A Year with the Saints – 31 March


The life of our flesh is the delight of sensuality; its death is to take from it all sensible delight. The life of our judgment and our will is to dispose of ourselves and what is ours, according to our own views and wishes; their death, then, is to submit ourselves in all things to the judgment and will of others. The life of the desire for esteem and respect is to be well thought of by everyone; its death, therefore, is to hide ourselves so as not to be known, by means of continual acts of humility and self-abasement. Until one succeeds in dying in this manner, he will never be a servant of God, nor will God ever perfectly live in him.

With great frankness this beautiful soul expressed to others so lofty a sentiment, because she knew that it was precisely in this way that, to her infinite profit, she had attained to the death of her own flesh, her own judgment and will, and her own human respect; of her own flesh, which she never ceased to treat with the greatest harshness and rigor; of her own judgment and will, which she always strove to keep subject to, and dependent upon, others; of her human respect, by abhorring and avoiding constantly every occasion of being honored and esteemed.

Another great example of this was the glorious Saint Philip Neri, who chastised his body severely with hair-cloth and the discipline. While quite young, he lived for years almost entirely upon bread and water. When he became a priest, he added to this spare diet only a little wine, some herbs or fruit, or perhaps an egg. He rarely took any other dairy products, or fish, or meat, or soup, except on account of illness, or when at table with strangers. As to his own judgment and will, he showed all possible earnestness in banishing all that could feed either, and in trampling upon both to the extent of his power. But he rendered himself especially admirable in combating and annihilating that regard for human esteem, which is so dangerous an enemy to corrupt humanity, and from which even the holiest souls are not exempt. To subdue this common adversary, he made it his object to be considered by all a vile and abject creature, and took care, on every occasion, to give cause for such an idea of him. With this intention, he would do things that, both at home and abroad, appeared like folly.

Many examples of this are recorded, of which we will mention a few. Once he began to jump and dance in front of a church, where there was a great concourse of people on account of a festival held there, and one in the crowd was heard to say: “Look at that old fool!” Again, meeting a water carrier in a busy street, he asked leave to drink from one of his casks; and when it was granted, he put his mouth to the opening and drank with much apparent satisfaction, while the carrier wondered that a man of his position should drink in that way in the presence of so many people. Another time, he drank in the same manner from the flask of Saint Felix the Capuchin, in view of many. Being invited one day to dinner by Cardinal Alexandrino, he took with him one of his penitents, whom he told to bring him a handful of beans ready cooked, concealed under his mantle. When all were seated at the table, he had them brought out, for the sake of appearing ill-bred. But the Cardinal, who knew his virtues, instead of taking the matter ill and despising him, asked for some himself, and so did all the guests. Cardinal Gesualdo, who loved him tenderly, thought a coat of martin fur would be useful to him, on account of his advanced age and constant attendance in the confessional. He gave him one, exacting, at the same time, a promise that he would wear it. The Saint kept the promise, but made use of the occasion to cause himself to be laughed at, by wearing it all the time in public for a month, walking with a dignified air, and stopping now and then to look at it. For the same purpose, he went many times through Rome, accompanied by his penitents, carrying an immense bunch of flowers. Once when he had had his beard shaved only on one side, he came out in public, leaping and rejoicing, as if it were a great victory.

At home he was continually doing such things. He often wore a pair of white slippers, with a little cap on his head, and a red vest, which came down to his knees, over his long cassock. In this costume he received whoever came to visit him, even if they were men of rank or great nobles. He kept in his room books of stories, jest books, and others of a similar sort, and when gentlemen came to see him, especially if they were of high rank, he would have one of them read, and listen to it with a great show of attention and pleasure. He did this in a marked manner when Pope Clement VIII sent him some Polish nobles, that they might gain fervor and edification from his discourse. When he was informed that they were coming, he immediately told one of his household to take one of these books and read it to him, not stopping till he should tell him. When the noblemen arrived, he said to them, without disturbing himself at all: “Please wait till we come to the end of this interesting story.” While the reading went on, he showed great attention and pleasure, like a person who is listening to something important and profitable. Finally he stopped it and said to the visitors: “Have I not still some fine books? Was not that one worth listening to?” And so he went on, without uttering a word on spiritual subjects. The strangers remained for a time, exchanging glances with one another, and then went away astonished and annoyed. After they were gone, he had the book put away, saying, “We have done what was necessary.” For it was precisely what he desired – that these distinguished strangers should have a low opinion of him.

MLA Citation