In his book Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote, “When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind, and in like manner he commands Christians, the living plants of his Church, to bring forthe the fruits of devotion, each according to his position and vocation. Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince, the widow, the young girl, and the married woman. Not only is this true, but the practive of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, activities and duties of each particular person.”
St. Francis de Sales also wrote “charity is spiritual fire and when it bursts into flames it is called devotion. Hence devotion adds nothing to the fire of charity except the flame that makes charity prompt, active and diligent not only to observe God’s commandments but also to fulfill his heavenly counsels and inspirations.”
I felt bad as I read because the realization that I am not devout came to me until I read St. Francis tell us that he was not devout. He explains the purpose of his book. “To study is a good way to learn; to hear is still a better way; to teach is the best of all.” He desired to be devout so he chose to teach us. And teach us he does in this book.
St. Francis de Sales, pray for us that we may be devoted to our Lord!
Spiritual reading and prayer and, in fact, our whole spiritual life is sparked in our recognizing God’s calling in the present moment. It doesn’t depend on our past life or what, if anything, resides in our future. The consciousness of the present moment is the needed ingredient in following God’s will when faced with a decision.
I believe God’s will for us is to live life fully. Our sins, through our thoughts, words and actions, set us up for not recognizing the next right thing to do. If I am a sinner who has not gone to confession and has not lived to regret my sins through self-examination, the chance of me connecting with God will be slim to none. There should be a period of confession and a time for the remorse and guilt to help us practice different behavior. This practice is, at first, seemingly impossible. After fighting through our spiritual laziness by doing the right thing, we are in a much better position to live fully in the present moment.
Living fully a moment at a time leads to living a full life. The battle changes, but the rewards are swift. We have to stay awake to recognize God’s love and forgiveness. We have to stay awake to recognize when we are going astray. Our insides will warn us if we have cleared away the wreckage of the past. If we do not get the warning, perhaps more contemplation and study is called for.
The will and designs of God are the life of the soul. In whatever manner this divine will touches our mind, it nourishes the soul. If we are meant to listen to the man in front of us, then we will feel new when we do. We will have listened to the still small voice and we be filled for doing so.
My birthday is on the feast of St. Agnes. I took her name in Confirmation. My name was going to be Agnes, but my father wanted a more Irish name. However, St. Agnes, a young martyr who was killed by Roman soldiers for not renouncing her faith, has been the singular most important saint in my life. As a child, I read her story in Book Two, Miniature Stories of the Saints, and wished she just said she wasn’t Christian but had her fingers crossed behind her back. Today as a mature woman, I see the importance of her giving up her young life.
She is always pictured with a lamb. She was a lamb taken to slaughter just like her Lord. Pope Damascus adorned her tomb with sacred poetry and many of the Fathers of the Church honored her in their writings.
Beyond her slaughter she gained eternal life. How did such a twelve year old overcome the fear of pain and death? She loved God more than she loved her life.
Dear St. Agnes, help us! Show us the way to eternal peace!
One December morning about eight or nine years ago, I sat on the 100 High Speed Line rolling out of the station high above the Schuylkill River. I witnessed a bright orange sunrise and the rushing water past snow-covered rocks which seeped into every part of me. I was filled with the wonder of the Creator. I never felt so filled, yet my mind went to the back-and-forth wonder of whether Jesus was truly God.
In my gratitude for being alive and a witness to the beauty of the world I lived in, I could sense God. I could see God in the natural wonder, I trusted God in my spirit, yet my mind continued its volley this way and that trying to capture God in logic. Finally not wishing to feel the pull of the mind when all else reveled in deep love, I asked God to help me understand. I heard a voiceless answer say with poetic emotion, “I gave you Jesus Christ just as I gave you this sunrise.”
In that instant, a peace beyond all understanding flowed into my mind (the only area of tension) and I smiled. Ah, the beauty of the early winter morning! Ah, the beauty of snow-white-covered tree branches and rooftops! Ah, the beauty of the God Man who lived two millenia ago!
I watched the morning landscape change outside my window knowing there is a wondrous Creator that I cannot imagine. This morning, though, I imagined Christ, my brother, beside me on the train. I was never happier.
Father Walter Hilton, a canon of the Augustinian Priory in England, who died in 1396 said “He is everything and He does everything, if you could but realize. You do nothing but allow Him to act on your soul and consent with great joy of heart to what he deigns to do in you. You are nothing but His instrument, though you are endowed with reason. And therefore, when at the touch of His grace you feel your mind caught up by a strong desire to please Him and love Him, believe that you possess Jesus.”
I am moved by the knowledge of a man who lived over 600 years ago. His words confirm what I feel in my being often since my conversion back to my Catholic faith. There is a filling of beauty, comfort, rightness that I cannot describe which I have received since attending Mass and praying through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I am clearly happy with a sense of consistency which I didn’t trust at first. I lived with this internal joy on my journey without a sense of toil or frustration. I was visited by peace, a beautiful sense of wellness, a warm and gentle spirit which did not leave me. Though I did not always know it, I felt it. My earlier life was tormented by unrest. It is hard work to be lost in an alien world and trying to find a resting place.
My Catholicism is a peaceful blanket in a wintered world. I have a grateful heart, a life that finally makes sense, and way of life that makes my ordinary days extraordinary. God has truly touched me. I am strengthened by His Eucharist. I rejoice that I experience the same feeling of His Presence as a priest who lived 600 years ago.
I am a thought in the mind of God. I have been created to be present at this time, in this town, in this country for a reason. It is not mine to determine. I am alive like a tree, a cat and even a stone, but even more so. I am a human being capable of imagining, capable of calculating, capable of communication with the Creator. When I am in communion with God, I can fulfill God’s intent. My daily toil is to rise above my imperfections to a place of Light. Each day, the battle rages. Each day my thoughts, my words, my actions fall short of God’s desire for me just like St. Paul’s lament. I must call on the Holy Spirit in the many times of spiritual warfare to guide me to the right thought or action.
I wish for nothing more than to be present now, in this moment which is the place where God resides. Dear Lord, please take my thoughts, my words and my actions. Please bless them and make them holy!
Heading home is a journey we begin at birth. We have our assignments: to love God with all our heart, mind and soul AND to love our neighbor as ourselves. I am assigned to listen when I am being spoken to, to offer love and clarity when I can, and to remain quiet when I can’t say something helpful. We are called to add to the world…something I didn’t realize for a long time.
If I listen when I am stopped on my journey, the answers abound. I must listen for the guidance that is all around me. I must offer clarity and love even when I am not moved to do so. It is the highest law. I must trust my inner voice – the still, quiet voice – the guidance. To remain quiet when I can not say something helpful is to recognize that guidance is called for – not criticism. We are all on the same journey. We are all heading home. Some of us are not conscious of it, some of us are. We are all at different segments of the path. When a brother or sister appears before me, I am called to love. I am called to love in all my thoughts. I have one dream – to get home. I have many thoughts that may or may not be loving. If they are not loving, I must edit them until they are.
People come and go from my path. I am where I am because they were on my path to begin with and they helped me keep to the right road. Today I must continue my journey. I will encounter other brothers and sisters, some I will know, some I will not, but I will greet them with loving thoughts.
God, relieve me of the bondage of self! Let me love You and all men freely!