CHARITY TO BE PRACTISED IN WORDS
Father Alvarez used to say that virtue is weak till it is proved by ill-treatment from others. It is by the manner in which she bears with contempt and insult that a soul shows whether she abounds or fails in charity. O my God! What a sad thing to see certain souls, who practise mental prayer and frequent the Sacraments, so sensitive to every mark of disrespect or inattention!
Let us consider how meekness is to be practised. In the first place, endeavour with all your might to restrain every motion of anger. In the next place, you must be careful to abstain from all disagreeable words, and to avoid all roughness and haughtiness of manner; for rude conduct is sometimes more offensive than insulting language. Should a person ever treat you with contempt, suffer it in patience for the love or Jesus Christ, who for the love of you has borne with far greater insults. My God! what a misery to see certain souls, who practise mental prayer and frequent the Sacraments, so sensitive to every mark of disrespect or inattention! Sister Mary of the Ascension, as often as she received an affront, went immediately before the Blessed Sacrament, and said: My Spouse, I bring you this little present; I beg you to accept it, and to pardon the person by whom I have been offended. Why do you not imitate this holy Religious? To preserve charity you must suffer ail things. Father Alvarez used to say that virtue is weak till it is proved by ill-treatment from others. It is by the manner in which she bears with contempt and insult that a soul shows whether she abounds or fails in charity.
Should anyone ever address you in the language of passion, or even of insult and reproach, answer with sweetness, and his anger will be instantly appeased. A mild answer breaketh wrath-(Prov. xv. 1). St. John Chrysostom says: “Fire cannot be extinguished by fire, nor wrath by anger.” Do you imagine that by replying with acrimony to those who speak to you in anger you will calm passion? On the contrary, you will provoke it, and will also violate charity. Let your answer to every word of anger be full of sweetness, and the fire of passion will be instantly extinguished. Sophronius relates that two monks having missed their way on a journey, entered by chance into a field in which seed had been just sown. The man who was intrusted with the care of the field burst into a fit of rage and heaped upon them every epithet of reproach. At first they were silent, but seeing that their silence served only to inflame his anger they exclaimed: “Brother, we have done wrong; for God’s sake pardon us.” This humble answer calmed his passion and filled his soul with sorrow for his conduct. He immediately asked pardon of the monks for his injurious language-he even left the world afterwards and joined them in the cloister.
You will sometimes think it right and even necessary to repress by a sharp answer the forwardness of another, particularly if you are a Superior, and he be wanting in respect for you; but be assured that such sharpness proceeds from passion rather than from reason. I know that anger is sometimes lawful. Be angry, says the Psalmist, and sin not-(Ps. iv. 5). But to be angry and not to sin is very difficult in practice. Whoever abandons himself to anger exposes his soul to imminent danger. Hence St. Francis de Sales wisely teaches in his Philothea, that however just the occasions of anger may be, its motions should be repressed. “It is better,” says the Saint, “to have it said of you that you are never angry, than that you were justly angry.” St. Augustine says that anger once allowed to enter the soul is banished with difficulty; and therefore he strongly recommends us to stifle it in its very origin. A certain philosopher called Agrippinus, having lost his property, said: “If I have lost my goods I will not lose my peace.” Let such be your language as often as you receive any offence. Is it not enough for you to have received an affront? Do you wish, moreover, to lose the peace of your soul by yielding to anger? The disturbance of mind occasioned by anger win be far more injurious to you than the insult that you have received. St. Augustine says that he who yields to passion on every occasion of insult is his own chastiser. Disquiet of soul, even when it arises from a regret for a fault, is always injurious. For, as St. Aloysius used to say, it delights the devil to fish in troubled waters.
I have said that when someone speaks to you in the language or tone of passion or contempt you should answer with sweetness. But I now say that whenever the soul is disturbed it is better to be silent; for passion will then make harsh expressions appear just and reasonable. But when peace returns you will see that your language was altogether unjustifiable. St. Bernard says that anger draws over the soul a dark veil which renders her incapable of distinguishing what is right from what is wrong.
When the person who has offended you comes to ask pardon, be careful not to receive him with a stern countenance, nor to show discontent or want of respect by your words or looks. But whenever you offend or displease another, endeavour at once, by all means in your power. to make satisfaction to the person, and to remove from his heart all feelings of aversion towards you. St. Bernard says that “humility alone is the reparation of wounded charity.” Self-humiliation is the most efficacious means of repairing the violation of charity. Whenever, then, you offend against charity, humble yourself immediately, overcome by force your natural repugnance to humiliation: the longer you defer the reparation of the fault you have committed, the more your repugnance to make reparation will increase. If, says the Redeemer, thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee; leave there thy offering before the altar and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming, thou shalt offer thy gift -(Matt. v. 23, 24). If you come to the altar to offer your gift, to receive the Holy Eucharist, or to attend Mass, and remember that you have offended a brother, retire from the altar and be reconciled to him.