Meekness Towards our Neighbor, and Remedies for Anger

August 25, 2021 • 8 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 119
By St. Francis de Sales

The holy chrism, which by apostolical tradition we use in the Church of God for confirmations and consecrations, is composed of oil of olives mingled with balm, which, amongst other things, represent to us the two favourite and well-beloved virtues which shone forth in the sacred person of our Lord, and which He has strenuously recommended to us; as by them our heart ought to be in a particular manner consecrated to his service, and dedicated to his imitation.

“Learn of me,” says he, “for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matt. xii. 29).

Humility perfects us with respect to God, and meekness with regard to our neighbour.

The balm which, as I have before observed, ever sinks beneath all other liquors, represents humility; and the oil of olives, which swims always above represents meekness and mildness, which surmounts all things, and excel amongst virtues, as being the flower of charity, which, according to St. Bernard, is in its perfection, when it is not only patient, but also meek and mild.

But take care, Philothea, that this mystical chrism, compounded of meekness and humility, be within your heart: for it is one of the great artifices of the enemy to make many deceive themselves with the expressions and exterior appearances of these virtues, who, not examining thoroughly their interior affections, think themselves humble and meek, whereas, in reality, there are no virtues to which they have less pretensions; and this may be easily discovered, for, notwithstanding all their ceremonious mildness and humility, at the least cross word, or smallest injury, they puff themselves up with unparalleled arrogance.

The holy and illustrious patriarch Joseph, sending back his brethren from Egypt to his father’s house, gave them this advice: “Be not angry with one another by the way” (Gen. xlv. 29).

I say the same to you, Philothea; this wretched life is but a journey to the happy life to come: let us not then be angry with each other by the way, but rather march on with the troop of our brethren and companions, meekly, peaceably, and lovingly; nay, I say to you, absolutely and without exception, be not angry at all if it be possible, and admit no pretext whatsoever to open the gate of your heart to so destructive a passion, for St. James tells us positively, and without reservation: “The anger of man worketh not the justice of God” (James, i.)

We must indeed resist evil, and restrain the vices of those under our charge constantly and courageously, but yet with meekness and compassion.

Nothing so soon appeases the enraged elephant as the sight of a little lamb, and nothing so easily breaks the force of cannonshot as wool.

We value not the correction which proceeds from passion, though it be accompanied with reason, as much as that which proceeds from reason alone; for the reasonable soul, being naturally subject to reason, is never subject to passion, but through tyranny; and therefore when reason is accompanied by passion it makes itself odious, its just government being debased by the fellowship of tyranny.

Princes do honour to their people, and make them rejoice exceedingly when they visit them with a peaceable train; but when they come at the head of armies, though it be for the common good, their visits are always disagreeable; for, although they cause military discipline to be rigorously observed among their soldiers, yet they can never do it so effectually but that some disorders always happen, by which the countrymen will be sufferers.

In like manner, as long as reason rules, and peaceably exercises chastisements, corrections, and reproaches, although severely and rigorously, everyone loves and approves it; but when it brings anger, passion, and rage, which St. Augustine calls its soldiers, along with it, it makes itself more feared than loved, and even its own disordered heart is always the sufferer.

It is better, says the same St. Augustine, writing to Profuturus, to deny entrance to just and reasonable anger than to admit it, be it ever so little; because, being once admitted, it is with difficulty driven out again; for it enters as a little twig, and in a moment becomes a beam; and if the sun sets upon it, which the apostle forbids, it turns into hatred, from which we have scarcely any means to rid ourselves; for it nourishes itself under a thousand false pretexts, since there was never an angry man that thought his anger unjust.

It is better, then, to attempt to find the way to live without anger than to pretend to make a moderate and discreet use of it; and when, through our imperfections and frailty, we find ourselves surprised, it is better to drive it away speedily than to enter into a parley; for, if we give it ever so little leisure, it will become mistress of the place, like the serpent, which easily draws in its whole body where it can once get in its head.

But how shall I drive it away? you will say.

You must, Philothea, at the first alarm, speedily muster your forces, not violently and tumultuously, but mildly and seriously; for, as we hear the ushers in public halls and courts of justice, crying “silence,” make more noise than the whole assembly, so it frequently happens that by endeavouring with violence to restrain our anger, we stir up more trouble in our heart than the wrath had excited before, and the heart being thus agitated, can be no longer master of itself.

After this meek effort, practise the advice which St. Augustine, when old, gave the new Bishop Auxilius: Do, says he, that which a man should do, if that befall you which a man of God speaks of in the Psalms: “My eye is troubled with wrath” (Ps. xxx.) Have recourse to God, crying out: “Have mercy on me, O Lord;” that He may stretch forth his right hand to repress your anger: I mean that we must invoke the assistance of God when we find ourselves excited to wrath, in imitation of the Apostles, when they were tossed by the wind and the storm upon the waters; for He will command our passions to cease, and a great calm shall ensue.

But the prayer which is offered up against present and pressing danger must always be performed calmly, and not violently—and this must be observed in all the remedies against this evil.

Moreover, as soon as ever you perceive yourself guilty of an act of wrath, repair the fault immediately, by an act of meekness towards the person with whom you were angry.

For as it is a sovereign remedy against a lie to contradict it upon the spot, as soon as we perceive we have told it; so we must repair anger instantly by a contrary act of meekness, for recent wounds, it is said, are most easily cured.

Again, when your mind is in a state of tranquillity, lay in a plentiful store of meekness, speaking all your words and doing all your actions, small and great, in the mildest manner possible, calling to mind, as the spouse in the Canticles has not only honey on her lips, her tongue, and in her breast, but milk also, so we must not only have our words sweet towards our neighbour, but also our whole breast, that is to say, the whole interior of our soul; neither must we have the aromatic and fragrant sweetness of honey, viz., the sweetness of civil conversation with strangers, but also the sweetness of milk amongst our family, and neighbours—those greatly fail in this who in the street seem to be angels, and in their houses demons.

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