St Francis de Sales: Don’t Mind Your Haters

One of the saints I’ve been getting to know recently is Francis de Sales, who was Bishop of Geneva from 1602-1622. As a young man, he heard a lecture about double predestination (one of Calvin’s doctrines) in Paris; certain that he was among the damned, he fell into a deep depression. What saved him was a realization that, since “God is love”, as the Bible says, surely he was not destined for hell.

Providentially, de Sales was later consecrated as bishop of the Calvinist headquarters of Geneva; because of this, he never entered the city itself, instead residing at nearby Annecy. As bishop he was known for his loving and gentle approach toward the Reformation—he was convinced that you could “attract more bees with a spoonful of honey than with a barrel of vinegar”—and for his talent for spiritual direction.

Anyhow, I’m swimming through what is probably his most famous work, called Introduction to the Devout Life. In this section, he writes about how anyone who undertakes the Christian life is bound to be met with criticism no matter what she does:

Philothea, all of this is foolish and empty babbling. These people aren’t interested in your health or welfare. ‘If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own but because you are not of the world, the world hates you,’ says the Savior. Does anyone fail to see that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and well-disposed to its own children but harsh and rigorous toward the children of God?

We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it. It is so demanding that it cannot be satisfied. If we are ready to laugh, play cards, or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy. If we dress well, it will attribute it to some plan that we have, and if we neglect our dress, it will accuse us of being cheap and stingy. Good humor will be called frivolity and mortification sullenness. Thus the world looks at us with an evil eye and we can never please it.

Whatever we do, the world will wage war on us. If we stay a long time in the confessional, it will wonder how we can have so much to say; if we stay only a short time, it will say we haven’t told everything. It will watch all our actions and at a single little angry word it will protest that we can’t get along with anyone. To take care of our own interests will look like avarice, while meekness will look like folly.

As for the children of this world, their anger is called being blunt, their avarice economy, their intimate conversations lawful discussions. Spiders always spoil the good work of the bees.

Let us give up this blind world, Philothea. Let it cry out at us as long as it pleases, like a cat that cries out to frighten birds in the daytime. Let us be firm in our purposes and unwavering in our resolutions.

The world holds us to be fools; let us hold it to be mad.

Haters gonna hate, I guess.

1 thought on “St Francis de Sales: Don’t Mind Your Haters”

  1. Your Grandma always used the phrase “You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar” only for some reason it was flies and not bees… hmmm.
    So much truth to this one.

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