A Year with the Saints – 1 July

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Among those who make profession of following the maxims of Christ, simplicity ought to be held in great esteem; for, among the wise of this world there is nothing more contemptible or despicable than this. Yet it is a virtue most worthy of love, because it leads us straight to the Kingdom of God, and, at the same time, wins for us the affection of men; since one who is regarded as upright, sincere, and an enemy to tricks and fraud is loved by all, even by those who only seek from morning till night to cheat and deceive others. Saint Vincent de Paul

This Saint himself truly had great esteem for simplicity, and loved it much. Therefore he not only kept himself from any transgression against it, but could not suffer those under his authority to commit any. If at times they were guilty of doing so he would be sure to correct them for it, though with great mildness.

Saint Francis de Sales, also, was full of respect and love for this virtue, as he once declared to a confidential friend, in these words: “I do not know what that poor virtue of prudence has done to me, that I find so much difficulty in loving it. And if I love it, it is only from necessity, inasmuch as it is the support and guiding light of this life. But the beauty of simplicity completely fascinates me. It is true that the Gospel recommends to us both the simplicity of the dove and the prudence of the serpent; but I would give a hundred serpents for one dove. I know that both are useful when they are united, but I think that it should be in the proportion observed in compounding some medicines, in which a little poison is mixed with a quantity of wholesome drugs. Let the world, then, be angry – let the prudence of the world rage, and the flesh perish; for it is always better to be good and simple, than to be subtle and malicious.”

detail of a German Saint Phocas the Gardener holy card, date and artist unknownSaint Phocas the Martyr was greatly to be admired for his simplicity, according to what Surius relates. He cultivated a little garden, less to provide food for himself than to supply with vegetables and fruit those travelers and pilgrims who had heard of his liberality and stopped at his house; for no one ever knocked at his door who was not received with great charity and courtesy. This holy man was denounced for aiding and abetting Christians, to the governor of the province, who, resolving upon his death, sent soldiers privately in search of him with orders to kill him. They arrived one evening at his house, not knowing that it was his, entered it, and with the usual freedom of soldiery, demanded food. According to his custom, he received them willingly and kindly and gave them what little he had. He served them, too, at table, with so much charity and courtesy that they were delighted and captivated, and said between themselves that they had never met such a good-hearted man. And so they were led by his great simplicity and candor to ask him with confidence whether he knew anything of a certain Phocas, who helped and harbored Christians, and upon whose death the imperial prefect had resolved. The Saint replied that he knew him very well, and that he would willingly point him out to them so that they might go to rest quietly, without further inquiry, for on the next day he would show them an easy way of capturing him. He then spent the whole night in fervent prayer, and when it was day he went to visit the soldiers, and bid them good morning with his usual cordiality. They answered by reminding him of his promise to deliver up Phocas, whom they were seeking. “Do not doubt,” he returned, “that I will find him for you. Consider that you have him already in your hands.”

“Let us go, then, and take him,” they answered.

“There is no need of going,” he replied, “for he is here present. I am he. Do with me what you please.” At these words, the soldiers were amazed and stupefied, both on account of the great charity which he had welcomed them and of the ingenuous sincerity with which he revealed himself to his persecutors, when he could so easily have escaped death by fleeing in the night. They gazed at each other in amazement, and neither of them dared to lay hands on one who had been so kind to them. They were more inclined to give him his life, and to report to the prefect that after long search they had not been able to discover Phocas.

“No,” said the Saint, “my death would be a less evil than to concoct such a fiction, and tell such a falsehood. Execute, then, the order you have received.” So saying, he bared his neck and extended it to the soldiers, who severed it with one stroke and gave him the glorious crown of Martyrdom. This most candid fidelity was so agreeable to God that He immediately began, and still continues, to signalize it by illustrious miracles, especially in favor of pilgrims and sailors, to whom – in death as in life – the Saint has been most liberal of benefits and miraculous helps. In recognition of this, a custom came into use among travelers by sea, of serving to him every day at meals a part of the first dish, which was called the portion of Saint Phocas. This was each day bought by one or other of the voyagers, and the price deposited in the hands of the captain; and when they came into port, the money was distributed among the poor, in thanksgiving to their benefactor for their successful voyage.

MLA Citation