Francis de Sales (2)
4. The Fire of Charity
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, but those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired. A person just recovered from illness walks only as far as he must and then slowly with difficulty; so also a sinner just healed of an 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 someone 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 the 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 inspirations.
5. The World Distorts Holy Devotion
Those who discouraged the Israelites from going into the Promised Land told them that it was a country that “devoured its inhabitants.” In other words, they said that the air was so malignant it was impossible to live there for long, and its natives such monsters that they ate humans like locusts. It is in this manner, my dear Philothea, that the world distorts holy devotion as much as it can. It pictures devout persons as having discontented, gloomy, sullen faces and claims that devotion brings on depression and unbearable moods.
But just as Joshua and Caleb held both that the Promised Land was good and beautiful and that its possession would be sweet and agreeable, so too the Holy Spirit by the mouths of all the saints and our Lord by his own mouth assure us that a devout life is sweet, happy, and loveable.
6. They Change It into Honey
The world sees devout people as they pray, fast, endure injuries, take care of the sick, give alms to the poor, keep vigils, restrain anger, control their passions, give up sensual pleasures, and perform other actions that are rigorous in themselves and by their very nature.
But the world does not see the heartfelt inward devotion that renders all such actions pleasant, sweet, and easy. Look at the bees amid the banks of thyme. They find there a very bitter juice, but when they suck it out, they change it into honey because they have the ability to do so.
O worldly people! It is true that devout souls encounter great bitterness in their works of mortification, but by performing them they change them into something more sweet and delicious. Because the martyrs were devout men and women, fire, flame, wheel, and sword seemed to be flowers and perfume to them. If devotion can sweeten the most cruel torments and even death itself, what must it do for virtuous actions?
7. Spiritual Sugar
Sugar sweetens green fruit and in ripe fruit corrects whatever is crude and unwholesome. Now devotion is true spiritual sugar for it removes bitterness from discipline and anything harmful from our consolations. From the poor it takes away discontent, care from the rich, grief from the oppressed, pride from the exalted, melancholy from the solitary, and facturedness from those who lives in society.
It serves with equal benefit as fire in winter and dew in summer. It knows how to use prosperity and how to endure want. It makes both honor and contempt useful to us. It accepts pleasure and pain with a heart that is nearly always the same, and it fills us with a marvelous sweetness.
8. Various Degrees of Charity
Consider “Jacob’s ladder,” for it is a true picture of the devout life. The two sides between which we climb upward and to which the rungs are fastened represent prayer, which calls down God’s love, and sacraments, which confer it. The rungs are the various degrees of charity by which we advance from virtue to virtue, either by descending by deeds of help and support for our neighbor or by contemplation ascending to a loving union with God.