Today, January 24, is the memorial to St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church.
It was in praying the Office of Readings today that I was made aware of his book, Introduction to the Devout Life. In this section of the book was the answer to the question, “What should I do with my life?”
Well, not really the answer, but some very good direction for us as Christian stewards, disciples of Jesus Christ.
Spiritual direction, specifically. The whole book is about spiritual direction, and it is the compilation of St. Francis’ working with an individual who was seeking to live a devout life and sought our saint’s assistance in attaining that desire.
He begins his work with an introduction where he says “DEAR reader, I request you to read this Preface for your own satisfaction as well as mine.” Now I don’t know about you, but there are many times I skip the introduction of a book, telling myself that I need to get to the heart of the matter. Yet this time I felt compelled to read the preface, especially after that first sentence.
His preface, a beautiful treatise on its own, goes on to describe the encounter he had with an individual who requested spiritual direction from him. He calls this person “A certain soul, abounding in uprightness and virtue, … aspir(ing) a more earnestly … devout life.” What follows is his advice to her, “…written records thereof, to which she might have recourse when necessary.” Thus do we have those instructions available to ourselves.
He doesn’t tell us the name of the person to whom he is giving this direction, but that “I have addressed my instructions to Philothea …. meaning one who loves God.” Meaning all of us who love God. He uses that name throughout the book. When we realize that name means all of us, it is as though we are sitting across from St. Francis de Sales himself, giving us spiritual direction.
I found it fascinating that he addressed the fact that, as a bishop, people said he should not be spending his time doing some so lowly as providing spiritual direction to an individual. He dispenses with that particular notion by invoking the names of Sts. Paul, Petronilla, and Mark as providing spiritual direction for individuals, so why not him.
Finally, St. Francis tells us that he is not a devout man himself, but wishes to become one, which is why he is teaching his student. He writes “A notable literary man has said that a good way to learn is to study, a better to listen, and the best to teach. And S. Augustine, writing to the devout Flora, says, that giving is a claim to receive, and teaching a way to learn.”
Now how about that claim I made regarding what we are called to do?
We are all called to “… love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (MT 22:37) St. Francis tells us that we can do this no matter our vocation, and we can do this in accord with our calling. “A different exercise of devotion is required of each—the noble, the artisan, the servant, the prince, the maiden and the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual.”
Our vocations should always be God centered. Our LIVES should be God centered. In spite of our rationalization to compartmentalize our lives – “This is God’s, this is mine.” – St. Francis tells us that “It is an error, nay more, a very heresy, to seek to banish the devout life from the soldier’s guardroom, the mechanic’s workshop, the prince’s court, or the domestic hearth.”
Don’t leave God at the office door. You may not be able to celebrate Mass in the office, but if we live our lives as stewards – disciples – of Jesus Christ, then God is with us regardless of what it says in the policies and procedures manual.
The Church is incredibly, immeasurably rich in the treasury of the writings of the saints. Introduction to the Devout Life is a jewel in that treasury.
St. Francis de Sales, pray for us.