Meekness Towards Ourselves

August 26, 2021 • 5 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 123

One of the best exercises of meekness we can perform is that of which the subject is within ourselves, in never fretting at our imperfections; for, though reason requires that we should be sorry when we commit a fault, yet we must refrain from that bitter, gloomy, spiteful, and passionate displeasure for which many are greatly to blame, who being overcome by anger, are angry for having been angry, and vexed to see themselves vexed, for by this means they keep their hearts perpetually steeped in passion; and though it seems as if the second anger destroyed the first, it serves nevertheless to open a passage for fresh anger on the first occasion that may present itself.

Besides, this anger and vexation against ourselves tends to pride, and flows from no other source than self-love, which is troubled and disquieted when we see ourselves imperfect.

We must then be displeased with our faults, but in a tranquil, settled, and firm manner; for, as a judge punishes malefactors much better, when he is guided in his sentences by reason and proceeds with a tranquil spirit, than when he acts with violence and passion (because, judging in passion, he does not punish the faults according as they are, but according as he is himself), so we correct ourselves much better by a calm and steady repentance than by that which is harsh, hasty, and passionate; for repentance exercised with violence proceeds not according to the quality of our faults, but according to our inclinations.

For example, he that effects chastity will vex himself beyond all bounds at the least fault he commits against that virtue, and will, on the other hand, think nothing of a gross detraction which he has been guilty of; whilst he who hates detraction torments himself for a slight murmur of it, and makes no account of a gross fault committed against chastity; and so of others.

Now, all this springs from no other fountain but that in the judgment of their consciences, these men are not guided by reason, but by passion.

Believe me, Philothea, as the mild and affectionate reproofs of a father have far greater power to reclaim his child than rage and passion, so, when we have committed any fault, if we reproach our hearts with mild and calm remonstrances, having more compassion for it than passion against it, sweetly encouraging it to amendment, the repentance it shall conceive by this means, will sink much deeper, and penetrate it more effectually than a fretful, hasty, and stormy repentance.

For if I myself, for example, had formed a strong resolution not to yield to the sin of vanity, and yet had fallen into it, I would not reprove my heart after this manner: “Art thou not wretched and abominable, that, after so many resolutions, thou hast suffered thyself to be thus carried away by vanity. Die with shame, lift up no more thine eyes to heaven, blind, impudent, traitor as thou art, a rebel to thy God!” but I would correct it thus rationally, saying compassionately: "Alas! my poor heart, behold we have fallen into the pit which we had so firmly resolved to avoid. Well, let us get out again, and quit it forever; let us call upon the mercy of God, and hope that He will assist us to be more constant for the time to come; and let us put ourselves again into the way of humility. Courage! let us from this day forward be more upon our guard; God will help us; we shall do better in future;” and on this reprehension I would build a firm and constant resolution never more to relapse into that fault, using the proper means to avoid it, by the advice of my director.

However, if anyone should find his heart not sufficiently moved with this mild manner of reprehension, he may use one more sharp and severe, to excite it to deeper confusion, provided that he afterwards closes up all his grief and anger with a sweet and consoling confidence in God, in imitation of that illustrious penitent, who, seeing his soul afflicted, raised it up in this manner: “Why art thou so sad, O my soul, and why dost thou disquiet me? Hope in God, for I will still give praise to Him, who is the salvation of my countenance, and my God” (Ps. xlii. 5).

Raise up your heart, then, again whenever it falls, but tranquilly and softly; humbling yourself before God; through the knowledge of your own misery, but without being surprised at your fall; for it is no wonder that weakness should be weak, or misery wretched; detest, nevertheless, with all your power, the offence God has received from you, and return to the way of virtue which you had forsaken, with a great courage and confidence in his mercy.

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