Principles of the Spiritual Life According to venerable Marist Father John Claude Colin
Those who knew Venerable Father Colin, those who have spoken of him, have all emphasized the out standing humility of his soul. His deep under- standing of the principle of true humility is aptly summed up in these words of his :
'You see, God is He who is. The creature is that which is not.'
And so, according to Venerable Father Colin's teaching, there is but one attitude possible for the sincere and loving soul: that of the poor person who, having nothing of his own, depends for everything on the infinite power and goodness of God. Therein lies the secret of true humility.
The society of Mary is to stand out by its humility, and towards Jesus and Mary that Marists must tum as models:
'' We must follow the advice of Christ : take thou the lowest place. . . . Humility must be the characteristic virtue of the Society. How foolish, stupid we should be were we to attribute anything to ourselves. . . . Let us beware of ourselves. . . . Personally, each time I am tempted to think that the house is going on well, I brush away the idea. Let us beware of patting ourselves on the back when we see other houses doing badly. For we must never compare ourselves with others to our own advantage.''
'The Society, which started in a humble manner, was unable to and should not have started otherwise. Had we shone by our knowledge from the very start, we should have had too much self-love. All those who entered the Society did so from pure motives. Nothing human could have drawn them. Besides, works which start without difficulty and with a good
deal of glamour will not go far nor contribute much to the glory of God. But when they go slowly, when they experience difficulties, is a sure sign that God has great things in view for them.'
'Arrogant, self-sufficient characters are not suitable for us. Later they become insupportable. Such characters must not be kept in the Blessed Virgin's Society. They will not die in it. . . . Ah, modesty. . . . If I insist so much thereon, it is because I know full well that we little Marists have only that. It is by modesty alone that we shall succeed. Besides, Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin were always modest. Humility, hidden life, modesty were ever dear to them both.'
What makes us loved? Modesty .... Carefully preserve that spirit. Had we not modesty what would we do? . . . It is necessary to have good subjects, to compose good sermons. That is not an obstacle to modesty. On the contrary, the more learned one is the more humble one is, because one realizes all the better the little one really does know. . . . How small and narrow man is I Let us endeavour to be as well instructed as possible. This is very necessary nowadays. But let us always seek to be modest.''
As an understanding father, Venerable Father Colin warns his children that, no matter how hard they try to be humble, they will experience temptations to pride at certain times. But this must in no way alarm or discourage them:
'Some are unnecessarily troubled because of feelings of self-love. They struggle against these feelings for several days. Ah, it is not worth while. Scorn would be much better. For the simplest way of combating such feelings is to sneer at them and when tempted to be proud to say to God: ' Ah, my God, behold this poor freak who seeks to rob you of the glory which is justly yours.' . . . There is a certain amount of the animal in every one of us. And it
is that animal nature which tries to meddle with everything, which wants to share in all our actions. Let us simply laugh it off. That is the best thing to do. How I love these lines written by St. Francois de Sales to a religious who complained to him of her self-love: 'Ah, my good sister, are you surprised? Think yourself lucky, if you happen to be freed from self-love a quarter of an hour before you die.''
There must be nothing pharisaical about a Marist' s humility:
'When I say humility, I do not mean that one must walk about with downcast eyes. I speak of practical humility.''
'' True humility consists in not speaking either ill or well of oneself. One sometimes develops the habit of speaking ill of oneself: that is just concealed pride. You often say that you know nothing. Think it, but do not voice your thoughts. Besides, belittling yourself might lessen your authority. It might keep people from you through a lack of confidence.' To illustrate this point, Venerable Father Colin turns again to his favourite writer, St. Francois de Sales:
' We say over and over again that we are nothing, that we are wretchedness itself and the very refuse of the world. But we would be quite upset were we taken at our word and spoken of in that light. On the contrary, we pretend to flee and to bide ourselves, so that people may run after and seek us: we feign to desire to be the least, and we sit at the lower end of the table, but only in order to pass more advantageously to the upper end. Real humility does not pretend to be humility, nor does it say humble words.' '
Nor must a person in authority allow that authority to be attacked through a sense of false humility. For the position which be occupies comes from God. It is God whom he represents. And it is God who is attacked through him. Humble as he was, Venerable Father Colin used, at certain moments, extremely dignified words to recall this principle and to request that .his point of view be adopted, for he knew it to be good:
'' It is not I who must go to you. You must come to me, since it bas pleased God to use me as His instrument.'
Venerable Father Founder does not confine himself to negative counsels. He tells his beloved children that the best way to acquire the beautiful virtue of humility is to pray very fervently for selfknow ledge, to accept humiliations, even to seek them, and to rejoice when they come one 's way:
' ... One must pray. For one needs the help
of the Holy Ghost in order to know oneself thoroughly and to die to ' self '. All the saints learnt to despise themselves by considering the abyss of their misery. For the more enlightened we are from above the more do we see the shadows on our souls. Let us try to know not only our external faults, but also -and above all-those which are interior: the faults of the heart, of the mind, of the memory and of the imagination. Yes, we are an abyss of misery.'
'When you know yourself well, see where you must start on the all-important work of your perfection. Beware of wanting to do everything at once. Do not be satisfied with numerous good resolutions. These are good intentions, good movements of the soul for which God will reward you. Above all, be practical .... It is by generosity that ultimate victory is bought .... Let us love, let us dearly love occasions of destroying 'self'. Alas, it is 'self' which too often has the upper hand. Yes, 'self' is always there. . . . '
'Without humiliations there is no real humility. When I come across a sensitive person, I try to make him conquer himself so as to acquire more virile virtue .... '
'Yes, humiliation is the gateway to humility. To have beautiful sentiments on humility in times of prayer is not the virtue of humility. For real humility is seen in actions. . . . ' 'How I desire that love of humiliations take deep root in the Society. . . . Otherwise there will be no virtue. It would be a grave misfortune were we to
hold too much to defending and justifying ourselves. Some will never admit that they are in the wrong. They are always ready to put the blame on others. The saints did not act thus. They hated themselves and, consequently, they were glad when they were persecuted ....'
'Let everything that hurts, everything that hits at self-love be our happiness .... Let us rejoice should someone heedlessly cause us pain. For who would do so intentionally ? If we are belittled in any way, let us rejoice at being humiliated .... I have always found it beneficial to be humble and small. For if we are such before God, how could He who is so great, so very much above us, stoop to punish us? I know of no occasion on which a mother struck her child because of its cries. . . . Those little creatures inspire love and pity rather than anger. Likewise, if we are little, God wilI not have the courage to strike us despite our sins. He will pity us instead ....'
'Personally, I can say that I am happy when some trouble or humiliation comes my way. I rejoice, because I have what I deserve. 'Well done,' I say to myself. . . . Only things which are estimable should be esteemed. I am unworthy of allesteem. What was I fifty years ago? Nothing ....
No one even thought of me .... Now, what am I?
What have I that I have not received from God? And what have I become through sin? Justice demands that one render to each one bis due. . . . What is due to me, if not contempt, since I have nothing estimable either in the past or m the present?'
The Venerable Father's humility is remarkable on a particularly delicate point: the consideration with which he wished to see other Congregations treated by the Society of Mary. The most saintly men, the noblest souls experience great difficulty on this subject. For they find it bard to get rid of that very human feeling which causes them to prefer their own Congregation to many, if not to all others. Venerable Father Colin put the will of God and the advancement of God's kingdom before everything else. To him, it mattered little whether the Society were chosen or not in a particular case to be the divine instrument, provided God's will be accomplished and God's kingdom assured:
'Were our Society asked for in a place, and I knew that another Society would do as much good there, I would not want to send our men. I would rather leave the place to the other Society. Then, at least, we Marists would have the merit of humility.'
' Let us respect other religious bodies. Let us be very modest. Let us not rejoice on taking a particular house, a particular work, a particular mission. But let us be glad rather that we are doing the will of God. That is all that matters.'
'How grieved I should be were the spirit of rivalry to creep into the Society of Mary .... We are all children of the Blessed Virgin. Not only must we never think or speak ill of other communities, we
must endeavour to give them the preference, to help them and to show them sympathy. The object of our Society is to imitate the Blessed Virgin, who was very modest yet full of zeal for souls. Do your utmost to keep that spirit alive in the Society of Mary, so as to pass it on to your successors. And, so that it may take deep root amongst us, do not be numbered among those who love, esteem and approve only what their own Society does .... '
'' Our task is to do what others cannot or will not undertake .... '
'' How I desire that the children of the Blessed Virgin be recognized as Our Lord was by this mark : 'The poor have the Gospel preached to them ....' I like works that are hidden, abandoned . . . the poor, preaching in prisons, in shelters .... '
'You must be saints . . . ' Father Founder was wont to say to his children. And he gave them the key to the kingdom of sanctity :
'Be humble, little in your own eyes .... ' Even in this life the fruits of humility make them
selves felt. For true humility engenders a holy audacity and confidence in the service of God, knowing that it is His strength which operates through us. Venerable Father Colin, persuaded that if he remained in his place God would not fail to find him, used to _say : 'How I loved this prayer: 'My God, do great things through me.' You may think this pride. On the contrary, it is humility. For I say to God: 'You made an unfaithful servant the Head of your Church.
You turned a persecutor into an apostle. You created the world out of nothing. My God, what marvels You can do with me, because I am nothing! ' In saying that prayer, I admit my nothingness and the omnipotence of God.'
'Let us be always humble and little, and God will work wonders for us.''
'It seems to me that nothing is impossible ....No . . . nothing. , . . '
'Humility is a mine of peace,' says Father Colin. It is a mine of peace, because the human heart can only find true peace in order. Pride and the seeking of worldly vanities are deep-rooted disorders. They cannot give that peace of which they are the enemies. We shall do much for the happiness of our fellowmen if we induce them to look for it, not so much in their victory over obstacles-which of itself would nourish pride-but in the knowledge that through the battle and the victory we shall remain the same creatures as before, helpless of ourselves, and owing both our strength and our ultimate victory to God. '' One cannot succeed to-day except by real humility.'
But, Venerable Father Colin tells us that, to bring our brethren to an appreciation of real humility, we must live in humility ourselves :
'Our century is proud and ailing. It is steeped in pride, as was the century in which Christ lived on this earth. To heal our century, means such as those used by Our Lord are necessary : one must be little, as Jesus was in the Manger. Otherwise it is
'' Since Our Lord put Himself at the feet of the apostles, there is no such thing as a humiliation for any of us.'
Man will be happy only when he has come to understand that his mind was made for the infinite, since only eternal truth can satisfy it, and that his heart is of infinite capacity, since only God's infinite love can fill it. His soul will really live only when it has come to realize that its insatiable thirst cannot be quenched by the nothingness of human vanities. There is but one possible solution to the search for true and lasting happiness here below : delight in God from whom we have received everything, to whom we must render everything. And that delight in God is attained by the practice of sincere humility.