Introductory 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.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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