The headline of Philadelphia Magazine for September 2017 reads “When did people get so ?!?!?! mean?” Actually, the magazine didn’t use the symbol for the expletive, but the curse word itself. Underneath this title is an emoji of a smiling devil. On on one side of the emoji is the statement “Smiley faces suck.” and on the other is “This cover blows.”
My first thought was: Well, people started getting mean around the time newspapers and magazines started including curse words in their articles. Putting them right out front in the headlines just shows how far we’ve wandered down the road of ugliness.
Meanness seems to have seeped into every aspect of American life. It has become a habit. To counter this vice, we need to cultivate the virtue of kindness. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, can point us in the right direction.
Killing it with Kindness
St. Francis de Sales was born in 1567 in the Kingdom of Savoy, near Geneva, Switzerland, to wealthy parents. His father was determined that he should become a senator from the province of Savoy in France. For this reason he was sent to study law in Padua, and he earned his doctorate degrees in civil and canon law at the age of 25. Francis, however, disagreed with his father’s choice of careers and was determined to become a priest. In 1593 he was ordained and named provost of the Chapter of Geneva, the highest office in the diocese. https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-francis-de-sales/
Father Francis’ job wasn’t an easy one. Much of his territory was under the control of Calvinists. Within 18 months of his ordination he volunteered to go to the Chablais region to re-evangelize there. His goal was to bring 60,000 Calvinists back to the Roman Catholic Church. For three years, with no money to support his mission, he roamed the area. No one would listen to him--no one would even open the door. They threw rocks at him, slandered his name and slammed their doors in his face.
Since he couldn’t get in through the door, Francis found another way--by going under it. He wrote down his sermons and then slipped them under the doors of the hostile residents. What he couldn’t accomplish with his voice, he did with his pen. He made little pamphlets and posters with simple explanations of Catholic teaching, and he copied them many times. These were distributed all over Chablais. Anyone who was afraid to listen to his teachings could discretely read his leaflets. These teachings were later published in one volume, the first record we have of religious tracts being used to communicate with people.
Father Francis tried many things in his efforts to reach hostile residents. Because parents wouldn’t talk to him, he went to the children. When the parents saw how kind he was to their children, they became willing to talk to him. He even used his skills at card games to attract the men. Francis would first bankrupt the men, then offer to repay the money-- when they attended his Sunday mass.
Saint Francis de Sales is known as the “Gentleman Saint” because of his patience and kindness. He was polite and courteous to everyone. Although he had a natural propensity toward anger and bad temper, he was able to control those impulses. When he felt inclined to anger, he would neither speak nor act, and he would make no decisions until the feelings of anger were under control. In his own words: “The means of overcoming anger are: 1.) Forestall such feelings as much as possible, or at least banish them at once by thinking of something else. 2.) In imitation of the Apostles when the storm arose on the sea, have recourse to God, Who will restore peace to your heart. 3.) While you are boiling, do not talk or offer any opposition concerning the point in question. 4.) Strive to be humble and courteous towards the person with whom you feel angry, especially if he has shown resentment in any way.”
Kindness, military style
Random acts of kindness https://www.wsls.com/news/virginia/new-river-valley/random-act-of-kindness-at-virginia-tech-football-game-inspires-another
Two self-centered New Yorkers develop a 12 Step program for kindness
Another saint known for kindness is Saint Therese of Lisieux. She became a nun at 15, and she died at 24. Like Saint Francis de Sales she is also a Doctor of the Church. When Therese was little, she was pretty spoiled. She was born after four of her infant brothers had died, so her family tended to baby her. Her father even called her the “Little Queen.” Because she was so emotional, Therese’s big sister Marie tried to teach her some self control. She gave Therese a string of ten beads and called them the “good deed beads.” Therese was to move a bead each time she chose God’s will over her own. This practice taught Therese how to do small deeds with love, and offer them to God.