Loving the Poor

Oh, how great must be the love that the Son of God bears to the poor! for He chose the state of poverty, He wished to be called the teacher of the poor, and counts most especially as done to Himself whatever is done for His poor. -St. Vincent de Paul

Though this Saint loved all men, yet it may be said that He loved the poor above all; he bore them all in his heart; he had more than a father’s love for them: so that this most tender affection gave rise in him to a keen sympathy with their miseries, and a constant effort to relieve them.

When he met with any case of want, his heart was immediately filled with compassion, and, without waiting to be entreated, he thought of some method of relief; so that his chief care seemed to be to help the needy and assist the poor. He showed this while talking, one day, about the bad weather, which threatened to cause great scarcity of food. “Ah!” he exclaimed with a sigh, “how anxious I feel, — not so much for my Congregation, as for the poor! We will go out and ask food for our houses, or serve as vice-curates in the parishes; but what will the poor do? where can they go? I say with truth, that this is my greatest affliction and trial.”

The same may be said of St. Francis de Sales, with the addition that he showed a positive preference for the poor over the rich, in both temporal and spiritual things, for he looked upon them, as he said, as people abandoned by the Lord to our care.

Text from A Year With the Saints (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1891).

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Loving the Image of God

A holy Religious once wrote this resolution: “I will love God for Himself, and for love of Him I will serve those who bear His image. I will give my heart to Him, and my hands to my neighbor, that he may be united to God.”

Among the acts of charity which St. Mary Magdalen di Pazzi resolved to perform, was this — that she would reverence and love creatures only because God loves them, and that she would rejoice in the love He bears them, and the perfections He communicates to them.

It was one of the chief maxims of St. Vincent de Paul, not to regard his neighbor according to exterior appearance, but as he was in the sight of God.

One day, some one criticised him [St. Francis de Sales] for showing too much honor to the servant of a nobleman, who had brought him a message. “I do not know how to make these distinctions,” he answered. “All men bear the image and likeness of God, and that furnishes me with a sufficient motive for respecting them.” When he met persons or even animals heavily loaded, he stood aside that they might pass more easily, and never permitted his servants to make them stop or go back.

Text from A Year With the Saints (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1891).

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Motives for Loving Our Neighbor

If we love our neighbor because he does us good, that is, because he loves us, and brings us some advantage, honor, or pleasure, this is what we call a love of complacency, and is common to us with the animals. If we love him for any good that we see in him, that is, on account of beauty, style, amiability, or attractiveness, this is love of friendship, which we share with the heathens. . . . In fact, if we love any one because he is virtuous, or handsome, or our friend, what will become of this love if he should cease to be virtuous, or handsome, or to love us, or, still worse, if he should become our enemy? . . . The true love which alone is meritorious and lasting, is that which arises from the charity which leads us to love our neighbor in God and for God; that is, because it pleases God, or because he is dear to God, or because God dwells in him, or that it may be so. There is, however, no harm in loving him also for any honorable reason, provided that we love him more for God’s sake than for any other cause. . . . Nor does this hinder us from loving some, such as our parents and benefactors, or the virtuous, more than others, when such preference does not arise from the greater good they do to us, but from the greater resemblance they have to God, or because God wills it. -St. Francis de Sales

For this reason, he entertained great love and universal respect for all his neighbors — because he saw God in them, and them in God; and this made him very exact in all the duties of courtesy, in which he was never known to fail towards any one.

Text from A Year With the Saints (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1891).

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St. Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Elizabeth, daughter of Andrew II, King of Hungary, and wife of Ludwig, Landgrave of Thuringia, was from her earliest youth most devout to the glorious Queen of Heaven. She always took delight in venerating her and in causing her to be venerated by all with whom she came in contact. She never wearied of saying the Angelical Salutation in honor of the Mother of God.

Among the virtues most conspicuous in St. Elizabeth, was her love of holy poverty. This she learnt in the school of our blessed Lady herself, for the Queen of heaven and earth practiced poverty during the whole of her mortal life. This spirit of poverty inspired St. Elizabeth with so great a scorn for earthly possessions, that she detested all that was not strictly necessary, and would not even retain what was befitting her dignity as queen. Once, on the Feast of the Assumption, while assisting at the solemn Mass, she took off her royal crown before all the bystanders and pushing away the cushions set for her, knelt on the bare ground, declaring that such adornments were not befitting a servant of Jesus Christ, seeing that He, the King of heaven and earth, had always lived poorly and died crowned with bitter thorns.

After her husband’s death, Elizabeth underwent the fiercest persecutions. Through the envy and hatred of the great nobles, it was spread about that by her almsgiving she had wasted the Crown treasury. On this account she was driven from the court, exposed to every sort of insult, and finally obliged to take refuge in a little hut, where she suffered terribly from hunger and the severity of the weather. In the midst of these tribulations, always borne with heroic patience, she was lovingly helped by our blessed Lady, her sweet Patroness, who even deigned to appear to her and speak to her. At last, St. Elizabeth was restored to her original dignity. But instead of peacefully enjoying the pleasures and honors of her rank, she turned her back on all the things of the world and asked to be clothed in the poor habit of St. Francis. For the rest of her life she never ceased to exercise herself in the practice of penance and humility. At last, invited by her heavenly Spouse to the wedding-feast of paradise, she exchanged the tears of her exile for the joys of heaven, dying at Marburg, in Germany, on the nineteenth of November, 1231.

Illustration from Pictorial Lives of the Saints With Reflections for Every Day in the Year (New York: Benziger Bros., 1922). Text from Alexis M. Lepicier, The Fairest Flower of Paradise (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., 1922).

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Queen of Patriarchs

By the gift of piety, the Holy Ghost inspires us to love God as our Father, to whom we pay that respect, honor and worship, which a dutiful son renders to the author of his days, according to the words of St. Paul: “You have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry Abba ( Father ).” [Rom 8:15]

The gift of piety acts upon our hearts as fire upon wax. It softens them, so that they become capable of receiving the impressions of God’s fatherly love; it fills them with tender affection, mingled with profound reverence for all that appertains to the divine worship.

This spirit prompts us to open our hearts to God, in all confidence and simplicity, to hold sweet converse with Him, characterized by the most ardent love and perfect freedom.

That filial and reverential love, which the gift of piety engenders in our hearts, includes, after God, all those who are more intimately united with Him: angels, saints, priests, and so forth.

Were it given us to contemplate the soul of Mary, we should be carried away with admiration for the sentiments of divine love wherewith the gift of piety had inspired her, a spectacle fit to replenish us with holy joy.

What confidence in her abandonment to God’s providence amid her sorrows! What generosity in her transports of love! What loftiness of aspiration! What conformity to the divine will in the trials of life! What ardor and singleness of purpose in her quest for her Master’s glory! What bitter grief at the sight of the outrages heaped upon her Well-Beloved!

It was this same gift of piety which prompted her to devote her energies to the service of the Temple, esteeming this above all the most splendid palaces of kings. It was likewise this gift which inspired her with a holy veneration for the Sacred Scriptures, and above all for the oral utterances of her Son Jesus Christ, for we read that she “kept all these words in her heart.” [Luke 2:51]

The gift of piety not only makes us love and venerate God as our Father and exhibit the highest reverence for whatsoever is consecrated to Him, it moves us furthermore to minister to the needs of those whom we know to be corporally or spiritually destitute.

The corporal works of mercy are seven in number: to feed the hungry and to give drink to the thirsty; to harbor the harborless; to clothe the naked; to visit the sick: to comfort prisoners; to redeem captives; to bury the dead. — The spiritual works of mercy are also seven: to instruct the ignorant; to admonish sinners; to counsel the doubting; to console the afflicted; to bear injuries patiently; to forgive offenses; to pray for the living and the dead.

Text from Alexis M. Lepicier, The Fairest Flower of Paradise (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., 1922).

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St. Margaret of Scotland

St. Margaret’s name signifies “pearl;” “a fitting name,” says Theodoric, her confessor and her first biographer, “for one such as she.” Her soul was like a precious pearl. A life spent amidst the luxury of a royal court never dimmed its lustre, or stole it away from Him who had bought it with His blood. She was the granddaughter of an English king; and in 1070 she became the bride of Malcolm, and reigned Queen of Scotland till her death in 1093.

How did she become a Saint in a position where sanctity is so difficult? First, she burned with zeal for the house of God. She built churches and monasteries; she busied herself in making vestments; she could not rest till she saw the laws of God and His Church observed throughout her realm. Next, amidst a thousand cares, she found time to converse with God — ordering her piety with such sweetness and discretion that she won her husband to sanctity like her own. He used to rise with her at night for prayer; he loved to kiss the holy books she used, and sometimes he would steal them away, and bring them back to his wife covered with jewels. Lastly, with virtues so great, she wept constantly over her sins, and begged her confessor to correct her faults.

St. Margaret did not neglect her duties in the world because she was not of it. Never was a better mother. She spared no pains in the education of her eight children, and their sanctity was the fruit of her prudence and her zeal. Never was a better queen. She was the most trusted counsellor of her husband, and she labored for the material improvement of the country.

But, in the midst of the world’s pleasures, she sighed for the better country, and accepted death as a release. On her deathbed she received the news that her husband and her eldest son were slain in battle. She thanked God, who had sent this last affliction as a penance for her sins. After receiving Holy Viaticum, she was repeating the prayer from the Missal, “O Lord Jesus Christ, who by Thy death didst give life to the world, deliver me.” At the words “deliver me,” says her biographer, she took her departure to Christ, the Author of true liberty.

Reflection. — All perfection consists in keeping a guard upon the heart. Wherever we are, we can make a solitude in our hearts, detach ourselves from the world, and converse familiarly with God.

Illustration and text from Pictorial Lives of the Saints With Reflections for Every Day in the Year (New York: Benziger Bros., 1922).

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St. Gertrude

Gertrude was born in the year 1263, of a noble Saxon family, and placed at the age of five for education in the Benedictine abbey of Rodelsdorf. Her strong mind was carefully cultivated, and she wrote Latin with unusual elegance and force; above all, she was perfect in humility and mortification, in obedience, and in all monastic observance.

Her life was crowded with wonders. She has in obedience recorded some of her visions, in which she traces in words of indescribable beauty the intimate converse of her soul with Jesus and Mary.

She was gentle to all, most gentle to sinners; filled with devotion to the Saints of God, to the souls in purgatory, and above all to the Passion of Our Lord and to His sacred Heart. She ruled her abbey with perfect wisdom and love for forty years. Her life was one of great and almost continual suffering, and her longing to be with Jesus was not granted till A.D. 1334, when she had reached her seventy-second year.

Reflection. — No preparation for death can be better than to offer and resign ourselves anew to the Divine Will humbly, lovingly, with unbounded confidence in the infinite mercy and goodness of God.

Illustration and text from Pictorial Lives of the Saints With Reflections for Every Day in the Year (New York: Benziger Bros., 1922).

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