A Year with the Saints
TAN BOOKS and PUBLISHERS
He did all things well.—-Mark 7:37
1. All our good and all our evil certainly lies in the character of our actions. As they are, so are we; for we are the tree, and they the fruit, and, therefore, they prove what each one is.—-St. Augustine
A servant of God, at the point of death, once spoke thus: “Now I know that totum opus nostrum in operatione consistit—-our actions are our sole concern.”
St. Aloysius Gonzaga set down in writing a resolution that he would do all in his power that everyone of his actions might be good, and bring him nearer to God.
St. Bonaventure used to excite himself and others to constant occupation in good works by often repeating this beautiful sentiment: Every hour that we waste in sloth, we lose a glory equal to the good works we might have performed in it.
2. 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.—-St. Vincent de Paul
St. 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. St. 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.”
3. Many believe that they can do no true penance for their sins except by giving themselves up to corporal austerities. But we know that he does a very good penance for his sins, who takes pains to perform all his actions well, to please the Lord, which is a matter of great perfection and great merit.—-St. Francis de Sales
St. John Berchmans did no severe penances, but he placed his whole perfection in performing his ordinary actions well and with great exactness. To this effect he wrote upon a slip of paper the maxim, “Poenitentia mea maxima vita communis—-My greatest penance is the common life.” And with this alone, how perfect and dear to God he rendered himself! The same thing is told of St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. Francis de Sales, and many others.
4. If man could see what reward he will have in the world above for well-doing, he would never employ his memory, understanding or will in anything but good works, without regarding at all what labor or trials he might experience in them.—-St. Catherine of Genoa [pictured above]
For this reason, St. Francis remained content in the midst of sufferings and said: “So great is the good which I expect, that every pain is a delight to me.”
A servant of God, after her death, appeared to another and told her that the felicity and glory to which God had brought her in Heaven for her good works was so great that if she could possess in addition only as much as is given for an Ave Maria well said, she would be contented to return to earth and suffer all sorts of trials to the day of judgment.
5. Endeavor not to appear singular, but to be so. This is done by leading, in all respects, the common life, doing all things that are enjoined, but with exactness in the time, place, and manner prescribed. We must do common things not in a common matter, but in a manner more sublime and perfect than that in which they are commonly done. This is to appear externally like all the rest, and to be interiorly singular, which is a greater virtue and a treasure of merit.—-St. Bernard
6. Be not of those who think perfection consists in undertaking many things, but of those who place it in doing well what little they do, for it is much better to do little and do it well, than to undertake much and do it ill. Yes, little and good, this is the best. Therefore, if we wish to advance, or when we wish to give some special honor to Our Lord, we have to redouble not our exercises, but the perfection with which we perform them.—-St. Francis de Sales
A devout young nun recited every day the complete Rosary of fifteen decades, but with little devotion, on account of its length. One day the Blessed Virgin appeared to her and told her to recite only the third part of it. “For,” said she, “a few prayers said fervently are more acceptable to my Son and to me, than many said negligently and without devotion.”
7. The Lord measures our perfection not by the number and greatness of the works we do for Him, but by our manner of doing them. And this manner is only the love of God with which, and for which, we do them. They are more perfect as they are done with more pure and perfect love, and as they are less mingled with the thoughts of pleasure or praise in this life or the other.—-St. John of the Cross
St. Francis Borgia said that though his sermons often pleased neither himself nor others, through a wrong choice of arrangement of subject, yet they always produced fruit, because he did all he could for his own part, and always purely for God.
The same truth is illustrated by the incident of the two little copper coins which the widow in the Gospel cast into the treasury. Our Lord declared that she had put in more than the others, though perhaps there were some who gave gold or silver pieces. There could be no reason for this except that she must have given that small amount with more love than the rest, who, as the Lord Himself added, gave out of their superabundance while she, on account of her poverty, was obliged to subtract the little she gave from her daily living.
8. Doing our work well consists in a very pure intention and strong purpose of pleasing God alone. This may be called the principle or the soul of our actions, and it gives them all their value and renders them easy and pleasing to us—-St. Francis de Sales
St. Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi constantly taught her novices to offer all their actions to God, even the smallest. And to establish them firmly in this practice, she would sometimes ask them unexpectedly why they were doing whatever they were engaged upon; and if they answered that they were doing it without supernatural intention, she added: “Do you not see that you are thus losing merit? God does not accept such actions.”
We read in Ecclesiastical History that the Abbot Pambo, seeing a dancing girl gaily dressed and adorned, began to weep. Being asked why he did so, he answered: “Because, alas! I do not use as much care and diligence in seeking to please God by my works, as this girl employs in adorning herself to please men.”
9. What are the works upon which all our profit and all our perfection depends? All those which it is our lot to perform, but especially the ordinary ones that we do every day. These are the most frequent, and therefore upon these, more than upon others, we ought to fix our eyes and to employ our attention and diligence. The measure of their perfection will be the measure of our own. If we do them perfectly, we shall be perfect; if imperfectly, imperfect. Here, precisely, is the difference between the perfect and the imperfect Religious. It is not that one does different things from the other; but one does ordinary things with perfection, and the other with imperfection and tepidity. —-St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
When St. Gertrude was young she did nothing except what her companions did; indeed, she did less; for there were many things that she was not permitted to do, on account of her delicate health. Yet she was more perfect than they. Now, how did this Saint attain such lofty perfection? In this way: The very things that she did at the same time with the others, she did with greater perfection than they.
It is said of St. Stanislaus Kostka that though he did only the same things that others did, yet the excellence with which he did them made it seem that he did more.
10. Among our daily works, those which we ought to have most at heart are the spiritual. We should make every effort to perform them well, and let everything else yield to them, when necessity or obedience does not forbid; for they regard God most directly, and do the most to advance us in perfection. If we act otherwise, we draw upon ourselves the malediction fulminated by the Holy Spirit against those who do the work of God negligently.—-St. Vincent de Paul
St. Vincent himself lived by this rule. Though he was burdened with a great number and variety of important and urgent affairs, yet he was most exact in his ordinary spiritual exercises, which he performed always with great devotion and fervor.
When St. Philip Neri was performing or assisting at any spiritual exercise, such as a public ceremony or the reading of devout books, he was so penetrated with emotion that sparks of fire sometimes seemed to come from his face, and a torrent of tears from his eyes. One day, while they were singing Compline in the Dominican church, he was seen to weep so profusely that the tears drenched his clothing; and in reading the Lives of the Saints, especially in his old age, he wept constantly.
When the prophet Eliseus sent Gehazi with his staff to raise to life the son of the Sunamite by its means, he ordered him not to give or return a salutation on the road. This was intended to show that when we are occupied in any spiritual exercise, we ought not be diverted to other things, even under pretext of civility.
11. The Mass is certainly a function the most excellent, the most holy, the most acceptable to God and useful to us, that can be imagined. And so, while it is going on, the Angels assist in crowds, with bare feet, with earnest eyes, with downcast brows, with great silence, with incredible amazement and veneration. With what purity, attention, devotion, and reverence, then, ought the priest to celebrate it? He should approach the sacred altar as Jesus Christ, assist there as an Angel, minister there as a Saint, offer there the prayers of the people as a high-priest, interpose there for reconciliation between God and men as a mediator, and pray for himself as a simple human being.—-St. Lawrence Justinian
St. Vincent de Paul pronounced the words of the Mass in a gentle voice, not very low nor very high, and in a manner at once unconstrained and devout. He recited them neither very slowly nor very rapidly, but as was suitable to the sanctity of the action, so that his Mass did not ordinarily exceed half an hour in length. But the interior spirit which accompanied his words and actions was singular, on account of its unusual tenderness. He said the Confiteor, In spiritu humilitatis, Nobis quoque peccatoribus, Domine, non sum dignus and similar prayers with great contrition and humility. His devotion rose especially while reading the Holy Gospel. When he came to any word spoken by Christ, he uttered it in a more tender and more loving voice; and when he met with the words Amen dico vobis, he gave marked attention to what followed. In fine, he did everything with such modesty, gravity and tenderness, as moved all present to devotion; and so, persons who did not know him were often heard to exclaim: “Ah! here is a priest who says Mass well! He must surely be a Saint!”
After his own Mass he would serve another, from devotion, and he did this regularly, though overwhelmed with business, up to the age of 75 years, when he could no longer walk without a cane or kneel except with great effort.
But the glorious St. Philip Neri was conspicuous among all for this virtue. While others need long preparation in order to be recollected and say Mass devoutly, he, on the contrary, needed first to amuse himself a little, so that often before going to celebrate he would have a book of stories read to him. In the act of celebrating, he was often noticed to heave deep sighs, and to melt into tears; sometimes he would pause, because he was unable to proceed; sometimes he would shiver and tremble, so as to shake the predella, and again, fall into such abstraction that it was necessary to pull his vestments to rouse him. When he reached the Offertory, the joy of his heart was so great while he was young, that his hand would rise of itself, and he could not pour the wine into the chalice unless he rested his arm firmly on the altar. In elevating the Most Holy Sacrament, he would remain with his arms stretched upward, unable for a time to lower them; and at other times he would rise a span and more from the ground. In taking the Body of the Lord, he enjoyed such sweetness that he seemed like a person who is tasting some delicious beverage; and in taking the Blood, he pressed the chalice between his lips so that he not only rubbed off the gold, but wore away the silver, upon which he left the marks of his teeth. For this reason, he was not willing that anyone should stand where his face could be seen—-not even the server, whom he told to keep at a distance, and not bring him the purificator until he should receive a sign. If he was to give Holy Communion, his fervor increased to such a degree that thrills were seen to run through his whole body, to the great wonder of those present; and when he took the Ciborium in his hand, he trembled so much that the Sacred Particles were shaken above the edge; his face, meanwhile, seemed all on fire, and an abundance of tears flowed from his eyes. In saying Mass, he uttered the words with so much devotion that he often made those weep who listened to him. When he had finished he withdrew immediately to his room, but with such abstraction that he often passed close to persons without perceiving them, and his face was so pale that he seemed rather dead than alive. His Mass, when said in public, was rather short than long, that he might not weary the people, so that those who were in haste were glad to see him come out of the sacristy; but when it was in his private oratory, it lasted not less than four hours.
12. The Divine Office is one of the most excellent works in which we can be engaged, as the Divine Praises are celebrated in it. It is an employment fit for Angels, and therefore it ought to be recited not by constraint or custom, but by choice, and with the application of our whole soul.—-St. Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi
When this Saint heard the Office bell, she was glad to find herself summoned to praise God, and instantly laid aside whatever she was doing; and while she was reciting the Office, her face showed the attention and devotion of her mind. St. Augustine, during its recitation, banished every other thought and gave up his whole soul to it. Father Suarez says of himself that on taking up the breviary, every other thought vanished from his mind; and during the whole time of Office nothing, however important it might be, distracted him.
Father Alvarez never recited it in the streets, nor while walking, but always in a retired place, usually kneeling in the middle of his own room, and at the regular hours. He did it with great calmness, with much reverence, and slowly. He would stop from time to time to dwell upon those pious sentiments which the Lord communicated to him, the greatness of which appeared in his exhortations and in the depth of his soul.
The venerable Father Daponte, when saying the “Procidamus ante Deum—-Let us fall prostrate before God,” prostrated himself at full length upon the ground, with the same feeling of devotion and veneration that he would have had in the visible presence of God. During all the time of the Office, he kept up the greatest attention and recollection, and never interrupted it for any cause, nor answered anyone who asked him a question.
Father Faber, in order to be attentive at Office, often imagined his guardian Angel on one side, marking all the words said well, and on the other side a demon recording all distractions of mind. At the beginning of every Psalm he said: “Pater caelestis, da mihi spiritum—-Heavenly Father, give me Thy Spirit.” Then he bade his mind remain attentive through that Psalm. St. Francis Xavier said, with fervor, before each Hour, “Veni, sancte Spiritus.” St. Bonaventure imagined himself reciting it amid multitudes of Angels, joining in their choir. St. Vincent de Paul did the same, and when he recited it privately he assumed the most humble and recollected posture that he could, by kneeling with uncovered head, until the last three years of his life when, on account of his great infirmity, he was obliged to remain sitting. But when he said it in choir, his elevation of mind was so great that he seemed as if unconscious of all things, and wholly wrapt in God.
13. The examination of conscience, which all good people are accustomed to make before going to rest, in order to see how they have passed the day and whether they have gone forward or backward, is of the greatest use, not only to conquer evil inclinations and to uproot bad habits, but also to acquire virtues and to perform our ordinary duties well. We must, however, observe that its best use does not lie in discovering the faults we have committed in the day, but in exciting aversion for them, and in forming a strong resolution to commit them no more.—-Father M. d’ Avila
We read in monastic history that a holy monk said: “I do not think the devils have twice entangled me in the same fault.” The cause of this was that in examining his first fall, he was so penetrated with shame for his disloyalty, and with abhorrence for the sin committed, and he impressed so deeply upon his heart the resolution of falling into it no more, that no second temptation to it had any power over him. All the Saints and masters of the spiritual life have set a high value on this examination, practicing it and recommending it as a most efficacious means to eradicate any vice or fault, and to advance in perfection. We may see this in reading the Lives of St. Dorotheus, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. John Climacus, St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, St. Ignatius Loyola and many others. The last-named esteemed it so much that, in a certain way, he even preferred it to meditation; “For, by the examen,” he said, “we put in practice what we draw from meditation.” So at the beginning, he kept his companions occupied for a long time in their examination of conscience, and in frequenting the Sacraments, for he thought if these things were well done it would be enough to preserve them in virtue. He testifies, too, of himself that if he had gained anything, he knew that it had been acquired, in great part, by the diligence he had every day employed in making his examen.
Even the heathen philosophers knew the great utility of such an examen. St. Jerome relates of Pythagoras that among the instructions he gave his disciples, the one that he considered of the greatest importance was that they should have two times of day fixed, one in the morning, the other in the evening, when they should examine themselves upon three points: What have I done? How have I done it? What have I omitted that I ought to have done?—-and that they should be pleased at the good which they discovered, and displeased at the evil. We read that Seneca, Plutarch, Epictetus and others, recommended the same thing.
14. How can the sun and moon praise God, as the Prophet exhorts them to? By performing well that task which has been imposed on them by the Lord. This is great praise which they give Him. Behold, then, an excellent way in which you can praise God at all times—-by performing well your tasks and whatever you may have to do.—-St. Jerome
St. John Berchmans was most diligent in every employment assigned to him. When he had the care of the Spiritual Father’s room, he kept it so neat and so well provided with every little necessary that the Father was astonished, and never found another to equal him. And, what was more, he never disturbed him or said an unnecessary word. When he had charge of the lamps, he never once omitted to look them over and trim them; and if he was going out of town on a holiday, he would either attend to them before starting, or come back in time to have them ready before it was dark. Once being afraid that he should lose this charge, he begged the Father Rector to let him retain it.
Father Alvarez faithfully fulfilled all the charges imposed on him, observing even the most minute rules, and continued this care and solicitude up to the last day and hour that he held them. When he was Rector he never failed to visit his subjects at the hour of prayer, and he did this up to the day when he left the house to become Provincial.
15. Never allow yourself to believe that time lost which is spent in performing your charge well. For this is a thing so acceptable to the Lord that He gives in a little time what He would otherwise be much longer in giving, and even doubles what has been abandoned in His service.—-St. Teresa
16. Do not fear that the occupations imposed by obedience will draw you away from union with God; for when they are performed for His glory, they have, instead, great power to unite us closely to Him. For how can those things separate us from God, which unite our will to His? The whole mistake arises from the failure to distinguish between being drawn away from God, and being drawn away from the sweetness found in the interior perception of God. It is true that in occupation this sweetness is not always enjoyed (though it is sometimes in the highest degree); but in depriving ourselves of this for the love of God, we gain instead of losing, while we leave the weak for the strong. While to quit or abandon our work to unite ourselves to God by prayer, reading, or recollection, by solitude and contemplation, would be to withdraw from God and to unite ourselves to ourselves and to our own self-love.—-St. Francis de Sales
St. Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi performed all her exterior duties with so much spiritual delight, and with so pure an intention for God, that they were no hindrance to her interior retirement and did not distract her in the least from God. And so, on the instant after finishing any of them, she would retire to prayer and be wholly separated from all earthly things and completely wrapt in God. Even in the midst of manual labor and employment she often fell into ecstasies, so that she once said: “It is the same to me whether I am told to go to prayer in the choir, or to any manual work, for I make no difference between them. Nay, were I to say that sometimes I find God more in such work than in prayer, I think I should tell the truth.”
A Franciscan lay brother who was cook, when he had thoroughly performed the work of his charge, used to retire to prayer, in which he enjoyed many heavenly consolations. To enjoy more of these, he asked and obtained from his Superior permission to give up his distracting occupation; then giving himself entirely to prayer, he found in it nothing but aridity and distractions. Seeing his mistake, he returned to his former work, when the lost consolations immediately came back.
17. Even little actions are great when they are done well; so that a little action done with desire to please God is more acceptable to Him, and gives Him more glory, than a great work done with less fervor. We must, then, give particular attention to perform well the little works, which are easiest, and are constantly within our reach, if we wish to advance in friendship with God.—-St. Francis de Sales
St. Ignatius said of a lay-brother who was a mason that he wrought for himself in Heaven as many crowns as he laid bricks or gave strokes of the hammer, on account of the pure and upright intention with which he animated these works.
It is told of St. Francis Xavier that he was very careful to do little things well, and that he used to say: “We must not deceive ourselves, for he who does not take pains to excel in little things, will never do so in great.”
18. Much more is accomplished by a single word of the Pater Noster said, now and then, from the heart, than by the whole prayer repeated many times in haste and without attention.—-St. Teresa
The Lord one day revealed to St. Bridget that He was more pleased with one who would recite with perfect faith and earnestness these three words: “Jesu, miserere mei—-Jesus, have mercy on me,” than with another who might recite a thousand verses without attention.
19. Whoever has not experienced it will not be able to believe how much we gain by being careful not to fail in little things; for the devil, by means of these, makes gaps and breaches through which great things can enter.—-St. Teresa
When St. Louis Bertrand was Superior he used to reprove and punish very severely, at the Friday Chapter, the very smallest faults, such as failing in silence, oversleeping a little, or making a mistake in choir—-only because he judged that advancement and religious discipline depended on these little things.
St. Lawrence Justinian took more pains to guard himself from slight faults than from grave ones; for he used to say that to beware of grave faults belonged not to Religious, but to seculars.
20. Be careful not to forget God in your occupations, from a belief that in this way you will accomplish more; for if He abandons you, you will not be able to take a step without falling prostrate on the ground. Rather imitate little children, who with one hand cling to their fathers, while with the other they pluck strawberries and mulberries along the hedges. Attend to what you are doing, yet not without raising a glance from time to time to your Heavenly Father, to see whether He is pleased with your plans and to ask His help. In this manner, you will accomplish even the most difficult business better and more easily. See how the Blessed Virgin quietly employed one hand in work, while she was holding upon the other arm Our Infant Lord.—-St. Francis de Sales
St. Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi performed her exterior occupations with such abstraction that, as her companions said, it seemed her body only was engaged in them, and her soul was rather where she loved than where she lived. It was observed that at meals in the refectory, at the time when there is usually a pause in the spiritual reading, she showed by her motions that she was absorbed in some devout thought.
We read the same thing of the venerable Father John Leonardi, who in the midst of business seemed so absorbed in God that he appeared, like St. Paul, to have his “conversation in Heaven.”
It is related of St. Anthony that while he was making baskets, he used to repeat from time to time the verse, “Miserere mei Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam—-Have pity on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.”
We read of the venerable Monseigneur de Palafox, that if a doubt occurred to him while writing he would turn to an image of the Infant Jesus and say, “O Lord, what can we say about this?” or again: “O Lord, teach me what I have to say!” or: “O Lord, give me light!” Sometimes, after he had written what he thought suited to the occasion, he offered it to God, saying: “O Lord, let this be for the good of souls. Give Thy spirit to it, O Lord! Give life to these characters, O Life of all created things!” If at times he felt pleased with his reasoning or his expressions, he held the paper near the lamp and said: “My God, is it Thy will that I should burn it? Nothing here is mine. Let every work and every feeling of my own be consumed!” But then he received interior light, which showed him that it would not be well to do so, and he refrained.
21. Among the hindrances which prevent us from performing our actions well, the foremost is that while we are doing one thing, we are thinking of another which we have to do or which we have done; so that our occupations interfere with one another, and none is well performed. The way to do them all well is to attend solely to the one we have in hand, taking care to do it as perfectly as possible, and banishing for the time the thought of every other; and when this is finished, not to think of it any more, but to think of what remains to be done.—-Father M. d’ Avila
At a time when God was shedding His heavenly graces in abundance upon the venerable Sister Maria Crucifixa, and calling her to enjoy the contemplation of Himself in solitude, her Superioress heaped upon her the offices of sacristan, cook, refectorian, and in certain novenas of great devotion, she had charge also of the door and of the medicine room. She did everything with exactness and to the satisfaction of all, and yet found time for her contemplation. This was her method: When she was in the sacristy, she said to herself, “Now be nothing but a sacristan”; and when she came out of it, she would say, “Now do not be a sacristan any longer”; and the same with the rest of her employments.
22. Perform faithfully what God requires of you each moment, and leave the thought of everything else to Him. I assure you that to live in this way will bring you great peace.—-St. Jane Frances de Chantal
The Saint herself was an example of this course of conduct. So was St. Francis de Sales also, of whom it was said that when he was doing any work or transacting any business, he gave his whole mind to it, as if he had nothing else in the world to think of.
Nazianzen relates of his mother that she threw herself wholly into whatever she was doing and did everything to perfection, so that seeing her in the midst of her household occupations one would think she cared for nothing else; but when she was attending to her spiritual duties, she showed that they were receiving her whole attention; and she felt as much interest in every occupation as if she had no other.
23. The second hindrance is haste. Beware of it, for it is a deadly enemy of true devotion; and anything done with precipitation is never done well. Let us go slowly, for if we do but keep advancing we shall thus go far.—-St. Francis de Sales
It was thus that the Saint himself conducted all his operations. St. Philip Neri did the same, and recommended this course to his penitents, often saying: “You need not try to do everything in a day, nor to become a Saint in a month. Prudence does not advise it.”
24. The works of God are performed, for the most part, little by little, and have their beginnings and their progress. We ought not to expect to do everything at once and in a hurry, nor imagine that all is lost, if success does not come in an instant, but we must advance quietly, pray much to God, and make use of the means suggested by His spirit, and never of the false maxims of the world.—-St. Vincent de Paul
St. Vincent de Paul had a habit of proceeding in all his affairs, both in undertaking and prosecuting them, with such tranquillity that he was regarded as too slow. But experience showed that his slowness did no harm, for to the wonder of all, he brought to a successful issue so many and such difficult affairs that many persons together would not have been able to do as much, even if they had given their whole minds to the work. What is more, he succeeded in this way in performing all his spiritual works with fervor, and all the indifferent ones with success.
25. The third hindrance is anxiety and solicitude. Be diligent and accurate in all the affairs of which you have charge; but, if possible, do not let them cause you anxiety and vexation; that is, do not manage them with disquiet, solicitude, and eagerness. Do not worry in attending to them, for worry disturbs the reason, and hinders us from doing well even what does not trouble us. But great affairs do not disturb us so much as a great number of little ones; therefore, receive these also with calmness, and try to attend to them in order, one after another, without perturbation. Thus, you will gain great merit by them, for the time spent peacefully is doubtless most usefully employed. —-St. Francis de Sales
This Saint passed many hours with poor people who occupied him about things of little account. When it was said to him that it was not well for him to lose so much time on trifles, he answered: “What do you think I ought to do? These things appear great to them, and they desire sympathy as much as if the case were really so. God knows well that I desire no greater employment, and that every occupation is indifferent to me, if only it regards His service. While I am engaged in this work, small as it is, I am not obliged to do any other. And is it not a sufficiently important employment to do the will of God?” To encourage one of his penitents to this practice, he wrote to her thus: “Whoever can preserve interior sweetness in a multiplicity of business, may be called perfect. Though few can be found even in the Orders who have arrived at this degree of felicity, yet there are some, and there have been some in every age. We must aspire to this high standard.”
St. Jane Frances de Chantal faithfully followed this advice by doing everything with the greatest attention—-but without any anxiety and without ever losing peace of heart—-and so, all she did succeeded well; and she spoke of this freely to her daughters. To one of them she said one day: “Believe me, my dear daughter, I deeply love our poor Congregation, but without anxiety—-without which, love ordinarily is not wont to live. But mine, which is not ordinary, lives without it.” And to another who had sought from her a remedy for the constant perplexities she experienced in her employments, she wrote: “The origin of your trouble and perplexity comes from nothing but the anxiety you feel in seeking the good you aim at, and your want of patience and submission to the will of Him who alone can give it to you. So, if you desire your work to
26. It is a characteristic of the spirit of God to work with gentleness and love; and the surest way of succeeding in whatever we undertake is to imitate Him.—-St. Vincent de Paul
This Saint managed all his own affairs in this way, whether they were important or indifferent, spiritual or temporal—-with a great calmness and quiet, which appeared even exteriorly.
27. The fourth hindrance is a desire to do too much. There is no need of wearing ourselves completely out in the exercises of virtue, but we should practice them freely, naturally, simply, as the ancient Fathers did, with good will and without scrupulosity. In this consists the liberty of the children of God: that is, in doing gladly, faithfully, and heartily, what they are obliged to do.—-St. Francis de Sales
Such, in fact, was this Saint’s manner of working—-a manner free, simple, ready, devoid of artifice, proceeding by ordinary and natural means, arising rather from the heart than from the mind, and therefore pleasing to God, and very easy and meritorious for the Saint himself.
Though St. Jane Frances de Chantal was most exact in the observance of her Rules and in all her employments, she took precautions both for herself and others, that this exactness should not be accompanied by that spiritual constraint and oppression, which self-love often causes for faults committed through ignorance or inadvertence, and without malice. In everything she went on lovingly, happily, and in peace.
28. Among the many means of performing our actions well, one is to do each of them as if it were to be the last of our lives. At every action, then, say to yourself: “If you knew that you were to die immediately after this action, would you do it? and would you do it in this way?”—-St. Vincent de Paul
Whatever St. Francis de Sales did, he did it as if it were his last act in the world. A certain priest was accustomed to go to confession every morning before saying Mass. Once, being dangerously ill, he was advised to make his confession in preparation for death. But he answered: “Blessed be God! I have made my confession in that way every day for the last thirty years, as if I were immediately to die; so I need do no more than make my ordinary confession, as if I were going to say Mass.”
29. Another good method is to consider only the present day. One of the arts which the devil employs to ruin souls and to retard many in the service of God is to represent to them that it is a very difficult and insupportable thing to live for many years with so much exactness, circumspection and regularity. Now, to consider today only closes the path to this temptation, and at the same time lends much support to human weakness. For who is there that cannot for one day make a strong effort to do all he can, that his actions may be well performed? Let one say to himself in the morning, “This day I mean to perform my ordinary actions well.” So, that becomes easy and tolerable, which might appear very difficult if it were taken in a general way, and with the thought that this effort was to be made for a lifetime. Meanwhile, by proceeding every day in this manner, little by little a good habit is formed, and no further difficulty is experienced.—-St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
A certain monk is mentioned in the Lives of the Fathers, who even early in the morning suffered intolerably from hunger and weakness. In order not to transgress the holy custom of the monks, which forbade any food to be taken before three o’clock in the afternoon, he adopted the following device. In the morning he said to himself: “Hungry as you are, is it a great thing to wait until tierce?” At tierce he said, “Truly I must make some effort, and not eat until sext.” At sext he put the bread into the water, and said: “While the bread is soaking, I can wait till none; as I have waited so long, I do not mean, for the sake of two or three hours, to transgress the good custom of the monks.” When the hour of none arrived, he said his prayers, and took his breakfast. So he went on for some days, beguiling himself by these short periods of time, until one day when he was eating at the regular hour, he saw a smoke arise from the basket of bread, and go out of the window of his cell. This was, no doubt, the evil spirit that had tempted him. From that time forward, he no longer felt hungry as before, so that at times he remained entire days without food, and without feeling any need of it.
In the same book another monk is mentioned who was for some time tempted to leave his monastery. Every evening he would say to himself, “Tomorrow I will go”; and when morning came, he would say, “Now, for the love of God, I will stay one day more.” After continuing this practice for nine years, he was at last freed from the temptation.
30. It is a great error of certain souls otherwise good and pious that they believe they cannot retain interior repose in the midst of business and perplexities. Surely there is no commotion greater than that of a vessel in the midst of the sea; yet those on board do not give up the thought of resting and sleeping, and the compass remains always in its place, turning towards the pole. Here is the point: we must be careful to keep the compass of our will in order, that it may never turn elsewhere than to the pole of the Divine pleasure. This is the third means of performing our actions well.—-St. Francis de Sales
St. Vincent de Paul excelled in this. He was never perturbed by the multiplicity of business, nor by the difficulties he encountered, but he undertook everything with inexhaustable spiritual strength and applied himself with method, patience and tranquillity, making the will of God his constant aim. This was especially visible when he had a seat in the king’s council and at the same time the government of his own Congregation and of many other communities, assemblies, and conferences, together with other employments which almost overwhelmed him. One might have supposed that he would have been in a state of distraction, divided, as it were, among a hundred thoughts and cares and with his mind, in consequence, harassed and agitated. But no. In the midst of a constant ebb and flow of persons and employments, he appeared always recollected, self-possessed, master of himself, with as much evenness of temper, peace and tranquillity, as if he had only one thing to think about.
31. All that we do receives its value from conformity to the will of God. When I take food or recreation, if I do it because it is the will of God, I merit more than if I went to suffer death without that intention. Plant this principle finnly in your mind, and then at every action fix your eyes upon it, in imitation of the carpenter, who brings every board under the square. Thus, you will do your work with perfection.—-St. Francis de Sales
This truth was well understood by the good lay-brother who said that when he was sitting at table, he was preaching Xavier’s sermons in India; for the best thing about Xavier’s preaching was that he did the will of God by it, which the lay-brother was also doing.
St. Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi had this perfect conformity, not only habitual and implied, but also actual. So that while it seems to most spiritual persons a very difficult thing to direct every action actually to God, it was so easy and familiar to her that she thought it impossible for anyone to work without reflecting upon the will of God.