ON MODESTY AND MORTIFICATION

Taken from the Autobiography of St. Anthony Mary Claret

St. Anthony Mary Claret wrote his autobiography reluctantly and only under obedience to his religious superiors.  This chapter out of his book details the apostolic techniques which proved so successful in saving souls. Our Lord told him several times:  "Give me blood (mortification) and I will give you spirit."

St. Anthony resolved never to waste a moment of time and during his 35 years a priest, he wrote 144 books and preached some 25,000 sermons.  On one trip, besides traveling, he preached 205 sermons in 48 days 12 in one day.  Giving the reason he worked so zealously, he wrote:  "If you were to see a blind man about to fall into a pit or over a precipice, would you not warn him?  Behold, I do the same and do it I must, for this is my duty.  I must warn sinners and make them see the precipice which leads to the unquenchable fires of Hell, for they will surely go there if they do not amend their ways.  Woe to me if I do not preach and warn them, for I would be held responsible for their condemnation."

Besides working numerous miracles throughout his priestly life, St. Anthony Mary possessed the gifts of prophecy and discernment of hearts.  Often Our Lord and Our Lady would appear to him.  Once Our Lord told him that three great judgments would soon descend upon the world:  1. Protestantism and Communism; 2. The love of pleasures and money and independence of reason and will; 3. Great wars with their horrible consequences.  He boldly proclaimed:  "The sole reason why society is perishing is because it has refused to hear the word of the Church, which is the word of God.  All plans for salvation will be sterile if the great word of the Catholic Church is not restored in all its fullness."

Here are his words on mortification:

The missionary is a spectacle to God, to the Angels, and to men.  For this reason, he must be very circumspect and prudent in all his words, works, and ways.  To this effect, I resolved that my conduct both at home and away from it, should be to talk very little, and to weigh every word I uttered, because people not infrequently take words to mean other than the speaker intends them to mean.

When talking to others, I proposed never to make gestures with my hands.  In some places this is strongly ridiculed and looked upon as displeasing.  My constant intention was always to speak sparingly, and that only when necessary.  I resolved to speak briefly, and in a quiet and grave manner, without touching my face, chin, head, and much less my nose.  I determined also never to make grimaces with my mouth, or to utter any funny or ridiculous statement, and never to ridicule anyone, because I saw that by doing these things, the missionary loses much of the authority, respect and veneration which is his due.  All this is the result of fickleness, scant mortification, and little modesty.  These habits and similar coarseness of manners manifest little or no education on the part of their possessors.

The missioner must also be at peace with all as St. Paul says.  Now, with this in mind, I never scolded anyone, but tried to be kind to all.  I endeavored also never to pass funny remarks about anyone, nor did I like to indulge in any form of buffoonery or mockery at another's expense.  Laughing did not appeal to me, although I always manifested joy, gentleness and kindness in my person, for I remembered that Jesus was never seen to laugh, although He was seen weeping on some occasions.  Those words also helped me determine my conduct:  "Stultus in risu exaltat vocem suam; vir autem sapiens vix tacite ridebit -- The fool raises his voice in laughter, but the wise man will scarcely laugh in silence."

Modesty, as we all know, is that virtue which teaches us how to do all things in the right way.  It sets before our eyes how Jesus did things, and it tells us to do the same.  So, before each action that I was about to do, I always asked myself, and still do, how Jesus Christ would do it.  What care, purity and rectitude of intention should I have if I were to act like my Divine Model! How He preached; how He conversed; how He ate and rested; how He dealt with all manner of people; how He prayed; in fine, all His ways of doing things, were the sum and substance of my constant meditation and efforts, for with God's grace I determined to imitate Our Lord in everything, so as to be able to say with the Apostle, if not by word of mouth, then by my works:  "Be ye imitators of me as I am of Christ."

I understood, O God, that if the missionary is to gather fruit in his ministry, it is essential for him to be not only irreproachable, but also in all places a man of virtue.  People respect much more that which they see in a missionary than what they hear about him.  this is proved by those words concerning Our Lord, the Model Missionary:  "Coepit facere et docere."  First of all He did things, then He taught afterwards. 

Thou knowest, O my God, the number of times that in spite of all my resolutions I have failed against holy modesty.  Thou wilt surely know if some have been scandalized by my lack of observance of this virtue.  My Lord, if such be the case, I beg Thy pardon and mercy.  I give Thee my word that, putting into practice the words of the Apostle, I will do my best to make my modesty known to all men.  I promise that my modesty shall be like that of Jesus Christ, as St. Paul exhorts so strongly, and that I will imitate the humble St. Francis of Assisi who preached by his modesty, and converted many people by his good example.  O my Lord Jesus, Love of my heart.  I love Thee, and wish to draw all men to Thy most holy love!

Without mortification I knew that modesty was impossible.  therefore I endeavored with the utmost determination to acquire this virtue of self-denial, cost what it might, yet always relying on the help of God's grace.

In the first place, I resolved to deprive myself of all taste or preference, and to give it to God.  Without knowing how, I felt myself obliged to fulfill what was only of precept.  My understanding was confronted with an inevitable alternative; either I should cater to my own taste or to God's.  Now, as my understanding saw this gross inequality even though in such a small matter as this, I felt myself obliged to follow the good pleasure of God.  Therefore, I willingly denied myself innocent and legitimate pleasures in order to have all my taste and gratification in God.  I follow this rule even now in all things, in regard to meals, drink, sleep, in talking, looking, listening, and going to any part of the country, etc...

The grace of God has helped me a great deal in the practice of mortification, for I know that this habit of denying oneself is indispensably necessary to make one's work for souls fruitful, as well as one's prayer pleasing to God Our Lord.

In a very special manner have the examples of Jesus and Mary and the Saints encouraged me in this practice of mortification.  I read assiduously the Lives of the Saints to see how they were wont to deny themselves, and I have made special notes which regulate my personal conduct.  Singular among them must be mentioned St. Bernard, St. Peter of Alcantara, and St. Philip of Neri, of whom I have read that after having been for thirty years the confessor of a Roman lady renowned for her rare beauty, he still did not know her by sight. 

I can say with certainty that I know the many women who come to confession to me more by their voice than by their features, because I never look at any woman's face.  In their presence I blush and turn red.  Not that the looking at them causes me temptations, for I do not have them, thanks be to God, but the fact still remains that I always blush, even though I cannot explain why.  I might mention here that I naturally and in an entirely unaccountable manner keep in mind and observe that oft-repeated admonition of the holy Fathers, which goes:  Sermo rigidus et brevis cum muliere est habendus et oculos humi dejectos habe -- Speech with women must be serious and brief, while the eyes must be cast on the ground.  I know not how to hold a conversation with a woman, no matter how good she may be.  In few and grave words I tell her what she must know, and then immediately I dismiss her without looking to see if she be rich or poor, beautiful or ugly.

When I was giving missions in Catalonia, I stayed at the rectories of those parishes in which I gave missions.  During all that time I do not remember having looked at the face of any woman, whether she happened to be the housekeeper, the servant, or the relative of the parish-priest.  Once it happened that after some time I returned to Vich, or some other town, and I was accosted by a lady who said to me:  "Anthony Claret, don't you know me?  I am the housekeeper of such and such a priest in whose parish you were for so many days giving a mission."  but I did not recognize her; neither did I look at her.  With my gaze fixed on the ground, I asked her:  "And how is his Reverence the pastor?" 

What is more, I shall relate another instance which could not have been so, had I not received very special graces from heaven.  While I was in the island of Cuba, for six years and two months to be exact, I confirmed more than 300,000 persons, the majority of whom were women, and young ones at that.  If any one were to ask me what are the characteristics of the Cuban women's features, I would say that I do not know, despite the fact that I have confirmed so many of them.  In order to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, I had to look where their foreheads were, and this I did in a rapid glance, after which I shut my eyes and kept them shut all during the administration of the Sacrament.

Besides this blushing that was natural to me when in the presence of women, and which hindered me from looking at them, there was another reason which prompted me to adhere to this mode of conduct.  It was the desire to profit souls.  I remember having read years ago of a famous preacher who went to preach in a certain town.  His preaching turned out to be very fruitful, and all the townsfolk were lavish in their praise of him.  "Oh, what a saint!" said they.  Yet there was one exception of all these praises, and it came from a wicked man who said:  "Perhaps he is a saint, but I can tell you one thing, and it is this:  he likes women a great deal, for he was staring at them."  This single expression was enough in itself to decrease the prestige which the good preacher had merited in that town, and not only that, but it brought to naught all the fruit which his preaching had produced.

Incidentally, I have also noticed that people form a poor opinion of a priest who does not mortify his eyes.  Of Jesus Christ I read that He was always mortified and modest in regard to His looks, for the Evangelists have accounted as an extraordinary occurrence each time He lifted up His eyes.

The hearing was another faculty which I tried to mortify continually, especially disliking to listen to superfluous conversations and idle words.  I could never suffer or tolerate those conversations which were detrimental to charity.  If I happened to be present at one of them, I would either withdraw or refrain from taking part in it, or I would show my disapproval by the sad expression my face.  This distaste applied also to conversations about food, drink, riches, or any worldly topic, including political news.  neither did I care to read newspapers, for I should prefer to read a chapter of the Holy Bible wherein I know for sure that what I read is true.  In newspapers, as a general rule, one finds only a great deal of lies and useless reading.

It was my constant aim to deny myself in regard to speaking.  Just as I have said that I dislike to hear useless things, so also in the same way I hated to talk of useless nothings.  My resolution also embraced my keeping quiet about my sermons.  I resolved never to talk of my sermons after their delivery.  Since I myself was repelled by others talking of what they delivered, I concluded that others would be displeased with me if I, too, talked about my sermons.  Thus, my fixed resolve was never to mention my sermons after delivering them, to do my very best in the pulpit, and to recommend all to God.  If anyone gave me advice about my preaching, I received it with sincere gratitude and without excusing myself or explaining my views on the matter.  I tried to amend and correct myself as much as possible.

I have observed before now that some people behave like hens which cackle after they lay their eggs, and thus are deprived of them.  The same happens to some priests of little prudence, who, as soon as they have done some good work, such as hearing confession, or delivering a sermon or lecture, go in search of the baubles of vanity by speaking so smugly of what they have done and what they have said.  Just as the hearing of this repels me, I conclude that I would repel others if I were to talk of the very same subjects.  Thus, I have made it an inflexible rule never to speak of what I have done.

The subject which was most repugnant to me was the talking of things heard in confession, not only because of the danger involved in breaking the sacramental seal of confession, but also because of the bad effect produced on such people as may happen to hear anything of this nature.  In view of these facts, I resolved on no account to speak of persons and their affairs in relation to confession, whether they had not been to confession for a long or short time, whether they had made a general confession or not, in a word, to say absolutely nothing of these affairs.  I disliked hearing of priests who spoke of those who had gone to confession to them, what they had confessed and how long it had been since they had absented themselves from that sacrament of reconciliation.  If any priest came to consult me about certain problems encountered in the confessional, I could not bear to hear him using the words:  "I find myself in such a situation, with such a case; what shall I do?"  I would tell them to recount their difficulties in the third person, as for example:  "Let us suppose that a confessor is confronted with such and such a case of a certain nature.  What steps should be taken?"

Our Lord gave me to understand that one of the things which would be of the utmost utility to the missionary is the virtue of self-denial in the matter of food and drink.  The Italians have a saying which goes:  "Not much credit is given to saints who eat."  People believe that missionaries are more heavenly than earthly beings, that at least they are like unto the saints of God who need not eat or drink.  God Our Lord has given me a very special grace in this regard, of going without eating, or eating very little.  There were three reasons in my case for not eating much.  Firstly, because I was unable to do so, not having an appetite, especially when I had to preach very often or had to hear many confessions.  At other times I used to be somewhat hungry, but I did not eat even then, particularly when I was traveling, for I would refrain from doing so in order to be able to walk better.  Finally, I would abstain from eating in order to edify, for I observed that everybody was watching me.  From this it can be gathered that I ate very little, in spite of the fact that I was, at times, very hungry.

Whenever I did eat, I took what was given me, always however, in small quantities, and food of inferior quality.  If I happened to reach the rectory of the parish at an unseasonable hour, I would tell the cook to prepare only a little soup and an egg -- nothing more.  I never took meat; not even now do I eat it, not because I do not like it, for I do, but because I know that not taking it is most edifying.  Neither did I take wine; although I like it, it has been years since I have tasted it, excluding, of course, the ablutions at Mass.  The same may be said of liquor and spirits of any kind; I never take them, although I am still fond of them, since I used to take a little in years gone by.  Abstaining from food and drink is a source of edification, and is even necessary nowadays in order to counteract the disgraceful excesses so prevalent in these times.

When I was in Segovia in the year 1859, on the 4th of September, at 4:25 in the morning, while I was at meditation, Jesus Christ said to me:  "You have to teach mortification in eating and drinking to your missionaries, Anthony."  A few minutes afterwards the Blessed Virgin told me:  "By doing this you will reap fruit in souls, Anthony."

At that time I was giving a mission in the cathedral of Segovia to the clergy, the nuns, and the people of that city.  One day while all were at table it was mentioned that the former Bishop, a man of marked zeal, had exhorted some priests to go and give missions -- an exhortation which they fulfilled to the letter.  After having walked a fair distance, these priests began to get so hungry and thirsty that they decided to stop and have lunch, since they had brought some food and drink with them.  Meanwhile some people of the town to which they were going came to welcome them, but finding the priests eating, the people lost their esteem for them, so much so that those missionaries were unable to make any headway in that town.  So the story goes at any rate, although I do not know how it originated.  All I know is, that it was as a confirmation of what had been told me by Jesus and Mary.

My experience has taught me that mortification is very edifying in a missionary.  Even now it stands me in good stead.  In the Palace here at Madrid, banquets are held frequently, while before they were even more frequent.  I am always invited to them, but if it is possible, I excuse myself.  If I cannot possibly excuse myself from attending, I go to them, but always eat less than usual on those festive occasions.  It is my custom then to take only a little soup and a small piece of fruit; nothing else -- no wine, no water.  Of course, all look at me and are highly edified.  Before I came to Madrid, as I am led to understand, disorders were rampant everywhere.  Indeed, this could be easily gathered.  So many rich and sumptuous dishes, exquisite meals, and so much wine of all kinds decked the tables, that inducements to excess were not wanting.  But since the time that I was obliged to take part in the banquets, I have not noticed the slightest excess; on the contrary, it appears to me that the guests refrain from taking what they need, because they see me not eating.  Often at the table, those guests sitting on both sides talk to me of spiritual subjects, and even ask the name of the church in which I hear confessions, so as to come there themselves and confess their sins.

In order to edify my neighbor more and more, I have always refrained from smoking and taking snuff.  Never have I said, or even hinted, that one thing pleases me more than the another.  I have done this for as long as I can remember.  Our Lord had so bestowed upon me this heavenly blessing of indifference that my dear mother (requiescat in pace) died without knowing what things I liked most.  As she loved me so very much, she would try to please me by asking if I would like to have certain things in preference to other things.  I would answer that I was pleased most of all by whatever she chose and gave me.  But this reply would not be enough, for she would add:  "I know that very well, but we always like some things more than others."  To this I would respond that whatever she gave me was the thing I liked most of all.  I naturally had inclinations for what suited me best, as we all have; but the spiritual satisfaction I had in doing another's will was so great that it surpassed the natural satisfaction resulting from doing my own will.  Thus, I told the truth when I assured my mother that her will was my greatest pleasure.

Besides denying self in regard to sight, hearing, speaking, in the senses of taste and smell, I tried also to perform some acts of mortification, such as taking the discipline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and wearing the cilice on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  If, however, I found that circumstances of time and place did not favor these modes of penance, I used to practice some other form of mortification, as for example:  praying with the arms stretched out in the form of a cross, or with the fingers under the knees.  I know very well that worldly people and those who have not the spirit of Jesus Christ make little of, and even disapprove of, these mortifications.  But for my part, I keep in mind the teaching laid down by St. John of the Cross which states:  "If anyone affirms that one can reach perfection without practicing exterior mortification, do not believe him; and even though he confirm this assertion by working miracles, know that his contentions are nothing but illusions."

As for me, I look to St. Paul for my example, for he mortified himself, and said publicly:  "Castigo corpus meum et in servitutem redigo, ne forte cum aliis praedicaverim ipse reprobus efficiar -- I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps when I have preached to others I myself may become a castaway."  All the saints until now have done in like manner.  Venerable Rodriquez says that the Blessed Virgin said to St. Elizabeth of Hungary, that no spiritual grace comes to the soul, commonly speaking, except by way of prayer and bodily afflictions.  There is an old principle which goes:  "Da mihi sanguinem et dabo tibi spiritum."  Woe to those who are enemies of mortification and of the cross of Christ!

In one act of mortification one can practice many virtues, according to the different ends which one proposes in each act, as for example:

  1. He who mortifies his body for the purpose of checking concupiscence, performs an act of the virtue of temperance.
  2. If he does this, purposing thereby to regulate his life well, it will be an act of the virtue of prudence.
  3. If he mortifies himself for the purpose of satisfying for the sins of his past life, it will be an act of justice.
  4. If he does it with the intention of conquering the difficulties of the spiritual life, it will be an act of fortitude.
  5. If he practices this virtue of mortification for the end of offering a sacrifice to God, depriving himself of what he likes, and doing that which is bitter and repugnant to nature, it will be an act of the virtue of religion.
  6. If he intends by mortification to receive greater light to know the divine attributes, it will be an act of faith.
  7. If he does it for the purpose of making his salvation more and more secure, it will be an act of hope.
  8. If he denies himself in order to help in the conversion of sinners, and for the release of the poor souls in purgatory, it will be an act of charity towards his neighbor.
  9. If he does it so as to help the poor, it will be an act of mercy.
  10. If he mortifies himself for the sake of pleasing God more and more, it will be an act of love of God.

In other words, I shall be able to put all these virtues into practice in one act of mortification, according to the end I propose to myself while doing the said act.

Virtue has so much more merit, is more resplendent, charming and attractive, when accompanied by greater sacrifice.

Man, who is vile, weak, mean, cowardly, never makes a sacrifice, and is not even capable of doing so, for he never resists even one appetite or desire.  Everything that his concupiscence and passions demand, he concedes, if it is in his power to yield or reject, for he is base and cowardly, and lets himself be conquered and completely overcome, just as the braver of two fighters conquers the cowardly one.  So it is with vice and the vicious -- the latter is crushed and the slave of his vices.  Continence and chastity are therefore worthy of the highest praise, because the man who practices purity refrains from the pleasure which proceeds from nature or passion.  Thus, the greater merit will be his the greater the pleasure he has denied himself.  His merit will be the greater in proportion to the amount of repugnance he will have in conquering himself, in proportion to the intense and prolonged suffering he will have to undergo, to the human respect he will have to vanquish, and to the sacrifices he will have to make.  Let him do all this and suffer all for the love of virtue and for God's greater glory.  As to my exterior deportment, I proposed to myself modesty and recollection and in the interior of my soul my aim was continual and ardent occupation in God.  In my work I aimed at patience, silence and suffering.  The exact accomplishment of the law of God and of the Church, the obligations of my state of life as prescribed by God.  I tried to do good to others, flee from sin, faults and imperfections, and to practice virtue.

All disagreeable, painful and humiliating happenings I considered as coming from God and ordered by Him for my own good.  Even now, as I think of it, I fix my mind on God when such things occur, bowing in silence and with resignation to His most holy will; for I remember that Our Lord has said that not even a hair of our head shall fall without the will of our heavenly Father, Who loves us so much.

I know that three hundred years of faithful service to God are paid, and more than paid, when I am permitted an hour of suffering, so great is its value.  O my Jesus and my Master, Thy servants who suffer tribulation, persecution, and abandonment by friends, who are crucified by exterior labors and by interior crosses, who are deprived of all spiritual consolation yet who suffer in silence and persevere in Thy love, O my Lord -- these are Thy loved ones, and the ones who please Thee most and whom Thou dost esteem most.

Thus I have resolved never to excuse or defend myself when others censure, calumniate and persecute me, because I would be the loser before God and men.  I realize this because my calumniators and persecutors would make use of the truths and reasons I would bring forward in order to oppose me still further.

I believe that all my crosses come from God.  Furthermore, God's will in my regard is that I suffer with patience and for the love of Him all pains of body and soul, as well as those persecutions directed against my honor.  It is my firm belief that I shall be thus doing what will be for the greater glory of God, for I shall then be suffering in silence, like Jesus, Who died on the Cross abandoned by all.

To labor and to suffer for the one we love is the greatest proof of our love.

God was made man for us.  But what kind of man?  How was He born?  How did He live?  Yes, and what a death He endured! Ego sum vermis et non homo, et abjectio plebis -- I am a worm and no man, and the outcast of the people.  Jesus is God and Man, but His Divinity did not help His Humanity in His crosses and sufferings, just as the souls of the just in heaven do not help their bodies which rot under the earth.

In a very special manner God helped the martyrs in their sufferings, but this same God abandoned Jesus in His crosses and torments, so that He was indeed a Man of Sorrows.  The body of Our Lord was most delicately formed, and therefore more sensitive to pain and suffering.  Well, then, who is capable of forming an idea of how much Jesus suffered?  All His life, suffering was ever present.  How much did He have to suffer for our love! Ah, what pains He underwent, so long-enduring and intense!

O Jesus, Love of my life, I know and realize that pains, sorrows and labors are the lot of the apostolate, but with the help of Thy grace I embrace them.  I have had my share of them, and now I can say that by Thy aid, my Lord and my Father, I am ready to drain this chalice of interior trials and am resolved to receive this baptism of exterior suffering.  My God, far be it from me to glory in anything save in the cross, upon which Thou wert once nailed for me.  And I, dear Lord, wish to be nailed to the cross for Thee.  So may it be.  Amen.

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