You don’t have to be religious to read works written by religious people. Reading diversely—i.e., outside your comfort genre—is one way of expanding your mind, exercising critical thinking skills, and even developing your character and empathy. So for this book rec, I’m actually recommending an author.
My patron saint is St. Francis de Sales. Not to be confused with St. Francis of Assisi, who is also wonderful, but I really only ask him for advice when my cat eats until he vomits (it’s a problem since we got a second cat).
Side note / ad for those who collect cute religious things: I was very happy to get a Tiny Saints charm of St. Francis—considering the sheer numbers, statistics wouldn’t make him the most likely to already have a charm.
Frank here—can I call him Frank?—has gotten me through a lot of tough times. He’s not the only one, of course. There’s plenty of stories I use to escape reality, but that’s an escape, not figuring out how to deal with a problem. Not everything can be ignored; it’s just sometimes not a healthy coping mechanism. What Frank does is give me advice—and for a long-dead old white dude, his tender, caring words and verses are very comforting to a diehard feminist. He can also really dish it out, which is great for when I’m procrastinating. Frank’s like a great-great-great-great-great-great-grandpa who speaks to me from beyond the grave.
I have six books by St. Francis de Sales that I read, well, religiously:
Introduction to the Devout Life;
Consoling Thoughts on God and Providence;
Consoling Thoughts on Trials of an Interior Life;
Consoling Thoughts on Sickness and Death; and
Consoling Thoughts on Eternity.
I would like to share with you, dear Reader, a few quotes from St. Francis de Sales that mean very much to me, those which have helped me examine the relationships between myself, others, and God, those which have made me smile when I did not feel as though I would ever smile again, and those which I have shared with others to lift their spirits.
“You will do well to choose out for yourself some individual Saint, whose life specially to study and imitate, and whose prayers may be more particularly offered on your behalf.”
In other words, find a good role model!
“None of us can become the master of our own soul in a short time or hold it firmly in our grasp from our very first steps. We should be content to gain small victories over our most unruly passions from time to time. We must bear with others, but fist of all we must exercise forbearance toward ourselves and be patient with our own lack of perfection.”
My interpretation: No one is perfect, and no one will ever be perfect. So just take your little victories as they come. Unlearned some ableist language? Congrats! Did you use the alt text feature on Twitter? Thank you! It’s okay feel good about recognizing your privilege in any situation and trying to use that privilege to make the world a little better for those without it. But of course there’s plenty of other ways to experience little victories. Take a moment to reflect on yours!
“The love of God is always inseparably united with the love of the neighbor, and accordingly as we love God, we likewise love our neighbor; hence, the love of Jesus Christ towards His Father being infinite, His love towards men is likewise infinite.”
My interpretation: The vindictive part of me loves to watch hate-spewing people flounder as I throw this quote at them, but the truth of it really speaks to me. You cannot call yourself Christian and hate any other human being—and thus the psychology behind dehumanization, right? If you make it to where another person is not a person in your eyes, it’s very much easier to hate them. Learning to empathize is one of those little victories.
“Our first misery is that we esteem ourselves; if we fall into any sin or imperfection, we are astonished, troubled, impatient, simply because we thought there was something good, resolute, solid, within us; and, therefore, when we find that there was no such thing, we are grieved and offended at having deceived ourselves. If we knew ourselves as we really are, instead of being amazed to see ourselves prostrate on the ground, we should be surprised to see ourselves stand for a single day, or even for one hour.
“Endeavor to perform your actions perfectly, and having done this, think no more about them; but think of what you have yet to do, advancing with simplicity in the way of God, without tormenting your mind.”
My interpretation: This really speaks to imposter syndrome, that feeling that you’re not good enough, that you don’t belong in a certain place or time or group. St. Francis is saying that everyone feels this way, and that it’s nothing to worry about. All you have to do is work to the best of your ability and move forward; learn from your mistakes, accept correction, internalize lessons, and practice what you learn in order to improve yourself and your skills. But don’t fixate on your mistakes or your concerns—it will only paralyze you, and you will not be able to practice or learn anything!
“All things have their time. There is a time to suffer, and a time to pray. It is not during spring or winter we seek for fruit on trees. We should have flesh of iron, to act in suffering or to suffer in acting. When God calls us to suffer, He does not require us to act.”
Here St. Francis is saying you have to take care of yourself. When you’re sick, you shouldn’t work (yes, prayer is work!). I firmly believe that mental illness, including fatigue, is a sickness, a suffering. If you have the ability to take time off school, work, and family, you definitely should. I myself have taken off days at a time from school and work, to the point of locking myself in my bedroom and coming out only for the bathroom and for food. It can be refreshing and exhilarating—once I feel better, I can come out finger-guns ablazing, ready to catch up and forge ahead.
“Meditation excites good desires in the will, or sensitive parts of the soul—such as love of God and of our neighbor, a craving for the glory of Paradise, zeal for the salvation of others, imitation of our Lord’s example, compassion, thanksgiving, fear of God’s wrath and of judgment, hatred of sin, trust in God’s Goodness and Mercy, shame for our past life; and in all such affections you should pour out your soul as much as possible…
“But, my daughter, you must not stop short in general affections, without turning them into special resolutions for your own correction and amendment. For instance, meditating on our Dear Lord’s First Word from the Cross, you will no doubt be roused in the desire of imitating Him in forgiving and loving your enemies. But that is not enough, unless you bring it to some practical resolution, such as ‘I will not be angered anymore by the annoying things said of me by such a one; but rather I will do such and such things in order to soften and conciliate them.’ In this way, my daughter, you will soon correct your faults, whereas mere general resolutions would take but a slow and uncertain effect.”
My interpretation: St. Francis is saying to look into yourself and analyze yourself—why did you behave the way you did? And what can you do to make sure you improve yourself regardless of how others act towards/around you or perceive you? Knowing yourself is the pathway to understanding and self-improvement—as well as a pathway to understanding and empathizing with others, recognizing their own feelings and motives.
We are all imperfect human beings, driven by passions. You and I are no exception.