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St Francis de Sales
Bishop and Doctor, (entered heaven this day in 1622)
Please, explain this mystery to me. Why in the world do we modern Christians, who have all the great spiritual books of the Church’s two thousand year history at our finger tips, NOT USE ANY OF THEM? Can you explain that to me? Is there a shortage of spiritual nourishment in the western world? Certainly not, it’s all there on the bookshelves of thousands of libraries, in the warehouses of thousands of bookstores, even in the memory banks of thousands of servers, and yet, LOOK AT HOW MANY OF TODAY’S CHRISTIANS ARE STARVING! I just don’t get it.
I often picture how different the saints were. Take today’s saint, for instance. He was always on the go, but wherever he went, he always took with him his two favorite spiritual books, “The Spiritual Combat” and “The Imitation of Christ.” He had no illusions about being able to survive spiritually on vapid fare, even though his extraordinary natural talents would have enabled him to do so, if anyone could.
Francis de Sales was a nobleman from northeastern France. He graduated with honors from Europe’s best universities (Paris for undergrad work and Padua for law). His father had great plans for him – he arranged the perfect marriage, obtained positions of prestige and influence, and made sure that the most powerful men around were familiar with Francis’ handsome and elegant appearance, intellectual prowess, personal charm, and cultivated habits. But Francis refused to court the chosen young lady, declined the governmental appointments, and only modestly participated in high society’s obligations. Why? Of course, ever since he was a boy, Francis had felt called to give his life to serve God and the Church; he wanted to be a priest. Only the entreaties of relatives, and a cousin’s procurement of a prestigious ecclesiastical appointment, could overcome his father’s initial opposition, but overcome it they did, and much to the Church’s advantage. The future saint began an exemplary and incredible service of spiritual direction, religious instruction, and missionary activity. It culminated in his being named bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, where he had volunteered to take on the risky task of reclaiming Catholics who had been swept away by Calvinism (an early branch of Protestantism). Years of struggle and hardship (including frequent assaults by would-be assassins, beatings by angry mobs, attacks by wolves, sickness and exhaustion) yielded a steady flow of conversions and returns to the true faith, religious foundation, and a torrent of brilliant spiritual writings.
One of these latter was the uncannily eloquent “Introduction to the Devout Life.” If you had only read one spiritual book, and it was this one, you would be well along the path of heaven. It’s especially apt for college students. And yet DOES ANYONE READ IT? Does anyone even RECOMMEND it anymore?!? Here is a sample. See how much common sense is here! How much good, simple advice! Then explain to me why today’s Christians prefer to starve (keep in mind that “devotion” and “perfection” refer to an active spiritual life, and “true” devotion means doing so in docility to God and the Church):
“…Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in a church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbor. Is not his sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfills all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.
“The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it. Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its color, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.
“Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.”
Wouldn’t you like to have such a fellow on campus to give you advice as you try to do your best as a Catholic at college? Well, YOU CAN! Just read his books!
Your exasperated uncle,