A Year with the Saints – 14 May

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The only consideration of Superiors ought to be the love of God, and the sanctification of the souls committed to their care. This cannot be better attained than by humility, combined with a peaceable disposition and good example. – Saint Vincent de Paul

To this end Saint Vincent recommended Superiors to take pains that the yoke of obedience should be easy to their subjects, and therefore to cultivate a civil and amiable manner, rather than a harsh and imperious one. To one whom he was sending to a certain house as Superior, he gave this direction: “Do not be domineering in order to appear like a Superior and master. I am not of the opinion of a person who said to me, a few days ago, that to govern well and maintain authority, it was necessary to be known as a Superior. Jesus Christ did not speak thus; He taught us the contrary, both by example and in words, when He said that He came into the world not be be served, but to serve; and that whoever wishes to be Superior, ought to make himself the servant of all. Conform yourself, then, to this holy maxim, behaving towards those for whom you are sent to care, quasi unus ex illis – as one of themselves – and telling them, as soon as you arrive, that you have come not to rule, but to serve. If you practice upon this suggestion both at home and abroad, all will be well.”

To another whom he was sending as Superior to another house, he spoke thus: “What you ought to do is to trust in God, that you may be a burden to no one, and to treat all with affability and courtesy, always using peaceable and gentle words, never sharp and imperious ones. For, as there is nothing better fitted to gain hearts than this humble and courteous demeanor, so also there is nothing better adapted to attain our object, which is that God may be served and souls sanctified.” Writing to the head of a Mission, who had with him a somewhat faulty companion, he said, “If you wish to be accompanied by the blessing of God, make every effort to bear with your assistant meekly. Banishing every thought of superiority from your heart, accommodate yourself to him in a spirit of charity. This is the means by which Jesus Christ won and perfected His disciples, and it is in the same way only that this good priest will be won. Granting this to be true, give a little time to gratifying his humor, never contradict him at the moment when he seems to you to give occasion for it, but, when it is absolutely necessary, admonish him later, and with humility and good feeling.”

Such was his own patience, for though he was most rigorous to himself and very exact even in the smallest things, to others he was full of charity and mildness, taking care to please all in everything that he reasonably could. In giving orders, his manner was always so unpretending, and his words so courteous, that he seemed rather to entreat than to command. When he intended to assign to anyone some hard task or difficult business, he prepared him for it by degrees, and with much dexterity smoothed away the difficulties which might have discouraged him. And in everything he showed so much affability and cordiality that he gained all hearts, and was exactly obeyed even in the most difficult things. Many, too, have confessed that after God, they owed their perseverance to his charity, gentleness and mildness towards them.

Saint Francis Borgia was very strict with himself, but most compassionate and kind to his subjects; so that although he would not excuse himself for the slightest defect, he would never speak sharply, but would say with great sweetness: “I entreat you to do this for the love of God. Would you have any difficulty in going to such a place? Would it be convenient for you to do such a thing? I had thought of giving you such a charge, but I would like to know whether it would be agreeable to you.”

Saint John, a Canon Regular, was once assailed with a volley of abuse by one of the Religious over whom he was appointed Prior. When he did not reply, another who was present said: “You might stop all this insolence by a word, by ordering him to go to his cell.”

“No!” replied the Saint, “when fire is consuming a house, would it be well to throw on more wood? This good brother is now burning with anger; if I should reprove him, his anger would be increased; but when this great fire has died out, then it will be time to apply a remedy.”

Saint Francis de Sales having been obliged to imprison one of his ecclesiastics who was leading a scandalous life, the offender, after a few days, showed great signs of repentance and begged for an interview with the Saint, who had pardoned him on previous occasions. Those who had charge of him did not wish to permit this, for they knew what great compassion the man of God would feel for him if he saw him; but they finally yielded to his entreaties. When he came into the Saint’s presence, he begged for mercy, with fervent promises of amendment. Then the holy Bishop said, with much emotion and many tears: “I conjure you, by the love and mercy of God, in which we all hope, to have pity on me, on the diocese, on the Church, and on the whole Order so much dishonored by the scandalous life you have hitherto led, which gives matter to our adversaries to blaspheme our holy Faith. I pray you to have pity on yourself, on your own soul, which you are sending to perdition for eternity; I exhort you in the name of Jesus Christ, on which you trample; by the goodness of the Saviour, Whom you crucify anew; and by that spirit of grace, whom you outrage!” This mild earnestness was so efficacious that he not only did not fall again into his former sins, but became a model of virtue. Saint Francis de Sales was once asked by Saint Jane Frances de Chantal what she had better do in regard to a novice who had begged importunately to be admitted to profession – which in that Order is regarded as a fault, as profession is granted at a proper time, without any request to those who have been exact in observance. He answered gently that charity should abound on one side, when humility is wanting on the other.

Saint Jerome relates of Saint Paula that when she was governing a convent built by herself, she failed in none of her obligations and never asked anything of her daughters which she had not first practiced herself; and she showed her authority only by her care in providing for all their wants, by serving them in all their needs, and by leading them to the practice of virtue. She was never absent from choir, but always among the first to arrive; in the work of the house, she was the most attentive and the most laborious. In regard to others’ faults, if any failed in exercises of piety, if anyone was slothful in corporeal exercises, if anyone was careless about her employment – she brought all back to their duty, managing them in different ways, according to their disposition: if passionate, with caresses; if patient, with correction. If discord arose between two, she reunited them with gentle words. If she noticed anyone who was fastidious in dress or behavior who was loquacious, passionate, or quarrelsome, she admonished her with tact more than once; but if she did not amend, she gave her the lowest rank among her Sisters, set her to kneel at the door of the refectory, or to eat by herself, in the hope that shame might succeed where reproof had failed. With the sick she was all cordiality, charity, and liberality, thinking no labor or expense too great for them. But if she was all kindness to others, to herself when sick she was all austerity and hardness, permitting no exceptions in her own favor, even in the matter of food. Once when she was recovering from a burning fever in the month of July, she could not be induced to partake of a little honey, which the physicians had recommended to strengthen her weak digestion.

MLA Citation