent obeyed, and the Saint always absolved him, without giving him any other penance. By this method he succeeded in a few months in freeing him not only from this sin, but from all others, and in leading him to a high degree of perfection. He advised a very dissolute young man to say the "Hail, holy Queen," seven times a day, and then to kiss the ground with the words "Tomorrow I may be dead." By doing this the youth soon reformed his life, and fourteen years after died a holy death. In the same manner, the Saint brought back to the way of God a great number of sinners, many of whom said on their deathbeds, "Blessed be the day and the hour when I first knew Father Philip."
And they all remained so attached to him that there was nothing they would not willingly have done for him.
10. Whoever has direction of souls should deal with them as God and the Angels do, with admonitions, suggestions, entreaties and "with all patience and doctrine." He must knock at the door of the heart like the Spouse, and try gently to open it: if he succeeds, he must introduce salvation with gladness; but if a refusal comes, he should bear it patiently. It is thus that Our Lord acts. Though He is Master of all hearts, He bears with our long resistance to His lights and our many rebellions against His inspirations; and even if He be forced to withdraw from those who will not walk in His way, He does not cease to renew His inspirations and invitations. Our guardian Angels, too, exactly imitate His conduct in this; for they guide, rule, and help as far as they can, those whom God has committed to their charge, and when they see them remaining obstinate, they do not therefore abandon them, nor experience either grief or vexation, nor lose their blessedness in any degree. Now, what better models than these can we desire for our own conduct?----St. Francis de Sales
These surely were the models that this Saint proposed to himself. With weak souls in particular, such as beginners or those who have made but little progress in the spiritual life, he said we ought to copy Jacob, who suited his steps to those of his little sons, and even to the tender lambs.
St. Vincent de Paul also behaved with great suavity and patience to all whom he directed, and especially to scrupulous persons, bearing with their weaknesses and listening to them with unalterable sweetness. He treated in the same way those that were fastidious and hard to please, saying that they ought to be guided with the greatest kindness, as their infirmities of spirit were worthy of even more compassion than bodily ones.
St. Jane Frances de Chantal pursued the same course. Writing to a Superioress of her Order, she says: "The older I grow, the more I feel the necessity of meekness to win and retain hearts, to the end that they may be faithful to the duty they owe to God. Whatever I have tried to do for the benefit of those who have had recourse to me to guide their souls has been done by means of a mild and humble charity, and without any authority but that of a heartfelt entreaty."
11. As without faith it is impossible to please God, so without mildness it is impossible to please men and to govern them well.----St. Bernard
The same Saint proved this by his example. When he was made Abbot, he proceeded at first with much austerity and severity; and though his monks had a high opinion of him, they could not adapt themselves to each other. Therefore, he was warned by God to show more suavity and sweetness; and when he did so, he gained for himself the affection of all, and a most exact obedience.
Cassiodorus relates of Theobald that after being made king he used to say: "In changing our office we have changed our methods; and if we previously acted with rigor, we now employ clemency altogether."
Nicetus, in his Annals, tells of a certain emperor who at his death called together the chief men of the empire, and said to them: "My two sons, as you see, are both good; but I consider the younger better fitted to govern than the elder, for, besides his other virtues, he is inclined to clemency and docility, and when he has made any mistake, he follows the counsels of others, and obeys the voice of reason. The other is easily made angry, and in his fits of passion he cannot control himself. This trait is most opposed to good counsel, and brings ruin on the
12. I have turned forward and backward and on every side, and what conclusion have I reached? I have considered all methods of governing, and even tried them, and I have finally seen that the best is that which is amiable, sincere, humble, and patient.----St. Jane Frances de Chantal
It was indeed thus that this Saint lived among her subjects, in a gentle and humble manner, and thus she gained from them whatever she desired. When she asked for anything unimportant, she proceeded with so much submission that they were overcome by her humility; and when she required what was necessary, she did it with so much sweetness that no one who had a heart could fail to obey her orders promptly.
St. Vincent de Paul wrote thus to a Superior who had complained to him of one of his subjects: "The priest of whom you write to me is a worthy and virtuous man, and before he came to us he was much esteemed in the world. If he is now a little restless, engages in temporal affairs, thinks too much of his relatives and even looks down upon his companions, you must bear with him mildly. If he had not these faults, he would have others; and if you had nothing to bear with, your charity would not have much opportunity for exercise, nor would your conduct and government bear much resemblance to those of Christ our Lord, who chose to have rude disciples, subject to various defects, that He might teach us by practicing amiability and patience with them, how those should behave who hold the office of Superior. I entreat you to form yourself upon this holy model, by which you will learn not only to bear with your brethren, but also to help them in freeing themselves from their imperfections:' Writing to another on one of the Missions, who was very unwilling to part with one of his assistants, he said: "I do not doubt that the separation from this dear companion and faithful friend must necessarily be painful to you; but remember that Our Lord separated Himself from His own Mother, and that His disciples, whom the Holy Ghost had so perfectly united, separated themselves from one another for their Master's service."
Plutarch relates of Pericles that whenever he put on his officer's dress, he used to say to himself, as a reminder to be affable and respectful to all, "Attention, Pericles! you are going to command your brothers, Greeks, citizens of Athens!"
13. Whoever has the charge of others ought not hesitate to resist and correct the vices of those who depend on him, or even to oppose their sentiments when need requires it----always, however, with mildness and peace, especially when he has to enunciate any truths difficult to receive. Such truths must first be heated by a burning fire of charity, which will take away all their sharpness; otherwise, they will be sour fruit, better calculated to cause disease than to give nourishment. Nothing is more bitter than walnut-bark when it is green; but when made into a preserve, it is very sweet and exceedingly wholesome. So reproof, which is very bitter in its nature, heated at the fire of charity and sweetened by amiability, becomes itself pleasing and delicious. And when truth uttered by the tongue is destitute of sweetness, it is a sign that the heart is wanting in true charity.----St. Francis de Sales
When Father Lambert of the Congregation of the Mission was obliged to administer correction to his inferiors, he accompanied it with great sweetness, and never exaggerated their faults. He even overlooked them as far as he could, sometimes when committed in his presence. The venerable Cardinal Bellarmine used to act in the same way.
St. Francis Borgia never let any faults of his subjects pass without correction. When they were slight faults, he never spoke harshly, but would say, "Ah! may God pardon you! May He make you a Saint! Oh, brother, how could you say or do this?" If the fault was grave, he summoned the culprit, corrected him kindly, and when he saw any amendment, dismissed the whole matter.
St. Vincent de Paul, when he was obliged to give correction, did it with so much moderation and in a manner at once so sweet and so effective that even the hardest hearts were softened and could not resist the power of his gentleness. He said, on one occasion, that in the whole course of his life he had given correction with harsh words only three times, in which he thought it necessary to do so; but every time he had been afterwards sorry, for the result proved to be bad; and on the contrary, by mildness he had always obtained what he desired. The precautions which he used to render correction fruitful, and to sweeten its bitterness, were the following: In the first place, unless it was absolutely necessary, he never gave correction at the moment the fault was committed, but took some time to consider before God the best way of treating it, especially if the fault was grave and the person little disposed to receive reproof; and when a suitable time came, he would ask him, with much confidence and cordiality, if he would like a little advice, adding that he knew he was himself more imperfect and culpable than any other. In the second place, he would show him marks of affection, and praise him if he could find anything to praise in him. He thus opened the way to reveal to him his fault with tact, and to make him see its gravity and bad effects. He excused it too, and made the least he could of it, and then suggested a remedy, and as an encouragement to make use of it, added humbly that he, too, needed it. Thirdly, he ended the correction with encouragement, saying that God had permitted that failing as a humiliation, and to give opportunity to attend with greater fervor to the acquisition of virtue. Often he would apparently pass over faults, making it appear that he had scarcely noticed them. It was his opinion that those who had fallen into some faults should be admonished, the first time, at some fitting opportunity, with great kindness and gentleness; the second time, with a little severity and gravity, accompanied, however, with graciousness and the suggestion of easy and charitable remedies; but the third time, with zeal and firmness, and with a warning of the final remedy which would have to be applied.
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi was never known to assail or oppress anyone. On the contrary, when she was mistress of novices, if anyone of those whom she reproved answered her with pride and stubbornness, she said nothing, but merely regarded her with an amiable look and waited until some other time to correct her.
When St. Jane Frances de Chantal had to give any correction or penance, she spoke always with great care that there might not escape from her lips any word of reproof or disapproval, which would show the slightest sign of anger, but that all might be accompanied by a cordial compassion and tenderness, which would serve at once to blame the fault and to comfort the offender. Her sole effort was to make the delinquent perceive her error and recollect herself, and she did this in ways so gentle and terms so insinuating that it was almost impossible not to be moved to repentance, and not to receive the admonition with profit. If an unruly spirit showed itself in anyone, what entreaties, what caresses, what loving stratagems her charitable prudence suggested, to lead her back into the right path!
The venerable Cardinal d'Arezzo, a man most zealous for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, was peculiarly anxious that the ecclesiastical functions should be performed with all possible propriety and perfection. Yet when he saw any of his subjects fail in this, though his heart was deeply moved, all were surprised at the mildness of his correction. But when he heard that any of his flock, and especially any ecclesiastic, was living in some habitual sin or had fallen into a grave transgression, it caused him such pain and affliction that he often wept; and after supplicating God, with fervent and loving prayer, to have compassion on human miseries and frailty, he would turn all his thoughts and efforts towards providing some remedy. First of all, in such cases, he would promulgate anew the decrees and orders of synods, with their penalties annexed, to the end that the guilty parties might be reminded of the danger in which they stood, and might do at least from fear what they would not do from virtue. Afterwards, if necessary he would give an admonition in private----but with admirable tact and with especial tokens of confidence and familiarity. At first sight this course appears strange and contrary to all rules of good government, but one can scarcely believe how much good it did in the hands of this holy pastor. He sometimes sent for priests and even for seculars who were known to be leading evil lives, and invited them to dine with him. After dinner, he took them to his own room and began to admonish them, dilating upon the heinousness of their sin and its enormity before God, with such zeal and affection that he wept copiously himself, and moved them also to tears and conversion. In this way he gained the greatest results, and admirable changes of life were witnessed, to the extraordinary edification of the people.
14. The only consideration of Superiors ought to be the love of God, and the sanctification of the souls committed to their care. This cannot be better attained than by humility, combined with a peaceable disposition and good example.----St. Vincent de Paul
To this end St. Vincent recommended Superiors to take pains that the yoke of obedience should be easy to their subjects, and therefore to cultivate a civil and amiable manner, rather than a harsh and imperious one. To one whom he was sending to a certain house as Superior, he gave this direction: "Do not be domineering in order to appear like a Superior and master. I am not of the opinion of a person who said to me, a few days ago, that to govern well and maintain authority, it was necessary to be known as a Superior. Jesus Christ did not speak thus; He taught us the contrary, both by example and in words, when He said that He came into the world not be be served, but to serve; and that whoever wishes to be Superior, ought to make himself the servant of all. Conform yourself, then, to this holy maxim, behaving towards those for whom you are sent to care, quasi unus ex illis----as one of themselves----and telling them, as soon as you arrive, that you have come not to rule, but to serve. If you practice upon this suggestion both at home and abroad, all will be well."
To another whom he was sending as Superior to another house, he spoke thus: "What you ought to do is to trust in God, that you may be a burden to no one, and to treat all with affability and courtesy, always using peaceable and gentle words, never sharp and imperious ones. For, as there is nothing better fitted to gain hearts than this humble and courteous demeanor, so also there is nothing better adapted to attain our object, which is that God may be served and souls sanctified." Writing to the head of a Mission, who had with him a somewhat faulty companion, he said, "If you wish to be accompanied by the blessing of God, make every effort to bear with your assistant meekly. Banishing every thought of superiority from your heart, accommodate yourself to him in a spirit of charity. This is the means by which Jesus Christ won and perfected His disciples, and it is in the same way only that this good priest will be won. Granting this to be true, give a little time to gratifying his humor, never contradict him at the moment when he seems to you to give occasion for it, but, when it is absolutely necessary, admonish him later, and with humility and good feeling."
Such was his own patience, for though he was most rigorous to himself and very exact even in the smallest things, to others he was full of charity and mildness, taking care to please all in everything that he reasonably could. In giving orders, his manner was always so unpretending, and his words so courteous, that he seemed rather to entreat than to command. When he intended to assign to anyone some hard task or difficult business, he prepared him for it by degrees, and with much dexterity smoothed away the difficulties which might have discouraged him. And in everything he showed so much affability and cordiality that he gained all hearts, and was exactly obeyed even in the most difficult things. Many, too, have confessed that after God, they owed their perseverance to his charity, gentleness and mildness towards them.
St. Francis Borgia was very strict with himself, but most compassionate and kind to his subjects; so that although he would not excuse himself for the slightest defect, he would never speak sharply, but would say with great sweetness: "I entreat you to do this for the love of God. Would you have any difficulty in going to such a place? Would it be convenient for you to do such a thing? I had thought of giving you such a charge, but I would like to know whether it would be agreeable to you."
St. John, a Canon Regular, was once assailed with a volley of abuse by one of the Religious over whom he was appointed Prior. When he did not reply, another who was present said: "You might stop all this insolence by a word, by ordering him to go to his cell."
"No!" replied the Saint, "when fire is consuming a house, would it be well to throw on more wood? This good brother is now burning with anger; if I should reprove him, his anger would be increased; but when this great fire has died out, then it will be time to apply a remedy."
St. Francis de Sales having been obliged to imprison one of his ecclesiastics who was leading a scandalous life, the offender, after a few days, showed great signs of repentance and begged for an interview with the Saint, who had pardoned him on previous occasions. Those who had charge of him did not wish to permit this, for they knew what great compassion the man of God would feel for him if he saw him; but they finally yielded to his entreaties. When he came into the Saint's presence, he begged for mercy, with fervent promises of amendment. Then the holy Bishop said, with much emotion and many tears: "I conjure you, by the love and mercy of God, in which we all hope, to have pity on me, on the diocese, on the Church, and on the whole Order so much dishonored by the scandalous life you have hitherto led, which gives matter to our adversaries to blaspheme our holy Faith. I pray you to have pity on yourself, on your own soul, which you are sending to perdition for eternity; I exhort you in the name of Jesus Christ, on which you trample; by the goodness of the Saviour, Whom you crucify anew; and by that spirit of grace, whom you outrage!" This mild earnestness was so efficacious that he not only did not fall again into his former sins, but became a model of virtue. St. Francis de Sales was once asked by St. Jane Frances de Chantal what she had better do in regard to a novice who had begged importunately to be admitted to profession----which in that Order is regarded as a fault, as profession is granted at a proper time, without any request to those who have been exact in observance. He answered gently that charity should abound on one side, when humility is wanting on the other.
St. Jerome relates of St. Paula that when she was governing a convent built by herself, she failed in none of her obligations and never asked anything of her daughters which she had not first practiced herself; and she showed her authority only by her care in providing for all their wants, by serving them in all their needs, and by leading them to the practice of virtue. She was never absent from choir, but always among the first to arrive; in the work of the house, she was the most attentive and the most laborious. In regard to others' faults, if any failed in exercises of piety, if anyone was slothful in corporeal exercises, if anyone was careless about her employment----she brought all back to their duty, managing them in different ways, according to their disposition: if passionate, with caresses; if patient, with correction. If discord arose between two, she reunited them with gentle words. If she noticed anyone who was fastidious in dress or behavior who was loquacious, passionate, or quarrelsome, she admonished her with tact more than once; but if she did not amend, she gave her the lowest rank among her Sisters, set her to kneel at the door of the refectory, or to eat by herself, in the hope that shame might succeed where reproof had failed. With the sick she was all cordiality, charity, and liberality, thinking no labor or expense too great for them. But if she was all kindness to others, to herself when sick she was all austerity and hardness, permitting no exceptions in her own favor, even in the matter of food. Once when she was recovering from a burning fever in the month of July, she could not be induced to partake of a little honey, which the physicians had recommended to strengthen her weak digestion.
15. In religious orders, union and peace ought to be preferred above every other good. These depend upon bearing with one another, yielding to one another, and treating one another with that mildness which is a source of peace and a bond of perfection that unites hearts.----St. Vincent de Paul
When this Saint was obliged to reprehend anyone for a fault, he took every precaution that the person who had informed him of it should not be known. And if he feared to give occasion for suspicion or aversion, he would omit the correction altogether, rather than disturb the general harmony.
When St. John Berchmans had the office of monitor in the novitiate, he never reported anything to the Superior without first consulting God before the Blessed Sacrament, that he might not disturb the peace of others and also that he might not be deceived by his own judgment or feeling.
16. It is a matter of great importance to make our conversation agreeable. To do so it is necessary to appear humble, patient, respectful, cordial, yielding in all lawful things and to all. Above all, we must avoid contradicting the opinion of anyone, unless there should be an evident necessity for it. In that case, it should be done with all possible mildness, and with the greatest tact, without outraging the feelings of the other party. In this way contests will be avoided which produce only bitterness, and which ordinarily spring rather from attachment to our own opinion, than from love for truth. Believe me, that as there are no dispositions more inimical to human society than those which are given to contradiction----so there is not a person more generally loved than he who contradicts no one.----St. Francis de Sales
Father Lambert Cousteaux of the Congregation of the Mission showed to all great civility and respect, which were always accompanied with remarkable sweetness and cordiality, though by nature he was inclined to rigor. His countenance was always cheerful, and his words courteous and such as could give no one offense. By these pleasant manners he soon won hearts, so that all who talked with him went away content and happy, and greatly pleased with his affability to all and with the Christian condescension with which he yielded to their sentiments and opinions.
St. Vincent de Paul was never heard to contend or dispute about indifferent things, but took the word of others with all facility and adapted himself to their views.
We read of St. John Berchmans that he never quarreled with anyone. For this reason, all his companions not only loved him tenderly, but allowed themselves to be admonished and ruled by him, as if he had authority over them.
17. Let us strive to be amiable, sweet, and humble with all, but especially with those whom God has placed near us, such as our servants. And let us not be of those who seem angels abroad, but demons at home.----St. Francis de Sales
This blessed Saint treated everyone in his house with great kindness, even the servants, whom he never used roughly either in word or deed. His orders to them were given in the form of requests; he always courteously returned their salutations; he never complained of their mistakes in preparing his apartments or his food; he was most thoughtful in giving directions, sparing them inconvenience as much as he could. When he could not avoid blaming them, he did it with so much kindness and consideration that they were ashamed, and were sure to amend; for mildness has such a charm that everyone surrenders to it. An incident that occurred one evening may serve as an example. A marquis who had visited him on some important business remained until it had grown quite dark. The Bishop's servants in the meantime, trusting their work to one another, not only left their master without attendance but even without a light, so that when the marquis was ready to go, the Bishop was obliged to lead him by the hand through the corridor and across the hall. When they reached the door, they found the servants amusing themselves with those the marquis had brought. After the guest had departed, the Saint said very quietly to his valet: "My friend, two farthings' worth of candle would have done us much credit tonight." Such were the corrections given by this mild prelate, of whom Monsignor di Bellei testifies that there was never a master kinder to his servants, or more beloved by them.
St. Vincent de Paul always showed an admirable gentleness to all the members of his Congregation. He met them with a kind and cheerful countenance, giving them frequent marks of fatherly love and cordiality, especially when he was sending them to a mission or on a long journey. When they returned, he spoke to them with so much affability, and embraced them with so much cordiality, that he completely won their hearts; so that one of them said: "When I am going on a journey, or returning from one, I feel perfumed with the embrace and the welcome which he truly bestows on me." His words were so full of spiritual unction and efficacy that he could have everything done that he wished, without an effort on his part. His manner was the same when they went to him on their own personal concerns. He listened with courtesy and cordiality, and never gave the least sign of impatience----even if he was engaged in important and urgent business. This courtesy was shown in a special manner towards the lay-brothers.
One of them went to him on a certain occasion to complain of harsh treatment he had received from an official in the house. He was welcomed with the greatest cordiality, and invited to come again in any similar case, so that all bitterness was banished from his heart, and he went away consoled and edified to find that he had so good a Father. One of his priests came to him one day, full of trouble, resolved to abandon his vocation and return to his own country. The Saint listened to him and then said, "Well, Father, when do you go? Do you wish to travel on foot, or on horseback?" But the priest, surprised and edified by such meekness, was immediately freed from the temptation, and proclaimed that his Superior was a Saint.
The conduct of the Empress Leonora was the same. Her manner of giving orders was so kind and so humble that her household could not ask for a mistress with less air of control and dominion. Her commands almost always took the form of requests, which caused the women in her service so much confusion that they often entreated her to speak to them like a mistress, as she had a right to do. But she replied: "I approve and praise your sentiments; but I know myself to be far different from what I seem to you, and I think myself more worthy to serve than to command." If anything happened to fall when she was working with them, she was always the first to stoop and pick it up. However great were the faults and errors committed by those in her service, she always had reasons and excuses ready to screen them. She took all possible pains not to displease anyone, and not to cause any jealousies or suspicions to arise among them. Once she entrusted a thing, by mistake, to the chief tiring-woman, instead of the principal lady in waiting. A distraction which she had in prayer brought this error to her recollection, and rising from her knees she went on the instant to apologize to the lady, that she might not consider herself overlooked and feel the slight.
We read of St. Jane Frances de Chantal that while she was still in the world she showed the greatest affability and charity towards all who served her. She did not scold them, as many do, nor reprove them for every little fault, but bore with them with great patience and humility, without ever being weary of helping them to reform, until God gave her the consolation of seeing their amendment. As a proof of this, she never dismissed from her house more than two servants. These were quite incorrigible; but all the rest remained as long as they chose, and were always well sheltered, clothed, and taken care of. Once when the Baron, her husband, was very angry with a servant and she was trying to pacify him, he said to her: "It is true that I am too impulsive, but you are too good."
18. Resist your impatience faithfully, practicing, not only with reason, but even against reason, holy courtesy and sweetness to all, but especially to those who weary you most.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Francis himself excelled in this. We read in his Life that a poor lawyer often visited him in regard to trifling matters of business, and that the Saint always listened to him with great courtesy and without any sign of weariness; so that many wondered how a prelate who had so many important occupations, could listen quietly to stupid trifles which might weary even an idle man.
St. Vincent de Paul furnishes another example. It often happened that he was obliged to repeat the same thing many times, either because people did not understand him, or forgot what they had heard. But he was always calm and showed neither anger nor weariness, nor did he send them away. He welcomed them with a cheerful countenance and with great affability, that they might not feel discouraged or slighted; and when he was in company with anyone of high rank, if he saw them coming, he rose and went to speak to them in private, repeating the same thing always with civility. One of them testified that he made him repeat the same thing five times in succession, when he was engaged, too, with persons of high rank; yet he never gave the least sign of impatience, repeating it the last time with the same quiet and calmness as he did at first, and showing in his face pleasure rather than dissatisfaction.
19. The highest degree of meekness consists in seeing, serving, honoring, and treating amiably, on occasion, those who are not to our taste, and who show themselves unfriendly, ungrateful, and troublesome to us.----St. Francis de Sales
This holy Bishop was at one time laboring for the conversion of a heretical woman, quite advanced in years, who for a long time came to him every day with new doubts. He listened to her with great amiability and without ever showing any weariness, though he could see that he gained nothing. But the woman did not grow tired of knocking at his door three or four times a day, so much was she attracted by his gentle demeanor. Finally, she said that she had no other difficulty except in regard to the celibacy of the clergy. The Saint replied to this that it was necessary for them in order that, being free from the care of a family, they might serve the people, and that indeed it would have been difficult for him to talk with her so often, if he had a wife and children to take care of. This reason was more convincing to her than all the arguments of theologians, and she was converted.
When St. Jane Frances de Chantal was living in the house of her father-in-law, she endeavored by the most obliging and gentle manners to win over an insolent servant who was there, and who behaved as if she herself were the mistress of the house. She tried to please her in all she thought most to her taste, and even went so far as to wash and dress, instruct and take care of, her children like her own. She reproved the servants also if they showed any contempt for her. This went on for seven years, the servant growing all the time more haughty and presumptuous. When anyone told the Saint that she was losing her time in trying to gain over such a woman by civil and gentle methods, she answered: "That would be true, if I had not others besides her in view. Did not Our Lord say that all we do for the poor, whom He commends so specially to us, He will consider as done to Himself? With God, nothing is lost, and the less gratitude we receive from men, the more account will God make of what we do to them for His sake." To another who said that at her father-in-law's death this servant ought to be thrown into a ditch, she answered: "No, I would take up her defense myself. If God makes use of her that I may have a cross to bear, why should I wish her ill?"
Another tried to show her how unsuitable it was that the control of the household should be in the hands of a servant. But she replied: "God ordains it thus for my advantage, that I may have all my time for works of charity." To the father-in-law, who permitted this, she showed every mark of deference and special respect; and when she left the world, she recommended him warmly to a priest, requesting him to be present at his death.
Father John Leonardi was also remarkable for this trait. For the space of forty years he bore persecutions and trials from all kinds of people, yet he never let slip a word of aversion, anger, resentment or ill-feeling towards them, but always tried to do them good, and to help them by word and act. He constantly prayed for them, excused them, defended them, and treated each of them as he would one of his dearest friends. Though he knew that some monks of a certain Order, to which he had been sent as inspector by commission of the Apostolic See, being impatient of the regular discipline he had restored were plotting and writing to the Sacred Congregation against him, he yet showed no resentment and took no steps to defend himself. He behaved to these abbots, on the contrary, with charity and courtesy, as if they were his intimate friends; and when some of them rudely assailed him by word and act, he passed the matter over lightly and gently, correcting them mildly, or giving them some moderate penance when it was necessary, as he said, to satisfy his own conscience. But he never mentioned what had been done against himself personally, either in writing to the Sacred Congregation, in the general chapters, nor on any other occasion that offered itself. When he was walking one day in Lucca, he met one of these monks who, after loading him with harsh and abusive epithets, without any resistance on his part struck him a heavy blow on one cheek. The servant of God, without any anger, turned the other cheek, as if to receive a second blow; but the assailant, abashed at this, turned his back and went away. Then Father John, glad to see himself reckoned worthy to suffer something for the love of his God, went home, and for many days prayed for this misguided man as a special benefactor.
20. Beware of becoming vexed or impatient at the faults of others; for it would be folly when you see a man falling into a ditch, to throw yourself into another to no purpose.----St. Bonaventure
Cardinal Cesarini, a man of most gentle disposition, having been told that the mule he usually rode was lost through the neglect of a servant sent for him; but when he asked him about the matter, the man replied very rudely. The Cardinal was silent at first, but when the servant continued his impertinence, he turned to the bystanders and said: "Do not wonder at my silence, for I thought it best to suppress my anger and give reason time to gain control over passion, lest I should fall myself into a fault, by trying to correct the fault of another."
A reckless youth was once brought to St. Francis de Sales, that the Saint might give him a private correction; but instead of rigor, he showed extreme gentleness with him. Seeing his obstinacy, he shed bitter tears, saying that this young man would come to a bad end, as indeed happened, for he was killed in a duel. When St. Francis was afterwards blamed for being too mild on this occasion, he answered: "What would you have me do? I tried as well as I could, to arm myself with an anger that should not be sinful, and therefore I took my heart in both my hands, but I had not strength to fling it in his face. And then, to tell the truth, I feared to lose that little stock of mildness, which I have labored for twenty-two years to collect, like dew, in the vase of my heart. The bees have been many years in gathering the honey, which a man swallows at a draught. Besides, what is the use of speaking to one who does not listen? That foolish youth was not capable of correction, for he was not master of his own judgment. So I could not have helped him, and might have injured myself, like those who are drowned with shipwrecked sailors, whom they are trying to rescue. Charity ought to be judicious and prudent."
21. You should never be displeased at the sight of your own imperfections, except with a displeasure humble, tranquil, and peaceful, not excited and angry; for this latter kind does more harm than good.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Francis practiced this in his own case. He said one day: "For myself, if I had, for example, a great desire not to fall into the vice of vanity, and yet fell very deeply into it, I should not wish to reproach myself in this manner: 'Are you not a wretch, an abomination, for having allowed yourself to be conquered by this vice, after so many resolutions? Die of shame! do not raise your eyes to Heaven, bold, disloyal traitor to God.' or with similar words. But I would prefer to correct it quietly, and in a compassionate way, saying: 'Come now, my poor heart, here we are fallen again into the ditch, which we have so many times resolved to avoid. Ah, let us rise up, and leave it once for all! Let us have recourse to the mercy of God, and hope in it, for it will aid us to be more constant in future; and in the meantime let us return to the road of humility. Courage! let us rise above ourselves, for God will help us, and we shall advance.' Upon this reproach I would found a firm and solid resolution not to fall again into the error, and to apply suitable remedies."
St. Vincent de Paul never felt anger or bitterness against himself on account of his defects, and often said that vice should be hated and virtue loved, not because the former displeases us, and the latter pleases us, but only for love of God, who hates vices and loves virtue; and thus the pain felt for a defect will have something in it sweet and tranquil.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga was not discouraged when he committed faults, but only turned his glance upon his own heart and said, "Terra dedit fructum suum"----The earth has yielded its fruit.
22. If one wishes to acquire liberty of spirit, and not always walk in darkness, he should feel no trouble in regard to aridities, disquiets, distractions, or involuntary thoughts.----St. Teresa
The Saint just mentioned practiced this herself. What vexations and trials, internal and external, from her Religious and from others, and from Satan himself, had she not to suffer in her life! Yet, in so many and various adversi- ties, she maintained herself always firm and immovable, like a rock beaten by the waves of the sea, without taking any of these things to heart. In this way she enjoyed a freedom of spirit little less than angelic.
We read the same of St. Francis de Sales, who was never disquieted by whatever happened to him, however adverse it might be. To a lady who had asked his advice upon this subject, he wrote thus: "You would prefer to see yourself without defects and without temptations, rather than in the midst of imperfections and afflictions. I would like it too, and we shall be so in Paradise. But the disquiet which you feel at not being able to arrive at this state of perfection in this life makes you doubt whether your hatred of sin be good. No, it is not pure, for it disquiets you. Hate your imperfections, then, because they are imperfections, but love them because they make you know your nothingness and give to you an opportunity to exercise yourself in virtue, and to God to show His mercy towards you."
23. Be very mild and very gracious in the midst of your exterior occupations, for everyone expects this good example from you.----St. Francis de Sales
It is said of this Saint that amid all his activity he preserved a countenance mild, tranquil, and peaceful, and that he was never known to lose the least jot of his cheerfulness and serenity, in whatever business he was engaged.
The same is said of St. Vincent de Paul. He never lost his tranquillity of mind in the midst of affairs, however numerous or troublesome they might be. And it was wonderful to see how he received all persons with the same serenity of countenance and satisfied their demands, whatever their rank might be, with great courtesy and without ever giving a sign of weariness or vexation at their importunity.
It is related of the Abbot David that for a period of forty-five years, which he passed in the monastery, he was never seen in a passion nor showing any sign of perturbation; but in whatever he was engaged, his countenance bore a look of imperturbable serenity and tranquillity, as if he were an Angel among men. He must, notwithstanding, have been often placed in trying positions, as he was Superior over 150 monks, some of whom could not have failed to be troublesome and unmanageable, and he must also have had many difficult business affairs to conduct. This trait of his character is reported by Theodoret, who says that he not only heard of it from others, but observed it himself in the course of a week's visit.
The process of canonization of St. Thomas Aquinas states that he was never seen angry or even disturbed, but that at all times and in all occupations he retained serenity and cheerfulness of countenance to such a degree that those connected with him experienced consolation and a certain spiritual joy by merely looking at him.
St. Athanasius writes of St. Anthony that he always appeared so joyful that every day seemed like Easter with him, and that a stranger coming to see him could pick him out from a multitude of monks by the gladness and benignity which shone upon his countenance. And the same writer adds that this joy was occasioned by the great hope which he had of Paradise; for he had his mind always fixed on the eternal things above, of which he could not think without rejoicing.
24. Know and be assured that all those thoughts which give disquiet and agitation of mind are not in any wise from God, who is the Prince of Peace; but they always proceed either from the devil, or from self-love, or from the esteem which we have of ourselves. These are the three fountains from which all our perturbation springs. Therefore, when thoughts of such a nature come to us, we ought to reject them at once and make no account of them.----St. Francis de Sales
Here is the reason why this Saint was never seen perturbed or disquieted. It was because he scorned the temptations of the devil, and was humble in heart, and a sworn enemy of self-love.
When the Abbot Isaac was asked by another monk why the devils feared him so much, he replied: "At the time I entered religion, I made a resolution never to let an impatient act or angry word escape me, and by the grace of God, I have never broken it." Yet God knows how many temptations and trying circumstances he had met!
25. Humble mildness is the virtue of virtues which Our Lord has recommended to us, and therefore we ought to practice it everywhere and always. Evil is to be shunned, but peaceably. Good is to be done, but with suavity. Take this for your rule: Do what you see can be done with charity, and what cannot be done without disturbance, leave undone. In short, peace and tranquillity of heart ought to be uppermost in all our actions, as olive oil floats above all liquors.----St. Francis de Sales
We read of this Saint that he enjoyed an imperturbable peace of heart. He said himself, one day: "What is there that can possibly disturb our peace? If all the world were in confusion, I should not be troubled; for what is all the world worth in comparison with peace of heart?" His acts, too, corresponded to his words. Though he had the reform of the monasteries much at heart, he never used his authority to carry it out, knowing well that what is done by force is not lasting. So he preferred to fail in his plans rather than to execute them by violence and waited until time, or rather until God, should work those changes in hearts, that are above the power of any creature.
It was St. Vincent de Paul's maxim that though one ought to hold firmly to the end proposed in good undertakings, it was equally suitable to employ all possible amiability and sweetness in the means ordained to that end. For this is an imitation of the Divine Wisdom, which, though it reaches its ends strongly, yet disposes sweetly the means that lead to them.
26. If it be possible, never yield to anger nor admit any pretext for opening to it the door of your heart; for should it once enter there, it will not be in your power to expel it when you please, or ever to control it. If you see that through your weakness it has gained a foothold in your spirit, instantly gather all your forces to restablish peace and tranquillity. But this must be done quietly and never violently; for it is a matter of much importance not to irritate the wound.----St. Francis de Sales
The same Saint employed in his own conduct this principle of applying self-control where it could be useful, without concerning himself with what was involuntary, as he says in these words: "Have I made, for example, a resolution to acquire mildness? Very well, now let anger make. a chaos of my poor heart, let my brain be all on fire, let my blood boil like a seething caldron----I make no account of all this. Meanwhile, I do not cease to be mild in all such ways as are possible, and I silence and choke all the reasons that nature would offer in justification of this passion."
It once happened that one of his relatives, aggrieved by something which he thought this holy man had done, went to his house and loaded him with insults and threats. The Saint, who was entirely innocent, sought to undeceive him and tried to pacify him with great mildness and courtesy. But the gentleman, overcome by anger, would listen to nothing and went on abusing and insulting him, until he finally went away still storming and full of ill-will. Then the Saint, turning to a Religious who was present and was much astonished at his patience, said to him: "Father, it was not desirable to exasperate this good man still more by showing him his rashness. He will know it well some day, and will repent of it." And so he did; for, a few days after, he came to ask pardon. It is said that the patience of St. Francis was never known to waver, nor was his heart ever known to cherish resentment against anyone. From this it clearly appears that this holy virtue which shone so remarkably in him did not result, as many believe, from a disposition all sweetness by nature, but from the great and continual violence he had done to himself. On the contrary, he was of a bilious temperament and confessed of himself that he had taken the greatest pains to conquer it, and that he had labored at this for 22 years with great constancy and courage. This was clearly shown after his death, for when his body was opened there was nothing found in the gallbladder but 300 grains of sand, which was a manifest proof of his innumerable struggles to re- press the emotions of anger.
Such was the case of many other Saints, in whose Lives we read that they were never seen to give way to anger, but that even on the most exciting occasions they always showed the same tranquillity of countenance and serenity of soul. Among these were St. Anthony, St. Ephrem, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Vincent de Paul, and others----especially the glorious St. Philip Neri, who would sometimes put on an appearance of severity to exercise his novices in humility. Then, as soon as they were gone, he would turn to any who might be present, and say, "Did I not seem to be in a passion?" and instantly resume his previous serenity of expression.
27. The remedies against anger are: 1. To forestall its movements, if possible, or at least to cast them aside quickly, by turning the thoughts to something else. 2. In imitation of the Apostles when they saw the sea raging, to have recourse to God, whose office it is to give peace to the heart. 3. During the heat of passion, not to speak, nor take any action as to the matter in question. 4. To strive to perform acts of kindness and humility towards the person against whom one is incensed, especially in reparation for any of a contrary nature.----St. Francis de Sales
This good Saint was often wrongfully assailed by others with insulting words. To avoid yielding to anger in such cases, he would sometimes think of some good quality they possessed, to excite a sentiment of love for them; or again, he would be silent and let them talk, if he had tried sweetness and courtesy in vain. To a gentleman who had been an astonished witness of his heroic patience, he once said: "You see I have made a compact with my tongue, that when anything is said against me that may excite me to anger, it will beware of uttering a word?'
If St. Vincent de Paul was at any time moved to anger, he abstained from speaking and from acting; and above all, he never resolved upon anything until he felt that his passion had subsided. He often said that actions performed under excitement may appear good, but can never be perfect, as they are not fully directed by reason, which is then perturbed and obscured, and that in spite of all the ebullitions of anger and all imaginable pretexts of zeal, we should speak only soft and courteous words, that we may gain our neighbors to God. Therefore, while the emotion lasted, he made every effort to hinder any trace of it from appearing on his countenance, and if, on rare occasions, there escaped him any word or gesture which might indicate impatience or severity, he immediately asked pardon. One day he spoke with a great deal of decision to a lay-brother who had excused himself under various pretexts for giving lodging to a stranger. Though he had done this with the best intention, and the brother recognized his error, he yet humbled himself for it that same evening, and wished to kiss the lay-brother's feet. Another time he feared that he had offended a lay-brother by telling him to have patience and wait a little for the solution of certain doubts that he had proposed to him. In this uncertainty he would not say Mass until he had asked his pardon.
When the venerable Monseigneur de Palafox felt his emotions of anger or excessive zeal springing up in his mind while he was giving a reproof, he would instantly raise his heart to God and say: "O Lord, hold fast in this tempest the rudder of my reason, that I may not transgress Thy holy will in anything."
A great philosopher gave Augustus Caesar this advice: "When you feel any emotion of anger, do riot say or do anything until you have run. over in your mind at least the 26 letters of the alphabet."
Plutarch tells of a certain king of Thrace who was remarkable for his violent temper and the cruel punishments he inflicted on his servants. One of his friends gave him some vases, which were fragile but beautifully wrought. He gave his friend a handsome present in return, and then broke the vases. When someone expressed amazement at this latter action, he said: "I did this so that I might not come to in- flict my usual cruelties on anyone who should break them."
28. Accustom your heart to be docile, manageable, submissive, and ready to yield to all in all lawful things, for the love of your most sweet Lord; so will you become like the dove, which receives all the colors which the sun gives it. For this end, put your soul every morning in a posture of humility, tranquillity, and sweetness, and notice from time to time through the day if it has become entangled in affection for anything; and if it be not quiet, disengaged, and tranquil, set it at rest.----St. Francis de Sales
This holy prelate was so remarkable for accommodating himself to the dispositions of all that Alexander VII, in his eulogy, could find no way to describe him better than to say that God had willed to make him all to all. Among the innumerable proofs of this, it will be enough to mention one connected with St. Jane Frances de Chantal. She was afraid of losing him on account of his excessive application to his work and the little care he took of his health, and so she entreated him to take more care of himself. Equally humble and yielding, he answered her: "I take care of myself as much as possible, more because you tell me to than from any inclination I have to this sort of attention. I imagine, however, that it is God's will that I should desire something for your sake, and now let Him do with me according to His good pleasure." On other occasions also he gave her the same assurance.
St. Vincent de Paul had the habit deeply rooted in his nature of being pliable and ready to follow everyone's will in indifferent matters.
The Abbot Agatho declared that he had never retired to rest without having first stifled every emotion of anger, even against himself, and that he did so to fulfill the precept: Diverte a malo et lac bonum; inquire pacem et persequere eam-Turn away from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
29. A most important means of acquiring interior mildness is to accustom ourselves to perform all our actions and to speak all our words, whether important or not, quietly and gently. Multiply these acts as much as you can in the time of tranquillity, and so you will accustom your heart to gentleness.----St. Francis de Sales
The Saint himself practiced this advice well, for he never seemed hurried on any occasion. When a person once asked him about this, he answered: "You ask me how I manage not to be hurried and troubled when everyone else is. How shall I answer you? I did not come into the world to bring perplexities; are there not enough in it already?"
30. To keep the soul continually in a state of gentle calm, it is necessary to perform every action as being done in the presence of God, and as if He Himself had ordained it.----St. Francis de Sales
This is the reason why St. John Berchmans performed all his actions so regularly and was so even-tempered on all occasions, without any alteration or perturbation. It was because he constantly enjoyed the Divine Presence, and was accustomed before beginning any action to plan it with God, and to remain in His sight while doing it.
When one of the Fathers of the Desert was asked how he contrived to lead a life so well-ordered and so perfectly even, he answered: "I keep my eyes always upon my guardian Angel, who stands ever at my side, assisting me in every work, teaching me in all circumstances what I have to say and do, and noting carefully everyone of my actions. Thence arise in me such fear and respect for him as make me ever attentive not to say or to do anything that can
31. One great means of preserving a constant peace and tranquillity of heart is to receive all things as coming from the hands of God, whatever they may be, and in whatever way they may come.----St. Dorotheus
St. Catherine of Siena once asked the Lord the way to obtain true peace of heart, and He answered: "It is to believe that all that happens in the world comes by the order and disposal of God, and that He never makes anything happen to anyone that is not best for him."
It is told of St. Macarius that he was never seen angry or melancholy, but that he always appeared cheerful and possessed of a heavenly gaiety. The cause of this was that he received all that happened to him as coming from the hands of God. Severus Sulpicius, who spent much time with St. Martin, says the same of him.
When the servants of David wished to avenge him upon Semei, "No," he said, "for it is God who has commanded him to curse me; and who shall ask Him why He does it?"
St. Francis de Sales was once shamefully abused by a certain gentleman, in presence of a Religious, who was so amazed at his patience that he took the first opportunity of asking him how he could bear so many insults with so much tranquillity. "Do you not perceive," he replied, "that God has forseen from all eternity the grace He would bestow on me, that I might bear these reproaches willingly? And would you not have me drink this chalice, which has been prepared for me by the hands of so good a Father."
"I never," said an illuminated soul, "had fully understood this truth, so often repeated again and again, that not a hair falls from our heads without the will of our Heavenly Father. To understand this clearly and fully makes the soul a sharer in celestial joys while still on earth, and the cross which was before a hell, becomes for her a paradise. All this is because she tastes the marvelous sweetness that lies hidden for pure souls in a command of God. And it is enough that anything should be His command, to cause her to find in it peace and tranquillity."
We read of the venerable Mother Seraphina that in any trial or misfortune that happened to her, all she did was to praise and bless God. She often said: "God is our Father, and whatever He does, all is for our advantage. If this had not been for our good, it would not have happened." News was once brought to her that a ship loaded with provisions purchased in Salerno for her convent had been wrecked. She immediately took her daughters with her to the chapel, and there she praised and thanked the Lord for this act of His providence; and she said that it was as pleasing to her as if she had done it with her own hands and by her own choice, nay much more so as it had been done by the hand of God.