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A Plan for People’s Spiritual Progress

    Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was a Catholic Bishop who desired to show people how to live a life pleasing to God.  His greatest work is called “Introduction to the Devout Life,” which he wrote in 1609 as a series of letters and which was later collected into a book.  Today it is considered a spiritual classic.  Francis believed that every Christian is called to a life of holiness.  He believed that the initial step of holiness is to vanquish sin.  Francis followed this line of thinking by encouraging Christians to de-emphasize the attraction they feel for sin.  The way to accomplish this is by taking small steps.  Enough of the introduction, following are excerpts from his book:

    “You aim at a devout life . . . because as a Christian you know that such devotion is most acceptable to God's Divine Majesty. But seeing that the small errors people are inclined to commit in the beginning of any under taking are apt to become greater as they advance, and to become irreparable at last, it is most important that you should thoroughly understand wherein lies the grace of true devotion;--and that because while there undoubtedly is such a true devotion, there are also many spurious and idle semblances thereof; and unless you know which is real, you may mistake, and waste your energy in pursuing an empty, profitless shadow . . . [W]e all [pursue] devotion according to our own likings and dispositions. One man sets great value on fasting, and believes himself to be leading a very devout life, so long as he fasts rigorously, although the while his heart is full of bitterness; and while he will not moisten his lips with wine, perhaps not even with water, in his great abstinence, he does not scruple to steep them in his neighbor’s blood, through slander and detraction. Another man reckons himself as devout because he repeats many prayers daily, although at the same time he does not refrain from all manner of angry, irritating, conceited or insulting speeches among his family and neighbors. This man freely opens his purse in almsgiving, but closes his heart to all gentle and forgiving feelings towards those who are opposed to him; while that one is ready enough to forgive his enemies, but will never pay his rightful debts save under pressure. Meanwhile all these people are conventionally called religious, but nevertheless they are in no true sense really devout. When Saul's servants sought to take David, Michal induced them to suppose that the lifeless figure lying in his bed, and covered with his garments, was the man they sought; and in like manner many people dress up an exterior with the visible acts expressive of earnest devotion, and the world supposes them to be really devout and spiritual-minded, while all the time they are mere lay figures, mere phantasms of devotion.”

    “I can never think it well for one whose vocation is clear to waste time in wishing for some different manner of life than that which is adapted to his duty, or practices unsuitable to his present position—it is mere idling, and will make him slack in his needful work. . . .  The Enemy of souls often inspires men with ardent desires for unattainable things, in order to divert their attention from present duties, which would be profitable however trifling in themselves. We are apt to fight African monsters in imagination, while we let very petty foes [or sins] vanquish us in reality for want of due heed.”

©2008 Mark Nickens

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