Uncharitable Conversations

St. Paul writes: “Contend not in words, for it is to no profit, but to the subversion of the hearers.” (2 Tm 2:14)

Concerning this perennial bane of social interaction, Padre Quadrupani remarks: “Disputes, sarcasm, bitter language, and intolerance for dissenting opinions, are the scourges of conversation.” In the following, he addresses the question of what to do when a conversation turns uncharitable.

“If you hear some evil spoken of your neighbor do not immediately become alarmed, as the matter may be true and quite public without your having been aware of it. Should you be quite certain that there is calumny or slander in the report, either because the evil told was false or exaggerated or because it was not publicly known, then, according to the place, the circumstances and your relations towards those present, say with moderation what appears most fitting to justify or excuse your neighbor. Or you may try to turn the conversation into other channels, or simply be content to show your disapprobation by an expressive silence.” He reminds us: “Remember, for the peace of your conscience, that one does not share in the sin of slander unless he give some mark of approbation or encouragement to the person who is guilty of it.”

“As to the guilty, those who may do harm either through the scandal of their example or the wickedness of their doctrines, it is right that they should be shunned and openly denounced. ‘To cry out wolf, wolf,’ says Saint Francis de Sales, ‘is kindness to the sheep.'”

“The regard we owe our neighbor does not bind us to a politeness that might be construed as an approval or encouragement of his vicious habits. Hence if it happen that you hear an equivocal jest, a witticism slurring at religion or morals, or anything else that really offends against propriety, be careful not to give, through cowardice and in spite of your conscience, any mark of approbation, were it only by one of those half smiles that are often accorded unwillingly and afterwards regretted. Flattery, even in the eyes of the world, is one of the most debasing of falsehoods. Not even in the presence of the greatest earthly dignitaries, will an honest, upright man sanction with his mouth that which he condemns in his heart. He who sacrifices to vice the rights of truth not only acts unlike a Christian, but renders himself unworthy the name of man.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Conversation

Jesus said: “Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may give light to all who are in a house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 5:15-16)

Human beings are social beings. Padre Quadrupani gives advice on how we ought to conduct ourselves in conversation with each other.

He says: “A holy spirit of liberty should dominate our conversations and serve to instil into them a gentle and moderate gaiety.”

“Conversation should be marked by a gentle and devout pleasantness, and your manner when engaged in it, ought to be equable, composed and gracious. Mildness and cheerfulness make devotion and those who practice it attractive to others. The holy abbot Saint Anthony, notwithstanding the extraordinary austerities of his penitential life, always showed such a smiling countenance that no one could look at him without pleasure.” Likewise, “It was by the charm and urbanity of his conversation that Saint Francis de Sales prepared the way for the conversion of numbers of heretics and sinners, and by imitating him you will contribute towards making piety in the world more attractive.”

“In small social gatherings try to make yourself agreeable to everybody present and to show to each some little mark of attention, if you can do so without affectation.”

“We should be neither too talkative nor too silent,—it is as necessary to avoid one extreme as the other. By speaking too much we expose ourselves to a thousand dangers, so well known that they need not be mentioned in detail: by not speaking enough we are apt to be a restraint upon others, as it makes it seem as though we did not relish their conversation, or wished to impress them with our superiority.”

Recall this useful adage: “In conversation we should show deference to our superiors, affability to our equals, and benevolence to our inferiors.”

St. Francis de Sales says: “Charity should govern and enlighten us in order to make us accede to the wishes of our neighbor in whatever is not in any way contrary to the commandments of God.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Meekness

Padre Quadrupani writes: “Our Lord offers us in His Divine Person a model of all the virtues. Meekness, however, is the one that He seems to have wished more particularly to propose for our imitation since He said: ‘Learn of Me for I am meek and humble of heart’ (Mt 11:29).”

“Try, therefore, to acquire and always preserve in your soul this Christian virtue and to make all your exterior actions correspond with it. I do not say that you should never have the slightest feeling of irritation, as that would be to expect an impossibility; but you should be attentive to repress these movements and never yield to them voluntarily.”

“It is natural for man to be often assailed by anger, says Saint Jerome, but it is peculiar to the Christian not to allow himself to be overcome by it.”

“An excellent rule to follow is to make a compact with your tongue such as Saint Francis de Sales did with his, namely, that the tongue remain silent whenever the feelings are irritated.” This is wise, “because the bridle once loosened you will invariably be carried farther than you wished.”

“Reprimand from an angry man can do no good,” writes Quadrupani. And this is why: “Reproof is a moral remedy: how would it be possible for you to select and administer this remedy with discernment and prudence, when you yourself are ill and stand in need of both medicine and physician? Wait therefore until your soul is at peace, and when you have been restored to calmness you can speak advantageously. Even when it is your positive duty to administer a rebuke, defer it if possible until free from excitement, remembering that to have a salutary effect both he who gives it and he who receives it must be calm. Without this precaution the remedy will only aggravate the disease.”

In addition, he advises: “When obliged to reprove the fault of another, never fail to pray that God will speak to the person’s heart whilst your words are sounding in his ears.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Pleasant Zeal

The following words of advice from saints and sages are especially for persons who profess piety, but who are, in the words of Padre Quadrupani, “so prone to irritability, so harsh and rude in their manners and language, that they might be taken for angels in church and for demons elsewhere.”

St. James writes: “If your zeal is bitter, it is not wisdom descending from on high, but earthly, sensual, diabolical.” (Jas 3:14-15)

Quadrupani reminds us of St. Bernard’s advice: “Let us employ the activity of our zeal in our own reformation, says Saint Bernard, and pray humbly for that of others. It is great presumption on our part thus to assume the role of apostles when we are not as yet even good and faithful disciples. Not that you should be by any means indifferent to the salvation of souls: on the contrary you must wish it most ardently, but do not undertake to effect it except with great prudence, humility and diffidence in self.”

The editor of Light and Peace includes these relevant thought of St. Francis de Sales: “You should not only be devout and love devotion, but you ought to make your piety useful, agreeable and charming to everybody. The sick will like your spirituality if they are lovingly consoled by it; your family, if they find that it makes you more thoughtful of their welfare, gentler in every day affairs, more amiable in reproving, and so on; your husband, if he sees that in proportion as your devotion increases you become more cordial and tender in your affection for him; your relations and friends, if they find you more forbearing, and more ready to comply with their wishes, should these not be contrary to God’s will. Briefly, you must try as far as possible to make your devotion attractive to others; that is true zeal.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Unreasonable Zeal

Padre Quadrupani shows how zeal can become unreasonable. He says: “There are pious persons whose zeal consists in wishing to make everybody adopt their particular practices of devotion. . . . This is not an enlightened zeal. Martha and Mary were sisters, says Saint Augustine, but they have not a like office: one acts, the other contemplates. If both had passed the day in contemplation, no one would have prepared a repast for their divine Master; if both had been employed in this material work, there would have been no one to listen to His words and garner up His divine lessons. The same thing may be said of other good works. In choosing among them each person should follow the inspirations of God’s grace, and these are very varied. The eye that sees but hears not, must neither envy nor blame the ear that hears but sees not.”

“Bear well in mind that the zeal which would lead you to undertake works not in conformity with your position, however good and useful they may be in themselves, is always a false one. This is especially true if such cause us interior trouble or annoyance; for the holiest things are infallibly displeasing to God when they do not accord with the duties of our state of life.”

Quadrupani gives this counsel: “Be zealous, therefore, ardently zealous for the salvation of your neighbor, and to further it make use of whatever means God has placed in your power; but do not exceed these limits nor disquiet yourself about the good you are unable to do, for God can accomplish it through others.”

“In conclusion, zeal, according to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, should always have truth for its foundation, indulgence for its companion, mildness for its guide, prudence for its counsellor and director.”

Archbishop Fenelon remarked: “Self-love disguised as zeal grieves and frets if it cannot succeed. . . . My part is to will what Thou willest and to keep myself recollected in Thee amidst all my occupations: Thine it is to give to my feeble efforts such fruit as shall please Thee.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Zeal

Zeal, which is steady ardor in loving, can be reasonable or unreasonable. It can be unreasonable in two ways: when zealotry coerces others to love something, and when jealousy prevents others from loving something. Padre Quadrupani writes: “Zeal for the salvation of souls is a sublime virtue, and yet how many errors and sins are every day committed in its name! Evil is never done more effectually and with greater security, says Saint Francis de Sales, than when one does it believing he is working for the glory of God.”

Quadrupani offers this analogy: “Acts of zeal are like coins the stamp upon which it is necessary to examine attentively, as there are more counterfeits than good ones.” He teaches: “Zeal to be pure should be accompanied with very great humility, for it is of all virtues the one into which self-love most easily glides. When it does so, zeal is apt to become imprudent, presumptuous, unjust, bitter.”

He observes: “In every home there grows some thorn, something, in other words, that needs correction; for the best soil is seldom without its noxious weed. Imprudent zeal, by seeking awkwardly to pluck out the thorn, often succeeds only in plunging it farther in, thus rendering the wound deeper and more painful. In such a case it is essential to act with reflection and great prudence. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, says the Holy Spirit (Eccl 3:7). Prudent zeal is silent when it realizes that to be so is less hurtful than to speak.”

Therefore, “Never allow your zeal to make you over eager to correct others, . . . and when you must do it remember that the most important thing to consider is the choice of the moment.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Rash Judgment, Suspicion, Mistrust

Rash judgment, suspicion, and mistrust are three distinct actions which are often confused with each other. The first is a sin; the second is not only permissible, but often a duty; and the third is merely an involuntary human passion. Padre Quadrupani discusses these three as they pertain to charity.

Concerning rash judgment, he asserts: “It is very difficult for a good Christian to become really guilty of rash judgment, in the true sense of the word,—which is that, without just reasons or sufficient grounds he forms and pronounces in his own mind in a positive manner a condemnation of his neighbor.”

Concerning suspicion, he writes: “Suspicion is permissible when it has for its aim measures of just prudence; charity forbids gratuitously malevolent thoughts, but not vigilance and precaution. . . . Suspicion is not only permissible, but it is at times an important duty for those who are charged with the direction and guardianship of others. Thus it is a positive obligation for a father in regard to his children.” Prudent suspicion is employed by guardians “whenever there is occasion to correct some vice they know exists, or to prevent some fault they have reasonable cause to fear.”

Concerning mistrust, Quadrupani explains that it is “an involuntary and purely passive condition, to which we may be more or less inclined by our natural disposition without our free-will being at all involved.”

He advises then, in summary: “Mistrust, suspicion, rash judgment are then three distinct and very different things, and we should be careful not to confound them.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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