It is a matter of idle curiosity with us how an unbelieving generation, ingenious in devising natural explanations (which are most unnatural) of supernatural phenomena, would explain away the wonder of the young Saint's life which is the subject of the following pages. It presents to us a picture of Divine Condescension guiding and inspiring and aiding human effort, so convincingly clear and transparent in its smallest details and in its general effect as to seem outside the pale of all possible mutilation and misinterpretation by malice or skeptical analysis. Natural reaction against sinful excess, thwarted ambitions, disappointed hopes, meek conformity with environment, ecclesiastical manipulation of pliant material, tame acquiescence in family traditions and arrangements, these and all the other stock "explanations," with which a groveling world seeks to pull down the Saints to its own dreary level, cannot be invoked to dissipate the mystery and the glory surrounding Stanislaus. How did he come so early in life, and in a nobleman's family, to set such store upon spiritual values? How did his tender and immature mind grasp with such swift sureness the one lesson of all philosophies, that life on its material side is an incident rather than the sum of human existence and can never satisfy the soul's desires ? How could this mere boy have developed, so young, an iron will which wrought that hardest of all laborious tasks, namely, the conformation of conduct with lofty ideals? There are supernatural answers to these and similar questions which might be raised concerning the brief career of St. Stanislaus. We know of no merely natural answers.
The lively and energetic style adopted in the present biography may create a trace of mild surprise in older readers. Sanctity, it is true, some one may say, is a very beautiful achievement in a world of poor and, at best, mediocre performance; but, after all, the business of sanctity is a serious business. It calls for grit and endurance, and, as a picture, is only saved from the sordid by spiritual motives which are unseen. If all moral life is a monotonous warfare, the life of a Saint is warfare in the very first ranks where the trenches are filled with water and the shells fall thickest and the general discomfort and pettiness are at their maximum. It is misleading and not in strict accord with known realities, to paint the portrait of a Saint in rose color and sunlight, diffusing an iridescent atmosphere of cheerful gayety and buoyancy.
The criticism is not without some foundation; but youthful readers will not adopt it. For youth is generous, and age is crabbed. And because Saints never become crabbed we are right in concluding that they always remain youthful. And, to draw out our conclusion, the lives of Saints, contrary to the popular belief, are much more interesting to the child than they are to the man. It is a pity that Catholic parents do not recognize this outstanding truth. No Saint's life is dull to the average intelligent child. Grown-ups are dull: they never yield to sublime impulses: they measure, calculate, practice a hard-and-fast moderation, reduce the splendid possibilities of life to a drab level of safe actuality, and pursue ideals at a canny and cautious pace. Not so the Saints. They always retained the freshness and confidence and generous impulses of childhood. If God spoke to their inner ear and bade them leap boldly forth into His Infinite Arms, spurning irretrievably the solid footing of our spinning globe, without hesitation or question they took the leap. And every child can see the wisdom of it. To the child it is common sense: to his elders it is inspired heroism or unintelligible hardihood. We have always entertained a deep- seated suspicion that there is no child who does not think it easy to be a Saint, so native is sanctity to Catholic childhood. Cardinal Newman, we believe, exhorted us all to make our sacrifices for God while we are young before the calculating selfishness of old age gets hold of us.
Still it may not be quite clear to the inquiring mind why the desperate difficulties of sainthood can be truthfully viewed in the light of a breathless adventure. Learn, then, the great secret. The love of God in the heart is the magical light which touches the dreariness and hardship of self-thwarting with a splendor of sublime Romance. You cannot have holiness without love. Holiness can be either greater nor less than the love of God. Let this love faint or grow cold, there is at once a loss of holiness, even though it retain all its external gear. This is a cardinal truth; it is a key which will solve many a puzzle. It will explain why fanatics and similar oddities are not Saints, though secular history sometimes honors them with the title.
Merely concede that the Saint possesses love for God in an extraordinary measure and degree, and it is the most comprehensible thing in the world that he will not only accept all tests of his love readily, but will go forth in search of them with eager alacrity. First and last and always the only keen satisfaction of great love, whether human or divine, is to welcome opportunities of proving itself in some heroic form of courage and endurance. Danger, suffering, battling against odds, discouragement, overwork, pain of mind and body, failure, want of recognition, rebuffs, contempt and persecution, are no longer the subject matter of a strong-jawed stoicism or a submissive patience but rather the quickening bread and wine of an intense and high-keyed life. This is why the Saints, be the provocation ever so great, never develop nerves, or experience those melancholy and humiliating reactions which are the natural ebb-tide of spiritual energies. This is why Saints can fast and keep their temper sweet, can wear hair-shirts without cultivating wry faces, can be passed by in the distribution of honors without being soured, can pray all night without robbing the day of its due meed of cheerfulness, can rise superior to frailties and weaknesses without despising those who cannot, can be serious without being testy and morose, can live for years in a cell or a desert or a convent-close without perishing of ennui or being devoured by restlessness, and can mingle with life, where all its currents meet, without losing their heads or swerving a hairbreadth from the straight line of a most uncommon and most impressive kind of common sense.
Unless we keep before our eyes this mainspring of a Saint's life, that life will be as enigmatical to us as it is to the world. Jesus balked at no test of the love which He bore towards us: nay, He devised tests passing all human imagining. Let Him make trial of our love for Him! We are unhappy till He does! And with this daring spirit in his heart every Saint enters upon a career of Romance in its sweetest and highest form. And, we submit, to recur to the literary style of the following biography, Romance is light-hearted, light-stepping, cheerful, with the starlight on its face and in its eyes.
James J. Daly, S.J.