Recent Posts

Friday, 8 May 2015

Potpourri of St. Francis de Sales in Context

I am revisiting books from the past and one of these is St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life. Thanks to S. for sending me a copy, and an older one with an excellent introduction. I shall cover quickly some of his main points to add to this week's theme of the Indwelling of the Holy Trinity.

One of the main points of St. Francis' many guidelines is that the way of perfection, as noted on this blog, and in Garrigou-Lagrange, is for everyone, not merely those in convents or monasteries.

The writer of the introduction, from this copy of 2003, John K. Ryan, obviously, understands the way of perfection. He even refers to the first conversion, again, noted here on this blog, from mortal sin, and especially, as he notes, the sins which cry out to God for vengeance, which we now see made legal in too many countries on this small planet. The second conversion, as noted by many of the saints, and, again, here, is the elimination of venial sins, and, eventually, concupiscence.

This second conversion entails hard work. I can see that the daily reception of Holy Communion at Holy Mass and the daily prayer at Adoration on aids one in dealing more quickly with the destruction of the habits of venial sin and concupiscence. In my own life, as I am still so weak spiritually, I can see that the lack of daily Mass and daily Adoration, as well as weekly confession, as I cannot get to confession even monthly where I am living, interferes with growth. I need these daily influxes of grace and the weekly confession to break away from venial sins and concupiscence.

Another great help in aiding this second conversion, which leads to the illuminative state, is silence. The more a person can surround themselves with silence during the day, the less one sins venially. So many Catholics seem content to either live in mortal sin or continue to commit moral sins on a regular basis, not realizing that we are all called to so much more than this level of spiritual warfare. I have written of imperfections on this blog before, but want to refer today to St. Francis' comment on such. A good confessor of mine in the past, in Dublin, an Opus Dei priest, was well awared of the need to do away with imperfections in order to enter the illuminative state.

St. Francis writes that imperfections, such as inordinate grief, keep us from union with God. Imperfections sometimes are seen as part of one's personality or even character, (not the same thing). But, to allow one's self to accept such imperfections stops the movement of the second conversion.

The saint writes to a busy woman of the court of France and tells her to spend one hour a day meditating on the life of Christ. As noted in the posts on meditation, one centers on Christ, and not one's self. Meditation precedes contemplation. Look at the tags on the side for more definitions.

But, the point I want to emphasize today is this great necessity for an hour of meditation, if one is serious about growing up spiritually and moving through the second conversion. People tell me they do not have time, but like the teacher I am, I suggest they do a time management sheet and plot out every moment of the day and see how much wasted down time they actually do have.

When I worked with my students on time management, I would find at least twelve wasted hours a week, and usually more! With only seven days in the week, those twelve wasted hours can be translated into seven hours of mediation per week, plus time for more prayer and study.

How do we waste time? Television is the biggest waste of time here in the States, with possibly long commutes. One can listen to the rosary in the car, or even listen to other prayers. Do not waste any time; I say the rosary waiting for buses, if there are buses.

And so on. One can pray while doing chores in silence. If one has children, one can teach even the little ones to be quiet during part of the day. Husband and wives must give each other time for private prayers.

But, what I see here in the States is the wasting of time shopping. How many things do people really need, and the hours spent in cars going between stores must be seen as wasteful. I remember back when the gasoline became so high, in 2007, that my son and I did all our needed car drives all at once on one day of the week. This can be planned.

Sadly, Americans waste a great deal of time in noise. Noise must be seen as from the devil. Period.

The great advantage of times past was the lack of stimulus from noise. One of the great problems I experience at the Mac where I am blogging is the fact that people, including staff, yell at each other from great distances. This is simply considered bad manners in Europe, where one can read and type in coffee houses and noises in restaurants seem much more subdued. The shouting and the incessant “music” simply are not conducive to either good eating habits, or to the interior life. I can hardly stay an hour in such a place of chaos and noise. Sometimes, God gives me a grace of not noticing. For this I am thankful.

But, when shops have so-called music, and Mass is noisy, and people have to have the radio or player on in the car, something is taken away from our quality of life. St. Francis would sympathize with our general lack of silence.

Silence must be sought out. I cannot understand people who go camping in the woods and bring televisions and radios with them. What is the point?

God will not be heard in such noise. And, we are called to create silence within as well as without. St. Francis suggests praying in the church or chapel. Indeed, this helps, but like Teresa of Avila and all the great saints who teach us about prayer, we come to know that God is within us. He is always present, even in McDonald's. Most Catholics are aware of God above looking down on His creatures, His sons and daughters, as St. Francis reminds us. We are usually aware of Him in church, especially in the Eucharist. We also see Him in nature, in the little sparrows who beg me for food daily, or the wind in the trees.

But, to discover the God Within, the Indwelling of the Holy Trinity requires not only grace, but special attention to the movements of one's soul. St. Francis guidelines for meditation are almost exactly the same as St. Ignatius of Loyola's, including the composition of time and place regarding the Scriptures. But, this is still not the same as seeing the God Within.

None of what I am highlighting is new on this blog. The perfection series covers all of these points, but to see them again in the writings of St. Francis is like returning to a favorite garden and rejoicing in the fact that the roses are just as beautiful, if not more so, than last year.

Again and again, I am bought back to the fact that too many Catholics want to rest in the initial heady days of the first conversion, looking for consolations, instead of slogging through the winding paths of the second conversion.

May I suggest one idea today of St. Francis' wealth of knowledge as to how to proceed in holiness through this second conversion of ridding one's self of venial sin?

St. Francis notes that we too often judge others more harshly than we do ourselves. In a small section, Number 36, in the Third Introduction, the saint reminds us that we must see our neighbors in context in order not to judge. The destruction of venial sins relies on a reasonable mind. St. Francis writes that this reasonable mind must be fair, against any notion of self-love and self-deceit. Judgment of others takes a person away from the way of perfection and throws them back into the morass of venial sins, even habitual ones.

Here is a long selection from

St. Francis de Sales,  from an earlier section.


The Necessity of Purging away all tendency to Venial Sins. 

 As daylight waxes, we, gazing into a mirror, see more plainly the soils and stains upon our face; and even so as the interior light of the Holy Spirit enlightens our conscience, we see more distinctly the sins, inclinations and imperfections which hinder our progress towards real devotion. And the selfsame light which shows us these blots and stains, kindles in us the desire to be cleansed and purged therefrom. You will find then, my child, that besides the mortal sins and their affections from which your soul has already been purged, you are beset by sundry inclinations and tendencies to venial sin; mind, I do not say you will find venial sins, but the inclination and tendency to them. Now, one is quite different from the other. We can never be altogether free from venial sin,--at least not until after a very long persistence in this purity; but we can be without any affection for venial sin. It is altogether one thing to have said something unimportant not strictly true, out of carelessness or liveliness, and quite a different matter to take pleasure in lying, and in the habitual practice thereof. But I tell you that you must purify your soul from all inclination to venial sin;--that is to say, you must not voluntarily retain any deliberate intention of permitting yourself to commit any venial sin whatever. It would be most unworthy consciously to admit anything so displeasing to God, as the will to offend Him in anywise. Venial sin, however small, is displeasing to God, although it be not so displeasing as the greater sins which involve eternal condemnation; and if venial sin is displeasing to Him, any clinging which we tolerate to mortal sin is nothing less than a resolution to offend His Divine Majesty. Is it really possible that a rightly disposed soul can not only offend God, but take pleasure therein?

Venial sins weaken the will, allow bad habits to fester, and usually come from the predominant fault,
which must be destroyed. Ask God daily to reveal this predominant fault.

These inclinations, my daughter, are in direct opposition to devotion, as inclinations to mortal sin are to love:--they weaken the mental power, hinder Divine consolations, and open the door to temptations;--and although they may not destroy the soul, at least they bring on very serious disease. "Dead flies cause the ointment to send forth a stinking savour," says the Wise Man. [23] He means that the flies which settle upon and taste of the ointment only damage it temporarily, leaving the mass intact, but if they fall into it, and die there, they spoil and corrupt it. Even so venial sins which pass over a devout soul without being harboured, do not permanently injure it, but if such sins are fostered and cherished, they destroy the sweet savour of that soul--that is to say, its devotion. The spider cannot kill bees, but it can spoil their honey, and so encumber their combs with its webs in course of time, as to hinder the bees materially. Just so, though venial sins may not lose the soul, they will spoil its devotion, and so cumber its faculties with bad habits and evil inclinations, as to deprive it of all that cheerful readiness which is the very essence of true devotion; that is to say, if they are harboured in the conscience by delight taken therein. A trifling inaccuracy, a little hastiness in word or action, some small excess in mirth, in dress, in gaiety, may not be very important, if these are forthwith heeded and swept out as spiritual cobwebs;--but if they are permitted to linger in the heart, or, worse still, if we take pleasure in them and indulge them, our honey will soon be spoilt, and the hive of our conscience will be cumbered and damaged. But I ask again, how can a generous heart take delight in anything it knows to be displeasing to its God, or wish to do what offends Him?

Those people yelling here around me have never had the type of quiet house in which I grew up, where no one yelled from room to room and no one imposed their presence on another unless necessary. We grew up with boundaries, which seem to be totally missing in the younger generations. Boundaries protect the soul, the mind, the imagination. How sad I am that these young people have never experienced the quiet of the Presence of the God Within because of noise. May we pray for those who live in distraction and noise. May we be grateful for the surrounding in which we have lived which help us understand St. Francis on having a reasonable mind. Gratitude for past graces must be part of the meditation one employs daily. St. Ignatius and his help with being grateful for the day's graces.

One of the new insights given to me in the past several months has been how far a Catholic who really lives the Catholic life dwells not only from the City of Man, but from other Christians as well. Sadly, the Protestant denominations have removed themselves so far from the path of truth that either these churches are imploding, as with the Presbyterians here who have now accepted ssm, or by concentrating on the Calvinistic Kingdom of God on earth ideal of material blessings to the point of forgetting the poor Christ.

Sometimes, I envision St. Joseph standing in the doorway of his humble shop, thinking of Jesus, thinking of the mystery of God's Plan for humanity. He looks out into the dusty street and knows that only a few, very few, will accept the message of his Foster-Son. Only a few will recognize and believe that the Messiah has come to the People of God.

St. Joseph reminds me to be humble and in this humility of his was a great patience. He did his daily work, most likely in the silent contemplation of the Holy Child near him. He worked for the most perfect creature ever made by God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who shared Joseph's daily life of poverty and work. But, prayer, and the awareness of God filled this little house. Mary lived with the Indwelling of the Holy Trinity and there before them daily was the Second Person of that Trinity.

Over and over again, at least in the past, priests on the Feast of the Holy Family reminded us to be like them.

These words seemed impossible for most couples with children. These words seemed like a far away dream of perfection which was so far from the daily life of the families who sat in the church week after week. But, what would have helped these good parents see the possibility of having holy families was missing in these yearly sermons. One cannot create a holy family through will power, or discipline.

One cannot even create a holy family unless one has first discovered the God Within. Once parents are holy, then they can share, as did Mary and Jesus with Joseph, the great mystery of the Indwelling of the Trinity with their children. Priests would sometimes state on that feast day that the Catholic family should resemble the Trinity, and yes, this is so.

But, only through the process of becoming holy can parents share this with others in the family. One returns to the second conversion, the moving away from venial sins, and if each member of the family cooperates with grace, the family will become holy.

Parents, now, more than ever, create a little monastic atmosphere in your homes. Consider the home a sacred place, the place where saints can be fashioned. I wish I had done more and been involved with less trivia in raising my son. But, to not have television and not have the radio on except for storm warnings may be a good beginning. To face one's self-deceit and self-love, to help the children live in the life of the virtues, silence and boundaries begin the process at home.

St. Francis writes that the world is so demanding it can never be satisfied. In a great insight he writes, “It (the world) exaggerates our imperfections and claims they are sins, turns our venial sins into mortal sins and changes our sins of weakness into sins of malice.”

If I am strong about an issue in the Catholic Church, I am considered “bitchy”. If I am meek with regard to some opinion, I am considered weak or irresolute. The world judges unfairly from the viewpoint of its own comfort. I am content to take St. Francis' opinion that the world is mad.

St. Francis reminds us that even the great saints were tempted to the end of their lives. But, temptation is not sin,, nor is it imperfection. But, we must resist the smallest temptations.

Do the kids need two helpings of food, or can Mom train them to eat less? (Americans, food is not love.) Do I need extra sleep, even though six hours may be sufficient? Do I need to ask someone for a comforting word after a day of trial, even though God wants to teach me courage and perseverance on my own, in case I am called to be alone at the end? No, no, no...

One more selection to those who are still confused about giving Holy Communion to those in serious sin. One cannot enter into Communion without the great grace which sanctified us and allows us to approach God.


Of Holy Communion, and how to join in it. 

1. SO far I have said nothing concerning the Sun of all spiritual exercises, even the most holy, sacred and Sovereign Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist,--the very centre point of our Christian religion, the heart of all devotion, the soul of piety;--that Ineffable Mystery which embraces the whole depth of Divine Love, by which God, giving Himself really to us, conveys all His Graces and favours to men with royal magnificence. 2. Prayer made in union with this Divine Sacrifice has untold power; through which, indeed, the soul overflows with heavenly grace, and leaning on her Beloved, becomes so filled with spiritual sweetness and perfume, that we may ask in the words of the Canticles: "Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant? " [40] 3. Strive then to your utmost to be present every day at this holy Celebration, in order that with the priest you may offer the Sacrifice of your Redeemer on behalf of yourself and the whole Church to God the Father. Saint Chrysostom says that the Angels crowd around it in adoration, and if we are found together with them, united in one intention, we cannot but be most favourably influenced by such society. Moreover, all the heavenly choirs of the Church triumphant, as well as those of the Church militant, are joined to our Dear Lord in this divine act, so that with Him, in Him, and by Him, they may win the favour of God the Father, and obtain His Mercy for us. How great the blessing to my soul to contribute its share towards the attainment of so gracious a gift! 4. If any imperative hindrance prevents your presence at this sovereign sacrifice of Christ's most true Presence, at least be sure to take part in it spiritually. If you cannot go to Church, choose some morning hour in which to unite your intention to that of the whole Christian world, and make the same interior acts of devotion wherever you are that you would make if you were really present at the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Church. 5. In order to join in this rightly, whether actually or mentally, you must give heed to several things: (1) In the beginning, and before the priest goes up to the Altar, make your preparation with his--placing yourself in God's Presence, confessing your unworthiness, and asking forgiveness. (2) Until the Gospel, dwell simply and generally upon the Coming and the Life of our Lord in this world. (3) From the Gospel to the end of the Creed, dwell upon our Dear Lord's teaching, and renew your resolution to live and die in the faith of the Holy Catholic Church. (4) From thence, fix your heart on the mysteries of the Word, and unite yourself to the Death and Passion of our Redeemer, now actually and essentially set forth in this holy Sacrifice, which, together with the priest and all the congregation, you offer to God the Father, to His Glory and your own salvation. (5) Up to the moment of communicating, offer all the longings and desires of your heart, above all desiring most earnestly to be united for ever to our Saviour by His Eternal Love. (6) From the time of Communion to the end, thank His Gracious Majesty for His Incarnation, His Life, Death, Passion, and the Love which He sets forth in this holy Sacrifice, intreating through it His favour for yourself, your relations and friends, and the whole Church; and humbling yourself sincerely, devoutly receive the blessing which our Dear Lord gives you through the channel of His minister. If, however, you wish to follow your daily course of meditation on special mysteries during the Sacrifice, it is not necessary that you should interrupt yourself by making these several acts but it will suffice that at the beginning you dispose your intention to worship and to offer the holy Sacrifice in your meditation and prayer; since every meditation includes all the above named acts either explicitly or implicitly. 

St. Francis' book will take us out of this world and lead us to that famous cell of St. Catherine's--the cell of the mind--wherein we find the God Within. If you have not read it, do so. The treasures found here cannot be covered in one, or two, or three short postings. Read my other blogs on this great work.

I may not be able to post things tomorrow or the next day, if the weather forecast is for thunder showers, and I do not walk in the rain with lightning. I walk is soft rain but not in storms.