The Beauty of Devotion
St. Francis de Sales
In order to be devout, not only must we want to do the will of God, we must do it joyfully. If I were not a bishop, yet knew what I know, I would not want to be one. But being one, not only am I obliged to do what this annoying office requires, but I must do it joyfully, and I must take delight in it and accept it. To do so is to follow St. Paul’s saying, “in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Cor. 7:24).
We must carry not the crosses of others, but our own. And this means that each of us must “deny himself” (Matt. 16:24), that is to say, to deny his own will. “I want to do this; I would be better there than here”: we are tempted by such thoughts. Our Lord knows what he is about. Let us do his will and remain where he has placed us.
Not only should you be devout and love the devout life, but you should be making that life beautiful to behold.
Now, it will be beautiful to the extent to which it is useful and agreeable to others. The sick will love your piety if it causes them to be charitably consoled. Your family will love it if it makes you more solicitous of their good, milder in the face of life’s vicissitudes, and withal more amiable. Your spouse will love it to the extent to which your devotion makes you warmer and more affectionate. If your parents and friends see in you a greater frankness, helpfulness, and readiness to bend to their wills in those things that are not contrary to the will of God, they too will find your life of devotion attractive. And this, as much as possible, should be your aim.
It is not possible to pray without employing the imagination and the understanding. Yet it cannot be doubted that we should make use of them only for the sake of moving the will, and then no more. Some say that it is not necessary to use the imagination to represent to ourselves the sacred humanity of the Savior. Not, perhaps, for those who are already far advanced on the mountain of perfection. But for those of us who are still in the valleys — though we wish to be climbing — I think it is expedient to make use of all our faculties, including the imagination.
This imagination, however, ought to be quite simple, serving as a sort of needle with which to thread affections and resolutions into our mind. This is the great road, from which we should not take leave until the light of day is a little brighter and we can see the little paths. It is true that these imaginings should not be tangled up in too many particularities, but should be simple. Let us remain a while longer in the low valleys.
The Peace of God
Strive to remain in that peace and tranquillity that our Lord has given you. “The peace of God,” says St. Paul, “which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Do you not see that he says the peace of God “passes all understanding”? That is to teach you that you should never trouble yourself to have any sentiment other than that of the peace of God. Now, the peace of God is the peace that proves the resolutions we have taken for God and the path that God has ordained for us. Walk firmly in the way in which the providence of God has placed you, without looking either to the right or to the left.
That is the way of perfection for you. This satisfaction of spirit — even if it be without savor — is worth more than a thousand delightful consolations. If God intends you to face some difficulties, you must receive them from his hand — the hand you have taken hold of — and you must not let go of him until he has brought you to the point of your perfection. You will see that God’s providence will accomplish all things according to your intentions, provided they be entirely in conformity with his. What is needed of you is a courage that is a little more vigorous and resolute.
The Presence of God
To remain in the presence of God and to place oneself in the presence of God are two different things. To place ourselves in his presence, we must withdraw our souls from all other objects and make ourselves attentive to his presence. After we have placed ourselves in his presence, we can keep ourselves there by the action of our will or intellect: by either looking upon God, or looking upon something else for the love of him, or not looking at anything but instead speaking to him, or neither looking at him nor speaking to him but simply remaining where he has placed us, like a statue in its niche. And when, to this simple act of remaining there is joined some sentiment that we belong to God and that he is our all, then we ought to give earnest thanks for his goodness.
If a statue in a niche in the middle of a room were able to speak, and we were to ask it, “Why are you there?,” it would reply, “Because my master the sculptor placed me here.”
“But why do you not move?”
“Because he wishes me to remain immobile.”
“But what use do you serve there? What does it profit you to remain there in this way?”
“It is not to serve myself that I exist, but to serve and to obey the will of my master.”
“But him you cannot see.”
“No,” says the statue, “but he sees me and takes pleasure that I am where he has placed me.”
“But would you not like to be able to move so that you could be nearer to him?”
“No, not unless he so commands me.”
“Is there then nothing at all that you desire?”
“No, for I am where my master has placed me, and his good pleasure is the sole delight of my being.”
How good a prayer this is, and how good it is to keep oneself in the presence of God in this way, by holding fast to his will and his good pleasure! Mary Magdalene was a statue in her niche when, without speaking a word or moving, and perhaps without even looking at him, she “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39). When he spoke, she listened. When he stopped speaking, she stopped listening, and yet she remained there. A little child resting on his mother’s bosom while the two of them sleep is truly in his good and most desirable place, even though she says not a word to him, nor he to her.
How happy we are when we want to love our Lord! Let us then love him, and let us not stop to reckon how little we do for his love, provided that we know that we will never wish to do anything except for his love. Can we not even say that we remain in the presence of God while we sleep? For we sleep in his sight, at his pleasure, and by his will, and he places us upon our beds like statues in their niches, and when we awaken, we find that he is there, near to us, that he has not budged and neither have we. We are in his presence; it is only our eyes that are shut.