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Monday, 14 January 2013

Fidelity on all Occasions - St Francis de Sales

In his 'Introduction to the Devout Life', Saint Francis de Sales includes a Preface, part of which is reproduced below:-

           'This Introduction contains nothing which has not already been written; the bouquet that I offer you is made up of the same flowers, but I have arranged them differently. Nearly everyone who has written about the spiritual life has had in mind those who live apart from the world, or at least the devotion they advocate would lead to such retirement. My intention is to write for those who have to live in the world and who, according to their state, to all outward appearances have to lead an ordinary life; and who often enough, will not think of undertaking a devout life, considering it impossible; no one, they believe, ought to aspire to the palm of Christian piety, while surrounded by the affairs of the world.
          I will show them that a strong and resolute person may live in the world without being tainted by it, find spiritual springs amid its salt waters, and fly through the flames of temptation without burning the wings on which they soar to God. True, it is no easy task and must be undertaken with much more zeal than many have so far shown, and I hope that this work will help those who undertake it with a generous heart.
          My words are addressed to 'Philothea', because it is a name signifying one who loves God, or at least desires to do so.'

In considering the 'Practice of Virtue', which occupies one section of the book, St Francis de Sales has this to say on the subject of fidelity:-

Fidelity on all Occasions
        'The sacred Spouse in the Canticle of Canticles says that his beloved has ravished his heart with one glance of an eye, with one ringlet straying on her neck. Now of all the exterior parts of the body none is more noble either in the way it is made or in its action than the eye, and none of less account than the hair, and so the sacred Spouse indicates that he finds not only the great works of the devout acceptable, but also their very least, and that to please him we must be faithful in all things great and small since we can in either case ravish his heart by love.

         Be prepared then, Philothea, to undergo many great trials for his sake, even martyrdom; resolve, should he ask, to give him all you hold most dear: father, mother, brother, husband, wife, children, your eyes, your very life; such sacrifices must find your heart ready.

         But as long as his Divine Providence spares you these great and painful trials, does not, for example, ask for your eyes, at least give him your hair; in other words, bear patiently the small trials that are your daily lot, those little inconveniences and trifling losses which are so many opportunities for proving your love, winning his heart, and making it all your own. A headache, a toothache, or a cold; the bad temper of one’s husband or wife; meeting with disdain or sulkiness; a glass broken; gloves, a ring, or handkerchief lost; the inconvenience of going to bed early or of rising early to pray or go to Communion; a feeling of embarrassment in performing certain devotions in public; all of these things, when accepted and embraced with love, are most pleasing to God who for a draught of cold water has promised his faithful a sea of perfect happiness, and as such opportunities occur every moment they enable us to heap up spiritual riches if only we take advantage of them.

         When I read about all the raptures and spiritual transports of St Catherine of Siena, of her wise counsels and conferences, I had no doubt that she had ravished the heart of her heavenly Spouse with the eyes of her soul; but I was equally impressed to find that she worked in her father’s kitchen, humbly turned the spit, looked after the fire, cooked the food, kneaded the bread and carried out the most menial household tasks with a heart full of burning love for God; and I set no less store on the humble reflections she used to make while performing such lowly tasks than on the ecstasies and raptures she so often experienced, as a reward perhaps for her humility and abjection. She used to imagine, for example, when cooking her father’s meals, that she was another Martha doing it for our Lord; she saw our Lady in her mother and the Apostles in her brothers, encouraging herself in this way to serve in spirit the heavenly court, and carrying out her menial tasks with great delight seeing them as the will of God.


                                               Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

I give you this example Philothea, to show you how important it is to direct our actions, however humble, to the service of God and advise you most earnestly to imitate the woman praised so highly by Solomon who put her hand to strong, noble and lofty things yet did not neglect her spinning wheel, she hath put out her hand to strong things, and her fingers have taken hold of the spindle.  Put your hands to strong things, Philothea, by prayer and meditation, by frequenting the sacraments and teaching others to love God, inspiring their hearts to good; in other words by doing all the great and important things whenever you have the opportunity. But do not forget your spinning wheel, that is to say, practise the humble and lowly virtues which grow, like flowers, at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick, looking after your family with all that this involves, above all practising that diligence which permits no idleness, all the while making use of such considerations as I have mentioned in the case of St Catherine.

         Great opportunities of serving God are rare, but little ones are frequent, and our Lord has told us that if we are faithful over little things, he will commit great things to our charge. Do everything in God’s name, then, and it will be done well; whether you eat or drink, take recreation or turn the spit, you can profit in God’s sight by doing them because it is his will.

                         "Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men" Mark 1: 17-20

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