By Kathryn Hermes, FSP
The wisdom and inspiration of Pope Francis is rooted in humility, a beautiful style of tenderness that reaches out to care for the poor and anyone in need.
We see it and we are attracted to it.
What does meekness look like in our lives, so often embroiled in complexity? Caring for the poor is part of our life, but most of our lives are lived out in the ups and downs of families and careers and friendships, in the struggle to make a mark in this world, to do something significant, to follow where God is leading us.
Another Francis can show us the practical implications of this meekness the Pope invites us to.
Francis de Sales was born in 1567 and became in the words of Paul VI “one of the greatest figures of the Church and of history.” He was born into an aristocratic family in the Savoy region (today’s southeastern France), and his father educated him for a diplomatic career. However, Francis followed his desire to be a priest, becoming at a young age the Bishop of Geneva.
Francis was a courageous and hands-on bishop, using his education and pastoral zeal to personally see to the education of the Catholics in his diocese, initiating diocesan synods, parish visitations, and personally teaching catechism classes. Bishop Francis also had his administrative troubles. Religious life in his diocese was in a sorry state. The Florimontane Academy which he began was shuttered after three years when he became embroiled in three lawsuits. He practiced a very direct and personal contact with his people, not hiding from the complications of diocesan affairs. Failure, humiliation, complex problems didn’t lead him to hide behind bureaucratic structures for security.
Not everything Francis did was a success. Yet he remained a meek man. As he said himself, it took him 20 years to conquer his quick temper, but no one ever suspected he had such a problem, so overflowing with good nature and kindness was his usual manner of acting.
His practical definition of meekness can be found in his writings:
The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: he is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.
Below, then, are the strategies Pope Francis offers us to grow in this beautiful virtue (excerpted from Inspiration from Pope Francis):
- Divest yourself of all pretension.
- Divest yourself of all ephemeral illusion and go to the essential, to what promises you life, to what gives you dignity.
- Lower yourself; do not be afraid of humility; do not fear meekness. Today we are told that the more you put your nose in the air, the more important you are. No. Today we are told that if you appear to be vain enough, you will have more strength. No, that is not the way things are. Today we are told that the more you scream and fight, the more discord you sow, the better it is for you. No, that is not the case. Lower yourself, use meekness.
- Listen, live with others.
- Recognize your dignity and that of others. Love and allow yourself to be loved.
The study of spirituality has been a life-long pursuit of Kathryn J. Hermes, F.S.P. She has an M.T.S. from Weston Jesuit Center for Theological Studies and an advanced certificate in Scripture. She is the author of Surviving Depression—A Catholic Approach (now in ten languages), Making Peace with Yourself—15 Steps for Spiritual Healing, Beginning Contemplative Prayer, St. Joseph—Help for Life’s Emergencies, Holding on to Hope, among others. Hermes is a Daughter of St. Paul. She currently directs Digital Publishing for the publishing house of the Daughters of St. Paul. She is a spiritual director, offers presentations on spirituality and depression, and leads retreats.