Either to seek or to shun society is a fault in one striving to
lead a devout life in the world, such as I am now speaking of.
To shun society implies indifference and contempt for one's
neighbours; and to seek it savours of idleness and uselessness. We
are told to love one's neighbour as one's self. In token that we
love him, we must not avoid being with him, and the test of loving
one's self is to be happy when alone. "Think first on thyself,"
says S. Bernard, "and then on other men." So that, if nothing
obliges you to mix in society either at home or abroad, retire
within yourself, and hold converse with your own heart. But if
friends come to you, or there is fitting cause for you to go forth
into society, then, my daughter, by all means go, and meet your
neighbour with a kindly glance and a kindly heart.
Bad society is all such intercourse with others as has an evil
object, or when those with whom we mix are vicious, indiscreet, or
profligate. From such as these turn away, like the bee from a
dunghill. The breath and saliva of those who have been bitten by a
mad dog is dangerous, especially to children or delicate people,
and in like manner it is perilous to associate with vicious,
reckless people, above all to those whose devotion is still weakly
There is a kind of social intercourse which merely tends to
refresh us after more serious labour, and although it would not be
well to indulge in this to excess, there is no harm in enjoying it
during your leisure hours.
Other social meetings are in compliance with courtesy, such as
mutual visits, and certain assemblies with a view to pay respect
to one another. As to these, without being a slave to them, it is
well not to despise them altogether, but to bear one's own due
part in them quietly, avoiding rudeness and frivolity.
Lastly, there is a profitable society;--that of good devout
people, and it will always be very good for you to meet with them.
Vines grown amid olivetrees are wont to bear rich grapes, and he
who frequents the society of good people will imbibe some of their
goodness. The bumble bee makes no honey alone, but if it falls
among bees it works with them. Our own devout life will be
materially helped by intercourse with other devout souls.
Simplicity, gentleness and modesty are to be desired in all
society;--there are some people who are so full of affectation in
whatever they do that every one is annoyed by them. A man who
could not move without counting his steps, or speak without
singing, would be very tiresome to everybody, and just so any one
who is artificial in all he does spoils the pleasure of society;
and moreover such people are generally more or less
A quiet cheerfulness should be your aim in society. S. Romuald
and S. Anthony are greatly lauded because, notwithstanding their
asceticism, their countenance and words were always courteous and
cheerful. I would say to you with S. Paul, "Rejoice with them that
do rejoice;" (1) and again, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: let your
moderation be known unto all men." (2) And if you would rejoice in
the Lord, the cause of your joy must not only be lawful, but
worthy; and remember this, because there are lawful things which
nevertheless are not good; and in order that your moderation may
be known, you must avoid all that is impertinent and uncivil,
which is sure to be wrong. Depreciating this person, slandering
another, wounding a third, stimulating the folly of a fourth--all
such things, however amusing, are foolish and impertinent.
I have already spoken of that mental solitude into which you can
retire when amid the greatest crowd, and furthermore you should
learn to like a real material solitude. Not that I want you to fly
to a desert like S. Mary of Egypt, S. Paul, S. Anthony, Arsenius,
or the other hermits, but it is well for you to retire sometimes
within your own chamber or garden, or wheresoever you can best
recollect your mind, and refresh your soul with good and holy
thoughts, and some spiritual reading, as the good Bishop of
Nazianzum tells us was his custom. "I was walking alone," he says,
"at sunset, on the seashore, a recreation I am wont to take in
order somewhat to lay aside my daily worries."
And S. Augustine says that he often used to go into S. Ambrose'
room--his door was open to every one,--and after watching him
absorbed in reading for a time, he would retire without speaking,
fearing to interrupt the Bishop, who had so little time for
refreshing his mind amid the burden of his heavy duties. And we
read how when the disciples came to Jesus, and told Him all they
had been doing and preaching, He said to them, "Come ye yourselves
apart into a desert place, and rest awhile." (3)