XII. PATIENCE IN BEARING CONTEMPT
The Saints have not been made Saints by applause and honours, but by injuries and insults. St. Ignatius Martyr, a saintly Bishop who won universal esteem and veneration, was sent to Rome as a criminal, and on his way, experienced from the soldiers who conducted him nothing but the most barbarous insolence. In the midst of his suffering and humiliations he joyfully exclaimed: “I now begin to be a disciple of Christ.” I now begin to be a true disciple of my Jesus, Who endured so many ignominies for my sake. St. Francis Borgia, when travelling, slept one night in the same room with his companion, Father Bustamente, who, in consequence of a severe attack of asthma, coughed much, casting spittle unconsciously on the Saint, and frequently on his face. In the morning Father Bustamente perceived what he had done, and was greatly afflicted at having given so much cause of pain to the Saint. Father, said St. Francis, be not disturbed; for there was no part of this room so fit for the reception of spittle as my face.
Standing once before the Crucifix, Blessed Mary of the Incarnation said to her sisters in Religion: “Is it possible, dear sisters, that we refuse to embrace contempt when we see Jesus Christ reviled and scoffed at.” A certain holy Religious having been insulted, went before the Blessed Sacrament, and said: Lord, I am very poor; I have nothing to present to Thee: but I offer Thee the injury that I have just received. Oh! how lovingly does Jesus Christ embrace all who embrace contempt for His sake! He soon consoles and enriches them with His graces. Father Anthony Torres was once unjustly charged with disseminating false doctrines, and in punishment of his supposed transgression was for many years deprived of faculties to hear Confessions. But in a letter to a certain friend he says: “Be assured that during the whole time I was calumniated the spiritual consolations that the Lord gave me surpassed any I ever received from Him.”
To suffer contempt with a serene countenance not only merits a great reward, but also serves to draw others to God. “He,” says St. John Chrysostom, “who is meek is useful to himself and to others.” For nothing is more edifying to a neighbour than the meekness of a man who receives injuries with a tranquil countenance. Father Maffei relates that a Jesuit Father, while preaching in Japan, having been spat upon by an insolent bystander, removed the spittle with his handkerchief, and continued his sermon as if nothing had happened. One of his auditors exclaimed, that a doctrine that teaches such humility must be true and Divine, and was instantly converted to the Faith.* Thus, also, St. Francis de Sales converted innumerable heretics by his meekness in bearing the insults he received from them.
*We have a shining example of the same forbearance recorded of one of the Canonized Children of St. Alphonsus’ own Congregation, St. Clement Mary Hofbauer. Clement entered the Redemptorist Congregation in Rome, 1784. St. Alphonsus, then in extreme old age, sent him encouragement and his blessing. Father Clement became afterwards the Apostle of Warsaw and Vienna, and the renowned Propagator of the Redemptorist Congregations North of the Alps. The story is recorded that while the Saint was one day begging for his poor in Warsaw, he requested an alms of a man sitting at an inn. The man sprang up, and after heaping abuse on Father Clement, spat in his face. The priest wiped away the spittle and said: “That was for myself: give me now, please, something for the orphans.” The man was astonished at the gentleness of the Saint, as well he might, and gave him generous alms for the poor. He afterwards went to Confession to Father Clement and changed his life. — EDITOR.
Let us be persuaded that to be persecuted in this life is the highest glory of the Saints. And, says the Apostle, all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Tim. iii. 12). The Redeemer says, If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you (Jo. xv. 20).
Some will say: I attend to my own business; I give offence to no one: why should I be persecuted? But all the Saints have been persecuted; Jesus Christ, the Head of the Saints, has been persecuted: and will you not submit to persecution? But what greater favour, says St. Teresa, can God bestow upon us than to send us the same treatment He wished His beloved Son to suffer on earth? “Believe me,” says Father Torres, in a letter to one of his penitents, “that one of the greatest graces that God can confer upon you is to make you worthy to be calumniated by all, without being esteemed by any.” When, then, you see yourself disregarded and despised, rejoice, and thank Jesus Christ, Who wishes you to be treated in the same manner in which He Himself was treated in this life. And to prepare your soul to accept humiliations when they occur, represent to yourself in the time of Meditation all the contempt, contradictions, and persecutions which may happen to you, and offer yourself, with a strong desire and resolution to suffer them all for the sake of Jesus Christ, and thus you will be better prepared to accept them.
You must not only accept humiliations in peace, but must also be glad and exult under them. The Venerable Louis da Ponte could not at first conceive how a soul could delight in contempt; but when he became more perfect he experienced joy in abjection. By our own strength we certainly cannot rejoice in humiliations, but by the aid of Jesus Christ we can imitate the Apostles, who went from the presence of the council rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus (Acts v. 41). There are some, as St. Joseph Calasanctius says, who suffer reproach, but not with joy. To teach the perfect spirit of humility to St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, St. Ignatius came down from heaven and assured her that true humility consists in taking pleasure in whatever inspires self-contempt.
Worldlings do not delight as much in honours as the Saints do in contempt. Brother Juniper, of the Order of St. Francis, received insults as he would the most costly gems. When derided by his companions, St. John Francis Regis was not only pleased with their ridicule, but even encouraged it. Thus from the Lives of the Saints it would appear that sufferings and humiliations were the sole objects of their wishes. With a Cross on His shoulder and a Crown of thorns on His Head the Redeemer once appeared to St. John of the Cross and said: “John, ask of Me what thou wilt.” “Lord,” replied the Saint, “I desire to suffer and to be despised for Thy sake.” Lord, seeing Thee oppressed with sorrow and saturated with opprobrium for the love of me, what can I ask from Thee but pains and ignominies? The Lord once assured St. Angela of Foligno that the surest means by which a soul can ascertain whether its lights are from God is to examine if they have inspired and left behind a strong desire of being despised for His sake. Jesus wishes that under injuries and persecutions we not only be not disquieted, but that we even rejoice and exult in expectation of the great glory that He has prepared for us in Heaven as the reward of our sufferings. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you and persecute you … be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven (Matt. v. 11, 12).
To those who are about to enter Religion it is my custom to recommend, above all things, the practice of obedience, and of patience under contempt. I have been anxious to treat the latter at full length, because I am convinced that, without bearing contempt, it is impossible for anyone to advance in perfection; and because I hold as certain that the Religious who cheerfully embraces humiliations will become a saint. “He that is humble of heart,” says St. Paulinus, “is the Heart of Christ.” Humilis corde Cor Christi est. He who is humble of heart or who delights in contempt is transformed into the Heart of Jesus Christ. Be assured, then, that if you are to be a saint you must suffer humiliations and contempt. Though all your companions were saints, you will, notwithstanding, by the ordination of God, meet with frequent contradictions; you will be frequently put below others, held in little esteem, and will have to submit to accusations and reproofs. To render you like Himself, Jesus Christ will easily find the means of making you an object of contempt. Hence, I entreat you to practise, every day, the beautiful advice of Father Torres to his penitents: “Say, every day, a Pater and Ave in honour of the life and ignominy of Jesus, and offer yourself to suffer, not only in peace, but even with joy, for the love of Him, all the contradictions and reproaches which He will send you, begging always His assistance to be faithful to Him in bearing patiently all injuries and humiliations.”