Francis de Sales: Spiritual Sugar-Plums Friday, Jan 24 2014 

Franz_von_SalesJanuary 24th is the feast of St Francis de Sales.

A little child, who sees the surgeon bleed his mother, will cry when he sees the lancet touch her;

but let that mother for whom he weeps ask for his apple or a sugar-plum which he has in his hand, and he will on no account part with it; and too much of our seeming devotion is of this kind.

We weep feelingly at the spear piercing the Crucified Saviour’s Side, and we do well,—but why cannot we give Him the apple we hold, for which He asks, heartily?

I mean our heart, the only love-apple which that Dear Saviour craves of us.

Why cannot we resign the numberless trifling attachments, indulgences, and self-complacencies of which He fain would deprive us, only we will not let Him do so; because they are the sugar-plums, sweeter to our taste than His Heavenly Grace?

Surely this is but as the fondness of children;—demonstrative, but weak, capricious, unpractical.

Devotion does not consist in such exterior displays of a tenderness which may be purely the result of a naturally impressionable, plastic character; or which may be the seductive action of the Enemy, or an excitable imagination stirred up by him.

Nevertheless these tender warm emotions are sometimes good and useful, for they kindle the spiritual appetite, cheer the mind, and infuse a holy gladness into the devout life, which embellishes all we do even externally.

It was such a taste for holy things that made David cry out, “O how sweet are Thy words unto my throat, yea, sweeter than honey unto my mouth.” And assuredly the tiniest little comfort received through devotion is worth far more than the most abundant delights of this world.

The milk of the Heavenly Bridegroom, in other words His spiritual favours, are sweeter to the soul than the costliest wine of the pleasures of this world, and to those who have tasted thereof all else seems but as gall and wormwood.

There is a certain herb which, if chewed, imparts so great a sweetness that they who keep it in their mouth cannot hunger or thirst; even so those to whom God gives His Heavenly manna of interior sweetness and consolation, cannot either desire or even accept worldly consolations with any real zest or satisfaction.

It is as a little foretaste of eternal blessedness which God gives to those who seek it; it is as the sugar-plum with which He attracts His little ones; as a cordial offered to strengthen their heart; as the first-fruits of their future reward.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life, 4, 13.

Francis de Sales: The Magnet of our Heart Must Continually Point to the Love of God Tuesday, Dec 17 2013 

Franz_von_SalesThe order of God’s Providence maintains a perpetual vicissitude in the material being of this world.

[…] No two days are ever exactly alike. Some are foggy, rainy, some dry or windy; and this endless variety greatly enhances the beauty of the universe.

And even so precisely is it with man (who, as ancient writers have said, is a miniature of the world), for he is never long in any one condition, and his life on earth flows by like the mighty waters, heaving and tossing with an endless variety of motion;

one  raising him on high with hope, another plunging him low in fear; now turning him to the right with rejoicing, then driving him to the left with sorrows; and no single day, no, not even one hour, is entirely the same as any other of his life.

All this is a very weighty warning, and teaches us to aim at an abiding and unchangeable evenness of mind amid so great an uncertainty of events; and, while all around is changing, we must seek to remain immoveable, ever looking to, reaching after and desiring our God.

Let the ship take what tack you will, let her course be eastward or westward, northern or southern, let any wind whatsoever fill her sails, but meanwhile her compass will never cease to point to its one unchanging lodestar.

Let all around us be overthrown, nay more, all within us; I mean let our soul be sad or glad, in bitterness or joy, at peace or troubled, dry and parched, or soft and fruitful, let the sun scorch, or the dew refresh it;

but all the while the magnet of our heart and mind, our superior will, which is our moral compass, must continually point to the Love of God our Creator, our Saviour, our only Sovereign Good.

“Whether we live, we live unto the Lord, or whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord’s. Who shall separate us from the Love of Christ?”

Nay, verily, nothing can ever separate us from that Love;—neither tribulation nor distress, neither death nor life, neither present suffering nor fear of ills to come; neither the deceits of evil spirits nor the heights of satisfaction, nor the depths of sorrow; neither tenderness nor desolation, shall be able to separate us from that Holy Love, whose foundation is in Christ Jesus.

Such a fixed resolution never to forsake God, or let go of His Precious Love, serves as ballast to our souls, and will keep them stedfast amid the endless changes and chances of this our natural life.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life, 4, 13.

Francis de Sales: Remedies for Sadness and Melancholy Tuesday, Nov 19 2013 

Franz_von_SalesThe Evil One delights in sadness and melancholy, because they are his own characteristics.

He will be in sadness and sorrow through all Eternity, and he would fain have all others the same.

The “sorrow of the world” disturbs the heart, plunges it into anxiety, stirs up unreasonable fears, disgusts it with prayer, overwhelms and stupefies the brain, deprives the soul of wisdom, judgment, resolution and courage, weakening all its powers.

In a word, it is like a hard winter, blasting all the earth’s beauty, and numbing all animal life; for it deprives the soul of sweetness and power in every faculty.

Should you, my daughter, ever be attacked by this evil spirit of sadness, make use of the following remedies.

[…] Prayer is a sovereign remedy, it lifts the mind to God, Who is our only Joy and Consolation.

But when you pray let your words and affections, whether interior or exterior, all tend to love and trust in God.

“O God of Mercy, most Loving Lord, Sweet Saviour, Lord of my heart, my Joy, my Hope, my Beloved, my Bridegroom.”

Vigorously resist all tendencies to melancholy, and although all you do may seem to be done coldly, wearily and indifferently, do not give in.

The Enemy strives to make us languid in doing good by depression, but when he sees that we do not cease our efforts to work, and that those efforts become all the more earnest by reason of their being made in resistance to him, he leaves off troubling us.

Make use of hymns and spiritual songs; they have often frustrated the Evil One in his operations, as was the case when the evil spirit which possessed Saul was driven forth by music and psalmody.

It is well also to occupy yourself in external works, and that with as much variety as may lead us to divert the mind from the subject which oppresses it, and to cheer and kindle it, for depression generally makes us dry and cold.

[…] Moderate bodily discipline is useful in resisting depression, because it rouses the mind from dwelling on itself; and frequent Communion is specially valuable; the Bread of Life strengthens the heart and gladdens the spirits.

Lay bare all the feelings, thoughts and longings which are the result of your depression to your confessor or director, in all humility and faithfulness; seek the society of spiritually-minded people, and frequent such as far as possible while you are suffering.

And, finally, resign yourself into God’s Hands, endeavouring to bear this harassing depression patiently, as a just punishment for past idle mirth. Above all, never doubt but that, after He has tried you sufficiently, God will deliver you from the trial.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life, 4, 12.

Francis de Sales: Trifling Temptations which Flit Around like Flies or Gnats Tuesday, Mar 5 2013 

Franz_von_SalesNow as to all these trifling temptations of vanity, suspicion, vexation, jealousy, envy, and the like, which flit around one like flies or gnats, now settling on one’s nose,—anon stinging one’s cheek,—as it is wholly impossible altogether to free one’s-self from their importunity.

The best resistance one can make is not to be fretted by them. All these things may worry one, but they cannot really harm us, so long as our wills are firmly resolved to serve God.

Therefore despise all these trivial onslaughts, and do not even deign to think about them; but let them buzz about your ears as much as they please, and flit hither and thither just as you tolerate flies.

Even if they sting you, and strive to light within your heart, do no more than simply remove them, not fighting with them, or arguing, but simply doing that which is precisely contrary to their suggestions, and specially making acts of the Love of God.

If you will take my advice, you will not toil on obstinately in resisting them by exercising the contrary virtue, for that would become a sort of struggle with the foe.

But, after making an act of this directly contrary virtue (always supposing you have time to recognise what the definite temptation is), simply turn with your whole heart towards Jesus Christ Crucified, and lovingly kiss His Sacred Feet.

This is the best way to conquer the Enemy, whether in small or great temptations. For, inasmuch as the Love of God contains the perfection of every virtue, and that more excellently than the very virtues themselves, it is also the most sovereign remedy against all vice.

And, if you accustom your mind under all manner of temptation to have recourse to this safety-place, you will not be constrained to enter upon a worryingly minute investigation of your temptations, but, so soon as you are anywise troubled, your mind will turn naturally to its one sovereign remedy.

Moreover, this way of dealing with temptation is so offensive to the Evil One, that, finding he does but provoke souls to an increased love of God by his assaults, he discontinues them.

In short, you may be sure that if you dally with your minor, oft-recurring temptations, and examine too closely into them in detail, you will simply stupefy yourself to no purpose.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life, 4, 9.

Francis de Sales: Strive Above All Else to Keep a Calm and Restful Spirit Thursday, Jan 24 2013 

Franz_von_SalesAnxiety of mind is not so much an abstract temptation, as the source whence various temptations arise.

Sadness, when defined, is the mental grief we feel because of our involuntary ailments—whether the evil be exterior, such as poverty, sickness or contempt; or interior, such as ignorance, dryness, depression or temptation.

Directly that the soul is conscious of some such trouble, it is downcast, and so trouble sets in.

Then we at once begin to try to get rid of it, and find means to shake it off; and so far rightly enough, for it is natural to us all to desire good, and shun that which we hold to be evil.

If anyone strives to be delivered from his troubles out of love of God, he will strive patiently, gently, humbly and calmly, looking for deliverance rather to God’s Goodness and Providence than to his own industry or efforts.

But if self-love is the prevailing object he will grow hot and eager in seeking relief, as though all depended more upon himself than upon God. I do not say that the person thinks so, but he acts eagerly as though he did think it.

Then if he does not find what he wants at once, he becomes exceedingly impatient and troubled, which does not mend matters, but on the contrary makes them worse, and so he gets into an unreasonable state of anxiety and distress, till he begins to fancy that there is no cure for his trouble.

Thus you see how a disturbance, which was right at the outset, begets anxiety, and anxiety goes on into an excessive distress, which is exceedingly dangerous.

[…] Just as internal commotions and seditions ruin a commonwealth, and make it incapable of resisting its foreign enemies, so if our heart be disturbed and anxious, it loses power to retain such graces as it has, as well as strength to resist the temptations of the Evil One, who is all the more ready to fish (according to an old proverb) in troubled waters.

Anxiety arises from an unregulated desire to be delivered from any pressing evil, or to obtain some hoped-for good. Nevertheless nothing tends so greatly to enhance the one or retard the other as over-eagerness and anxiety.

Birds that are captured in nets and snares become inextricably entangled therein, because they flutter and struggle so much.

Therefore, whensoever you urgently desire to be delivered from any evil, or to attain some good thing, strive above all else to keep a calm, restful spirit,—steady your judgment and will, and then go quietly and easily after your object, taking all fitting means to attain thereto.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life, 4, 11.

Francis de Sales: If Your Affections are Warm and Tender, Your Judgment will Not be Harsh Friday, Feb 24 2012 

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged,” said the Saviour of our souls; “condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned.”

And the Apostle S. Paul, “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.”

Of a truth, hasty judgments are most displeasing to God, and men’s judgments are hasty, because we are not judges one of another, and by judging we usurp our Lord’s own office.

Man’s judgment is hasty, because the chief malice of sin lies in the intention and counsel of the heart, which is shrouded in darkness to us.

Moreover, man’s judgments are hasty, because each one has enough to do in judging himself, without undertaking to judge his neighbour.

If we would not be judged, it behoves us alike not to judge others, and to judge ourselves.

[…] But alas! for the most part we precisely reverse these precepts, judging our neighbour, which is forbidden on all sides, while rarely judging ourselves, as we are told to do.

[…] What remedy can we apply? They who drink the juice of the Ethiopian herb Ophiusa imagine that they see serpents and horrors everywhere; and those who drink deep of pride, envy, ambition, hatred, will see harm and shame in every one they look upon.

The first can only be cured by drinking palm wine, and so I say of these latter,—Drink freely of the sacred wine of love, and it will cure you of the evil tempers which lead you to these perverse judgments.

So far from seeking out that which is evil, Love dreads meeting with it, and when such meeting is unavoidable, she shuts her eyes at the first symptom, and then in her holy simplicity she questions whether it were not merely a fantastic shadow which crossed her path rather than sin itself.

Or if Love is forced to recognise the fact, she turns aside hastily, and strives to forget what she has seen.

Of a truth, Love is the great healer of all ills, and of this above the rest.

Everything looks yellow to a man that has the jaundice; and…most assuredly the sin of rash judgments is a spiritual jaundice, which makes everything look amiss to those who have it.

If your affections are warm and tender, your judgment will not be harsh; if they are loving, your judgment will be the same.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life, 3, 28.

Francis de Sales: The Grace of Holy Love Dilates Itself by Continual Increase in Our Souls Thursday, Jun 2 2011 

Our Saviour draws hearts by the delights that he gives them, which make them find heavenly doctrine sweet and agreeable.

At first this sweetness has engaged and fastened the will by its beloved bonds to draw it to the perfect acquiescence and consent of faith.

But, just as God does not fail to exercise his greatness upon us by his holy inspirations, so does not our enemy cease to practise his malice by temptations.

And meantime we remain in full liberty, to consent to the divine drawings or to reject them.

[…]  But if we do not repulse the grace of holy love, it dilates itself by continual increase in our souls, until they are entirely converted; like great rivers, which finding open plains spread themselves, and ever take up more space.

If the inspiration, having drawn us to faith, find no resistance in us, it draws us also to penitence and charity.

S. Peter…raised by the inspiration which came from the eyes of his master, freely allows himself to be moved and carried by this gentle wind of the Holy Ghost.

He looks upon those life-giving eyes which had excited him. He reads as in the book of life the sweet invitation to pardon which the divine clemency offers him.

He draws from it a just motive of hope. He goes out of the court, considers the horror of his sin, and detests it.

He weeps, he sobs, he prostrates his miserable heart before his Saviour’s mercy, craves pardon for his faults, makes a resolution of inviolable loyalty.

And, by this progress of movements, practised by the help of grace which continually conducts, assists, and helps him, he comes at length to the holy remission of his sins, and passes so from grace to grace.

[…] So also the divine inspiration comes to us, moving our wills to sacred love.

And if we do not repulse it, it goes with us and keeps near us, to incite us and ever push us further forwards.

And if we do not abandon it, it does not abandon us, till such time as it has brought us to the haven of most holy charity, performing for us the three good offices which the great angel Raphael fulfilled for his dear Tobias:

For it guides us through all our journey of holy penitence, it preserves us from dangers and from the assaults of the devil, and it consoles, animates, and fortifies us in our difficulties.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Treatise on the Love of God, 2,21.

Francis de Sales: Hearing the Word of God with Open and Attentive Hearts Tuesday, Apr 12 2011 

If we remain attentive to the truth of the mysteries which Our Lord teaches us in prayer, how happy we will be!

When we see Him dying upon the Cross for us, what does He not teach us?

“I have died for you,” He says, this Sovereign Lover; “what does My death require but that, as I have died for you, you also should die for Me, or at least live only for Me?” (2 Cor. 5. 14-15).

Oh, how powerfully this truth moves our will to love dearly Him who is so lovable and so worthy of our love!

Truth is the object of the understanding, and love that of the will.

As soon as our understanding learns the truth that Our Lord died for love us, ah, our will is immediately inflamed, conceiving great affection and desire to return this love as much as possible.

These affections make us burn with the desire to please this Sacred Lover so much that nothing is too difficult to do our to suffer; nothing seems impossible….

That is good. Persevere in that truth and all will be well. But we do not!

From this truth, which we have learned in prayer, we turn to vanity in action.

We are angels in prayer and often devils in conversation and action, offending this same God whom we have recognized as being so lovable and so worthy of being obeyed.

We will certainly deserve great punishment if, having known that we are so dearly loved by our good Saviour, we nevertheless are so ungrateful as not to love Him with all heart and power, nor follow with all our strength and all our care the examples He has given us in His life, passion and death.

[…] To avoid such a predicament, my dear souls, we must know how we are to hear and accept God’s word.

We must prepare to ourselves to hear it with the attention it deserves, not as if it were just any other word.

With our hearts thus opened before God, and with the good disposition to profit from what He will say to us, let us remain attentive.

Remember, it is His Majesty who speaks to us and makes known His will.

Thus, with a spirit of devotion and attention, let us hear the truths which the preacher proposes to us.

In obedience let us submit ourselves to the things that are taught us concerning God’s will for our perfection and spiritual advancement.

Let us listen to them and read them with the determination to profit from them.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): From a Sermon given on Passion Sunday, 1622, (abridged from The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Lent. Ed. Fr. Lewis S. Fiorelli, O.S.F.S. Trans. the Nuns of the Visitation. TAN Books, Rockford, Ill 1987)

Francis de Sales: Perseverance Springs from God’s Mercy, His Most Precious Gift Saturday, Mar 26 2011 

Perseverance is the most desirable gift we can hope for in this life, and the one which…we cannot have but from the hand of God, who alone can assure him that stands, and help him up that falls.

Therefore we must incessantly demand it, making use of the means which Our Saviour has taught us to the obtaining of it: prayer, fasting, alms-deeds, frequenting the sacraments, intercourse with the good, the hearing and reading of holy words.

Now since the gift of prayer and devotion is liberally granted to all those who sincerely will to consent to divine inspirations, it is consequently in our power to persevere.

Not of course that I mean to say that our perseverance has its origin from our power, for on the contrary I know it springs from God’s mercy, whose most precious gift it is.

I mean that though it does not come from our power, yet it comes within our power, by means of our will, which we cannot deny to be in our power.

For though God’s grace is necessary for us, to will to persevere, yet is this will in our power, because heavenly grace is never wanting to our will, and our will is not wanting to our power.

And indeed according to the great S. Bernard’s opinion, we may all truly say with the Apostle that:

Neither death, nor life, nor Angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus Our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).

Yes, indeed, for no creature can take us away by force from this holy love; we only can forsake and abandon it by our own will, except for which there is nothing to be feared in this matter.

So…we ought to place our whole hope in God, who will perfect the work of our salvation which he has begun in us, if we be not wanting to his grace.

For we are not to think that he who said to the paralytic: Go, and do not will to sin again gave him not also power to avoid that willing which he forbade him.

And surely he would never exhort the faithful to persevere, if he were not ready to furnish them with the power.

[…] We must often then with the great King demand of God the heavenly gift of perseverance, and hope that he will grant it us:

Cast me not off in the time of old age; when my strength shall fail, do not thou forsake me (Ps. 70:9).

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Treatise on the Love of God, 3,4.

Francis de Sales: “Ascending by Steps from Virtue to Virtue” Tuesday, Jan 18 2011 

The friends of God, proceeding from virtue to virtue, are day by day renewed.

That is, they increase by good works in the justice which they have received by God’s grace, and are more and more justified, according to those heavenly admonitions.

[…] And to remain at a standstill is impossible; he that gains not, loses in this traffic; he that ascends not, descends upon this ladder; he that vanquishes not in this battle, is vanquished.

We live amidst the dangers of the wars which our enemies wage against us, if we resist not we perish; and we cannot resist unless we overcome, nor overcome without triumph.

For as the glorious S. Bernard says: “It is written in particular of man that he never continues in the same state; he necessarily either goes forward or returns backward.

All run indeed but one obtains the prize, so run that you may obtain (1 Cor. 9:24).

“Who is the prize but Jesus Christ? And how can you take hold on him if you follow him not?

“But if you follow him you will march and run continually, for he never stayed, but continued his course of love and obedience until death and the death of the cross.”

Go then, says S. Bernard; go, I say with him…and admit no other bounds than those of life, and as long as it remains run after this Saviour.

But run ardently and swiftly: for what better will you be for following him, if you be not so happy as to take hold of him!

[…] True virtue has no limits, it goes ever further; but especially holy charity, which is the virtue of virtues, and which, having an infinite object, would be capable of becoming infinite if it could meet with a heart capable of infinity.

[…] The heart which could love God with a love equal to the divine goodness would have a will infinitely good, which cannot be but in God.

Charity then in us may be perfected up to the infinite, but exclusively; that is, charity may become more and more, and ever more, excellent, yet never infinite.

The Holy Ghost may elevate our hearts, and apply them to what supernatural actions it may please him, so they be not infinite.

[…] Meanwhile it is an extreme honour to our souls that they may still grow more and more in the love of their God, as long as they shall live in this failing life: Ascending by steps from virtue to virtue (Ps. 83:6).

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Treatise on the Love of God, 3,1.

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