X. PATIENCE IN BEARING CONTEMPT
If you wish to acquire perfect humility, accept in peace all the contempt and bad treatment you may receive. These are easily borne by all who truly believe that in punishment of their sins they merit nothing but scoffs and insults. Humiliation is the touchstone of sanctity. St. John Chrysostom says that to receive an affront with meekness is the most certain proof of virtue. In his History of Japan, Father Crasset relates that during the last persecution, in consequence of having received an insult without resenting it, a certain Augustinian missionary, though disguised, was instantly taken for a Christian, and cast into prison, by the idolaters, who asserted that no one but a Christian could practise such virtue.
Some, says St. Francis of Assisi, imagine that sanctity consists in the recital of many prayers or in the performance of works of penance; but, not understanding the great merit of patience under insult, they cannot bear an injurious word. You will acquire more merit by meekly receiving an affront than by fasting ten days on bread and water. It will sometimes happen that a privilege that is refused to you will be conceded to others; that what you say will be treated with contempt, while the words of others are heard with respectful attention; that while the actions of others are the theme of general praise, and they are appointed to positions of honour, you are passed over unnoticed. If you accept in peace all these humiliations, and if you recommend to God those from whom you receive the least respect, then indeed, as St. Dorotheus says, it will be manifest that you are truly humble. To them you are particularly indebted, since by their reproaches they cure your pride — the most malignant of all diseases that lead to spiritual death. Because they deem themselves worthy of all honours, the proud convert their humiliations into an occasion of pride. But because the humble consider themselves deserving only of opprobrium, their humiliations serve to increase their humility. “That man,” says St. Bernard, “is truly humble, who converts humiliation into humility.”
Voluntary humiliations, for example, to serve the sick, and such like, are very profitable; but to embrace with cheerfulness, for the love of Jesus Christ, the humiliations that come from others, such as reproofs, accusations, insults, and derision, is still more meritorious. Gold and silver, says the Holy Ghost, are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation (Ecclus. ii. 5). As gold is tried in the fire, so a man’s perfection is proved by humiliations. St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi used to say that “untried virtue is not virtue.” He who does not suffer contempt with a tranquil mind shall never attain the spirit of perfection. My spikenard sent forth the odour thereof (Cant. i. 11).
The spikenard is an odoriferous plant, whose scent is drawn forth only by friction or bruising. Oh! what an odour of sweetness does that humble soul exhale who embraces in peace all manner of contempt, and delights in seeing herself maltreated and despised. A monk by the name of Zachary, being asked the best means of attaining humility, took his cowl, put it under his feet, and trampling on it, said: “He who takes pleasure in being treated like this cowl is truly humble.”
There are some who imagine that they are humble because they feel a strong conviction of their own miseries and a deep sorrow for their past sins. But they will not submit to humiliations, and cannot endure the slightest want of respect or esteem. They acknowledge that they are worthy of all sorts of ignominy, but cannot bear with the least mark of inattention. On the contrary, they seek continually to be treated with respect and honour. There is, says the Holy Ghost, one that humbleth himself wickedly, and his interior is full of deceit (Ecclus. xix. 23). There are some who practise external humility, by confessing that they are the worst of sinners, but in their hearts they seek after honours and the esteem of men. I hope you do not belong to that class of Christians.
Be persuaded of the truth of what Father Alvarez used to say, that the time of humiliation is the time for putting off our many miseries and for acquiring great merits. St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi used to say that crosses and ignominies are the greatest favours that God is accustomed to bestow upon His own. Hence she fervently exhorted Religious to place all their happiness in being treated with contempt. But, above all, it is necessary to keep before your eyes what the Redeemer has said, that happy is he who is hated and rejected by men. Blessed shall you be when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil for the Son of Man’s sake (Luke vi. 22). The Apostle St. Peter adds: If you be reproached for the name of Christ, you shall be blessed: for that which is of the honour, glory, and power of God, and that which is his Spirit, resteth upon you (1 Pet. iv. 14). When you are insulted for the sake of Jesus Christ, then shall you be happy; for then shall true honour, true power, and the Spirit of God rest upon you.