October 15, 2020
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Saintly Wisdom

Saintly Wisdom

Their feast days follow each other. On October 4 we celebrate the feast of St Francis whereas on October 5, the very subsequent day, we jubilantly celebrate the liturgical feast of St Faustina. What do these two great saints have in common? 

To begin with, both of them have their names start with the same letter “F”. Therefore, both Francis and Faustina powerfully remind me of their Fervent heart for God as well as for their fellow neighbour in need. Francis and Faustina are excellent life interpreters of that great commandment which the Bible, particularly the Gospel, speaks of: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets (Matt 22:37-40). Let us never forget that this explicit answer was given by none other than Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Himself (see Matt 22:37) to a Pharisee lawyer!

In front of this infallible answer it is important that we see how Francis and Faustina lived it through their faith witness. Certainly, for both saints, loving God and neighbour, on the example of Jesus, meant leading a life of total humility. In admonition 24 the Poverello speaks of what true humility is all about. He says: Blessed is he who shall be found as humble among his subjects as if he were among his masters. Blessed is the servant who always continues under the rod of correction. He is “a faithful and wise servant” who does not delay to punish himself for all his offences, interiorly by contrition and exteriorly by confession and by works of satisfaction. The heart of Francis’ message is so insightful: all of us are a work in progress of God’s life-changing grace! Let us be patient and keep letting His grace transforming us till the very end! Besides, St Francis’ understanding of humility highly concords with what St Francis de Sale says on this pivotal virtue of Christian life: “To be pleased at correction and reproofs shows that one loves the virtues which are contrary to those faults for which he is corrected and reproved. And, therefore, it is a great sign of advancement in perfection.” 

St Faustina, like St Francis, saw herself unworthy of being the recipient of such a wonderful grace of God, namely of being Jesus’s personal secretary of His Divine Mercy for the whole world. In her Diary she records an excellent advice given to her by her confessor, Fr. Sopoćko:Without humility, we cannot be pleasing to God (Diary, 270). Slowly slowly, Sister Faustina started comprehending the secret in learning true humility. She wrote, “He who wants to learn true humility should reflect upon the Passion of Jesus. When I meditate upon the Passion of Jesus, I get a clear understanding of many things I could not comprehend before. Sister Faustina realized that she should struggle if she really wanted to imitate and mirror Jesus to others. Faustina went on in her Diary by saying to Jesus: I want to resemble You, O Jesus, — You crucified, tortured and humiliated. Jesus, imprint upon my heart and soul Your own humility. I love You Jesus … (Diary, 267).

Does not her determination to grow in humility remind us of Francis’ intent for him and for his brothers of following closely the humble Christ? Thus commented St Bonaventure about the humility of Francis: St. Francis, the model of humility, wanted his brothers to be called “lesser” and the superiors of the Order to bear the name, “servants,” thereby preserving the very words used in the Gospel which he had promised to observe. At the same time he enabled his followers to learn from their very name that they had come to the school of the humble Christ to learn humility. Again, in that most beautiful prayer before a Crucifix, which St Francis composed, is essentially Christ’s humility which becomes the life sustenance of the disciple who seriously wants to follow His Lord till the very end! Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me, Lord, a correct faith, a certain hope, a perfect charity, sense and knowledge, so that I may carry out your holy and true command.

Humility attracts the Father’s fervor of disclosing his very secrets to the humble person through knowing the Son. Jesus himself tells us in the gospel of Matthew: I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Matt 11:25-27).

St Faustina’s own comment in her Diary about Christ’s teaching on humility, as found in the Matthean Gospel, is the following: 

O my Jesus, nothing is better for the soul than humiliations. In contempt is the secret of happiness, when the soul recognizes that, of itself, it is only wretchedness and nothingness, and that whatever it possesses of good is a gift of God. When the soul sees that everything is given it freely and that the only thing it has of itself is its own misery, this is what sustains it in a continual act of humble prostration before the majesty of God. And God, seeing the soul in such a disposition, pursues it with His graces. As the soul continues to immerse itself more deeply into the abyss of its nothingness and need, God uses His omnipotence to exalt it. If there is a truly happy soul upon earth, it can only be a truly humble soul. At first, one’s self-love suffers greatly on this account, but after a soul has struggled courageously, God grants it much light by which it sees how wretched and full of deception everything is. God alone is in its heart. A humble soul does not trust itself, but places all its confidence in God. God defends the humble soul and lets Himself into its secrets, and the soul abides in unsurpassable happiness which no one can comprehend (Diary, 593).

And what is the natural conclusion for such humility? A joyful service! A service freely given to the poorest of the poor! The reason for such a gratuity is all the more obvious: You received without paying, give without pay (Matt 10:8).

If, as St. Augustine rightly affirmed: “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues, hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance”, St Francis and St Faustina are certainly our sure guides in what true humility is. Their life witness and teachings undoubtedly show us God’s shining humility in and through their actions! Both of them mirror to us Christ’s saving humility which made him humbl[ing] himself and [becoming] obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:8).

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Written by
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap