Principles of the Spiritual Life According to venerable Marist Father John Claude Colin
SIMPLICITY AND SPIRITUAL CHILDHOOD
MANY people nowadays think of simplicity as a certain rusticity of manners, if not the actual mark of a weak mind.
That was not the way in which Venerable Father Colin understood simplicity, which was one of his salient traits, and which he desired so ardently for his children. This is what he says on the subject:
., Simplicity must be properly understood. Our Lord said to His apostles: 'Be as wise as serpents, and as simple as doves.' Those words are addressed very specially to us. We must be simple, but our simplicity must be that of the Blessed Virgin. We must have but one heart and no other object in view save the glory of God. True simplicity shuns all ostentation, affectation, singularity, all want of tact and of dignity. It is above all triviality, all vulgarity of posture, of words and of actions. Neither is it akin to dissimulation. . . . I wish you all that time simplicity of Mary which draws, wins and pleases God and man.'
'At first I was misunderstood when I spoke of simplicity. For some confounded simplicity with rusticity of manners and of speech.
'To me, simplicity is the best part of the mind, of common sense, of faith, of charity, of all the virtues. It is the purest part of all the virtues .... The human soul’s said to be simple, because it cannot be divided. Likewise, we shall be simple, if all our thoughts, affections, intentions go to God without being divided by any other intention. The soul which is not simple is divided in its affections. The simple soul sees only God, and sets to work with greater liberty. To understand simplicity properly, we should ponder on the works of St. Francois de Sales.'
'' We must learn not to say things crudely, not to make indirect insinuations. . . . 'Simplicity is the cream of charity,' says St. Franicois de Sales. Simplicity in the pulpit is the perfection of eloquence.
For only men of genius are able to present the most sublime truths in a clear, concise and simple manner as St. Augustine did.
' Bossuet is simple in his profound thoughts. And his expression is noble and pure. The prophets combine simplicity and nobility. Simplicity does not consist in offending the ears of one's audience. On the contrary, it ennobles language and everything with which it comes in contact. Simplicity makes straight for its objective. . . . '
'How I should love Marists to understand simplicity properly I Simplicity of spirit consists in seeking God alone, in doing everything for Him and nothing for creatures.'' '' I do not know how simplicity was understood at the beginning. But I do know how I understand it. Simplicity is a great and beautiful virtue. The Gospel says that we must be as simple as doves. The dove is beautiful and simple at the same time.'
Simplicity properly understood is the essence of 'the way of spiritual childhood', which St. Teresa of the Child Jesus was charged to teach to the world. Although adapted to a different type of work, Venerable Father Colin's soul bears a striking resemblance to that of the Little Flower. Both sought, practised and taught simplicity and spiritual childhood:
' Happy the simple. . . . One must become a child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.'' 'Do not constantly probe your conscience. Do not examine yourself so often. Make the examinations of conscience laid down by the Rule and no more. Let there be less self-contemplation. . . A child falls. . . . He runs and kisses his mother, and that's that.' 'For a long time I have loved to look upon myself as a little child who is only able to stammer in God's sight.'
' A child looks at its mother. It works near her and speaks to her from time to time. It is glad to feel that mother is near. Some children run to pout in a comer when corrected. Others ask pardon at once and arc quite confident that they will obtain it. They kiss mother and are calmed. It is impossible to scold them. When we have offended God, we must endeavour to resemble the latter type of child.'
'Let us jealously preserve the Blessed Virgin's spirit of simplicity. . . . I strongly insist on the necessity of becoming simple like little children.''
Simplicity is a spontaneous tendency in a child. The very young child :is simple in sleep or in play without thinking that it is, without even wanting to be simple.
For the mature man, simplicity is a state of soul to be found again, a 'state of glorious conquest' which implies vigorous and constant struggle. Listen to Christ's words to Nicodemus:
'' Believe me when I tell you this; a man cannot see the kingdom of God without being born anew. '
By these words, Jesus implies the regeneration of the soul and its birth to a life of grace by baptism. May we not also see in them a reference to that child- like simplicity which we must acquire, and to which we must be re-born, if we wish to see the kingdom of God? Christ often insisted on the necessity of childlike simplicity : '' Then they brought children to him, asking him to touch them; and his disciples rebuked those who brought them. But Jesus was indignant at seeing this; Let the children come to me, be said, do not keep them back; the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you truthfully, the man who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a child, will never enter into it. And so be embraced them, laid his hands upon them, and blessed them.'
And again: 'The disciples came to Jesus at this time and said: Tell us, who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Whereupon Jesus called to his side a little child, to whom he gave a place in the midst of them, and said: Believe me, unless you become like little children again, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. He is greatest in the kingdom of heaven who will abase himself like this little child. '
In what way can a little child be our model?
A child is spontaneous. It never occurs to it to disguise its thoughts. In fact, it does not know how to do so. Nor does it see any need to. Its gestures, the play of its features, its cries, its slightest exclamations are all the true expressions of its soul. Human respect, public opinion are unknown to a child.
A child is humble. Its little life is a constant reminder of its weakness. It does not blush at this weakness. On the contrary, it delights in being obliged to lean on someone stronger. This sense of its own weakness makes the child look upon those around it as sages and men of power to whom it surrenders its ignorance and its littleness without reserve. So the child is a soul of deep and trusting faith.
It is also a loving soul. And it is fully aware of the irresistible power of its love. To love and to be loved is a child's whole life-its greatest need, its only wisdom, its only strength. In many ways, then, a little child can be our model. Simplicity which is humility, faith, abandonment, love can all be learnt at its school and bring their own reward: '0 Father, who art Lord of heaven and earth, I give thee praise that thou hast hidden all this from the wise and the prudent, and revealed it to little children. Be it so, Lord, since this finds favour in thy sight. ' 'All this' is the straight, rapid and sure path to God.
Strength is needed to follow unhesitatingly the way of simplicity and spiritual childhood. And it must be strength of a robust type. Speaking to the Bishop of Bayeux, Pope Pius XI made the following declaration concerning the Little Flower. His words are well worth noting : I want you to emphasize the point that people have watered down the spirituality of the little saint too much. For how strong and virile it really is! St. Teresa of the Child Jesus is a manly soul whose whole doctrine preaches renunciation.' Those words may be aptly applied to Venerable Father Colin.
Simplicity with God, simplicity with one's neighbour, simplicity with oneself was what the Venerable Founder asked of his children.
' I desire that in the Society one be broad and not meticulous. That one be up to date, yet motivated by faith. That one be always guided by prayer. I would forbid all mortification were you to subtly sift your mind in order to discover means of mortification. I would forbid you to give an account of yourself were it to be a source of worry to you, were it to result in your anxiously asking yourself : 'Am I to do this ? Am I. to do that? ' Liberty of mind is preferable to everything. . . . '
''You are hesitant. You are not consistent. One day you are broad, another narrow. You do not look sufficiently at God. You consider yourself too much. As regards Confession, you consider the man too much. That is pride. Once a thing is said, it is done with. There is no need to refer to it again. I earnestly advise you to be broadminded. Otherwise you will do far less good. Be quite at your ease, quite free. For constraint does not lead one to God. Have the family spirit. Let there be no formality, but complete openness of heart. . . . '' '0, my God, how grand it is to be simple! Why so much self-analysis? You think far too much of yourself, and not enough of God. You weigh your actions unduly. ''
'Let us give ourselves eagerly to what is most contrary to our tastes. The smaller, the more lowly, the more humbling a thing is, the more should we esteem and eagerly accept it. I know no other way of destroying temptations than that of going to God by faith with great simplicity and humble confidence.'
'Some desire to be over-exact in everything and end by becoming too intellectual. They lose the simplicity of faith. It is not always best to take a dose-up view of things. Some sin by excess. One must not, it is true, give up principles. But neither must one take a one-sided view and be more rigid than the principles themselves.'
When Venerable Father Colin says: 'Take a broad view of things,' he does not imply a disdain oi little things. What he means is that one should not be so absorbed in the perfection of detail as to become narrow-minded and, eventually, blind to the real end in view.
Little things are great in God's sight. And it is with them that real sanctity is built up. Each of us knows the amount of patient and persevering energy involved, for instance, in the quieter closing of a door, or the modulating of one's tone of voice. Little nothings, the perfect accomplishment of which necessitates a truly virile soul. Let those who consider the spirit of childhood and the doctrine of simplicity too easy and childish give it a trial. Little things are by no means unworthy of a great soul. For he who loves, there is nothing too small. The delicacy of love is proved by the perfection of detail. All arc not destined for spectacular achievements. But all are destined, all are asked to seek in the perfection of little things the perfection of love. This is a definitely Marist concept, and one that was very dear to Venerable Father Colin. For to the obscurity of the hidden life it joins the possibility of great sanctity.
Father Founder, himself, was sometimes exquisitely simple with God:
'' You know well how poor beggars act. They go from door to door asking alms for the love of God. When I desire a grace, I go up to heaven and pass from one saint to another. I stop first before the Holy Innocents and the children who died after baptism or before the age of reason. I congratulate them on their exemption from the contagion of the world, and ask them for the spirit of simplicity and innocence of life. I love talking to them, and pray to them with very special affection. They are children who never did the least wrong, so it seems to me that God could refuse them nothing. I picture them as little lambs frolicking around heaven.
'Then I pass on to the choir of virgins to congratulate them on their victory over the senses, and to ask them for the grace of purity. I go likewise to the holy women, to the confessors, to the pontiffs, to the anchorites, to the martyrs, to the doctors, to the apostles, to the prophets and to the patriarchs. Then I go to the different choirs of angels presenting to each my daily tasks and begging the spiritual arms peculiar to each particular choir. I then make my way to the Blessed Virgin's throne and place in her hands all the alms bestowed by the saints. I humbly beseech her to cover me with her merits, and to offer me thus to Christ whose merits arc ours for the asking. And thus, robed in the merits of Jesus and Mary, I cast myself lovingly into the bosom of infinite mercy.'
'One complains of being able to say nothing, of doing nothing before the Blessed Sacrament. I reply: 'You have nothing to say, nothing to do. . . . Simply remain in the presence of the most Blessed Sacrament as a flower which, though passive beneath the sun's rays, is, nevertheless, subject to its influence.' ''
'Sentimental piety will soon pass. It may even lead to laxity. But virtue that is broad and generous will endure.'
'When you are cold and void of feeling, do not try to excite your imagination in order to stir up devotion. For true devotion comes from the heart rather than from the head. If, therefore, you are full of distractions when in presence of the Blessed Sacrament, if you have not even a single pious thought, remain calm. For God sees you with all your miseries. Say to Him from time to time:
'Behold me, O my God. Give me a cure for my ills.' '
True simplicity, like all true science or true sanctity, is founded on renunciation and borders on asceticism. That brings us far from the idea of those who consider simplicity easy and even childish :
'Simplicity cuts at the very root of self-love.'
Venerable Father Colin wished simplicity to leave its mark on all Marist undertakings : '' I want every human means of success to be attempted. But I do not want our confidence to be placed therein. We must trust in God alone. It is the simplicity of faith which works miracles.'
How could He whose mission it was to closely imitate the Blessed Virgin's virtues not have understood, loved and practised simplicity? Mary is a master-piece of humble simplicity with God, with her neighbour, with herself.
As Spouse and Mother, Mary gave herself heart and soul to the perfection of the humblest tasks which both titles automatically imply. She looked upon no bumble or lowly detail as unworthy of her attention or incompatible with her title of Mother of God. On the contrary, Mary considered that superhuman title to require greater perfection in the care which she bestowed upon Jesus and Joseph in the simple little home at Nazareth. Resembling in all things the women of her country and class, Mary was never afraid to harden the palms of her hands at the painful tasks which go to make up a housewife's busy day. And in the humdrum of the simple routine of daily work, she kept very close to God. For all she did was done for Him alone.
Few words of Mary's are recorded in the Gospels. Those that are there are simple yet pregnant with meaning. To the greatest honour ever bestowed upon womankind, Mary replies: '' Behold the Handmaid of the Lord.' And she carried out those words to the letter. At the wedding of Cana, discreet so as not to draw attention, Mary bent over Jesus murmuring softly: 'They have no wine.' A simple remark, yet one that cloaks a prayer. He to whom it is said is God. And she, His Mother, had already said : 'Behold, from this day forward all generations will count me blessed. '