Compassion for Oneself: Wisdom from St. Francis de Sales

During his homily today for the feast of St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622 CE), Fr. Jay Harrington, O.P., read the following quote from Francis’s Introduction to the Devout Life.  Self-compassion has become a popular topic in meditation circles recently, so it may strike some as surprising to hear such tender words from a medieval saint.  I offer the quote both because I find it personally very helpful (I’m pretty hard on myself), and because it offers a beautiful alternative to the more popular image of the saints as overly self-critical and harsh.

One of the best exercises in meekness we can perform is when the subject is in ourselves.  We must not fret over our own imperfections.  Although reason requires that we must be displeased and sorry whenever we commit a fault we must refrain from bitter, gloomy, spiteful, and emotional displeasure.  When overcome by anger they become angry at being angry, disturbed at being disturbed and vexed at being vexed.

I often notice that I add unnecessary suffering to my day by getting angry at myself for getting angry.  Francis continues:

when we have committed some fault, if we rebuke our heart by a calm, mild remonstrance, with more compassion for it than passion against it and encourage it to make amendment, then repentance conceived in this way will sink far deeper and penetrate more effectually than fretful, angry, stormy repentance.

The phase “with more compassion for it than passion against it” seems to me to be a particularly helpful reminder to take from this celebration of the feast of St. Francis de Sales.

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