Principles of the Spiritual Life According to venerable Marist Father John Claude Colin
FORTITUDE AND GENTLENESS
VENERABLE Father Colin was a man of strength. And this virtue of fortitude sprang from the certainty that God, using his nothingness to perform a work, filled that nothingness with His own divine strength: ' I can do all things in Him who strengthened me.''
Firmly convinced that he was but an instrument, a guardian of divine authority and power, Father Colin was able to find amazingly strong words to defend what he knew to be the divine point of view. It was with peculiar vigour that he established his authority as Superior, that sacred trust confided to him, and which it was his duty to guard carefully:
'' God has placed me here to resist sin and, as long as there is life in me, I will resist it.' 'In that which concerns the Constitutions, I do not see men. It is as though they did not exist. But since God made use of the most unworthy to begin the work, I cannot put aside the thoughts which He has placed in me. God demands firmness of me. He does not want me to sway with the wind.''
'When I saw that I was in charge of the Society, and what it would become if everyone introduced his own spirit into it, I took a firm stand. Had I chosen to compromise, what would have become of us? No. No. My duty, the holy will of God, that is all that matter to me. Thanks be to God, though I have many worries, I do not fear creatures. Those who pay attention to what people may say or do, will never accomplish anything. I act neither to win your affection nor your esteem. I am what I am before God. What men think of me will make me neither better nor worse.''
Venerable Father Colin is well aware that real kindness does not waver before dangerous sensitiveness. Kindness must be furn to the extent of giving pain even to loved ones in order to do them good :
'There is a kindness which is cruel, and a cruelty which is good.''
' A Congregation without vigour will soon be lost. When one is too tolerant and lets things slide, a whole house soon goes astray. A virile soul is necessary.'
'' One sometimes has to do things which displease everybody. Still one must see them through, otherwise nothing will be accomplished.''
'Vigour is necessary in all forms of government, otherwise everything suffers and perishes. To act -firmly is not contrary to gentleness. I am convinced that one often needs a little shaking in order to understand things properly.''
'After having humbled, one must uplift. Then things will go better than ever. To speak firmly has cost me more than anything. For it is quite contrary to my nature. Now I have less difficulty in that respect.''
Venerable Father Colin constantly recommended fortitude to his children : 'No, Marists must not merely be men. They must be lions. Yes, lions of strength. We live in evil times. To conquer, it is necessary to fight.'
' It is men of energy who do good nowadays. Those men whom the world sometimes calls intolerant simply because they are : firm, energetic, courageous. Our poor century is one of softness.'
'' Some time ago, I said to someone: ' There is one thing missing in your relations with your novices. You are too kind-hearted. You are unable to treat a soul vigorously just because you fear to give pain. You certainly manage to lead a soul gently and almost unconsciously to the sacrifice which you require of it. But that is not enough. Nature must be stifled. On the whole you are inclined to look upon sacrifice as something passive, whereas it should be active. Some souls have to be treated vigorously, they have to be humbled, otherwise they do not understand.''
'We must acquire virile virtue which will not be shaken by a mere humiliation or contradiction. When we have peace of soul, when nature and grace are in harmony, we are filled with courage. But, deprived of grace, we are weak, cowardly, cast down. Yes, our virtue must be more virile.'
'May grace raise up in our midst apostolic men dead to themselves and filled with the spirit of God. Men who seek only His glory, and sincerely despise themselves. Let there be no other ambition among us save that of humbling ourselves more and more. Be also filled with holy courage. Let us not be weaklings.''
By 'weaklings' Venerable Father Colin means, in this particular instance, those who seek their ease and comfort, those who are attached to those creature comforts against which he fought so much:
'' We want men of courage and not weaklings who want to take long draughts of the satisfactions of this world.'
'A Superior must be always grave and kind. One must see in him a man of authority. A house in which there is no one with strength, no one who is able to give a firm reprimand, is one in which everything goes wrong. To be firm is not a lack of gentleness. Consider Our Lord, the model of gentleness, gentleness itself, when He addresses the Pharisees.'
' Some characters can be dominated only by strong authority. They must see that they are up against a soul as firm as a rock.''
In Venerable Father Colin's soul, the gift of Fortitude generated patience and perseverance. His patience was that which knows how to mark time on the spot without any appreciable result while awaiting the appropriate moment. His was a patience which knew how to bear with people and with things. Difficult temperaments, contradictions even of those who should have been bis support, failure, physical suffering-his life-long companion-and, still worse, the privation of divine consolations were accepted calmly and patiently as coming from the heavenly
Father who knows best what is good for each one of us. Sentimental devotion, the source of much illusion, was vigorously condemned by Father Colin:
'Nowadays, sensuality creeps in everywhere. I do not know if I am being pessimistic. But it seems to me that sensuality (as we say nowadays) pervades everything. Sentimentality rather than solid doctrine is preached even in the pulpit. Everything is influenced by sensuality.''
'Little books of light piety in which there is nothing solid are quite the fashion these days. Do you know what those books really are? They are agitated sentiments, passions in movement, that is all.'
'That which is solid remains. That which is not, evaporates.''
When deprived of all sensible consolation, Venerable Father Colin sought God alone with the same virile faith which he preached to his children:
'Not only must the subject of meditation be prepared, but that exercise must be kept up at all costs. Do not leave your meditation because you happen to have a slight headache. Some people get tired almost for nothing, and drop everything at the slightest indisposition. That is not the way to act. One must go against self and carry on to the end. And if you receive nothing, neither tastes nor lights nor consolations, keep on just the same. For that meditation is more useful than you imagine. You may be without inspiration and light for a long time. Yet when an opportunity crops up to speak on that particular subject, you will do so quite easily, for the Holy Ghost will inspire you to a surprising degree. But why be amazed at that? Men of little faith, do you not know that, as Christ said to His apostles, your Father knows all your needs? Yes, He knows them all. Hence do not fear. He will give you all that is necessary. Why complain when you have difficulty in meditating? Should you not be very happy because God deigns to keep you in His presence? It is then that you should pray all the more fervently, and say to Him: 'O, my God, how happy I am to be still able to speak to You, to be able to remain here at Your feet. I who am nothing ! 0, my God, how good You are not to annihilate a wretch like me ! ' And if you are able to say nothing at all, be satisfied with your faith which enables you to believe that God is really there. Be guided by faith, and you will become strong.'
'You may say: 'I get nothing out of my meditations. I am as dry as wood.' We want consolations, and when they do not come we are discouraged. Consolations must not be sought on this earth. It is up in heaven that you will enjoy them: Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not. Suffering and work are our lot in this world. Remember that the practice of virtue requires great courage.'
'If we have such poor results with souls, if we are so little virtuous, it is because we lack courage and do not pray properly. A man who knows how to conquer himself is of far more value than a hundred others with just ordinary virtue. Try to pray well. Do not seek 'self' in your meditations, and you will become strong.'
We have heard Venerable Father Colin's very energetic words when it was a question of upholding, defending and leading the Society confided to him by the Blessed Vrgin. And we have found him none the less energetic in his endeavours to imprint indelibly truly Marist virtues on the souls of all bis children. Yet this same Founder bad, like Mary, an exquisitely tender heart, one might even say a 'maternal ' heart, so much did he seem to be the trustee of our heavenly Mother's love.
Touching instances of that tenderness may be discerned in Father Colin's writings, and in the souvenirs which have been lovingly treasured.
'I play the tyrant, but that is as far as it goes. When the moment to deal the final blow arrives, my poor heart gets the upper hand.''
'We are unaware of a Superior's suffering. He feels all the troubles of his children. Should he have to say something painful, he is more hurt than the person to whom he speaks. Still more; he sees on the person's face the pain which he gives.'
' I prefer that some should take advantage of my compassion, than that a single suffering soul should lack care.'
Those of his children who had gone to the difficult missions in Oceania, were constantly in his thoughts and still more in his prayers:
'I suffer twenty times more than they do. My heart receives all the blows dealt to them. I suffer even what they do not actually endure, because my loving heart fears all sorts of imaginary evils. I suffer for them day and night. My soul is not troubled, but I am on edge.'' Bad news from these far-off missions had to be carefully broken to him. Yet these very precautions were a cause of fresh anxiety.
'These precautions kill me because they make me suffer all the evils which I imagine. I would much prefer to be told outright that so-and-so was ill or even dead.'
Canon Mulsant, later a Marist Provincial, gives us some touching instances of Venerable Father Colin's 'maternal' kindness:
'' It is easy for us to believe one of our reverend predecessors who, visibly moved, writes: 'Those present will never forget the touching scene which took place when Father Poupinel, General Visitor of the Oceanian Missions, met the saintly Founder on his return to Europe. As soon as Father Poupinel was announced, Father Colin broke into sobs. Without waiting for help, the holy old man, then almost blind, rushed forward with outstretched arms, and cried: My little one, 1ny little one .... He held him close in silence for a long time. He could not show him enough gratitude.'' 'Yes, this is an unforgettable scene. One would need to be void of feeling not to thrill at its mere memory. It recalls forcibly similar scenes of monastic life. Grace does not kill nature. It uplifts and transfigures it, and enables one to enjoy here below the pure and intense joys of that city where love predominates. '
'There are pages,' writes Father Cothenet, '' which recall the most burning words of St. Bernard. Only the saints know how to love thus. Their effusions are marked by so supernatural a tenderness and simplicity that words fail to describe them, and we can only think of Our Saviour pressing the children of Galilee to His Heart and covering them with kisses. It is idle to remind ourselves of the pitfalls which such unbridled effusions lay for ordinary folk, for such an idea would occur to no one in such instances. Nor can we even say that these outbursts of tenderness are a thousand, a hundred thousand miles removed from any weakness or temperament or excessive sentimentallty, for the simple reason that here we are on another plane, in another world, where the very shadow of weakness is unthinkable. '
Such treasures of tenderness are not destroyed by death. The soul does not die. It passes into God. And in Him its power of loving attains its definite and perfect measure. Venerable Father Colin's tenderness for his beloved children is more living, more attractive, more enveloping than ever, surrounding them as it does with a protective strength :
'If God is merciful towards me, my greatest con-solation in eternity will be to pray for my children. '