Wednesday, February 16, 2011

St. Francis de Sales: Humility is Compatible with the Rich Dress of One's Office

St. Francis de Sales, the Bishop of Geneva, came one Lent, while on a journey, to the church attached to a monastery of Capuchin friars, which was within his diocese. He happened to arrive just at sermon time; the preacher had taken ostentation in dress as the theme of his discourse and was inveighing vehemently against prelates and ecclesiastical dignitaries, who, instead of setting an example of humility, wore splendid garments and drove about in grand equipages.

When the sermon was ended, the bishop went into the sacristy, and caused the preacher to be summoned to his presence. The monk was startled and not a little frightened when he saw the bishop standing before him.

As soon as they were alone together, St. Francis said: "Reverend Father, your discourse contained much that was edifying. It may also be true that we who are in authority in the Church are guilty of sins from which the inmates of the cloister are exempt. Nevertheless, I consider it highly unwise to say such things as you did on this subject from the pulpit, to the common people.

Moreover, I wish to call your attention to the fact that for many reasons it is a matter of necessity that the princes of the Church should keep up an appearance befitting their rank. Besides, one never knows what may be hidden beneath a silken robe."

So saying St. Francis unbuttoned the upper part of his purple cassock, and let the monk see that he wore a ragged hair shirt next to his skin. "I show you this," he added, "that you may learn that humility is quite compatible with the rich dress of one's office. From henceforth see that you are less harsh in your judgments and more prudent in your speech."

If the dignitaries of the Church were wretchedly dressed, they would lose the respect due both to themselves and to their office; they would be accused of miserliness and other faults. Therefore it is not only permissible, but obligatory upon them, to dress in accordance with the official rank they hold. What evilly disposed men choose to say must not be heeded.

From Father Francis Spirago’s Anecdotes and Examples Illustrating the Catholic Catechism (New York: Benziger Brothers. 1904), 187 – 188.

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