Humility in Prosperity and Adversity

St Francis of Assisi, Renunciation of Wordly Goods by Giotto di Bondone

Which is better: prosperity or adversity? Here is how four thoughtful Franciscan saints weighed in on the question:

St. Joseph of Cupertino said: “The adversities and tribulations of life are special graces, and those most to be desired. God reserves them for His clearest friends. Receive them, then, as such with patience, constancy, and joy.” And again, “To suffer for the love of God is a great favour, of which man in himself is unworthy. But man does not understand this; for he thanks God for prosperity, and does not consider that affliction would be a much greater benefit.”

St Francis of Assisi, St Louis of Toulouse, St Anthony of Padua by Bicci di Lorenzo

St. Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, echoed Joseph’s sentiments when he said, “Adversity is very useful to those who make profession of serving God, giving them an occasion of practising patience, humility, and resignation to the Divine Will, and disposing them more perfectly to practise every virtue.”

His uncle, St. Louis the King, saw good in either adversity or prosperity. He said, “If God sends you adversity, receive it humbly and thankfully; think that you have deserved it, and that it is for your good. If He sends you prosperity, thank Him for it, and beware of giving way to pride; for we ought not to use God’s gifts as arms against Him.”

This outlook seems to follow from the admonition of St. Clare of Assisi: “Beware of allowing yourself to be cast down by adversity or puffed up by prosperity; faith renders the soul humble in success and constant amid reverses.”

St. Francis of Assisi frequently encouraged his followers to cultivate in themselves the virtue of humility. He gave them this thoughtful maxim to consider: “A fall follows an exaltation; a snare attends on praise; while in humility there is great profit for the soul.”

St Bonaventure by Vittore Crivelli

St. Bonaventure teaches: “The sovereign virtue of man is humility. It is that which cures, perfects, and keeps him. Without humility we can acquire no other virtue, nor attain to perfection.”

Bl. Angela of Foligno observes: “Humility renders him who possesses it affable, sweet, and thoughtful; hence the world seeks it so eagerly, it testifies so much respect and esteem for those noble characters who possess this divine virtue.”

And, Bl. Clare of Montefalco remarks: “Our souls are like wood: the more they imbibe the oil of submission and humility the more they are set on fire with divine love.”

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

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