In a recent episode of The Rose of Versailles, Oscar’s coldness towards the now Queen Marie Antoinette struck me as too severe. Since her rescue of Marie Antoinette, the queen has always held Oscar in esteem, and she uses her new authority to pour favors onto Oscar’s lap: she raises Oscar to the post of regimental commander and lavishes her with gifts. However, Oscar turns down the gifts, sets conditions on her promotion, and only associates with Antoinette to the degree that her duty prescribes. At the same time, Oscar bemoans Antoinette’s lavish spending, her neglect of royal duties, and the plight of the poor.
I find myself vexed with Oscar’s attitude. Her polar opposite is a young Swedish nobleman by the name of Fersen, who basks in Marie Antoinette’s presence and adores the young lady for her beauty and grace. At times, he tries to remind Antoinette of her duty, but his efforts are weak. Fersen and Oscar become perfect examples of how not to influence someone’s conduct for the better: neither syrupy amiability nor stringent adherence to duty influence a person’s conversion. Christians are to stay salty (Matt. 5:13), but a spoonful of honey catches more flies than ten barrels of vinegar, as St. Francis de Sales tells us.
People don’t realize the importance of friendships and good associations in the fight for virtue. But, did not Our Lord specifically come down to make friends with us? “No longer do I call you servants…but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Among Catholics, being friends with God is essential (i.e. remaining in a state of grace), but it is also strongly recommended to form friendships with the saints or the friends of God, as medieval Scandinavians termed the saints. Trying to follow the example of the saints prevents us from forming that friendship with the world which is enmity with God (James 4:4). How should we be without good Christian friends to remind us of the moral way of life and the true end of our lives? Probably not much different from Queen Marie Antoinette.
Another French queen hailing from Austria–Anne, the wife of King Louis XIII–had the extraordinary luck to be friends with St. Vincent de Paul, whom she made part of her advisory board called the Council of Conscience. Similar to Marie Antoinette, Anne of Austria was caught up in court life and even is rumored to have had a few extramarital affairs (the Duke of Buckingham and Cardinal Mazarin being her most famous paramours). Yet, that she created a Council of Conscience to advise her on ethical matters, especially on whom to recommend for priesthood and episcopal offices, and that she and her husband often gave to charitable causes show the good influence of St. Vincent de Paul.
Similarly, if we also wish to convert our secular neighbors, we ought neither shun them nor conform to all their ways. Our love of the faith and righteousness prompt us to speak about these things and slowly influence others for good through our words and deeds. We can surely attract more persons to the Christian Faith with honey than by vinegar!