Excerpts from Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

The September 14, 2016 edition of Ex Libris featured a great one, as always – if I do say so myself 😛  The full text of St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life can be found online at http://www.catholicspiritualdirection.org/devoutlife.pdf

A printable version of the excerpt is located at tinyurl.com/introdevoutlife.

Part III: Containing Counsels Concerning the Practice of Virtue

CHAPTER VIII. Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger.

THE holy Chrism, used by the Church according to apostolic tradition, is made of olive oil mingled with balm, which, among other things, are emblematic of two virtues very specially conspicuous in our Dear Lord Himself, and which He has specially commended to us, as though they, above all things, drew us to Him and taught us to imitate Him: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” Humility makes our lives acceptable to God, meekness makes us acceptable to men. Balm, as I said before, sinking to the bottom of all liquids, is a figure of humility; and oil, floating as it does to the top, is a figure of gentleness and cheerfulness, rising above all things, and excelling all things, the very flower of Love, which, so says S. Bernard, comes to perfection when it is not merely patient, but gentle and cheerful. Give heed, then, daughter, that you keep this mystic chrism of gentleness and humility in your heart, for it is a favourite device of the Enemy to make people content with a fair outside semblance of these graces, not examining their inner hearts, and so fancying themselves to be gentle and humble while they are far otherwise.

[…] Having thus gently exerted yourself, follow the advice which the aged S. Augustine gave to a younger Bishop, Auxilius. “Do,” said he, “what a man should do.” If you are like the Psalmist, ready to cry out, “Mine eye is consumed for very anger,” go on to say, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord;” so that God may stretch forth His Right Hand and control your wrath. I mean, that when we feel stirred with anger, we ought to call upon God for help, like the Apostles, when they were tossed about with wind and storm, and He is sure to say, “Peace, be still.” But even here I would again warn you, that your very prayers against the angry feelings which urge you should be gentle, calm, and without vehemence. Remember this rule in whatever remedies against anger you may seek. Further, directly you are conscious of an angry act, atone for the fault by some speedy act of meekness towards the person who excited your anger. It is a sovereign cure for untruthfulness to unsay what you have falsely said at once on detecting yourself in falsehood; and so, too, it is a good remedy for anger to make immediate amends by some opposite act of meekness. There is an old saying, that fresh wounds are soonest closed.

Moreover, when there is nothing to stir your wrath, lay up a store of meekness and kindliness, speaking and acting in things great and small as gently as possible. Remember that the Bride of the Canticles is described as not merely dropping honey, and milk also, from her lips, but as having it “under her tongue;” that is to say, in her heart. So we must not only speak gently to our neighbour, but we must be filled, heart and soul, with gentleness; and we must not merely seek the sweetness of aromatic honey in courtesy and suavity with strangers, but also the sweetness of milk among those of our own household and our neighbours; a sweetness terribly lacking to some who are as angels abroad and devils at home!

CHAPTER IX. On Gentleness towards Ourselves.

ONE important direction in which to exercise gentleness, is with respect to ourselves, never growing irritated with one’s self or one’s imperfections; for although it is but reasonable that we should be displeased and grieved at our own faults, yet ought we to guard against a bitter, angry, or peevish feeling about them. Many people fall into the error of being angry because they have been angry, vexed because they have given way to vexation, thus keeping up a chronic state of irritation, which adds to the evil of what is past, and prepares the way for a fresh fall on the first occasion. Moreover, all this anger and irritation against one’s self fosters pride, and springs entirely from self-love, which is disturbed and fretted by its own imperfection. What we want is a quiet, steady, firm displeasure at our own faults. […] All this arises solely because men do not judge themselves by the light of reason, but under the influence of passion.

Believe me, my daughter, as a parent’s tender affectionate remonstrance has far more weight with his child than anger and sternness, so, when we judge our own heart guilty, if we treat it gently, rather in a spirit of pity than anger, encouraging it to amendment, its repentance will be much deeper and more lasting than if stirred up in vehemence and wrath.

For instance:—Let me suppose that I am specially seeking to conquer vanity, and yet that I have fallen conspicuously into that sin;—instead of taking myself to task as abominable and wretched, for breaking so many resolutions, calling myself unfit to lift up my eyes to Heaven, as disloyal, faithless, and the like, I would deal pitifully and quietly with myself. “Poor heart! so soon fallen again into the snare! Well now, rise up again bravely and fall no more. Seek God’s Mercy, hope in Him, ask Him to keep you from falling again, and begin to tread the pathway of humility afresh. We must be more on our guard henceforth.” Such a course will be the surest way to making a steadfast substantial resolution against the special fault, to which should be added any external means suitable, and the advice of one’s director. If any one does not find this gentle dealing sufficient, let him use sterner self-rebuke and admonition, provided only, that whatever indignation he may rouse against himself, he finally works it all up to a tender loving trust in God, treading in the footsteps of that great penitent who cried out to his troubled soul: “Why art thou so vexed, O my soul, and why art thou so disquieted within me? O put thy trust in God, for I will yet thank Him, Which is the help of my countenance, and my God.”

So then, when you have fallen, lift up your heart in quietness, humbling yourself deeply before God by reason of your frailty, without marvelling that you fell;—there is no cause to marvel because weakness is weak, or infirmity infirm. Heartily lament that you should have offended God, and begin anew to cultivate the lacking grace, with a very deep trust in His Mercy, and with a bold, brave heart.

CHAPTER X. We must attend to the Business of Life carefully, but without Eagerness or Over-anxiety.

THE care and diligence due to our ordinary business are very different from solicitude, anxiety and restlessness. The Angels care for our salvation and seek it diligently, but they are wholly free from anxiety and solicitude, for, whereas care and diligence naturally appertain to their love, anxiety would be wholly inconsistent with their happiness; for although care and diligence can go hand in hand with calmness and peace, those angelic properties could not unite with solicitude or anxiety, much less with over-eagerness.

Therefore, my daughter, be careful and diligent in all your affairs; God, Who commits them to you, wills you to give them your best attention; but strive not to be anxious and solicitous, that is to say, do not set about your work with restlessness and excitement, and do not give way to bustle and eagerness in what you do;—every form of excitement affects both judgment and reason, and hinders a right performance of the very thing which excites us.

Our Lord, rebuking Martha, said, “Thou art careful and troubled about many things.” If she had been simply careful, she would not have been troubled, but giving way to disquiet and anxiety, she grew eager and troubled, and for that our Lord reproved her. The rivers which flow gently through our plains bear barges of rich merchandise, and the gracious rains which fall softly on the land fertilise it to bear the fruits of the earth;—but when the rivers swell into torrents, they hinder commerce and devastate the country, and violent storms and tempests do the like. […] Accept the duties which come upon you quietly, and try to fulfil them methodically, one after another. If you attempt to do everything at once, or with confusion, you will only cumber yourself with your own exertions, and by dint of perplexing your mind you will probably be overwhelmed and accomplish nothing.

In all your affairs lean solely on God’s Providence, by means of which alone your plans can succeed. Meanwhile, on your part work on in quiet co-operation with Him, and then rest satisfied that if you have trusted entirely to Him you will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.

Imitate a little child, whom one sees holding tight with one hand to its father, while with the other it gathers strawberries or blackberries from the wayside hedge. Even so, while you gather and use this world’s goods with one hand, always let the other be fast in your Heavenly Father’s Hand, and look round from time to time to make sure that He is satisfied with what you are doing, at home or abroad. Beware of letting go, under the idea of making or receiving more—if He forsakes you, you will fall to the ground at the first step. When your ordinary work or business is not specially engrossing, let your heart be fixed more on God than on it; and if the work be such as to require your undivided attention, then pause from time to time and look to God, even as navigators who make for the haven they would attain, by looking up at the heavens rather than down upon the deeps on which they sail. So doing, God will work with you, in you, and for you, and your work will be blessed.

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