Editor's note:

On the feast day of Fran­cis de Sales (Jan­u­ary 24), we offer up this open­ing chap­ter to his mas­ter­work, Intro­duc­tion to the Devout Life. Con­sid­er with us today de Sales’s asser­tion that devo­tion is sim­ply a spir­i­tu­al activ­i­ty and live­li­ness by means of which Divine Love works in us.” We think he makes a com­pelling case.

—Renovaré Team

You aim at a devout life, dear child, 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 wont to com­mit in the begin­ning of any under tak­ing are apt to wax 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. Are­lius was wont to paint all his pic­tures with the fea­tures and expres­sion of the women he loved, and even so we all colour 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 neighbour’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 neigh­bours. 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.

But, in fact, all true and liv­ing devo­tion pre­sup­pos­es the love of God; — and indeed it is nei­ther more nor less than a very real love of God, though not always of the same kind; for that Love one while shin­ing on the soul we call grace, which makes us accept­able to His Divine Majesty; — when it strength­ens us to do well, it is called Char­i­ty; — but when it attains its fullest per­fec­tion, in which it not only leads us to do well, but to act care­ful­ly, dili­gent­ly, and prompt­ly, then it is called Devotion.

The ostrich nev­er flies, the hen ris­es with dif­fi­cul­ty, and achieves but a brief and rare flight, but the eagle, the dove, and the swal­low, are con­tin­u­al­ly on the wing, and soar high; — even so sin­ners do not rise towards God, for all their move­ments are earth­ly and earth­bound. Well-mean­ing peo­ple, who have not as yet attained a true devo­tion, attempt a man­ner of flight by means of their good actions, but rarely, slow­ly and heav­i­ly; while real­ly devout men rise up to God fre­quent­ly, and with a swift and soar­ing wing. In short, devo­tion is sim­ply a spir­i­tu­al activ­i­ty and live­li­ness by means of which Divine Love works in us, and caus­es us to work briskly and lov­ing­ly; and just as char­i­ty leads us to a gen­er­al prac­tice of all God’s Com­mand­ments, so devo­tion leads us to prac­tise them read­i­ly and dili­gent­ly. And there­fore we can­not call him who neglects to observe all God’s Com­mand­ments either good or devout, because in order to be good, a man must be filled with love, and to be devout, he must fur­ther be very ready and apt to per­form the deeds of love. 

And foras­much as devo­tion con­sists in a high degree of real love, it not only makes us ready, active, and dili­gent in fol­low­ing all God’s Com­mands, but it also excites us to be ready and lov­ing in per­form­ing as many good works as pos­si­ble, even such as are not enjoined upon us, but are only mat­ters of coun­sel or inspi­ra­tion. Even as a man just recov­er­ing from ill­ness, walks only so far as he is oblig­ed to go, with a slow and weary step, so the con­vert­ed sin­ner jour­neys along as far as God com­mands him but slow­ly and weari­ly, until he attains a true spir­it of devo­tion, and then, like a sound man, he not only gets along, but he runs and leaps in the way of God’s Com­mands, and has­tens glad­ly along the paths of heav­en­ly coun­sels and inspi­ra­tions. The dif­fer­ence between love and devo­tion is just that which exists between fire and flame; — love being a spir­i­tu­al fire which becomes devo­tion when it is fanned into a flame; — and what devo­tion adds to the fire of love is that flame which makes it eager, ener­getic and dili­gent, not mere­ly in obey­ing God’s Com­mand­ments, but in ful­fill­ing His Divine Coun­sels and inspirations.

Chap­ter 1: What true devo­tion is” is from Fran­cis de Sales’s Intro­duc­tion to the Devout Life, in the pub­lic domain via Catholic Spir­i­tu­al Direction.

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