Jesuits In Conflict: Or Historic Facts Illustrative of the labours of the English Mission and Province Of The Society Of Jesus. In the times of Queen Elizabeth and her successors. By a member Of The Society Of Jesus.
GEORGE GILBERT, S.J. PART XI.
There were at that time English refugees in Rome, gentlemen once rich in their own country, but now, on account of their constancy in the profession of the Catholic faith of their forefathers, ruined and exiled. These afflicted ones found in George Gilbert an advocate, and, through him, a father in Pope Gregory XIII.; and when he was unable to assist any of them by means of others, he readily did so with his own as far as his circumstances permitted. Nor was he less solicitous in regard to their spiritual wants, putting them in mind, especially the higher classes, to conduct themselves, particularly before the criticising eye of the public, to the honour and credit of those holy Catholics of England, whose faith, piety, devotion, and every other kind of virtue was so distinguished, that thus Rome, by seeing their virtues reflected in themselves, would better understand what they found recorded of them in the pages of history. In like manner, amongst the young men of the College it is not easy to say what good he effected by his sweet and no less piercing discourses which were entirely of God and of spiritual things. But the most efficacious means, although silent, was the admirable example of his own life. As we have seen before, he had made a vow of chastity, and to preserve that angelical virtue immaculate, he was so jealous and guarded, that in passing through the city, in meeting women he would rivet his eyes firmly on the ground, and pass as far off as possible; and so shining was this rare virtue in him, showing itself in his virginal modesty, both of countenance, speech, and his whole gait and manner, that it bred a reverential love in the hearts of all towards him, as though he were an Angel in human shape. But he showed little respect towards himself, maltreating his body with that holy hatred which the Gospel lays down to be the true self-love of the soul. Continual and great were the penances with which he macerated
his body. Whenever they were intermitted, the very reason for the omission reckoned as meritorious, because imposed upon him by holy obedience. Frequent were his fasts, and long his vigils every night Twice a week he wore the rough haircloth; twice or thrice in the same time, severe and bloody disciplines, as might be seen after his death, these wholesome instruments of penance being found in shreds and stained with his blood. The two-fold cause of this holy severity against himself was, first, a purely penitential spirit in itself; and secondly, his great desire of martyrdom, long entertained, and so deeply rooted in his heart, that his withdrawal from England, in obedience to Father Parsons, had neither diminished his fervent desire nor his hope of being permitted some future day, if ever worthy of so great a grace, to obtain its glorious palm.
He often discoursed with the English students in the College upon the joys and glory of martyrdom, and these discourses were alike beneficial to both parties; to himself as a valve, as it were, for the escape of the flames of divine love that consumed him, whilst they tended to enkindle similar flames in theirs; although, on his part, he never discoursed with ^hem upon this subject without many sighs, accusing himself as unworthy of this honour of martyrdom, in the immediate presence of which he had been for so long a time, and yet by his own faults and demerits could never attain to its palm. In the study and practice of prayer he was indefatigable; and his unfeigned humility was such, that he would ever seek the lowest place in company, and the worst things in the community. He was most diligent in concealing his own good deeds, but could never say enough to load them upon others. When he heard his own merits and sufferings for the Faith in England recorded, if he could not otherwise turn the subject of conversation, so great was his confusion of face and the pain it caused him, that to save him from the suffering the company would at once turn to another topic.
He would spend five hours a day in prayer, and, when disengaged from business, a much longer time in spiritual exercises, in examining the resolutions made, and in reflections upon divine things pondered over in his last meditation; and he made daily notes and memoranda in writing. He would then also renew with greater instance a petition he was accustomed daily to make before the Blessed Sacrament, which was for one of two favours, whichever might be most agreeable to the will of God, (and both were granted to him, as we shall see further on), to die in some important service for the Holy See and religion, and in the Society of Jesus; which Order, the more he meditated on the life of our Saviour, so much the more he felt his love and desire for it increase, because in its whole institute and rules, its manner of life, its labours, its bulwark of holy obedience, &c, he saw that it so closely followed the divine model of Him Whose name it bears, and he felt that to himself, already despoiled of all his goods for the Catholic faith, and of all carnal delights by his vow of chastity, it only remained to consecrate to God, in the Society of His Son, all that was left him, his understanding and will, the accomplishing of which is the special office of holy obedience.
In his labour after this gain of virtues he was most remarkable. He conformed himself to the rules and regulations of the College just as one of the alumni, and so strict was he in the least point, that, although himself, for want of habit, not so very ready in the Latin tongue, he would, when addressed in English, respond only in Latin, such being the custom of the College. So compliant did he show himself to the least nod of the Father Rector and his advice, that he seemed to be divinely taught in this science of holy obedience. The very mention of it was enough to make him quaff off the most repugnant and nauseous physic in his sickness with alacrity. Having on one occasion promptly done this, he said familiarly to a certain Father, "I am in great glee, my Father." Being asked the cause of his great joy, he replied, "The most Blessed Virgin showed herself to me on this occasion with a serene and benevolent countenance, whereas a short time since she looked upon me with a severe one, because on a certain occasion I clung too much to my own will"
Whilst the students of the College were quietly sleeping at night he would secretly retire to the church, and there, kneeling before the most Divine Sacrament, would pray for a long time. The same also he would do in the day time; and he allowed no hour to pass wherein he did not raise his mind and heart to Heaven, especially in transacting business, when he would hold frequent colloquies with God, using for this purpose chosen verses out of the Psalms. He also daily recited the solemn Office of the Blessed Virgin; but otherwise, applying himself solely to mental prayer, he did not make so much use of vocal. On each Sunday and festival he received the most Divine Body of Christ, mingled with sighs and tears of tender devotion, which, in spite of his efforts to suppress, would openly break forth. He would make the favourite devotion of the visit to the seven great Basilicas of Rome—St. Peter's, St Paul's, St. Sebastian's, St Laurentius', Santa Croce, St Mary Major's, and St John Lateran's—at least every fortnight; and this alone, in order without distraction, to treat with God and the Heavenly Court. 1
He was accustomed to say that in prayer we should persevere, using a holy violence with God, as Jacob did, saying to the Angel, "I will not let thee go, unless thou bless me"— Non dimittam te, nisi benedixeris mihi; and that when he prayed thus, Hinc ego Domine non recedam, nisi id quod postulo, vel certe nisi firmam impetrandi fiduciam dederis —" I will not, O Lord, depart hence unless Thou wilt either grant me now what I ask, or else a firm confidence of obtaining it"
1 A circuit involving some ten miles at least