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St. Francis de Sales on correcting others gently

4 min • Digitized on December 20, 2021

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 80
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley


Speaking, my dear sisters, as he often did, on the important subject of brotherly or friendly reproof, our Blessed Father made use of words profitable to us all, but especially to those who are in authority, and have therefore to rule and guide others.

He said:

Truth which is not charitable proceeds from a charity which is not true.

When I asked him how we could feel certain that our reproofs were given out of sincere charity, he answered:

When we speak the truth only for the love of God, and for the good of our neighbour, whom we are reproving.

He added:

We must follow the counsels of the great Apostle St. Paul, when he bids us reprove in a spirit of meekness. [Gal. vi. 1.]

Indeed gentleness is the intimate friend of charity and its inseparable companion.

This is what St. Paul means when he says that charity 1s kind, and beareth all things, and endureth all things. [1 Cor. xiii. 4, 7.] God, who is Charity, guides the mild in judgment and teaches the meek.

His way, His Spirit, is not in the whirlwind, nor in the storm, nor in the tempest, nor in the voice of many waters; but in a gentle and whispering wind. Mildness is come upon us, says the Royal Psalmist, and we Shall be corrected. [Psalm lxxxix. 10.]

Again Blessed Francis advised us to imitate the Good Samaritan, who poured oil and wine into the wounds of the poor wayfarer fallen among thieves. [St. Luke x. 34.] He used to say that:

to make a good salad you want more oil than either vinegar or salt.

I will give you some more of his memorable sayings on this subject. Many a time I have heard them from his own lips:

Always be as gentle as you can, and remember that more flies are caught with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar.

If we must err in one direction or the other, let it be in that of gentleness.

No sauce was ever spoilt by too much sugar.

The human mind is so constituted that it rebels against harshness, but becomes perfectly tractable under gentle treatment.

A mild word cools the heat of anger, as water extinguishes fire.

There is no soil so ungrateful as not to bear fruit when a kindly hand cultivates it.

To tell our neighbour wholesome truths tenderly is to throw red roses rather than red-hot coals in his face.

How could we be angry with any one who pelted us with pearls or deluged us with rose water!

There is nothing more bitter than a green walnut, but when preserved in sugar there is nothing sweeter or more digestible.

Reproof is by nature harsh and biting, but confectioned in sweetness and warmed through and through in the fire of charity, it becomes salutary, pleasant, and even delightful.

The just will correct me with mercy, and the oil of the flatterer shall not anoint my head. [Psalm cxl. 5.]

Better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of the hypocrite; [Prov. xxvii. 6.] if the sharpness of the friend’s tongue pierce me it is only as the lancet of the surgeon, which probes the abscess and lacerates in order to heal.

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