I was complaining to him one day of a great injury which had been done to me. He answered:
To anybody but you I should try to apply some soothing balm of consolation, but your circumstances, and the pure love which I bear to you, dispense me from this act of courtesy.
I have no oil to pour into your wound, and, indeed, were I to affect to sympathise with you, it might only increase the pain of the wound you have received. I have nothing but vinegar and cleansing salt to pour in, and I must simply put in practice the command of the Apostle: Reprove, entreat. [2 Tim. iv. 2]
You finished your complaint by saying that great and tried patience was needful to enable a man to bear such attacks in silence. Certainly, your patience is not of so high a stamp, since you reserve to yourself the privilege of lamentation!
“But, Father”, I replied, “you see it is only into your heart that I pour out my sorrow. When a child is troubled to whom should it turn if not to its kind father?”
You, a child, indeed; and for how long do you mean to go on clinging to your childhood? Is it right that one who is the father of others, one to whom God has given the rank of a Bishop in His Church, should play the child?
When we are children, says St. Paul, we may speak as children, but not when we are become men. The lisping which pleases us in a baby is altogether unsuitable for a sturdy boy.
Do you wish me to give you milk and pap instead of solid food? Am I like a nurse to breathe softly on your hurt? Are not your teeth strong enough to masticate bread, the hard bread of suffering? Have you forgotten how to eat bread? Are your teeth set on edge by eating sour grapes?
It is a fine thing, indeed, for you to complain to an earthly father, you, who ought to be saying with David to your heavenly Father: I was dumb and I opened not my mouth, because thou hast done it. [Psalm xxxviii. 10.]
‘But,’ you will say, ‘it is not God but wicked men who have done this to me!’
Ah, indeed! and do you forget that it is what is called the permissive will of God which makes use of the malice of men, either to correct you or to exercise you in virtue?
Job says: The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. [Job i. 21.] He does not say: The devil and the thieves took my goods and my dear ones from me: he sees only the hand of God which does all these things by such instruments as it pleases Him to use.
You seem unfortunately to have no wish to rank yourself with him who said that the rod and staff with which God struck him brought him consolation; [Psalm xxii. 4.] and that he was like a man helpless and abandoned, yet, nevertheless, free from the dead; [Psalm lxxxvii. 5, 6.] that he was as one deaf and dumb, who paid no heed to the insults poured into his ears; [Psalm xxxvii. 15.] that he was humbled in the dust, and kept silence even from good words, which might have served to justify him and to defend his innocence.
‘But, Father,’ you continue, ‘how is it that you have become so harsh, and have changed your gentleness, as Job says to Almighty God, into cruelty? Where is your unfailing compassion?’
I answer, my compassion is as great and as sincere as ever; for God knows how much I love you, since I love you more than myself, and how I should reproach myself if I allowed my heart to be hardened against you.
It is, however, too clear that the injury you have received is resented by you, since you complain of it. We do not usually complain of what pleases us, quite the reverse, we are glad and rejoice and expect to be congratulated, not pitied. Witness the great parables of the finding of the lost sheep and the lost groat.
‘Well,’ you reply, ‘and do you really want me to tell you that black looks exhilarate me, and that I can bear smoke puffed in my face without even sneezing?’
O man of little faith and of most limited patience! What then of our Gospel maxims as to giving our cheek to the smiter, and our beard to those who pluck it out; what of the beatitude of the persecuted; of the giving our coat to him who takes away our cloak; of blessing those who curse us; of a cordial and hearty love of our enemies?
Are these sayings, think you, only curiosities to be put in a cabinet; are they not rather those seals of the Spouse, which He desires us to set upon our hearts and our arms, on our thoughts and on our works?
Well, well, I pardon you from indulgence, to use the expression of the Apostle, but, on condition that you will be more courageous for the future, and that you will shut up tightly in the casket of silence all like favours which God sends to you, so as not to let their perfume escape, and that you will render thanks in your heart to our Father in Heaven, Who deigns to bestow upon you a tiny splinter from the Cross of His Son.
What! you delight in wearing a heavy cross of gold upon your breast, and you cannot bear the weight of one light as is your own upon your heart, but must needs try to rid yourself of it by complaining!
Then, again, even when it is gone, you must needs talk about what you have put up with, and would like me to consider you patient merely because you do not openly resent the wrong done you. As if the great virtue of patience consisted only in the not revenging yourself, and not much more, as it really does, in uttering no word of complaint.
Moreover, it appears to me that you are quite wrong in so much as talking about being patient under injuries such as you have suffered. Patience is too distinguished a virtue to be needed for so trivial an act—the lesser good qualities of moderation, forbearance, and silence would amply suffice. In silence and in hope shall your strength be. [Isaiah xxx. 15.]
So he dismissed me, ashamed of myself, it is true, but, like the giant of fable, strengthened by having fallen. On leaving him I felt as if all the insults in the world would henceforth fail to make me utter one single word of complaint.
I was much consoled afterwards by coming across, in one of his letters, the same remark about moderation and forbearance as he had then addressed to me. He writes:
Nothing can have a more tranquillizing effect upon us in this world than the frequent consideration of the afflictions, necessities, contempt, calumnies, insults, and humiliations which our Lord suffered from His birth to His most painful death.
When we contemplate such a weight of bitterness as this, are we not wrong in giving to the trifling misfortunes which befall us, even the names of adversities and injuries? Are we not ashamed to ask a share of His divine patience to help us to bear such trifles as these, seeing that the smallest modicum of moderation and humility would suffice to make us bear calmly the insults offered to us?