“Everyone says besides your physical illness, you are suffering from deep depression… My own soul, which once endured it for six weeks is in a position to feel compassion for those who experience it.” —St. Francis de Sales
Today is the feast of St. Francis de Sales. Among his other titles, he is known as the gentle counselor. It’s comforting that this great Saint experienced an episode of depression. More telling of his holiness however is the fact that he used the experience to further develop the virtue of compassion. Do we do that?
St. Francis considered the most serious sin to be, not adultery or idolatry, but judging people and gossip. Think about that next time you have an opinion about someone considered “dysfunctional” or who comes from a “crazy” family. We don’t know what’s inside another person and we all know that those with mental conditions are master fakers. They need to be. People judge. People gossip. Stigma reigns regardless of what is currently known. In fact, it is so bad that it turns family member against family member. Who has not heard someone say, “my crazy
[insert mother, father, sister, or brother]
in order to make a clear line of separation. That’s a way to avoid judgment.
St. Francis de Sales had no self-consciousness regarding his own mental health struggle. He also didn’t launch off into some form of, “I got over it. Do it this way.” That would have been judging. He took people where they were and saw himself no better. Because of this and the way he lived his advice to them was powerful and life-changing…… and it no less powerful today.
The Introduction to the Devout Life is St. Francis’s most famous work but he also left behind a great deal of correspondence after he died. My favorite collection is in a book titled: Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1988.
Here is a brief biography of this gentle counselor.
Picture: retrieved online at Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.