CHAPTER V: The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ - by St. Alphonsus Liguori
- CHARITY IS NOT PUFFED UP
He that loves Jesus Christ is not vain of his own Worth, but humbles himself, and is glad to be humbled by others.
A PROUD person is like a balloon filled with air, which seems, indeed, great; but whose greatness, in reality, is nothing more than a little air; which, as soon as the balloon is opened, is quickly dispersed. He who loves God is humble, and is not elated at seeing any worth in himself; because he knows that whatever he possesses is the gift of God, and that of his own he has only nothingness; and sin; so that this knowledge of the Divine favours bestowed on him humbles him the more; whilst he is conscious of being so unworthy, and yet so favoured by God.
St. Teresa says, in speaking of the especial favours she received from God: "God does with me as they do with a house, which, when about to fall, they prop up with supports." When a soul receives a loving visit from God, and feels within herself an unwonted fervour of Divine love, accompanied with tears, or with a great tenderness of heart, let her beware of supposing that God so favours her, in reward for some good action; but let her then humble herself the more, concluding that God caresses her in order that she may not forsake Him; otherwise, were she to make such favours the subject of vain complacency, imagining herself more privileged, because she receives greater gifts from God than others, such a fault would induce God to deprive her of His favours. Two things are chiefly requisite for the stability of a house----the foundation and the roof; the foundation in us must be humility, in acknowledging ourselves good for nothing, and capable of nothing; and the roof is the Divine assistance, in which alone we ought to put all our trust.
Whenever we behold ourselves unusually favoured by God, we must humble ourselves the more. When St.Teresa received any special favour, she used to strive to place before her eyes all the faults she had ever committed; and thus the Lord received her into closer union with himself: the more a soul confesses herself undeserving of any favours, the more God enriches her with his graces. Thais, who was first a sinner and then a Saint, humbled herself so profoundly before God that she dared not even mention His name; so that she had not the courage to say, "My God;" but she said, "My Creator, have mercy on me!" [Vitae Patr. l. 1.] And St. Jerome writes, that in recompense for such humility, she saw a glorious throne prepared for her in Heaven. In the life of St. Margaret of Cortona we read the same thing; that, when our Lord visited her one day with greater tokens of tenderness and love, she exclaimed: "But, O Lord, hast Thou then forgotten what I have been? Is it possible that Thou canst repay all my outrages against Thee with so exquisite sweetness?" And God replied, that when a soul loves Him, and cordially repents of having offended Him, He forgets all her past infidelities; as, indeed, He formerly spoke by the mouth of Ezechiel: But if the wicked do penance I will not remember all his iniquities." [Ezech. xviii. 21, 22.] And in proof of this, He showed her a high throne, which He had prepared for her in Heaven in the midst of the Seraphim. Oh, that we could only well comprehend the value of humility! A single act of humility is worth more than all the riches of the universe.
It was the saying of St. Teresa, "Think not that thou hast advanced far in perfection, till thou considerest thyself the worst of all, and desirest to be placed below all." And on this maxim the Saint acted, and so have done all the Saints; St. Francis of Assisi, St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, and the rest, considered themselves the greatest sinners in the world, and were surprised that the earth sheltered them, and did not rather open under their feet to swallow them up alive; and they expressed themselves to this effect with the sincerest conviction. The Venerable Father John of Avila, who, from his earliest infancy had led a holy life, was on his deathbed; and the priest who came to attend him said many sublime things to him, taking him for what indeed he was, a great servant of God and a learned man; but Father Avila thus spoke to him: "Father, I pray you to make the recommendation of my soul, as of the soul of a criminal condemned to death; for such I am." This is the opinion which Saints entertain of themselves in life and death.
We, too, must act in this manner, if we would save our souls, and keep ourselves in the grace of God till death, reposing all our confidence in God alone. The proud man relies on his own strength, and falls on that account; but the humble man, by placing all his trust in God alone, stands firm and falls not, however violent and multiplied the temptations may be; for his watchword is: I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me. [Phil. iv. 13.] The devil at one time tempts us to presumption, at another time to diffidence; whenever he suggests to us that we are in no danger of falling, then we should tremble the more; for were God but for an instant to withdraw His grace from us, we are lost. When, again, he tempts us to diffidence, then let us turn to God, and thus address Him with great confidence: In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, I shall never be confounded. [Ps. xxx. 2.] My God, in Thee I have put all my hopes; I hope never to meet with confusion, nor to be bereft of Thy grace. We ought to exercise ourselves continually, even to the very last moments of our life, in these acts of diffidence in ourselves and of confidence in God, always beseeching God to grant us humility.
But it is not enough, in order to be humble, to have a lowly opinion of ourselves, and to consider ourselves the miserable beings that we really are; the man who is truly humble, says Thomas à Kempis, despises himself, and wishes also to be despised by others. This is what Jesus Christ so earnestly recommends us to practice, after His example: Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart. [Matt. xi. 29.] Whoever styles himself the greatest sinner in the world, and then is angry when others despise him, plainly shows humility of tongue, but not of heart. St. Thomas Aquinas says that a person who resents being slighted may be certain that he is far distant from perfection, even though he should work miracles. The Divine Mother sent St. Ignatius Loyola from Heaven to instruct St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi in humility; and behold the lesson which the Saint gave her: "Humility is a gladness at whatever leads us to despise ourselves." [Cepar. c. 11.] Mark well, a gladness; if the feelings are stirred with resentment at the contempt we receive, at least let us be glad in spirit.
And how is it possible for a soul not to love contempt, if she loves Jesus Christ, and beholds how her God was buffeted and spit upon, and how He suffered in His Passion! Then did they spit in His face and buffeted Him; and others struck His face with the palms of their hands. [Matt. xxvi. 67.] For this purpose our Redeemer wishes us to keep His image exposed on our altars, not indeed representing Him in glory, but nailed to the Cross, that we might have His ignominies constantly before our eyes; a sight which made the Saints rejoice at being vilified in this world. And such was the prayer which St. John of the Cross addressed to Jesus Christ, when He appeared to him with the Cross upon His shoulders: "O Lord, let me suffer, and be despised for Thee!" My Lord, on beholding Thee so reviled for my love, I only ask of Thee to let me suffer and be despised for Thy love. St. Francis de Sales said, [Spirit, ch. 10.] "To support injuries is the touchstone of humility and of true virtue." If a person pretending to spirituality practices prayer, frequent Communion, fasts, and mortifies himself, and yet cannot put up with an affront, or a biting word, of what is it a sign? It is a sign that he is a hollow cane, without humility and without virtue. And what indeed can a soul do that loves Jesus Christ, if she is unable to endure a slight for the love of Jesus Christ Who has endured so much for her? Thomas à Kempis, in his golden little book of the Imitation of Christ writes as follows: "Since you have such an abhorrence of being humbled, it is a sign that you are not dead to the world, have no humility, and that you do not keep God before your eyes. He that has not God before his eyes is disturbed at every syllable of censure that he hears." Thou canst not endure cuffs and blows for God; endure at least a passing word.
Oh what surprise and scandal does that person occasion who communicates often, and then is ready to resent every little word of contempt! On the contrary, what edification does a soul give that answers contempts with words of mildness, spoken in order to conciliate the offender; or perhaps makes no reply at all, nor complains of it to others, but continues with placid looks, and without showing the least sign of indignation! St. John Chrysostom says that a meek person is not only serviceable to himself but likewise to others, by the good example he sets them of meekness in bearing contempt: "The meek man is useful to himself and to others." [In Act. hom. 6.] Thomas à Kempis mentions, with regard to this subject, several things in which we should practice humility; he says as follows: "What others say shall command an attentive hearing, and what you say shall be taken no notice of. Others shall make a request and obtain it; you shall ask for something and meet with a refusal. Others shall be magnified in the mouths of men, and on you no one shall bestow a word. Such and such an office shall be conferred on others, but you shall be passed by as unfit for anything. With such like trials the Lord is wont to prove His faithful servant; and to see how far he has learned to overcome himself and to hold his peace. Nature, indeed, will at times not like it but you will derive immense profit thereby, if you support all in silence."
It was a saying of St. Jane of Chantal, that "a person who is truly humble takes occasion from receiving some humiliation to humble himself the more." [Marsol. l. 4. ch. 8.] Yes, for he who is truly humble never supposes himself humbled as much as he deserves. Those who behave in this manner are styled blessed by Jesus Christ. They are not called blessed who are esteemed by the world, who are honoured and praised, as noble, as learned, as powerful; but they who are spoken ill of by the world, who are persecuted and calumniated; for it is for such that a glorious reward is prepared in Heaven, if they only bear all with patience: Blessed are you when they shall revile you and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you untruly for My sake: be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in Heaven. [Matt. v. 11.]
The grand occasion for practicing humility is when we receive correction for some fault from Superiors or from others. Some people resemble the hedgehog: they seem all calmness and meekness as long as they remain untouched; but no sooner does a Superior or a friend touch them, by an observation on something which they have done imperfectly, than they forthwith become all prickles, and answer warmly, that so and so is not true, or that they were right in doing so, or that such a correction is quite uncalled for. In a word, to rebuke them is to become their enemy; they behave like a person who raves at the surgeon for paining them in the cure of their wounds. "He is angry with the surgeon,'" writes St. Bernard. [In Cant. s.42.] "When the virtuous and humble man is corrected for a fault," says St. John Chrysostom, "he grieves for having committed it; the proud man on the other hand, on receiving correction, grieves also, but he grieves that his fault is detected; and on this account he is troubled, gives answers, and is angry with the person who corrects him." This is the golden rule given by St. Philip Neri, to be observed with regard to receiving correction: "Whoever would really become a Saint must never excuse himself, although what is laid to his charge be not true." [Bacci. l. 2, ch, 17.] And there is only one case to be exempted from this rule, and that is when self-defence may appear necessary to prevent scandal. Oh, what merit with God has that soul that is wrongfully reprehended, and yet keeps silence, and refrains from defending itself! St. Teresa said: "There are occasions when a soul makes more progress and acquires a greater degree of perfection by refraining from excusing herself than by listening to ten sermons; because by not excusing herself she begins to obtain freedom of spirit, and to be heedless whether the world speaks well or ill of her." [Way of Perf. ch. 16.]
Affections and Prayers
O Incarnate Word! I entreat Thee, by the merits of Thy holy humility which led Thee to embrace so many ignominies and injuries for our love, deliver me from all pride, and grant me a share of Thy humility. And what right have I to complain of any affront whatever that may be offered me, after having so often deserved Hell? O my Jesus, by the merit of all the scorn and affronts endured for me in Thy Passion, grant me the grace to live and die humbled on this earth, as Thou didst live and die humbled for my sake. For Thy love I would willingly be despised and forsaken by all the world; but without Thee I can do nothing. I love Thee, O my sovereign good; I love Thee, O beloved of my soul! I love Thee; and I hope, through Thee, to fulfil my purpose of suffering all for Thee---affronts, betrayals, persecutions, afflictions, dryness, and desolation; enough is it for me if Thou dost not forsake me, O sole object of the love of my soul. Suffer me never more to estrange myself from Thee. Enkindle in me the desire to please Thee. Grant me fervour in loving Thee. Give me peace of mind in suffering for Thee. Give me resignation in all contradictions. Have mercy on me. I deserve nothing; but I fix all my hopes in Thee, Who hast purchased me with Thine Own Blood.
And I hope all from thee, too, O my Queen and my Mother Mary, who art the refuge of sinners!