Today is the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church, and in a tie currently with St. Philip Neri as my confirmation saint. Both saints have a wonderful measure of humility and humor about them which I find refreshing and worthy of emulating.
St. Francis de Sales is close to my heart as he suffered anxiety as a young man, something that has plagued me for many years. There is a strong theme of a “come as you are” which runs through much of St. Francis de Sales’ writings, an acknowledgement both of our fallen nature but also of the kindness of mercy of our ever-loving Father, who loves every single of our faltering steps toward Him. St. Francis de Sales also warns us about beating ourselves up too much with regard to our sins. Here is a letter he responded to on this subject .
Dear St. Francis de Sales,
I want to be holy, but I am a total failure. After I have committed a sin, I get so disappointed and mad at myself that I can hardly think about anything else. I’m never going to be a saint, am I?
What would you say to a friend who had sinned? Would you tell him to wallow in misery, or to get up, brush off, and press on? You must be as gentle with yourself as you would be with others.
It is self-love that is disturbed when it sees its own imperfections. Do not yield to the vanity of punishing yourself unreasonably for your faults. Rebuke your heart mildly and calmly, with compassion, correcting it in this way:
“Alas, my poor heart, here we are, fallen into the pit we were so firmly resolved to avoid! Well, we must get up again and leave it forever. We must call on God’s mercy and hope that it will help us to be steadier in the days to come. Let us start out again on the way of humility. Let us be of good heart and from this day be more on guard. God will help us; we will do better.”
Note the kindness he admonishes us to have toward our own hearts!
St. Francis de Sales, pray for us!