A Year with the Saints
TAN BOOKS and PUBLISHERS
Be simple as doves.----Matt. 10:16
1. Among those who make profession of following the maxims of Christ, simplicity ought to be held in great esteem; for, among the wise of this world there is nothing more contemptible or despicable than this. Yet it is a virtue most worthy of love, because it leads us straight to the Kingdom of God, and, at the same time, wins for us the affection of men; since one who is regarded as upright, sincere, and an enemy to tricks and fraud is loved by all, even by those who only seek from morning till night to cheat and deceive others.----St. Vincent de Paul
This Saint himself truly had great esteem for simplicity, and loved it much. Therefore he not only kept himself from any transgression against it, but could not suffer those under his authority to commit any. If at times they were guilty of doing so he would be sure to correct them for it, though with great mildness.
St. Francis de Sales, also, was full of respect and love for this virtue, as he once declared to a confidential friend, in these words: "I do not know what that poor virtue of prudence has done to me, that I find so much difficulty in loving it. And if I love it, it is only from necessity, inasmuch as it is the support and guiding light of this life. But the beauty of simplicity completely fascinates me. It is true that the Gospel recommends to us both the simplicity of the dove and the prudence of the serpent; but I would give a hundred serpents for one dove. I know that both are useful when they are united, but I think that it should be in the proportion observed in compounding some medicines, in which a little poison is mixed with a quantity of wholesome drugs. Let the world, then, be angry----let the prudence of the world rage, and the flesh perish; for it is always better to be good and simple, than to be subtle and malicious."
St. Phocas the Martyr was greatly to be admired for his simplicity, according to what Surius relates. He cultivated a little garden, less to provide food for himself than to supply with vegetables and fruit those travelers and pilgrims who had heard of his liberality and stopped at his house; for no one ever knocked at his door who was not received with great charity and courtesy. This holy man was denounced for aiding and abetting Christians, to the governor of the province, who, resolving upon his death, sent soldiers privately in search of him with orders to kill him. They arrived one evening at his house, not knowing that it was his, entered it, and with the usual freedom of soldiery, demanded food. According to his custom, he received them willingly and kindly and gave them what little he had. He served them, too, at table, with so much charity and courtesy that they were delighted and captivated, and said between themselves that they had never met such a good-hearted man. And so they were led by his great simplicity and candor to ask him with confidence whether he knew anything of a certain Phocas, who helped and harbored Christians, and upon whose death the imperial prefect had resolved. The Saint replied that he knew him very well, and that he would willingly point him out to them so that they might go to rest quietly, without further inquiry, for on the next day he would show them an easy way of capturing him. He then spent the whole night in fervent prayer, and when it was day he went to visit the soldiers, and bid them good morning with his usual cordiality. They answered by reminding him of his promise to deliver up Phocas, whom they were seeking. "Do not doubt," he returned, "that I will find him for you. Consider that you have him already in your hands."
"Let us go, then, and take him," they answered.
"There is no need of going," he replied, "for he is here present. I am he. Do with me what you please." At these words, the soldiers were amazed and stupefied, both on account of the great charity which he had welcomed them and of the ingenuous sincerity with which he revealed himself to his persecutors, when he could so easily have escaped death by fleeing in the night. They gazed at each other in amazement, and neither of them dared to lay hands on one who had been so kind to them. They were more inclined to give him his life, and to report to the prefect that after long search they had not been able to discover Phocas.
"No," said the Saint, "my death would be a less evil than to concoct such a fiction, and tell such a falsehood. Execute, then, the order you have received." So saying, he bared his neck and extended it to the soldiers, who severed it with one stroke and gave him the glorious crown of Martyrdom. This most candid fidelity was so agreeable to God that He immediately began, and still continues, to signalize it by illustrious miracles, especially in favor of pilgrims and sailors, to whom----in death as in life----the Saint has been most liberal of benefits and miraculous helps. In recognition of this, a custom came into use among travelers by sea, of serving to him every day at meals a part of the first dish, which was called the portion of St. Phocas. This was each day bought by one or other of the voyagers, and the price deposited in the hands of the captain; and when they came into port, the money was distributed among the poor, in thanksgiving to their benefactor for their successful voyage.
2. Simplicity is nothing but an act of charity pure and simple, which has but one sole end----that of gaining the love of God. Our soul is then truly simple, when we have no aim at all but this, in all we do.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi once said: "If I thought that by saying a word, however indifferent, for any other end than the love of God, I could become a Seraph, I certainly would not say it."
The devil, envying a young monk who was making good progress, appeared one night to his Master of Novices under the form of a good Angel, and informed him that his disciple was already reprobated and that whatever good he did was of no use to him. The Master of Novices was much grieved at this and could not refrain from tears whenever he met the young man, who one day asked him the reason of his grief. When he told it, the novice said: "Father, do not grieve for this. If I am to be damned, I shall be damned; if I am to be saved, I shall be saved. I serve God not for the Kingdom of Heaven, but for His goodness and love towards me, and for the Passion He has suffered for me. If, then, He chooses to give me His Paradise, He can do it: and if He wishes to give me Hell, He can indeed do it; I am content that He should do with me what pleases Him." The following night, a true Angel appeared to the Master of Novices and told him the one he had previously seen was a devil, and that his disciple had merited more by his act of resignation than by all the good life he had hitherto led.
3. The office of simplicity is to make us go straight to God, without regard to human respect or our own interests. It leads us to tell things candidly and just as they exist in our hearts. It leads us to act simply, without admixture of hypocrisy and artifice----and, finally, keeps us at a distance from every kind of deceit and double-dealing.----St. Vincent de Paul
This Saint always held it as of the utmost importance to have God as his only object in all he did; neither could he bear that those under his charge should swerve in the least from this aim. When one of them was publicly accused of having done something from human respect, he reprimanded him severely, saying that it would be better to be thrown into the fire with feet and hands tied than to work to please men. Answering a letter from one of his priests, he writes thus: "You write to me that when you speak highly of a certain person in your letters, it would be well for his friends to know it, that he may come to know it too. What thoughts for you to have! Where is the simplicity of a missionary, who ought always look directly to God? If you do not see good in certain persons, do not speak of it; but if you find it, speak of it to honor God in them, since from Him all good proceeds. Our Lord reproved one who called Him good, because he did not call Him so with a good intention. With how much greater reason might you be blamed, if you praise sinful men to please them, and to gain their favor, or for any other earthly and imperfect motive? Remember that duplicity does not please God, and that to be truly simple, we ought to have no aim but Himself."
As to his own language, it was candid and simple, and so far from all evasion and craftiness that no one could ever fear being deceived by him. He also avoided high-flown compliments, which, as they are usually united with dissimulation, are not in conformity with the rules of Christian simplicity. Therefore he conversed with all simply and cordially, omitting useless demonstrations, as he desired also that his priests should do.
The venerable Sister Crucifixa possessed most remarkable candor and sincerity, by which she showed her hatred of all dissimulation and duplicity. The slightest untruth never escaped from her lips, either in the way of civility or of jest, although at recreation she would often employ irony or other diverting forms of expression to enliven the conversation.
St. Charles Borromeo showed plainly that he was full of this holy virtue on several occasions, especially in the election of Pius V as Pope. As his uncle, Pius IV, had always disliked St. Charles, there was every reason to believe that the nephew would be opposed, or at least not very friendly, to him so that he might be taxed with want of prudence in giving power that would be likely to be used for his own ruin. Nevertheless, having before his eyes only the glory of God and the greater good of the Church and paying no regard to his private interests, he brought about his election. But God took care of him and caused him to be much favored and esteemed by Pius V. In his speech, St. Charles was extremely candid and utterly opposed to all artifice and duplicity, and he wished those of his household to be the same, as he once said to one of them who, in talking of a certain affair, allowed these words to escape him: "I will tell you sincerely what I think about it." The Saint interrupted him quickly, saying: "Then you do not always speak sincerely! Now, be sure that he cannot be my friend, who does not speak always with sincerity, and say with his lips what he means in his heart."
4. God loves the simple and converses with them willingly and communicates to them the understanding of His truths, because He disposes of these at His pleasure. He does not deal thus with lofty and subtle spirits.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Vincent de Paul was of the same opinion, the truth of which, he said, experience daily confirms; for it is but too clear that the spirit of religion is not ordinarily to be found so much among the wise and prudent of the world as among the poor and simple, who are enriched by God with a living and practical faith, which makes them believe and appreciate the words of eternal life. So they are usually seen to suffer their diseases, their poverty and all their trials with more patience and resignation than others.
St. Ambrose, in the funeral oration which he pronounced over his brother, St. Satirus, greatly exalts among his other virtues his childlike simplicity, "which," he says, "shone in him like a mirror, so that he could not have failed to please God; for He, as a completely simple being, loves what is simple, and hates and punishes all adulteration."
It is related in regard to St. Gertrude that the Lord once appeared to a holy soul and said, "Know that there is not a soul in the world which is nearer and more closely united to Me by simplicity, than that of Gertrude, and so there is none to which I feel Myself so much drawn
as to hers."
5. True simplicity is like that of children, who think, speak and act candidly and without craftiness. They believe whatever is told them; they have no care or thought for themselves, especially when with their parents; they cling to them, without going to seek their own satisfactions and consolations, which they take in good faith and enjoy with simplicity, without any curiosity about their causes and effects.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi resembled in her behavior a simple girl, acting without craftiness, and with great candor and simplicity of heart----accompanied, however, with prudence and such gravity as made her loved and respected by all.
The venerable Sister Maria Crucifixa was truly remarkable for this virtue. Though gifted with heavenly illumination, she appeared precisely like a simple little girl, without a vestige of artfulness. She told everything candidly and as it seemed to her, and she thought others did the same; for she could not believe that a Christian would be capable of telling lies. Some examples will show this more clearly.
On account of the opinion generally entertained of her sanctity, a great number of letters came to her from many places. She believed that this was owing to the high standing of the convent, and that her companions received as many; but she was much surprised to notice that they were not kept as busy in writing answers as she was. To satisfy herself about the matter, she went around asking them if they received many letters; and they, to favor her simplicity, answered, with polite exaggeration, that they received ever so many. "Why, then, do you not write?" she replied. "I will bring you the inkstand so that you can answer them." She went for the inkstand and a pen, and gave them to her companions; but seeing that they could not restrain their laughter, she was unable to understand what the joke was, and remained much puzzled.
Having received from Cardinal Tommasi, her brother, who often wrote to her, a letter in which he signed himself "a wretch," according to the frequent custom of the time, she would answer neither that one, nor many others that he afterwards wrote. Being asked the reason, she replied that she did not wish to keep up a correspondence with wretches; and it required no little trouble to induce her to write.
But in another pretty incident the Lord was pleased to show how acceptable to Him was her simplicity. A linnet was given to her, which she named Fiorisco. She loved it very much, not only for its beautiful voice, but for the virtues which she said were shown in its actions. It happened once that she wished to pullout two of its feathers, to make a little pen to draw a certain design for an approaching Festival. She thought the linnet was rather unwilling to give them to her, and she was somewhat disedified by his want of devotion. A short time after a young canary, taking his first flight, rested on the cage of the linnet, which held him by one of his feet with his beak and began to pull out his feathers with his claws. Seeing what was going on, she hurried to the rescue, and exclaimed, "Ah, Fiorisco! We are growing worse and worse! Is this the way to observe charity?" Then turning to the image of the Virgin, she protested that in this bird she loved nothing except God, but that he had done very wrong that day, and she wished that he might be suitably punished. At these words, the linnet, as if he foresaw the coming punishment, stopped singing, and spent the rest of the day in a melancholy manner in a corner of the cage, with his feathers ruffled up. When evening came, a noise was heard from the cage, where poor Fiorisco was struggling grievously, with mournful cries. The servant of God hastened to the scene and saw the devil, in the form of an ugly crow, attacking her bird. Crying aloud "Santa Maria," she put him to flight; but she found that her linnet had lost a wing, which had been torn off at the shoulder, and fell on the ground before her eyes; and the injured bird seemed on the point of drawing his last breath. She was grieved at the sight and prayed to the Lord, asking, as He did not desire the death of a sinner, but his conversion and life, that He would grant that her Fiorisco, though he had been punished, might not die. Nor was the prayer in vain; for after she had taken the bird in her hand and caressed it a little, it suddenly recovered its usual strength and appeared with a new wing, fully provided with bones and flesh and skin, in nothing different from the first, except that the feathers were handsomer.
6. Astuteness is nothing but a mass of artifices, inventions, craft and deceit, by which we endeavor to mislead the minds of those with whom we are dealing and make them believe that we have no knowledge or sentiment as to the matter in question, except what we manifest by our words. This is wholly contrary to simplicity, which requires our exterior to be perfectly in conformity with our interior.----St. Francis de Sales
When this good Saint was told by a friend of his that he would have been successful in politics, "No," he replied, "the mere name of prudence and policy frightens me, and I understand little or nothing about it. I do not know how to lie, to invent or dissimulate without embarrassment, and political business is wholly made up of these things. What I have in my heart, I have upon my tongue; and I hate duplicity like death, for I know how abominable it is to God."
St. Vincent de Paul, too, was utterly opposed to worldly policy, and in his dealings with others was most careful to avoid all evasions and artifices. The very shadow of falsehood affrighted him, and he had a horror of equivocations, which deceive an inquirer by answers of double
7. When a simple soul is to act, it considers only what it is suitable to do or say and then immediately begins the action, without losing time in thinking what others will do or say about it. And after doing what seemed right, it dismisses the subject; or if, perhaps, any thought of what others may say or do should arise, it instantly cuts short such reflections, for it has no other aim than to please God, and not creatures, except as the love of God requires it. Therefore, it cannot bear to be turned aside from its purpose of keeping close to God, and winning more and more of His love for itself.----St. Francis de Sales
This holy Bishop having gone one evening to the Certosa at Grenoble, the General of the Carthusians----who was a man of great learning and piety----received him very courteously. After talking with him in his room for some time on spiritual subjects, he took leave of him, excusing himself for not remaining longer, on the ground that it was the Festival of a Saint of the Order, and he must assist at Matins that night. In passing through the corridors to his cell, he happened to meet the procurator, who hearing of the visit, said that he had done wrong to leave the Bishop, as no one could entertain him better than himself; that as to Matins, he could say them whenever he wished, but it was not every day that they had prelates of such great merit in that desert. "I believe you are right," replied the General. He immediately went back to the Saint, related to him with great ingenuousness what had just been said to him, and asked pardon for the fault which he had committed, as he said, without intending to. The Saint was astonished at such great candor and simplicity, and said that he was more amazed at it than if he had seen a miracle.
8. The chief point is to beware not of men, but to beware of displeasing the majesty of God.----St. Teresa
This Saint once said that she used every effort to perform everyone of her actions in such a manner as not to displease Him Whom she clearly beheld always overlooking her.
St. Vincent de Paul said one day that from the time he had given himself to the service of God, he had never done anything which he would not have been willing to do in the public squares; for he performed every action with a vivid recollection of the presence of God, Whom he feared more than men.
9. When one thinks he has done all that God requires of him for the success of any undertaking whether the result be good or bad, he ought always to remain in peace and great tranquillity of mind, contenting himself with the testimony of his own conscience.----St. Vincent de Paul
When St. Ignatius had done what he could to repair any mistake that had been made, if he did not succeed, he neither lost courage nor grieved over the time as wasted; but content with having exerted all his powers, he rested in the unfathomable counsel of Providence.
10. If you happen to say or do something that is not well received by all, you should not, on that account, set yourself to examine and scrutinize all your words and actions; for there is no doubt that it is self-love which makes us anxious to know whether what we have said or done is approved or not. Simplicity does not run after its actions, but leaves the result of them to Divine Providence, which it follows above all things, turning neither to the right nor to the left, but simply going on its way.----St. Francis de Sales
This Saint himself acted in this manner, for he never sought to know whether his words or actions were acceptable to others or not. When it was reported to him that a certain action of his had been disapproved by some persons, he answered without any discomposure: "That is not to be wondered at, for not even the works of Christ our Lord were approved by all; and there are many, even at this day, who speak blasphemously of them."
11. Do not reason about afflictions and contradictions, but receive them with patience and sweetness, feeling that it is enough to know that they come from the hand of God.----St. Francis de Sales
It is told in the Life of a servant of God at Naples, called Sister Maria di Sandiago, that one day when she was reflecting upon a trial which she was suffering, she heard these words from an interior voice: "Do you say that you trust in Me, and yet debate with yourself so much upon this?" She then understood that she ought to receive a trial with simple resignation, and not reflect upon it further; and changing her previous habit, she did so, and continued to do so for the future, with great profit and contentment.
However great were the trials and adversities of St. Vincent de Paul, he was never disturbed----neither did he show, or even feel, anger against anyone; for he took all from the hands of God without discussion.
12. These continual reflections upon ourselves and our actions are of no use except to consume time, which would be better employed in doing, than in scrutinizing so carefully what has been done. For this constant watching as to whether we are doing well, often causes things to be done badly. Those souls which make reflections about trifles act like silkworms, which impede and imprison themselves in their own work.-----St. Francis de Sales
A nun having sent to this Saint an account of her interior, he wrote thus in answer: "Your path is excellent; I have only to say that you watch your steps too closely, through fear of falling. You make too many reflections upon the movements of your self-love, which doubtless are frequent, but which will never be dangerous, if, without being vexed at their importunity, or frightened at their numbers, you will say 'No.' Walk simply, do not desire so much spiritual rest. If you have not much, why do you disturb yourself so greatly? God is good. He sees what you are. Your inclinations can do you no harm, however bad they may be; for they are only left you to exercise your will in making a closer union with the will of God. Raise your spirit aloft with perfect confidence in the goodness of the Lord. Do not be troubled about Him, for He said to Martha that He did not wish it, or, at least, that He preferred she should not be troubled at all, not even in doing well. Do not examine your soul so much as to its progress. Do not wish to be too perfect, but go on smoothly. Let your ordinary exercises and the action you have to perform from day to day, make up your life. Do not take thought for the morrow. As to your course, God, who has guided it until now, will guide it to the end. Rest in perfect peace in the holy and loving confidence which you ought to have in the kindness of Divine Providence."
A young monk, very desirous of perfection, set his heart upon purifying himself from every fault and therefore kept his eyes upon all his actions, looking at them again and again, before and after their performance and while they were going on----to do them well, and to see whether they had been well done. Therefore the more he sought to avoid faults, the more he committed them; and by guarding himself from slight defects, he fell into grave ones. In this way he only filled his soul with fear and disquiet, to very little advantage. Finally he went to an old and very spiritual monk to ask his advice. This holy man merely suggested to him gently those two counsels of the Holy Spirit: "Fili, in mansuetudine serva animam tuam,. in mansuetudine profice opera tua"----"Have a heart full of peace and confidence in God, and work tranquilly, without so many reflections, so you will accomplish your design." He took this advice and began to follow it, and by this new method of proceeding he quickly regained peace and in a short time made progress in perfection.
13. When one aims at pleasing his God through love, as his mind is always turned in that direction in which love urges him, he has neither heart nor opportunity to reflect upon himself, and to see what he is doing and whether he is satisfied with it. For such reflections are not pleasing in the eyes of God, and only serve to satisfy that wretched love and inordinate care that we have for ourselves. This self-love, it must be said, is a great busy-body, which takes up everything and holds to nothing.----St. Francis de Sales
This appears very plainly from what St. Catherine of Genoa relates of herself. "Scarcely," said she, "had my Divine Love taken possession of my soul, when I entreated Him to purify it from every interior and exterior imperfection. This He immediately began to do, but with such exactness and so minutely, that to my amazement, He caused me to look upon things as wrong and imperfect, which everyone would have considered right and perfect. Oh my God! in everything He found defects, and in every action something to blame. If I spoke of the interior emotions I experienced in my heart, He said: 'This talk aims at your own consolation? If I was silent, and remained grieving and lamenting interiorly, 'Ah, this grief and lamentation serves to give you some refreshment!' If I turned my thoughts upon the course things were taking, 'All these reflections only serve to satisfy self-love? If I remained like an insensible thing and only paid attention when things like what I felt in my own mind were spoken of, 'And is not this desire to listen a form of seeking self-gratification?' When the inferior part of my soul thus beheld itself revealed, and perceived that it could not deny these imperfections, it finally owned itself to be conquered. Then the superior part began to experience an unspeakable peace, seeing that the inferior lay prostrate and could do no harm, and that it would itself reap all the advantage. But here again my Holy Love found something to reprove, and said, 'What do you think to do? I desire all for Myself. Do not imagine that I will leave thee a single good of body or of soul, or that I will ever rest until I have annihilated in thee all that cannot abide in the Divine Presence, and have fully revealed and utterly subdued these things to Myself? And so, not knowing what to say or do in view of His clear-sightedness, I gave myself wholly into His hands, that He might strip me of all that was not pleasing to His most penetrating eyes. Then I saw that Pure Love wishes to be alone; where It abides, It cannot bear company; and therefore when It wishes to draw a soul to perfection, It marks as enemies all things beloved by it, and intends to consume them without compassion for soul or body, and if permitted, would take them all away at once. But seeing the weakness of man, which could not support so great and so sudden a work, He cuts them off little by little, by which the soul constantly knows more and more of the operation of God and is every day enkindled with fresh flames of His love, so that this Divine fire is insensibly consuming her desires and imperfect loves, until she remains stripped of every other love and entirely possessed by the pure love of God."
14. That we may not be deceived by self-love, in considering matters that concern us, we ought to look at them as if they belonged to others, and our only business with them was to give our judgment----not from interest, but in the cause of truth; and in the same way we should look on others' affairs as our own.----St. Ignatius Loyola
Seleucus, King of the Locrians, acted on this principle when, after his son had committed a crime which by the laws of the kingdom was punishable by the loss of both eyes, he immediately condemned him, as if he had been an ordinary subject. Nor can this be considered an act of thoughtlessness or cruelty, or a proof that Seleucus had lost the feelings of a father; for he showed his sensibility to his son's unhappy condition by his readiness to share the penalty with him, commanding that one of his own eyes should be put out, and one of his son's.
In the Lives of the Fathers it is narrated that a person asked a holy abbot how he ought to act when, in regulating the conduct or affairs of others, he was in doubt whether he should say or do certain things. The Saint replied: "Before saying or doing those things, reflect as to what your own feelings would be if someone else should say or do them to you. And if you find that you would feel displeasure or resentment, use that same moderation and charity which you would desire to have practiced towards you. In such cases this is my rule."
It was the usual custom of St. Vincent de Paul to regard his own interests as if they belonged to others, and those of others as his own, as may be seen in various incidents of his life. It will be sufficient to mention two. Some of his relatives, who had been summoned before a high tribunal on a grave charge, asked him for letters which might exert an influence in their favor. But he, through zeal for justice, would not interfere in the matter. On the other hand, when some of his friends wished to interceed with the judges on their behalf, he entreated them not to expose themselves to the danger of hindering the course of justice, but rather to wait until their innocence was made certain----just as he would have done in any other similar case. In the conferences which he had with members of his Congregation, when any business affecting others was under consideration, he would often say: "Let us keep our eyes open to others' interests as to our own, and let us take care to deal uprightly and honorably with all." Here surely was a man who did not allow himself to be carried away by natural inclinations, either in his own affairs or those of others!
15. The dissatisfaction we often feel when we have passed a great part of the day without being retired and absorbed in God, though we have been employed in works of obedience or charity, proceeds from a very subtle self-love, which disguises and hides itself. For it is a wish on our part to please ourselves rather than God.----St. Teresa
When we consider how many and how important were the occupations of St. Vincent de Paul, on account of his office of Superior General of his Congregation, the position of counsellor which he was constrained to accept in the court, the continual works of charity in which he voluntarily engaged, the numbers of people who resorted to him----some for advice, some for direction, some for help and relief----so that he was constantly engaged, continually absorbed, and almost overwhelmed by these various avocations----it seems that he could have had no time to think of himself, and we wonder how he found any, as he did, to perform his ordinary exercises of piety.
And yet, we do not read that he ever complained of not being able to remain retired and absorbed in God, although he certainly desired it as much as anyone. Nor can any reason be assigned for this, except that all his care was to please God, and not himself.
Father Alvarez, once finding himself overwhelmed with a multitude of occupations, complained lovingly to God that he had no time to converse with Him intimately. Then he heard this reply in his heart: "Let it be enough for thee that I make use of thy work, though I do not keep thee with Me." With this he remained happy and contented.
16. What a great benefit it would be to us if God would plant in our hearts a holy aversion to our own satisfaction, to which nature attaches us so strongly that we desire that others would adapt themselves to us, and all succeed well with us. Let us ask Him to teach us to place all our happiness in Him, to love all that He loves, and to be pleased only with what pleases Him.----St. Vincent de Paul
St. Dorotheus, though he was a man of much learning and prudence, confessed that in all matters not of a moral nature he willingly followed the opinion of others, though it might often seem to him ill-judged; nor did he ever discuss in his mind circumstances over which he had no control; but after doing his part, he left the event to God, and was contented with any result. For he did not seek to have things arranged according to his desire, but he wished them to be as they were, and not otherwise.
A young monk asked one old in religion why charity was not as perfect as in earlier times. "Because," replied the latter, "the ancient Fathers looked upward, and their hearts followed their eyes; but now all bend towards the earth, and seek only their own advantage."
17. With those who are perfect and walk with simplicity, there is nothing small and contemptible, if it be a thing that pleases God; for the pleasure of God is the object at which alone they aim, and which is the reason, the measure, and the reward of all their occupations, actions, and plans; and so, in whatever they find this, it is for them a great and important thing.----St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
This is the reason why St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. John Berchmans, St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi, and so many others were so observant even of the least Rule, so exact in all their ordinary occupations and so careful to perform well every work trusted to them, however trifling it might be. It is stated that the celebrated Father Ribera kept up through his whole life the same exact observance which marked his novitiate.
18. When anyone has to choose a state of life, and wishes to know what he should do for the good of his soul, let him first strip himself of every inclination of his own, and place himself generously in the hands of God, equally ready for whatever He may call him to. Then let him apply some Gospel truths to the matter, draw from them their legitimate consequence, and see how they relate to the ultimate end for which God has created us. If he still remains uncertain, let him imagine himself on his death bed, or before the judgment seat, which will teach him to do what he will then wish he had done.----St. Ignatius Loyola
St. Vincent de Paul was once obliged to send a man of business to Tunis, on account of a commission entrusted to him. He fixed upon a lawyer of high standing and wrote to him, explaining the advantages and disadvantages of the position and leaving him to decide whether he would accept it. The lawyer answered the letter in person, told his objections, and begged St. Vincent to manifest to him the will of God. The Saint preferred that he should take the advice of some other person; but as the lawyer insisted that he wished for no opinion but his, St. Vincent asked for a short delay. The day after, he gave this answer: "I offered your difficulties to God in the Mass, and after the Consecration I threw myself at His feet, praying Him to enlighten me. After this I considered attentively how I should wish to have advised you, if I were at the point of death; and it seemed to me that if I were about to die, I should be glad to have told you to go, and sorry to have dissuaded you from going. Such is my sincere opinion; but for all this, you can go or stay."' The lawyer was much edified by such detachment.
A pious lady, being asked by a poor man for some clothing, ordered her servant to bring him a shirt. When she brought one that was coarse and torn, she told her to find a better one----adding that it would cause her much shame if Christ, on the Day of Judgment, should show that shirt to all the world.
19. There is a kind of simplicity that causes a person to close his eyes to all the sentiments of nature and to human considerations, and fix them interiorly upon the holy maxims of the Faith that he may guide himself in every work by their means, in such a way that in all his actions, words, thoughts, interests and vicissitudes, at all times and in all places, he may always recur to them and do nothing except by them and according to them. This is an admirable simplicity.----St. Vincent de Paul
Here this Saint, without perceiving it, described to the life his own simplicity, which may even be called his special characteristic.
20. In human life prudence is indeed necessary, that we may be circumspect in our actions and know how to adapt ourselves to the dispositions of others.----St. Vincent de Paul
By this virtue the same Saint regulated his actions so well that he succeeded in every undertaking and therefore gained such a reputation for prudence that he was commonly considered one of the wisest men of his time. As a result, persons of every condition and state, even those most conspicuous for rank or learning, had recourse to him as to an oracle in all affairs of importance for direction and advice.
St. Jane Frances de Chantal was so remarkable for this virtue that many celebrated Bishops regulated their dioceses, and many also their own consciences, by her wise counsels. Even St. Francis de Sales, her beloved spiritual father, and St. Vincent de Paul, her director after him, consulted with her upon their most important business and depended much upon her wise decisions.
21. Prudence is of two sorts: human and Christian. Human prudence, which is also called the prudence of the flesh and of the world, is that which has no other aim than what is temporal, thinks only of arriving at its end, and makes use of such methods and sentiments alone as are human and uncertain. Christian prudence consists in judging, speaking and acting that way in which the Eternal Wisdom, clothed in our flesh, judged, spoke and acted, and in guiding ourselves in all cases according to the maxims of the Faith, never according to the fallacious sentiments of the world, or the feeble light of our own intellect.----St. Vincent de Paul
St. Francis de Sales was a sworn enemy to human prudence, as he declared to one of his penitents, writing to her in these terms: "If I could be born over again with the sentiments that I have now, I do not believe that anyone could make me waver in the certainty which I feel, that the prudence of the flesh and of the sons of this world is but a mere chimera, and a most certain folly."
St. Vincent de Paul never used any but the Christian kind of prudence, so that it is no wonder that he was considered to have a rare and solid wisdom. Though his intellect was keen and clear enough to penetrate things to the bottom and discover all their relations, yet he never trusted to his own light till he had compared it and found it to agree with the maxims taught us by Our Saviour, which are the only rule by which to form a sure and certain judgment. So he never began to do anything of importance, or gave answers or advice to others, without first turning his eyes upon Jesus Christ, to find some act or word of His upon which he might securely rest the decision he was about to make. Having collected a company of priests outside of his Congregation, who were called the Ecclesiastics of the Conference and who were accustomed to give Missions in the country under his direction, he was asked that they might give one in a section of Paris. The Saint saw no difficulty in this; but they saw much, and told him that in such a place a very different sort of Mission would be required from those they had been giving in the country, for the simple and familiar discourses which had succeeded so well there would furnish little but subjects of ridicule among more cultivated people. But he, who was little accustomed to trust to means purely natural, answered that he felt sure they ought to use the same method they had employed elsewhere, and that the spirit of the world so triumphant in that quarter of Paris could not be better conquered than by attacking it with the spirit of Jesus Christ, which is a spirit of simplicity. He added that to enter into the sentiments of this Divine Saviour, they ought to seek not their own glory, but that of the Eternal Father; that, in imitation of the Redeemer, they ought to be ready to suffer contempt and to bear, if it were the will of God, opposition and persecution; that remembering the words of the Son of God, they might at least be sure that Jesus Christ would speak by them, and that so good and holy a disposition as he had described would make them fit to serve as instruments of His mercy, which penetrates the most hardened hearts and converts the most rebellious spirits. His advice was received by them as the advice of an Angel, and laying aside all human considerations they followed it in giving their Mission, which proved most fervent and successful.
22. Let us beware of worldly sentiments, for often by the pretext of zeal or the glory of God they cause us to adopt plans which never proceeded from Him and will not be prospered by His Divine Majesty.----St. Vincent de Paul
One of his priests having expressed the opinion to this Saint that it would have been well to begin the Missions on the estates of some well-known man of rank, he answered thus: "Your idea seems to me human, and contrary to Christian simplicity. May God keep us from doing anything for such low ends. The Divine Goodness requires of us that we should never do well to make ourselves esteemed, but that all our actions should be directed to God alone." To the Superior of a house recently established, who would have been glad to begin the exercises with a Mission that would make a stir, he wrote this reply: "It seems disagreeable to everyone to be obliged to begin so poorly; since to gain a reputation it would be necessary, as it seems, to appear even at the beginning with a splendid Mission, which would show what the Congregation can do. May God keep you from entertaining such desires! What is suited to our poverty and to the spirit of Christianity is to avoid such ostentation, to conceal ourselves and to seek contempt and confusion as Jesus Christ did. If we have this resemblance to Him, we shall have Him for the companion of our labors."
23. Ah, how true it is that we love ourselves too much and proceed with too much human prudence, that we may not lose an atom of our consideration! Oh, what a great mistake that is! The Saints did not act thus.----St. Teresa
Father Martino del Rio, who in the world had been eminent both for rank and learning after becoming a priest and a Religious used to accompany the steward in a ragged dress throughout the city and carry home to the college whatever articles he bought.
St. Francis Xavier, when on his way to India as Apostolic Legate, used to wash his own linen on board the ship. When someone told him that he was degrading his office by such work, he replied: "I consider nothing contemptible and unworthy of a Christian except sin."
24. When we have to deal with astute and crafty persons, the best way to win them to God is to treat them with much candor and simplicity. This is the spirit of Christ the Lord; and whoever is destined to glorify Him must act according to His spirit.----St. Vincent de Paul
When this Saint was sending out one of his priests, he addressed him thus: "You are going into a region where the people are considered very crafty. If this is true, the best way of gaining them for God will be to act with great simplicity, since the maxims of the Gospel are utterly opposed to those of the world; and as you go for the service of Our Lord, you ought to behave in accordance with His spirit, which is full of uprightness and sincerity." For the same reason, when a house of the Congregation was established some time after in that province, he purposely selected for it a Superior who was remarkable for candor and ingenuousness. And those in his Congregation who were of that stamp were always the most beloved by him.
25. May God keep us from vain praise, flattery, and everything intended to attract the goodwill and protection of others. These are very low motives and far from the spirit of Jesus Christ, whose love ought to be the principal aim of all we do. Let these, then, be our maxims: To do much for the love of God, and not care at all for the esteem of men; to labor for their salvation, and not concern ourselves as to what they say of us.----St. Vincent de Paul
This Saint, though very courteous to all, never flattered anyone, saying that there was nothing so despicable and unworthy of a Christian heart and nothing more abhorred by spiritual persons than flattery. On the contrary, he refrained from praising people in their presence, except when he judged it necessary to confirm them in some good thing which they had begun, or to encourage the weak. He neither did himself, nor permitted his priests to do, anything to acquire the favor and protection of others; and so, in answering a letter written by one of them, he speaks thus:
"I am pleased to hear that you have gained the friendship of those persons whom you mention, but not with the purpose for which you say that you did it; that is, that they might protect and defend you on occasion. Ah, your motive is very low, and very far from the spirit of Jesus Christ, whose love should be our aim in all we do. Now you, on the contrary, are thinking of your own interests, and wish to employ the friendship and goodwill of these persons to secure your reputation. But if this reputation be not founded on truth, it is surely a vain thing; and if it be, what cause have you to fear? Remember that duplicity does not please God; and that to be truly simple, we ought to have no other end than to please Him alone."
26. If one happens to forget anything he ought to do, he should tell his fault candidly; and if he is asked about anything which he does not know or does not possess, he should openly confess his ignorance or poverty, leaving evasions to the prudent of this world.----St. Vincent de Paul
It was in this manner that he acted himself. He sometimes happened to forget to do something that he had promised, and he then confessed his failure openly. He was many times asked for favors, even by persons of rank, which he did not consider it right to grant, and he told them with equal sincerity and respect that he could not oblige them. He was also sometimes thanked by persons for benefits which they were mistaken in supposing that he had conferred upon them. In such cases, he frankly avowed that he had nothing to do with these kindnesses. He was, then, wholly opposed to craft and dissimulation, and said that he had always prospered in telling things as they were, because God had blessed him in it.
In the same way, St. Charles Borromeo never flattered people with fine words, such as are used in courts, but when asked for an opinion, for advice or for any favor, simply stated his thoughts and intentions and never made a promise which he did not consider it advisable to fulfill. On the contrary he refused frankly, but at the same time gave his reasons for the satisfaction of the person he was obliged to disappoint. In this manner he treated people of all ranks, so that his word was trusted more than most men's bond, and the greatest personages came to ask his advice in grave and difficult affairs.
When a certain book, written by Fenelon, Archbishop of Cambray, was condemned in Rome by Pope Innocent XII, no sooner did the good prelate receive the condemnatory brief than, by an act of singular submission to the Supreme Pontiff, he not only read it publicly from his own archiepiscopal pulpit, but himself condemned and renounced his own propositions and forbade his people (who tenderly loved him, and who were weeping profusely) to read the book in the future, or to keep it in their houses.
27. The female dove has this peculiarity, that she does everything for her mate, so that when she sets, she leaves to him the care of herself and of whatever is needed and thinks of nothing but cherishing and protecting her dovelets, to please her mate and rear for him new offspring. Oh, what a pleasing rule is this----never to do anything except for God and to please Him, and to leave to Him all the care of ourselves!----St. Francis de Sales
Such was the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul, who occupied himself constantly in promoting the glory of God and in providing for the wants of others for His sake, without thinking of his own wants or of his Congregation, which he left entirely in the hands of the Lord.
Such also was St. Jane Frances de Chantal, of whom St. Francis de Sales said, on one occasion, that she was like those loving doves who bathe and plume themselves on the shore of brooks, adorning themselves not so much for the sake of being beautiful, as to please the eyes of their beloved mates; since she did not seek to correct herself in order to be pure and adorned with virtues, but rather to please her Divine Spouse; and if He had been equally pleased with ugliness and beauty, she would have loved one as well as the other.
28. There is a certain simplicity of heart which is the perfection of all perfections. This is found when our soul fixes her glance solely upon God and restrains herself that she may apply all her powers, simply and with complete fidelity, to the observance of her Rules and the methods prescribed to her, without turning aside to desire or wish to undertake any other thing. In this way, as she does not work by her own will or do anything unusual or greater than others, she has no great satisfaction or high opinion of herself, but God alone greatly delights in her simplicity, by which she ravishes His heart and unites herself to Him.----St. Francis de Sales
St. Jane Frances de Chantal practiced this simplicity wonderfully well, and experienced its effects abundantly. This was what she inculcated most, and most desired to see implanted and established in the minds of her daughters. And so this was the advice she gave to one of them, who asked her, by letter, for some counsel that would be useful for her perfection: "My daughter," she replied, "if you go on seeking every day to acquire perfection by so many methods, you will do nothing but lose time, and perplex yourself more and more. The best means that I can teach you is to put all your strength and diligence into the faithful observance of your Rules, and to perform with exactness what is assigned to you from day to day, banishing, meanwhile, all thoughts and desires of arriving at the goal until God shall be willing to grant you that grace."
29. Oh how lightly should we value a generous resolution to imitate the common and hidden life of Christ our Lord! It is easy to see that such a thought comes from God, as it is so utterly opposed tto flesh and blood.----St. Vincent de Paul
To imitate the hidden life of Christ was one of the dearest and most frequent occupations of this Saint, as it was his lot to lead a life in appearance low and common, in which nothing unusual or extraordinary could be seen exteriorly, though interiorly it was admirable and altogether heavenly. Christ could have made Himself known and adored in every place as the Son of God by making the rays of His glory shine through all Judea as He did upon Tabor, yet He chose to pass for the simple son of a carpenter and for a man of no account. St. Vincent de Paul spoke of himself everywhere as the son of a poor peasant and sought to be considered as a simple country priest. He concealed, as far as he could, the lofty gifts of nature and of grace that he had received from God and which rendered him worthy of all veneration. He was an excellent theologian, but called himself a poor ignorant beginner. He avoided dignities and honors with greater care and earnestness than the most ambitious employ in obtaining them. He had a supreme abhorrence for ostentation, and found his complete satisfaction in abasement and humiliation.
30. The continual study of those, who, like missionaries, are destined to instruct others ought to be this: to take care to put off themselves and to put on Jesus Christ. For, as things, for the most part, produce results in accordance with their nature----if he who gives the spirit and form of life to others is animated by a merely human spirit, what can they do but imbibe the same spirit, and learn from him the appearance of virtue rather than its substance.----St. Vincent de Paul
This Saint endeavored above all things to divest himself of the human spirit and to clothe himself with that of Christ. He sought to conform himself to Him, not only in external actions, but also in his interior dispositions, especially in his desires and intentions. And so he never desired or aimed at anything except what Jesus Christ had desired and aimed at; that is, that God should be known, loved, and glorified by all, and that His most holy will should be entirely and perfectly fulfilled.
31. God is a Being most simple in His essence, admitting no composition whatever. If, then, we desire to render ourselves as much like Him as possible, we should endeavor to be by virtue what He is by nature; that is, we ought to have a simple heart, a simple soul, a simple intention, a simple mode of action. We ought to speak simply, and to act frankly, without deceit or artifice, always letting our exterior reflect our interior, and never regarding anything in all our actions except God, Whom alone we endeavor and desire to please.----St. Vincent de Paul
Such, in fact, was the simplicity of this Saint, for his exterior was always in entire conformity to his interior. Whoever heard his words could immediately know what was in his heart, which he always kept upon his lips. And however numerous and varied might be his occupations, they all had the same end, which was to please God alone. It might be truly said that he possessed this virtue to such a degree that the faculties of his soul were wholly steeped in it, and whatever he said or did proceeded from this source.