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Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Introduction to Devout Life Excerpt by St. Frances de Sales

You wish to live a life of devotion, dearest Philothea, because you are a Christian and know that it is a virtue most pleasing to God's Majesty. Since little faults committed in the beginning of a project grow infinitely greater in its course and finally are almost irreparable, above all else you must know what the virtue of devotion is. There is only one true devotion but there are many that are false and empty. If you are unable to recognize which kind is true, you can easily be deceived and led astray by following one that is offensive and superstitious.

In his pictures Arelius painted all faces after the manner and appearance of the women he loved, and so too everyone paints devotion according to his own passions and fancies. A man given to fasting thinks humself very devout if he fasts although his heart may be filled with hatred. Much concerned with sobriety, he doesn't dare to wet his tongue with wine or even water but won't hesitate to drink deep of his neighbor's blood by detraction and calumny. Another man thinks himself devout because he daily recites a vast number of prayers, but after saying them he utters the most disagreeable, arrogant, and harmful words at home and amon the neighbors. Another gladly takes a coin out of his purse and gives it to the poor, but he cannot extract kindness from his heart and forgive his enemies. Another forgives his enemies but never pays his creditors unless compelled to do so by force of law. All these men are usually considered to be devout, but they are by no means such. Saul's servants searched for David in his house but Michol had put a statue on his bed, covered with David's clothes, and thus led them to think that it was David himself lying there sick and sleeping. In the same manner, many persons clothe themselves with certain outward actions connected with holy devotion and the world believes that they are truly devout and spiritual whereas they are in fact nothing but copies and phantoms of devotion.

Genuine, living devotion, Philothea, presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to his Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also do this carefully, frequently, and promptly, it is called devotion. Ostriches never fly; hens fly in a clumsy fashion, near the ground, and only once in a while, but eagles, doves, and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. In like manner, sinners in no way fly up towards God, but make their whole course here upon the earth and for the earth. Good people who have not as yet attained to devotion fly toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly, and awkwardly. Devout souls ascend to him more frequently, promptly, and with lofty flights. In short, devotion is simply that spiritual agility and vivacity by which charity works in us or by aid of which we work quickly and lovingly. Just as it is the function of charity to enable us to observe all God's commandments in general and without exception, so it is part of devotion to enable us to observe them more quickly and diligently. Hence a man who does not observe all God's commandments cannot be held to be either good or devout. To be good he must have charity, and to be devout, in addition to charity he must have great ardor and readiness in performing charitable actions.

Since devotion consists in a certain degree of eminent charity, it not only makes us prompt, active, and faithful in observance of God's commands, but in addition it arouses us to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counselled or inspired. A man just recovered from illness walks only as far as he must and then slowly and with difficulty; so also a sinner just healed of his iniquity walks as far as God commands him, but he walks slowly and with difficulty until such time as he has attained to devotion. Then like a man in sound health he not only walks but runs and leaps forward "on the way of God's commandments." Furthermore, he moves and runs in the paths of his heavenly counsels and inspirations. To conclude, charity and devotion differ no more from one another than does flame from the fire. Charity is spiritual fire and when it bursts into flames, it is called devotion. Hence devotion adds nothing to the fire of charity except the flame that makes charity prompt, active, and diligent not only to observe God's commandments but also to fulfill his heavenly counsels and inspiration.

From the First Part of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales


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