Daily Thought For April 29, 2018

The Gentle Way

To live in a gentle way, it is important to respect ourselves, never growing irritated with ourselves or our imperfections. Although it is but reasonable that we should be displeased and grieved at our own faults, we need to guard against being bitter, angry, or fretful about them. Many people fall into the error of being angry because they have been angry, or impatient because they have given way to impatience; this keeps them in a chronic state of irritation, strengthens the impressions made, and prepares one for a fresh fall on the first occasion. Moreover, all this anger and irritation against one’s self fosters pride, springing as it does from self-love, which is disturbed and upset by its own imperfection.

What we need is a quiet, steady, firm displeasure at our own faults. A judge who speaks deliberately and calmly when he gives sentence will punish vice more effectively than speaking in an impetuous and passionate way, for in that case he would be punishing not so much the actual crimes before him, as his own perceptions of them. We can chasten ourselves far better by a quiet and steadfast repentance than by eager hasty efforts at penitence, prompted not so much by the weight of our faults, as by our own negative feelings and inclinations.

Believe me, as a parent’s tender, affectionate admonishment carries far more weight with his child than does anger and sternness, so, when we judge our own heart to be guilty, if we treat it gently, rather in a spirit of pity than anger, encouraging it to make amends, our repentance will be much deeper and more lasting than it would be if it were stirred up by vehemence and wrath. Suppose that I am trying to conquer my vanity, and yet I have fallen into that sin. Instead of taking myself to task as abominable and wretched for breaking so many resolutions, calling myself unfit to lift up my eyes to heaven, disloyal, faithless, and the like, I need to deal with myself quietly and with compassion: “My heart! So soon fallen again into the snare! Well now, rise up again bravely and fall no more. Seek God’s mercy, hope in him, ask him to keep you from falling again, and begin to walk on the pathway of humility once more. You must be more careful from now on.” This will be the surest way to carry out a steadfast and substantial effort against this special fault. We can add any suitable external means, and this includes the advice of our director. If any one does not find this gentle dealing sufficient for himself, he could use sterner self-rebuke and admonition, provided only that whatever indignation he may rouse against himself, he can bring it all in the end to a tender, loving trust in God, treading in the footsteps of that great penitent who cried out to his troubled soul: “Why are you downcast, my soul; why do you groan within me? Wait for God, whom I shall praise again, my savior and my God” (Ps 42:6).

So then, when you have fallen, lift up your heart quietly, humbling yourself deeply before God for your frailty, without marveling that you fell, since there is no cause to marvel because weakness is weak, infirmity, infirm, and frailty, frail. Sincerely regret that you should have offended God, and begin anew to seek the grace you need, with a very deep trust in God’s mercy, and with a bold, brave heart.

—Excerpt from Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 3: Chapter 9

Francis de Sales. (2012). Courage in Chaos: Wisdom from Francis de Sales. (K. Hermes, Ed.) (pp. 1–3). Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media.

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