A Year with the Saints – 15 February

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What is it, O my God, that we expect to gain by appearing well before creatures, and by pleasing them? What does it matter to us if we are blamed by them, and considered worthless, provided we are great and faultless before Thee? Ah, we never come fully to an understanding of this truth, and so we never succeed in standing upon the summit of perfection! The Saints had no greater pleasure than to live unknown and abject in the hearts of all. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

A holy bishop, in order to live unknown, left his diocese, and putting on a poor dress went secretly to Jerusalem, where he worked as a laborer. There a nobleman saw him several times sleeping on the ground, with a column of fire rising from his body even to the heavens. Wondering at this, he asked him privately who he was. He answered he was a poor man who lived by his work, and had no other means of support. The count, not satisfied with this, urged him to reveal the whole truth, and the bishop, after exacting a promise of secrecy during his lifetime, told him who he was, and how he had left his country to escape from renown and esteem, as he held it to be unworthy of a Christian, who ought always to have in mind the insults and reproaches heaped upon his Lord, to enjoy the honor and reverence of men.

Saint Nicholas of Bari twice threw money secretly, by night, into the house of a gentleman of ruined fortune, that he might be able to give dowries to his daughters, without which they could not be married. On a third visit for the same purpose, he was discovered, and hastily fled.

The Abbot Pitirus, a man celebrated for sanctity, desired to know whether there was in the world any soul more perfect than his own, that he might be able to learn from such a one how to serve God better. Then an Angel appeared to him, and said: “Go to a certain convent in the Thebaid. Four hundred and ninety nuns dwell there, among them one called Isidora, who wears a diadem upon her head. Know that she is very far more perfect than thyself.” Isidora was a good young girl, who had set her heart upon abasing herself for Christ’s sake as much as she could. So she wore a rag twisted around her head, went barefoot, remained always alone, except when she was obliged to be present at the common exercises; she did not eat with the others, but collected for her own food the scraps they had left; and for drink she used the water in which the dishes had been washed: so that all the rest looked on her with so much aversion, that no one could have been induced ever to eat with her. She was, in fact, the jest and scorn of all, and by all insulted, ill-treated, and looked upon as a fool. She, however, never spoke ill of any, harmed no one, never murmured nor complained of any ill treatment she received. Pitirus then arrived at the convent, and after requesting the abbess to send all the nuns to the grate, he could discover upon none of them the sign given by the Angel, so that he confidently asserted that they were not all there. “Indeed,” they answered, “no one is absent, except a fool, who always stays shut up in the kitchen.” “Well, send for her,” he replied. But she, who had known interiorly what was to happen, had hidden herself that she might escape all connection with the matter. Being found after a long search, and earnestly entreated by her superior, she at last came. Pitirus recognized her as soon as he beheld her, and instantly falling at her feet, recommended himself to her prayers. Astonished at such an action, the nuns said to him, “Father, you are mistaken; this is a fool.” “You are the fools,” replied the Abbot. “Know that she is holier than myself or you!” Then they all threw themselves at her feet, confessed their error, and asked pardon for the wrong they had done her. But she could not bear to receive so much honor, so that she fled from the house a few days after, and was never again seen.

The Empress Leonora, having discovered that her confessor, in response to many requests, had written out some of her heroic and virtuous actions that they might be published after her death, went many times to visit him in his last illness. On one of these occasions she came from his room with a bundle of manuscripts, and when she reached the courtyard where a fire was burning, she threw them into it. It was commonly believed that these were the papers relating to herself, which she had obtained from him by many entreaties, for after his death no such record was found among his writings, though it was known to have existed. But in another matter she did not succeed so well, though she made every effort. When very near death, she remembered a certain chest in which she kept the treasure of her instruments of penance. She had not previously been able to take them out herself, and now she could do nothing, as her speech had failed. And so, in great distress, she made signs to her confessor, pointing to the spot, and urging him to take out and carry away what was there. But the Lord, Who exalts the humble, did not permit these signs to be fully understood, until after her death, when this hidden treasure was revealed. All were moved to tears as they drew out garments stained with blood, scourges – some, bloodstained; others, frayed and worn with long use; many little chains with sharp points, and shirts woven of horsehair, all instruments with which she had macerated her innocent flesh.

MLA Citation