Francis de Sales (3)
9. Angelic Hearts
I ask you to regard attentively those who are on this ladder. They are either people with angelic hearts of angels in human bodies. They are not young, although they seem to be so because they are so full of vigor and spiritual agility. They have wings to soar aloft in holy prayer and they also have feet to walk among people in a holy and loving way of life.
Their faces are beautiful and joyous because they accept all things meekly and mildly. Their legs, arms, and heads are uncovered because in their thoughts, affections, and deeds they have no purpose or motive but that of pleasing God. The rest of their body is clothed but only by a decent light robe because they use the world and worldly things but do so in a most pure and proper way, taking of them only what is necessary for their condition. Such are devout persons.
10. The Scent of Sweetness
Believe me, my dear Philothea, devotion is the delight of delights and queen of the virtues since it is the perfection of charity. If charity is milk, devotion is its cream; if it is a plant, devotion is its blossom; if it is a precious stone, devotion is its luster; if it is rich ointment, devotion is its beautiful scent, yes, the scent of sweetness which comforts humans and rejoices angels.
11. Every Vocation Dipped in Honey
Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince, the widow, the young girl, and the married woman. Not only is this true, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, activities, and duties of each particular person.
Philothea, true devotion does us no harm whatsoever, but instead perfects all things. When it goes contrary to one’s lawful vocation, it is undoubtedly false. “The bee,” Aristotle says, “extracts honey out of flowers without hurting them” and leaves them as whole and fresh as it finds them. True devotion does better still. It not only does no injury to one’s vocation or occupation, but on the contrary adorns and beautifies it. All kinds of precious stones take on greater luster when dipped into honey, each according to its color. So also very vocation becomes more agreeable when united with devotion. Care of one’s family is rendered more peaceable, love of husband and wife more sincere, service of one’s prince more faithful, and every type of employment more pleasant and agreeable.
12. Someone to Lead You
When commanded to go to Rages, young Tobias answered, “I do not know the way,” and his father replied, “Go then and find someone to lead you.” I say the same thing to you, Philothea. Do you seriously wish to travel the road to devotion? If so, look for a good person to guide and lead you. This is the most important of all words of advice. As the devout Avila says, “Although you seek God’s will, you will never find it with such certainty as on the path of that humble obedience so highly praised and practiced by all devout writers.”
Who shall find such a friend? The Wise Man answers, “Those who fear the Lord,” that is humble souls who sincerely desire to make spiritual progress. Since it is important for you, Philothea, to have a guide as you travel on this holy road to devotion, you must most insistently beseech God to provide you with one after his own heart. Have no misgivings in this regard for he who sent down an angel from heaven, as he did to young Tobias, will give you a good and faithful guide.
Bible Selection: Romans 13:8-10
8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
1. “Everyone paints devotion according to his own passions and fancies,” writes Francis de Sales, meaning that we tend to emphasize the doing of certain spiritual disciplines with which we are comfortable while neglecting others. What are some of you favorite devotional practices? Which do you find the most difficult to do?
2. Francis speaks of three stages of spiritual growth (a beginning awareness – grace; strength to do good works – charity; and the ability to do good frequently and promptly – devotion) and compares them to three types of birds (those that cannot fly – ostriches; those that fly clumsily – hens; and those that soar – eagles). Which stage (or bird!) best describes you? Why?
3. What does the nonbeliever see as he or she looks at the life of a devout person? What does the nonbeliever not see?
4. In Romans 13:10, Paul proclaims, “Love does no wrong.” Francis de Sales writes in a similar fashion, “True devotion does … no harm whatsoever.” When have you seen religious devotion actually do harm to others? Describe. When have you seen religious devotion “adorn and beautify” others?
5. Francis reminds us that devotion “must be exercised in different ways” and that it “must be adapted to the strength, activities, and duties of each particular person.” Given your level of spiritual energy, your weekly activities and duties, what kind of devotional habits fit your needs?