Summary of An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

My summary notes for: Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction 
to the Devout Life.Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

1st Part: Instructions and exercises for conducting the soul from her first desire for a devout life till she is brought to a full resolution of embracing it.

True devotion is the love of God in the highest form. True devotion is when charity “reaches that point of perfection wherein it not only causes us to do good but to do it earnestly, frequently, and readily” (4)… and “in carrying out God’s heavenly inspirations and counsels of perfection” (5). True devotion is the perfection of charity.

The “devout life is a lovely, a pleasant, and a happy life” (6). The devout life “renders all such actions easy, pleasant, and grateful” (6).

“The devout life is faithfully represented by Jacob’s ladder. The two sides between which we ascend, and in which the rounds are fastened, represent prayer, which obtains the love of God, and the sacraments which confer it; the rounds are nothing but divers degrees of charity, by which we advance from virtue to virtue, either descending, by action, to the help and support of our neighbour, or ascending, by contemplation, to a blessed union with God” (7).

“If charity be milk, devotion is the cream; if charity be a plant, devotion is its flowers; if charity be a precious stone, devotion is its lustre; if charity be a rich balm, devotion is its odour: yea, the odour of sweetness, which comforts men and rejoices angels” (8).

True devotion is suitable to all vocations and professions – True devotion hinders no one, but rather it perfects everything.

“Wheresoever we may be, we may and should aim at a life of perfect devotion” (10).

The necessity of a spiritual guide for progress in the devout life – The path of humble obedience and full trust that God is working fully through him. Be open in all faithfulness and sincerity, laying bare both good and evil. Your spiritual guide must be filled with charity, knowledge, and discretion.

1st step – Purifying the soul

To be purified from all affections of sin, we must have a “clear and hearty consciousness of the exceeding evil of sin, by which means we attain deep and earnest contrition” (20). We must hate sin with a hearty, vigorous contrition and detest every affection, circumstance, and inducement which tends towards it. We must purify ourselves from all venial sins and evil inclinations and have a detachment from all useless activities.

The discipline of purification can and must cease only with our life, therefore be not discouraged by infirmities; our perfection consists in struggling against them (15).

“It is a favourable feature of this war, that so long as we will fight, we must be victorious” (15).

St. Francis recommends a general confession as the most profitable beginning to start the devout life (16).

* St. Francis provides 10 meditations to help us make the 1st step in purifying us from all sin (click here for the PDF of the 10 meditations) *

 

 

Part 2: Counsels Concerning the Soul’s Approach to God in Prayer and the Sacraments

The Necessity of Prayer – Mental prayer – the prayer of the heart – based on the life and passion of our Lord is what St. Francis recommends the most. If we persevere, “we shall gradually, by the help of His grace, learn to speak, to act and will like Him” (61).

“In all our actions and prayers we should seek, dwell upon, and meditate on our Saviour” (62).

Tip: Devote 1 hour daily to mental prayer – if you can, let it be early in the morning. Do not spend longer than an hour unless expressly desired to do so by your spiritual director. If during vocal prayer your heart is drawn to mental prayer, do not restrain it, but let your devotion take that channel (except if bound to recite the Office).

Preparation

(1) Begin all prayer, whether mental or vocal, by placing yourself in the presence of God. 4 ways to do this (only choose 1 and keep it short and simple):

  1. A keen and attentive realizing of God’s omnipresence.
  2. Awareness that God dwells in your heart and spirit.
  3. Picture Jesus looking down from heaven on you.
  4. Imagine our Saviour beside or in front of us.

(2) Invocation – Humble yourself before God and ask for the grace to serve and worship Him in your meditation.

(3) A composition of place – use your imagination to place yourself in the Gospel scene (if possible).

Meditation

Meditation is an act of understanding consisting of one or more reflections made with the view of exciting our affections towards God and the things of Heaven (70).

“Should you relish the fruits, or any of them, stop without going further, like the bees, who never quit the flower as long as they can suck any honey from it; but if, upon trial, you do not succeed according to your wishes, proceed to another consideration with a calm and tranquil mind, without hurrying yourself or fatiguing your soul” (70).

Concluding the meditation – Make the following 3 acts with utmost humility: (1) Thanksgiving, (2) Oblation, (3) Intercession.

Resolutions – “You must not rest satisfied with general desires and aspirations, but rather turn them into special resolutions for your individual correction and amendment… to proceed to some practical resolutions… [because] mere desires will have but few and tardy results” (71-2).

** “Above all, you must be careful to retain the resolutions to which you have come through meditation, on your return to active duties. Without this chief fruit of meditation, it becomes not only useless but positively hurtful, for our mind is apt to rest satisfied with the consideration instead of the practice of virtues, till we persuade ourselves that we are what we have resolved to be – this is all very well if our resolutions are active and solid, but if not, it is a vain and dangerous error – therefore we should always endeavour to put them in practice, and seek every occasion for so doing. For instance, if I have resolved to win those who annoy me by gentleness, I will seek the opportunity of addressing them kindly, but if the occasion does not present itself, I will speak well of them, and pray for them” (75). **

Always follow holy desires – if your affections are greatly kindled towards God after your preparation, yield to them without heeding any formal method.

Dryness – If you experience dryness, recourse to vocal prayer, or read a book until you feel reassured to enter back into prayer or stir up your heart with actions or gestures. If this doesn’t work, do not be disheartened, present yourself before God humbly, knowing that He delights in seeing you.

Morning exercise – gratitude for the night, firm resolution for the day ahead, review the upcoming day, humble yourself, offer yourself to God.

Evening exercise – gratitude, examination, offer to God yourself, ask for protection.

“Never omit this exercise any more than that of the morning, for as by the latter you open the windows of your soul to the sun of righteousness, so by these evening devotions you close them against the darkness of Hell” (83).

Spiritual Retreat During the Day –  “As often as you can through your day, recall your mind to the presence of God by some one of the 4 methods. Consider what He is doing, and what you are doing. You will always find His eyes fixed upon you with unchangeable love” (84). “Remember then frequently to retire into the solitude of your heart, even whilst you are externally occupied in business or society” (84). Gather your spirit into the “oratory of your heart” and lay open your soul and speak face to face with God (84).

Aspirations, Ejaculatory Prayers, and Holy Thoughts – “Do not fail to long frequently for God by short but ardent efforts of your heart” (87). Strive to extract holy thoughts and pious aspirations from all the varying circumstances of our mortal life.

“This habit of spiritual retirement and ejaculatory prayer is the keystone of devotion, and can supply the defects of all your other prayers; but nothing else can supply its place. Without it you cannot follow the contemplative life well, nor the active life without danger. Without it repose is but idleness, labour but trouble; therefore, I beseech you, cleave steadily to it, and never forsake it” (91).

Mass – The most holy, sacred and royal sacrifice is the Sun of all spiritual exercises, the center of the Christian religion, the heart of devotion, the soul of piety; an ineffable mystery which embraces the untold depths of divine charity, and in which God, giving Himself to us, bestows upon us freely all His favours and graces (92).

  • Prayer, united to this Divine Sacrifice, has unutterable power (92).
  • Make a spiritual communion if you are not able to daily attend Mass (93).
  • St. Francis gives tips to meditate on for each part of the Mass as well.

“There is always greater benefit and comfort to be derived from the public service of the Church than from private devotions” (95).

Confession – “Confess yourself humbly and devoutly once every week, and always, if possible, before you communicate, even though your conscience should not reproach you with the guilt of mortal sin: for by confession you not only receive absolution from the venial sins you confess, but likewise strength to avoid them, light to discern them well, and grace to repair all the damage you may have sustained by them. You will also practise the virtues of humility, obedience, sincerity, charity; nay, in a word, in this one act of confession you can exercise more virtues than in any other whatsoever. Always entertain a sincere hatred of the sins you confess, even though they be trifling, and a heartfelt resolution to amend… Accuse yourself honestly and simply of the special omission or commission (104).

Communion:

5 reasons to communicate often:

  1. To learn to love God
  2. To purify yourself from your imperfections
  3. To be delivered from your miseries
  4. To be comforted in your afflictions
  5. To be supported in your weakness

2 sorts of persons ought to communicate frequently:

  1. the perfect, because, being well disposed, they would be greatly to blame not to approach to the source and fountain of perfection; the strong, lest they should become weak; the healthy, lest they should fall into sickness &
  2. the imperfect, to the end that they may be able to aspire to perfection; the weak, that they may become strong; the sick, that they may be restored to health; and that, for your part, being imperfect, weak, and sick, you have need to communicate frequently with Him who is your perfection, your strength, and your physician.

“Your chief aim in Holy Communion should be to advance, strengthen, and comfort yourself in the love of God; receiving for love’s sake, what love alone can give” (112).

Part 3: Rules for the Practice of Virtue

Pick one virtue to cultivate or vice to crush. This should be fitting in regards to the state of life to which God has called you.

“By the help of one virtue heartily practiced men may attain to all holiness” ~ Gregory Nazianzen

Patience – Patience in all trials is the key to possessing our souls.

“The great happiness of man, Philothea, is thus to possess his soul; and the more perfect our patience, the more perfectly do we possess our souls” (124).

Humility – Humility is found through reflecting on both (1) God’s mercies and favors towards us and (2) our ingratitude, imperfection, and sins against Him.

“Assuredly nothing can so humble us before the compassion of God as the abundance of His mercies; nothing so humble us before His justice as the abundance of our misdeeds. Let us reflect upon all He has done for us, and all we have done against Him; and as we count over our sins in detail, even so let us count over His mercies” (131).

Charity bids humility to –> reveal the truth.

“So humility enfolds and conceals all our virtues and human perfections, producing them only at the call of charity, which is not an earthly but a heavenly virtue, not a moral but a divine perfection, and the very sun of all the other virtues, over which she should always preside; and therefore such humility as is opposed to charity is undoubtedly spurious” (134).

Humility consists in really knowing and freely acknowledging our abasement. The perfection of this humility consists in taking pleasure and delight in order to exalt God’s Majesty and to esteem our neighbors better than ourselves.

“We must learn not only to love our burden, which is done by the virtue of patience, but also to love its attendent abasement, which is done by the virtue of humility” (137)..

The most profitable humiliations are those that God sends us and those that are most opposed to our natural inclinations.

Humility perfects us towards God. Gentleness perfects us towards our neighbor. Make sure that these are truly internal dispositions and not just external actions.

Fresh wounds are always the easiest to heal – make immediate reparation for faults.

We must be gentle towards ourselves – look upon your faults with a calm, collected, and firm displeasure. Have a quiet, calm, and persevering repentance.

Be careful and diligent in work but never hurried or anxious.

“Never was anything done well that was done with haste and hurry” (152).

“Try to meet the occupations which come upon you quietly, and perform them with regularity, one after the other; for if you endeavor to do them all at once, or in confusion, your spirit will be so overcharged and depressed that it will probably sink under the burden without accomplishing anything” (152).

Be like a little child with one hand clinging to your father and the one hand gathers fruits.

Charity alone can place us in perfection, but obedience, chastity, and poverty, are the three principal means by which to attain to it. Obedience consecrates our heart, chastity our body, and poverty our means to the love and service of God. These three branches of the spiritual cross are grounded on a fourth, viz., humility. I shall say nothing of these three virtues, when they are solemnly vowed, because this subject concerns religious orders only; nor even when they are simply vowed; for though a vow may add many graces and merits to virtues, yet, to make us perfect, it is not necessary that vows should be made, provided they be observed. For though being vowed, and especially solemnly, they place a man in the state of perfection; yet, to arrive at perfection itself, they must be observed, there being a very great difference between the state of perfection and perfection itself; since all bishops and religious are in a state of perfection; and yet, alas, all have not arrived at perfection itself, as is too plainly to be seen. Let us endeavour then, Philothea, to practise well these virtues, each one according to his vocation; for though they do not place us in the state of perfection, yet they will make us perfect: and, indeed, everyone is obliged to practise them, though not all after the same manner (154).

Obedience – two kinds of obedience:

  1. Imperative – to obey your ecclesiastical & temporal & domestic superiors. If you would seek perfection here, follow also their counsels, wishes, inclinations, as far as charity and prudence will permit… obey meekly without answering back, speedily without delay, cheerfully without fretfulness, and above all, obey in a loving spirit for love of Him… who preferred losing His life to being disobedient (155).
  2. Voluntary – is that to which we bind ourselves by our own choice to our confessor, our director, our equals, and inferiors.

Chastity – has its origin in the heart and its substance in the body. Therefore, you must preserve both thoughts/desires and external senses. Avoid immodest persons. Associate with chaste and virtuous persons. Read & meditate on Sacred things. Receive Jesus in Holy Communion.

Poverty – The poor in spirit have not riches in their hearts nor their hearts in riches. If you possess them preserve your heart from loving them. Be poor in spirit.

“It is a great happiness for a Christian to be actually rich but poor in spirit, for thus he can use wealth and its advantages in this world and yet have the merit of poverty as regards the next” (164).

Since our possessions are not our own but rather gifts from God to cultivate them, we must take great care to render them useful and fruitful. In doing so, any loss will not deprive us of composure or tranquility.

Love poverty and the poor; for by this love you will become truly poor yourself, since we become like to that which we love (167).

Friendship – The more your friendship stands on the foundation of virtue, the more perfect it will be. Perfection lies in entertaining no friendships that are not pure, holy, and sacred (179). We must not tolerate any sins in our friends.

External Mortification – We must begin mortification from within. A continued habitual temperance is far better than occasional, rigid abstinence alternating with great relaxation.

“In order to cure our faults, it is doubtless well to mortify the flesh, but above all we must purify our affections, and renew our hearts, and it is advisable never to adopt bodily mortifications without the direction of our spiritual guide” (193).

Society and Solitude – As a general rule, we should always preserve a quiet cheerfulness of manner. When we are in society, associate with the virtuous and devout as much as possible.

Conversation – When you speak of God, let it be done with reverence, devotion, gentleness, charity, and humility. Let your speech be gentle, frank, sincere, clear, simple, and truthful. Do not contradict anyone, unless there is harm or sin in consenting & therefore do it gently.

Amusements – recreation is good to relax the mind and body but we must guard against excess either in the time they occupy or in the importance given to them (for then they become evils as soon as they absorb the heart).

St. John the Evangelist, as Cassian relates, amusing himself one day with a partridge on his hand, was asked by a huntsman: How such a man as he could spend his time in so unprofitable a manner? St. John said to him: Why do you not carry your bow always bent? Because, answered the huntsman, if it were always bent I fear it would lose its spring and become useless. Be not surprised, then, replied the apostle, that I should sometimes remit somewhat of my close application and attention of spirit in order to enjoy a little recreation, that I may afterwards employ myself more fervently in divine contemplation (214).

If your virtue is deeply rooted you can enter into unimportant activities out of charity’s sake but be careful if you are only starting out on this path.

“Great fires flame all the more when the wind blows, but a little fire will be altogether extinguished unless it be sheltered” (221).

Actions – We must be faithful in things great and small. Be ready for martyrdom but in the meantime meekly endure all little evils, trifling inconveniences, and unimportant losses, which happen daily; for by using these little opportunities with a good and loving purpose you will overcome your heart and have it entirely under control (222). All our actions must be offered to God.

When I saw in the Life of St. Catherine of Sienna her many raptures and elevations of spirit, her many words of wisdom, nay, even sermons uttered by her, I doubted not but that, with the eye of contemplation, she had ravished the heart of her Heavenly Spouse. But I was no less comforted when I found her in her father’s kitchen, humbly turning the spit, blowing the fire, dressing the meat, kneading the bread, and doing the meanest offices of the house with a courage full of love and affection for her God; for I esteem no less the little and humble meditation she made amongst these mean and abject employments, than the ecstasies and raptures she so often had, which, perhaps, were given her only in recompense of her humility and abjection. Her manner of meditating was as follows: Whilst she was dressing meat for her father she imagined that she was preparing it for our Saviour, like another St. Martha, and that her mother held the place of Our Blessed Lady, and her brothers that of the apostles: exciting herself in this manner to serve the whole court of heaven in spirit, whilst she employed herself with great delight in these low services, because she knew such was the will of God. I have produced this example, Philothea, in order that you may know of what importance it is to direct all your actions, be they ever so mean, with a pure intent to the service of God’s Divine Majesty. (223).

Advice to married persons – “there is no union so precious and so fruitful between husband and wife as that of holy devotion, in which they should mutually lead each and sustain each other… it is truly a blessed state in which the faithful husband and wife sanctify one another in the sincere fear of the Lord” (235).

 

Part Fourth: Some Needful Remedies Against Ordinary Temptations

The world – We are crucified to the world and the world should be crucified to us. Let us be firm in our plans and unchanging in our resolutions.

“The world is an unjust judge, partial and indulgent to its own children, but harsh and rigorous towards the children of God” (250).

Persevere  – We must be patient and persevere in the path of Christian perfection. We are gradually being formed by our desires and resolutions. Remember that “one day of devotion is worth more than a thousand years of worldly gratification” (252).

Temptations – The 3 degrees by which we fall into sin – temptation, delectation, and consent. We are not always able to banish the temptation but we can take no pleasure in the sin and refuse consent. We must develop a spirit of resistance, strengthened by continual prayer, participation in the Sacraments, and trust in God. * The story of St. Catherine of Siena being assaulted with temptations and Jesus revealed that He was within her heart filling it with displeasure and resistance to refuse all consent to the sin.

But it is the great perfection of heavenly love to make those who love God suffer and fight for his love, not knowing whether they possess the love for which and by which they fight (258).

All temptations are never permitted by God save to those whom He purposes to exalt in His pure and excellent love (259).

Q. Have you voluntarily brought on the sin yourself?

Q. Even if you resisted, have you taken pleasure in the temptation?

How to resist temptations – Immediately fly to God and seek His mercy and His help. * If the temptation continues, hasten in spirit to embrace Jesus crucified on the Cross and promise Him not to yield and ask His aid.* Turn your thoughts away from the temptation. Reveal temptations to your spiritual director.

Small temptations – Overall, resisting these lesser temptations provides us with more benefit because they are continual trials for devout and fervent persons. Use utmost care and diligence in resisting these. Be content to simply drive them away. Make contrary acts – above all, acts of the love of God (*best way to overcome the enemy because the love of God contains the perfection of all virtues*). Turn your heart to Jesus Christ crucified and kiss His sacred feet. Don’t waste your time dwelling on any trifling temptation.

How to prepare for temptations – Once you are aware of your predominate temptations, let your way of life be altogether opposed to them in thought, word, and deed. Carefully practice the opposite virtue and reflect on the vanity and horror of that particular vice.

Anxiety – anxiety is the soul’s greatest enemy, sin only excepted. Nothing aggravates evil and hinders good so much as anxiety and worry.

“If you earnestly desire to be delivered from some evil, or to attain some good, above all things calm and tranquilize your mind and compose your judgement and will; then quietly and gently pursue your aim, adopting suitable means with some method” (272).

Tip = frequently during the day if you can, but at least night and morning, examine yourself whether your soul is in your hand, or if it has not been snatched thence by some passion or anxiety.

“The general rules concerning the passions and emotions of our souls is that we should know them by their fruits; our hearts as trees, our affections and passions are the branches, and their actions and deeds the fruit” (281).

Consolation – must encourage us to humility and good works.

Desolation – If you are the cause of your own desolation, “thank God, for the evil is half cured when you have ascertained the cause” (286). If not, (1) humble yourself and (2) ask for God’s help. (3) Go to your confessor. (4) Holy submission to God – Abandon yourself entirely to God’s Providence, “willing that He should do what He will with you amidst your thorns and your desires” (286). (5) Be courageous and patient – increase your good works.

If you will not be as sincere and plain as a little child, you shall not then have the sweet reward of childlike simplicity. If you have glutted yourself with worldly pleasures, it is no wonder that you should find an unsavoury taste in spiritual delights (285).

Part Fifth: Counsels and Exercises for the Renewing of the Soul, and Her Confirmation in Devotion

Daily & yearly renewal -Just as a clock must be wind up daily and taken apart each year to prevent rust, we must renew our devotion daily and do a thorough examine each year. We must (1) forsake, reject, and detest all sin, (2) dedicate our whole beings to serve and love God, (3) speedily rise again after any falls. Realize to whom you made this pledge and in front of whom.

Examine your soul towards:

  1. God – Do you delight in serving and loving Him? How do you speak of God? How do you find His commands? Do you seek His honor and glory in your works?
  2. Yourself – How do you love yourself? Worldly self-love? Or holy selfless love?
  3. Neighbor – Do you love your neighbor from your heart and for the love of God? Focus on those individuals who trouble you, “for with such it is that we practice the love of God towards our neighbor” (307).
  4. Your affections – Have you desired worldly goods, pleasures, and honors? What affections hinder your heart? What passions rule it? What most distracts it? Look at each passion one at a time.

After the examine – Thank God for His help. Humble yourself & beg His help. Make concrete resolution and specify the exact means of carrying it out. Frequently repeat the words of St. Paul that you are not your own

* 5 Reflections Provided to End*

3 Final and Chief Rules:

  1. Renew the protestation given in Part I after the meditations on the 1st day of each month and when you feel any slackening in your soul.
  2. Make an open profession of your desire to be devout. For example, boldly acknowledge that you would rather die than commit a mortal sin.
  3. Persevere in this blessed undertaking of a devout life – “Look up to heaven and do not forfeit it for this base earth! look down to hell, and do not cast yourself into it for transitory toys! look up to Jesus Christ, and do not renounce Him for the world! and should the labors of a devout life seem hard to you, sing with St. Francis: “Earthly toils are sweet to me, Awaiting a blest eternity” (326).

 

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