FATHER CAJETAN, or Padre Gaetano Maria da Bergamo, was one of the great Italian Missionaries of the eighteenth century. Born in 1672 he was professed a Minor Capuchin in 1692, and died in 1753. His eulogy, contained in the work on Illustrious Writers of the Order of Minor Capuchins is brief and pregnant: “In religiosae vitae moribus nemini secundus, in omni genere scribendi facile primus.”
He was one of the reformers of the Italian pulpit, substituting for the vapid, empty rhetoric which prevailed, a solid, learned and instructive style, animated by zeal and real devotion.
His religious works, written amid missions and courses of sermons, are contained in thirty volumes; of his writings Benedict XIV says that: “they have this rare quality in our day, that they satisfy the intellect and the heart; their solid doctrine in no way dries up their tender devotion, and their devotional sweetness in no way detracts from the perfect solidity of their doctrine.” He was a model Religious, remarkable for his charity, zeal and love for God and for souls, which he had built up in the solid foundation of profound humility, with which he united a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
I confess that, though I have been in possession of the Monza edition of his work for over thirty years, it was not till recently that I looked seriously into them. The first of his volumes is the one that has most struck me; and this I took up thirteen or fourteen years ago and have never put it down since. For it seems to supply so much of what the soul most needs, and which everyone must feel that he can never possess sufficiently, if even he possess it really at all, namely Humility of Heart.
There is a great advantage in using such a book as this for two or three years consecutively as a meditation book. The human mind is so volatile, the character so restless, convictions are so slow in taking a deep and permanent hold on our practical life, that I have always considered that a retreat made upon one idea, and two or three years given to the meditation of one great subject is productive of more solid good than the following out of the ordinary system, which, of course, has it own advantages, commending it to the greater number. I venture even to think that for many persons living amidst the distractions of the world, such as priests engaged in the active ministry, and devout men and women of the laity, who are deeply in earnest about the work of their sanctification, the persevering study of one book for years, such as the “Spiritual Combat,” St. Alphonsus on ” Prayer,” Blessed de Montfort on “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” Padre Gaetano on “Humility of Heart,” Palma on “The Passion,” and certain other treatises which need not be named here, is far more important than for recluses and good people living out of the world. We never get a proper hold of a great spiritual doctrine until we have lived in it and been saturated by it. The soul must soak in the brine until it has become wholly impregnated with its qualities. And is this process likely to be carried out by one who thirsts for variety and is always on the move towards some totally new sensation from the one that at present occupies his feelings? There is the question of breadth, I know, as well as depth. But he who said “Times hominem unius libri” hit a truth that must be felt by every earnest soul.
One need not fear that the constant handling of one book will dry up the mind, if the topic treated be one of primary importance, and if it be the work of a master on the spiritual life. The number of thoughts and truths suggested by such a book are truly wonderful. It often will happen that far more is suggested than is actually put down by the hand of the writer. But to enjoy this result, you must have put away all hurry; you must have said, “I am going to spend at least a year with this friend; I am going to take him not merely for a friend but for a master and a guide.” I well remember how one night before bed-time, reading my da Bergamo in the Chapel of St. Bede’s College, a single line suggested this idea or train of thought: God in the Old and New Testament named people after their personal characteristics. Now, were I to name myself after my personal traits, I might name myself by the names of the seven capital sins. These are the innate springs of evil within me. They are the heads and sources from which all other sins take their rise. They are like the gall spots, the sour or iron oozings that often disfigure a whole field that has been neither drained nor cultivated. Indeed they are much more mischievous and fatal than these, for they are capable of overflowing and destroying everything that is good and profitable. The springs of these evil tendencies are so deeply imbedded in our nature that it is almost impossible to get rid of them altogether. The doing so is the work of a lifetime, unless we be able to get below the main well-spring of them all, and so inflict a permanent injury on them all. I may, therefore, take myself in hand thus, and say: “In the name of God I will call you what you really are, Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, Sloth; and I will add to these seven capital sins, five other characteristics of my soul, viz.: Weakness, Ignorance, Poverty, Theft and Cruelty—–twelve names which may not be the less appropriate, because I do not desire to be publicly known by them; twelve names that may bring home to me home truths, and which may be exceedingly good and valuable for private use. For the first thing is to begin by a profound knowledge of oneself, and of one’s own miseries, though it may not be wise or prudent to begin by proclaiming one’s sins to the world. Some of these names may be obviously applicable to ourselves, such as Weakness, Ignorance and Poverty. For how weak and ignorant are we, physically and morally! How dependent upon others for the things of commonest use! How poor, too, in grace and virtue, and every kind of excellence, especially if compared with many others. The title of Theft is not so very obvious until we recognize that instead of giving glory to God for every good thing we may seem to do or to possess, we rob Him of this glory as much as we can, in the most natural and thoughtless manner, and attribute to ourselves, and appropriate from others to ourselves, all the credit and glory of any little thing we do. He who makes this his habit may very deservedly be named a thief or Theft, calling himself by the act he is habitually doing, and is habitually famous for. But Cruelty, how is this name justified? I have never been fond of giving pain to animals, at least not since I was a senseless child: why should I be called cruelty? We have only to remember and understand that by our sins we crucify again to ourselves the Son of God, to realize how well deserving we are of the name of Cruelty. We give wanton pain to an animal, and we are punished by the law; we are cruel to children, and we are prosecuted; we inflict pain unnecessarily on our friends and dependents, and we are justly esteemed heartless brutes. It is only our Lord Jesus Christ, only our Lord God and Father in Heaven, Whom we may treat with wanton injury and insult, disobedience and neglect, and escape without any name or mark of contempt and disapproval. I have but to consider my own share in the sorrows and passion and death of Jesus Christ, and how His Mother participated in all He suffered, to see how truly I have been a monster of Cruelty. And so it seems that in this simple way, by merely repeating thoughtfully these our twelve Vicious names to ourselves we may become each time a little better grounded in the truth inculcated by this admirable treatise on ” Humility of Heart.” All this to some may seem fanciful, and they may brush it away as unworthy of consideration. But to others it will not be so, especially if they are given “to ponder over these things in their hearts.” Such thoughts may be particularly serviceable at certain times. For instance, if you are receiving public homage and addresses in circumstances of unusual pomp and ceremony; or if you happen to be, from your position, the object of any other special veneration, and certain noxious fumes of vanity or self-complacency be found ascending for a moment to your head an obvious remedy is to reflect that it is not yourself but your office that is receiving such special honor, and that anyone else occupying the same position would be the object of just the same respect. But better still than this will it be to call yourself quietly over by the twelve names drawn from your moral qualities and tendencies. The noxious gas is then extinguished; the decked-out worm that you are is crushed in its own exuding slime beneath your feet; and you realize at once that you are playing a part which receives honor due to your official, not to your private character.
Of course it is only a small number who are in a position to receive public honors and addresses. But there is no one who is not the recipient from time to time of praise and admiration; and when this seems stinted in kind or quantity, our pride and self-love quickly rises up to supply the defect. It is on these occasions that the slow and measured recital to yourself of our twelve names will scatter the fumes of vanity, and leave you in the full enjoyment of a multitude of peace.
But above all we priests have to bear in mind that as true representatives of Jesus Christ we must wear His livery and become truly meek and humble of heart. Without this He will not know us, except “afar off”—–“et alta a longe cognoscit.” This humility must be consistent and of universal application. We must be humble with our fellow-priests, and humble with those with whom we work. The priest is likened by Christ to a fisherman—–a fisherman working with his nets, mending them, caring for them, using them to catch fish. He is not represented as fishing with a worm or as throwing the fly; but as working with his net. The net used by us priests is a rational net, made up of good people who co-operate with us. Thus our Lord Himself used the Apostles and disciples and women, as well as preaching with His Own mouth. The Apostles did the same. Read the closing sentences to several of the Pauline Epistles to see how many lay people, men and women, rich and poor, He used as forming part of His net to catch souls.
There is a great need in the present day to make use of the Catholic laity in the salvation of souls. The priest must use them like a net held in his hand; he must care for his net, not be surprised if its meshes break from time to time and if they need to be mended.
The rock on which the Ladies of Charity and other lay people, who are zealous to help the clergy in apostolic work for souls, so often founder is one or other of the many forms of pride. They are unwilling to be guided, to be contradicted, to be restrained in their ardor. They see and above all feel things so clearly, so keenly, that they cannot imagine that they are going too fast, doing too much and perhaps spoiling other good work done by persons who deserve consideration. They fully realize that they are impelled by zeal and enthusiasm, and that no one just now comes up to them; but they do not know and realize how unsteady and fickle they really are, and that it will require only a very moderate amount of coldness or contradiction to throw them off the line, and to discourage and fill them with such feelings of annoyance and indifference, as will lead them to throw up everything in disgust. Thus they end by doing more harm than they have done good. And all this because they are wanting in the first principles of humility. I should like every Lady of Charity to study this book well, to make it the foundation of her practical life. The result would be that she would become secretly a Saint before God, and that she would in the course of her life do ten times, a hundred times more than she could ever accomplish without humility, “Humilia respicit in terra, et alta a longe cognoscit,” says the Psalmist, when speaking of God’s dealings with men.
Like all good works the conversion and salvation of souls are really the work of the Holy Ghost. He employs means and instruments. Happy we if He employ us, if He associate us in this way with Himself. Do you desire to persuade Him to use you? Do you long to attract Him? Well, there is no surer way than by the practice of humility. You must be humble towards God, towards His visible representatives [for thus you prove your humility towards God], towards your fellow workers, and towards the people whom you must serve lovingly, humbly, patiently, as though you were dealing with Christ.
I have the strongest possible conviction that our Lord desires to be served, especially in a country like England, where we are “the little flock,” by a great development of religious activity among the laity, acting in co-operation with and under the guidance of the clergy. But I am equally convinced that unless these new workers are formed on the humility of heart which our Lord told all of us to learn of Him they and their overtures will be rejected by God and man. It is for this reason that I have dedicated this volume, written by a most holy and learned missionary, many times commended by zealous popes and bishops, to the Ladies of Charity as well as to the Priests for whose Ordination I have been responsible.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.