CHAPTER VIII: The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ -by St. Alphonsus Liguori
- CHARITY IS NOT PROVOKED TO ANGER
He that loves Jesus Christ is never angry with his Neighbour.
THE virtue not to be angry at the contrarieties that happen to us is the daughter of meekness. We have already spoken at length of the acts which belong to meekness in preceding chapters; but since this is a virtue which requires to be constantly practiced by every one living among his fellow-men, we will here make some remarks on the same subject more in particular, and more adapted for practice. Humility and meekness were the favourite virtues of Jesus Christ; so that He bade His disciples learn of Him to be meek and humble: Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart. [Matt. xi. 29.] Our Redeemer was called the Lamb,-----Behold the Lamb of God, [John, i. 29.] -----as well in consideration of His having to be offered in sacrifice on the Cross for our sins, as in consideration of the meekness exhibited by Him during His entire life, but more especially at the time of His Passion. When in the house of Caiphas He received a blow from that servant, who at the same time upbraided Him with presumption in those words: Answerest Thou the high-priest so? Jesus only answered: If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why strikest thou Me? [John, xviii. 23.] He observed the same invariable meekness of conduct till death. While on the Cross, and made the object of universal scorn and blasphemy, He only besought the Eternal Father to forgive them: Father, forgive them, for they know what they do. [Luke, xxiii. 34.]
Oh, how dear to Jesus Christ are those meek souls who, in suffering affronts, derisions, calumnies, persecutions, and even chastisement and blows, are not irritated against the person that thus injures or strikes them: The prayer of the meek hath always pleased Thee. [Judith, ix. 16.] God is always pleased with the prayers of the meek; that is to say, their prayers are always heard. Heaven is expressly promised to the meek: Blessed are the meek, for they shale possess the land. [Matt. v. 4.] Father Alvarez said that Paradise is the country of those who are despised and persecuted and trodden under foot. Yes, for it is for them that the possession of the eternal Kingdom is reserved, and not for the haughty, who are honoured and esteemed by the world. David declares that the meek shall not only inherit eternal happiness, but shall likewise enjoy great peace in the present life: The meek shall inherit the land, and shall delight in abundance of peace. It is so, because the saints harbor no malice against those who ill-treat them, but rather love them the more; and the Lord, in reward for their patience, gives them an increase of interior peace. [Ps. xxxvi. 11.] St. Teresa said: "I seem to experience a renewed love towards those persons who speak ill of me." [Rib. l. 4, c. 26.] This gave occasion to the Sacred Congregation to say of the Saint, that "even affronts themselves supplied her with the food of charity." Offenses became a fresh reason for her to love the person who had offended her. No one can have such meekness as this, if he has not a great humility and a low opinion of himself, so as to consider himself worthy of every kind of contempt; and hence we see, on the contrary, that the proud are always irritable and vindictive, because they have a high conceit of themselves, and esteem themselves worthy of all honour.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. [Apoc. xiv. 13.] We must, indeed, die in the Lord to be blessed, and to enjoy that blessedness even in the present life: we mean, such happiness as can be had before entering Heaven, which, though certainly much below that of Heaven, yet far surpasses all the pleasures of sense in this world: And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts; [Phil.iv. 7.] so wrote the Apostle to his disciples. But to gain this peace, even in the midst of affronts and calumnies, we must be dead in the Lord: a dead person, how much soever he may be ill-treated and trampled on by others, resents it not; in like manner, he who is meek, like a dead body, which no longer sees or feels, should endure all the outrages committed against him. Whoever loves Jesus Christ from his heart easily attains to this; because, as he is conformed in all things to His will, he accepts with equal composure and peace of mind prosperous and adverse occurrences, consolations and afflictions, injuries and courtesies. Such was the conduct of the Apostle; and he says, therefore: I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation. [2 Cor. vii. 4.] Oh, happy the man who reaches this point of virtue! He enjoys a continual peace, which is a treasure precious beyond all other goods of this world. St. Francis de Sales said: "Of what value is the whole universe in comparison with peace of heart?" [Lettre 580.] And, in truth, of what avail are all riches and all the honours of the world to a man that lives in disquiet, and whose heart is not at peace?
In short, in order to remain constantly united with Jesus Christ, we must do all with tranquility, and not be troubled at any contradiction that we may encounter. The Lord is not in the earthquake. [3 Kings. xix. 11.] The Lord does not abide in troubled hearts. Let us listen to the beautiful lessons given on this subject by that master of meekness, St. Francis de Sales: "Never put yourself in a passion, nor open the door to anger on any pretext whatever; because, when once it has gained an entrance, it is no longer in our power to banish it, or moderate it, when we wish to do so. The remedies against it are: 1. To check it immediately, by diverting the mind to some other object, and not to speak a word. 2, To imitate the Apostles when they beheld the tempest at sea, and to have recourse to God, to Whom it belongs to restore peace to the soul. 3. If you feel that, owing to your weakness, anger has already got footing in your breast, in that case do yourself violence to regain your composure, and then try to make acts of humility and of sweetness towards the person against whom you are irritated; but all this must be done with sweetness and without violence, for it is of the utmost importance not to irritate the wounds." [Introd. ch. 8.] The Saint said that he himself was obliged to labour much during his life to overcome two passions which predominated in him, namely, anger and love: to subdue the passion of anger, he avowed it had cost him twenty-two years' hard struggle. As to the passion of love, he had succeeded in changing its object, by leaving creatures, and turning all his affections to God. And in this manner the Saint acquired so great an interior peace, that it was visible even in his exterior; for he was invariably seen with a serene countenance and a smile on his features.
From whence are wars? . . . Are they not from your concupiscences? [James, iv. 1, 2.] When we are made angry by some contradiction, we fancy we shall find relief and quiet by giving vent to our anger in actions, or at least in words: but we are mistaken, it is not so; for after having done so, we shall find that we are much more disturbed than before, Whoever desires to persevere in uninterrupted peace, must beware of ever yielding to ill humour. And whenever anyone feels himself attacked by this ill-humour, he must do his utmost to banish it immediately; and he must not go to rest with it in his heart, but must divert himself from it by the perusal of some book, by singing some devout canticle, or by conversing on some pleasant subject with a friend. The Holy Spirit says: Anger resteth in the bosom of a fool. [Ecclus, vii.10.] Anger remains a long time in the heart of fools, who have little love for Jesus Christ; but if by stealth it should ever enter into the hearts of the true lovers of Jesus Christ, it is quickly dislodged, and does not remain. A soul that cordially loves the Redeemer never feels in a bad humour, because, as she desires only what God desires, she has all she wishes for, and consequently is ever tranquil and well-balanced. The Divine will tranquilizes her in every misfortune that occurs; and thus she is able at all times to observe meekness towards all. But we cannot acquire this meekness without a great love for Jesus Christ, In fact, we know by experience that we are not meeker and gentler towards others, except when we feel an increased tenderness towards Jesus Christ. But since we cannot constantly experience this tenderness, we must prepare ourselves, in our mental prayer, to bear the crosses that may befall us. This was the practice of the Saints; and so they were ever ready to receive with patience and meekness injuries, blows, and chastisements. When we meet with an insult from our neighbour, unless we have frequently trained ourselves beforehand, we shall find it extremely difficult to know what course to take, in order not to yield to the force of anger; in the very moment, out passion will make it appear but reasonable for us to retort boldly the audacity of the person who affronts us; but St. John Chrysostom says that it is not the right way to quench the fire which is raging in the mind of our neighbour by the fire of an indignant reply; to do so will only enkindle it the more: "One fire is not extinguished by another." [In Gen. hom. 58.]
Some one may say: But why should I use courtesy and gentleness towards an impertinent fellow that insults me without cause? But St. Francis de Sales replies: "We must practice meekness, not only with reason, but against reason." [Lettre 231.]
We must therefore endeavour, on such occasions, to make a kind answer; and in this way we shall allay the fire: A mild answer breaketh wrath. [Prov. xv. 1.] But when the mind is troubled, the best expedient will be to keep silence. St. Bernard writes: "The eye troubled by anger sees not straight." [De Cons. L. 2, c.11.] When the eye is dimmed with passion, it no longer distinguishes between what is and what is not unjust; anger is like a veil drawn over the eyes, so that we can no longer discern betwixt right and wrong; wherefore we must, like St. Francis de Sales, make a compact with our tongue: "I have made a covenant with my tongue," he wrote, "never to speak while my heart is disturbed."
But there are moments when it seems absolutely necessary to check insolence with severe words. David said: Be angry, and sin not. [Ps. iv. 5.] Occasions do exist, therefore, when we may be lawfully angry, provided it be without sin. But here is just the matter: speculatively speaking, it seems expedient at times to speak and reply to some people in terms of severity, in order to make an impression on them; but in practice it is very difficult to do this without some fault on our part; so that the sure way is always to admonish, or to reply, with gentleness, and to scrupulously guard against all resentment. St. Francis de Sales said: "I have never been angry without afterwards repenting of it." And when, for some reason or other, we still feel warm, the safest way, as I said before, is to keep silence, and reserve the remonstrance, till a more convenient moment, when the heart is cooled down. We ought particularly to observe this meekness when we are corrected by our Superiors or friends. St. Francis de Sales again writes: "To receive a reprimand willingly, shows that we love the virtue opposed to the fault for which we are corrected; and consequently this is a great sign of progress in perfection." [Spirit, c. 19.]
We must besides practice meekness towards ourselves. It is a delusion of the devil, to make us consider it a virtue to be angry with ourselves for committing some fault; far from it, it is a trick of the enemy to keep us in a state of trouble, that so we may be unfit for the performance of any good. St. Francis de Sales said: "Hold for certain that all such thoughts as create disquiet are not from God, Who is the Prince of peace, but proceed either from the devil, or from self-love, or from the good opinion we have of ourselves. These are the three sources from which all our troubles spring. When, therefore, any thoughts arise which throw us into trouble, we must immediately reject and despise them." [Lettre 51.]
Meekness is also more especially necessary when we have to correct others. Corrections made with a bitter zeal often do more harm than good, especially when he who must be corrected is himself excited: in such cases the correction should be put off, and we must wait until he is cool. And we ourselves ought no less to refrain from correcting while we are under the influence of ill-temper; for then our admonition will always be accompanied with harshness; and the person in fault, when he sees that he is corrected in such a way, will take no heed of the admonition, considering it the mere effect of passion.
This holds good as far as concerns the good of our neighbour; as concerns our personal advantage, let us show how dearly we love Jesus Christ, by patiently and gladly supporting every sort of ill-treatment, injury, and contempt.
Affections and Prayers
O my despised Jesus, O love, O joy of my soul, Thou hast by Thy example made contempt most acceptable to Thy lovers! I promise Thee, from this day forward, to submit to every affront for the love of Thee, Who for love of me didst submit on earth to every species of revilement from men. Do Thou grant me strength to keep this promise. Enable me to know and to perform whatever Thou desirest at my hands. My God and my all, I crave no other good than Thyself, Who art infinite good! O Thou Who takest my interests so much too heart, grant that my only care may be to gratify Thee! Grant that all my thoughts may be occupied in avoiding whatever may offend Thee, and in promoting whatever may contribute to Thy good pleasure. Ward off every occasion that may draw me from Thy love. I strip myself of my liberty, and consecrate it entirely to Thy good will. I love Thee, O infinite goodness! I love Thee, O my delight! O Word incarnate, I love Thee more than myself! Take pity on me, and heal whatever wounds remain in my poor soul from its past disloyalties towards Thee. I resign myself wholly into Thine arms, O my Jesus; I will be wholly Thine; I will suffer everything for love of Thee; and I ask of Thee nothing but Thyself!
O Holy Virgin and my Mother Mary, I love thee, and I rely on thee; succour me by thy powerful intercession!