A Year with the Saints – 2 August

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It is not enough to do good things, but we must do them well, in imitation of Christ our Lord, of whom it was written: Bene omnia fecit – He did all things well. We ought, then, to strive to do all things in the spirit of Christ; that is, with the perfection, with the circumstances, and for the ends for which He performed His actions. Otherwise, even the good works that we do will bring us punishment rather than reward. Saint Vincent de Paul

photograph of the Saint John stained glass window in Saint Joseph's Cathedral, Macon, Georgia, USA, artist unknown; photographed in the summer of 2003Saint John Berchmans followed this precept in all his actions, however different and unequal they might be, so that anyone who saw him and who considered the work itself, and at the same time the manner and circumstances in which it was done, would be obliged to say that each action was performed in the best way possible. This was the case not only because his objects and aims were always perfectly correct, but because certain little details in performance were like an exquisite enamel which made all his actions perfect and finished in the eyes of God and men, and precious and meritorious in themselves. So, whoever should strip his actions of such adjuncts would rob them of their beauty and their value. For example, he never enjoyed games, but rather spiritual conversation or scientific discussions. But if he was in the country in vacation, he would play at billiards or quoits, when invited, so as to be like the rest. In playing he would accept as a partner a newcomer or an unskilled player, though he might be sure it would make him lose the game. He played with the greatest attention, neither noticed nor spoke of anything else, and played well. When his turn came, he first made the Sign of the Cross openly, as he did before every action. He was never angry, and never raised his voice, whatever success he had. If he lost, he immediately knelt to say an Ave Maria for the victors. If he won, he was silent, showed no particular pleasure, and he did not exult over the losers. These circumstances, taken together, greatly elevated the action and made it spiritual, though, in itself considered, it was indifferent and trivial. Saint Ignatius asked a lay-brother who was doing his work with much negligence, for whom he did it. And when the latter replied that it was for God, “Now,” said the Saint, “if you were working for men, it would not be so bad; but if you are working for so great a Lord as God, it is a very great fault to do it as you do.”

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