Introduction to the Devout Life
Saint Francis of Sales Bishop and Prince of Geneva
A New Translation
London: Oxford: Cambridge
CONTAINING COUNSELS CONCERNING THE PRACTICE OF VIRTUE.
|I.||How to select that which we should chiefly Practise . . . 124|
|II.||The same Subject continued . . . 131|
|III.||On Patience . . . 136|
|IV.||On Exterior Humility . . . 142|
|V.||On Interior Humility . . . 147|
|VI.||Humility makes us rejoice in our own Abjection . . . 153|
|VII.||How to combine due care for a Good Reputation with Humility . . . 158|
|VIII.||Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger . . . 163|
|IX.||On Gentleness towards Ourselves . . . 169|
|X.||We must attend to the Business of Life carefully, but without Eagerness or Over-anxiety . . . 173|
|XI.||On Obedience . . . 176|
|XII.||On Purity . . . 180|
|XIII.||How to maintain Purity . . . 182|
|XIV.||On Poverty of Spirit amid Riches . . . 185|
|XV.||How to exercise real Poverty, although actually Rich . . . 188|
|XVI.||How to possess a rich Spirit amid real Poverty . . . 193|
|XVII.||On Friendship: Evil and Frivolous Friendship . . . 196|
|XVIII.||On Frivolous Attachments . . . 198|
|XIX.||Of Real Friendship . . . 201|
|XX.||Of the Difference between True and False Friendship . . . 205|
|XXI.||Remedies against Evil Friendships . . . 208|
|XXII.||Further Advice concerning Intimacies . . . 212|
|XXIII.||On the Practice of Bodily Mortification . . . 215|
|XXIV.||Of Society and Solitude . . . 223|
|XXV.||On Modesty in Dress . . . 227|
|XXVI.||Of Conversation; and, first, how to Speak of God . . . 229|
|XXVII.||Of Unseemly Words, and the Respect due to Others . . . 231|
|XXVIII.||Of Hasty Judgments . . . 234|
|XXIX.||On Slander . . . 241|
|XXX.||Further Counsels as to Conversation . . . 249|
|XXXI.||Of Amusements and Recreations: what are allowable . . . 252|
|XXXII.||Of Forbidden Amusements . . . 254|
|XXXIII.||Of Balls, and other Lawful but Dangerous Amusements . . . 255|
|XXXIV.||When to use such Amusements rightly . . . 259|
|XXXV.||We must be Faithful in Things Great and Small . . . 260|
|XXXVI.||Of a Well-balanced, Reasonable Mind . . . 264|
|XXXVII.||Of Wishes . . . 267|
|XXXVIII.||Counsels to Married People . . . 270|
|XXXIX.||The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed . . . 280|
|XL.||Counsels to Widows . . . 281|
|XLI.||One Word to Maidens . . . 289|
CONTAINING COUNSELS CONCERNING THE PRACTICE OF VIRTUE.
How to select that which we should chiefly Practise. THE queen bee never takes wing without being surrounded by all her Subjects; even so Love never enters the heart but it is sure to bring all other virtues in its train; marshalling and employing them as a captain his soldiers; yet, nevertheless, Love does not set them all to work suddenly, or equally, at all times and everywhere. The righteous man is "like a tree planted by the water side, that will bring forth his fruit in due season;"1 inasmuch as Love, watering and refreshing the soul, causes it to bring forth good works, each in season as required. There is an old proverb to the effect that the sweetest music is unwelcome at a time of mourning; and certain persons have made a great mistake when, seeking to cultivate some special virtue, they attempt to obtrude it on all occasions, like the ancient philosophers we read of, who were always laughing or weeping. Worse still if they take upon themselves to censure those who do not make a continual study of this their pet virtue.
1 Ps. i. 3.
(125) S. Paul tells us to "rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep;"1 and Charity is patient, kind, liberal, prudent, indulgent. At the same time, there are virtues of universal account, which must not only be called into occasional action, but ought to spread their influence over everything. We do not very often come across opportunities for exercising strength, magnanimity, or magnificence; but gentleness, temperance, modesty, and humility, are graces which ought to colour everything we do. There may be virtues of a more exalted mould, but at all events these are the most continually called for in daily life. Sugar is better than salt, but we use salt more generally and oftener. Consequently, it is well to have a good and ready stock in hand of those general virtues of which we stand in so perpetual a need. In practising any virtue, it is well to choose (126) that which is most according to our duty, rather than most according to our taste. It was Saint Paula's liking to practise bodily mortifications with a view to the keener enjoyment of spiritual sweetness, but obedience to her superiors was a higher duty; and therefore Saint Jerome acknowledges that she was wrong in practising excessive abstinence contrary to the advice of her Bishop.
1 Rom. xii. 15.
And the Apostles, whose mission it was to preach the Gospel, and feed souls with the Bread of Life, judged well that it was not right for them to hinder this holy work in order to minister to the material wants of the poor, weighty as that work was also.1 Every calling stands in special need of some special virtue; those required of a prelate, a prince, or a soldier, are quite different; so are those beseeming a wife or a widow, and although all should possess every virtue, yet all are not called upon to exercise them equally, but each should cultivate chiefly those which are important to the manner of life to which he is called.
Among such virtues as have no special adaptation to our own calling, choose the
most excellent, not the most showy. A comet generally looks larger than the
stars, and fills the eye more; but all the while comets are not nearly so
(127) important as the stars, and only seem so large to us because they are nearer to
us than stars, and are of a grosser kind. So there are certain virtues which
touch us very sensibly and are very material, so to say, and therefore ordinary
people give them the preference. Thus the common run of men ordinarily value
temporal almsgiving more than spiritual; and think more of fasting, exterior
discipline and bodily mortification than of meekness, cheerfulness, modesty, and
other interior mortifications, which nevertheless are far better. Do you then,
my daughter, choose the best virtues, not those which are most highly esteemed;
the most excellent, not the most visible; the truest, not the most conspicuous.
It is well for everybody to select some special virtue at which to aim, not as
neglecting any others, but as an object and pursuit to the mind. Saint John,
Bishop of Alexandria, saw a vision of a lovely maiden, brighter than the sun, in
shining garments, and wearing an olive crown, who said to him, "I am the King's
eldest daughter, and if thou wilt have me for thy friend, I will bring thee to
see His Face." Then he knew that it was pity for the poor which God thus
commended to him, and from that time he gave himself so heartily to practise it,
that he is universally known as Saint John the Almoner.
1 Acts vi. 2.
(128) Eulogius Alexandrinus desired to devote himself wholly to God, but he had not courage either to adopt the solitary life, or to put himself under obedience, and therefore he took a miserable beggar, seething in dirt and leprosy, to live
with him; and to do this more thoroughly, he vowed to honour and serve him as a servant does his lord and master. After a while, both feeling greatly tempted to part company, they referred to the great Saint Anthony, who said, "Beware of
separating, my sons, for you are both near your end, and if the Angel find you not together, you will be in danger of losing your crowns." Saint Louis counted it a privilege to visit the hospitals, where he used to tend the sick with his own royal hands. Saint Francis loved poverty above all things, and called her his lady-love. Saint Dominic gave himself up to preaching, whence his Order takes its name. 1 Saint Gregory the Great specially delighted to receive pilgrims after the manner of faithful Abraham, and like him entertained the King of Glory under a pilgrim's garb. Tobit devoted himself to the charitable work of burying the dead. Saint Elizabeth, albeit a mighty princess, loved above all things to humble herself. When Saint Catherine of Genoa became a widow, she gave herself up to work in an hospital.
1 The Preaching Friars.
(129) Cassian relates how a certain devout maiden once besought Saint Athanasius to help her in cultivating the grace of patience; and he gave her a poor widow as companion, who was cross, irritable, and altogether intolerable, and whose
perpetual fretfulness gave the pious lady abundant opportunity of practising gentleness and patience. And so some of God's servants devote themselves to nursing the sick, helping the poor, teaching little children in the faith, reclaiming the fallen, building churches, and adorning the altar, making peace among men. Therein they resemble embroidresses who work all manner of silks, gold and silver on various grounds, so producing beautiful flowers. Just so the pious souls who undertake some special devout practice use it as the ground of their spiritual embroidery, and frame all manner of other graces upon it, ordering their actions and affections better by means of this their chief thread which runs through all.
"Upon Thy Right Hand did stand the Queen in a vesture of gold wrought about with divers colours."1 When we are beset by any particular vice, it is well as far as possible to make the opposite (130) virtue our special aim, and turn everything to that account; so doing, we shall overcome our enemy, and meanwhile make progress in all virtue. Thus, if I am beset with pride or anger, I must above all else strive to cultivate humility and gentleness, and I must turn all my religious exercises,--prayer, sacraments, prudence, constancy, moderation, to the same object. The wild boar sharpens its
tusks by grinding them against its other teeth, which by the same process are sharpened and pointed; and so when a good man endeavours to perfect himself in some virtue which he is conscious of specially needing, he ought to give it edge
and point by the aid of other virtues, which will themselves be confirmed and strengthened as he uses them with that object. It was so with Job, who, while specially exercising the virtue of patience amid the numberless temptations which beset him, was confirmed in all manner of holiness and godly virtues.
1 Psalm 5. 13, 14. "En son beau vestement de drap d'or recame, Et d'ouvrages
divers a l'aiguile seme."
And Saint Gregory Nazianzen says, that sometimes a person has attained the height of goodness by one single act of virtue, performed with the greatest perfection; instancing Rahab as an example, who, having practised the virtue of hospitality very excellently, reached a high point of glory. 1 Of course, any such (131) action must needs be performed with a very exceeding degree of fervour and charity.
1 S. Francis evidently alludes here to the mention made of Rahab by S. Paul. Heb. xi. 31.
The same Subject continued.
SAINT AUGUSTINE says very admirably, that beginners in devotion are wont to
commit certain faults which, while they are blameable according to the strict
laws of perfection, are yet praiseworthy by reason of the promise they hold
forth of a future excellent goodness, to which they actually tend. For instance,
that common shrinking fear which gives rise to an excessive scrupulosity in the
souls of some who are but just set free from a course of sin, is commendable at
that early stage, and is the almost certain forerunner of future purity of
conscience. But this same fear would be blameable in those who are farther
advanced, because love should reign in their hearts, and love is sure to drive
away all such servile fear by degrees.
In his early days, Saint Bernw very severe and harsh towards those whom he
directed, telling them, to begin with, that they must put aside the body, and
come to him with their minds only. In confession, he treated all faults,
however small, with extreme severity, and his poor apprentices in the study of perfection were so urged onwards, that by dint of pressing he kept them back, for they lost heart and breath when they found themselves thus driven up so steep and high an ascent. Therein, my daughter, you can see that, although it was his ardent zeal for the most perfect purity which led that great Saint so to act, and although such zeal is a great virtue, still it was a virtue which required checking. And so God Himself checked it in a vision, by which He filled S. Bernard with so gentle, tender, and loving a spirit, that he was altogether changed, blaming himself heavily for having been so strict and so severe, and becoming so kindly and indulgent, that he made himself all things to all men in order to win all. S. Jerome tells us that his beloved daughter, S. Paula, was not only extreme, but obstinate in practising bodily mortifications, and refusing to yield to the advice given her upon that head by her Bishop, S. Epiphanius; and furthermore, she gave way so excessively to her grief at the death of those she loved as to peril her own life. Whereupon S. Jerome says: "It will be said that I am accusing this saintly woman rather than praising her, but I affirm before Jesus, Whom she served, and Whom I seek to (133) serve, that I am not saying what is untrue on one side or the other, but simply describing her as one Christian another; that is to say, I am writing her history, not her panegyric, and her faults are the virtues of others." He means to say that the defects and faults of S. Paula would have been looked upon as virtues in a less perfect soul; and indeed there are actions which we must count as imperfections in the perfect, which yet would be highly esteemed in the imperfect.
When at the end of a sickness the invalid's legs swell, it is a good sign, indicating that natural strength is returning, and throwing off foul humours; but it would be a bad sign in one not avowedly sick, as showing that nature was too feeble to disperse or absorb those humours. So, my child, we must think well of those whom we see practising virtues, although imperfectly, since the Saints have done the like; but as to ourselves we must give heed to practise them, not only diligently, but discreetly, and to this end we shall do well strictly to follow the Wise Man's counsel, 1 and not trust in our own wisdom, but lean on those whom God has given as our guides. And here I must say a few words concerning certain things which some reckon as virtues, although they are nothing of the sort--I (134) mean ecstasies, trances, rhapsodies, extraordinary transformations, and the like, which are dwelt on in some books, and which promise to raise the soul to a purely intellectual contemplation, an altogether supernatural mental altitude, and a life of pre-eminent excellence.
1 Ecclus. vi. 2, 32, 36.
But I would have you see, my child, that these perfections are not virtues, they are rather rewards which God gives to
virtues, or perhaps, more correctly speaking, tokens of the joys of everlasting life, occasionally granted to men in order to kindle in them a desire for the fulness of joy which is only to be found in Paradise.
But we must not aspire to
such graces, which are in nowise necessary to us in order to love and serve God,
our only lawful ambition. Indeed, for the most part, these graces are not to be
acquired by labour or industry, and that because they are rather passions than
actions, which we may receive, but cannot create. Moreover, our business only is
to become good, devout people, pious men and women; and all our efforts must be
to that end. If it should please God further to endow us with angelic
perfection, we should then be prepared to become good angels; but meanwhile let
us practise, in all simplicity, humility and devotion, those lowly virtues to
the attainment of which our Lord has bidden us labour,--I mean patience,
cheerfulness, self-mortification, (135) humility, obedience, poverty, chastity, kindness to our neighbour, forbearance
towards his failings, diligence, and a holy fervour. Let us willingly resign the
higher eminences to lofty souls. We are not worthy to take so high a rank in
God's service; let us be content to be as scullions, porters, insignificant
attendants in His household, leaving it to Him if He should hereafter see fit to
call us to His own council chamber. Of a truth, my child, the King of Glory does
not reward His servants according to the dignity of their office, but according
to the humility and love with which they have exercised it. While Saul was
seeking his father's asses, he found the kingdom of Israel: 1 Rebecca watering
Abraham's camels, became his son's wife: 2 Ruth gleaning after Boaz' reapers,
and lying down at his feet, was raised up to become his bride. 3 Those who pretend to such great and extraordinary graces are very liable to delusions and mistakes, so that sometimes it turns out that people who aspire to be angels are
not ordinarily good men, and that their goodness lies more in high-flown words than in heart and deed. But we must beware of despising or presumptuously condemning anything. Only, while thanking God for the pre-eminence of others,
let us abide contentedly in our own lower but (136) safer path,--a path of less distinction, but more suitable to our lowliness, resting satisfied that if we walk steadily and faithfully therein, God will lift us up to greater things.
1 1. Sam. ix. 2 Gen. xxiv. 3 Ruth ii., iii.
"YE have need of patience, that, after ye have done the Will of God, ye might
receive the promise," says Saint Paul; 1 and the Saviour said, "In your patience
possess ye your souls."2 The greatest happiness of any one is "to possess his
soul;" and the more perfect our patience, the more fully we do so possess our souls. Call often to mind that our Saviour redeemed us by bearing and suffering, and in like manner we must seek our own salvation amid sufferings and afflictions; bearing insults, contradictions and troubles with all the gentleness we can possibly command.
Do not limit your patience to this or that
kind of trial, but extend it universally to whatever God may send, or allow to
befall you. Some people will only bear patiently with trials which carry their
own salve of dignity,--such as being wounded in (137)
battle, becoming a prisoner of war, being ill-used for the sake of their
religion, being impoverished by some strife out of which they came triumphant.
Now these persons do not love tribulation, but only the honour which attends it.
A really patient servant of God is as ready to bear inglorious troubles as those
which are honourable. A brave man can easily bear with contempt, slander and
false accusation from an evil world; but to bear such injustice at the hands of
good men, of friends and relations, is a great test of patience. I have a
greater respect for the gentleness with which the great S. Charles Borromeo long
endured the public reproaches which a celebrated preacher of a reformed Order
used to pour out upon him, than for all the other attacks he bore with. For,
just as the sting of a bee hurts far more than that of a fly, so the injuries or
contradictions we endure from good people are much harder to bear than any
others. But it is a thing which very often happens, and sometimes two worthy
men, who are both highly well-intentioned after their own fashion, annoy and
even persecute one another grievously.
Be patient, not only with respect to the main trials which beset you, but also under the accidental and accessory annoyances which arise out of them. We often find people who imagine themselves ready to accept a trial in itself who are (138) impatient of its consequences. We hear one man say, "I should not mind poverty, were it not that I am unable to bring up my children and receive my friends as handsomely as I desire." And another says, "I should not mind, were it not that the world will suppose it is my own fault;" while another would patiently bear to be the subject of slander provided nobody believed it. Others, again, accept one side of a trouble but fret against the rest--as, for instance, believing themselves to be patient under sickness, only fretting against their inability to obtain the best advice, or at the inconvenience they are to their friends. But, dear child, be sure that we must patiently accept, not sickness only, but such sickness as God chooses to send, in the place, among the people, and subject to the circumstances which He ordains;--and so with all other troubles. If any trouble comes upon you, use the remedies with which God supplies you. Not to do this is to tempt Him; but having done so, wait whatever result He wills with perfect resignation. If He pleases to let the evil be remedied, thank Him humbly; but if it be His will that the evil grow greater than the remedies, patiently bless His Holy Name.
Follow Saint Gregory's advice: When you are justly blamed for some fault you have (139) committed, humble yourself deeply, and confess that you deserve the blame. If the accusation be false, defend yourself quietly, denying the fact; this is but due respect for truth and your neighbour's edification. But if after you have made your true and legitimate defence you are still accused, do not be troubled, and do not try to press your defence--you have had due respect for truth, have
the same now for humility. By acting thus you will not infringe either a due care for your good name, or the affection you are bound to entertain for peace, humility and gentleness of heart.
1 Heb. x. 36. 2 S. Luke xxi. 19.
Complain as little as possible of your wrongs, for as a general rule you may be sure that complaining is sin; sup1 the rather that self-love always magnifies our injuries: above all, do not complain to people who are easily angered and excited. If it is needful to complain to some one, either as seeking a remedy for your injury, or in order to soothe your mind, let it be to some calm, gentle spirit, greatly filled with the Love of God; for otherwise, instead of relieving your heart, your confidants will only provoke it to still greater disturbance; instead of taking out the thorn which pricks you, they will drive it further into your foot.
Some people when they are ill, or in trouble,
or injured by any one, restrain their complaints, because they think (and that
rightly) that to murmur betokens great weakness or a narrow mind; but
nevertheless, they exceedingly desire and maneuvre to make others pity them,
desiring to be considered as suffering with patience and courage. Now this is a
kind of patience certainly, but it is a spurious patience, which in reality is
neither more nor less than a very refined, very subtle form of ambition and
1 "Qui se plaint, peche."
To them we may apply the Apostle's words, "He hath whereof to glory, but not before God."1 A really patient man neither complains nor seeks to be pitied; he will speak simply and truly of his trouble, without exaggerating its weight or bemoaning himself; if others pity him, he will accept their compassion patiently, unless they pity him for some ill he is not enduring, in which case he will say so with meekness, and abide in patience and truthfulness, combating his grief and not complaining of it.
As to the trials which you will encounter in devotion (and they are certain to
arise), bear in mind our dear Lord's words: "A woman, when she is in travail,
hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the
child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for (141)
1 Rom. iv. 2.
joy that a child is born into the world." 1 You, too, have conceived in your soul the most gracious of children, even Jesus Christ, and before He can be brought forth you must inevitably travail with pain; but be of good cheer, for when these pangs are over, you will possess an abiding joy, having brought such a man into the world. And He will be really born for you, when He is perfected in your heart by love, and in your actions by imitating His life.
1 S. John xvi. 21.
When you are sick, offer all your pains and weakness to our Dear Lord, and ask Him to unite them to the sufferings which He bore for you. Obey your physician, and take all medicines, remedies and nourishment, for the Love of God, remembering the vinegar and gall He tasted for love of us; desire your recovery that you may serve Him; do not shrink from languor and weakness out of obedience to Him, and be ready to die if He wills it, to His Glory, and that you may enter into His Presence.
Bear in mind that the bee while making its honey lives upon a bitter food: and in like manner we can never make acts of gentleness and patience, or gather the honey of the truest virtues, better than while eating the bread of bitterness, and enduring hardness. And just as the best honey is that made from thyme, a small (142) and bitter herb, so that virtue which is practised amid bitterness and lowly sorrow is the best of all virtues. Gaze often inwardly upon Jesus Christ crucified, naked, blasphemed, falsely accused, forsaken, overwhelmed with every possible grief and sorrow, and remember that none of your sufferings can ever be compared to His, either in kind or degree, and that you can never suffer anything for Him worthy to be weighed against what He has borne for you.
Consider the pains which martyrs have endured, and think how even now many
people are bearing afflictions beyond all measure greater than yours, and say,
"Of a truth my trouble is comfort, my torments are but roses as compared to
those whose life is a continual death, without solace, or aid or consolation,
borne down with a weight of grief tenfold greater than mine."
On Greater Humility.
ELISHA bade the poor widow "borrow vessels, even empty vessels not a few, and
pour oil into all those vessels;" 1 and so in
1 2. Kings iv. 3, 4.
order to receive God's Grace in our hearts, they must be as empty vessel<s--not
filled with self-esteem. The swallow with its sharp cry and keen glance has the
power of frightening away birds of prey, and for that reason the dove prefers it
to all other birds, and lives surely beside it;--even so humility drives Satan
away, and cherishes the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit within us, and for
that reason all the Saints--and especially the King of Saints and His Blessed
Mother--have always esteemed the grace of humility above all other virtues.
We call that vainglory which men take to themselves, either for what is not in
them, or which being in them is not their own, or which being in them and their
own yet is not worthy of their self-satisfaction. For instance, noble birth,
favour of great men, popular applause, all these are things nowise belonging to
ourselves, but coming from our forefathers, or the opinion of others. Some
people are proud and conceited because they ride a fine horse, wear a feather in
their hat, and are expensively dressed, but who can fail to see their folly, or
that if any one has reason to be proud over such things, it would be the horse,
the bird, and the tailor! Or what can be more contemptible than to found one's
credit on a horse, a plume, or a ruff? Others again pride themselves upon their
dainty moustaches, their well-trimmed beard or curled hair, their white hands,
or their dancing, singing and the like: but is it not a petty vanity which can
seek to be esteemed for any such trivial and frivolous matters? Then again, some
look for the world's respect and honour because they have acquired some
smatterings of science, expecting all their neighbours to listen and yield to
them, and such men we call pedants. Others make great capital of their personal
beauty, and imagine that every one is lost in admiration of it; but all this is
utterly vain, foolish and impertinent, and the glory men take to themselves for
such matters must be called vain, childish and frivolous.
You may test real worth as we test balm, which is tried by being distilled in
water, and if it is precipitated to the bottom, it is known to be pure and
precious. So if you want to know whether a man is really wise, learned, generous
or noble, see if his life is moulded by humility, modesty and submission. If so,
his gifts are genuine; but if they are only surface and showy, you may be sure
that in proportion to their demonstrativeness so is their unreality. Those
pearls which are formed amid tempest and storm have only an outward shell, and
are hollow within; and so when a man's good qualities are fed by pride, vanity
they will soon have nothing save empty show, without sap, marrow or substance.
Honour, rank and dignity are like the saffron, which never thrives so well as
when trodden under foot. Beauty only attracts when it is free from any such aim.
Self-conscious beauty loses its charm, and learning becomes a discredit and
degenerates into pedantry, when we are puffed up by it.
Those who are punctilious about rank, title or precedence, both lay themselves
open to criticism and degradation, and also throw contempt on all such things;
because an honour which is valuable when freely paid, is worthless when sought
for or exacted. When the peacock opens his showy tail, he exhibits the ugliness
of his body beneath; and many flowers which are beautiful while growing, wither
directly we gather them. And just as men who inhale mandragora from afar as they
pass, find it sweet, while those who breathe it closely are made faint and ill
by the same, so honour may be pleasant to those who merely taste it as they
pass, without seeking or craving for it, but it will become very dangerous and
hurtful to such as take delight in and feed upon it.
An active effort to acquire virtue is the first step towards goodness; but an
active effort to
acquire honour is the first step towards contempt and shame. A well-conditioned
mind will not throw away its powers upon such sorry trifles as rank, position or
outward forms--it has other things to do, and will leave all that to meaner
minds. He who can find pearls will not stop to pick up shells; and so a man who
aims at real goodness will not be keen about outward tokens of honour.
Undoubtedly every one is justified in keeping his own place, and there is no
want of humility in that so long as it is done simply and without contention.
Just as our merchant-ships coming from Peru with gold and silver often bring
apes and parrots likewise, because these cost but little and do not add to the
weight of a cargo, so good men seeking to grow in grace can take their natural
rank and position, so long as they are not engrossed by such things, and do not
involve themselves in anxiety, contention or ill-will on their account. I am not
speaking here of those whose position is public, or even of certain special
private persons whose dignity may be important. In all such cases each man must
move in his own sphere, with prudence and discretion, together with charity and
On Interior Humility.
TO you however, my daughter, I would teach a deeper humility, for that of which
I have been speaking is almost more truly to be called worldly wisdom than
humility. There are some persons who dare not or will not think about the graces
with which God has endowed them, fearing lest they should become self-complacent
and vain-glorious; but they are quite wrong. For if, as the Angelic Doctor says,
the real way of attaining to the Love of God is by a careful consideration of
all His benefits given to us, then the better we realise these the more we shall
love Him; and inasmuch as individual gifts are more acceptable than general
gifts, so they ought to be more specially dwelt upon. Of a truth, nothing so
tends to humble us before the Mercy of God as the multitude of His gifts to us;
just as nothing so tends to humble us before His Justice as the multitude of our
misdeeds. Let us consider what He has done for us, and what we have done
contrary to His Will, and as we review our sins in detail, so let us review His
Grace in the same. There is no fear that a perception of
what He has given you will puff you up, so long as you keep steadily in mind
that whatever is good in you is not of yourself. Do mules cease to be clumsy,
stinking beasts because they are used to carry the dainty treasures and perfumes
of a prince? "What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst
receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" 1 On the
contrary, a lively appreciation of the grace given to you should make you
humble, for appreciation begets gratitude. But if, when realising the gifts God
has given you, any vanity should beset you, the infallible remedy is to turn to
the thought of all our ingratitude, imperfection, and weakness. Any one who will
calmly consider what he has done without God, cannot fail to realise that what
he does with God is no merit of his own; and so we may rejoice in that which is
good in us, and take pleasure in the fact, but we shall give all the glory to
God Alone, Who Alone is its Author.
It was in this spirit that the Blessed Virgin confessed that God had done "great
things" to her; 2 only that she might humble herself and exalt Him. "My soul
doth magnify the Lord," she said, by reason of the gifts He had given her.
We are very apt to speak of ourselves as nought, as weakness itself, as the
1 1 Cor. iv. 7. 2 S. Luke i. 46-49.
the earth; but we should be very much vexed to be taken at our word and
generally considered what we call ourselves. On the contrary, we often
make-believe to run away and hide ourselves, merely to be followed and sought
out; we pretend to take the lowest place, with the full intention of being
honourably called to come up higher. But true humility does not affect to be
humble, and is not given to make a display in lowly words. It seeks not only to
conceal other virtues, but above all it seeks and desires to conceal itself; and
if it were lawful to tell lies, or feign or give scandal, humility would perhaps
sometimes affect a cloak of pride in order to hide itself utterly. Take my
advice, my daughter, and either use no professions of humility, or else use them
with a real mind corresponding to your outward expressions; never cast down your
eyes without humbling your heart; and do not pretend to wish to be last and
least, unless you really and sincerely mean it. I would make this so general a
rule as to have no exception; only courtesy sometimes requires us to put forward
those who obviously would not put themselves forward, but this is not deceitful
or mock humility; and so with respect to certain expressions of regard which do
not seem strictly true, but which are not dishonest, because the speaker really
intends to give honour and respect
to him to whom they are addressed; and even though the actual words may be
somewhat excessive, there is no harm in them if they are the ordinary forms of
society, though truly I wish that all our expressions were as nearly as possible
regulated by real heart feeling in all truthfulness and simplicity. A really
humble man would rather that some one else called him worthless and
good-for-nothing, than say so of himself; at all events, if such things are
said, he does not contradict them, but acquiesces contentedly, for it is his own
opinion. We meet people who tell us that they leave mental prayer to those who
are more perfect, not feeling themselves worthy of it; that they dare not
communicate frequently, because they do not feel fit to do so; that they fear to
bring discredit on religion if they profess it, through their weakness and
frailty; while others decline to use their talents in the service of God and
their neighbour, because, forsooth, they know their weakness, and are afraid of
becoming proud if they do any good thing,--lest while helping others they might
destroy themselves. But all this is unreal, and not merely a spurious but a
vicious humility, which tacitly and secretly condemns God's gifts, and makes a
pretext of lowliness while really exalting self-love, self-sufficiency,
indolence, and evil tempers.
"Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth or in the
height above." 1 So spake the prophet to King Ahaz; but he answered, "I will not
ask, neither will I tempt the Lord." Unhappy man! he affects to show exceeding
reverence to God, and under a pretence of humility refuses to seek the grace
offered by the Divine Goodness. Could he not see that when God wills to grant us
a favour, it is mere pride to reject it, that God's gifts must needs be
accepted, and that true humility lies in obedience and the most literal
compliance with His Will! Well then, God's Will is that we should be perfect,
uniting ourselves to Him, and imitating Him to the utmost of our powers. The
proud man who trusts in himself may well undertake nothing, but the humble man
is all the braver that he knows his own helplessness, and his courage waxes in
proportion to his low opinion of himself, because all his trust is in God, Who
delights to show forth His Power in our weakness, His Mercy in our misery. The
safest course is humbly and piously to venture upon whatever may be considered
profitable for us by those who undertake our spiritual guidance.
Nothing can be more foolish than to fancy we know that of which we are really
1 Isa. vii. 11, 12.
affect knowledge while conscious that we are ignorant is intolerable vanity. For
my part, I would rather not put forward that which I really do know, while on
the other hand neither would I affect ignorance. When Charity requires it, you
should readily and kindly impart to your neighbour not only that which is
necessary for his instruction, but also what is profitable for his consolation.
The same humility which conceals graces with a view to their preservation is
ready to bring them forth at the bidding of Charity, with a view to their
increase and perfection; therein reminding me of that tree in the Isles of
Tylos, 1 which closes its beautiful carnation blossoms at night, only opening
them to the rising sun, so that the natives say they go to sleep. Just so
humility hides our earthly virtues and perfections, only expanding them at the
call of Charity, which is not an earthly, but a heavenly, not a mere moral, but
a divine virtue; the true sun of all virtues, which should all be ruled by it,
so that any humility which controverts charity is unquestionably false.
I would not affect either folly or wisdom; for just as humility deters me from
pretending to be wise, so simplicity and straightforwardness deter me from
pretending to be foolish; and just as vanity is opposed to humility, so all
1 Islands in the Persian Gulf.
and pretence are opposed to honesty and simplicity. If certain eminent servants
of God have feigned folly in order to be despised by the world, we may marvel,
but not imitate them; for they had special and extraordinary reasons for doing
extraordinary things, and cannot be used as a rule for such as we are. When
David 1 danced more than was customary before the Ark of the Covenant, it was
not with the intention of affecting folly, but simply as expressing the
unbounded and extraordinary gladness of his heart. Michal his wife reproached
him with his actions as folly, but he did not mind being "vile and base in his
own sight," but declared himself willing to be despised for God's Sake. And so,
if you should be despised for acts of genuine devotion, humility will enable you
to rejoice in so blessed a contempt, the cause of which does not lie with you.
Humility makes us rejoice in our own Abjection.
BUT, my daughter, I am going a step further, and I bid you everywhere and in
everything to rejoice in your own abjection. Perhaps you will ask in reply what
I mean by that. In
1 2. Sam. vi. 14.
Latin abjection means humility, and humility means abjection, so that when Our
Lady says in the Magnificat that all generations shall call her blessed, because
God hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, 1 she means that He has
accepted her abjection and lowliness in order to fill her with graces and
favours. Nevertheless, there is a difference between humility and abjection; for
abjection is the poverty, vileness and littleness which exist in us, without our
taking heed to them; but humility implies a real knowledge and voluntary
recognition of that abjection. And the highest point of humility consists in not
merely acknowledging one's abjection, but in taking pleasure therein, not from
any want of breadth or courage, but to give the more glory to God's Divine
Majesty, and to esteem one's neighbour more highly than one's self. This is what
I would have you do; and to explain myself more clearly, let me tell you that
the trials which afflict us are sometimes abject, sometimes honourable. NOW many
people will accept the latter, but very few are willing to accept the former.
Everybody respects and pities a pious hermit shivering in his worn-out garb; but
let a poor gentleman or lady be in like case, and they are despised for it,--and
so their poverty is abject. A
1 S. Luke i. 48.
religious receives a sharp rebuke from his superior meekly, or a child from his
parent, and every one will call it obedience, mortification, wisdom; but let a
knight or a lady accept the like from some one, albeit for the Love of God, and
they will forthwith be accused of cowardice. This again is abject suffering. One
person has a cancer in the arm, another in the face; the former only has the
pain to bear, but the latter has also to endure all the disgust and repulsion
caused by his disease; and this is abjection. And what I want to teach you is,
that we should not merely rejoice in our trouble, which we do by means of
patience, but we should also cherish the abjection, which is done by means of
humility. Again, there are abject and honourable virtues; for the world
generally despises patience, gentleness, simplicity, and even humility itself,
while, on the contrary, it highly esteems prudence, valour, and liberality.
Sometimes even there may be a like distinction drawn between acts of one and the
same virtue--one being despised and the other respected. Thus almsgiving and
forgiveness of injuries are both acts of charity, but while every one esteems
the first, the world looks down upon the last. A young man or a girl who refuses
to join in the excesses of dress, amusement, or gossip of their circle, is
and criticised, and their self-restraint is called affectation or bigotry. Well,
to rejoice in that is to rejoice in abjection. Or, to take another shape of the
same thing. We are employed in visiting the sick--if I am sent to the most
wretched cases, it is an abjection in the world's sight, and consequently I like
it. If I am sent to those of a better class, it is an interior abjection, for
there is less grace and merit in the work, and so I can accept that abjection.
If one has a fall in the street, there is the ridiculous part of it to be borne,
as well as the possible pain; and this is an abjection we must accept. There are
even some faults, in which there is no harm beyond their abjection, and although
humility does not require us to commit them intentionally, it does require of us
not to be disturbed at having committed them. I mean certain foolish acts,
incivilities, and inadvertencies, which we ought to avoid as far as may be out
of civility and decorum, but of which, if accidentally committed, we ought to
accept the abjection heartily, out of humility. To go further still,--if in
anger or excitement I have been led to use unseemly words, offending God and my
neighbour thereby, I will repent heartily, and be very grieved for the offence,
which I must try to repair to the utmost; but meanwhile I will accept the
abjection and disgrace
which will ensue, and were it possible to separate the two things, I ought
earnestly to reject the sin, while I retained the abjection readily.
But while we rejoice in the abjection, we must nevertheless use all due and
lawful means to remedy the evil whence it springs, especially when that evil is
serious. Thus, if I have an abject disease in my face, I should endeavour to get
it cured, although I do not wish to obliterate the abjection it has caused me.
If I have done something awkward which hurts no one, I will not make excuses,
because, although it was a failing, my own abjection is the only result; but if
I have given offence or scandal through my carelessness or folly, I am bound to
try and remedy it by a sincere apology. There are occasions when charity
requires us not to acquiesce in abjection, but in such a case one ought the more
to take it inwardly to heart for one's private edification.
Perhaps you will ask what are the most profitable forms of abjection.
Unquestionably, those most helpful to our own souls, and most acceptable to God,
are such as come accidentally, or in the natural course of events, because we
have not chosen them ourselves, but simply accepted God's choice, which is
always to be preferred to ours. But if we are constrained to choose, the
greatest abjections are best; and the greatest is whatever is most contrary to
inclination, so long as it is in conformity with one's vocation; for of a truth
our self-will and self-pleasing mars many graces. Who can teach any of us truly
to say with David, "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to
dwell in the tents of ungodliness"? 1 None, dear child, save He Who lived and
died the scorn of men, and the outcast of the people, in order that we might be
raised up. I have said things here which must seem very hard to contemplate,
but, believe me, they will become sweet as honey when you try to put them in
How to combine due care for a Good Reputation with Humility.
PRAISE, honour, and glory are not bestowed on men for ordinary, but for
extraordinary virtue. By praise we intend to lead men to appreciate the
excellence of certain individuals; giving them honour is the expression of our
own esteem for them; and I should say that glory is the combination of praise
and honour from many persons. If praise and honour are like precious stones,
glory is as an enamel thereof. Now, as humility forbids us to aim at
1 Ps. lxxxiv. 10.
excelling or being preferred to others, it likewise forbids us to aim at praise,
honour, and glory; but it allows us to give heed, as the Wise Man says, to our
good name, and that because a good name does not imply any one particular
excellence, but a general straightforward integrity of purpose, which we may
recognise in ourselves, and desire to be known as possessing, without any breach
of humility. Humility might make us indifferent even to a good reputation, were
it not for charity's sake; but seeing that it is a groundwork of society, and
without it we are not merely useless but positively harmful to the world,
because of the scandal given by such a deficiency, therefore charity requires,
and humility allows, us to desire and to maintain a good reputation with care.
Moreover, just as the leaves of a tree are valuable, not merely for beauty's
sake, but also as a shelter to the tender fruit, so a good reputation, if not in
itself very important, is still very useful, not only as an embellishment of
life, but as a protection to our virtues, especially to those which are weakly.
The necessity for acting up to our reputation, and being what we are thought to
be, brings a strong though kindly motive power to bear upon a generous
disposition. Let us foster all our virtues, my daughter, because they are
pleasing to God, the Chief Aim
of all we do. But just as when men preserve fruits, they do not only conserve
them, but put them into suitable vessels, so while Divine Love is the main thing
which keeps us in the ways of holiness, we may also find help from the effects
of a good reputation. But it will not do to be over-eager or fanciful about it.
Those who are so very sensitive about their reputation are like people who are
perpetually physicking themselves for every carnal ailment; they mean to
preserve their health, but practically they destroy it; and those who are so
very fastidious over their good name are apt to lose it entirely, for they
become fanciful, fretful, and disagreeable, provoking ill-natured remarks.
As a rule, indifference to insult and slander is a much more effectual remedy
than resentment, wrath, and vengeance. Slander melts away beneath contempt, but
indignation seems a sort of acknowledgment of its truth. Crocodiles never meddle
with any but those who are afraid of them, and slander only persists in
attacking people who are disturbed by it.
An excessive fear of losing reputation indicates mistrust as to its foundations,
which are to be found in a good and true life. Those towns where the bridges are
built of wood are very uneasy whenever a sign of flood appears, but they who
possess stone bridges are not anxious
unless some very unusual storm appears. And so a soul built up on solid
Christian foundations can afford to despise the outpour of slanderous tongues,
but those who know themselves to be weak are for ever disturbed and uneasy. Be
sure, my daughter, that he who seeks to be well thought of by everybody will be
esteemed by nobody, and those people deserve to be despised who are anxious to
be highly esteemed by ungodly, unworthy men.
Reputation, after all, is but a signboard giving notice where virtue dwells, and
virtue itself is always and everywhere preferable. Therefore, if it is said that
you are a hypocrite because you are professedly devout, or if you are called a
coward because you have forgiven an insult, despise all such accusations. Such
judgments are the utterances of foolish men, and you must not give up what is
right, even though your reputation suffer, for fruit is better than foliage,
that is to say, an inward and spiritual gain is worth all external gains. We may
take a jealous care of our reputation, but not idolise it; and while we desire
not to displease good men, neither should we seek to please those that are evil.
A man's natural adornment is his beard, and a woman's her hair; if either be
torn out they may never grow again, but if only shaven or shorn, they will grow
all the thicker; and in
like manner, if our reputation be shorn or even shaven by slanderous tongues (of
which David says, that "with lies they cut like a sharp razor " 1 ), there is no
need to be disturbed, it will soon spring again, if not brighter, at all events
more substantial. But if it be lost through our own vices or meanness or evil
living, it will not be easily restored, because its roots are plucked up. And
the root of a good name is to be found in virtue and honesty, which will always
cause it to spring up afresh, however it may be assaulted. If your good name
suffers from some empty pursuit, some useless habit, some unworthy friendship,
they must be renounced, for a good name is worth more than any such idle
indulgence; but if you are blamed or slandered for pious practices, earnestness
in devotion, or whatever tends to win eternal life, then let your slanderers
have their way, like dogs that bay at the moon! Be sure that, if they should
succeed in rousing any evil impression against you (clipping the beard of your
reputation, as it were), your good name will soon revive, and the razor of
slander will strengthen your honour, just as the pruning-knife strengthens the
vine and causes it to bring forth more abundant fruit. Let us keep Jesus Christ
Crucified always before our eyes; let us go on trustfully and simply, but with
1 Ps. lii. 2.
discretion and wisdom, in His Service, and He will take care of our reputation;
if He permits us to lose it, it will only be to give us better things, and to
train us in a holy humility, one ounce of which is worth more than a thousand
pounds of honour. If we are unjustly blamed, let us quietly meet calumny with
truth; if calumny perseveres, let us persevere in humility; there is no surer
shelter for our reputation or our soul than the Hand of God. Let us serve Him in
good report or evil report alike, with S. Paul; 1 so that we may cry out with
David, "For Thy Sake have I suffered reproof, shame hath covered my face." 2
Of course certain crimes, so grievous that no one who can justify himself should
remain silent, must be excepted; as, too, certain persons whose reputation
closely affects the edification of others. In this case all theologians say that
it is right quietly to seek reparation.
Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger.
THE holy Chrism, used by the Church according to apostolic tradition, is made
1 2 Cor. vi. 8. 2 Ps. lxix. 7.
of olive oil mingled with balm, which, among other things, are emblematic of two
virtues very specially conspicuous in our Dear Lord Himself, and which He has
specially commended to us, as though they, above all things, drew us to Him and
taught us to imitate Him: "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am meek
and lowly in heart." 1 Humility makes our lives acceptable to God, meekness
makes us acceptable to men. Balm, as I said before, sinking to the bottom of all
liquids, is a figure of humility; and oil, floating as it does to the top, is a
figure of gentleness and cheerfulness, rising above all things, and excelling
all things, the very flower of Love, which, so says S. Bernard, comes to
perfection when it is not merely patient, but gentle and cheerful. Give heed,
then, daughter, that you keep this mystic chrism of gentleness and humility in
your heart, for it is a favourite device of the Enemy to make people content
with a fair outside semblance of these graces, not examining their inner hearts,
and so fancying themselves to be gentle and humble while they are far otherwise.
And this is easily perceived, because, in spite of their ostentatious gentleness
and humility, they are stirred up with pride and anger by the smallest wrong or
contradiction. There is a popular
1 S. Matt. xi. 29.
belief that those who take the antidote commonly called "Saint Paul's gift," 1
do not suffer from the viper's bite, provided, that is, that the remedy be pure;
and even so true gentleness and humility will avert the burning and swelling
which contradiction is apt to excite in our hearts. If, when stung by slander or
ill-nature, we wax proud and swell with anger, it is a proof that our gentleness
and humility are unreal, and mere artificial show. When the Patriarch Joseph
sent his brethren back from Egypt to his father's house, he only gave them one
counsel, "See that ye fall not out by the way." 2 And so, my child, say I to
you. This miserable life is but the road to a blessed life; do not let us fall
out by the way one with another; let us go on with the company of our brethren
gently, peacefully, and kindly. Most emphatically I say it, If possible, fall
out with no one, and on no pretext whatever suffer your heart to admit anger and
passion. S. James says, plainly and unreservedly, that "the wrath of man worketh
not the righteousness of God." 3 Of course it is a duty to resist evil and to
repress the faults of those for whom we are
1 "La grace de Saint Paul," in one old edition: in another, "la graisse de Saint
Paull;" the latter probably is the true reading, as there was a quack salve
formerly in use for the bites of snakes, partly compounded of adders' fat. The
name is obviously derived from S. Paul's adventure with the viper in the Island
of Melita. (Acts xxviii.)
2 Gen. xlv. 24. 3 S. James i. 20.
responsible, steadily and firmly, but gently and quietly. Nothing so stills the
elephant when enraged as the sight of a lamb; nor does anything break the force
of a cannon ball so well as wool. Correction given in anger, however tempered by
reason, never has so much effect as that which is given altogether without
anger; for the reasonable soul being naturally subject to reason, it is a mere
tyranny which subjects it to passion, and whereinsoever reason is led by passion
it becomes odious, and its just rule obnoxious. When a monarch visits a country
peaceably the people are gratified and flattered; but if the king has to take
his armies through the land, even on behalf of the public welfare, his visit is
sure to be unwelcome and harmful, because, however strictly military discipline
may be enforced, there will always be some mischief done to the people. Just so
when reason prevails, and administers reproof, correction, and punishment in a
calm spirit, although it be strict, every one approves and is content; but if
reason be hindered by anger and vexation (which Saint Augustine calls her
soldiers) there will be more fear than love, and reason itself will be despised
and resisted. The same Saint Augustine, writing to Profuturus, says that it is
better to refuse entrance to any even the least semblance of anger, however
just; and that because once
entered in, it is hard to be got rid of, and what was but a little mote soon
waxes into a great beam. For if anger tarries till night, and the sun goes down
upon our wrath (a thing expressly forbidden by the Apostle 1 ), there is no
longer any way of getting rid of it; it feeds upon endless false fancies; for no
angry man ever yet but thought his anger just.
Depend upon it, it is better to learn how to live without being angry than to
imagine one can moderate and control anger lawfully; and if through weakness and
frailty one is overtaken by it, it is far better to put it away forcibly than to
parley with it; for give anger ever so little way, and it will become master,
like the serpent, who easily works in its body wherever it can once introduce
its head. You will ask how to put away anger. My child, when you feel its first
movements, collect yourself gently and seriously, not hastily or with
impetuosity. Sometimes in a law court the officials who enforce quiet make more
noise than those they affect to hush; and so, if you are impetuous in
restraining your temper, you will throw your heart into worse confusion than
before, and, amid the excitement, it will lose all self-control.
Having thus gently exerted yourself, follow the advice which the aged S.
Augustine gave to
1 Eph. iv. 26.
a younger Bishop, Auxilius. "Do," said he, "what a man should do." If you are
like the Psalmist, ready to cry out, "Mine eye is consumed for very anger," 1 go
on to say, "Have mercy upon me, O Lord;" so that God may stretch forth His Right
Hand and control your wrath. I mean, that when we feel stirred with anger, we
ought to call upon God for help, like the Apostles, when they were tossed about
with wind and storm, and He is sure to say, "Peace, be still." But even here I
would again warn you, that your very prayers against the angry feelings which
urge you should be gentle, calm, and without vehemence. Remember this rule in
whatever remedies against anger you may seek. Further, directly you are
conscious of an angry act, atone for the fault by some speedy act of meekness
towards the person who excited your anger. It is a sovereign cure for
untruthfulness to unsay what you have falsely said at once on detecting yourself
in falsehood; and so, too, it is a good remedy for anger to make immediate
amends by some opposite act of meekness. There is an old saying, that fresh
wounds are soonest closed.
Moreover, when there is nothing to stir your
1 In the English version it is, "Mine eye is consumed for very heaviness" (Ps.
xxxi. 9), but in the Vulgate we find, "Conturbatus est in ira oculus meus."
(Vulg. Ps. xxx. 10.)
wrath, lay up a store of meekness and kindliness, speaking and acting in things
great and small as gently as possible. Remember that the Bride of the Canticles
is described as not merely dropping honey, and milk also, from her lips, but as
having it "under her tongue;" 1 that is to say, in her heart. So we must not
only speak gently to our neighbour, but we must be filled, heart and soul, with
gentleness; and we must not merely seek the sweetness of aromatic honey in
courtesy and suavity with strangers, but also the sweetness of milk among those
of our own household and our neighbours; a sweetness terribly lacking to some
who are as angels abroad and devils at home!
On Gentleness towards Ourselves.
ONE important direction in which to exercise gentleness, is with respect to
ourselves, never growing irritated with one's self or one's imperfections; for
although it is but reasonable that we should be displeased and grieved at our
own faults, yet ought we to guard against a bitter, angry, or peevish feeling
1 Cant. iv. 11.
them. Many people fall into the error of being angry because they have been
angry, vexed because they have given way to vexation, thus keeping up a chronic
state of irritation, which adds to the evil of what is past, and prepares the
way for a fresh fall on the first occasion. Moreover, all this anger and
irritation against one's self fosters pride, and springs entirely from
self-love, which is disturbed and fretted by its own imperfection. What we want
is a quiet, steady, firm displeasure at our own faults. A judge gives sentence
more effectually speaking deliberately and calmly than if he be impetuous and
passionate (for in the latter case he punishes not so much the actual faults
before him, but what they appear to him to be); and so we can chasten ourselves
far better by a quiet stedfast repentance, than by eager hasty ways of
penitence, which, in fact, are proportioned not by the weight of our faults, but
according to our feelings and inclinations. Thus one man who specially aims at
purity will be intensely vexed with himself at some very trifling fault against
it, while he looks upon some gross slander of which he has been guilty as a mere
laughing matter. On the other hand, another will torment himself painfully over
some slight exaggeration, while he altogether overlooks some serious offence
against purity; and so on with
other things. All this arises solely because men do not judge themselves by the
light of reason, but under the influence of passion.
Believe me, my daughter, as a parent's tender affectionate remonstrance has far
more weight with his child than anger and sternness, so, when we judge our own
heart guilty, if we treat it gently, rather in a spirit of pity than anger,
encouraging it to amendment, its repentance will be much deeper and more lasting
than if stirred up in vehemence and wrath.
For instance:--Let me suppose that I am specially seeking to conquer vanity, and
yet that I have fallen conspicuously into that sin;--instead of taking myself to
task as abominable and wretched, for breaking so many resolutions, calling
myself unfit to lift up my eyes to Heaven, as disloyal, faithless, and the like,
I would deal pitifully and quietly with myself. "Poor heart! so soon fallen
again into the snare! Well now, rise up again bravely and fall no more. Seek
God's Mercy, hope in Him, ask Him to keep you from falling again, and begin to
tread the pathway of humility afresh. We must be more on our guard henceforth."
Such a course will be the surest way to making a stedfast substantial resolution
against the special fault, to which should be added any external means suitable,
and the advice of one's director.
If any one does not find this gentle dealing sufficient, let him use sterner
self-rebuke and admonition, provided only, that whatever indignation he may
rouse against himself, he finally works it all up to a tender loving trust in
God, treading in the footsteps of that great penitent who cried out to his
troubled soul: "Why art thou so vexed, O my soul, and why art thou so disquieted
within me? O put thy trust in God, for I will yet thank Him, Which is the help
of my countenance, and my God." 1
So then, when you have fallen, lift up your heart in quietness, humbling
yourself deeply before God by reason of your frailty, without marvelling that
you fell;--there is no cause to marvel because weakness is weak, or infirmity
infirm. Heartily lament that you should have offended God, and begin anew to
cultivate the lacking grace, with a very deep trust in His Mercy, and with a
bold, brave heart.
1 Ps. xlii. 11, 15.
We must attend to the Business of Life carefully, but without Eagerness or
THE care and diligence due to our ordinary business are very different from
solicitude, anxiety and restlessness. The Angels care for our salvation and seek
it diligently, but they are wholly free from anxiety and solicitude, for,
whereas care and diligence naturally appertain to their love, anxiety would be
wholly inconsistent with their happiness; for although care and diligence can go
hand in hand with calmness and peace, those angelic properties could not unite
with solicitude or anxiety, much less with over-eagerness.
Therefore, my daughter, be careful and diligent in all your affairs; God, Who
commits them to you, wills you to give them your best attention; but strive not
to be anxious and solicitous, that is to say, do not set about your work with
restlessness and excitement, and do not give way to bustle and eagerness in what
you do;--every form of excitement affects both judgment and reason, and hinders
a right performance of the very thing which excites us.
Our Lord, rebuking Martha, said, "Thou art
careful and troubled about many things." 1 If she had been simply careful, she
would not have been troubled, but giving way to disquiet and anxiety, she grew
eager and troubled, and for that our Lord reproved her. The rivers which flow
gently through our plains bear barges of rich merchandise, and the gracious
rains which fall softly on the land fertilise it to bear the fruits of the
earth;--but when the rivers swell into torrents, they hinder commerce and
devastate the country, and violent storms and tempests do the like. No work done
with impetuosity and excitement was ever well done, and the old proverb, "Make
haste slowly," is a good one, 2 Solomon says, "There is one that laboureth and
taketh pains, and maketh haste, and is so much the more behind;" 3 we are always
soon enough when we do well. The bumble bee makes far more noise and is more
bustling than the honey bee, but it makes nought save wax--no honey; just so
those who are restless and eager, or full of noisy solicitude, never do much or
well. Flies harass us less by what they do than by reason of their multitude,
and so great matters give us less disturbance than a multitude of small affairs.
Accept the duties which come
1 S. Luke x. 41.
2 "Festina lente." "Il faut depescher tout bellement."
3 Ecclus. xi. 11.
upon you quietly, and try to fulfil them methodically, one after another. If you
attempt to do everything at once, or with confusion, you will only cumber
yourself with your own exertions, and by dint of perplexing your mind you will
probably be overwhelmed and accomplish nothing.
In all your affairs lean solely on God's Providence, by means of which alone
your plans can succeed. Meanwhile, on your part work on in quiet co-operation
with Him, and then rest satisfied that if you have trusted entirely to Him you
will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you,
whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.
Imitate a little child, whom one sees holding tight with one hand to its father,
while with the other it gathers strawberries or blackberries from the wayside
hedge. Even so, while you gather and use this world's goods with one hand,
always let the other be fast in your Heavenly Father's Hand, and look round from
time to time to make sure that He is satisfied with what you are doing, at home
or abroad. Beware of letting go, under the idea of making or receiving more--if
He forsakes you, you will fall to the ground at the first step. When your
ordinary work or business is not specially engrossing, let your heart be fixed
more on God than on it;
and if the work be such as to require your undivided attention, then pause from
time to time and look to God, even as navigators who make for the haven they
would attain, by looking up at the heavens rather than down upon the deeps on
which they sail. So doing, God will work with you, in you, and for you, and your
work will be blessed.
LOVE alone leads to perfection, but the three chief means for acquiring it are
obedience, chastity, and poverty. Obedience is a consecration of the heart,
chastity of the body, and poverty of all worldly goods to the Love and Service
of God. These are the three members of the Spiritual Cross, and all three must
be raised upon the fourth, which is humility. I am not going here to speak of
these three virtues as solemn vows, which only concern religious, nor even as
ordinary vows, although when sought under the shelter of a vow all virtues
receive an enhanced grace and merit; but it is not necessary for perfection that
they should be undertaken as vows, so long as they
are practised diligently. The three vows solemnly taken put a man into the state
of perfection, whereas a diligent observance thereof brings him to perfection.
For, observe, there is a great difference between the state of perfection and
perfection itself, inasmuch as all prelates and religious are in the former,
although unfortunately it is too obvious that by no means all attain to the
latter. Let us then endeavour to practise these three virtues, according to our
several vocations, for although we are not thereby called to a state of
perfection, we may attain through them to perfection itself, and of a truth we
are all bound to practise them, although not all after the same manner.
There are two kinds of obedience, one necessary, the other voluntary. The first
includes a humble obedience to your ecclesiastical superiors, whether Pope,
Bishop, Curate, or those commissioned by them. You are likewise bound to obey
your civil superiors, king and magistrates; as also your domestic superiors,
father, mother, master or mistress. Such obedience is called necessary, because
no one can free himself from the duty of obeying these superiors, God having
appointed them severally to bear rule over us. Therefore do you obey their
commands as of right, but if you would be perfect, follow their counsels, and
their wishes as far as charity and prudence will allow: obey as to things
acceptable; as when they bid you eat, or take recreation, for although there may
be no great virtue in obedience in such a case, there is great harm in
disobedience. Obey in things indifferent, as concerning questions of dress,
coming and going, singing or keeping silence, for herein is a very laudable
obedience. Obey in things hard, disagreeable and inconvenient, and therein lies
a very perfect obedience. Moreover, obey quietly, without answering again,
promptly, without delay, cheerfully, without reluctance; and, above all, render
a loving obedience for His Sake Who became obedient even to the death of the
Cross for our sake; Who, as Saint Bernard says, chose rather to resign His Life
than His Obedience.
If you would acquire a ready obedience to superiors, accustom yourself to yield
to your equals, giving way to their opinions where nothing wrong is involved,
without arguing or peevishness; and adapt yourself easily to the wishes of your
inferiors as far as you reasonably can, and forbear the exercise of stern
authority so long as they do well.
It is a mistake for those who find it hard to pay a willing obedience to their
natural superiors to suppose that if they were professed religious they would
find it easy to obey.
Voluntary obedience is such as we undertake by our own choice, and which is not
imposed by others. Persons do not choose their own King or Bishop, or
parents--often not even their husband; but most people choose their confessor or
director. And whether a person takes a vow of obedience to him (as Saint
Theresa, beyond her formal vow to the Superior of her Order, bound herself by a
simple vow to obey Father Gratian), or without any vow they resolve to obey
their chosen spiritual guide, all such obedience is voluntary, because it
depends upon our own will.
Obedience to lawful superiors is regulated by their official claims. Thus, in
all public and legal matters, we are bound to obey our King; in ecclesiastical
matters, our Bishop; in domestic matters, our father, master or husband; and in
personal matters which concern the soul, our confessor or spiritual guide.
Seek to be directed in your religious exercises by your spiritual father,
because thereby they will have double grace and virtue;--that which is inherent
in that they are devout, and that which comes by reason of the spirit of
obedience in which they are performed. Blessed indeed are the obedient, for God
will never permit them to go astray.
PURITY is the lily among virtues--by it men approach to the Angels. There is no
beauty without purity, and human purity is chastity. We speak of the chaste as
honest, and of the loss of purity as dishonour; purity is an intact thing, its
converse is corruption. In a word, its special glory is in the spotless
whiteness of soul and body.
No unlawful pleasures are compatible with chastity; the pure heart is like the
mother of pearl which admits no drop of water save that which comes from
Heaven,--it is closed to every attraction save such as are sanctified by holy
matrimony. Close your heart to every questionable tenderness or delight, guard
against all that is unprofitable though it may be lawful, and strive to avoid
unduly fixing your heart even on that which in itself is right and good.
Every one has great need of this virtue: those living in widowhood need a brave
chastity not only to forego present and future delights, but to resist the
memories of the past, with which a happy married life naturally fills the
imagination, softening and weakening the will. Saint
Augustine lauds the purity of his beloved Alipius, who had altogether forgotten
and despised the carnal pleasures in which his youth was passed. While fruits
are whole, you may store them up securely, some in straw, some in sand or amid
their own foliage, but once bruised there is no means of preserving them save
with sugar or honey. Even so the purity which has never been tampered with may
well be preserved to the end, but when once that has ceased to exist nothing can
ensure its existence but the genuine devotion, which, as I have often said, is
the very honey and sugar of the mind.
The unmarried need a very simple sensitive purity, which will drive away all
over-curious thoughts, and teach them to despise all merely sensual
satisfactions. The young are apt to imagine that of which they are ignorant to
be wondrous sweet, and as the foolish moth hovers around a light, and,
persisting in coming too near, perishes in its inquisitive folly, so they perish
through their unwise approach to forbidden pleasures. And married people need a
watchful purity whereby to keep God ever before them, and to seek all earthly
happiness and delight through Him Alone, ever remembering that He has sanctified
the state of holy matrimony by making it the type of His own union with the
The Apostle says, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man
shall see the Lord:" 1 by which holiness he means purity. Of a truth, my
daughter, without purity no one can ever see God; 2 nor can any hope to dwell in
His tabernacle except he lead an uncorrupt life; 3 and our Blessed Lord Himself
has promised the special blessing of beholding Him to those that are pure in
How to maintain Purity.
BE exceedingly quick in turning aside from the slightest thing leading to
impurity, for it is an evil which approaches stealthily, and in which the very
smallest beginnings are apt to grow rapidly. It is always easier to fly from
such evils than to cure them.
Human bodies are like glasses, which cannot come into collision without risk of
breaking; or to fruits, which, however fresh and ripe, are damaged by pressure.
Never permit any one to take any manner of foolish liberty with you, since,
although there may be no evil intention, the perfectness of purity is injured
Purity has its source in the heart, but it is in
1 Heb. xii. 14. 2 S. Matt. v. 8. 3 Ps. xv. 2.
the body that its material results take shape, and therefore it may be forfeited
both by the exterior senses and by the thoughts and desires of the heart. All
lack of modesty in seeing, hearing, speaking, smelling, or touching, is
impurity, especially when the heart takes pleasure therein. S. Paul says without
any hesitation that impurity and uncleanness, or foolish and unseemly talking,
are not to be "so much as named" 1 among Christians. The bee not only shuns all
carrion, but abhors and flies far from the faintest smell proceeding therefrom.
The Bride of the Canticles is represented with "hands dropping with myrrh." 2 a
preservative against all corruption; her "lips are like a thread of scarlet,"
the type of modest words; 3 her eyes are "dove's eyes," 4 clear and soft; her
"nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh towards Damascus" 5 an
incorruptible wood; her ears are hung with earrings of pure gold; 6 and even so
the devout soul should be pure, honest and transparent in hand, lip, eye, ear,
and the whole body.
Remember that there are things which blemish perfect purity, without being in
1 Eph. v. 4. 2 Cant. v. 5. 3 iv. 3. 4 i. 15. 5 vii. 4.
6 There is no mention of earrings in the Canticles, but S. Francis probably was
writing from memory, and had in mind "Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels,
thy neck with chains of gold." (i. 10.)
downright acts of impurity. Anything which tends to lessen its intense
sensitiveness, or to cast the slightest shadow over it, is of this nature; and
all evil thoughts or foolish acts of levity or heedlessness are as steps towards
the most direct breaches of the law of chastity. Avoid the society of persons
who are wanting in purity, especially if they are bold, as indeed impure people
always are. If a foul animal licks the sweet almond tree its fruit becomes
bitter; and so a corrupt pestilential man can scarcely hold communication with
others, whether men or women, without damaging their perfect purity--their very
glance is venomous, and their breath blighting like the basilisk. On the other
hand, seek out good and pure men, read and ponder holy things; for the Word of
God is pure, and it will make those pure who study it: wherefore David likens it
to gold and precious stones. 1 Always abide close to Jesus Christ Crucified,
both spiritually in meditation and actually in Holy Communion; for as all those
who sleep upon the plant called Agnus castus become pure and chaste, so, if you
rest your heart upon Our Dear Lord, the Very Lamb, Pure and Immaculate, you will
find that soon both heart and soul will be purified of all spot or stain.
1 Ps. cxix. 127.
On Poverty of Spirit amid Riches.
"BLESSED are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God;" 1 and if so,
woe be to the rich in spirit, for theirs must be the bitterness of hell. By rich
in spirit I mean him whose riches engross his mind, or whose mind is buried in
his riches. He is poor in spirit whose heart is not filled with the love of
riches, whose mind is not set upon them. The halcyon builds its nest like a
ball, and leaving but one little aperture in the upper part, launches it on the
sea, so secure and impenetrable, that the waves carry it along without any water
getting in, and it floats on the sea, superior, so to say, to the waves. And
this, my child, is what your heart should be--open only to heaven, impenetrable
to riches and earthly treasures. If you have them, keep your heart from
attaching itself to them; let it maintain a higher level, and amidst riches be
as though you had none,--superior to them. Do not let that mind which is the
likeness of God cleave to mere earthly goods; let it always be raised above
them, not sunk in them.
There is a wide difference between having poison and being poisoned. All
1 S. Matt. v. 3.
have poisons ready for special uses, but they are not consequently poisoned,
because the poison is only in their shop, not in themselves; and so you may
possess riches without being poisoned by them, so long as they are in your house
or purse only, and not in your heart. It is the Christian's privilege to be rich
in material things, and poor in attachment to them, thereby having the use of
riches in this world and the merit of poverty in the next.
Of a truth, my daughter, no one will ever own themselves to be
avaricious;--every one denies this contemptible vice:--men excuse themselves on
the plea of providing for their children, or plead the duty of prudent
forethought:--they never have too much, there is always some good reason for
accumulating more; and even the most avaricious of men not only do not own to
being such, but sincerely believe that they are not; and that because avarice is
as a strong fever which is all the less felt as it rages most fiercely. Moses
saw that sacred fire which burnt the bush without consuming it, 1 but the
profane fire of avarice acts precisely the other way,--it consumes the miser,
but without burning, for, amid its most intense heat, he believes himself to be
deliciously cool, and imagines his insatiable thirst to be merely natural and
1 Exod. iii. 2.
If you long earnestly, anxiously, and persistently after what you do not
possess, it is all very well to say that you do not wish to get it unfairly, but
you are all the time guilty of avarice. He who longs eagerly and anxiously to
drink, though it may be water only, thereby indicates that he is feverish. I
hardly think we can say that it is lawful to wish lawfully to possess that which
is another's:--so doing we surely wish our own gain at the expense of that
other? and he who possesses anything lawfully, surely has more right to possess
it, than we to obtain it? Why should we desire that which is his? Even were the
wish lawful, it is not charitable, for we should not like other men to desire
what we possess, however lawfully. This was Ahab's sin when he sought to acquire
Naboth's vineyard by lawful purchase, when Naboth lawfully desired to keep it
himself;--he coveted it eagerly, continually, and anxiously, and so doing he
displeased God. 1
Do not allow yourself to wish for that which is your neighbour's until he wishes
to part with it,--then his wish will altogether justify yours,-- and I am quite
willing that you should add to your means and possessions, provided it be not
merely with strict justice, but kindly and charitably done.
1 I Kings xxi.
If you cleave closely to your possessions, and are cumbered with them, setting
your heart and thoughts upon them, and restlessly anxious lest you should suffer
loss, then, believe me, you are still somewhat feverish;--for fever patients
drink the water we give them with an eagerness and satisfaction not common to
those who are well.
It is not possible to take great pleasure in anything without becoming attached
to it. If you lose property, and find yourself grievously afflicted at the loss,
you may be sure that you were warmly attached to it;--there is no surer proof of
affection for the thing lost than our sorrow at its loss.
Therefore, do not fix your longings on anything which you do not possess; do not
let your heart rest in that which you have; do not grieve overmuch at the losses
which may happen to you;--and then you may reasonably believe that although rich
in fact, you are not so in affection, but that you are poor in spirit, and
therefore blessed, for the Kingdom of Heaven is yours.
How to exercise real Poverty, although actually Rich.
THE painter Parrhasius drew an ingenious and imaginative representation of the
Athenians, ascribing sundry opposite qualities to them, calling them at once
capricious, irascible, unjust, inconstant, courteous, merciful, compassionate,
haughty, vain-glorious, humble, boastful, and cowardly;--and for my part, dear
daughter, I would fain see united in your heart both riches and poverty, a great
care and a great contempt for temporal things.
Do you take much greater pains than is the wont of worldly men to make your
riches useful and fruitful? Are not the gardeners of a prince more diligent in
cultivating and beautifying the royal gardens than if they were their own?
Wherefore? Surely because these gardens are the king's, to whom his gardeners
would fain render an acceptable service. My child, our possessions are not
ours,--God has given them to us to cultivate, that we may make them fruitful and
profitable in His Service, and so doing we shall please Him. And this we must do
more earnestly than worldly men, for they look carefully after their property
out of self-love, and we must work for the love of God. Now self-love is a
restless, anxious, over-eager love, and so the work done on its behalf is
troubled, vexatious, and unsatisfactory;--whereas the love of God is calm,
peaceful, and tranquil, and so the work done for its sake, even in worldly
things, is gentle, trustful, and quiet. Let us take such
a quiet care to preserve, and even when practicable to increase, our temporal
goods, according to the duties of our position,--this is acceptable to God for
His Love's Sake.
But beware that you be not deceived by self-love, for sometimes it counterfeits
the Love of God so cleverly that you may mistake one for the other. To avoid
this, and to prevent a due care for your temporal interests from degenerating
into avarice, it is needful often to practise a real poverty amid the riches
with which God has endowed you.
To this end always dispose of a part of your means by giving them heartily to
the poor; you impoverish yourself by whatever you give away. It is true that God
will restore it to you, not only in the next world, but in this, for nothing
brings so much temporal prosperity as free almsgiving, but meanwhile, you are
sensibly poorer for what you give. Truly that is a holy and rich poverty which
results from almsgiving.
Love the poor and poverty,--this love will make you truly poor, since, as Holy
Scripture says, we become like to that we love. 1 Love makes lovers equal. "Who
is weak and I am not weak?" 2 says St. Paul? He might have said, Who is poor and
I am not poor? for it was
1 "Their abominations were according as they loved." Hosea ix. 10.
2 2 Cor. xi. 29.
love which made him like to those he loved; and so, if you love the poor, you
will indeed share their poverty, and be poor like them.
And if you love the poor, seek them out, take pleasure in bringing them to your
home, and in going to theirs, talk freely with them, and be ready to meet them,
whether in Church or elsewhere. Let your tongue be poor with them in converse,
but let your hands be rich to distribute out of your abundance. Are you prepared
to go yet further, my child? not to stop at being poor like the poor, but even
poorer still? The servant is not so great as his lord; do you be the servant of
the poor, tend their sickbed with your own hands, be their cook, their
needlewoman. O my daughter, such servitude is more glorious than royalty! How
touchingly S. Louis, one of the greatest of kings, fulfilled this duty; serving
the poor in their own houses, and daily causing three to eat at his own table,
often himself eating the remains of their food in his loving humility. In his
frequent visits to the hospitals he would select those afflicted with the most
loathsome diseases, ulcers, cancer, and the like; and these he would tend,
kneeling down and bare-headed, beholding the Saviour of the world in them, and
cherishing them with all the tenderness of a mother's love. Saint Elizabeth of
used to mix freely with the poor, and liked to dress in their homely garments
amid her gay ladies. Surely these royal personages were poor amid their riches
and rich in poverty.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Day
of Judgment the King of prince and peasant will say to them, "I was an hungred,
and ye gave Me meat, I was naked, and ye clothed Me; come, inherit the Kingdom
prepared for you from the foundation of the world." 1
Everybody finds themselves sometimes deficient in what they need, and put to
inconvenience. A guest whom we would fain receive honorably arrives, and we
cannot entertain him as we would; we want our costly apparel in one place, and
it all happens to be somewhere else: all the wine in our cellar suddenly turns
sour: we find ourselves accidentally in some country place where everything is
wanting, room, bed, food, attendance: in short, the richest people may easily be
without something they want, and that is practically to suffer poverty. Accept
such occurrences cheerfully, rejoice in them, bear them willingly.
Again, if you are impoverished much or little by unforeseen events, such as
storm, flood, fire, drought, theft, or lawsuit; then is the real time
1 S. Matt. xxv. 34-36.
to practise poverty, accepting the loss quietly, and adapting yourself patiently
to your altered circumstances. Esau and Jacob both came to their father with
hairy hands, 1 but the hair on Jacob's hands did not grow from his skin, and
could be torn off without pain; while that on Esau's hands being the natural
growth of his skin, he would have cried out and resisted if any one had torn it
off. So if our possessions are very close to our heart, and storm or thief tear
them away, we shall break forth in impatient murmurs and lamentations. But if we
only cleave to them with that solicitude which God wills us to have, and not
with our whole heart, we shall see them rent away without losing our sense of
calmness. This is just the difference between the clothing of men and beasts;
the beast's clothing grows on its flesh, and man's is only laid on so that it
may be laid aside at will.
How to possess a rich Spirit amid real Poverty.
BUT if you are really poor, my daughter, for God's Sake be so in spirit; make a
virtue of necessity, and turn that precious stone poverty
1 Gen. xxvii.
to its true value. The brilliancy thereof is not perceived in this world, but
nevertheless it is very great.
Patience then! you are in good company. Our Dear Lord, Our Lady, the Apostles,
numberless Saints, both men and women, were poor, and although they might have
been rich, disdained to be so. How many great ones of this world have gone
through many difficulties to seek holy poverty amid hospitals and cloisters!
What pains they took to find it, let S. Alexis, S. Paula, S. Paulinus, S.
Angela, and many another witness; whereas to you, my child, it has come
unasked--you have met poverty without seeking it--do you then embrace it as the
beloved friend of Jesus Christ, Who was born, lived and died in poverty, and
cherished it all His Life.
There are two great privileges connected with your poverty, through which you
may acquire great merit. First, it is not your own choice, but God's Will alone,
which has made you poor. Now, whatever we accept simply because it is God's Will
is acceptable in His Sight, so long as we accept it heartily and out of
love:--the less of self the more of God,--and a singlehearted acceptance of
God's Will purifies any suffering very greatly.
The second privilege is, that this poverty is
so very poor. There is a be-praised, caressed poverty, so petted and cared for,
that it can hardly be called poor like the despised, contemned, neglected
poverty which also exists. Now, most secular poverty is of this last kind, for
those who are involuntarily poor, and cannot help themselves, are not much
thought of, and for that very reason their poverty is poorer than that of
religious, although religious poverty has a very special and excellent grace,
through the intention and the vow by which it is accepted.
Do not complain then of your poverty, my daughter,--we only complain of that
which is unwelcome, and if poverty is unwelcome to you, you are no longer poor
in spirit. Do not fret under such assistance as is needful; therein lies one
great grace of poverty. It were overambitious to aim at being poor without
suffering any inconvenience, in other words, to have the credit of poverty and
the convenience of riches.
Do not be ashamed of being poor, or of asking alms. Receive what is given you
with humility, and accept a refusal meekly. Frequently call to mind Our Lady's
journey into Egypt with her Holy Child, and of all the poverty, contempt and
suffering they endured. If you follow their example you will indeed be rich amid
On Friendship: Evil and Frivolous Friendship.
FOREMOST among the soul's affections is love. Love is the ruler of every motion
of the heart; drawing all to itself, and making us like to that we love. Beware,
then, my daughter, of harbouring any evil affection, or you too will become
evil. And friendship is the most dangerous of all affections, because any other
love may exist without much mental communication, but as friendship is founded
thereon, it is hardly possible to be closely bound by its ties to any one
without sharing in his qualities.
All love is not friendship, for one may love without any return, and friendship
implies mutual love. Further, those who are bound by such affection must be
conscious that it is reciprocal,-- otherwise there may be love but not
friendship; and moreover, there must be something communicated between the
friends as a solid foundation of friendship.
Friendship varies according to these communications, and they vary according to
that which people have to communicate. If men share false and vain things, their
friendship will be false and vain; if that which is good and true, their
friendship will be good and true, and
the better that which is the staple of the bond, so much the better will the
friendship be. That honey is best which is culled from the choicest flowers, and
so friendship built upon the highest and purest intercommunion is the best. And
just as a certain kind of honey brought from Pontus is poisonous, being made
from aconite, so that those who eat it lose their senses, so the friendship
which is based on unreal or evil grounds will itself be hollow and worthless.
Mere sensual intercourse is not worthy of the name of friendship; and were there
nothing more in married love it would not deserve to bear the name; but inasmuch
as that involves the participation of life, industry, possessions, affections,
and an unalterable fidelity, marriage, when rightly understood, is a very real
and holy friendship.
Whatever is founded on mere sensuality, vanity, or frivolity, is unworthy to be
called friendship. I mean such attractions as are purely external; a sweet
voice, personal beauty, and the cleverness or outward show which have great
weight with some. You will often hear women and young people unhesitatingly
decide that such an one is very delightful, very admirable, because he is
good-looking, well-dressed, sings, or dances, or talks well. Even charlatans
esteem the wittiest clown amongst them as their
best man. But all these things are purely sensual, and the connections built on
such foundation must be vain and frivolous, more fitly to be called trifling
than friendship. They spring up chiefly among young people, who are easily
fascinated by personal attractions, dress, and gossip--friendships in which the
tailor and hairdresser have the chief part. How can such friendships be other
than shortlived, melting away like snow wreaths in the sun!
On Frivolous Attachments.
SUCH foolish attachments between man and woman without any matrimonial
intentions as are called amourettes,--mere abortions, or rather phantoms of
friendship,--must not, idle and empty as they are, profane the name of
friendship or love. Yet such frivolous, contemptible attractions often snare the
hearts of both men and women, and although they may end in downright sin, there
is no such intention on the part of their victims, who consciously do but yield
to foolish trifling and toying. Some such have no object beyond the actual
indulgence of a passing inclination; others
are excited by vanity, which takes pleasure in captivating hearts; some are
stimulated by a combination of both these motives. But all such friendships are
evil, hollow, and vain; evil, in that they often lead to sinful deeds, and draw
the heart from God, and from the husband or wife who is its lawful owner;
hollow, in that they are baseless and without root; vain, in that neither gain,
honour, nor satisfaction can come from such. On the contrary, nothing comes of
them but a loss of time and credit, and unreasoning excitement, mistrust,
jealousy, and perturbation.
S. Gregory Nazianzen speaks very wisely on this subject, admonishing vain women,
and his words are equally applicable to men:-- "Your natural beauty will suffice
your husband, but if it is exhibited to all, like a net spread before birds,
what will be the end? You will be taken by whoever admires you, looks and
glances will be exchanged, smiles and tender words, at first hesitatingly
exchanged, but soon more boldly given and received. Far be it from me to
describe the end, but this much I will say, nothing said or done by young men
and women under such circumstances but is perilous. One act of levity leads to
another, as the links in a chain." They who tamper with such things will fall
into the trap. They
fancy that they only mean to amuse themselves, but will not go too far. Little
you know, forsooth! The tiny spark will burst into a flame, and, overpowering
your heart, it will reduce your good resolutions to ashes, and your reputation
to smoke. "Who will pity a charmer that is bitten with a serpent?" asks the Wise
Man; 1 and with him I ask, Do you, in your folly, imagine that you can lightly
handle love as you please? You think to trifle with it, but it will sting you
cruelly, and then every one will mock you, and laugh at your foolish pretension
to harbour a venomous serpent in your bosom, which has poisoned and lost alike
your honour and your soul. What fatal blindness this to stake all that is most
precious to man! Yes, I say it advisedly, for God desires to have us only for
the sake of our soul, or the soul through our will, and our will for love's
sake. Surely we have not by any means a sufficient store of love to offer God,
and yet in our madness and folly we lavish and waste it on vain frivolous
objects, as though we had enough and to spare. Our Dear Lord, Who demands nought
save our love in return for our creation, preservation and redemption, will
require a strict account of the senseless way in which we have frittered and
wasted it. If He will call us to account for idle
1 Ecclus. xii. 13.
words, how will it be with respect to idle, foolish, pernicious friendships?
Husbandmen know that the walnut tree is very harmful in a vineyard or field,
because it absorbs the fatness of the land and draws it away from the other
crops; its thick foliage overshadows and deprives them of sunshine; and,
moreover, it attracts passers-by, who tread down and spoil all that is around
while striving to gather its fruit. So with these foolish love affairs and the
soul; they engross it, so that it is unable to bring forth good works; their
superfluous foliage--flirtations, dallyings and idle talk--consume profitable
time; and, moreover, they lead to so many temptations, distractions, suspicions,
and the like, that the heart becomes altogether crushed and spoiled. Such
follies not only banish Heavenly Love, they likewise drive out the fear of God,
enervate the mind, and damage reputation. They may be the plaything of courts,
but assuredly they are as a plague spot of the heart. 1
Of Real Friendship.
DO you, my child, love every one with the pure love of charity, but have no
1 "C'est en un mot le jouet des cours, mais la peste des coeurs."
friendship save with those whose intercourse is good and true, and the purer the
bond which unites you so much higher will your friendship be. If your
intercourse is based on science it is praiseworthy, still more if it arises from
a participation in goodness, prudence, justice and the like; but if the bond of
your mutual liking be charity, devotion and Christian perfection, God knows how
very precious a friendship it is! Precious because it comes from God, because it
tends to God, because God is the link that binds you, because it will last for
ever in Him. Truly it is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in
Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there. I
am not now speaking of simple charity, a love due to all mankind, but of that
spiritual friendship which binds souls together, leading them to share devotions
and spiritual interests, so as to have but one mind between them. Such as these
may well cry out, "Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell
together in unity!" 1 Even so, for the "precious ointment" of devotion trickles
continually from one heart to the other, so that truly we may say that to such
friendship the Lord promises His Blessing and life for evermore.
1 Ps. cxxxiii. 1.
To my mind all other friendship is but as a shadow with respect to this, its
links mere fragile glass compared to the golden bond of true devotion. Do you
form no other friendships. I say "form," because you have no right to cast aside
or neglect the natural bonds which draw you to relations, connexions,
benefactors or neighbours. My rules apply to those you deliberately choose to
make. There are some who will tell you that you should avoid all special
affection or friendship, as likely to engross the heart, distract the mind,
excite jealousy, and what not. But they are confusing things. They have read in
the works of saintly and devout writers that individual friendships and special
intimacies are a great hindrance in the religious life, and therefore they
suppose it to be the same with all the world, which is not at all the case.
Whereas in a well-regulated community every one's aim is true devotion, there is
no need for individual intercourse, which might exceed due limits;--in the world
those who aim at a devout life require to be united one with another by a holy
friendship, which excites, stimulates and encourages them in well-doing. Just as
men traversing a plain have no need to hold one another up, as they have who are
amid slippery mountain paths, so religious do not need the stay of individual
friendships; but those who are living in the world require such for strength and
comfort amid the difficulties which beset them. In the world all have not one
aim, one mind, and therefore we must take to us congenial friends, nor is there
any undue partiality in such attachments, which are but as the separation of
good from evil, the sheep from the goats, the bee from the drone--a necessary
No one can deny that our Dear Lord loved S. John, Lazarus, Martha, Magdalene,
with a specially tender friendship, since we are told so in Holy Scripture; and
we know that S. Paul dearly loved S. Mark, S. Petronilla, as S. Paul Timothy and
Thecla. 1 S. Gregory Nazianzen boasts continually of his friendship with the
great S. Basil, of which he says: "It seemed as though with two bodies we had
but one soul, and if we may not believe those who say that all things are in all
else, at least one must affirm that we were two in one, and one in two
1 S. Thecla (V.M.) was a native of Lycaonia, converted (so say S. Augustine, S.
Ambrose, S. Epiphanius, and others of the Fathers) by S. Paul, who kindled so
strong a love of virginity in her heart that she broke off her intended
marriage, and devoted herself to Christ. She is said to have followed S. Paul in
several of his journeys, and a very ancient Martyrology, which bears the name of
S. Jerome, published by Florentinus, says that she was miraculously delivered
unhurt from the persecutors' flames at Rome. It seems doubtful whether she died
a natural or a martyr's death. The first Christian Emperors built a great Church
at Seleucia, where she died.
--the only object that both had being to grow in holiness, and to mould our
present life to our future hopes, thereby forsaking this mortal world before our
death." And S. Augustine says that S. Ambrose loved S. Monica by reason of her
many virtues, and that she in return loved him as an Angel of God.
What need to affirm so unquestionable a fact! S. Jerome, S. Augustine, S.
Gregory, S. Bernard, and all the most notable servants of God, have had special
friendships, which in nowise hindered their perfection. S. Paul, in describing
evil men, says that they were "without natural affection," 1 i.e. without
friendship. And S. Thomas, in common with other philosophers, acknowledges that
friendship is a virtue, and he certainly means individual friendships, because
he says that we cannot bestow perfect friendship on many persons. So we see that
the highest grace does not lie in being without friendships, but in having none
which are not good, holy and true.
Of the Difference between True and False Friendship.
TAKE notice, my child, that the honey of Heraclyum, which is so poisonous,
1 Rom. i. 31.
altogether resembles that which is wholesome, and there is great danger of
mistaking one for the other, or of mixing them, for the virtue of one would not
counteract the harmfulness of the other. We must be on our guard not to be
deceived in making friendships, especially between persons of the opposite
sexes, for not unfrequently Satan deludes those who love one another. They may
begin with a virtuous affection, but if discretion be lacking, frivolity will
creep in, and then sensuality, till their love becomes carnal: even in spiritual
love there is a danger if people are not on the watch, although it is not so
easy to be deluded therein, inasmuch as the very purity and transparency of
spiritual affection show Satan's stains more promptly. Consequently, when he
seeks to interpose, he does it stealthily, and strives to insinuate impurity
You may distinguish between worldly friendship and that which is good and holy,
just as one distinguishes that poisonous honey from what is good--it is sweeter
to the taste than ordinary honey, owing to the aconite infused;-- and so worldly
friendship is profuse in honeyed words, passionate endearments, commendations of
beauty and sensual charms, while true friendship speaks a simple honest
language, lauding nought save the Grace of God, its one only foundation.
That strange honey causes giddiness; and so false friendship upsets the mind,
makes its victim to totter in the ways of purity and devotion, inducing
affected, mincing looks, sensual caresses, inordinate sighings, petty complaints
of not being loved, slight but questionable familiarities, gallantries,
embraces, and the like, which are sure precursors of evil; whereas true
friendship is modest and straightforward in every glance, loving and pure in
caresses, has no sighs save for Heaven, no complaints save that God is not loved
sufficiently. That honey confuses the sight, and worldly friendship confuses the
judgment, so that men think themselves right while doing evil, and assume their
excuses and pretexts to be valid reasoning. They fear the light and love
darkness; but true friendship is clear-sighted, and hides nothing--rather seeks
to be seen of good men. Lastly, this poisonous honey leaves an exceeding bitter
taste behind; and so false friendship turns to evil desires, upbraidings,
slander, deceit, sorrow, confusion and jealousies, too often ending in downright
sin; but pure friendship is always the same--modest, courteous and
loving--knowing no change save an increasingly pure and perfect union, a type of
the blessed friendships of Heaven.
When young people indulge in looks, words or actions which they would not like
seen by their parents, husbands or confessors, it is a sure sign that they are
damaging their conscience and their honour. Our Lady was troubled 1 when the
Angel appeared to her in human form, because she was alone, and he spoke to her
with flattering although heavenly words. O Saviour of the world, if purity
itself fears an Angel in human shape, how much more need that our impurity
should fear men, although they take the likeness of an Angel, if they speak
words of earthliness and sensuality!
Remedies against Evil Friendships.
HOW are you to meet the swarm of foolish attachments, triflings, and undesirable
inclinations which beset you? By turning sharply away, and thoroughly renouncing
such vanities, flying to the Saviour's Cross, and clasping His Crown of thorns
to your heart, so that these little foxes may not spoil your vines. 2 Beware of
entering into any manner of treaty with the Enemy; do not delude yourself by
listening to him while intending to reject him. For God's Sake, my daughter, be
firm on all
1 S. Luke i. 29. 2 Cant. ii. 15.
such occasions; the heart and ear are closely allied, and just as you would
vainly seek to check the downward course of a mountain torrent, so difficult
will you find it to keep the smooth words which enter in at the ear from finding
their way down into the heart. Alcmeon says (what indeed Aristotle denies) that
the goat breathes through its ears, not its nostrils. I know not whether this be
so, but one thing I know, that our heart breathes through the ear, and that
while it exhales its own thoughts through the mouth, it inhales those of others
by the ear. Let us then carefully guard our ears against evil words which would
speedily infect the heart. Never hearken to any indiscreet conversation
whatsoever--never mind if you seem rude and uncourteous in rejecting all such.
Always bear in mind that you have dedicated your heart to God, and offered your
love to Him; so that it were sacrilege to deprive Him of one particle thereof.
Do you rather renew the offering continually by fresh resolutions, entrenching
yourself therein as in a fortress;--cry out to God, He will succour you, and His
Love will shelter you, so that all your love may be kept for Him only.
If unhappily you are already entangled in the nets of any unreal affection,
truly it is hard to set you free! But place yourself before His
Divine Majesty, acknowledge the depth of your wretchedness, your weakness and
vanity, and then with all the earnestness of purpose you can muster, arrest the
budding evil, abjure your own empty promises, and renounce those you have
received, and resolve with a firm, absolute will never again to indulge in any
trifling or dallying with such matters.
If you can remove from the object of your unworthy affection, it is most
desirable to do so. He who has been bitten by a viper cannot heal his wound in
the presence of another suffering from the like injury, and so one bitten with a
false fancy will not shake it off while near to his fellow-victim. Change of
scene is very helpful in quieting the excitement and restlessness of sorrow or
love. S. Ambrose tells a story in his Second Book on Penitence, of a young man,
who coming home after a long journey quite cured of a foolish attachment, met
the unworthy object of his former passion, who stopped him, saying, "Do you not
know me, I am still myself?" "That may be," was the answer, "but I am not
myself:"--so thoroughly and happily was he changed by absence. And S. Augustine
tells us how, after the death of his dear friend, he soothed his grief by
leaving Tagaste and going to Carthage.
But what is he to do, who cannot try this
remedy? To such I would say, abstain from all private intercourse, all tender
glances and smiles, and from every kind of communication which can feed the
unholy flame. If it be necessary to speak at all, express clearly and tersely
the eternal renunciation on which you have resolved. I say unhesitatingly to
whosoever has become entangled in any such worthless love affairs, Cut it short,
break it off--do not play with it, or pretend to untie the knot; cut it through,
tear it asunder. There must be no dallying with an attachment which is
incompatible with the Love of God.
But, you ask, after I have thus burst the chains of my unholy bondage, will no
traces remain, and shall I not still carry the scars on my feet--that is, in my
wounded affections? Not so, my child, if you have attained a due abhorrence of
the evil; in that case all you will feel is an exceeding horror of your unworthy
affection, and all appertaining thereto; no thought will linger in your breast
concerning it save a true love of God. Or if, by reason of the imperfection of
your repentance, any evil inclinations still hover round you, seek such a mental
solitude as I have already described, retire into it as much as possible, and
then by repeated efforts and ejaculations renounce your evil desires; abjure
them heartily; read pious
books more than is your wont; go more frequently to Confession and Communion;
tell your director simply and humbly all that tempts and troubles you, if you
can, or at all events take counsel with some faithful, wise friend. And never
doubt but that God will set you free from all evil passions, if you are stedfast
and devout on your part. Perhaps you will say that it is unkind, ungrateful,
thus pitilessly to break off a friendship. Surely it were a happy unkindness
which is acceptable to God; but of a truth, my child, you are committing no
unkindness, rather conferring a great benefit on the person you love, for you
break his chains as well as your own, and although at the moment he may not
appreciate his gain, he will do so by and by, and will join you in thanksgiving,
"Thou, Lord, hast broken my bonds in sunder. I will offer to Thee the sacrifice
of thanksgiving, and will call upon the Name of the Lord." 1
Further Advice concerning Intimacies.
FRIENDSHIP demands very close correspondence between those who love one another,
otherwise it can never take root or
1 Ps. cxvi. 14, 15.
continue. And together with the interchange of friendship, other things
imperceptibly glide in, and a mutual giving and receiving of emotions and
inclinations takes place; especially when we esteem the object of our love very
highly, because then we so entirely open our heart to him, that his influence
rules us altogether, whether for good or evil. The bees which make that oriental
honey of which I spoke, seek to gather nought save honey, but with it they suck
up the poisonous juices of the aconite on which they light. So here, my child,
we must bear in mind what our Saviour said about putting out our money to the
exchangers; 1 we must seek to make a good exchange, not receiving bad money and
good alike, and learning to distinguish that which is valuable from what is
worthless, since scarcely any one is free from some imperfection, nor is there
any reason why we should adopt all our friend's faults as well as his
friendship. Of course we should love him notwithstanding his faults, but without
loving those faults; true friendship implies an interchange of what is good, not
what is evil. As men who drag the river Tagus sift the gold from its sands and
throw the latter back upon the shore, so true friends should sift the sand of
imperfections and reject it. S. Gregory
1 S. Matt. xxv. 27.
Nazianzen tells us how certain persons who loved and admired S. Basil were led
to imitate even his external blemishes, his slow, abstracted manner of speaking,
the cut of his beard, and his peculiar gait. And so we see husbands and wives,
children, friends, who, by reason of their great affection for one another,
acquire--either accidentally or designedly--many foolish little ways and tricks
peculiar to each. This ought not to be; for every one has enough imperfections
of their own without adding those of anybody else, and friendship requires no
such thing; on the contrary, it rather constrains us to help one another in
getting rid of all sorts of imperfections. Of course we should bear with our
friend's infirmities, but we should not encourage them, much less copy them.
Of course I am speaking of imperfections only, for, as to sins, we must neither
imitate or tolerate these in our friends. That is but a sorry friendship which
would see a friend perish, and not try to save him; would watch him dying of an
abscess without daring to handle the knife of correction which would save him.
True and living friendship cannot thrive amid sin. There is a tradition that the
salamander extinguishes any fire into which it enters, and so sin destroys
friendship. Friendship will banish a casual sin by brotherly correction, but
if the sin be persistent, friendship dies out,--it can only live in a pure
atmosphere. Much less can true friendship ever lead any one into sin; our friend
becomes an enemy if he seeks to do so, and deserves to lose our friendship, and
there is no surer proof of the hollowness of friendship than its profession
between evil-doers. If we love a vicious person, our friendship will be vicious
too; it will be like those to whom it is given.
Those who draw together for mere temporal profit, have no right to call their
union friendship; it is not for love of one another that they unite, but for
love of gain.
There are two sayings in Holy Scripture on which all Christian friendship should
be built: --that of the Wise Man, "Whoso feareth the Lord shall direct his
friendship aright;" 1 and that of S. James, "The friendship of the world is
enmity with God." 2
On The Practice of Bodily Mortification.
IT has been said that if one writes a word on an almond, and then replace it
carefully in its husk, and sow it, all the fruit borne
1 Ecclus. vi. 17. 2 S. James iv. 4.
by that tree will be marked by the word so inscribed. For my own part, I never
could approve of beginning to reform any one by merely external things,--dress,
the arrangement of hair, and outward show. On the contrary, it seems to me that
one should begin from within. "Turn ye to Me with all your heart;" 1 "My son,
give Me thine heart; " 2 for as the heart is the fount whence all our actions
spring, they will be according to what it is. And the Heavenly Bridegroom,
calling the soul, says, "Set Me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine
arm." 3 Yes verily, for whosoever has Jesus Christ in his heart will soon show
it in all his external actions. Therefore, my daughter, above all things I would
write that precious and Holy Name JESUS in your heart, certain that having done
so, your life--like the almond tree in the fable--will bear the stamp of that
Saving Name in every act; and if the Dear Lord dwells within your heart, He will
live in your every action, and will be traced in every member and part of you,
so that you will be able to say with S. Paul, "I live, yet not I, but Christ
liveth in me." 4 In a word, whosoever gains the heart has won the whole man. But
this heart needs to be trained in its external conduct, so that it may display
1 Joel ii. 12. 2 Prov. xxiii. 26.
3 Cant. viii. 6. 4 Gal. ii. 20.
not merely a true devotion, but also wisdom and discretion. To this end I would
make one or two suggestions.
If you are able to fast, you will do well to observe some days beyond what are
ordered by the Church, for besides the ordinary effect of fasting in raising the
mind, subduing the flesh, confirming goodness, and obtaining a heavenly reward,
it is also a great matter to be able to control greediness, and to keep the
sensual appetites and the whole body subject to the law of the Spirit; and
although we may be able to do but little, the enemy nevertheless stands more in
awe of those whom he knows can fast. The early Christians selected Wednesday,
Friday and Saturday as days of abstinence. Do you follow therein according as
your own devotion and your director's discretion may appoint.
I am prepared to say with S. Jerome (to the pious Leta) that I disapprove of
long and immoderate fasting, especially for the young. I have learnt by
experience that when the colt grows weary it turns aside, and so when young
people become delicate by excessive fasting, they readily take to
self-indulgence. The stag does not run with due speed either when over fat or
too thin, and we are in peril of temptation both when the body is overfed or
underfed; in the one case it grows indolent, in the other it sinks through
and if we cannot bear with it in the first case, neither can it bear with us in
the last. A want of moderation in the use of fasting, discipline and austerity
has made many a one useless in works of charity during the best years of his
life, as happened to S. Bernard, who repented of his excessive austerity. Those
who misuse the body at the outset will have to indulge it overmuch at last.
Surely it were wiser to deal sensibly with it, and treat it according to the
work and service required by each man's state of life.
Fasting and labour both exhaust and subdue the body. If your work is necessary
or profitable to God's Glory, I would rather see you bear the exhaustion of work
than of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church, who dispenses those who are
called to work for God or their neighbour even from her prescribed fasts. One
man finds it hard to fast, another finds it as hard to attend the sick, to visit
prisons, to hear confessions, preach, minister to the afflicted, pray, and the
like. And the last hardship is better than the other; for while it subdues the
flesh equally, it brings forth better fruit. And as a general rule it is better
to preserve more bodily strength than is absolutely necessary, than to damage it
more than is necessary. Bodily strength can always be lowered if needful, but we
cannot restore it at will. It seems to me that we ought to have
in great reverence that which our Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ said to His
disciples, "Eat such things as are set before you." 1 To my mind there is more
virtue in eating whatever is offered you just as it comes, whether you like it
or not, than in always choosing what is worst; for although the latter course
may seem more ascetic, the former involves greater submission of will, because
by it you give up not merely your taste, but your choice; and it is no slight
austerity to hold up one's likings in one's hand, and subject them to all manner
of accidents. Furthermore, this kind of mortification makes no show,
inconveniences no one, and is admirably adapted to social life. To be always
discarding one dish for another, examining everything, suspicious as to
everything, making a fuss over every morsel--all this to my mind is
contemptible, and implies too much thought of meats and platters. To my mind
there was more austerity in S. Bernard's drinking oil by mistake for wine or
water than if he had deliberately drunk wormwood, for it showed that he was not
thinking of what he drank. And the real meaning of those sacred words, "Eat such
things as are set before you," lies in such an indifference to what one eats and
drinks. I should make an exception of any food which is
1 S. Luke x. 8.
unwholesome, or likely to be injurious to the mind's energies, such as certain
hot, spiced, or stimulating dishes; as also on certain occasions when nature
requires to be refreshed and invigorated in order to perform the work needful
for God's Glory. At all times a constant habitual moderation is better than
occasional excessive abstinence, alternated with great indulgence. The
discipline has a surprising effect in rousing the taste for devotion, if used
moderately. The body is greatly subdued by the use of the hair shirt, but it is
not fit for ordinary people, married persons, those who are delicate, or who
have to bear considerable fatigue. On certain days of special penitence it may
be used, subject to the counsel of a judicious confessor.
Every one must take so much of the night for sleep, as his constitution, and the
profitable performance of his day's work, requires. Holy Scripture continually
teaches us that the morning is the best and most profitable part of the day, and
so do the examples of the Saints and our natural reason. Our Lord Himself is
called the Sun, risinig upon the earth, and our Lady the Day-star; and so I
think it is wise to go to sleep early at night in order to be ready to waken and
rise early. Moreover, that is the pleasantest, the freshest, and the freest hour
of the day,--the very birds stimulate us to rise and
sing God's praises. Early rising promotes both health and holiness.
Balaam saddled his ass and went to meet Balak, but his heart was not right with
God, and therefore the Angel of the Lord stood in the way, with a sword in his
hand to kill him, had not the ass three times turned out of the way as though
she were restive; whereat Balaam smote her with his staff, until at last she
fell down beneath him, and her mouth being miraculously opened, she said unto
him, "What have I done unto thee that thou hast smitten me these three times?"
Then Balaam's eyes were opened, and he saw the Angel, who said to him,
"Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass? unless she had turned from me surely now
I had slain thee, and saved her alive." Then Balaam said to the Angel of the
Lord, "I have sinned, for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me."
1 Do you see, my daughter, it was Balaam who did wrong, but he beat the poor
ass, who was not to blame. It is often so with us. A woman's husband or child is
ill, and forthwith she has recourse to fasting, the discipline, and hair shirt,
even as David did on a like occasion. 2 But, dear friend, you are smiting the
ass! you afflict your body, which can do nothing when God stands before you with
1 Numb. xxii. 2 2. Sam. xii. 16.
unsheathed. Rather correct your heart, which idolises your husband, and has
indulged your child, letting him give way to pride, vanity, and ambition. Or,
again, a man falls often into fleshly sins, and the voice of conscience stands
before him in the way, rousing him to a holy fear. Then recollecting himself, he
begins to abuse his flesh for betraying him, he deals out strict fasts, severe
discipline, and the like, to it, and meanwhile the poor flesh might cry out like
Balaam's ass, Why smitest thou me? It is you yourself, O my soul, that are
guilty. Wherefore do you force me into evil, using my eyes, and hands, and lips
for unholy purposes, and tormenting me with evil imaginations? Do you entertain
only good thoughts, and I shall feel no unholy impulses, frequent none save
pious people, and I shall not be kindled with guilty fire. You cast me yourself
into the flames, and bid me not to burn! you fill my eyes with smoke, and wonder
that they are inflamed! But God bids you deal chiefly with your heart, for that
is the chief offender. When a man suffers from the itch, there is less need to
bathe him, and cleanse the surface, than to purify his blood; and so, in order
to purge our vices, no doubt it is well to mortify the flesh, but above all it
is necessary to purify the affections and renew the heart. Make it a rule then
undertake any bodily austerities without the advice of your spiritual guide.
Of Society and Solitude.
EITHER to seek or to shun society is a fault in one striving to lead a devout
life in the world, such as I am now speaking of. To shun society implies
indifference and contempt for one's neighbours; and to seek it savours of
idleness and uselessness. We are told to love one's neighbour as one's self. In
token that we love him, we must not avoid being with him, and the test of loving
one's self is to be happy when alone. "Think first on thyself," says S. Bernard,
"and then on other men." So that, if nothing obliges you to mix in society
either at home or abroad, retire within yourself, and hold converse with your
own heart. But if friends come to you, or there is fitting cause for you to go
forth into society, then, my daughter, by all means go, and meet your neighbour
with a kindly glance and a kindly heart.
Bad society is all such intercourse with others as has an evil object, or when
those with whom we mix are vicious, indiscreet, or profligate.
From such as these turn away, like the bee from a dunghill. The breath and
saliva of those who have been bitten by a mad dog is dangerous, especially to
children or delicate people, and in like manner it is perilous to associate with
vicious, reckless people, above all to those whose devotion is still weakly and
There is a kind of social intercourse which merely tends to refresh us after
more serious labour, and although it would not be well to indulge in this to
excess, there is no harm in enjoying it during your leisure hours.
Other social meetings are in compliance with courtesy, such as mutual visits,
and certain assemblies with a view to pay respect to one another. As to these,
without being a slave to them, it is well not to despise them altogether, but to
bear one's own due part in them quietly, avoiding rudeness and frivolity.
Lastly, there is a profitable society;--that of good devout people, and it will
always be very good for you to meet with them. Vines grown amid olivetrees are
wont to bear rich grapes, and he who frequents the society of good people will
imbibe some of their goodness. The bumble bee makes no honey alone, but if it
falls among bees it works with them. Our own devout life will be materially
helped by intercourse with other devout souls.
Simplicity, gentleness and modesty are to be desired in all society;--there are
some people who are so full of affectation in whatever they do that every one is
annoyed by them. A man who could not move without counting his steps, or speak
without singing, would be very tiresome to everybody, and just so any one who is
artificial in all he does spoils the pleasure of society; and moreover such
people are generally more or less self-conceited. A quiet cheerfulness should be
your aim in society. S. Romuald and S. Anthony are greatly lauded because,
notwithstanding their asceticism, their countenance and words were always
courteous and cheerful. I would say to you with S. Paul, "Rejoice with them that
do rejoice;" 1 and again, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: let your moderation be
known unto all men." 2 And if you would rejoice in the Lord, the cause of your
joy must not only be lawful, but worthy; and remember this, because there are
lawful things which nevertheless are not good; and in order that your moderation
may be known, you must avoid all that is impertinent and uncivil, which is sure
to be wrong. Depreciating this person, slandering another, wounding a third,
stimulating the folly of a fourth--all such things, however amusing, are foolish
1 Rom. xii. 15. 2 Phil. iv. 4, 5.
I have already spoken of that mental solitude into which you can retire when
amid the greatest crowd, and furthermore you should learn to like a real
material solitude. Not that I want you to fly to a desert like S. Mary of Egypt,
S. Paul, S. Anthony, Arsenius, or the other hermits, but it is well for you to
retire sometimes within your own chamber or garden, or wheresoever you can best
recollect your mind, and refresh your soul with good and holy thoughts, and some
spiritual reading, as the good Bishop of Nazianzum tells us was his custom. "I
was walking alone," he says, "at sunset, on the seashore, a recreation I am wont
to take in order somewhat to lay aside my daily worries." And S. Augustine says
that he often used to go into S. Ambrose' room--his door was open to every
one,--and after watching him absorbed in reading for a time, he would retire
without speaking, fearing to interrupt the Bishop, who had so little time for
refreshing his mind amid the burden of his heavy duties. And we read how when
the disciples came to Jesus, and told Him all they had been doing and preaching,
He said to them, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest
1 S. Mark vi. 30, 31.
On Modesty in Dress.
S. PAUL expresses his desire that all Christian women should wear "modest
apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety;" 1 --and for that matter he certainly
meant that men should do so likewise. Now, modesty in dress and its
appurtenances depends upon the quality, the fashion and the cleanliness thereof.
As to cleanliness, that should be uniform, and we should never, if possible, let
any part of our dress be soiled or stained. External seemliness is a sort of
indication of inward good order, and God requires those who minister at His
Altar, or minister in holy things, to be attentive in respect of personal
cleanliness. As to the quality and fashion of clothes, modesty in these points
must depend upon various circumstances, age, season, condition, the society we
move in, and the special occasion. Most people dress better on a high festival
than at other times; in Lent, or other penitential seasons, they lay aside all
gay apparel; at a wedding they wear wedding garments, at a funeral, mourning
garb; and at a king's court the dress which would be unsuitable at home is
suitable. A wife may
1 1. Tim. ii. 9.
and should adorn herself according to her husband's wishes when he is
present;--if she does as much in his absence one is disposed to ask in whose
eyes she seeks to shine? We may grant somewhat greater latitude to maidens, who
may lawfully desire to attract many, although only with the view of ultimately
winning one in holy matrimony. Neither do I blame such widows as purpose to
marry again for adorning themselves, provided they keep within such limits as
are seemly for those who are at the head of a family, and who have gone through
the sobering sorrows of widowhood. But for those who are widows indeed, in heart
as well as outwardly, humility, modesty and devotion are the only suitable
ornaments. If they seek to attract men's admiration they are not widows indeed,
and if they have no such intention, why should they wear its tokens? Those who
do not mean to entertain guests should take down their signboard. So, again,
every one laughs at old women who affect youthful graces,-- such things are only
tolerable in the young.
Always be neat, do not ever permit any disorder or untidiness about you. There
is a certain disrespect to those with whom you mix in slovenly dress; but at the
same time avoid all vanity, peculiarity, and fancifulness. As far as may be,
keep to what is simple and unpretending--such dress is the best adornment of
beauty and the best
excuse for ugliness. S. Peter bids women not to be over particular in dressing
their hair. Every one despises a man as effeminate who lowers himself by such
things, and we count a vain woman as wanting in modesty, or at all events what
she has becomes smothered among her trinkets and furbelows. They say that they
mean no harm, but I should reply that the devil will contrive to get some harm
out of it all. For my own part I should like my devout man or woman to be the
best dressed person in the company, but the least fine or splendid, and adorned,
as S. Peter says, with "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit." 1 S. Louis
said that the right thing is for every one to dress according to his position,
so that good and sensible people should not be able to say they are
over-dressed, or younger gayer ones that they are under-dressed. But if these
last are not satisfied with what is modest and seemly, they must be content with
the approbation of the elders.
Of Conversation; and, first, how to Speak of God.
PHYSICIANS judge to a great extent as to the health or disease of a man by the
1 1. Pet. iii. 3.
of his tongue, and our words are a true test of the state of our soul. "By thy
words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned," 1 the
Saviour says. We are apt to apply the hand quickly to the place where we feel
pain, and so too the tongue is quick to point out what we love.
If you love God heartily, my child, you will often speak of Him among your
relations, household and familiar friends, and that because "the mouth of the
righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment." 2 Even as the
bee touches nought save honey with his tongue, so should your lips be ever
sweetened with your God, knowing nothing more pleasant than to praise and bless
His Holy Name,--as we are told that when S. Francis uttered the Name of the
Lord, he seemed to feel the sweetness lingering on his lips, and could not let
it go. But always remember, when you speak of God, that He is God; and speak
reverently and with devotion,--not affectedly or as if you were preaching, but
with a spirit of meekness, love, and humility; dropping honey from your lips
(like the Bride in the Canticles 3 ) in devout and pious words, as you speak to
one or another around, in your secret heart the while asking God to let this
soft heavenly dew sink into their minds as they
1 S. Matt. xii. 37. 2 Ps. xxxvii. 30. 3 Cant. iv. 11.
hearken. And remember very specially always to fulfil this angelic task meekly
and lovingly, not as though you were reproving others, but rather winning them.
It is wonderful how attractive a gentle, pleasant manner is, and how much it
Take care, then, never to speak of God, or those things which concern Him, in a
merely formal, conventional manner; but with earnestness and devotion, avoiding
the affected way in which some professedly religious people are perpetually
interlarding their conversation with pious words and sayings, after a most
unseasonable and unthinking manner. Too often they imagine that they really are
themselves as pious as their words, which probably is not the case.
Of Unseemly Words, and the Respect due to Others.
SAINT JAMES says, "If any man offend not in word, the same is, a perfect man." 1
Beware most watchfully against ever uttering any unseemly expression; even
though you may have no evil intention, those who hear it may receive it with a
different meaning. An impure word falling upon a weak mind spreads its
1 S. James iii. 2.
infection like a drop of oil on a garment, and sometimes it will take such a
hold of the heart, as to fill it with an infinitude of lascivious thoughts and
temptations. The body is poisoned through the mouth, even so is the heart
through the ear; and the tongue which does the deed is a murderer, even when the
venom it has infused is counteracted by some antidote preoccupying the
listener's heart. It was not the speaker's fault that he did not slay that soul.
Nor let any one answer that he meant no harm. Our Lord, Who knoweth the hearts
of men, has said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." 1 And
even if we do mean no harm, the Evil One means a great deal, and he will use
those idle words as a sharp weapon against some neighbour's heart. It is said
that those who eat the plant called Angelica always have a sweet, pleasant
breath; and those who cherish the angelic virtues of purity and modesty, will
always speak simply, courteously, and modestly. As to unclean and light-minded
talk, S. Paul says such things should not even be named 2 among us, for, as he
elsewhere tells us, "Evil communications corrupt good manners." 3
Those impure words which are spoken in disguise, and with an affectation of
reserve, are the most harmful of all; for just as the sharper the
1 S. Matt. xii. 34. 2 Eph. v. 3. 3 1 Cor. xv. 33.
point of a dart, so much deeper it will pierce the flesh, so the sharper an
unholy word, the more it penetrates the heart. And as for those who think to
show themselves knowing when they say such things, they do not even understand
the first object of mutual intercourse among men, who ought rather to be like a
hive of bees gathering to make honey by good and useful conversation, than like
a wasps' nest, feeding on corruption. If any impertinent person addresses you in
unseemly language, show that you are displeased by turning away, or by whatever
other method your discretion may indicate.
One of the most evil dispositions possible is that which satirises and turns
everything to ridicule. God abhors this vice, and has sometimes punished it in a
marked manner. Nothing is so opposed to charity, much more to a devout spirit,
as contempt and depreciation of one's neighbour, and where satire and ridicule
exist contempt must be. Therefore contempt is a grievous sin, and our spiritual
doctors have well said that ridicule is the greatest sin we can commit in word
against our neighbour, inasmuch as when we offend him in any other way, there
may still be some respect for him in our heart, but we are sure to despise those
whom we ridicule.
There is a light-hearted talk, full of modest life and gaiety, which the Greeks
and which we should call good conversation, by which we may find an innocent and
kindly amusement out of the trifling occurrences which human imperfections
afford. Only beware of letting this seemly mirth go too far, till it becomes
ridicule. Ridicule excites mirth at the expense of one's neighbour; seemly mirth
and playful fun never lose sight of a trustful, kindly courtesy, which can wound
no one. When the religious around him would fain have discussed serious matters
with S. Louis at meal-times, he used to say, "This is not the time for grave
discussion, but for general conversation and cheerful recreation,"--out of
consideration for his courtiers. But, my daughter, let our recreation always be
so spent, that we may win all eternity through devotion.
Of Hasty Judgments.
JUDGE not, and ye shall not be judged," said the Saviour of our souls; "condemn
not, and ye shall not be condemned:" 1 and the Apostle S. Paul, "Judge nothing
before the time, until the Lord come, Who both will bring to light the hidden
things of darkness,
1 S. Luke vi. 37.
and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts." 1 Of a truth, hasty
judgments are most displeasing to God, and men's judgments are hasty, because we
are not judges one of another, and by judging we usurp our Lord's own office.
Man's judgment is hasty, because the chief malice of sin lies in the intention
and counsel of the heart, which is shrouded in darkness to us. Moreover, man's
judgments are hasty, because each one has enough to do in judging himself,
without undertaking to judge his neighbour. If we would not be judged, it
behoves us alike not to judge others, and to judge ourselves. Our Lord forbids
the one, His Apostle enjoins the other, saying, "If we would judge ourselves, we
should not be judged." 2 But alas! for the most part we precisely reverse these
precepts, judging our neighbour, which is forbidden on all sides, while rarely
judging ourselves, as we are told to do.
We must proceed to rectify rash judgments, according to their cause. Some hearts
there are so bitter and harsh by nature, that everything turns bitter under
their touch; men who, in the Prophet's words, "turn judgment to wormwood, and
leave off righteousness in the earth." 3 Such as these greatly need to be dealt
with by some wise spiritual physician, for this bitterness being
1 1 Cor. iv. 5. 2 1 Cor. xi. 31. 3 Amos v. 7.
natural to them, it is hard to conquer; and although it be rather an
imperfection than a sin, still it is very dangerous, because it gives rise to
and fosters rash judgments and slander within the heart. Others there are who
are guilty of rash judgments less out of a bitter spirit than from pride,
supposing to exalt their own credit by disparaging that of others. These are
self-sufficient, presumptuous people, who stand so high in their own conceit
that they despise all else as mean and worthless. It was the foolish Pharisee
who said, "I am not as other men are." 1 Others, again, have not quite such
overt pride, but rather a lurking little satisfaction in beholding what is wrong
in others, in order to appreciate more fully what they believe to be their own
superiority. This satisfaction is so well concealed, so nearly imperceptible,
that it requires a clear sight to discover it, and those who experience it need
that it be pointed out to them. Some there are who seek to excuse and justify
themselves to their own conscience, by assuming readily that others are guilty
of the same faults, or as great ones, vainly imagining that the sin becomes less
culpable when shared by many. Others, again, give way to rash judgments merely
because they take pleasure in a philosophic analysis and dissection of their
1 S. Luke xviii. 11.
neighbours' characters; and if by ill luck they chance now and then to be right,
their presumption and love of criticism strengthens almost incurably.
Then there are people whose judgment is solely formed by inclination; who always
think well of those they like, and ill of those they dislike. To this, however,
there is one rare exception, which nevertheless we do sometimes meet, when an
excessive love provokes a false judgment concerning its object; the hideous
result of a diseased, faulty, restless affection, which is in fact jealousy; an
evil passion capable, as everybody knows, of condemning others of perfidy and
adultery upon the most trivial and fanciful ground. In like manner, fear,
ambition, and other moral infirmities often tend largely to produce suspicion
and rash judgments.
What remedy can we apply? They who drink the juice of the Ethiopian herb Ophiusa
imagine that they see serpents and horrors everywhere; and those who drink deep
of pride, envy, ambition, hatred, will see harm and shame in every one they look
upon. The first can only be cured by drinking palm wine, and so I say of these
latter,--Drink freely of the sacred wine of love, and it will cure you of the
evil tempers which lead you to these perverse judgments. So far from seeking out
is evil, Love dreads meeting with it, and when such meeting is unavoidable, she
shuts her eyes at the first symptom, and then in her holy simplicity she
questions whether it were not merely a fantastic shadow which crossed her path
rather than sin itself. Or if Love is forced to recognise the fact, she turns
aside hastily, and strives to forget what she has seen. Of a truth, Love is the
great healer of all ills, and of this above the rest. Everything looks yellow to
a man that has the jaundice; and it is said that the only cure is through the
soles of the feet. Most assuredly the sin of rash judgments is a spiritual
jaundice, which makes everything look amiss to those who have it; and he who
would be cured of this malady must not be content with applying remedies to his
eyes or his intellect, he must attack it through the affections, which are as
the soul's feet. If your affections are warm and tender, your judgment will not
be harsh; if they are loving, your judgment will be the same. Holy Scripture
offers us three striking illustrations. Isaac, when in the Land of Gerar, gave
out that Rebecca was his sister, but when Abimelech saw their familiarity, he at
once concluded that she was his wife. 1 A malicious mind would rather have
supposed that there was some unlawful connection between them, but
1 Gen. xxvi.
Abimelech took the most charitable view of the case that was possible. And so
ought we always to judge our neighbour as charitably as may be; and if his
actions are many-sided, we should accept the best. Again, when S. Joseph found
that the Blessed Virgin was with child, 1 knowing her to be pure and holy, he
could not believe that there was any sin in her, and he left all judgment to
God, although there was strong presumptive evidence on which to condemn her. And
the Holy Spirit speaks of S. Joseph as "a just man." When a just man cannot see
any excuse for what is done by a person in whose general worth he believes, he
still refrains from judging him, and leaves all to God's Judgment. Again, our
Crucified Saviour, while He could not wholly ignore the sin of those who
Crucified Him, yet made what excuse He might for them, pleading their ignorance.
2 And so when we cannot find any excuse for sin, let us at least claim what
compassion we may for it, and impute it to the least damaging motives we can
find, as ignorance or infirmity.
Are we never, then, to judge our neighbour? you ask. Never, my child. It is God
Who judges criminals brought before a court of law. He uses magistrates to
convey His sentence to us; they are His interpreters, and have only to
1 S. Matt. i. 2 S. Luke xxiii. 34.
proclaim His law. If they go beyond this, and are led by their own passions,
then they do themselves judge, and for so doing they will be judged. It is
forbidden to all men alike, as men, to judge one another.
We do not necessarily judge because we see or are conscious of something wrong.
Rash judgment always presupposes something that is not clear, in spite of which
we condemn another. It is not wrong to have doubts concerning a neighbour, but
we ought to be very watchful lest even our doubts or suspicions be rash and
hasty. A malicious person seeing Jacob kiss Rachel at the well-side, 1 or
Rebecca accepting jewels from Eleazer, 2 a stranger, might have suspected them
of levity, though falsely and unreasonably. If an action is in itself
indifferent, it is a rash suspicion to imagine that it means evil, unless there
is strong circumstantial evidence to prove such to be the case. And it is a rash
judgment when we draw condemnatory inferences from an action which may be
Those who keep careful watch over their conscience are not often liable to form
rash judgments, for just as when the clouds lower the bees make for the shelter
of their hive, so really good people shrink back into themselves, and
1 Gen. xxix. 11. 2 Gen. xxiv. 22.
refuse to be mixed up with the clouds and fogs of their neighbour's questionable
doings, and rather than meddle with others, they consecrate their energies on
their own improvement and good resolutions.
No surer sign of an unprofitable life than when people give way to
censoriousness and inquisitiveness into the lives of other men. Of course
exception must be made as to those who are responsible for others, whether in
family or public life;--to all such it becomes a matter of conscience to watch
over the conduct of their fellows. Let them fulfil their duty lovingly, and let
them also give heed to restrain themselves within the bounds of that duty.
FROM rash judgments proceed mistrust, contempt for others, pride, and
self-sufficiency, and numberless other pernicious results, among which stands
forth prominently the sin of slander, which is a veritable pest of society. Oh,
wherefore can I not take a live coal from God's Altar, and touch the lips of
men, so that their iniquity may be taken away and their sin purged, even as the
Seraphim purged the
lips of Isaiah. 1 He who could purge the world of slander would cleanse it from
a great part of its sinfulness!
He who unjustly takes away his neighbour's good name is guilty of sin, and is
bound to make reparation, according to the nature of his evil speaking; since no
man can enter into Heaven cumbered with stolen goods, and of all worldly
possessions the most precious is a good name. Slander is a kind of murder; for
we all have three lives--a spiritual life, which depends upon the Grace of God;
a bodily life, depending on the soul; and a civil life, consisting in a good
reputation. Sin deprives us of the first, death of the second, and slander of
the third. But the slanderer commits three several murders with his idle tongue:
he destroys his own soul and that of him who hearkens, as well as causing civil
death to the object of his slander; for, as S. Bernard says, the Devil has
possession both of the slanderer and of those who listen to him, of the tongue
of the one, the ear of the other. And David says of slanderers, "They have
sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders' poison is under their lips." 2
Aristotle says that, like the forked, two-edged tongue of the serpent, so is
that of the slanderer, who at one dart pricks and poisons the ear of those who
1 Isa. vi. 6, 7. 2 Ps. cxl. 3.
hear him, and the reputation of him who is slandered.
My daughter, I entreat you never speak evil of any, either directly or
indirectly; beware of ever unjustly imputing sins or faults to your neighbour,
of needlessly disclosing his real faults, of exaggerating such as are overt, of
attributing wrong motives to good actions, of denying the good that you know to
exist in another, of maliciously concealing it, or depreciating it in
conversation. In all and each of these ways you grievously offend God, although
the worst is false accusation, or denying the truth to your neighbour's damage,
since therein you combine his harm with falsehood.
Those who slander others with an affectation of good will, or with dishonest
pretences of friendliness, are the most spiteful and evil of all. They will
profess that they love their victim, and that in many ways he is an excellent
man, but all the same, truth must be told, and he was very wrong in such a
matter; or that such and such a woman is very virtuous generally, but and so on.
Do you not see through the artifice? He who draws a bow draws the arrow as close
as he can to himself, but it is only to let it fly more forcibly; and so such
slanderers appear to be withholding their evil-speaking, but it is only to let
it fly with surer aim and go deeper
into the listeners' minds. Witty slander is the most mischievous of all; for
just as some poisons are but feeble when taken alone, which become powerful when
mixed with wine, so many a slander, which would go in at one ear and out at the
other of itself, finds a resting-place in the listener's brain when it is
accompanied with amusing, witty comments. "The poison of asps is under their
lips." The asp's bite is scarcely perceptible, and its poison at first only
causes an irritation which is scarcely disagreeable, so that the heart and
nervous system dilate and receive that poison, against which later on there is
Do not pronounce a man to be a drunkard although you may have seen him drunk, or
an adulterer, because you know he has sinned; a single act does not stamp him
for ever. The sun once stood still while Joshua and the children of Israel
avenged themselves upon their enemies; 1 and another time it was darkened at
mid-day when the Lord was crucified; 2 but no one would therefore say that it
was stationary or dark. Noah was drunk once, and Lot, moreover, was guilty of
incest, yet neither man could be spoken of as habitually given to such sins;
neither would you call S. Paul a man of blood or a blasphemer, because he had
blasphemed and shed blood
1 Josh. x. 13. 2 S. Luke xxiii. 44.
before he became a Christian. Before a man deserves to be thus stigmatised, he
must have formed a habit of the sin he is accused of, and it is unfair to call a
man passionate or a thief, because you have once known him steal or fly into a
passion. Even when a man may have persisted long in sin, you may say what is
untrue in calling him vicious. Simon the leper called Magdalene a sinner,
because she had once lived a life of sin; but he lied, for she was a sinner no
longer, but rather a very saintly penitent, and so our Lord Himself undertook
her defence. 1
The Pharisee looked upon the publican as a great sinner,--probably as unjust,
extortionate, adulterous; 2 but how mistaken he was, inasmuch as the condemned
publican was even then justified! If God's Mercy is so great, that one single
moment is sufficient for it to justify and save a man, what assurance have we
that he who yesterday was a sinner is the same to-day? Yesterday may not be the
judge of today, nor to-day of yesterday: all will be really judged at the Last
Great Day. In short, we can never affirm a man to be evil without running the
risk of lying. If it be absolutely necessary to speak, we may say that he was
guilty of such an act, that he led an evil life at such and such a time, or that
he is doing certain wrong at the present
1 S. Luke vii. 37-39. 2 S. Luke xviii. 11.
day; but we have no right to draw deductions for to-day from yesterday, nor of
yesterday from today; still less to speak with respect to the future.
But while extremely sensitive as to the slightest approach to slander, you must
also guard against an extreme into which some people fall, who, in their desire
to speak evil of no one, actually uphold and speak well of vice. If you have to
do with one who is unquestionably a slanderer, do not excuse him under the
expressions of frank and free-spoken; do not call one who is notoriously vain,
liberal and elegant; do not call dangerous levities mere simplicity; do not
screen disobedience under the name of zeal, or arrogance of frankness, or evil
intimacy of friendship. No, my child, we must never, in our wish to shun
slander, foster or flatter vice in others; but we must call evil evil, and sin
sin, and so doing we shall serve God's Glory, always bearing in mind the
If you would be justified in condemning a neighbour's sin, you must be sure that
it is needful either for his good or that of others to do so. For instance, if
light, unseemly conduct is spoken of before young people in a way calculated to
injure their purity, and you pass it over, or excuse it, they may be led to
think lightly of evil, and to imitate it; and therefore you are bound to condemn
all such things freely and
at once, unless it is obvious that by reserving your charitable work of
reprehension to a future time, you can do it more profitably.
Furthermore, on such occasions it is well to be sure that you are the most
proper person among those present to express your opinion, and that your silence
would seem in any way to condone the sin. If you are one of the least important
persons present, it is probably not your place to censure; but supposing it to
be your duty, be most carefully just in what you say,--let there not be a word
too much or too little. For instance, you censure the intimacy of certain
people, as dangerous and indiscreet. Well, but you must hold the scales with the
most exact justice, and not exaggerate in the smallest item. If there be only a
slight appearance of evil, say no more than that; if it be a question of some
trifling imprudence, do not make it out to be more; if there be really neither
imprudence nor positive appearance of evil, but only such as affords a pretext
for malicious slander, either say simply so much, or, better still, say nothing
at all. When you speak of your neighbour, look upon your tongue as a sharp razor
in the surgeon's hand, about to cut nerves and tendons; it should be used so
carefully, as to insure that no particle more or less than the truth be said.
And finally, when you are called upon to blame
sin, always strive as far as possible to spare the sinner.
Public, notorious sinners may be spoken of freely, provided always even then
that a spirit of charity and compassion prevail, and that you do not speak of
them with arrogance or presumption, or as though you took pleasure in the fall
of others. To do this is the sure sign of a mean ungenerous mind. And, of
course, you must speak freely in condemnation of the professed enemies of God
and His Church, heretics and schismatics,--it is true charity to point out the
wolf wheresoever he creeps in among the flock. Most people permit themselves
absolute latitude in criticising and censuring rulers, and in calumniating
nationalities, according to their own opinions and likings. But do you avoid
this fault; it is displeasing to God, and is liable to lead you into disputes
and quarrels. When you hear evil of any one, cast any doubt you fairly can upon
the accusation; or if that is impossible, make any available excuse for the
culprit; and where even that may not be, be yet pitiful and compassionate, and
remind those with whom you are speaking that such as stand upright do so solely
through God's Grace. Do your best kindly to check the scandal-bearer, and if you
know anything favourable to the person criticised, take pains to mention it.
Further Counsels as to Conversation.
LET your words be kindly, frank, sincere, straightforward, simple and true;
avoid all artifice, duplicity and pretence, remembering that, although it is not
always well to publish abroad everything that may be true, yet it is never
allowable to oppose the truth. Make it your rule never knowingly to say what is
not strictly true, either accusing or excusing, always remembering that God is
the God of Truth. If you have unintentionally said what is not true, and it is
possible to correct yourself at once by means of explanation or reparation, do
so. A straightforward excuse has far greater weight than any falsehood.
It may be lawful occasionally to conceal or disguise the truth, but this should
never be done save in such special cases as make this reserve obviously a
necessity for the service and glory of God. Otherwise all such artifice is
dangerous; and we are told in Holy Scripture that God's Holy Spirit will not
abide with the false or double-minded. Depend upon it there is no craft half so
profitable and successful as simplicity. Worldly prudence and artifice belong
to the children of this world; but the children of God go straight on with a
single heart and in all confidence;--falsehood, deceit and duplicity are sure
signs of a mean, weak mind.
In the Fourth Book of his Confessions, S. Augustine spoke in very strong terms
of his passionate devotion to a friend, saying that they had but as one soul,
and that after his friend's death his life was a horror to him, although he
feared to die. But later on these expressions seemed unreal and affected to him,
and he withdrew them in his Retractations. 1 You see how sensitive that great
mind was to unreality or affectation. Assuredly straightforward honesty and
sincerity in speech is a great beauty in the Christian life. "I said I will take
heed to my ways, that I offend not in my tongue." 2 "Set a watch, O Lord, before
my mouth, and keep the door of my lips." 3
It was a saying of S. Louis, that one should
1 "My dearest Nebridius . . . I wondered that others subject to death should
live, since he whom I loved, as if he should never die, was dead; and I wondered
yet more that myself, who was to him as a second self, could live, he being
dead. . . . I felt that my soul and his soul were one soul in two bodies, and
therefore my life was a horror to me, because I would not live halved, and
therefore perchance I feared to die, lest he whom I had much loved should die
wholly."--Confessions, Oxf. Trans. Bk. iv. p. 52.
". . . which seems to me rather an empty declamation than a grave
confession."--Retract., Bk. ii. c. 6.
2 Ps. xxxix. 1. 3 Ps. cxli. 3.
contradict nobody, unless there was sin or harm in consenting; and that in order
to avoid contention and dispute. At any rate, when it is necessary to contradict
anybody, or to assert one's own opinion, it should be done gently and
considerately, without irritation or vehemence. Indeed, we gain nothing by
sharpness or petulance.
The silence, so much commended by wise men of old, does not refer so much to a
literal use of few words, as to not using many useless words. On this score, we
must look less to the quantity than the quality, and, as it seems to me, our aim
should be to avoid both extremes. An excessive reserve and stiffness, which
stands aloof from familiar friendly conversation, is untrusting, and implies a
certain sort of contemptuous pride; while an incessant chatter and babble,
leaving no opportunity for others to put in their word, is frivolous and
S. Louis objected to private confidences and whisperings in society, especially
at table, lest suspicion should be aroused that scandal was being repeated.
"Those who have anything amusing or pleasant to say," he argued, "should let
everybody share the entertainment, but if they want to speak of important
matters, they should wait a more suitable time."
Of Amusements and Recreations: what are allowable.
WE must needs occasionally relax the mind, and the body requires some recreation
also. Cassian relates how S. John the Evangelist was found by a certain hunter
amusing himself by caressing a partridge, which sat upon his wrist. The hunter
asked how a man of his mental powers could find time for so trifling an
occupation. In reply, S. John asked why he did not always carry his bow strung?
The man answered, Because, if always bent, the bow would lose its spring when
really wanted. "Do not marvel then," the Apostle replied, "if I slacken my
mental efforts from time to time, and recreate myself, in order to return more
vigorously to contemplation." It is a great mistake to be so strict as to grudge
any recreation either to others or one's self.
Walking, harmless games, music, instrumental or vocal, field sports, etc., are
such entirely lawful recreations that they need no rules beyond those of
ordinary discretion, which keep every thing within due limits of time, place,
and degree. So again games of skill, which exercise
and strengthen body or mind, such as tennis, rackets, running at the ring,
chess, and the like, are in themselves both lawful and good. Only one must avoid
excess, either in the time given to them, or the amount of interest they absorb;
for if too much time be given up to such things, they cease to be a recreation
and become an occupation; and so far from resting and restoring mind or body,
they have precisely the contrary effect. After five or six hours spent over
chess, one's mind is spent and weary, and too long a time given to tennis
results in physical exhaustion; or if people play for a high stake, they get
anxious and discomposed, and such unimportant objects are unworthy of so much
care and thought. But, above all, beware of setting your heart upon any of these
things, for however lawful an amusement may be, it is wrong to give one's heart
up to it. Not that I would not have you take pleasure in what you are doing,--it
were no recreation else,--but I would not have you engrossed by it, or become
eager or over fond of any of these things.
Of Forbidden Amusements.
DICE, cards, and the like games of hazard, are not merely dangerous amusements,
like dancing, but they are plainly bad and harmful, and therefore they are
forbidden by the civil as by the ecclesiastical law. What harm is there in them?
you ask. Such games are unreasonable:--the winner often has neither skill nor
industry to boast of, which is contrary to reason. You reply that this is
understood by those who play. But though that may prove that you are not
wronging anybody, it does not prove that the game is in accordance with reason,
as victory ought to be the reward of skill or labour, which it cannot be in mere
games of chance. Moreover, though such games may be called a recreation, and are
intended as such, they are practically an intense occupation. Is it not an
occupation, when a man's mind is kept on the stretch of close attention, and
disturbed by endless anxieties, fears and agitations? Who exercises a more
dismal, painful attention than the gambler? No one must speak or laugh,--if you
do but cough you will annoy him and his companions. The only pleasure in
gambling is to win, and
this cannot be a satisfactory pleasure, since it can only be enjoyed at the
expense of your antagonist. Once, when he was very ill, S. Louis heard that his
brother the Comte d'Anjou and Messire Gautier de Nemours were gambling, and in
spite of his weakness the King tottered into the room where they were, and threw
dice and money and everything out of the window, in great indignation. And the
pure and pious Sara, in her appeal to God, declared that she had never had
dealings with gamblers. 1
Of Balls, and other Lawful but Dangerous Amusements.
DANCES and balls are things in themselves indifferent, but the circumstances
ordinarily surrounding them have so generally an evil tendency, that they become
full of temptation and danger. The time of night at which they take place is in
itself conducive to harm, both as the season when people's nerves are most
1 It is not very clear what S. Francis means by this. In the English version,
Sara only says, "Thou knowest, Lord . . . that I never polluted my name, nor the
name of my father" (Tobit iii. 15). In the Vulgate the words are "Numquam cum
ludentibus miscui me; neque cum his, qui in levitate ambulant, participem me
praebui" (iii. 17).
excited and open to evil impressions; and because, after being up the greater
part of the night, they spend the mornings afterwards in sleep, and lose the
best part of the day for God's Service. It is a senseless thing to turn day into
night, light into darkness, and to exchange good works for mere trifling
follies. Moreover, those who frequent balls almost inevitably foster their
Vanity, and vanity is very conducive to unholy desires and dangerous
I am inclined to say about balls what doctors say of certain articles of food,
such as mushrooms and the like--the best are not good for much; but if eat them
you must, at least mind that they are properly cooked. So, if circumstances over
which you have no control take you into such places, be watchful how you prepare
to enter them. Let the dish be seasoned with moderation, dignity and good
intentions. The doctors say (still referring to the mushrooms), eat sparingly of
them, and that but seldom, for, however well dressed, an excess is harmful. So
dance but little, and that rarely, my daughter, lest you run the risk of growing
over fond of the amusement.
Pliny says that mushrooms, from their porous, spongy nature, easily imbibe
meretricious matter, so that if they are near a serpent, they are infected by
its poison. So balls and similar
gatherings are wont to attract all that is bad and vicious; all the quarrels,
envyings, slanders, and indiscreet tendencies of a place will be found collected
in the ballroom. While people's bodily pores are opened by the exercise of
dancing, the heart's pores will be also opened by excitement, and if any serpent
be at hand to whisper foolish words of levity or impurity, to insinuate unworthy
thoughts and desires, the ears which listen are more than prepared to receive
Believe me, my daughter, these frivolous amusements are for the most part
dangerous; they dissipate the spirit of devotion, enervate the mind, check true
charity, and arouse a multitude of evil inclinations in the soul, and therefore
I would have you very reticent in their use.
To return to the medical simile;--it is said that after eating mushrooms you
should drink some good wine. So after frequenting balls you should frame pious
thoughts which may counteract the dangerous impressions made by such empty
pleasures on your heart. Bethink you, then--1. That while you were dancing,
souls were groaning in hell by reason of sins committed when similarly occupied,
or in consequence thereof.
2. Remember how, at the selfsame time, many religious and other devout persons
before God, praying or praising Him. Was not their time better spent than yours?
3. Again, while you were dancing, many a soul has passed away amid sharp
sufferings; thousands and tens of thousands were lying all the while on beds of
anguish, some perhaps untended, unconsoled, in fevers, and all manner of painful
diseases. Will you not rouse yourself to a sense of pity for them? At all
events, remember that a day will come when you in your turn will lie on your bed
of sickness, while others dance and make merry.
4. Bethink you that our Dear Lord, Our Lady, all the Angels and Saints, saw all
that was passing. Did they not look on with sorrowful pity, while your heart,
capable of better things, was engrossed with such mere follies?
5. And while you were dancing time passed by, and death drew nearer. Trifle as
you may, the awful dance of death 1 must come, the real pastime of men, since
therein they must, whether they will or no, pass from time to an eternity of
good or evil. If you think of the matter quietly, and as in God's Sight, He will
suggest many a
1 S. Francis de Sales doubtless had in his thoughts the then common pictorial
representations of the Dance of Death, with which (although to our own modern
ideas there would be almost irreverence if reproduced) we are familiar through
Holbein's celebrated Dance, and others. The old covered bridge at Lucerne is one
of the most striking illustrations.
like thought, which will steady and strengthen your heart.
When to use such Amusements rightly.
IF you would dance or play rightly, it must be done as a recreation, not as a
pursuit, for a brief space of time, not so as make you unfit for other things,
and even then but seldom. If it is a constant habit, recreation turns into
occupation. You will ask when it is right to dance or play? The occasions on
which it is right to play at questionable games are rare; ordinary games and
dances may be indulged in more frequently. But let your rule be to do so chiefly
when courteous consideration for others among whom you are thrown requires it,
subject to prudence and discretion; for consideration towards others often
sanctions things indifferent or dangerous, and turns them to good, taking away
what is evil. Thus certain games of chance, bad in themselves, cease to be so to
you, if you join in them merely out of a due courtesy. I have been much
comforted by reading in the Life of S. Carlo Borromeo, how he joined in certain
things to please the Swiss, concerning which ordinarily
he was very strict; as also how S. Ignatius Loyola, when asked to play, did so.
As to S. Elizabeth of Hungary, she both played and danced occasionally, when in
society, without thereby hindering her devotion, which was so firmly rooted
that, like the rocks of a mountain lake, it stood unmoved amid the waves and
storms of pomp and vanity which it encountered.
Great fires are fanned by the wind, but a little one is soon extinguished if
left without shelter.
We must be Faithful in Things Great and Small.
THE Bridegroom of the Canticles says that the Bride has ravished His heart with
"one of her eyes, one lock of her hair." 1 In all the human body no part is
nobler either in mechanism or activity than the eye, none more unimportant than
the hair. And so the Divine Bridegroom makes us to know that He accepts not only
the great works of devout people, but every poor and lowly offering too; and
that they who would serve Him acceptably must give heed not only to lofty and
important matters, but to
1 Cant. iv. 9. In the English version this passage stands as "one chain of her
neck;" but in the Vulgate it is "uno crine colli tui."
things mean and little, since by both alike we may win His Heart and Love.
Be ready then, my child, to bear great afflictions for your Lord, even to
martyrdom itself; resolve to give up to Him all that you hold most precious, if
He should require it of you;--father, mother, husband, wife, or child; the light
of your eyes; your very life; for all such offering your heart should be ready.
But so long as God's Providence does not send you these great and heavy
afflictions; so long as He does not ask your eyes, at least give Him your hair.
I mean, take patiently the petty annoyances, the trifling discomforts, the
unimportant losses which come upon all of us daily; for by means of these little
matters, lovingly and freely accepted, you will give Him your whole heart, and
win His. I mean the acts of daily forbearance, the headache, or toothache, or
heavy cold; the tiresome peculiarities of husband or wife, the broken glass, the
loss of a ring, a handkerchief, a glove; the sneer of a neighbour, the effort of
going to bed early in order to rise early for prayer or Communion, the little
shyness some people feel in openly performing religious duties; and be sure that
all of these sufferings, small as they are, if accepted lovingly, are most
pleasing to God's Goodness, Which has promised a whole ocean of happiness to His
children in return for one cup
of cold water. And, moreover, inasmuch as these occasions are for ever arising,
they give us a fertile field for gathering in spiritual riches, if only we will
use them rightly.
When I read in the Life of S. Catherine of Sienna of her ecstasies and visions,
her wise sayings and teaching, I do not doubt but that she "ravished" her
Bridegroom's heart with this eye of contemplation; but I must own that I behold
her with no less delight in her father's kitchen, kindling the fire, turning the
spit, baking the bread, cooking the dinner, and doing all the most menial
offices in a loving spirit which looked through all things straight to God. Nor
do I prize the lowly meditations she was wont to make while so humbly employed
less than the ecstasies with which she was favoured at other times, probably as
a reward for this very humility and lowliness. Her meditations would take the
shape of imagining that all she prepared for her father was prepared for Our
Lord, as by Martha; her mother was a symbol to her of Our Lady, her brothers of
the Apostles, and thus she mentally ministered to all the Heavenly Courts,
fulfilling her humble ministrations with an exceeding sweetness, because she saw
God's Will in each. Let this example, my daughter, teach you how important it is
to dedicate all we do, however trifling, to His service. And to this
end I earnestly counsel you to imitate that "virtuous woman" whom King Solomon
lauds, 1 who "layeth her hands" to all that is good and noble, and yet at the
same time to the spindle and distaff. Do you seek the higher things, such as
prayer and meditation, the Sacraments leading souls to God and kindling good
thoughts in them, in a word, by all manner of good works according to your
vocation; but meanwhile do not neglect your spindle and distaff. I mean,
cultivate those lowly virtues which spring like flowers round the foot of the
Cross, such as ministering to the poor and sick, family cares, and the duties
arising therefrom, and practical diligence and activity; and amid all these
things cultivate such spiritual thoughts as S. Catherine intermingled with her
Great occasions for serving God come seldom, but little ones surround us daily;
and our Lord Himself has told us that "he that is faithful in that which is
least is faithful also in much." 2 If you do all in God's Name, all you do will
be well done, whether you eat, drink or sleep, whether you amuse yourself or
turn the spit, so long as
1 Prov. xxxi. Those who desire a helpful book will find one in Mgr. Landriot's
"Femme Forte," a series of lectures on this chapter of Holy Scripture, which, as
well as his "Femme Picuse" is largely imbued with the spirit of S. Francis de
Sales, who is frequently quoted in both.
2 S. Luke xvi. 10.
you do all wisely, you will gain greatly as in God's Sight, doing all because He
would have you do it.
Of a Well-Balanced, Reasonable Mind.
REASON is the special characteristic of man, and yet it is a rare thing to find
really reasonable men, all the more that self-love hinders reason, and beguiles
us insensibly into all manner of trifling, but yet dangerous acts of injustice
and untruth, which, like the little foxes in the Canticles, 1 spoil our vines,
while, just because they are trifling, people pay no attention to them, and
because they are numerous, they do infinite harm. Let me give some instances of
what I mean.
We find fault with our neighbour very readily for a small matter, while we pass
over great things in ourselves. We strive to sell dear and buy cheap. We are
eager to deal out strict justice to others, but to obtain indulgence for
ourselves. We expect a good construction to be put on all we say, but we are
sensitive and critical as to our neighbour's words. We expect him to let us have
1 Cant. ii. 15.
want for money, when it would be more reasonable to let him keep that which is
his, if he desires to do so, and leave us to keep our gold. We are vexed with
him because he will not accommodate us, while perhaps he has better reason to be
vexed with us for wanting to disturb him. If we have a liking for any one
particular thing, we despise all else, and reject whatever does not precisely
suit our taste. If some inferior is unacceptable to us, or we have once caught
him in error, he is sure to be wrong in our eyes whatever he may do, and we are
for ever thwarting, or looking coldly on him, while, on the other hand, some one
who happens to please us is sure to be right. Sometimes even parents show unfair
preference for a child endowed with personal gifts over one afflicted with some
physical imperfection. We put the rich before the poor, although they may have
less claim, and be less worthy; we even give preference to well-dressed people.
We are strict in exacting our own rights, but expect others to be yielding as to
theirs;--we complain freely of our neighbours, but we do not like them to make
any complaints of us. Whatever we do for them appears very great in our sight,
but what they do for us counts as nothing. In a word, we are like the
Paphlagonian partridge, which has two
hearts; for we have a very tender, pitiful, easy heart towards ourselves, and
one which is hard, harsh and strict towards our neighbour. We have two scales,
one wherein to measure our own goods to the best advantage, and the other to
weigh our neighbours' to the worst. Holy Scripture tells us that lying lips are
an abomination unto the Lord, 1 and the double heart, with one measure whereby
to receive, and another to give, is also abominable in His Sight.
Be just and fair in all you do. Always put yourself in your neighbour's place,
and put him into yours, and then you will judge fairly. Sell as you would buy,
and buy as you would sell, and your buying and selling will alike be honest.
These little dishonesties seem unimportant, because we are not obliged to make
restitution, and we have, after all, only taken that which we might demand
according to the strict letter of the law; but, nevertheless, they are sins
against right and charity, and are mere trickery, greatly needing
correction--nor does any one ever lose by being generous, noble-hearted and
courteous. Be sure then often to examine your dealings with your neighbour,
whether your heart is right towards him, as you would have his towards you, were
things reversed--this is the true test
1 Prov. xii. 22.
of reason. When Trajan was blamed by his confidential friends for making the
Imperial presence too accessible, he replied, "Does it not behove me to strive
to be such an emperor towards my subjects as I should wish to meet with were I a
EVERYBODY grants that we must guard against the desire for evil things, since
evil desires make evil men. But I say yet further, my daughter, do not desire
dangerous things, such as balls or pleasures, office or honour, visions or
ecstacies. Do not long after things afar off; such, I mean, as cannot happen
till a distant time, as some do who by this means wear themselves out and expend
their energies uselessly, fostering a dangerous spirit of distraction. If a
young man gives way to overweening longings for an employment he cannot obtain
yet a while, what good will it do him? If a married woman sets her heart on
becoming a religious, or if I crave to buy my neighbour's estate, he not being
willing to sell it, is it not mere waste of time? If, when sick,
I am restlessly anxious to preach or celebrate, to visit other sick people, or
generally to do work befitting the strong, is it not an unprofitable desire,
inasmuch as I have no power to fulfil it? and meanwhile these useless wishes
take the place of such as I ought to have,-- namely, to be patient, resigned,
self-denying, obedient, gentle under suffering,--which are what God requires of
me under the circumstances. We are too apt to be like a sickly woman, craving
ripe cherries in autumn and grapes in spring. I can never think it well for one
whose vocation is clear to waste time in wishing for some different manner of
life than that which is adapted to his duty, or practices unsuitable to his
present position--it is mere idling, and will make him slack in his needful
work. If I long after a Carthusian solitude, I am losing my time, and such
longing usurps the place of that which I ought to entertain--to fulfil my actual
duties rightly. No indeed, I would not even have people wish for more wit or
better judgment, for such desires are frivolous, and take the place of the wish
every one ought to possess of improving what he has. We ought not to desire ways
of serving God which He does not open to us, but rather desire to use what we
have rightly. Of course I mean by this, real earnest desires, not common
wishes, which do no harm if not too frequently indulged.
Do not desire crosses, unless you have borne those already laid upon you
well--it is an abuse to long after martyrdom while unable to bear an insult
patiently. The Enemy of souls often inspires men with ardent desires for
unattainable things, in order to divert their attention from present duties,
which would be profitable however trifling in themselves. We are apt to fight
African monsters in imagination, while we let very petty foes vanquish us in
reality for want of due heed.
Do not desire temptations, that is temerity, but prepare your heart to meet them
bravely, and to resist them when they come.
Too great variety and quantity of food loads the stomach, and (especially when
it is weakly) spoils the digestion. Do not overload your soul with innumerable
longings, either worldly, for that were destruction,--or even spiritual, for
these only cumber you. When the soul is purged of the evil humours of sin, it
experiences a ravenous hunger for spiritual things, and sets to work as one
famished at all manner of spiritual exercises;--mortification, penitence,
humility, charity, prayer. Doubtless such an appetite is a good sign, but it
behoves you to reflect whether you are able to digest all that
you fain would eat. Make rather a selection from all these desires, under the
guidance of your spiritual father, of such as you are able to perform, and then
use them as perfectly as you are able. When you have done this, God will send
you more, to be fulfilled in their turn, and so you will not waste time in
unprofitable wishes. Not that I would have you lose any good desires, but rather
treat them methodically, putting them aside in one corner of your heart till due
time comes, while you carry out such as are ripe for action. And this counsel I
give to worldly people as well as those who are spiritual, for without heeding
it no one can avoid anxiety and over-eagerness.
Counsels to Married People.
MARRIAGE is a great Sacrament both in Jesus Christ and His Church, and one to be
honoured to all, by all and in all. To all, for even those who do not enter upon
it should honour it in all humility. By all, for it is holy alike to poor as to
rich. In all, for its origin, its end, its form and matter are holy. It is the
nursery of Christianity, whence the
earth is peopled with faithful, till the number of the elect in Heaven be
perfected; so that respect for the marriage tie is exceedingly important to the
commonwealth, of which it is the source and supply.
Would to God that His Dear Son were bidden to all weddings as to that of Cana!
Truly then the wine of consolation and blessing would never be lacking; for if
these are often so wanting, it is because too frequently now men summon Adonis
instead of our Lord, and Venus rather than Our Lady. He who desires that the
young of his flock should be like Jacob's, fair and ring-straked, must set fair
objects before their eyes; and he who would find a blessing in his marriage,
must ponder the holiness and dignity of this Sacrament, instead of which too
often weddings become a season of mere feasting and disorder.
Above all, I would exhort all married people to seek that mutual love so
commended to them by the Holy Spirit in the Bible. It is little to bid you love
one another with a mutual love,---turtle-doves do that; or with human love,--the
heathen cherished such love as that. But I say to you in the Apostle's words:
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church. Wives, submit
yourselves to your husbands as unto the
Lord." 1 It was God Who brought Eve to our first father Adam, and gave her to
him to wife; and even so, my friends, it is God's Invisible Hand Which binds you
in the sacred bonds of marriage; it is He Who gives you one to the other,
therefore cherish one another with a holy, sacred, heavenly love.
The first effect of this love is the indissoluble union of your hearts. If you
glue together two pieces of deal, provided that the glue be strong, their union
will be so close that the stick will break more easily in any other part than
where it is joined. Now God unites husband and wife so closely in Himself, that
it should be easier to sunder soul from body than husband from wife; nor is this
union to be considered as mainly of the body, but yet more a union of the heart,
its affections and love.
The second effect of this love should be an inviolable fidelity to one another.
In olden times finger-rings were wont to be graven as seals. We read of it in
Holy Scripture, and this explains the meaning of the marriage ceremony, when the
Church, by the hand of her priest, blesses a ring, and gives it first to the man
in token that she sets a seal on his heart by this Sacrament, so that no thought
of any other woman may ever enter therein so long as
1 Eph. v. 25, 22.
she, who now is given to him, shall live. Then the bridegroom places the ring on
the bride's hand, so that she in her turn may know that she must never conceive
any affection in her heart for any other man so long as he shall live, who is
now given to her by our Lord Himself.
The third end of marriage is the birth and bringing up of children. And herein,
O ye married people! are you greatly honoured, in that God, willing to multiply
souls to bless and praise Him to all Eternity, He associates you with Himself in
this His work, by the production of bodies into which, like dew from Heaven, He
infuses the souls He creates as well as the bodies into which they enter.
Therefore, husbands, do you preserve a tender, constant, hearty love for your
wives. It was that the wife might be loved heartily and tenderly that woman was
taken from the side nearest Adam's heart. No failings or infirmities, bodily or
mental, in your wife should ever excite any kind of dislike in you, but rather a
loving, tender compassion; and that because God has made her dependent on you,
and bound to defer to and obey you; and that while she is meant to be your
helpmeet, you are her superior and her head. And on your part, wives, do you
love the husbands God has given you tenderly, heartily, but with a reverential,
for God has made the man to have the predominance, and to be the stronger; and
He wills the woman to depend upon him,--bone of his bone, flesh of his
flesh,--taking her from out the ribs of the man, to show that she must be
subject to his guidance. All Holy Scripture enjoins this subjection, which
nevertheless is not grievous; and the same Holy Scripture, while it bids you
accept it lovingly, bids your husband to use his superiority with great
tenderness, lovingkindness, and gentleness. "Husbands, dwell with your wives
according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel."
But while you seek diligently to foster this mutual love, give good heed that it
do not turn to any manner of jealousy. Just as the worm is often hatched in the
sweetest and ripest apple, so too often jealousy springs up in the most warm and
loving hearts, defiling and ruining them, and if it is allowed to take root, it
will produce dissension, quarrels, and separation. Of a truth, jealousy never
arises where love is built up on true virtue, and therefore it is a sure sign of
an earthly, sensual love, in which mistrust and inconstancy is soon infused. It
is a sorry kind of friendship which seeks to strengthen itself by jealousy; for
1 1. S. Pet. iii. 7.
may be a sign of strong, hot friendship, it is certainly no sign of a good,
pure, perfect attachment; and that because perfect love implies absolute trust
in the person loved, whereas jealousy implies uncertainty.
If you, husbands, would have your wives faithful, be it yours to set them the
example. "How have you the face to exact purity from your wives," asks S.
Gregory Nazianzen, "if you yourself live an impure life? or how can you require
that which you do not give in return? If you would have them chaste, let your
own conduct to them be chaste. S. Paul bids you possess your vessel in
sanctification; but if, on the contrary, you teach them evil, no wonder that
they dishonour you. And ye, O women! whose honour is inseparable from modesty
and purity, preserve it jealously, and never allow the smallest speck to soil
the whiteness of your reputation."
Shrink sensitively from the veriest trifles which can touch it; never permit any
gallantries whatsoever. Suspect any who presume to flatter your beauty or grace,
for when men praise wares they cannot purchase they are often tempted to steal;
and if any one should dare to speak in disparagement of your husband, show that
you are irrecoverably offended, for it is plain that he not only seeks your
fall, but he counts you as
half fallen, since the bargain with the new-comer is half made when one is
disgusted with the first merchant.
Ladies both in ancient and modern times have worn pearls in their ears, for the
sake (so says Pliny) of hearing them tinkle against each other. But remembering
how that friend of God, Isaac, sent earrings as first pledges of his love to the
chaste Rebecca, I look upon this mystic ornament as signifying that the first
claim a husband has over his wife, and one which she ought most faithfully to
keep for him, is her ear; so that no evil word or rumour enter therein, and
nought be heard save the pleasant sound of true and pure words, which are
represented by the choice pearls of the Gospel. Never forget that souls are
poisoned through the ear as much as bodies through the mouth.
Love and faithfulness lead to familiarity and confidence, and Saints have
abounded in tender caresses. Isaac and Rebecca, the type of chaste married life,
indulged in such caresses, as to convince Abimelech that they must be husband
and wife. The great S. Louis, strict as he was to himself, was so tender towards
his wife, that some were ready to blame him for it; although in truth he rather
deserved praise for subjecting his lofty, martial mind to the little details of
conjugal love. Such minor matters will not
suffice to knit hearts, but they tend to draw them closer, and promote mutual
Before giving birth to S. Augustine, S. Monica offered him repeatedly to God's
Glory, as he himself tells us; and it is a good lesson for Christian women how
to offer the fruit of their womb to God, Who accepts the free oblations of
loving hearts, and promotes the desires of such faithful mothers: witness
Samuel, S. Thomas Aquinas, S. Andrea di Fiesole, and others. 1 S. Bernard's
mother, worthy of such a son, was wont to take her new-born babes in her arms to
offer them to Jesus Christ, thenceforward loving them with a reverential love,
as a sacred deposit from God; and so entirely was her offering accepted, that
all her seven children became Saints. 2 And when children begin to use their
reason, fathers and mothers should take great pains to fill their hearts with
the fear of God. This the good Queen Blanche did most earnestly by S. Louis, her
son: witness her oft-repeated words, "My son, I would sooner see you die than
guilty of a mortal sin;" words which sank so deeply into the saintly monarch's
heart, that he himself said there was no day on which they did not recur to his
mind, and strengthen him in treading God's ways.
1 S. Francis de Sales himself is an instance, his mother having offered him up
to God while yet unborn.
2 Cf. Marie Jenna's lovely poem, "L'aimeras-tu?" "Je ne veux plus d'enfants, si
ce ne sont des saints."
We call races and generations Houses; and the Hebrews were wont to speak of the
birth of children as "the building up of the house;" as it is written of the
Jewish midwives in Egypt, that the Lord "made them houses;" 1 whereby we learn
that a good house is not reared so much by the accumulation of worldly goods, as
by the bringing up of children in the ways of holiness and of God; and to this
end no labour or trouble must be spared, for children are the crown of their
parents. 2 Thus it was that S. Monica stedfastly withstood S. Augustine's evil
propensities, and, following him across sea and land, he became more truly the
child of her tears in the conversion of his soul, than the son of her body in
his natural birth.
S. Paul assigns the charge of the household to the woman; and consequently some
hold that the devotion of the family depends more upon the wife than the
husband, who is more frequently absent, and has less influence in the house.
Certainly King Solomon, in the Book of Proverbs, refers all household prosperity
to the care and industry of that virtuous woman whom he describes. 3
We read in Genesis that Isaac "entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was
1 Exod. i. 21. 2 Prov. xvii. 6. 3 Prov. xxxi. 4 Gen. xxv. 21.
or as the Hebrews read it, he prayed "over against" her,--on opposite sides of
the place of prayer,--and his prayer was granted. That is the most fruitful
union between husband and wife which is founded in devotion, to which they
should mutually stimulate one another. There are certain fruits, like the
quince, of so bitter a quality, that they are scarcely eatable, save when
preserved; while others again, like cherries and apricots, are so delicate and
soft, that they can only be kept by the same treatment. So the wife must seek
that her husband be sweetened with the sugar of devotion, for man without
religion is a rude, rough animal; and the husband will desire to see his wife
devout, as without it her frailty and weakness are liable to tarnish and injury.
S. Paul says that "the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the
unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband;" 1 because in so close a tie one
may easily draw the other to what is good. And how great is the blessing on
those faithful husbands and wives who confirm one another continually in the
Fear of the Lord!
Moreover, each should have such forbearance towards the other, that they never
grow angry, or fall into discussion and argument. The bee will not dwell in a
spot where there is much loud
1 1 Cor. vii. 14.
noise or shouting, or echo; neither will God's Holy Spirit dwell in a household
where altercation and tumult, arguing and quarrelling, disturb the peace.
S. Gregory Nazianzen says that in his time married people were wont to celebrate
the anniversary of their wedding, and it is a custom I should greatly approve,
provided it were not a merely secular celebration; but if husbands and wives
would go on that day to Confession and Communion, and commend their married life
specially to God, renewing their resolution to promote mutual good by increased
love and faithfulness, and thus take breath, so to say, and gather new vigour
from the Lord to go on stedfastly in their vocation.
The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed.
THE marriage bed should be undefiled, as the Apostle tells us, 1 i.e. pure, as
it was when it was first instituted in the earthly Paradise, wherein no unruly
desires or impure thought might enter. All that is merely earthly must be
1 Heb. xiii. 4.
as means to fulfil the end God sets before His creatures. Thus we eat in order
to preserve life, moderately, voluntarily, and without seeking an undue,
unworthy satisfaction therefrom. "The time is short," says S. Paul; "it
remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had not, and they
that use this world, as not abusing it." 1
Let every one, then, use this world according to his vocation, but so as not to
entangle himself with its love, that he may be as free and ready to serve God as
though he used it not. S. Augustine says that it is the great fault of men to
want to enjoy things which they are only meant to use, and to use those which
they are only meant to enjoy. We ought to enjoy spiritual things, and only use
those which are material; but when we turn the use of these latter into
enjoyment, the reasonable soul becomes degraded to a mere brutish level.
Counsels to Widows.
SAINT PAUL teaches us all in the person of S. Timothy when he says, "Honour
1 1 Cor. vii. 30, 31.
widows that are widows indeed." 1 Now to be "a widow indeed" it is necessary:--
1. That the widow be one not in body only, but in heart also; that is to say,
that she be fixed in an unalterable resolution to continue in her widowhood
Those widows who are but waiting the opportunity of marrying again are only
widowed in externals, while in will they have already laid aside their
loneliness. If the "widow indeed" chooses to confirm her widowhood by offering
herself by a vow to God, she will adorn that widowhood, and make her resolution
doubly sure, for the remembrance that she cannot break her vow without danger of
forfeiting Paradise, will make her so watchful over herself, that a great
barrier will be raised against all kind of temptation that may assail her. S.
Augustine strongly recommends Christian widows to take this vow, and the learned
Origen goes yet further, for he advises married women to take a vow of chastity
in the event of losing their husbands, so that amid the joys of married life
they may yet have a share in the merits of a chaste widowhood. Vows render the
actions performed under their shelter more acceptable to God, strengthen us to
perform good works, and help us to devote to Him not merely those good works
which are, so to say,
1 1. Tim. v. 3.
the fruits of a holy will, but to consecrate that will itself; the source of all
we do, to Him. By ordinary chastity we offer our body to God, retaining the
power to return to sensual pleasure; but the vow of chastity is an absolute and
irrevocable gift to Him, without any power to recall it, thereby making
ourselves the happy slaves of Him Whose service is to be preferred to royal
power. And as I greatly approve the counsels of the two venerable Fathers I have
named, I would have such persons as are so favoured as to wish to embrace them,
do so prudently, and in a holy, stedfast spirit, after careful examination of
their own courage, having asked heavenly guidance, and taken the advice of some
discreet and pious director, and then all will be profitably done.
2. Further, all such renunciation of second marriage must be done with a single
heart, in order to fix the affections more entirely on God, and to seek a more
complete union with Him. For if the widow retains her widowhood merely to enrich
her children, or for any other worldly motive, she may receive the praise of
men, but not that of God, inasmuch as nothing is worthy of His Approbation save
that which is done for His Sake. Moreover, she who would be a widow indeed must
be voluntarily cut off from all worldly delights. "She that liveth in
pleasure is dead while she liveth," S. Paul says. 1 A widow who seeks to be
admired and followed and flattered, who frequents balls and parties, who takes
pleasure in dressing, perfuming and adorning herself, may be a widow in the
body, but she is dead as to the soul. What does it matter, I pray you, whether
the flag of Adonis and his profane love be made of white feathers or a net of
crape? Nay, sometimes there is a conscious vanity in that black is the most
becoming dress; and she who thereby endeavours to captivate men, and who lives
in empty pleasure, is "dead while she liveth," and is a mere mockery of
"The time of retrenchment is come, the voice of the turtle is heard in our
land." 2 Retrenchment of worldly superfluity is required of whosoever would lead
a devout life, but above all, it is needful for the widow indeed, who mourns the
loss of her husband like a true turtle-dove. When Naomi returned from Moab to
Bethlehem, those that had known her in her earlier and brighter days were moved,
and said, "Is this Naomi? And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi (which means
beautiful and agreeable), call me Mara, for the Almighty hath dealt very
1 1. Tim. v. 6.
2 Cant. ii. 12. in the Vulgate, "Tempus putationis advenit; vox turturis audita
est in terra nostra."
bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again
empty." 1 Even so the devout widow will not desire to be called or counted
beautiful or agreeable, asking no more than to be that which God wills,--lowly
and abject in His Eyes.
The lamp which is fed with aromatic oil sends forth a yet sweeter odour when it
is extinguished; and so those women whose married love was true and pure, give
out a stronger perfume of virtue and chastity when their light (that is, their
husband) is extinguished by death. Love for a husband while living is a common
matter enough among women, but to love him so deeply as to refuse to take
another after his death, is a kind of love peculiar to her who is a widow
indeed. Hope in God, while resting on a husband, is not so rare, but to hope in
Him, when left alone and desolate, is a very gracious and worthy thing. And thus
it is that widowhood becomes a test of the perfection of the virtues displayed
by a woman in her married life.
The widow who has children requiring her care and guidance, above all in what
pertains to their souls and the shaping of their lives, cannot and ought not on
any wise to forsake them. S. Paul teaches this emphatically, and says that those
who "provide not for their own,
1 Ruth i. 20, 21.
and specially for those of their own house, are worse than an infidel;" 1 but if
her children do not need her care, then the widow should gather together all her
affections and thoughts, in order to devote them more wholly to making progress
in the love of God. If there is no call obliging her in conscience to attend to
external secular matters (legal or other), I should advise her to leave them all
alone, and to manage her affairs as quietly and peacefully as may be, even if
such a course does not seem the most profitable. The fruit of disputes and
lawsuits must be very great indeed before it can be compared in worth to the
blessing of holy peace; not to say that those legal entanglements and the like
are essentially distracting, and often open the way for enemies who sully the
purity of a heart which should be solely devoted to God.
Prayer should be the widow's chief occupation: she has no love left save for
God,--she should scarce have ought to say to any save God; and as iron, which is
restrained from yielding to the attraction of the magnet when a diamond is near,
darts instantly towards it so soon as the diamond is removed, so the widow's
heart, which could not rise up wholly to God, or simply follow the leadings of
His Heavenly Love during her husband's life, finds itself set
1 1. Tim. v. 8.
free, when he is dead, to give itself entirely to Him, and cries out, with the
Bride in the Canticles, "Draw me, I will run after Thee." 1 I will be wholly
Thine, and seek nothing save the "savour of Thy good ointments."
A devout widow should chiefly seek to cultivate the graces of perfect modesty,
renouncing all honours, rank, title, society, and the like vanities; she should
be diligent in ministering to the poor and sick, comforting the afflicted,
leading the young to a life of devotion, studying herself to be a perfect model
of virtue to younger women. Necessity and simplicity should be the adornment of
her garb, humility and charity of her actions, simplicity and kindliness of her
words, modesty and purity of her eyes,--Jesus Christ Crucified the only Love of
Briefly, the true widow abides in the Church as a little March violet, 2
shedding forth an exquisite sweetness through the perfume of her
1 Cant. i. 3, 4.
2 "Quarn gloriosa enirn Ecclesia, et quanta virtutum multitudine, quasi florum
varietate! Habet hortus ille Dominicus non solum rosas martyrum, sed et lilia
virginum, et conjugatorum hederas, violasque viduarum Prorsus, Dilectissimi,
nullum genus hominum de sua vocatione desperet: pro omnibus passus est
Christus."-- S. Aug. Serm. ccciv., In Laurent. Mart. iii. cap. 1-3.
"How glorious is the Church, how countless her graces, varied as the flowers of
earth in beauty! This garden of the Lord bears not only the martyr's rose, but
the virgin's lily, the ivy wreath of wedded love, and the violet of widowhood.
Therefore, beloved, let none despair of his calling, since Christ suffered for
devotion, ever concealing herself beneath the ample leaves of her heart's
lowliness, while her subdued colouring indicates her mortification. She dwells
in waste, uncultivated places, because she shrinks from the world's intercourse,
and seeks to shelter her heart from the glare with which earthly longings,
whether of honours, wealth, or love itself, might dazzle her. "Blessed is she if
she so abide," says the holy Apostle. 1
Much more could I say on this subject, but suffice it to bid her who seeks to be
a widow indeed, read S. Jerome's striking Letters to Salvia, and the other noble
ladies who rejoiced in being the spiritual children of such a Father. Nothing
can be said more, unless it be to warn the widow indeed not to condemn or even
censure those who do resume the married life, for there are cases in which God
orders it thus to His Own greater Glory. We must ever bear in mind the ancient
teaching, that in Heaven virgins, wives, and widows will know no difference,
save that which their true hearts' humility assigns them.
1 1 Cor. vii. 40. "Beatior autem erit si sic permanserit."--Vulgate.
One Word to Maidens.
O YE virgins, I have but a word to say to you. If you look to married life in
this life, guard your first love jealously for your husband. It seems to me a
miserable fraud to give a husband a worn-out heart, whose love has been
frittered away and despoiled of its first bloom instead of a true, whole-hearted
love. But if you are happily called to be the chaste and holy bride of spiritual
nuptials, and purpose to live a life of virginity, then in Christ's Name I bid
you keep all your purest, most sensitive love for your Heavenly Bridegroom, Who,
being Very Purity Himself, has a special love for purity; Him to Whom the
first-fruits of all good things are due, above all those of love.
S. Jerome's Epistles will supply you with the needful counsels; and inasmuch as
your state of life requires obedience, seek out a guide under whose direction
you may wholly dedicate yourself, body and soul, to His Divine Majesty.