A Year with the Saints – 9 May


If you wish to labor with fruit in the conversion of souls, you must pour the balsam of sweetness upon the wine of your zeal, that it may not be too fiery, but mild, soothing, patient, and full of compassion. For the human soul is so constituted that by rigor it becomes harder, but mildness completely softens it. Besides, we ought to remember that Jesus Christ came to bless good intentions, and if we leave them to His control, little by little He will make them fruitful. – Saint Francis de Sales

This holy Bishop proceeded in this way himself with the most perverse sinners, striving to bring them to repentance in the gentlest ways possible, guiding himself by the great maxim that the spirit of meekness is the spirit of God, as the spirit of mortification is that of the Crucified. A man who had been guilty of enormous crimes once came to his confessional, and went on accusing himself of them with indifference and without any spirit of penitence. After bearing this for some time, the Saint began to weep, and when his penitent asked if anything had happened to him, he merely answered, “Go on.” As he went on with the same ease as before, telling even greater sins, he wept again and again. On being urged to tell the cause, he at last said, in a voice full of compassion, “I weep because you do not weep.” These words struck the heart of the sinner with compunction, and he became a true penitent. His gentleness manifested itself especially in his manner of giving advice, encouraging souls at the same time to advance to perfection. When he found them lost in sin and in dangerous occasions of it, he would indeed cry out: “Cut, break, rend, for there are certain bonds which we must not treat with ceremony, or stop to disentangle, but we must dissever and sunder them at once?” But on other occasions, where there was no danger, he would lead his penitents step by step to retrench superfluities and banish worldliness from their lives. “Do you not see,” he wrote to a lady, “that vines are not pruned with the rough strokes of an axe, but with a fine-edged hook, one shoot after another? I have seen some statues which the sculptor worked on for ten years before they were perfect, cutting with chisels a little here and a little there, until he had removed all that was contrary to accuracy of proportion. No, certainly it is not possible to arrive in a day at the point you aspire to reach. It is necessary to gain one step today, another tomorrow, and to strive to become masters of ourselves by degrees; for this is no small conquest.”

Saint Vincent de Paul also was accustomed, even in preaching, to speak with the greatest suavity and gentleness, so that he infused into the minds of his hearers, especially the poor, such confidence in himself and such readiness to follow his directions, that after a sermon they would often run after him and entreat him with tears, in the midst of the crowd, to hear their confessions, in which they revealed to him with great frankness the most hidden wounds of their souls, that they might receive from him a remedy. He once committed a great sinner to the care of one of his priests, that he might do what he could to bring him to repentance. The priest soon found that whatever he said had no effect upon that obstinate heart, and he therefore entreated the Saint to say something himself. He did so, and with such efficacy that he converted him; and in order that the conversion might be lasting, he induced him to make the Spiritual Exercises. The sinner afterwards acknowledged that it was the singular sweetness and charity of the Saint which had gained his heart, and that he had never heard any person speak of God as he did. For this reason the Saint would not permit his missionaries to treat penitents with austerity and harshness; he told them that it was necessary to encourage repentant sinners, and that the infernal spirit ordinarily makes use of rigor and bitterness on the part of priests to lead souls more astray than ever. He used the same method in the conversion of heretics, and succeeded by it in converting many, who afterwards confessed that they had been gained to God by his great patience and cordiality. The Saint explained this when he said: “You see, when one begins to argue with another, the latter easily persuades himself that he wishes to conquer him, and therefore is more prepared to resist than to embrace the truth; so that the contest, instead of disposing his mind to conversion, rather closes his heart, which, on the contrary, remains open to sweetness and affability. We have,” he added, “a fine example of this in Monsignor de Sales, who, though very well versed in controversy, converted heretics rather by mildness than by learning, so that Cardinal di Peron used to say that intellect was enough to convince heretics, but it needed Monsignor de Sales to convert them.”

When Saint Francis Xavier was preaching in Macao to a great multitude of people, some of the mob threw stones at him. He went on without the least sign of resentment, and he made more conversions in this way than by his preaching.

Saint Ludwina, by her great sweetness, converted a sinner whom no preacher or confessor had ever been able to bring to repentance.

Saint Philip Neri labored much in the conversion of souls. He drew them to the Lord with so much dexterity that the penitents themselves wondered, for he seemed to charm them in such a way that whoever came to him once appeared unable to refrain from coming again. He was very careful to accommodate himself to the nature of each one. If great sinners and men of evil life came to him, he commanded them in the beginning to abstain from mortal sin, and then led them, by degrees, with admirable skill, to the point he aimed at. There once came to his feet a penitent so addicted to a certain sin that he fell into it almost every day. The only penance he gave him was to come to confession immediately after he committed the sin, without waiting to fall a second time. The penitent obeyed, and the Saint always absolved him, without giving him any other penance. By this method he succeeded in a few months in freeing him not only from this sin, but from all others, and in leading him to a high degree of perfection. He advised a very dissolute young man to say the “Hail, holy Queen,” seven times a day, and then to kiss the ground with the words “Tomorrow I may be dead.” By doing this the youth soon reformed his life, and fourteen years after died a holy death. In the same manner, the Saint brought back to the way of God a great number of sinners, many of whom said on their deathbeds, “Blessed be the day and the hour when I first knew Father Philip.”

And they all remained so attached to him that there was nothing they would not willingly have done for him.

MLA Citation