True Humility

Padre Quadrupani expresses regret that few people, it seems, have a correct idea of the virtue of humility. He notices that humility is frequently confused with servility or littleness. Here is how to discern true humility from these latter misconceptions:

“When a Christian who is truly humble commits a fault he repents but is not disquieted. . . . He thanks God on the contrary that his fall has not been more serious. Thus Saint Catherine of Genoa, whenever she found she had been guilty of some imperfection, would calmly exclaim: ‘Another weed from my garden!’ This peaceful contemplation of our sinfulness was considered very important by Saint Francis de Sales also, for he says: ‘Let us learn to bear with our imperfections if we wish to attain perfection, for this practice nourishes the virtue of humility.'”

“Some persons have the erroneous idea that in order to be humble they must not recognize in themselves any virtue or talent whatsoever. The reverse is the case according to Saint Thomas, for he says it is necessary to realize the gifts we have received that we may return thanks for them to Him from whom we hold them. To ignore them is to fail in gratitude towards God, and to neglect the object for which He gave them to us. All that we have to do is to avoid the folly of taking glory to ourselves because of them.”

The Padre offers this memorable analogy: “Mules, asses and donkeys may be laden with gold and perfumes and yet be none the less dull and stupid animals. The graces we have received, far from giving us any personal claims, only serve to increase our debt to Him who is their source and their donor.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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In the World, Not of the World

None of us has a choice in this: we are in the world, and we are all in it together. But each of us has a choice to be or not to be of the world. Here is how St. Francis and four other Franciscans distinguish between being in the world but not of the world:

St. Francis wisely advises: “Never praise a man before his death, because you never can tell how he will end.”

He declares: “Happy he who, when he is honoured and esteemed by men, thinks no more of himself than when he was humbled and despised, because man is what he appears to the eyes of God, and nothing more.” Again, he reminds us: “Know that there are many high and sublime things in the eyes of God which are vile and abject in the esteem of men; while, on the contrary, there are numberless things which men consider grand and beautiful, and which are mean and valueless before God.”

St. Elzear of Sabran remarks: “It ought to be a cause of confusion to us that, being placed on this earth in order to fit ourselves for heaven, we yet think so little of our home, and speak of it so rarely.”

St. Clare of Assisi, therefore, exhorts: “Never forget that the way which leads to heaven is narrow; that the gate leading to life is narrow and low; that there are but few who find it and enter by it; and if there be some who go in and tread the narrow path for some time, there are but very few who persevere therein.”

St. Antony of Padua argues that worldly vices destroy the theological virtue of charity: “Charity is a fire; but three things can extinguish it: the wind of pride, the water of gluttony and luxury, and the thick smoke of avarice.”

The human person is made up of body and spirit. Blessed Egidius of Assisi offers this suggestion on how to manage our affairs: “We have two eyes—the right and left. Let us use the former to contemplate all that is above us, and the latter to manage what is beneath us.”

Quotations from Flowers from the Garden of Saint Francis for Every Day of the Year (London: Burns and Oates, 1882).

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Here is advice from Franciscan saints on having confidence in God:

St. Francis of Assisi urges us to have faith in God: “No one ought, by a foolish self-confidence, to take pride in what is within the reach of every sinner. A sinner can fast, pray, weep, mortify his flesh; but there is one thing he cannot do—be faithful to God.”

Likewise, St. Joseph of Cupertino says: “In all temptations, whatever kind they may be, mistrust yourself; cast a look at the crucifix, confide in God, and take courage; God will be faithful to you if you are faithful to Him.”

St. Joseph adds: “Preserve a filial confidence in God, and pray without ceasing. Even he whose prayers are not answered has the merit of having prayed. Thus each one comes from prayer enriched with God’s graces.”

St. Pascal Baylon says of confidence in prayer: “God being willing to give us all we want, we ought always to pray with entire confidence. God waits for us to ask Him, and even inspires us to ask for His help.”

St. Catherine of Bologna insists: “We must confide in God, with the hope that He will deign to give us the abundance of His divine grace, by which we shall obtain a complete victory over our enemies, knowing that He never abandons those who trust in Him.”

When St. Francis was dying, he said this to the friars about him: “Always remain and persevere in the fear of God. And because trouble and temptation approach, happy are those who shall persevere to the end in the work they have undertaken. As for me, I am going to God, to Whose care I confide you.”

Quotations from Flowers from the Garden of Saint Francis for Every Day of the Year (London: Burns and Oates, 1882).

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To Have and Hold Virtue

Here are a few thoughts from the followers of St. Francis of Assisi on the subject of virtue:

“Practise solid virtue, and do not give yourself up to ephemeral devotions, which are only so much straw.” -St. Joseph of Cupertino

“Let us be assiduous in practising every virtue with moderation, and in consequence let us arm ourselves with real and diligent discretion, that it may turn to the advantage of our salvation and the glory of Jesus Christ.” -St. Catherine of Bologna

“I consider it no less a virtue to know how to keep silence at the proper time than to speak well. It seems to me that man ought to have a neck as long as a crane’s, so that each of his words may pass through many knots before leaving his mouth.” -Bl. Egidius of Assisi

“All virtues ought to please us; but the greatest is, though feeling ourselves overwhelmed by the resistance of the inferior part of the soul, nevertheless, never to oppose ourselves to the will of those who have the right to command us.” -St. Mary Frances of the Five Wounds

“The highest perfection consists in doing ordinary actions in a perfect manner. A constant fidelity in little things shows great and heroic virtue.” -St. Bonaventure

St. Francis of Assisi has this to say on the role of prayer in obtaining virtues: “In prayer we receive the graces of God in abundance, . . . our interior affections are purified, we are united to the one true and supreme Good, in order to be strengthened in virtue.”

On preserving virtue, he says: “There is no more merit in acquiring virtue than in preserving it well in the heart, when it has once found a footing there.”

St. Bernardine of Siena suggests this solid foundation upon which many virtues rest: “No virtue is more necessary, especially at the beginning of our conversion, than humble simplicity and a modest gravity.”

St. Francis understood the great value of humility and purity in one’s spiritual life. He remarks: “A modest reserve is the surest guardian of purity; it occupies an honourable rank among the virtues.” And, he warns of a certain misappropriation of one’s virtues: “The flesh seeks glory in virtue, human applause in watches and long prayers; it leaves nothing to the soul, and tries to gain profit even from tears.”

Quotations from Flowers from the Garden of Saint Francis for Every Day of the Year (London: Burns and Oates, 1882).

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Heart to Heart

The heart is an ancient symbol of the deepest and most profound spiritual, emotional, and moral core of a person.

St. Antony says: “God loves to come into humble and compassionate souls, into souls that are full of discretion, that are penitent and devout; but He abandons cold and callous hearts, hearts that seek their own ease, that shrink from the smallest sacrifice, that show no love for prayer or meditation.”

St. Francis alerts us to a kind of spiritual heart trouble: “Those wants which do not come from reason, but from mere sensuality, are manifest signs of the loss of fervour. When the heart begins to grow tepid and draws away from grace, flesh and blood always seek to satisfy themselves.”

But, he reminds us: “In this valley of tears there is nothing of beauty or loveliness that can fully satisfy your heart.” Worldly things fail to warm the human heart, yet “if our hearts were inflamed with the love of our heavenly country, we should easily bear exterior cold.”

When one seriously considers all the graces and favors God has given to us and continues to give to us, we are moved to feel profoundly grateful. St. Francis remarks: “The inestimable price of Divine Love suffices to gain heaven; and the love of Him, Who has so much loved us, has many claims on our hearts.”

Blessed Bernard of Corleone notes: “God will be loved as God; that is to say, with fear, without reserve, in preference to all creatures, and without exception. He will not accept a divided heart; for unless the creature be loved in and for Him, it is like offering Him what the creature has left.”

Venerable Mary Cherubina says: “Ingratitude is a vice that grieves the God of love. Every sin of ingratitude wounds the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

And, St. Leonard of Port Maurice adds: “Ingratitude shuts the door of our heart to the bounty of Heaven—gratitude opens it. If you desire free access to the treasures of Paradise, always show yourself grateful to your Sovereign Benefactor.”

Quotations from Flowers from the Garden of Saint Francis for Every Day of the Year (London: Burns and Oates, 1882).

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The Business of Life

As long as we are alive in this world, we must deal with the necessities, duties, and business of this life. St. Francis de Sales gives some thoughts on how to make the best of it and how to keep earthly life and eternal life in perspective:

“We must descend to earth to regulate the necessities of this life, but in all things our heart should relish only the dew of God’s pleasure, and refer all to the praise of God.”

“Do not be vexed at the annoyances which come from the complexity of business; believe me, true virtue is not nourished in exterior repose any more than good fish in stagnant water.”

“When you encounter things which give you trouble, remember that the saints cheerfully did greater and more troublesome tasks, and encourage yourself by their example.”

“Take no trouble on account of what the world thinks of you; despise its good opinion and its contempt, and let it say what it will of good or evil.” Why? “Men look at the exterior, God looks at the heart; if He sees the lowliness of your heart He will give us great graces.”

“Complain as little as possible of injuries, for it rarely happens that one complains without sin, since our self-love exaggerates in our eyes and hearts the wrongs we have received.”

“Let our Lord turn us to the left or to the right, and send us in a hundred directions. He never abandons us but to get closer possession of us; He never leaves us but to guard us better; He never struggles with us but to enter our souls and bless us.”

“We advance through stormy weather, and under a dark and cloudy sky. It is a better time for travellers than if the sun poured its ardent heat upon us. Courage!”

Quotations from Maxims and Counsels of St. Francis de Sales, trans. Ella McMahon (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1884).

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Blessed Egidius of Assisi observes: “We bear our trials so badly because we do not know how to seek spiritual consolation. He who works faithfully in himself, above himself, and for himself, is able to bear everything joyfully.” Thus, he exclaims: “Blessed are they who have always before their eyes their own sins and the benefits of God, and who bear with patience every sorrow and affliction; they will draw therefrom much consolation.”

Bl. Egidius sees a spiritual danger in seeking spiritual consolations: “If you wish to save your soul,” he says, “direct all your efforts and your care to separate yourself from all the consolation and honour you can receive from creatures.” And again: “If you desire salvation, seek not for consolation from any creature on earth. Falls arising from these consolations are more serious and more frequent than those which happen through afflictions.”

St. Francis of Assisi notes: “The soul that has been purified by God ardently desires to be led by the path of suffering, looking upon all other ways and consolations as earthly food which perishes, but on this as the only medicine of salvation, whose taste is bitter, but whose fruit is most sweet.”

Tribulations, which we naturally fear, are the opposite of consolations, which we naturally desire. But, St. Bernardine of Siena offers this insight: “Tribulation is the guardian of the heart. It puts man out of the way of many a fall, it urges him to fight for truth, to flee from dangerous occasions, to ask the divine assistance.”

St. Frances of Rome advises: “Have recourse to prayer before beginning your actions; enkindle more and more your zeal, for the glory of God; this is the means of preserving yourself from the idle thoughts of vanity, and of arming yourself against self-complacency, which is so unbecoming to those who wish to love God with all their heart.”

St. Francis of Assisi gives this advice to his followers: “The brethren should above all desire to possess the spirit of the Lord and His holy operation, to pray to Him always with a pure heart, to preserve humility and patience in the midst of persecution and sickness, and to love those who persecute, reprove, and contradict them.” Furthermore, he urges: “In all perils, doubts, and troubles think of Mary, call on Mary. Let her name be ever on your lips and in your heart.”

Quotations from Flowers from the Garden of Saint Francis for Every Day of the Year (London: Burns and Oates, 1882).

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