How to love those we are in charge of

January 3, 2022 • 4 min

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 109
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley

His opinion was that masters, as a rule, commit many grave faults with regard to their servants, by treating them with harshness and severity. Such conduct is quite unworthy of christians, and, in them, worse even than the behaviour of pagans in olden times to their slaves.

He himself never uttered an angry or threatening word to any one of his domestics. When they committed a fault, he corrected them so mildly that they were ready at once to make amends and to do better, out of love to their good master rather than from fear of him.

Once, when I was talking to him on this subject, I quoted the saying that “Familiarity breeds contempt, and contempt hatred.” He said:

Yes, improper familiarity, but never civil, cordial, kindly, virtuous familiarity; for as that proceeds from love, love engenders its like, and true love is never without esteem, nor, consequently, without respect for the object loved, seeing that love is founded wholly on the estimation in which the thing or person beloved is held.

You know the saying of the ancient tyrant: Let them hate me, provided that they fear me. Speaking on this subject, we may well reverse the motto and say: Let them despise me, provided only that they love me.

For if this contempt produces love, love after a while will stifle contempt, and sooner or later will in its place put respect; since there is no one that one reverences more, or has a greater fear of offending, than a person whom one loves in truth and sincerity of heart.

With regard to this, he told me a story, which he alludes to in his Philothea. Blessed Elzéar, Comte d’Arian, in Provence, was so exceedingly gentle in his treatment of his servants that they looked upon him as a person positively deficient in understanding, and behaved in his presence with the greatest incivility and insolence, knowing well his persevering tolerance of injuries and his boundless patience.

His wife, the saintly Delphina, feeling more acutely than he the disrespectful conduct of their servants, complained of it to him, saying that the menials absolutely laughed in his face. “And if they do,” he answered, “why should I be put out by these little familiarities, pleasantries, and bursts of merriment, seeing that I am quite certain they do not hate me? They have not yet struck me, spat in my face, or offered me any of those indignities which Jesus Christ our Lord suffered at the hands of the high priest’s servants, and not alone from those who scourged Him, derided Him, and crucified Him. Is it fitting that I, who glory in being the servant of Jesus Christ crucified, should desire to be better treated than my Master? Does it become a member to complain of any hardship under a Head wearing no crown but one of thorns? All that you tell me is but a mere jest compared with the insults heaped upon our divine Lord. The contempt of my servants—if, indeed, they do despise me—is a splendid lesson, teaching me to despise myself. How shall we practise humility if not on such occasions as these?”

Our Blessed Father went on to say:

I have proposed this example rather for your admiration than for your imitation, and that you may see of what means holy love makes use, in the hearts which are its own, in order to lead them to find rest in the very things which trouble those who are less devout.

What I would say on the subject of servants is this; that, after all, they are our fellow-men and our humble brethren, whom charity obliges us to love as ourselves. Come, then, let us love them as ourselves, these dear yoke-fellows, who are so closely bound to us, who live under the same roof, and eat and drink of our substance. Let us treat them like ourselves, or as we should wish to be treated if we were in their place, and of their condition in life. That is the best way to deal with servants.

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