On Modesty and Mortification

St. Anthony Mary Claret wrote his autobiography reluctantly and only under obedience to his
religious superiors. This chapter out of his book details the apostolic techniques which
proved so successful in saving souls. Our Lord told him several times: “Give me blood
(mortification) and I will give you spirit.”

St. Anthony resolved never to waste a moment of time and during his 35 years a priest, he
wrote 144 books and preached some 25,000 sermons. On one trip, besides traveling, he
preached 205 sermons in 48 days – 12 in one day. Giving the reason he worked so zealously,
he wrote: “If you were to see a blind man about to fall into a pit or over a precipice, would
you not warn him? Behold, I do the same and do it I must, for this is my duty. I must warn
sinners and make them see the precipice which leads to the unquenchable fires of Hell, for
they will surely go there if they do not amend their ways. Woe to me if I do not preach and
warn them, for I would be held responsible for their condemnation.”

Besides working numerous miracles throughout his priestly life, St. Anthony Mary possessed
the gifts of prophecy and discernment of hearts. Often Our Lord and Our Lady would appear
to him. Once Our Lord told him that three great judgments would soon descend upon the
world: 1. Protestantism and Communism; 2. The love of pleasures and money and
independence of reason and will; 3. Great wars with their horrible consequences. He boldly
proclaimed: “The sole reason why society is perishing is because it has refused to hear the
word of the Church, which is the word of God. All plans for salvation will be sterile if the
great word of the Catholic Church is not restored in all its fullness.”

Here are his words on mortification:

The missionary is a spectacle to God, to the Angels, and to men. For this reason, he must be
very circumspect and prudent in all his words, works, and ways. To this effect, I resolved that
my conduct both at home and away from it, should be to talk very little, and to weigh every
word I uttered, because people not infrequently take words to mean other than the speaker
intends them to mean.

When talking to others, I proposed never to make gestures with my hands. In some places
this is strongly ridiculed and looked upon as displeasing. My constant intention was always
to speak sparingly, and that only when necessary. I resolved to speak briefly, and in a quiet
and grave manner, without touching my face, chin, head, and much less my nose. I
determined also never to make grimaces with my mouth, or to utter any funny or ridiculous
statement, and never to ridicule anyone, because I saw that by doing these things, the
missionary loses much of the authority, respect and veneration which is his due. All this is
the result of fickleness, scant mortification, and little modesty. These habits and similar
coarseness of manners manifest little or no education on the part of their possessors.

The missioner must also be at peace with all as St. Paul says. Now, with this in mind, I never
scolded anyone, but tried to be kind to all. I endeavored also never to pass funny remarks
about anyone, nor did I like to indulge in any form of buffoonery or mockery at another’s
expense. Laughing did not appeal to me, although I always manifested joy, gentleness and
kindness in my person, for I remembered that Jesus was never seen to laugh, although He was
seen weeping on some occasions. Those words also helped me determine my conduct:
“Stultus in risu exaltat vocem suam; vir autem sapiens vix tacite ridebit — The fool raises his
voice in laughter, but the wise man will scarcely laugh in silence.”

Modesty, as we all know, is that virtue which teaches us how to do all things in the right way.
It sets before our eyes how Jesus did things, and it tells us to do the same. So, before each
action that I was about to do, I always asked myself, and still do, how Jesus Christ would do
it. What care, purity and rectitude of intention should I have if I were to act like my Divine
Model! How He preached; how He conversed; how He ate and rested; how He dealt with all
manner of people; how He prayed; in fine, all His ways of doing things, were the sum and
substance of my constant meditation and efforts, for with God’s grace I determined to imitate
Our Lord in everything, so as to be able to say with the Apostle, if not by word of mouth, then
by my works: “Be ye imitators of me as I am of Christ.”

I understood, O God, that if the missionary is to gather fruit in his ministry, it is essential for
him to be not only irreproachable, but also in all places a man of virtue. People respect much
more that which they see in a missionary than what they hear about him. this is proved by
those words concerning Our Lord, the Model Missionary: “Coepit facere et docere.” First of
all He did things, then He taught afterwards.

Thou knowest, O my God, the number of times that in spite of all my resolutions I have failed
against holy modesty. Thou wilt surely know if some have been scandalized by my lack of
observance of this virtue. My Lord, if such be the case, I beg Thy pardon and mercy. I give
Thee my word that, putting into practice the words of the Apostle, I will do my best to make
my modesty known to all men. I promise that my modesty shall be like that of Jesus Christ,
as St. Paul exhorts so strongly, and that I will imitate the humble St. Francis of Assisi who
preached by his modesty, and converted many people by his good example. O my Lord Jesus,
Love of my heart. I love Thee, and wish to draw all men to Thy most holy love!

Without mortification I knew that modesty was impossible. therefore I endeavored with the
utmost determination to acquire this virtue of self-denial, cost what it might, yet always
relying on the help of God’s grace.

In the first place, I resolved to deprive myself of all taste or preference, and to give it to God.
Without knowing how, I felt myself obliged to fulfill what was only of precept. My
understanding was confronted with an inevitable alternative; either I should cater to my own
taste or to God’s. Now, as my understanding saw this gross inequality even though in such a
small matter as this, I felt myself obliged to follow the good pleasure of God. Therefore, I
willingly denied myself innocent and legitimate pleasures in order to have all my taste and
gratification in God. I follow this rule even now in all things, in regard to meals, drink, sleep,
in talking, looking, listening, and going to any part of the country, etc…

The grace of God has helped me a great deal in the practice of mortification, for I know that
this habit of denying oneself is indispensably necessary to make one’s work for souls fruitful,
as well as one’s prayer pleasing to God Our Lord.

In a very special manner have the examples of Jesus and Mary and the Saints encouraged me
in this practice of mortification. I read assiduously the Lives of the Saints to see how they
were wont to deny themselves, and I have made special notes which regulate my personal
conduct. Singular among them must be mentioned St. Bernard, St. Peter of Alcantara, and St.
Philip of Neri, of whom I have read that after having been for thirty years the confessor of a
Roman lady renowned for her rare beauty, he still did not know her by sight.

I can say with certainty that I know the many women who come to confession to me more by
their voice than by their features, because I never look at any woman’s face. In their presence
I blush and turn red. Not that the looking at them causes me temptations, for I do not have
them, thanks be to God, but the fact still remains that I always blush, even though I cannot
explain why. I might mention here that I naturally and in an entirely unaccountable manner
keep in mind and observe that oft-repeated admonition of the holy Fathers, which goes:
Sermo rigidus et brevis cum muliere est habendus et oculos humi dejectos habe — Speech
with women must be serious and brief, while the eyes must be cast on the ground. I know not
how to hold a conversation with a woman, no matter how good she may be. In few and grave
words I tell her what she must know, and then immediately I dismiss her without looking to
see if she be rich or poor, beautiful or ugly.

When I was giving missions in Catalonia, I stayed at the rectories of those parishes in which I
gave missions. During all that time I do not remember having looked at the face of any
woman, whether she happened to be the housekeeper, the servant, or the relative of the parish-
priest. Once it happened that after some time I returned to Vich, or some other town, and I
was accosted by a lady who said to me: “Anthony Claret, don’t you know me? I am the
housekeeper of such and such a priest in whose parish you were for so many days giving a
mission.” but I did not recognize her; neither did I look at her. With my gaze fixed on the
ground, I asked her: “And how is his Reverence the pastor?”

What is more, I shall relate another instance which could not have been so, had I not received
very special graces from heaven. While I was in the island of Cuba, for six years and two
months to be exact, I confirmed more than 300,000 persons, the majority of whom were
women, and young ones at that. If any one were to ask me what are the characteristics of the
Cuban women’s features, I would say that I do not know, despite the fact that I have
confirmed so many of them. In order to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, I had to
look where their foreheads were, and this I did in a rapid glance, after which I shut my eyes
and kept them shut all during the administration of the Sacrament.

Besides this blushing that was natural to me when in the presence of women, and which
hindered me from looking at them, there was another reason which prompted me to adhere to
this mode of conduct. It was the desire to profit souls. I remember having read years ago of a
famous preacher who went to preach in a certain town. His preaching turned out to be very
fruitful, and all the townsfolk were lavish in their praise of him. “Oh, what a saint!” said
they. Yet there was one exception of all these praises, and it came from a wicked man who
said: “Perhaps he is a saint, but I can tell you one thing, and it is this: he likes women a great
deal, for he was staring at them.” This single expression was enough in itself to decrease the
prestige which the good preacher had merited in that town, and not only that, but it brought to
naught all the fruit which his preaching had produced.

Incidentally, I have also noticed that people form a poor opinion of a priest who does not
mortify his eyes. Of Jesus Christ I read that He was always mortified and modest in regard to
His looks, for the Evangelists have accounted as an extraordinary occurrence each time He
lifted up His eyes.
The hearing was another faculty which I tried to mortify continually, especially disliking to
listen to superfluous conversations and idle words. I could never suffer or tolerate those
conversations which were detrimental to charity. If I happened to be present at one of them, I
would either withdraw or refrain from taking part in it, or I would show my disapproval by
the sad expression my face. This distaste applied also to conversations about food, drink,
riches, or any worldly topic, including political news. neither did I care to read newspapers,
for I should prefer to read a chapter of the Holy Bible wherein I know for sure that what I read
is true. In newspapers, as a general rule, one finds only a great deal of lies and useless
reading.

It was my constant aim to deny myself in regard to speaking. Just as I have said that I dislike
to hear useless things, so also in the same way I hated to talk of useless nothings. My
resolution also embraced my keeping quiet about my sermons. I resolved never to talk of my
sermons after their delivery. Since I myself was repelled by others talking of what they
delivered, I concluded that others would be displeased with me if I, too, talked about my
sermons. Thus, my fixed resolve was never to mention my sermons after delivering them, to
do my very best in the pulpit, and to recommend all to God. If anyone gave me advice about
my preaching, I received it with sincere gratitude and without excusing myself or explaining
my views on the matter. I tried to amend and correct myself as much as possible.

I have observed before now that some people behave like hens which cackle after they lay
their eggs, and thus are deprived of them. The same happens to some priests of little
prudence, who, as soon as they have done some good work, such as hearing confession, or
delivering a sermon or lecture, go in search of the baubles of vanity by speaking so smugly of
what they have done and what they have said. Just as the hearing of this repels me, I conclude
that I would repel others if I were to talk of the very same subjects. Thus, I have made it an
inflexible rule never to speak of what I have done.

The subject which was most repugnant to me was the talking of things heard in confession,
not only because of the danger involved in breaking the sacramental seal of confession, but
also because of the bad effect produced on such people as may happen to hear anything of this
nature. In view of these facts, I resolved on no account to speak of persons and their affairs in
relation to confession, whether they had not been to confession for a long or short time,
whether they had made a general confession or not, in a word, to say absolutely nothing of
these affairs. I disliked hearing of priests who spoke of those who had gone to confession to
them, what they had confessed and how long it had been since they had absented themselves
from that sacrament of reconciliation. If any priest came to consult me about certain
problems encountered in the confessional, I could not bear to hear him using the words: “I
find myself in such a situation, with such a case; what shall I do?” I would tell them to
recount their difficulties in the third person, as for example: “Let us suppose that a confessor
is confronted with such and such a case of a certain nature. What steps should be taken?”

Our Lord gave me to understand that one of the things which would be of the utmost utility to
the missionary is the virtue of self-denial in the matter of food and drink. The Italians have a
saying which goes: “Not much credit is given to saints who eat.” People believe that
missionaries are more heavenly than earthly beings, that at least they are like unto the saints
of God who need not eat or drink. God Our Lord has given me a very special grace in this
regard, of going without eating, or eating very little. There were three reasons in my case for
not eating much. Firstly, because I was unable to do so, not having an appetite, especially
when I had to preach very often or had to hear many confessions. At other times I used to be
somewhat hungry, but I did not eat even then, particularly when I was traveling, for I would
refrain from doing so in order to be able to walk better. Finally, I would abstain from eating
in order to edify, for I observed that everybody was watching me. From this it can be
gathered that I ate very little, in spite of the fact that I was, at times, very hungry.

Whenever I did eat, I took what was given me, always however, in small quantities, and food
of inferior quality. If I happened to reach the rectory of the parish at an unseasonable hour, I
would tell the cook to prepare only a little soup and an egg — nothing more. I never took
meat; not even now do I eat it, not because I do not like it, for I do, but because I know that
not taking it is most edifying. Neither did I take wine; although I like it, it has been years
since I have tasted it, excluding, of course, the ablutions at Mass. The same may be said of
liquor and spirits of any kind; I never take them, although I am still fond of them, since I used
to take a little in years gone by. Abstaining from food and drink is a source of edification, and
is even necessary nowadays in order to counteract the disgraceful excesses so prevalent in
these times.

When I was in Segovia in the year 1859, on the 4th of September, at 4:25 in the morning,
while I was at meditation, Jesus Christ said to me: “You have to teach mortification in eating
and drinking to your missionaries, Anthony.” A few minutes afterwards the Blessed Virgin
told me: “By doing this you will reap fruit in souls, Anthony.”

At that time I was giving a mission in the cathedral of Segovia to the clergy, the nuns, and the
people of that city. One day while all were at table it was mentioned that the former Bishop, a
man of marked zeal, had exhorted some priests to go and give missions — an exhortation
which they fulfilled to the letter. After having walked a fair distance, these priests began to
get so hungry and thirsty that they decided to stop and have lunch, since they had brought
some food and drink with them. Meanwhile some people of the town to which they were
going came to welcome them, but finding the priests eating, the people lost their esteem for
them, so much so that those missionaries were unable to make any headway in that town. So
the story goes at any rate, although I do not know how it originated. All I know is, that it was
as a confirmation of what had been told me by Jesus and Mary.

My experience has taught me that mortification is very edifying in a missionary. Even now it
stands me in good stead. In the Palace here at Madrid, banquets are held frequently, while
before they were even more frequent. I am always invited to them, but if it is possible, I
excuse myself. If I cannot possibly excuse myself from attending, I go to them, but always
eat less than usual on those festive occasions. It is my custom then to take only a little soup
and a small piece of fruit; nothing else — no wine, no water. Of course, all look at me and are
highly edified. Before I came to Madrid, as I am led to understand, disorders were rampant
everywhere. Indeed, this could be easily gathered. So many rich and sumptuous dishes,
exquisite meals, and so much wine of all kinds decked the tables, that inducements to excess
were not wanting. But since the time that I was obliged to take part in the banquets, I have
not noticed the slightest excess; on the contrary, it appears to me that the guests refrain from
taking what they need, because they see me not eating. Often at the table, those guests sitting
on both sides talk to me of spiritual subjects, and even ask the name of the church in which I
hear confessions, so as to come there themselves and confess their sins.

In order to edify my neighbor more and more, I have always refrained from smoking and
taking snuff. Never have I said, or even hinted, that one thing pleases me more than the
another. I have done this for as long as I can remember. Our Lord had so bestowed upon me
this heavenly blessing of indifference that my dear mother (requiescat in pace) died without
knowing what things I liked most. As she loved me so very much, she would try to please me
by asking if I would like to have certain things in preference to other things. I would answer
that I was pleased most of all by whatever she chose and gave me. But this reply would not
be enough, for she would add: “I know that very well, but we always like some things more
than others.” To this I would respond that whatever she gave me was the thing I liked most of
all. I naturally had inclinations for what suited me best, as we all have; but the spiritual
satisfaction I had in doing another’s will was so great that it surpassed the natural satisfaction
resulting from doing my own will. Thus, I told the truth when I assured my mother that her
will was my greatest pleasure.

Besides denying self in regard to sight, hearing, speaking, in the senses of taste and smell, I
tried also to perform some acts of mortification, such as taking the discipline on Mondays,
Wednesdays and Fridays, and wearing the cilice on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. If,
however, I found that circumstances of time and place did not favor these modes of penance, I
used to practice some other form of mortification, as for example: praying with the arms
stretched out in the form of a cross, or with the fingers under the knees. I know very well that
worldly people and those who have not the spirit of Jesus Christ make little of, and even
disapprove of, these mortifications. But for my part, I keep in mind the teaching laid down by
St. John of the Cross which states: “If anyone affirms that one can reach perfection without
practicing exterior mortification, do not believe him; and even though he confirm this
assertion by working miracles, know that his contentions are nothing but illusions.”

As for me, I look to St. Paul for my example, for he mortified himself, and said publicly:
“Castigo corpus meum et in servitutem redigo, ne forte cum aliis praedicaverim ipse reprobus
efficiar — I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps when I have preached
to others I myself may become a castaway.” All the saints until now have done in like
manner. Venerable Rodriquez says that the Blessed Virgin said to St. Elizabeth of Hungary,
that no spiritual grace comes to the soul, commonly speaking, except by way of prayer and
bodily afflictions. There is an old principle which goes: “Da mihi sanguinem et dabo tibi
spiritum.” Woe to those who are enemies of mortification and of the cross of Christ!

In one act of mortification one can practice many virtues, according to the different ends
which one proposes in each act, as for example:

1. He who mortifies his body for the purpose of checking concupiscence, performs an act
of the virtue of temperance.
2. If he does this, purposing thereby to regulate his life well, it will be an act of the virtue
of prudence.
3. If he mortifies himself for the purpose of satisfying for the sins of his past life, it will
be an act of justice.
4. If he does it with the intention of conquering the difficulties of the spiritual life, it will
be an act of fortitude.
5. If he practices this virtue of mortification for the end of offering a sacrifice to God,
depriving himself of what he likes, and doing that which is bitter and repugnant to
nature, it will be an act of the virtue of religion.
6. If he intends by mortification to receive greater light to know the divine attributes, it
will be an act of faith.
7. If he does it for the purpose of making his salvation more and more secure, it will be
an act of hope.
8. If he denies himself in order to help in the conversion of sinners, and for the release of
the poor souls in purgatory, it will be an act of charity towards his neighbor.
9. If he does it so as to help the poor, it will be an act of mercy.
10. If he mortifies himself for the sake of pleasing God more and more, it will be an act of
love of God.

In other words, I shall be able to put all these virtues into practice in one act of mortification,
according to the end I propose to myself while doing the said act.

Virtue has so much more merit, is more resplendent, charming and attractive, when
accompanied by greater sacrifice.

Man, who is vile, weak, mean, cowardly, never makes a sacrifice, and is not even capable of
doing so, for he never resists even one appetite or desire. Everything that his concupiscence
and passions demand, he concedes, if it is in his power to yield or reject, for he is base and
cowardly, and lets himself be conquered and completely overcome, just as the braver of two
fighters conquers the cowardly one. So it is with vice and the vicious — the latter is crushed
and the slave of his vices. Continence and chastity are therefore worthy of the highest praise,
because the man who practices purity refrains from the pleasure which proceeds from nature
or passion. Thus, the greater merit will be his the greater the pleasure he has denied himself.
His merit will be the greater in proportion to the amount of repugnance he will have in
conquering himself, in proportion to the intense and prolonged suffering he will have to
undergo, to the human respect he will have to vanquish, and to the sacrifices he will have to
make. Let him do all this and suffer all for the love of virtue and for God’s greater glory. As
to my exterior deportment, I proposed to myself modesty and recollection and in the interior
of my soul my aim was continual and ardent occupation in God. In my work I aimed at
patience, silence and suffering. The exact accomplishment of the law of God and of the
Church, the obligations of my state of life as prescribed by God. I tried to do good to others,
flee from sin, faults and imperfections, and to practice virtue.

All disagreeable, painful and humiliating happenings I considered as coming from God and
ordered by Him for my own good. Even now, as I think of it, I fix my mind on God when
such things occur, bowing in silence and with resignation to His most holy will; for I
remember that Our Lord has said that not even a hair of our head shall fall without the will of
our heavenly Father, Who loves us so much.

I know that three hundred years of faithful service to God are paid, and more than paid, when
I am permitted an hour of suffering, so great is its value. O my Jesus and my Master, Thy
servants who suffer tribulation, persecution, and abandonment by friends, who are crucified
by exterior labors and by interior crosses, who are deprived of all spiritual consolation yet
who suffer in silence and persevere in Thy love, O my Lord — these are Thy loved ones, and
the ones who please Thee most and whom Thou dost esteem most.

Thus I have resolved never to excuse or defend myself when others censure, calumniate and
persecute me, because I would be the loser before God and men. I realize this because my
calumniators and persecutors would make use of the truths and reasons I would bring forward
in order to oppose me still further.

I believe that all my crosses come from God. Furthermore, God’s will in my regard is that I
suffer with patience and for the love of Him all pains of body and soul, as well as those
persecutions directed against my honor. It is my firm belief that I shall be thus doing what
will be for the greater glory of God, for I shall then be suffering in silence, like Jesus, Who
died on the Cross abandoned by all.

To labor and to suffer for the one we love is the greatest proof of our love.

God was made man for us. But what kind of man? How was He born? How did He live?
Yes, and what a death He endured! Ego sum vermis et non homo, et abjectio plebis — I am a
worm and no man, and the outcast of the people. Jesus is God and Man, but His Divinity did
not help His Humanity in His crosses and sufferings, just as the souls of the just in heaven do
not help their bodies which rot under the earth.

In a very special manner God helped the martyrs in their sufferings, but this same God
abandoned Jesus in His crosses and torments, so that He was indeed a Man of Sorrows. The
body of Our Lord was most delicately formed, and therefore more sensitive to pain and
suffering. Well, then, who is capable of forming an idea of how much Jesus suffered? All
His life, suffering was ever present. How much did He have to suffer for our love! Ah, what
pains He underwent, so long-enduring and intense!

O Jesus, Love of my life, I know and realize that pains, sorrows and labors are the lot of the
apostolate, but with the help of Thy grace I embrace them. I have had my share of them, and
now I can say that by Thy aid, my Lord and my Father, I am ready to drain this chalice of
interior trials and am resolved to receive this baptism of exterior suffering. My God, far be it
from me to glory in anything save in the cross, upon which Thou wert once nailed for me.
And I, dear Lord, wish to be nailed to the cross for Thee. So may it be. Amen.

Treatise On The Love Of God – St. Francis De Sales – Chapter IX and X

Treatise On The Love Of God – Chapters IX and X

HOW THE PURITY OF INDIFFERENCE IS TO BE PRACTISED IN THE ACTIONS OF SACRED LOVE.

ONE of the most excellent musicians in the world, who played perfectly upon the lute, became in time so extremely deaf that he entirely lost the use of his hearing, yet ceased he not for all that to sing and to handle his lute marvellous delicately, by reason of the great skill he had acquired, of which his deafness did not deprive him. But because he had no pleasure in his song, nor yet in the sound of his lute, inasmuch as, being deprived of his hearing he could not perceive its sweetness and beauty,—he no longer sang or played save only to content a prince whose native subject he was, and whom he had an extreme inclination, as well as an infinite obligation, to please, because brought up in his palace from childhood.

Hence he took an incomparable delight in pleasing him, and when his prince showed that he was pleased with his music he was ravished with delight. But it happened sometimes that the prince, to make trial of this loving musician’s love, gave him an order to sing, and then immediately leaving him there in his chamber, went to the chase. The desire which this singer had to accomplish his master’s will, made him continue his music as attentively as though his prince had been present, though in very deed he had no content in singing. For he neither had the pleasure of the melody, whereof his deafness deprived him, nor the content of pleasing his prince, who being absent could not enjoy the sweetness of the beautiful airs he sang.

My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready: I will sing and rehearse a psalm. Arise, O my glory! Arise psaltery and harp: I will arise early.421 Man’s heart is the true chaunter of the canticle of sacred love, himself the harp and the psaltery. Now ordinarily this chaunter hears his own voice, and takes a great pleasure in the melody of his song. I mean that our heart, loving God, relishes the 389 delights of this love, and takes an incomparable contentment in loving so lovely an object.

Notice, I pray you, Theotimus, what I mean. The young nightingales do first essay a beginning of song to imitate the old ones; but having got skill and become masters, they sing for the pleasure which they take in warbling, and they so passionately addict themselves to this delight, as I have said in another place, that by force of straining their voice, their throat bursts and they die. So our hearts in the beginning of their devotion love God that they may be united and become agreeable unto him, and imitate him in that he hath loved us for all eternity; but by little and little being formed and exercised in holy love, they are imperceptibly changed. In lieu of loving God in order to please God, they begin to love him for the pleasure they take in the exercises of holy love; and instead of falling in love with God they fall in love with the love they bear him, and stand affected to their own affections.

They no longer take pleasure in God, but in the pleasure they find in his love. They content themselves with this love as being their own, in their spirit and proceeding from it; for though this sacred love be called the love of God because God is loved by it, yet it is also ours, because we are the lovers that love. And it is thus we make the change; for instead of loving this holy love because it tends to God who is the beloved, we love it because it proceeds from us who are the lovers. Now who does not see that in so doing we do not seek God, but turn home to ourselves, loving the love instead of loving the beloved?

Loving, I say, the love, not by reason of God’s good-pleasure and liking, but for the pleasure and content we draw from it. This chaunter who in the beginning sang 421 Ps. lvi. 8, 9. 288 Treatise on the Love of God St. Francis de Sales to God and for God, now rather sings to himself and for himself than for God; and the pleasure he takes in singing is not so much to please God’s ear as his own. And forasmuch as the canticle of Divine love is of all the most excellent, he also loves it better, not by reason of the Divine excellence which is exalted therein, but because its music is more delicious and agreeable.

CHAPTER X. MEANS TO DISCOVER WHEN WE CHANGE IN THE MATTER OF THIS HOLY LOVE. You may easily discover this, Theotimus; for if this mystical nightingale sing to please God, she will sing the song which she knows to be most grateful to the Divine Providence, but if she sing for the delight which she herself takes in her melodious song, she will not sing the canticle which is most agreeable to the heavenly goodness, but that which she herself likes best, and from which she expects to draw the most contentment. Of two canticles which are both divine, it may well be that one may be sung because it is divine, and the other because it is pleasing.

Rachel and Lia are equally wife of Jacob, but he loves one only in the quality of wife, the other in quality of beautiful. The canticle is divine, but the motive which moves us to sing it is the spiritual delectation which we expect from it. Do you not see, we may say to a bishop, that God wills you to sing the pastoral song of his love among your flock, which, in virtue of holy love, he thrice commands you (in the person of S. Peter, the first of pastors) to feed? What is your answer? That at Rome or Paris there are more spiritual pleasures, and that there one may practise Divine love with more sweetness.

O God! it is not then to please thee that this man desires to sing, it is for the pleasure he takes in it; it is not thou he seeks in his love, but the contentment which he receives in the exercises of this holy love. Religious men would sing the pastors’ song, and married people that of religious, in order, as they say, to be able to love and serve God better. Ah! you deceive yourselves my dear friends: do not say that it is to love and serve God better: Oh no, no, indeed! It is to serve your own satisfaction better, you prefer this before God’s.

God’s will is as much in sickness as in health, and ordinarily almost more so; wherefore if we love health better, let us never say that this is in order to serve God the better, for who sees not that it is health that we look for in God’s will, not God’s will in health. 391 It is hard, I confess, to behold long together and with delight the beauty of a mirror without casting an eye upon ourself, yea, without taking a complacency in ourself; yet there is a difference between the pleasure which we take in beholding the beauty of the mirror, and the complacency we take in seeing ourself in it. It is also without doubt very hard to love God and not withal love the pleasure which we take in his love, yet there is a notable difference between the pleasure which we take in loving God because he is beautiful, and that which we take in loving him because his love is agreeable to us.

Now our task must be to seek in God only the love of his beauty, not the pleasure which is in the beauty of his love. He who in praying to God notices that he is praying, is not perfectly attentive to his prayer, for he diverts his attention from God to whom he prays, and turns it upon the prayer by which he prays. The very solicitude we have not to be distracted causes oftentimes a very great distraction; simplicity in spiritual actions is most to be commended. If you 289 Treatise on the Love of God St. Francis de Sales wish to contemplate God, contemplate him then, and that attentively: if you reflect and bring your eyes backwards upon yourself, to see how you look when you look upon him, it is not now he that you behold but your own behaviour—your self.

He who prays fervently knows not whether he prays or not, for he is not thinking of the prayer which he makes but of God to whom he makes it. He that is in the heat of sacred love, does not turn his heart back upon himself to see what he is doing, but keeps it set and bent upon God to whom he applies his love. The heavenly chaunter takes such pleasure in pleasing God, that he has no pleasure in the melody of his voice, except in so far as God is pleased by it. Why, Theotimus, did Amnon the son of David love Thamar so desperately that he even thought he should die of love? Do you think that it was she herself that he loved?

You soon see it was not. Look at this man who prays, apparently, with such great devotion, and is so ardent in the practice of heavenly love. But stay a little, and you will discover whether it be God indeed whom he loves. Alas! as soon as the delight and satisfaction which he took in love departs, and dryness comes, he will stop short, and only casually pray.

If it had been God indeed whom he loved, why should he cease loving him, since God is ever God? It was therefore the consolations of God that he loved, not the God of consolation. In truth there are many who take no delight in divine love unless it be candied in the sugar of some sensible sweetness, and they would willingly act like children, who, if they have a little honey spread upon their bread, lick and suck off the honey, casting the bread away; for if the delight could be separated from the love, they would reject love and take the sweetness only.

Wherefore as they follow love for the sake of its sweetness, when they find not this they make no account of love. But such persons are exposed to a great danger of either turning back as soon as they miss their relish and consolations, or else of occupying themselves in vain sweetnesses, far remote from true love, and of mistaking the honey of Heraclea for that of Narbonne.

On the Six Stone Water Jugs at Cana — St. Vincent Ferrer

Jn 2:1 (Douay trans.) And the third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee: and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 And Jesus also was invited, and his disciples, to the marriage. 3 And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to him: They have no wine. 4 And Jesus saith to her: Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come. 5 His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye. 6 Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three measures apiece. 7 Jesus saith to them: Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

   “Now there were set there six water pots of stone, according to the manner of the purifying of the Jews,” (Jn 2:6).  This theme gives me a motive and reason for declaring what those things are  which God ordained to purify our souls so that they might enter into paradise.  But first let us salute the Virgin Mary, etc.

   “Now there were set there six water pots of stone etc.,” i.e. for purification.  According to the spiritual sense [of scriptures] which I wish to employ, it must be known that in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ there was constituted a marriage between the Son of God and our humanity, because just as a man and woman “are not two, but one flesh,” (Mt 19:6), so Christ, God and man, is not two persons but one.  There are not two supposites, but only one.

   The wedding took place in the chapel of the Virgin’s womb.  So David, speaking of the divinity of Christ said, “He [is] like a bridegroom coming out of his bride chamber,” (Ps 18:6).  But the nuptials took place not in this world, because it is not an appropriate or sufficient place for such nuptials, but it happened in the empyreal heaven.  Authority. “The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king, who made a marriage for his son,” (Mt 22:2).   For just as at the wedding of the chief steward no one entered unless they first had washed, and for this purpose there were six stone water jugs there, as the Theologian [John the evangelist] literally says, so neither in the wedding of paradise can someone  enter unless he first is cleaned and purified in this world, because, “There shall not enter into it anyone defiled, or who does abominable things or tells lies,” (Rev 21:27).  For this reason, Christ the bridegroom placed in this world six stone water jugs, six penitential works, for cleaning and purifying our souls.

  1.             The first is heartfelt contrition.
  2.             The second is sacramental confession.
  3.             The third is penitential affliction.
  4.             The fourth is spiritual prayers.
  5.             The fifth is merciful giving.
  6.             The sixth is forgiveness of injuries.

HEARTFELT CONTRITION

The first water jug is the first work of penance, which is heartfelt contrition, when someone thinks about his sins and vices and evil deeds which he has committed and is contrite, saying “O miserable me, what shall become of me, because I have committed so many sins.”  Against every state of life.  First, the religious, because he did not keep the rules, or constitutions, nor ordinations of his order, but lived as he wished.  When he recovers his senses, he is contrite saying, “O miserable me, what shall become of me,” etc.  In this water jug the soul is washed and purified, especially when the water there consists of tears.  About this, read the lamentation of King Hezekiah, “Behold in peace is my bitterness most bitter,” (Is 38:17).  It says how the sinner is always at war with God, but contrition of the sinners makes peace between God and the sinner, and so he says, “in peace is my bitterness most bitter.”  Peace is caused by bitterness, i.e. contrition.  Or because from peace, namely, worldly bitterness is caused.  This peace is bitter, more bitter, most bitter from the bitterness, i.e. contrition.  Bitter because he lost the grace of God.  More bitter, because he lost the inheritance of paradise. Most bitter because it is the judgment of infernal damnation.

SACRAMENTAL CONFESSION

The second water jug is sacramental confession. Note that the confessor ought to sit like a judge, and the penitent ought, at his feet, to confess all his sins by accusing himself. etc.  And at the end of confession, when the confessor absolves, the soul is purified of all mortal sins.  About this image 4 Kgs 5 where we read that a certain nobleman who was a leper came to Elisha to be purified by him from the disease of leprosy. To whom the prophet said, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean,” (4Kg 5:10).  And so it happened. This was a prefiguring of confession, so that the river Jordan is the same as the river of judgment.  Behold here is confession, in which the confessor is the judge, and so he should sit.  The sinner is the accused who ought to be washed there seven times, i.e. to confess the seven mortal sins to which all other sins are reduced.  First to confess of the sin of pride, not only in general because it is not sufficient, but in species, the same for the other sins, and so the soul is purified.  O how great a grace is this, that the sinner is absolved by confession.  It is just the opposite in human trials, in which the sinner, having confessed his crime, is sentenced and condemned. etc.  So it is the greatest sin for those who do not wish to confess, but stay away for three or four years, etc.   “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins,” by virtue of confession, “and to cleanse us from all iniquity,” (1Jn 1:9).  For this reason the Church requires that everyone go to confession at least once a year, during Lent, and receive communion at Easter, otherwise they should be refused a church burial.

VOLUNTARY PENANCE

The third water jug is voluntary penitential actions.  The reason is because our flesh is the occasion of all the sins we commit.   The soul, in its proper condition wishes to contemplate always, like the angels, but the flesh draws it down, now to  pride, next to avarice, next to lust and so for the others.  “For the flesh lusts against the spirit,” (Gal  5:17).   So it is that the flesh is chastised and beaten back with penances and fasts etc., because it is better to correct a son or daughter than, that they be sent to the stocks.  So the body is the son, and the flesh is the daughter, and it is better that they be corrected by you than by the wards of hell, i.e., by the demons. Authority: “But if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged,” by God, ( 1Cor 11:31).  The choice is ours, for we gladly diet for health’s sake, but for the health of the soul we are unwilling to do anything.  Knights in armor, for no good reason, bear great burdens, they hunger, they thirst, they wield iron weapons, etc., but for their soul, nothing.  God renders justice and punishment in hell. Authority: “No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower fell in Siloe, and slew them,” (Lk 13:3-4).  Note, the eighteenth sin, namely, final impenitence, damns a man.

SPIRITUAL PRAYER

The fourth water jug is spiritual prayer.  Some pray only physical prayers, because they say only words, but their heart is thinking about something else, cooking dinner, or the market, or the tavern.  Prayer is spiritual when someone ponders in their heart what they say with their mouth. Augustine in the Rule says: “When you pray to God in psalms and hymns, entertain your heart with what your lips are reciting,” (Rule of St. Augustine 2:3).  To do this your two hands should be joined, which signifies the conjunction of voice and heart, and then it is spiritual prayer.  For example, when you say the Our Father or the Hail Mary, your heart ought then to think with whom you speak.  He who speaks with the Pope or with the King, speaks with great reverence, not fidgeting or adjusting their clothing. So a man in prayer speaks to the high priest and king Christ, and so with great reverence, otherwise etc.  The Apostle Paul writes.  “If I pray in a tongue,” i.e. in such a way, “my spirit prays, but my understanding is without fruit. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, I will pray also with the understanding; I will sing with the spirit, I will sing also with the understanding,” (1Cor 14:14-15).  Such a spiritual prayer purifies the soul according to what Christ declared in Luke 18:13, about that publican who went up to the temple to pray saying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  He did not know any other prayer. About whom Christ himself said, “Amen I say to you, this man went down into his house justified,” (Lk 18:14). And so it is necessary “to pray always,” (Lk 18:1), morning and evening, and not to give up.

MERCIFUL GIVING

The fifth jug is merciful almsgiving, because God is generous and indeed most generous, so he himself says, “But yet that which remains, give alms; and behold, all things are clean unto you,” (Lk 11:41). Note “yet that which remains,” namely having made restitution, “give alms” from your own just goods, and “all things,” namely, sins, “are clean unto you.”  If it is said what can I do, because I have stolen much and I now have nothing. The response is according to the law, “Whoever cannot pay should give back goods and is free.”  Because the Rule of Law, 14, q. 6, chap 1: “If something belonging to another, on account of which is a sin, is able to be returned and is not returned, penance is not accomplished but feigned. If however it is truly done, the sin is not remitted until thing taken is restored if it is able to be restored.  Often what is taken has been lost, he doesn’t have it to return.  To this we certainly cannot say: Return what you have taken.”  This Augustine: “So you would yield and serve God in good station and pray for those for whom you are bound, and so no one can be excused from restitution, either corporal or spiritual.” “Give alms out of your substance,” (Tob 4:7), and not from another’s.  However much you can, so be merciful.  If much has come to you, give abundantly, if a little has come to you, even then try to give your little bit generously.

FORGIVENESS OF INJURIES

 The sixth jug is forgiveness of injuries.  If you want God to forgive the injuries, which you have committed against God, forgive your enemies their injuries which they have committed against you.  To the extent that you forgive your enemies, to that extent God forgives you, because God cannot be bested by creatures in goodness, which would be the case if you would forgive and he would not forgive you.  Tell how in the particular or universal judgment God would show to the soul its sins saying, “Let’s see what I have done for you, and what you have done for me.”  Blessed are you if you then are able to say, truthfully, “And if I have not have done as much for you as you have done for me, nevertheless out of your love forgive such an injury, etc.”  God is satisfied, and so he himself says, “For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences,” (Mt 6: 14-15).

You can see more sermons from this great saint here

St. Vincent Ferrer Sermon On Epiphany

“And falling down they adored him,” (Mt 2:11)

   Today’s feast is commonly called Epiphany or Appearance, which is the same.  Because the Virgin Birth which had been hidden and secret, today was manifest to the nations.  So the churchmen say and call this feast Epiphany, from “epi” which is “above” and “phanos”  which is “appearance,” because the star appeared over the nations.  In order that God should wish to give us sentiments of sweetness of this feast in our souls, let us salute the Virgin Mary, etc.

    “And falling down they adored him.”  The assigned reading reveals to us in a few words the great and perfect reverence which the three kings of the east offered today to our Lord Jesus Christ, “falling down, etc.”  Not only did they uncover their heads, nor were they content to bend their knees, but they folded their hands and arms, and even their whole body.  “And falling down they adored him,” (Mt 2:11).

    Now to give us a reason for this adoration – for reason begets understanding, and authority confirms belief – I find in sacred scripture that for true, devout and perfect adoration two things are required: a reverent attitude of the interior mind, and a humble gesture of the outward body.  As for the first, when man thinks of the infinite and incomprehensible majesty of God and his transcendent power, there comes a reverent trembling interiorly in the soul, and from this there follows exteriorly a humility in the body, joining the hands, genuflecting, or prostrating oneself in prayer to God.  Divine adoration consists in these two.

   To understand this reason, it must be understood that God created man in his substantial being different than other creatures.  Man is a composite, substantially with respect to the soul, and materially with respect to the body.  Not so the angels, who are only spiritual substances, nor the animals which are material substances. Because of this man is similar to the angels and animals, because he has both.

   So God wishes to be worshipped by both: from the soul thinking of the majesty of God, and from the body through humble gestures.  Just like a landowner who leases his field and vineyard for a certain assessment of use. He requires an accounting from both, otherwise he takes back to himself the whole commission. So God is with us.  He gives us the vine, the soul which makes the heart drunk with the love of God, and the field of the body that it might bear the fruit of repentance and mercy.  So from both he would have a reckoning of devout adoration.  Of the angels he asks only spiritual adoration, reverential movements of the mind. Of the animals he asks only a reverential posture of the body, like the ox and ass when they adored Christ in the manger, because they could only bend their knees, but interiorly they had no thoughts. But from us God wishes both, namely the reverent motion of the mind, and bodily actions.

   Christ said, “But the hour comes, and is now, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeks such to adore him.  God is a spirit; and they who adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth,” (Jn 4:23-24).  Note, “the hour comes,” the time of the law of grace, “when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit” with respect to the soul, “and in truth” with respect to the body, because that is truth, when the body conforms and corresponds to the mind.  And he gives a reason, saying, “God is a Spirit,” and so it is necessary to “adore him in spirit and in truth.”

   Think of the miracle found in John 9, of the man born blind, given sight by Christ, to whom he says: “‘Do you believe in the Son of God?’  He answered, and said: ‘Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?’  And Jesus said to him: ‘You have both seen him; and it is he who is talking with you.’  And he said: ‘I believe, Lord. And falling down, he adored him,'” (Jn 9:35-38).  See the reverential interior movement in the soul and the external bodily gesture, because “falling down he adored him.”

    The three kings acted thus when they saw the infant Jesus.  Instantly there entered into their souls a movement of reverential fear from the presence of divine majesty.  And so, “prostrating themselves they adored him.”

   Of these three kings I shall explain four points

First how they prepared themselves diligently  [se paraverunt diligenter]

Second how they went forth courageously  [ambulaverunt fortiter]

Third how they sought him persistently  [quaesierunt firmiter]

Fourth how they adored him profoundly.  [adoraverunt firmiter]

And from the fourth point the theme speaks, “Falling down they adored him.”

DILIGENTLY PREPARED THEMSELVES

   The first point is to tell how these three holy kings aptly prepared themselves.  We need to know what God promised Abraham and the holy patriarchs, that he would send his son, born into this world of a virgin, true God and true man.  About this he gave clear prophecies, not only to the Jews in Judea, but also to diverse parts of the world, as a sign that he would come not only to save the Jews, as they falsely believe, but also all those believing in him and obeying him.

   He especially sent prophecies to the eastern regions – where there were great prophets and wise men – through the prophet Balaam saying: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A star shall rise out of Jacob and a scepter shall spring up from Israel: and shall strike the chiefs of Moab,” (Num 24:17).   Note: “I shall see him,” Christ,  whom he saw not in himself but through his successors; “I shall see him, but not now,” because from the text of the bible there were 1,500 years from Balaam to Christ.  But these three kings were from their own time [genere], and he gave them signs saying: “A star shall rise out of Jacob,” from the promised land, “and a scepter shall spring up from Israel,” the Messiah king savior, and he “shall strike the kings of Moab,” which is so interpreted. It [Moab] signifies the devil who is the father of sinners, to whom Christ said: “You are of your father the devil,” (Jn 8.44),  “the kings of Moab,” i.e. of the devil or of Lucifer.

    And there are seven princes who are the captains of the seven capital sins:

  • The first prince, and captain of pride is called Leviathan, in Job 40, (v. 20).  He is the king over all the sons of pride.
  • The second prince, and captain of avarice is called Mammon, about whom Christ spoke in Matthew 6:24: “You cannot serve God and mammon.”
  • The third prince, and captain of lust is called Asmodeus, about whom we read in Tobit 3:8: “And a devil named Asmodeus had killed them,” namely the lusting [bridegrooms].
  • The fourth prince, of envy is called Beelzebub. Luke, 11:15 ” He casts out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils,” The word was about the envy of the Jews of Christ.
  • The fifth prince, of gluttony is called Beelphegor.   Ps. 105:28: “They also were initiated to Beelphegor: and ate the sacrifices of the dead.”
  • The sixth prince, of anger is called Baalberith. Judges 9:4:  “..out of the temple of Baalberith: wherewith he hired to himself men.”
  • The seventh prince, of sloth is called Astaroth.  I Kings 7:3:  “Put away the strange gods from among you, Baalim and Astaroth: and prepare your hearts unto the Lord.”

   Lord Jesus Christ struck down these seven princes with the staff of his preaching.  David said: “The Lord will send forth the scepter of your power out of Sion,” (Ps. 109:2).

   About this prophecy of Balaam, Chrysostom says, that his disciples and those who were of his kind, after his death wished to observe that star.  And they ordained that certain ones of them would stand on the tall Mount Victory, to gaze at the heavens. There they would wash themselves, believing that by this their sins were forgiven, and they would pray saying, “O God of heaven, God of Israel, send the star,” and fulfill the prophecy,” (Cf. James of Voragine, Golden Legend). And so they divided up times [to watch] for themselves.  And on the night of the nativity, by divine providence, these three Kings of the East, great philosophers and astrologers, on Mount Victory saw the predicted star. And at the moment when Christ was born of the Virgin’s womb, the star appeared to them extremely bright, and low in the sky, nor did daylight dim its appearance.

    Chrysostom repeats the opinion that there was the image of a child in that star, with a cross on his forehead.  Some say that the Magi wanted to adore the star. But Augustine says that the angel of the Lord told them that they should not adore the star, but that they should make their way to adore the newly born Creator.

     Then the kings took counsel how they should travel, how they should prepare, and what they should bring to offer to him, saying, “He is a great king and powerful. We should offer him gold.  And he is God and creator, because the stars serve him, so we shall offer him incense.  And in this sign of the cross it is revealed that he is to die on a cross, and so we shall offer him bitter myrrh.” [Ecclesiast.]  The Magi seeing the star, consulted each other. “This is the sign of a great king. Let us go and inquire of him and offer him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

    I believe, therefore, although it is not written, that the holy kings symbolized in their gifts what they believed about Christ. I believe that also [it was expressed] in their clothing, because the king who brought the gold, was clothed in a gold shirt, and the one who brought the incense, in a purple tunic, and the one with the myrrh, in a red scarf.  See how they made themselves fit both in gifts as well as clothing.

Morally.

   I find in sacred scripture that God promised men two stars, one in the old law, namely that which appeared to the eastern kings, which prefigured the redemption of mankind. The second, and better, was promised in the new testament saying: “And he that shall overcome, and keep my works unto the end, … I will give him the morning star,” (Rev 2:26,28).  This signifies heavenly salvation.  Note, he who shall conquer the devil through humility, the flesh through chastity, and the world through poverty, “and keep my works unto the end…I will give him the morning star,” i.e. the good angel guiding the soul to Christ.  See how the angels in sacred scripture are called stars. The reason is because just as the heavenly firmament is decorated and bedecked with stars, so the empyreal heaven is decorated and bedecked with angels, and so they are referred to as stars.  Authority:  “And the stars have given light in their watches, and rejoiced: They were called, and they said: Here we are: and with cheerfulness they have shined forth to him that made them,” (Bar 3:34-36).  Note “the stars,” i.e. angels, “stars have given light in their watches” i.e. to men who were keeping watch.  David: “For he has given his angels charge over you; to keep you, commanded to his angels to keep you,” (Ps. 90:11).  They bring to the understanding what ought to be believed, to the memory what is to be feared and remembered, and to the will what is to be hoped for, and to deeds, what is to be done.  And when a man receives the light of their instruction, he rejoices.

   And in the end, when a man is in the arms of death, God sends the morning star, i.e. an angel who leads the soul to Christ, just as that star led the kings to Christ.  And so it happens that if this [Epiphany] star is corruptible, because it is immediately was changed back into the underlying material, once it had been observed and desired, how much more should we await  that incorruptible star, by washing ourselves from all uncleanness and sins?  First by washing our heart from anger, rancor and ill will; our mouths from blasphemies, lies and detractions; our hands from theft and extortion and the like; and the whole body from the corruptions of lust and carnal sins.

     Note from the aforesaid evidence that this star which appeared brighter in the birth of Christ was not one of the heavenly stars, for five reasons, which St. Thomas gives III Pars, q. 36, a. 7.  St. Thomas says, repeating the opinions of others, that the essence of this star most probably was of a new creation, not in the heaven, but in the atmosphere, which moved according to divine will. Augustine believed namely that it was not of the  heavenly stars, because he says in his book Contra Faustum Bk, 2, “Besides, this star was not one of those which from the beginning of the world continue in the course ordained by the Creator. Along with the new birth from the Virgin appeared a new star.”  Chrysostom believes this too.

 

PROCEEDED WITH COURAGE

 

  The second point is to declare how the three holy kings proceeded with courage, because from the head of the world, namely from the East, they came for thirteen days to Judea which is in the middle of the world.  In fact, from what I have found in the text and in the Glosses of the doctors, having prepared themselves they immediately began their journey.

   The star first rose ahead of them, showing them the way which they should take.  So that when they had to climb a hill, first the star rose, and when they had to descend, it descended. When they had to cross a river, the star showed them the place to ford it.  And when they were in a village in which they had to rest, the star would remain motionless over the hotel. Then when they were leaving the star would lead again and they would follow.  Doesn’t this seem to you to be a great miracle?  In this way they came to their destination, the promised land.

    And on the next day when they were to enter the land of Judah, the star disappeared from their sight.  Imagine the sadness they had, saying, “O woe!  What is this?  Has the star disappeared because of some sin of one of us?  What should we do?”  St. Thomas Aquinas says that they took counsel on what they should do.  One said that they should return, because to seek a new king in a foreign land would be very dangerous.  Others said that they should at least go into the city of Jerusalem; “Such a king ought to be born in a noble city, or at least they would know where he had been born, because there were great rabbis and professors there, so let us do what we can.”  And they came to the city of Jerusalem.

    And then was fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, saying: “Arise be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for your light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon you, and his glory shall be seen upon you. And the Gentiles shall walk in your light, and kings in the brightness of your rising,” (Is 60:1-2).  The gentles speak to the Jews as if to a person sleeping saying: “Arise” city of Jerusalem, “be enlightened,” with the brightness of the light of faith, “for your light is come,” the Christ.  Note: “And the Gentiles shall walk in your light,” not just the Jews.

Morally:

  The kings, having lost their star, came to Jerusalem, so that they can be instructed there.  So should we do when we lose the star of the grace of God. You know that the grace of God is called a star, signified by the star of the kings.  Why?  Because just as that star directed and led the kings to Christ in Judea, so the grace of God directs and leads and shows the way to paradise to those who have it.  At a fork in the road it points out the way, to the right.  O how many forks in the road there are in this world for those who chose not to go to Christ.

  • First is of pride and vanity to the left; of sweetness and humility to the right.  The star of the grace of God points to the right, the way of humility, which is the correct way, straight and good and without danger.
  • Second is [the fork] of avarice and desire; and of mercy and liberality.
  • Third is [the fork] of lust and carnal desires; and purity and innocence.
  • Fourth is [the fork] of envy and malice on the left; and of benevolence and goodness on the right, which the star of grace makes clear.
  • Fifth is of gluttony and voraciousness; and abstinence and moderation.
  • Sixth is [the fork] of anger and brutality; and of peace and unity.
  • Seventh is [the fork] of torpor and laziness; of diligence and industriousness.

In these the star of the grace of God directs us, also the star of the grace of God shows the way, ascending through the contemplative way and descending through the active way for works of mercy and piety.  It also shows the crossing on the river of worldly delights, where many are drowned, submerged by food and drink and clothing, and tastes, etc.

   So Blessed John says: “Let the anointing, which you have received from him, abide in you. And you have no need that any man teach you; but as his anointing teaches you of all things,” (1John 2:27)  Note: “the anointing,” Gloss, i.e. divine grace.  But what must you do when the state of divine grace is lost, which is not lost but through mortal sin?  I say you ought to do what those holy kings did, namely go to Jerusalem, i.e. to the church, to confess our sins, and so rediscover the star of the grace of God. Thus Christ said to Paul, who lost the star, “Go into the city, and there it shall be told you what you must do,” (Acts 9:7).  Note, “the city” i.e. Damascus, which is translated “bloody” and signifies the church in which the blood of Christ is consecrated and consumed.

SOUGHT HIM DISCREETLY

 

     The third point is how these three holy kings sought Christ discreetly, the place of the birth of Christ, after they had been in the city of Jerusalem.  When the kings were near the city, think how there was a disturbance in the city, especially because Herod, who was a new king, and a foreigner to the people of Judah, feared for himself, and kept himself apart from them.  Think how Herod immediately sent for the kings to find out who they were, and whom they sought, and why they had come.  The kings replied that they had come to seek the newly born king of the Jews.  You can imagine that someone warned them “Do not tell, otherwise Herod would follow you.”  They did not deny the truth. “We have seen his star in the east, and have come to adore him,” (Mt 2:2).  Chrysostom: “Consider the devotion of the kings.  They have not yet seen Christ, and they are prepared to die for him.”  Herod had asked why they had come. Think what fear and pain entered into his ear, especially because he was already afraid of this.  And he had heard of the wonders which would happen at the birth of the Christ, on account of which he considered himself ruined and destroyed.  About this the Evangelist Matthew writes: “[Herod] hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him,” (Mt 2:3).  But he hid his malice, feigning joy at the birth of Christ.  And because the kings of the east had come in simplicity, and unarmed, he permitted them to enter the city and received them honorably.

   Next, he said to them, “My lords, why have you come?”  They replied, “We seek the whereabouts of the one who has been born king of the Jews.”  See what peril they placed themselves in.  Herod, dissimulating, said, “I have heard something of this, but I don’t know whether it is certain that he has been born.”  The kings replied: “It is certain, because we have seen his star in the east.”  Then Herod said: “And now, my lords, what do you wish?”  They responded, “We have come with gifts to adore him.”  Then Herod, in a loud voice, eagerly  asked of them the time when the star appeared to them. In private he asked them, “Tell me exactly the day and time of his birth.  And I, with my masters, doctors and rabbis shall tell you of the place where he has been born, that we all might come to adore him.”  O deceiver!  With his other hand he already was readying the sword, that he might cut him down if he could. And gathering all the chief priests and the scribes he consulted them as to where the Christ would be born.  They all agreed and responded it was in the city of Bethlehem according to the prophet Michea: “And you, Bethlehem Ephrata, are a little one among the thousands of Judah: out of you shall he come forth to me he who is to be the ruler in Israel,” (Mic 5:2).  Note “who is to be the ruler,” ruler in virtues, by the example of his behavior and preaching.  Then Herod informed the kings of the place, and sending them to Bethlehem said: “Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I too may come to adore him,”(Matt. 2:8).   O betrayer!  Enemy of the Church!  Wicked Herod, why do you fear the Christ to come?  He who rules [gives] the celestial kingdom does not seize a mortal kingdom.  Thus the holy kings sought him discreetly and with great diligence.

 

Morally:

   The holy kings, before they came to Herod, were guided by a star, but after they had gone to King Herod, they turned again to holy scriptures to guide themselves, etc. Herod signifies the Antichrist, because just as Herod wishing to kill the Christ, killed the innocents, so the Antichrist wishing to destroy the faith of Christ, shall kill Christians contradicting him.  And that star signifies human science, logic, philosophy, laws, canons, by which we are now directed and ruled.  But in the time of the Antichrist it shall be  necessary to turn again to sacred scriptures, because the Antichrist shall not believe in logic, nor philosophy nor poetry nor laws, etc.  Only with sacred scripture shall we make a stand against him.  Therefore how guilty are we now, because no one cares about the Bible.  Laypeople give themselves to profitable sciences.  And among  religious, who ought to study sacred scripture, one devotes himself to Virgil, another to Ovid, another to Terence, and so for the others.  This is one sign, among others, of the nearness of the Antichrist.  Because the Antichrist, to prove his error that he is the Messiah and the son of God etc., shall bring forth only the text of the Bible and the prophets.  How do you defend yourself, to refute him, if you are ignorant of the Bible?  About this there is a prophecy of Solomon saying, “When prophecy shall fail, the people shall be scattered,” (Prov 29:18).  This prophecy speaks of the old testament.   Christ speaks to all, saying,  “Search the scriptures, for you think in them to have life everlasting; and the same are they that give testimony of me,” (Jn 5:39).

ADORED HIM PROFOUNDLY

   The fourth point is how they adored him profoundly.  After they had received the instruction or permission to depart from Herod, and when they had come to Jerusalem’s gate, the star reappeared to them.  O if one could express the joy which they had!  And Matthew relates this. “And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy,” (Mt 2:10)  We now know the reason why the star hid from them, so that by a double sign, the star and the scriptures, they might be certified of the truth and would have a double testimony.  And the star went before them as before.

    When they were near Bethlehem, the judges and officials of Bethlehem, who had heard of their arrival, came to meet them saying, “What do you wish? And why do you come here?”  They replied, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We have seen his star in the East and we come to adore him.”  They said, “We know no other king but Herod.”  O liars!   That star illumined those three kings, and the sun, that is, Christ, was not able to illuminate them.  Their sinfulness was blinding them, placing an obstacle on the night of the nativity, when [light] was shining.  And the star was seen by all, as Maximus says in his sermon for today.  “Rightly one star shone, the rays of which a faithless people were not able to hide, nor hide its truth; where the very heaven of the universe shone forth with a sidereal light to the eyes of everyone.”  Think when the Jews looked at the star, how it brought devotion to the good, and instilled terror on the wicked.  How they wondered because it did not shine from very high up.  The kings followed it and entered the city and finally came to the place where the child was.

    The holy teachers tell us that the Virgin Mary was still in that cave with the child where she had given birth.  And the Gloss says that Joseph, by divine providence, was not there at that time, lest he himself be thought to be the father of the child. When the Virgin Mary sensed that the army which she feared was coming, imagine how she hid the child in the manger and began sewing and knitting, praying, and her whole heart trembled.

     The star stood above the place where the child was.  And the kings were amazed when they did not see a palace there, or a noble house, and they looked at each other saying, “How is it that the star is not moving?”  Maximus says that the star emitted new and brighter rays, which told the kings “Here is the king whom you seek.”  The kings dismounted from their horses and beasts, and one of them coming to the entrance of the cave lifted up the door-covering a little, and aske, “Who is here?”  He saw the Virgin knitting and sewing. The other two kings approached, and when they saw the Virgin Mary, they immediately were seized with great devotion.  She said to them, “My lords, what do you seek?”  They asked: “Do you know where the one is who has been born King of the Jews, because we wish to adore him.”  The Virgin Mary did not say that she did not know, but she said, “Lords, the great ones, the rabbis and rectors of the city ought to know.”  She spoke the truth, and immediately the kings hearts were fully inflamed.  And again going out they looked for the star.  It was standing immediately overhead, and not moving.  It was even more beautiful.   They returned to the Virgin and they said to her, “Have you a son?”  She responded, “Yes, my lords.”  “How long is it since you gave birth?”  She replied, “Lords, today is the thirteenth day.”  The kings said “Dear young woman, please show him to us.” Then the Virgin, knowing that they had come with good intentions, picked up the child from the manger, and held him out to them. They said: “What is his name?”  The Virgin Mary replied, “Jesus.”  In hearing the name they prostrated themselves and adored him saying, “O Savior, it is good that you have come. O Lord such is your humility that you have wished to come in a stable of this miserable world.  You who are infinite in divinity, are now confined in humanity.  You who are Creator, have become a creature.  You who are immortally and invulnerably safe, have become vulnerable and mortal.  O Lord this is such a grace!”  And weeping they kissed his feet. Then adoring the mother, they said, “O Chamber of Paradise, Temple of God, Chalice of the Holy Spirit. O Blessed, you have brought to us a Savior.”

    The evangelist says that opening their treasures they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold for a great king, frankincense for the true God, and bitter myrrh for one who would suffer.  And so the prophecy of David was fulfilled of this day saying, “The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents: the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts: And all kings of the earth shall adore him: all nations shall serve him,” (Ps 71:10-11).  Note, they “shall serve him,” namely for the good reward and remuneration which he gives to his servants.  Otherwise one serves the world, which brings death to his servants and delivers his soul to the devil, for eternal punishment.  But Christ gives grace to his servants in this world, and glory in the next.  Therefore he  is to be served, and so Christ said, “The Lord your God shall you adore, and him only shall you serve,” (Mt 4:10).

    Then the holy kings prayed to God, that He might show them if they should return to Herod.  But the Evangelist says, that “having received an answer in sleep,” from an angel, “that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country,” (Mt 2:11).

    Think a moment here, when Joseph came and saw such gold, incense and myrrh, how he rejoiced.  But on the other hand he was saddened, that he was not judged worthy to be present for such a special event.  St. Bernard says that they gave all of their gold out of love of God.

Morally.  

  • From the example of the kings we ought to offer the gold of our conversion. Such a person can say with David, “I have loved your commandments above gold and topaz,” which is a precious stone, “therefore was I directed to all your commandments: I have hated all wicked ways,” (Ps 118:127-128).
  • Second, the frankincense of devout prayer, saying, “Let my prayer be directed as incense [in your sight],” (Ps 140:2).
  • Third we should offer the myrrh of voluntary penance. And such a one can say, “You shall … make me to live. Behold in peace is my bitterness most bitter: but you best delivered my soul that it should not perish,” (Is 38:16-17).

Found Online Here

SINS OF THE TONGUE – Fr. Belet – Part One

SINS OF THE TONGUE:
The Backbiting Tongue

By

Father Belet, of the Diocese of Basle

Translated from the French, 1870 ed.

1. The nature of backbiting. Its various species. Its gravity.

In 1617 someone published a volume entitled, The Horseman’s Book: The Art of Riding, treating the use of bridles, whips, guides, and so on. Such a title is of a nature to give rise to sad thoughts. We have learned how to make bits, bridles, halters and pincers, and how to adapt them to a horse’s head or mouth; we have learned the art of directing these animals at will by means of a small bit. But we possess a tongue so ill-tempered that no bridle can curb it: this raging beast resists bits, halters and pincers alike, knocking down every obstacle in its path. It wants to be as free as a horse in the wild. Let us see what Saint James has to say on the subject: “We put bits into horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we control their whole body also. But no man can tame the tongue.” (1)

(1) Jas. 3:3-8

Without a doubt, the most poisonous tongue of all is the backbiter’s. It spits its deadly venom to the four winds. It is an evil known throughout the earth. One can never stigmatize and deplore it enough.

Therefore, we shall now study the nature of this evil, its various species, and the gravity of the evils it breeds.

I.

Therefore, what is backbiting or detraction?

Here is the definition given by Saint Thomas Aquinas: “Backbiting is denigration of a neighbor’s reputation by means of secret words.” (2) Indeed, a person may wound someone by word in two ways: openly and to his face (that is, by insulting him); and secretly, when he is absent — and that is backbiting.

(2) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theoligica, Part II, Section II, Quest. 73, Art. I.

Palladius relates that someone once asked Saint Anthony, “What is backbiting?” and he replied, “It is every sort of wicked word we dare not speak in front of the person about whom we are talking.”

This is truly the nature of backbiters. They cannot do physical harm to those who are absent, so they strike at them with their tongue. Saint Thomas Aquinas says, “Destroying a person’s reputation is a very serious wrong.” (3) And Saint Bernard declares, “Backbiting is a great vice, a great sin, a great crime.” (4)

(3) Ibid. Part II, Section II, Question 83, Article 2.
(4) Saint Bernard, De modo bene vivendi, Chapter 33.

There are eight specific ways in which a man can backbite his neighbor:

1. When he gets carried away by vanity and imputes things against his neighbor that never happened, or when he adds to the truth imaginary circumstances that constitute either a lie or detraction.

2. When he brings a hidden or unknown fault to light. What he says is true, but he should not say it. He backbites, not by saying something untrue, but by wounding his neighbor’s reputation. This is a very common sin among us.

Now you might object, “Do you mean to say I can’t tell the truth ?” No, my friend. It is not permitted, unless you can do so without harming your neighbor. What you say is true, I admit, but it is hidden. The sinner has wounded his conscience in God’s sight, but he has not lost his reputation before men; therefore, you may not weaken or destroy it with your tongue. And even if the sin you reveal is not altogether secret but known only to a few, as long as it is not public knowledge, you are backbiting if you reveal it to someone who was unaware of it And thus you are harming your neighbor.

3. When he exaggerates a crime, be it true, or false. This is a danger to which we readily expose ourselves when we talk about the vices of others.

4. When he relates something about another person that is not evil in any way, but speaks as though his neighbor had done it for evil reasons and adds various explanations such as, “Yes, he did that, but not with God in mind… He’s not so pious as all that; he seeks to please men, he wants to stand out… You should know him, he’s a hypocrite.”

5. When a backbiter declares nothing but is happy to say, “I’ve heard it said that…” or, “There’s a rumor going around…” or when he relates something as if it were doubtful: “So-and-so might not be exactly what you think, I don’t think he is deserving of confidence. His neighbors never heard anything about his holiness, except that only since yesterday has he been rated among the devout.” Or again, when he praises with coldness and reticence. Aulu-Gelle says, “It is more shameful to be coldly and reservedly praised than harshly and bitterly accused.” All these ways of acting must be avoided with the greatest care, for people always seek evil more than good.

6. Backbiting is so subtle that anyone can defame another person with a simple gesture. He hears someone being praised for his integrity, piety or generosity, and he says, “Oh. you don’t know that fellow? I see right through him. Ask me anything about him, I know him inside out.” Or he raises an eyebrow and remains silent; he shakes his head; he turns his eyes so as to have it understood that the person being praised does not deserve it Sometimes a backbiter may keep his mouth shut and just turn his hand two or three times to indicate that the person in question is lightheaded and changes from hour to hour.

7. He can backbite not only with body language but also with silence. He may wickedly say nothing about the integrity or morals of his neighbor, especially when he is questioned about them or when his neighbor is accused of some crime.

8. Finally, a person is guilty of backbiting if he is publicly blamed for something he did, and he denies his guilt, thereby making his accuser pass for a liar. It is surely not an obligation to publicly admit a fault committed in secret. However, one should justify himself in some other way, saying, for instance, “Those are only words, they don’t prove anything. Whoever heard them may have been mistaken. Don’t believe everything you hear.” This way of speaking is far more acceptable than the first.

II.

That is how backbiting does its diabolical work. It changes costume so slickly, we can hardly recognize it. Malice is ingenious: It spots a beam where there is only a wisp of straw, an elephant where there is only a fly, a mountain high as the Alps where there is only a molehill. It turns dream into reality and taints the virtues of others so skilfully with its own colors that we mistake them for vices.

Look at the backbiter as he prepares to blacken someone’s reputation. He begins by looking severe and modest, lowering his gaze, heaving sighs and speaking in a slow, serious voice. He takes a host of curves and detours to conceal his deadly art. He goes the long way round before shooting his poison. “It grieves me that a man of his caliber should degrade himself to that point,” he says. “It’s not me who would have revealed his hidden crimes, but since everyone Some people spew detraction carelessly and bluntly, just as it comes to their mouth. Others try to conceal the malice they cannot hold in, beneath an appearance of lying modesty. They begin by heaving sad sighs, speaking slowly and gravely, knitting their brows. Detraction slips out with a plaintive air and as though despite themselves, in contrite and grieving tones: ‘I’m really at a loss with him. I don’t hate him, but all my words have been unable to correct him.’ Or else they say, ‘I knew all that perfectly well; I never mentioned it, but since others have, I can’t hide the truth. I admit it with deep sorrow, it is all too true.'”

When Esdras was pondering worriedly on how God governed the world, an Angel appeared to him and asked him three questions. Here is the first: “How do you think someone might be able to weigh fire? Attempt to do it Clever the man who can.” (5)

(5) Esdr 4:5

Now, every page of Holy Scripture depicts backbiting as a burning fire: “What chastisement will be inflicted on you, O treacherous tongue? Sharp arrows of a warrior with fiery coals of brushwood.” (6) “The tongue is a fire,” (7) says Saint James. Solomon says about the godless man, “A scoundrel is a furnace of evil, and on his lips there is a scorching fire.” (8) Indeed, compare the power and speed of fire to the power and speed of the tongue: there is a strong resemblance. When fire breaks its bounds and strikes out, it spreads desolation everywhere. So it is with the tongue: when it escapes from its prison and flies free, it does not return without having wreaked dreadful havoc.

(6) Ps 119:3
(7) Jas 3:6
(8) Prov 16:27

Therefore, the tongue is a fire, and it takes great wisdom to weigh it on an accurate scale. The wiser and more prudent a man is in everything, the more careful he is in measuring his words. “The words of the prudent are carefully weighed,” (9) says the son of Sirach. The wise man’s lips are like the two platters of a scale on which he weighs that fire. But how hard it is to weigh even sparks and wisps of straw! I call sparks the infinity of evils that spring from a single word of detraction. For backbiting harms not only one person, but many: the servants, children and friends of the person it denigrates.

(9) Sir 21:28.

A word spoken thoughtlessly or maliciously is often deadly not only to the one it strikes, but also to his wife, children and entire family. A single spark burns them all and puts them at a disadvantage. Who can say he weighs all his words properly? In the story of Tobias we read that Asmodeus, the prince of sensuality, thought he could weigh the flames of impurity. But where is the hand so refined that it can weigh all the sparks that escape from the backbiter’s mouth?

Then what is a wise man to do? He listens and holds words in his mouth when they try to fly out. As long as he keeps them in his throat, he can subject them to reason and good sense; but once they slip out, there is no way to make them return: they run, they fly, they go on an endless journey. “Fools’ thoughts are in their mouths, wise men’s words are in their hearts,” (10) says the Holy Spirit. A prudent man passes all he wants to say in his heart and he weighs it all before speaking it. This counsel of prudence was religiously observed by the Mother of the Saviour. As the Gospel tells us, “Mary kept in mind all these things, pondering them in Her heart.” (11)

(10) Sir 21:29
(11) Lk 2:51

III.

Sad to say, many people dislike this business of weighing words and deeds; so much so that Suidas rightly observes, “It is a weakness of righteous men that they cannot discern praiseworthy things in a vice-ridden man.” One day the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out thy staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may be turned into gnats throughout the land of Egypt And gnats came upon man and beast The dust of the earth was turned into gnats throughout the land of Egypt.” (12) Concerning this, a certain author remarks that gnats are tiny but nervous creatures whose sting is very severe.

(12) Ex 8:16-17

Like gnats, backbiters’ words have spread throughout the land and infested every class of society, both sexes, every age and condition, rich and poor, servants and masters alike. Many men are not blasphemers, but few — hardly any — do not backbite. Behold: two righteous men meet and strike up a conversation; you can be sure that even absent individuals will get mixed into their discussion. Then our fine talkers will be obliged to turn their backs — despite themselves, it is true — and receive the blows lying in store for them.

There is practically no society or gathering in which people do not denigrate others who are absent, discharging their critical zeal upon them. Backbiting is a common, vulgar evil, and a horrible, deadly one. Our Lord is so kind that He made a promise saying, “Where two or three are gathered together for My sake, there am I in the midst of them.” (13) Understand this well, however: for His sake, and not for the devil’s sake. The devil is also in the midst of every company where two or three people backbite their neighbor. Saint Antiochus declares, “Backbiting is a devil that never rests.” (14) Therefore, let us follow Solomon’s advice: “Put away from you dishonest talk, deceitful speech put far from you.” (15) Backbiting offers immense dangers; it inflicts great harm and is very hard to heal.

(13) Mt 18:20
(14) Saint Antiochus, Homily 29, De detract
(15) Prov 4:24

It offers immense dangers, for the backbiter inflicts rash judgment on every comer. Intention is what makes for good actions; thus, a work may be excellent even though it might appear despicable. Intentions are not visible, and it is easy to think that something is wrong when it possesses all the qualities of virtue.

Look at the Pharisees. They were scandalized when they saw Jesus healing the sick on the Sabbath, frequenting the company of publicans and going out of His way for unvirtuous men. His holiest actions were turned into a subject for backbiting.

Backbiting is eminently destructive, for it robs a man of what is most precious to him: his reputation. That is why theologians are in unanimous agreement to say that it is more serious than stealing; for a sin is all the greater in that it deprives someone of a greater good. Robbing someone of his reputation is worse than stealing his money, according to the words of Solomon: “A good name is more desirable than great riches.” (16) Backbiting inflicts great harm for it shoots three arrows in a single round and deals a triple death. Saint Bernard assures us of this: “Is this tongue not that of a viper? It is surely very fierce, for it kills three victims with a single sting. Is it not a sharp spear, for it pierces three men in a single throw. The backbiter’s tongue is a sharp sword, a double and even a triple sword, like General Joab’s lance that pierced Absalom as he hung in the oak tree.”

(16) Prov 22:1

Yes, that’s what backbiting is. It pierces its author, his listener and their denigrated neighbor all at once. With one difference, however: the denigrated person is the least wounded of all. The only thing he can lose is his reputation, whereas the backbiter and his listener are wounded — and gravely wounded — even unto their soul.

The backbiter does the most harm to himself, for the stone he casts at another will almost always fall back upon his head. He does harm to his listener by pouring deadly poison into his ears, as Saint Bernard puts it and by infecting him not only with deadly opinions, but also with the poison of envy. Artabanus says, “Only one receives the insult but there are two who commit it.” (17) Finally, the backbiter does harm to those who are absent, delivering them up and betraying them with his insolent tongue.

(17) Artabanus, Apud Herod, Book 7.

Claude Paradin relates a fabulous tale contained in the chronicles of Lorraine, a tale thrice fabulous: (18)

(18) Claude Paradin, In symb. Hero. Number 39.

The virtues and fortune of the House of Lorraine are still documented today in the family’s ancient heralds, three birds pierced with a single arrow. Here is the story of their origin:

The famous hero Godefroy de Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine, was besieging the city of Jerusalem. He shot an arrow against the Tower of David and pierced three birds in a single shot:

Either because God willed it so, or as a result of chance.

Whatever the case, this event proved to be a forecast of the royal dignity reserved for his family. An examination of the coins and insignia of the House of Lorraine will convince anyone of its authenticity.

Whoever backbites someone shoots a flaming arrow and wounds three people at once: himself, his listener and his adversary. Rather, he commits a triple murder, for we all have three lives: the life of the soul, which is the fruit of grace; the life of the body, which we hold in common with animals; and our social life, which depends upon our good name. Now, the backbiter attacks these three lives. He attacks the life of soul and body in himself and in his listener, and he attacks the social life of the person he backbites. Such are the evils that backbiting breeds.

IV.

We mentioned in the above section that backbiting is an evil that is hard to heal. The Holy Spirit declares, “A man who has the habit of abusive language will never mature in character as long as he lives.” (19) When we are in the act of backbiting others, would we want to admit we are backbiting? A sick person who thinks he is well refuses to believe anyone who tells him he is sick and he scorns every remedy. So it is with wounds caused by backbiting. They are healed only with great difficulty; and though they may have been bandaged, they always leave a dreadful scar. Alexander the Great’s laudator used to say, “If you have an enemy, attack him vigorously with insults. He may be able to bandage his wounds, but a scar will always remain.” Thieves speak the same language: “Steal boldly. If you are obliged to pay it back it will never be everything.”

(19) Sir 23:20.

It is remarkable how hard it is for someone to rid himself of an error once it has lodged in his mind. A few words murmured in lowered tones pierce it like a nail driven into a piece of wood; try and pull it out, all your strength will hardly suffice. Once you penetrate someone’s mind with a false opinion, you will have a hard time changing it. In vain will you repeat a hundred times, “I was angry when I said that. I spoke thoughtlessly. Jealousy made me talk that way.” No matter what you say, the first opinion is imbedded too deeply for you to be able to pull it out in one try.

Serpents provide serum against snakebite; scorpions provide oil against the scorpion’s sting; dog hair acts against dogbite. But people wounded by a backbiter’s tongue can heal only with great difficulty, and always imperfectly, even though it be the very tongue which caused the wounds that tries to repair them, as Achilles’ lance healed Telephos, whom he had wounded.

Saint John Chrysostom paints an eloquent picture of the evils of backbiting. “What is the use of sparing birds and fishes if we eat our own brothers?” he says. Indeed, the backbiter rips his brother’s flesh with his teeth and tears his neighbor’s body to shreds. That is what Saint Paul wants to frighten us from when he says, “If you bite and devour one another, take heed or you will be consumed by one another.” (20)

(20) Gal 5:15

And to keep us from sidestepping this admonition, Saint John Chrysostom adds, “Do not tell me, ‘I would be a slanderer only if I lied. I am committing no slander if I tell the truth.’ Error! Speaking evil of others, even if the evil be true, is always a crime. Surely the publican was really a publican and a sinner; but he left cleansed of all his defilements because he was scorned by the Pharisee. You want to correct your brother? Weep, pray to God, warn him by speaking to his heart, advise and exhort him. That is how Saint Paul acted. ‘But backbiting is so sweet!’ you say. Yes, but not backbiting is sweeter still. The backbiter creates deadly anxiety for himself, he is constantly besieged by suspicion and fear. He repents, but too late; he bites his tongue, but in vain; he trembles, for as his words spread, they may cause him grave danger and expose those who repeat them to enmities which so easily could have been avoided.” (21)

(21) Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 3, Ad pop Antioch.

Therefore, let us eliminate every sort of backbiting, knowing full well that were we to eat ashes, all our austerities would be useless to us if we linger in this vice.

V.

Rufinus of Aquilea relates the following incident: Some brothers had been sent by their monastery to visit hermits living here and there in the desert. They came first to an elderly anchorite who gave them sincere and cordial hospitality. To relieve his road-weary visitors, he resolved to treat them as well as he could and openheartedly offer them all he had. Poverty can be generous in its way, not in what it gives but in the dispositions with which it gives. The old man wanted to show this religious magnificence so that his guests, seeing his liberality, would be at ease and freely receive what his charity was not embarrassed to give them. They said evening prayers after a very congenial supper, and then the old man bedded down his guests while he went to rest in another room.

To bring on drowsiness, our travelers began to talk. And one of them said, “What do you think? These hermits eat better than we do in our monastery… “The old man heard all these remarks. He was hurt because his guests were returning his kindness with calumny, but he kept silence. At dawn the next morning, the brothers said they were going to go and visit another hermit As he bid them goodbye, the old man said to them, “Give my greetings to the hermit who is my dear friend, and tell him simply this: ‘Take care not to sprinkle the oil.'”

The brothers repeated his message faithfully. The other hermit understood the recommendation at once, and he served his guests an extremely frugal table, the main meal consisting in dry bread, salt and a little vinegar: that was the substance of the banquet. Soon tiring of such cold hospitality, our travelers moved out that very night with as little fanfare as possible. (22)

(22) Rufinus of Aquilea, Pelagius, Book 10, No. 5.

My friends, stop slandering those who treat you with kindness. Learn to stop backbiting their generosity. The first hermit treated you as guests, but the second treated you as you deserved… as slanderers.

Let us confirm the above with these remarks from Saint Bernard: The backbiter proves, first, that he has no charity. And then, what is his purpose, if not to get others to detest and hate their neighbor? Therefore, the backbiting tongue wounds charity in everyone who listens to it. It kills and stifles charity as much as it can.

Ah, how rare those who order their life in such a way as not to take pleasure in denigrating the lives of others!