A Year with the Saints – 9 February


Humility, which Christ recommended to us both by word and example, ought to include three conditions. First, we are to consider ourselves, in all sincerity, worthy of the contempt of men; secondly, to be glad that others should see what is imperfect in us and what might cause them to despise us; thirdly, when the Lord works any good in us or by our means, to conceal it, if possible, at the sight of our baseness, and if this cannot be done, to ascribe it to the Divine Mercy, and to the merits of others. Whoever shall attain to this humility, happy is he! and to him who shall not attain it, griefs will never be wanting. Saint Vincent de Paul

The first condition was certainly to be found in the heart of Saint Clare, who used to say to her companions: “Oh, Sisters, if you knew me well, you would abhor and avoid me, like one stricken with the plague, because I am not what you believe me, but a wicked woman.” The venerable Sister Maria Crucifixa, who considered herself the vilest creature upon earth, often spoke thus of herself to her companions, and with feelings of such sincere and perfect humiliation as excited her to a high degree of compunction. This even led her to ask leave to retire to a convent of Penitents, which she said was a fitting place for her, as she ought to live the life of a penitent.

Saint Francis Borgia, too, was so deeply grounded in a low opinion of himself, that he wondered how the people could salute, and not rather stone him, as he passed through the streets. The second condition was also possessed in a high degree by Saint Clare. She revealed the greatest faults of her life to all her confessors, intending that they should conceive a bad opinion of her; but when she found this plan failed, she changed her confessors often, in the hope of finding one who would consider her the wretched creature that she really believed herself to be. Saint Catherine of Bologna, likewise, not only told all her sins to her confessors, but even intentionally dropped the paper on which they were written, that she might be despised by all. Saint John of the Cross, too, when he went to Granada, where he was sent as Provincial Vicar, happened to meet there a brother of his, who was so poor that he lived by alms. When he saw him with his cloak all torn, he was as much pleased as another would have been to see his brother in a rich dress; and when the Grand Duke came to visit him, he brought him forward, saying that was his brother, who was working in the monastery. The third condition was possessed, in the highest degree, by Saint Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi, who when asked or commanded by her Superior to make the Sign of the Cross over the sick, or to offer a prayer for anyone in need, always called another to join her in this action or prayer, so that when the favor came it might be attributed not to her, but to the virtue of the other, as she always attributed it herself. The same may be said of an abbess named Sara, of whom it is related, in the Lives of the Fathers, that she had been assailed by a demon for thirteen years, but was finally liberated by her fervent prayers. Then the demon said to her, “Thou hast conquered me, Sara!” But she replied, “It is not I who have conquered thee, but truly it is my Lord Jesus Christ.”

Monseigneur de Palafax showed that he possessed in a singular degree this beautiful quality of attributing to God all the good he did. For he looked upon his good actions not as his own choice, but as pure effects of grace; and so, instead of believing, as people in general do, that he acquired by them merit before God, he believed that his obligations to God were increased by doing them. And so he thought, so he spoke; for he was accustomed to confess himself to be under the greatest obligations to God, because He had bestowed upon him great peace of mind, constant repentance for his sins, great patience and consolation in vexations and labors, great love and respect for the poor and for his persecutors, and had taken from him all attachments to riches, honors, convenience, and his own judgment, and had also given him the grace to perform with fervor penances, the visitation of the sick, and many practices of devotion, as well as strength and talent to make wise and useful regulations, to build many churches, and to accomplish everyone of his actions purely and solely for the honor and service of His Divine Majesty. And what is certainly most to be admired is that he derived only confusion and fear from so many good and holy works, which ordinarily produce, even in excellent persons, a certain good opinion and esteem of themselves and make them believe themselves deserving of praise from men and reward from God. He looked upon them, on the contrary, as special graces granted to him by the Divine Goodness, for which he must one day give a strict account; and he thought that on the last day, in presence of all the world, they would be so many points of accusation against him because he had not corresponded to so many Divine favors by a better and more perfect life. The humility of Saint Vincent de Paul was accompanied by all three of these conditions. He had so low an opinion of himself that he considered himself a great sinner, a cause of scandal, and unworthy to remain even in his own Congregation. Wherefore, he often spoke of himself as a hardened sinner, an abominable sinner, unworthy to live, and standing in the utmost need of the mercy of God on account of the abominations of his life. One day, prostrate before his missionaries, he said with great feeling: “If you could see my miseries, you would drive me from the house, to which I am a loss, a burden, and a scandal. I am surely unworthy to remain in the Congregation, on account of the scandal that I give.” Because he truly felt thus, he desired that others, too, should feel so; and, therefore, he was pleased to have his imperfections visible to all, and he even manifested them openly on occasions, to the end that he might be despised and lightly regarded by all. For this reason, he often said that he was the son of a swineherd, a poor grammar student, and no scholar. For the same cause, he acknowledged as his nephew, before all in the house and even before some noble visitors, a poor young man who had come to ask his aid. And as he felt at first some unwillingness to acknowledge him when he heard of his arrival, he often accused himself of this to his companions as a great fault, exaggerating too the pride that caused it. He could not bear to hear himself praised, or see himself held in high esteem; and so when a poor woman told him, in presence of some persons of rank, that she had been a servant of his mother, hoping to induce him to give her alms, the Saint, to whom such flattery was unpleasant, answered quickly: “My poor woman, you are mistaken. My mother never kept a servant, but she was a servant herself, and afterwards, the wife of a poor peasant.” For this cause, too, he was never heard to speak of the excellent works which he had carried on, nor of the wonderful circumstances in which he had been placed. A remarkable proof of this is that though innumerable occasions offered themselves to speak of his slavery in Tunis, especially in the exhortations which he addressed to his Congregation and others, to move them to aid the poor slaves in Barbary, he never let fall a word concerning himself, nor about what he had said or done to convert his master, and escape with him from the hands of the Infidels, nor as to anything else that happened to him in that country.

This is a rare case, on account of the pleasure which everyone naturally feels in narrating the perils, the dangers and difficulties from which he has happily escaped, especially when his success reveals some virtue and gives occasion for praise. But when necessity, or the good of others, sometimes constrained him to tell something which he had done for the glory of God, if anything had gone ill he attributed to himself whatever might cause humiliation, though he had given no occasion for it; but if all went well, he told of it in very humble terms, setting all to the account of the zeal and labor of others, and suppressing so far as he could those circumstances which would bring praise to himself; and he always ascribed even the slightest good that he did to God, as its primary and only cause. For example, he never said, “I did this; I said this; I thought of this”; but rather, “God inspired me with this thought; put into my mouth these words; gave me strength to do this”; and so on. The humility of Saint Francis de Sales was, says Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, humility of heart. For it was his maxim that the love of our abjection ought to be with us at every step; and, therefore, he strove to conceal the gifts of grace as much as he could, and endeavored to appear of less account than he really was, so that he was often slow and late in giving his opinion upon subjects with which he was well acquainted.

MLA Citation