Goodness and Christian Courtesy
1. Christian perfection, when it is genuine and practical, should be reflected externally in our appearance, in our conversation, and in our behaviour. Discourtesy, sharpness of manner, offensive speech, and all that is rude or displeasing, are signs that we are lacking or weak in virtue.
On the other hand, if we have succeeded in conquering all our evil inclinations and in regulating our interior faculties, so that they are subject to right reason and to the divine law, then our virtue will be reflected in our speech and in our actions. It was this spiritual charm that made the Saints fascinating to those who knew them or came in contact with them, making them wish to reform their own lives and to strive towards perfection. St. Francis de Sales said that courtesy is the frame of sanctity; as a picture without a frame is incomplete, so also is virtue if it is not expressed externally by affability and gentleness. In the Gospel, Jesus is not satisfied with interior virtue alone but insists that it should appear outwardly in our actions. “Even let your light shine before men,” He says, “in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16)
2. St. Francis de Sales was a model of gentleness and Christian courtesy. He had every regard and respect of his neighbour because he saw God in everyone and everyone in God.
He had the ability to listen to everybody with great patience and kindness, without ever showing any sign of tiredness or boredom, even when he was dealing with unpleasant people or when he was busy with far more important matters. He maintained his equilibrium and self-control even after many hours of work and of difficult consultations. He was always prepared , moreover, to listen to the troubles of the poor.
Even when insulted and reviled, he displayed perfect serenity and calm. It was a result of this that, with the help of God, he made innumerable converts.
“Always be as gentle as you can,” he was accustomed to advise, “and remember that you will catch more flies with a spoon of honey than with a barrel of vinegar. If you must err, let it be on the side of gentleness…” “Be humble,” he wrote again, “and you will be gentle. Humility makes the heart kind towards the perfect and the imperfect; towards the former through veneration, towards the latter through compassion.” (Letter 51) How much we have to learn from the serenity and courtesy of this Saint!
3. When Jesus wished to propose Himself as our divine model, He said: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” (Mt. 11:29) He was kind to all, but especially to sinners. He was strict and severe only with hypocrites, whom He described as a race of vipers and as whitened sepulchres, from which we can see how much He detested duplicity. If the hypocrites had only repented and resolved to mend their ways, however, Our Lord would have received them lovingly and pardoned them. Let us learn, therefore, to be simple, meek, and humble of heart and to display that courtesy of manner which is the necessary adornment of true Christian virtue.