1. Be gentle and compassionate towards your dear daughters.
We readily link gentleness and humility for we recall the words of Matthew's Gospel: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart." (Mt.11:29). However, Angela is also linking gentleness to compassion here. And she does not discuss what gentleness is apart from a stance of humilty and a heart of compassion. Thus gentleness is not to be understood merely as a demeanour of quiet movements and speech, soft tread, a seemingly meek submissiveness, non-assertiveness, and even timidity, the adoption of some manner of behaviour or speech. Rather, for Angela, gentleness derives from a compassionate heart, and an appreciation of knowing who it is that one leads, that one is in service of - dear daughters. The outward manifestation of gentleness derives from a humble and compassionate heart.
2. And strive to act solely out of the sole love of God and out of the sole zeal for souls when you admonish and advise them, or exhort them to some good and dissuade them from some evil.
Note that St Angela says "strive". Humility is also truthfulness, and realisticaly Angela acknowledges that to be driven solely by otherness - love of God and love of others - is something that we grow into throughout life. "Solely" might be our desire, but our egos are slow to give up the struggle to impinge in some way on our motivation. Our constant struggle is to let the sole driving force in our lives become increasingly and exclusively the love of God and His Reign, until not only we, but all of creation are shot through with His Love. That love is a compassionate love. The repetition of "sole" is indicative of the undaunting single-mindedness for which St Angela constantly strove, that same single mindedness that lead Jesus to his cross. Angela continues:
3-7. For you will achieve more with kindness and gentleness than with harsh and sharp rebukes, which should be reserved only for cases of necessity, and even then, at the right place and time, according to the persons. But charity, which directs everything to the honour of God and the good of souls, charity indeed teaches such discretion, and moves the heart to be, according to place and time, now gentle and now severe, and little or much as there is need.
We see here the wisdom that acknowledges the power of the positive to encourage another. However, we also see quite clearly that the gentleness of which Anglea speaks, may in fact give way on occasion to a severity of behaviour and speech, but it is charity and compassion that will teach one discretion in how to act and speak. We recall the words of St Paul that the Kingdom of God is righteousness (right relating), joy and peace in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17) and that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Gal.5:22). By contrast, actions and speech that arise from anger, jealousy, envy, etc. (Gal.5:21) are not from the Spirit. So, in those moments when we are called upon to be strong or severe in our actions and speech, such severity, must not arise from anger, envy, jealousy, loss of self-control in the heat of the moment, in any way. Rather it must arise solely and deliberately, discerned in the Spirit, from a passion for the love of God and all that God loves and carried out at the right time and place and manner. Such discernment, such "controlled and deliberate" use of severity, demands an honesty with oneself before God to ensure one is driven solely by love of God and love of the other. The necessity of it should be rare, and according to the person (not their deeds), for we will achieve more with gentleness and kindness. The service of leadership is to encourage growth in the person, growth in their relationship with the One who loves them. Therefore, it is a leadership that "targets" the heart, not a leadership for establishing norms of behaviour, dress, speech - externals. Rather these follow from the heart. It takes much discernment to judge that the heart of another is in need of a word of severity. Only love and compassion can teach this. Angela's wisdom here finds resonance with James 3:13-18 "Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and slefish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace." See also 2 Tim. 2:24-25 "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness." And in Col.3:12-15 we read "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgive you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yoursleves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."
Angela's teaching is not new. Rather, St Angela shows herself to be a woman steeped in the Word of God. Her Counsel continues:
8-11. If you see one faint-hearted and timid and inclined to despondency, comfort her, encourage her, promise her the blessing of the mercy of God, lift her heart with every consolation. And on the contrary, if you see another presumptuous, and who has a lax conscience and little fear of anything, into this one instill some fear; remind her of the rigour of the justice of God, and how sin is an insidious thing, and how we are in the midst of snares, and how we always have reason to stand in fear, as Scripture says: Beatus qui semper est pavidus"; that is, blessed is he who always stands in fear.
Rom.12:15 tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep while in 1 Thes. 5:14-16 we read with amazing similarity of expression: "And we urge you, beloved to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all."
If St Angela's words so closely echo scripture, then scripture must provide the norm for their interpretation. None of Angela's words can be dismissed as representative of a piety or spirituality of a bygone era. The essence of her words is true to the teaching of the scriptures and their perennial wisdom. What we must take from these words is the balance to be sought, that there is no one way of being towards others. Rather our response to each person is according to that person's needs. And this takes wisdom. Note the end of Psalm 111 and beginning of Psalm 112
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; All those who practice it have a good understanding.His praise endures forever. (Ps.111:10)
Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments." (Ps.112:1)
St Angela is also a woman of the heart, a woman possessed with a hunger for truth, to know the truth of one's own heart. Her chapter on obedience in her rule speaks of obedience as a "great light", as that which shields us from the blindness of our own self will, that guides us towards discernment of Truth, and the voice of the Holy Spirit constantly to be heard in the depths of our hearts. To this voice must we be ultimately obedient. Angela is all too well aware of how easy it is to delude and deceive ourselves. When one has a sense of the true "Fear of the Lord", then one has the beginning of this wisdom and one is truly blessed. The scriptural "Fear of the Lord" is not a fear of terror, a fear of a vengeful God, but rather the fear that arises from awe at the greatness of God, a God who is infinitely forgiving, tender and compassionate.