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A difference of opinion

A difference of opinion

This extract – from a letter by St Jane Frances de Chantal to the Mother Superior at Rumilly – made me laugh out loud when I first read it:

‘Dearest, here is the money for the new habit which you sent me, and please, send me back the one which our Sisters kept.  There is nothing that bothers me more than their attachment to these external signs of imaginary holiness in me.

Can’t you imagine the frustrated Jane writing that?  The poor lamb just wants her own habit back, but the sisters at Rumilly have kept it because they recognise their foundress’ saintliness and so, even before her death, they are collecting secondary relics!   She continues in a more serious tone;  she doesn’t just want her old habit back but is also concerned about the effect her Sisters’ actions may have on her:

These are traps which the devil puts in my way to make me stumble into the bottomless pit of pride.  I am already weak enough, and enough of a stumbling-block to myself, without anyone adding another.  So I beg all of you not to be an occasion of such temptation for me.  If anyone has anything belonging to me, do me the kindness of burning it.  If only our Sisters would treat me as I deserve to be treated before God, then I would have some hope of becoming, through these humiliations, what they imagine me to be.  But to be presenting me with continual temptations to vanity is intolerable.  This brings sadness to my heart and tears to my eyes as I tell it to you.’

Here, then, is a woman who would later become a canonised saint yet who sees herself as anything but saintly.  It is well chronicled that the saints of God thought of themselves as the greatest of sinners while to those around them their holiness was abundantly clear.

It is, of course, partly through the testament of those people that the Saints of God come to be canonised.  While it would be interesting to ponder what evidence might be found and what others might say of us if our cause were to be opened (!), perhaps we might first like to consider the question our school chaplain used to ask of us:

‘If Christianity were a criminal offence, would there be enough evidence to condemn you?’

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