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August 2009 (17) The Worldly Mind
Excerpts from Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales ….
Concerning Rash Judgment
We must proceed to rectify rash judgments, according to their cause. Some hearts there are so bitter and harsh by nature, that everything turns bitter under their touch; men who, in the Prophet’s words, turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth. Such as these greatly need to be dealt with by some wise spiritual physician, for this bitterness being natural to them, it is hard to conquer; and although it be rather an imperfection than a sin, still it is very dangerous, because it gives rise to and fosters rash judgments and slander within the heart. Others there are who are guilty of rash judgments less out of a bitter spirit than from pride, supposing to exalt their own credit by disparaging that of others. These are self-sufficient, presumptuous people, who stand so high in their own conceit that they despise all else as mean and worthless. It was the foolish Pharisee who said, I am not as other men are. Others, again, have not quite such overt pride, but rather a lurking little satisfaction in beholding what is wrong in others, in order to appreciate more fully what they believe to be their own superiority. This satisfaction is so well concealed, so nearly imperceptible, that it requires a clear sight to discover it, and those who experience it need that it be pointed out to them. Some there are who seek to excuse and justify themselves to their own conscience, by assuming readily that others are guilty of the same faults, or as great ones, vainly imagining that the sin becomes less culpable when shared by many. Others, again, give way to rash judgments merely because they take pleasure in a philosophic analysis and dissection of their neighbours’ characters; and if by ill luck they chance now and then to be right, their presumption and love of criticism strengthens almost incurably.
Then there are people whose judgment is solely formed by inclination; who always think well of those they like, and ill of those they dislike.
And it is a rash judgment when we draw condemnatory inferences from an action which may be blameless.
No surer sign of an unprofitable life than when people give way to censoriousness and inquisitiveness into the lives of other men.
FROM rash judgments proceed mistrust, contempt for others, pride, and self-sufficiency, and numberless other pernicious results, among which stands forth prominently the sin of slander, which is a veritable pest of society.
He who unjustly takes away his neighbour’s good name is guilty of sin, and is bound to make reparation, according to the nature of his evil speaking; since no man can enter into Heaven cumbered with stolen goods, and of all worldly possessions the most precious is a good name. Slander is a kind of murder; for we all have three lives—a spiritual life, which depends upon the Grace of God; a bodily life, depending on the soul; and a civil life, consisting in a good reputation. Sin deprives us of the first, death of the second, and slander of the third. But the slanderer commits three several murders with his idle tongue: he destroys his own soul and that of him who hearkens, as well as causing civil death to the object of his slander; for, as St. Bernard says, the Devil has possession both of the slanderer and of those who listen to him, of the tongue of the one, the ear of the other.
My friend, I entreat you never speak evil of any, either directly or indirectly; beware of ever unjustly imputing sins or faults to your neighbour, of needlessly disclosing his real faults, of exaggerating such as are overt, of attributing wrong motives to good actions, of denying the good that you know to exist in another, of maliciously concealing it, or depreciating it in conversation. In all and each of these ways you grievously offend God, although the worst is false accusation, or denying the truth to your neighbour’s damage, since therein you combine his harm with falsehood.
Those who slander others with an affectation of good will, or with dishonest pretences of friendliness, are the most spiteful and evil of all. They will profess that they love their victim, and that in many ways he is an excellent man, but all the same, truth must be told, and he was very wrong in such a matter; or that such and such a woman is very virtuous generally, but and so on.
Do not pronounce a man to be a drunkard although you may have seen him drunk, or an adulterer, because you know he has sinned; a single act does not stamp him for ever. … Noah was drunk once, and Lot, moreover, was guilty of incest, yet neither man could be spoken of as habitually given to such sins; neither would you call St. Paul a man of blood or a blasphemer, because he had blasphemed and shed blood before he became a Christian. Before a man deserves to be thus stigmatised, he must have formed a habit of the sin he is accused of, and it is unfair to call a man passionate or a thief, because you have once known him steal or fly into a passion. Even when a man may have persisted long in sin, you may say what is untrue in calling him vicious. Simon the leper called Magdalene a sinner, because she had once lived a life of sin; but he lied, for she was a sinner no longer, but rather a very saintly penitent, and so our Lord Himself undertook her defence.
The Pharisee looked upon the publican as a great sinner,—probably as unjust, extortionate, adulterous; but how mistaken he was, inasmuch as the condemned publican was even then justified! If God’s Mercy is so great, that one single moment is sufficient for it to justify and save a man, what assurance have we that he who yesterday was a sinner is the same to-day? Yesterday may not be the judge of today, nor to-day of yesterday: all will be really judged at the Last Great Day. In short, we can never affirm a man to be evil without running the risk of lying. If it be absolutely necessary to speak, we may say that he was guilty of such an act, that he led an evil life at such and such a time, or that he is doing certain wrong at the present day; but we have no right to draw deductions for to-day from yesterday, nor of yesterday from today; still less to speak with respect to the future.
The Worldly Mind
When your worldly friends perceive that you aim at leading a devout life, they will let loose endless shafts of mockery and misrepresentation upon you; the more malicious will attribute your change to hypocrisy, designing, or bigotry; they will affirm that the world having looked coldly upon you, failing its favour you turn to God; while your friends will make a series of what, from their point of view, are prudent and charitable remonstrances. They will tell you that you are growing morbid; that you will lose your worldly credit, and will make yourself unacceptable to the world; they will prognosticate your premature old age, the ruin of your material prosperity; they will tell you that in the world you must live as the world does; that you can be saved without all this fuss; and much more of the like nature.
My friend, all this is vain and foolish talk: these people have no real regard either for your bodily health or your material prosperity. If ye were of the world, the Saviour has said, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
Is it not as plain as possible that the world is an unjust judge; indulgent and kindly to its own children, harsh and uncharitable to the children of God? We cannot stand well with the world save by renouncing His approval. It is not possible to satisfy the world’s unreasonable demands… if we give in to the world, and laugh, dance, and play as it does, it will affect to be scandalized; if we refuse to do so, it will accuse us of being hypocritical or morbid. If we adorn ourselves after its fashion, it will put some evil construction on what we do; if we go in plain attire, it will accuse us of meanness; our cheerfulness will be called dissipation; our mortification dulness; and ever casting its evil eye upon us, nothing we can do will please it. It exaggerates our failings, and publishes them abroad as sins; it represents our venial sins as mortal, and our sins of infirmity as malicious.
St. Paul says that charity is kind, but the world is unkind; charity thinks no evil, but the world thinks evil of every one, and if it cannot find fault with our actions, it is sure at least to impute bad motives to them…
Do what we will, the world must wage war upon us. If we spend any length of time in confession, it will speculate on what we have so much to say about! if we are brief, it will suggest that we are keeping back something! It spies out our every act, and at the most trifling angry word, sets us down as intolerable. Attention to business is avarice, meekness mere silliness; whereas the wrath of worldly people is to be reckoned as generosity, their avarice, economy, their mean deeds, honourable…. Let us leave the blind world to make as much noise as it may…let us be firm in our ways, unchangeable in our resolutions, and perseverance will be the test of our self-surrender to God, and our deliberate choice of the devout life.
There is no surer groundwork for the beginnings of a devout life than the endurance of misrepresentation and calumny, since thereby we escape the danger of vainglory and pride… We are crucified to the world, and the world must be as crucified to us. It esteems us as fools, let us esteem it as mad.
Megan the Student
Cain the Wiccan
David the Agnostic
Jules the Agnostic
Kath the Ranter
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