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Do You Struggle to be Gentle – with Yourself?

December 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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An Introduction to the Devout Life (
Week 7 of 14)

One of the forms in which we should practice gentleness regards ourselves, in never growing irritable with ourselves or our imperfections; for, although, in reason we must be vexed and angry with ourselves when we commit faults, yet we ought to guard against a bitter, fretful displeasure, or spiteful anger with ourselves. Some make a great mistake in being angry because they have been angry, hurt because they have been hurt, and vexed because they have been vexed. Thus, whilst they fancy that they are ridding their breast of anger, and that their second passion remedies the first, in truth, they are preparing the way for fresh anger on the first occasion. Besides this, all this indignation and vexation and irritation with ourselves tends to foster pride and springs entirely from self-love, which is displeased at finding that we are not perfect. We should endeavor then to look upon our faults with a calm, collected, firm displeasure… – An Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter IX, Paragraph 1

Do You Struggle to be Gentle with Yourself?

This week the quote was a toss-up for me. Should I choose one from Chapter VIII about meekness and remedies for anger – one of those many passages about the importance of never losing my temper, but rather always maintaining a gentle nature, both in my heart and on my sleeve, or do I choose this one, from Chapter IX, about practicing gentleness toward myself?

I pretty much highlighted all of Chapter VIII, because, frankly, the rubbing of idiosyncrasies and teenage hormones, preteen emotions as well as toddler forays are all ingredients – along with the spices of pride, passion and good ole selfishness – in a recipe for anger stew, that inevitably boils over at some point each day. And I suppose, as queen of the kitchen, Mom probably dishes out the largest serving when all is said and done.

But despite my strong association with Chapter VIII, I settled on discussing this powerful passage from Chapter IX, because I’ve realized that many of my problems are the result of issues discussed above.  There is even a cyclical nature to the madness.  Here is a brief general synopsis of events:

  1. All said ingredients stew until I lose my temper over some relatively small infraction.

  2. I flog myself privately for not maintaining that resolution to practice patience, to maintain my calm, to speak in love at all times.

  3. I return to the scene, depressed and frustrated with myself for not doing better; consequently, I…

    RETURN TO 1 because:  I work really hard to keep a lid on all that pent-up frustration, only to watch it seep out at the cracks, as I snap at the first unsuspecting soul that crosses my path.


    RETURN TO 1 because:  I pull an “Eyore” and shuffle my way through the rest of my day with a poor me attitude.  As a result of the first infraction, I suffer from despair, feeling that I will never conquer my “self.”  Ultimately, this causes another episode wherein I lose my temper yet again, because there is a certain amount of “lost cause-itis” associated with this emotional state.

Clearly, this cyclical series of events is the result of my wounded pride.  The frustration of staring my imperfection in the face and not wanting to accept it.  St. Francis de Sales recognizes this problem, and he notes that I should not be surprised when I make mistakes because I am weak. He says, “Therefore when your heart has fallen raise it gently, humbling yourself greatly before God, and acknowledging your fault, but without marveling at your fall; since it is no marvel that infirmity should be infirm, weakness weak, and frailty frail” (Part III, Chapter IX).

Bottom line, humility should render me understanding and even expectant of my own mistakes. That is not to say that I should be accepting of them. I should certainly seek our Lord’s forgiveness and make a resolution not to repeat the offense.  But this is not the same as self-destruction.

So what does self-correction and repentance without absolute repudiation look like?  In our book club, we’ve actually been blessed to witness a beautiful example of the humility described by St. Francis de Sales in Pope John XXIII, whose canonization ceremony is scheduled to take place (along with that of Pope John Paul II) on April 27 of next year.  In Journal of a Soul: The Autobiography of Pope John XXIII (check out our book club discussion here)our Brother in Christ works through this issue, and we can almost see the transformation that takes place through his entries.  During his seminary days, he is more frustrated with himself for his faults.  He recognizes that humility is in order, but struggles to change.  Yet over time, he learns to abandon himself to Christ's mercy, recognizing his own weaknesses and accepting them in complete humility:


…And I care so much for this body, this bag of filth, this breeding place of worms, and to defend it I offend God.  What foolishness!  What stupidity!  And what of my soul?  Poor soul!  It is just as well that I pride myself on being such a wise and prudent man!  My good fellow, you must bow that head of yours, so full of hot air; you must think humbly of yourself, otherwise you will go on groping your way until you fall. – Journal of a Soul, p. 58

Later in his journal, recognizing his physical limitations (31 years before he became pope), he resolves (note the gentleness):


There must be more tranquillity, still more tranquillity, sweetness and peace in all my affairs. If I cannot do all the good that I think is necessary for the benefit of souls in the mission entrusted to me, I must not let myself be in the least worried or anxious about this. To do my duty in accordance with the promptings of charity, that is enough. The Lord knows how to use everything for the triumph of his kingdom, even my not being able to do more, even the effort it costs me to remain apparently inactive.  – p. 210

Still later, in notes on the Miserere he recorded during a retreat, we witness yet another stage of his journey – here, at the conclusion of his meditations, he places himself entirely at our Lord’s disposal, acknowledging his complete dependence on and devotion to God while trusting in His mercy:


Ah, Lord Jesus, I take refuge in my nothingness, I plead for pity and forgiveness for my failings, I renew the consecration of my life to your worship, your love, your altar. ‘Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me’ (Wisdom 3:6). – p. 256

As he matured spiritually, Pope John XXIII no longer pummeled himself for his sins.  By the same token, neither did he take a blasé attitude toward them.  Instead, as is clear throughout his journal, he meticulously sought to acknowledge his weaknesses and to seek our Lord's assistance in overcoming them.  Through the sacraments, much prayer, and the guidance of his spiritual director – he addressed them over many years…with great patience and gentleness.

Reading Assignment:

Week 7 Part 3: Chapter 12-18

NOTE: THERE WILL BE NO BOOK CLUB POSTS OVER CHRISTMAS BREAK – 12/23 & 12/31; Book Club will resume to discuss the above assigned reading on 1/7/14.

Merry Christmas!!!!!


Discussion Questions:

1. Do you struggle to be gentle with yourself? Or do you have advice to help the rest of us become filled with gentleness, as recommended by St. Francis de Sales? Please share your experiences or advice in either case.

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!


Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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