Courtesy, the Flower of Charity

Today's arrogant sloppiness represents the last stage of a progression in which man, intoxicated by a shameless freedom, shows in broad daylight his turpitude and makes it weigh heavily on others. This indecent display is translated into an instinctive loathing of politeness, which is instantaneously and radically put aside, as is proven by the contempt commonly shown for any external sign of courtesy.

It has become usual to ridicule, to mock scornfully, those who are seen as discontented, crotchety old people, constricted by outdated customs whose meaning they do not understand any more, but that they still preserve with jealous care.

On the other hand, it is considered appropriate to applaud the impudent lack of consideration for others, and to see in it the pinnacle of freedom! Finally freed from any rule of propriety, man thinks that he can fulfill himself and behave as he pleases, crying out - to whoever wants to listen - that he has shaken off the infernal yoke of hypocrisy by rejecting the obsolete rules of courtesy. From now on, he can be himself and show in broad daylight his true and profound personality!

We know that behind this coarse sophism hides a contemptible egoism, translated into pleasure by the indecent display of the vilest aspects of man's self. The downslide into animality is never far away when courtesy dies out, as the most wicked instincts are then allowed to run free. We see there, as in many other domains, the intrinsic hypocrisy of our times, in which a revolutionary, slavish flattery panders to our passions and makes them propose to us, as in a mirror, a supposed golden age when - all rules finally abolished - man will be able to live free in a free society, as a "responsible" citizen in an "adult" democracy. Of course, all this, when translated, means only the slavery of lies under the dominion of the worst tyranny - that of the devil, who advances disguised.

We live - or will we soon have to say that we survive? - in a society in which all order has disappeared and where the natural hierarchy of truth, goodness and beauty has become an antiquated criterion of judgment. However, it is only when we submit to this order that we grow, because it gives to the soul a delicacy that is the only thing capable of profoundly forming it. As such delicacy is now vilified and destroyed, we witness the establishment of an anarchy where the barbarian, assured of himself and of his brutal strength, reigns while shamelessly parading his wretched coarseness. Thus, the absence of courtesy rings the death-knell of life in society, the shipwreck of courtesy being no more than the evident sign of the rejection of the virtues without which it is impossible to live in community.

But this deficiency does not affect only the natural order. It also affects the supernatural world, preventing us from living our Faith and sterilizing our will to carry out the spiritual combat. This combat, indeed, requires from us renouncement, submission, control of ourselves, struqqle aqainst our passions. Therefore, it is impossible for us to enqaqe ourselves on such a path and to travel far along it in spite of the thousands of obstacles that we will have to face unless we are constantly vigilant over ourselves. Courtesy obliges us to this supreme attention; if it suddenly disappears, the soul weakens, as no control is exercised any more upon it in a constant manner. And a soul that is not subject to any rule cannot exercise its dominion over the passions.

It is not a question of falling into an excessive affectation, but of allowing man to give to his nature that nobility that is indispensable for the incarnation of the supernatural virtues. The supernatural life is a mystery of participation in the Incarnation of Our Lord and requires a soil in which to take root and be incarnated. Courtesy, while teaching us to master ourselves, makes it possible for grace to be implanted into our hearts in order to raise us to the dignity of children of God- Without it, we would remain enslaved to our passions, incapable of corresponding to the nobility of our Christian vocation.

We renew every day our relationship with God by prayer and penetrate thus into His intimacy. We communicate regularly and receive, by the intermediary of all the sacraments, a closer participation in the very life of the Most Holy Trinity. We are called, every day, to die to ourselves. All of this is impossible if we have not refined our soul by subjecting it to the rules of simple courtesy.

Courtesy is commonly called the flower of charity and it is such indeed. It belongs to those virtues that are easily disregarded because they appear unimportant to our proud eyes, usually fascinated by shiny externals. But they are essential for our edification, and their frequent absence certainly explains why our interior life is so poor.

The saints have shown us the way with their examples of courtesy. Think of St. Francis of Sales, St. Pius X - or, closer to us, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who never departed from such courtesy, in spite of the many wrongful attacks of which he was the victim. Their different virtues found in courtesy a favorable ground for an incarnation that enabled them to grow in the divine intimacy, because courtesy is nothing more than a substructure that strengthens the soul and allows it to engage in the combats of life.

As this is an important question, this month we simply introduce it with these brief lines. Experience shows us that where courtesy has been lacking, the passions of the "old man" have no restraint, while, on the contrary, courtesy, when recognized and respected, fortifies the soul.

Source: Fr. Yves Le Roux's April 2006 letter