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How to channel your anger like St. Francis de Sales

Mary Long I Shutterstock

Mathilde De Robien - published on 05/30/21

When you feel your temper start to flare up, turn to a saint who tamed his hot head and mastered the art of gentleness.

Today we continue with a series of articles about how saints can help us manage our emotions and practice virtue, guided by Edwige Billot, author of a recent book on getting guidance from the saints on how to handle our emotions (published in French: “Et si les saints nous coachaient sur nos émotions?”).

Billot, passionate about both human psychology and the testimonies of the saints, is convinced that these holy men and women have grasped the extent to which God wishes to reach us at the very heart of our emotions. If emotions can make us stumble, they can also, as in the case of the saints, allow us to grow, to move forward and to make good decisions.

Putting your heart on guard

Known for his gentleness, St. Francis de Sales provides a precious testimony of life and encourages us to suppress the first feelings of anger. “A mountain man with a rather energetic and strong-willed temperament, he learned to control himself so well that, with the grace of God, he became a model of patience and gentleness,” says Edwige Billot. St. Francis de Sales defined anger as a swelling of the heart, often accompanied by an “appetite for revenge.”

According to his experience, the best remedy against anger is to practice gentleness every day and to put one’s heart on guard: If we’re able to recognize our anger with calmness and gentleness, we’ll be much more apt to control it and not let it explode. “At the first sign of anger, collect yourself gently and seriously, not hastily or with impetuosity,” writes the author of Introduction to the Devout Life.

This is the prayer he wrote to ask the Lord’s help in finding the path of gentleness when anger “flares up in him”—a prayer to be recited in moments of peace as well as on the threshold of anger.

O Lord, with your help, I want to practice gentleness in daily encounters and annoyances. As soon as I realize that anger is kindled in me, I will collect myself, not with violence, but gently, and I will seek to restore my heart to peace. Knowing that I can do nothing alone, I will take care to call on You for help, as the Apostles did when they were tossed by the raging sea. 

Teach me to be gentle with all, even with those who offend me or are opposed to me, and even with myself, not burdening myself because of my faults. When I fall, in spite of my efforts, I will gently pick myself up and say: “Come on, my poor heart, let’s get up and leave this pit forever. Let’s have recourse to the Mercy of God, and He will help us.” Amen.

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