A Year with the Saints – 23 September


We must not neglect to exercise ourselves in self-knowledge, for this is of great importance in the contemplative way. But this should be done with due regard to time and measure. I mean, that after a soul has yielded and surrendered itself, and clearly understands that of itself it has no good thing, and is ashamed and confounded to stand before so great a King, and sees how little it returns for so many gifts – what necessity is there, under these circumstances, to occupy it and make it spend more time, in this? We must let it pass to other things which the Lord places before it, so that it may come forth from itself, and fly to consider the greatness of its God. Saint Teresa of Avila

From the time Saint Francis Borgia first applied himself to prayer, he spent two hours every morning in self-examination. By this time he arrived at so humble an opinion of himself that he was astonished that everyone did not treat him with contempt.

Saint Bonaventure tells of Saint Francis that he used to pass whole days and nights in this brief prayer: “My Lord and my God, Who art Thou, and who am I?” and on such occasions he was often seen to be lifted from the ground, and surrounded by a bright halo.

A story is told in the Lives of the Fathers of a young monk, who said to an old one: “Father, my heart tells me that I am good.” But the old man answered: “Whoever does not see his sins, always thinks himself good; but when one sees them, his heart cannot persuade him of any such thing. It is necessary, then, to strive to know ourselves.”

We read of the Abbot Isidore that one of his disciples entered his cell one day, and finding him in tears, asked the cause. “I am weeping,” he answered, “for my sins.” “But, Father, you have no sins,” said the disciple. “My son,” returned the Abbot, “if God should reveal my sins to men, the world would be filled with terror.”

A vision recorded by the venerable Sister Maria Crucifixa is well adapted to illustrate this point. “It was permitted me to enter,” she writes, “by a spiritual glance, into the most secret recesses of the human heart. I was amazed at the sight of wonders of human ugliness and deformity, as I was shown the birthplace of sin. It appeared like a horrible subterranean cavern, wherein swarmed constantly vast troops of animals and insects, great and small, all frightful and loathsome. These typified mortal and venial sins and imperfections. By this terrible sight I penetrated the deep abyss of knowledge of myself and of my extreme misery, so that I perceived myself to be deserving only of scorn and ignominy, for I appeared like a mass of black and greasy soot, like foul and corrupt refuse, or an ugly and dangerous monster, which no one could behold without taking to flight.” She had this vision on the day of her profession, and this sight of herself made so strong an impression upon her soul that it lasted a whole year. All this time she believed that her companions saw her as she saw herself, and was astonished at their self-control and virtue, and could not understand why they did not all abhor and fly from her. “I would willingly have buried myself alive,” she writes, “if I could thus have hidden from their eyes my intolerable appearance. Therefore when I received wrongs and insults I thought they rather praised and honored me, for I felt that they were treating me better than I deserved, and it was impossible for me to think otherwise. So that if they had told me that I was ugly, stupid, without talent or wit, I should certainly have wondered and said: ‘Oh how little you know of my miseries! I am insufferable in the eyes of God by my extreme destitution, and you wonder that I am not rich in good qualities! What would a begger do, who, while barely covered with rags, should hear himself reproved for not having a gold chain and a badge of knighthood? What would he do on hearing such reproofs? Instead of being angry, he would be amazed, and would say: I have not so much as a shirt, and you wonder that I am without a gold chain and a badge! In charity, give me a bit of bread, for I have nothing to do with chains and badges.'”

MLA Citation