278.In this respect, St. Gregory the Great surpassed St. Jerome in zeal. Rome, the capital of the world and the center of religion, was amazed to see that great pope, despite his ill ness, spending as much time as he could instructing young people. After giving solid food to the strong, he was not ashamed to provide milk for children.
279. The celebrated chancellor of Paris, Jean Gerson, dedicated himself constantly to catechizing children. When he was criticized for this, he replied that he could find no greater employment than in snatching these little souls from the hellish serpent and in watering these tender plants in the Church's garden.592
280. The Venerable Master John-of Avila, the apostle of Andalucia, was dedicated to the instruction of children. His disciples were also and strongly recommended the same dedication to schoolteachers. He used to say that "the winning of youth means the saving of the whole republic; for the little become the great, and their hand will govern the republic. A good education, he would say, and the teaching of Christian doctrine is the fountain and source of the public happiness and welfare, so much so that miseducating youth is like poisoning the common water supply.593
281. Father Diego de Guzman, son of the Count of Bailen and a disciple of the Venerable Avila, spent the entire 83 years of his life in teaching Christian doctrine. He traveled through Spain and Italy with great zeal and effectiveness, at the cost of great personal pain and effort. To ensure the continuance of his work after his death, he founded a Congregation in Seville to continue teaching Christian doctrine to the children as he had done.594
282. St. Ignatius,595 St. Francis Xavier,596 and St. Francis Borgia597 also applied themselves to teaching Christian doctrine to children. Lainez598 and Salmeron,599 envoys to the Council of Trent, were ordered by St. Ignatius to teach catechism to children.
St. Joseph Calasanctius600 and the Venerable Cesar de Bus founded a Congregation to teach children Christian doctrine:601 the Brothers of Christian Doctrine.602
283. Father Ignatius Martins, an eloquent orator who was preacher to the king of Portugal, abandoned preaching and dedicated his whole life to teaching children, a work in which he continued for a span of 18 years.603
Father Edmond Auger, an apostolic preacher, who was called the Gospel Trumpet for his conversion of 40,000 heretics in France, was so deeply committed to teaching catechism that at his death it pleased God to allow him to be seen ascending into heaven accompanied by a host of angels and children.604 To Isaiah's question Ubi est doctor parvulorum? (33:18),605 one might well answer, Here he is.606
284. In view of all these examples, as well as others I know but have omitted here, I was greatly encouraged in my own constant inclination to teach catechism to boys and girls. I have made it my occupation as a student, priest, administrator, missionary, and even as an archbishop.607
285. Because I love children and want them to be educated in Christian doctrine, I have written four catechisms: one for small children, from the time they begin talking until they reach seven; one for country folk; another, more extensive one; and one fully explained and illustrated.608
286. The method I followed, based on what experience has taught me to be the best approach, I have described in the second volume of my Well-Instructed Seminarian, section 5, chapter 4.609 Chapter XVIII
Adult Instruction The Third Means I Made Use of to Do Good 287. "The most productive means I have used has been adult instruction. It has helped me rescue adults from an ignorance that is greater than one might imagine, even in the case of persons who hear sermons frequently. Preachers often take it for granted that their listeners are well instructed, while the fact is that instruction is precisely what most Catholics lack. The use of instruction has the further advantage of informing adults of their respective obligations and teaching them how to go about fulfilling them.610
288. During a parish mission I gave these instructions every day except the first (which had its own assigned topic), as an introduction to the sermon just before we recited the Hail Mary together. As I was working alone, I had to do everything myself. This introduction lasted some 20 minutes, and the subject was always the Commandments of God's Law, which I explained at greater or lesser length, depending on how many days the mission or other service was to last. For the occasion I brought along a portfolio containing explanations of the commandments in general, as well as leaflets on individual commandments with topics related to each commandment.611 I used these materials on the basis of the number of days I had to preach in the town and also on the basis of particular local customs or vices that needed to be corrected and virtues that needed to be cultivated or fostered. For it was my practice, before I went to a town, to make inquiries in advance, and in view of what I was told or discovered on my own, I applied the proper remedy.
289. Despite all I knew about the predominant local vices, I didn't begin talking about them at the very outset; on the contrary, I saved such topics for later. I waited until I had won my audience over, and then instead of being offended when I told them about their vices and little idols, they took my advice and mended their ways. I had noticed that at the beginning of a mission many came for the novelty of it, to see what I was going to talk about. If they had heard me reprehending them for their cherished vices, they would have been cut to the quick, and in their irritation they would have gone off upset, never to return, wishing a plague on the missionary, the mission, and everyone attending it.
290. It seems to me that in these troubled times a missionary has to act like a man cooking snails. He starts by putting the snails on the stove in a pot of cold water. Sensing the coolness of the water, the snails come out of their shells. Then, as the water heats up gradually to the boiling point, the snails are killed and cooked. But if an imprudent person were careless enough to throw them at once into boiling water, they would retreat so deeply into their shells that no one would be able to get them out.612 This was the line I had to follow when dealing with sinners steeped in all sorts of vices, errors, blasphemies, and impieties.
The first few days I would present virtue and truth in the brightest and most winsome colors, without saying so much as a word against vice and sinners. Seeing that they were being treated with tolerance and kindness, people would come back time and time again, so that afterwards, when I was more outspoken with them, they took it well, were converted, and confessed their sins. I met quite a few who came to the mission only out of curiosity, as well as others who came out of mischief, to see whether they could catch me in some slip; yet they were converted and made good confessions.
291. When I started preaching missions, in 1840, we were in the midst of a civil war between the royalists and the constitutionalists, and so I had to be on my guard not to make any political remarks pro or con regarding either party.613 There were members of each party in all the towns I preached in. I had to be very careful because some people came to the mission only to catch me in some slip of the tongue, like the spies who were sent to Jesus, our Redeemer: Ut caperent in sermone.614 But, thank God, they never succeeded.
292. The times were so troubled that I not only had to avoid talking politics, but also I had to avoid calling the service I was holding a "mission." I had to call it, instead, a "novena" in honor of All Souls, or Our Lady of the Rosary, or the Blessed Sacrament, or a saint, so as not to upset the constitutionalists, who were in power in the towns I was preaching in. If the town was so large that nine days were not enough, I would lengthen the "novena" by as many days as I thought necessary
On the first day of the service, I would begin with a sermon on the main theme of the entire mission; on the second day and on each day following, I would establish some doctrinal point; on the third day I would make a brief resume of the doctrine I had just covered the day before, saying, for example:
293. Yesterday I explained such and such (going over the main points). This I did for three reasons: first, because when people hear the same matter again, no matter how briefly, it makes a deeper impression on them. For as St. Alphonsus Mary Liguori says, simple folk have hard heads, and to impress things clearly on them you have to hit them over the head with several strokes.615 Second, if someone had missed the day before because he had to stay home and take care of the home, the children, etc., he could learn what had been said and have a better idea of the connection between today's ideas and yesterday's. Besides, if those who attended the day before took home a mistaken version of what was said, this session is a good opportunity to correct it. A good number of people listen to things poorly and repeat them still more poorly, and in matters of doctrine an accurate understanding is very important. Third, this resume serves as an introduction to the message of the day and, in addition to being more profitable for the listeners, lightens the task of the preacher, who doesn't need to look for a new general or particular idea for an introduction.
Sermons The Fourth Means 294. Explaining points of doctrine serves to instruct the people; sermons serve to move them. Sermons should be chosen with the listener in mind. St. Alphonsus Mary Liguori calls some sermon topics, such as the last things, necessary, while he calls others optional.
295. I regularly arranged my sermons in the following order:
First day, All Souls, the Blessed Virgin, etc., depending on the theme of the service.
Second day, the importance of being saved.
Third day, the seriousness of mortal sin.
Fourth day, the need for confession and the way to make a general confession.
Fifth day, death.
Sixth day, judgment.
Seventh day, hell.
Eighth day, eternity.
Ninth day, glory.
Tenth day, perseverance.
296. If more time was available, I added or inserted a few other themes, such as the Prodigal Son or God's mercy, final impenitence, the general judgment, the death of the just, the conversion of St. Augustine, scandal, the conversion of Mary Magdalene, the harm sin does to the sinner himself, venial sin, the near occasion of sin, devotion to the rosary, mental prayer, almsgiving, the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Sorrows of Mary, etc.
297. From the very beginning, the style I aimed at was that of the Gospel: simple and clear. To achieve this aim I made use of comparisons, likenesses, and examples from history and experience, most of them from Scripture.616 I had observed that one of the best attention-getters with all sorts of people, whether learned or ignorant, believers or unbelievers, was the use of comparisons drawn from things in nature.
298. I recall that in 1841 I was preaching a Septenary of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin in a town that had a particularly unsavory reputation. In the midst of a sermon, I had just mentioned a most sublime truth and was going on to prove it from the authority of Sacred Scripture. The congregation was as still as a tomb.
Suddenly, a profane voice broke the silence: Quina garrofa que hi claves!'617 I went on as if I had heard nothing and said, To give you a clearer idea of this most important truth, I will illustrate it by a comparison. After I had finished my explanation, the very same voice as before said loudly, Tens raho.618 The next day the man who had spoken came to see me and made a good general confession.
299. This and many other cases I could relate convinced me of the usefulness of natural comparisons. In this respect, God has so favored me that there is no subject I discuss without finding some natural comparison--without the slightest premeditation--and always such an apt one that it seems I have prepared it after long study. May you be blessed, my God, for enriching me with this gift, for it is yours, not mine. I know that of my own initiative I cannot say a word or have a single good thought!619 May it all be to your greater glory!
300. I have always been an avid reader of works by authors of sermons, especially of materials useful for preaching missions. I have read St. John Chrysostom, St. Alphonsus Liguori, Siniscalcqui, Barcia, and the Venerable John of Avila. I noted that the last-mentioned author preached so clearly that everyone could understand him and nobody ever tired of listening to him, although his sermons sometimes lasted for two hours. Considering the number of specific examples that occurred to him as he spoke, it would have been very difficult for him to say what he did in less time.
300. I have always been an avid reader of works by authors of sermons, especially of materials useful for preaching missions. I have read St. John Chrysostom, St. Alphonsus Mary Liguori, Siniscalcqui, Barcia, and the Venerable John of Avila.620 I noted that the last-mentioned author preached so clearly that everyone could understand him and nobody ever tired of listening to him, although his sermons sometimes lasted for two hours. Considering the number of specific examples that occurred to him as he spoke, it would have been very difficult for him to say what he did in less time.
301. Day and night his only thought was that of spreading God's glory through the reformation of morals and the conversion of sinners.621 The main objective of his preaching was to retrieve sinners from their unhappy state by showing them the ugliness of sin, the wrath of God, the dreadful punishment that awaited impenitent sinners, and the reward that was offered to those who were truly repentant and contrite.
The Lord gave his words such power that, as the Venerable Luis of Granada says, "One day, in the midst of a sermon on the wickedness of those who for the love of beastly pleasure do not hesitate to offend the Lord our God, I heard him cite that passage in Jeremiah: Obstupescite, coeli, super hoc,622 In all truth, he spoke with such great dread and spirit that I thought he made the very walls of the church tremble."623
302. In the days when the Venerable Avila was preaching in Granada, another preacher, the most famous of his time, was also preaching there. People would walk away from the latter's sermons, crossing themselves in wonder at the many tine things so finely said. But when they had finished listening to the Venerable Avila, they all left with heads downcast, silent, without a single word to their neighbor, humbled and heartbroken by the sheer power of the truth and by the virtue and excellence of the preacher.624 With a single thought or cry, he moved the hearts of his listeners and set them on fire.625
303. I have chosen to include something of this venerable father's work at this point because his style is the one that I have adopted and practiced the most, with the most gratifying results. May the Lord our God be glorified for letting me come to know the writings of this great master of preachers and father of good and most zealous priests!
304. Whenever I went to a town, I preached not only the daily mission sermon but also a separate sermon for the priests (unless they were making a retreat, in which case I preached to them daily both in the morning and in the evening). I also preached to all the nuns, Sisters of Charity and Tertiaries in the local convents, to the men of the St. Vincent de Paul Society,626 to women, prisoners, boys and girls, and to the sick. In a word, there was not a single pious or charitable institution that I did not visit or preach in. As for the rest of my time, I spent it in the confessional, hearing general confessions throughout the morning and the afternoon.
305. May you be blessed, my God, for giving me the strength, health, and more besides, so that I was able to bear so great and continuous a burden of work. I am quite sure that without special help from heaven it would have been impossible for me to bear up under the tiring and prolonged work load627 I bore from 1840 to 1847, when I went to the Canary Islands with that virtuous and zealous man, Bishop Bonaventure Codina.628
Besides parish missions, I gave retreats to the clergy, nuns, students, laymen, and to boys and girls preparing for their first Holy Communion.
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Fifth Means 306 As I have already mentioned elsewhere,629 I have made the Spiritual Exercises every year of my life since I was a student. I first made them following the text of St. Ignatius when I was in Rome-once by myself, upon arriving in that city, and again in the Society of Jesus, before I had to leave it because of illness. The Jesuit Fathers themselves conducted these, which were the ones that made the most lasting impression on me.
307. When I had to leave the Jesuits because of illness, I was given a copy of the aforesaid Exercises of St. Ignatius, with explanations by Father Diertins, and I followed that text ever after when I gave the Exercises. The esteemed clergy of Vic asked to borrow the book so as to have it reprinted. Trullas Printers handled the job.630
308. The Exercises of St. Ignatius are one of the most powerful tools I have used in the conversion of priests, which is without doubt one of the most difficult of undertakings. Nevertheless, I have seen the most gratifying results in a great number of priests who have been truly converted, and not a few of them have turned out to be very zealous and fervent preachers. I have given these Exercises to the reverend clergy of Vic,631 Barcelona, Tarragona, Gerona, Solsona, Canarias, Mataro, Manresa, Pobla,632Baga, Ripoll, Campdevanol, San Llorens del Piteus,633 etc.
309. I have also given them several times to the laity, to men and women separately, each in turn, and I have noticed that the results have been more solid and lasting than those of missions.634 For this reason I published a book entitled The Exercises of St. Ignatius, explained by me, which has been very popular and has produced and still is producing marvelous effects.635 By making the Exercises well, sinners are converted, and the just remain and are perfected in grace. May it all be for God's greater glory.636 I should also like to mention that Her Majesty the Queen follows this book in making her annual Exercises and has counseled her ladies-in-waiting to do the same, following the same book.637
Books and Pamphlets
Sixth Means 310. Experience has taught me that one of the most powerful forces for good is the press, although when abused it can also be one of the most potent weapons for evil. By means of the press so many good books and pamphlets are circulated that God should be praised for it.638 Not everyone wishes to or is able to hear the Word of God, but everyone can read or listen to the reading of a good book. Not everyone can go to church to hear God's Word, but a book can go to a person's house. The preacher can't always be preaching, but a book is always delivering the same message tirelessly and is always willing to repeat what it says. It is not offended if its reader picks it up and puts it down a thousand times. It is always ready to accommodate itself to the wishes of its reader.639
311. Reading good books has always been considered highly useful, but nowadays it is a real necessity. I say that it is nowadays a necessity because there is such a passion for reading that if people don't have good books they'll read bad ones. Books are the food of the soul, and just as the body is nourished by wholesome food and harmed by poisonous food, so it is with reading and the soul. If people read good books suited to their personal needs and circumstances, they will be nourished and grow. But if they read bad books, impious magazines, heretical booklets, and other pernicious literature, their beliefs will be corrupted and their morals perverted. Bad books begin by leading the mind astray and then go on to corrupt the heart; and as Christ Himself said,640 it is from a corrupt heart that all evils flow, until one finally arrives at the stage of denying the very first truth, the existence of God, who is the origin of all truth: Dixit insipiens in corde suo: non est Deus.641
312. In our day, then, there is twice the need for circulating good books. But these books must be small because modern people rush about so much and are pressed on all sides by a thousand different demands la concupiscentia oculorum et aurium642 that has reached such a point that people have to see and hear everything and travel everywhere--so that a thick tome is just not going to be read. It will merely sit around gathering dust on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. It is because I am so convinced of this that, with the help of God's grace, I have published so many small booklets and pamphlets.
313. The first booklet I published was one containing some spiritual counsels I had originally written for the nuns at Vic. I had just finished giving them a retreat, and to help them remember what I had preached about, I planned to leave them these counsels in writing. Before giving them a draft that each could copy by hand, I showed it to my dear friend, Dr. Don Jaime Passarell, canon of the cathedral of Vic.643 He told me that he would have it printed to save the nuns the work of copying it. The booklet would then be useful both to them and to others.644 Since I held him in high esteem for his wisdom and virtue, I consented and it was printed. This is how I came to publish my first book.645
314. Encouraged by the good results of this first book, I determined to write a second entitled Advice to Young Ladies. After this, I wrote a whole series of "advice" books: to parents, children, youth, and others, as may be seen listed in the catalog of the Librería Religiosa.646
315. As I was giving missions, I ran into all sorts of needs, and as each new need arose I wrote a booklet or pamphlet on the subject. If I noticed that risqué songs were popular in the town I was visiting, I published a song with a spiritual or moral message. This is why nearly all my early pamphlets were song sheets.647