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Introduction to the Devout Francis

Matthew Harrison

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I recently interviewed Philip Marchand, author of Ghost Empire and Toronto Star literary critic, for the Writer's Block segment on our book show, Word for Word (Mr. Marchand is featured on the January 24th episode which discusses parables and story-telling; the episode, airing at 8pm E-T also features a conversation with 'Mary Called Magdalene' author Margaret George).  At one point Mr. Marchand compared a well told story to how one should live their faith.  He said that our faith should not involve the search for transcendant experiences or voices in dark places but it should be about "love, mercy, justice, and walking humbly before our God."  He went on to say that we are very much living in this world and that many stories are successful because they are anchored "in the solidity of the world we see around us." 
It seems appropriate to share Mr. Marchand's thoughts with you on this January 24th, the feast of St. Francis de Sales. A Bishop and Doctor of the Church and patron saint of journalists, St. Francis is the author of the spiritual classic “Introduction to the Devout Life."  First published in the early 1600s, ‘The Devout Life’ was originally a set of writings addressed to the wife of the Duke of Savoy, who had sought out St. Frances as a spiritual director (she is referred to in the text as ‘Philothea’).  ‘Philothea’ wished to live a holy life, though found it difficult because of the distractions offered by her social ranking.  St. Francis recognized that to be holy does not mean to lock oneself away from the world – but to live in the world we see around us.  And so he provided guidance for Philothea to live a holy life in the circumstance she found herself in on earth, to later reap the rewards of heaven. 
St. Francis writes: ""When God created the world He commanded each tree to bear fruit after its kind; and even so He bids Christians -- the living trees of His Church -- to bring forth fruits of devotion, each one according to his kind and vocation.  A different exercise of devotion is required of each -- the noble, the artisan, the servant, the prince, the maiden, and the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual."
God wants us to achieve holiness by our state in life, not some other kind of ideal.  St. Francis recognizes that each of us will travel a different path to holiness.  "The Devout Life" provides us with sound spiritual advice to help us begin this path to holiness.  In the first section of the book he provides us with a series of ten meditations ranging from creation and gifts from God, to hell and paradise.  This helps us to get in the right frame of mind to pursue the devout life.  He then writes about the importance and practice of prayer and the sacraments, which is followed by a section on the growth of virtue (e.g. patience, humility, purity, etc.).  The fourth section deal with advice on common pitfalls in the spiritual life (e.g. anxiety of mind) and the final section provides encouragement to continue pursuing the life of love and devotion to God. 
The advice St. Francis provides is timeless.  It's not an easy book: there are parts that are very dry, there is complicated language at times, and there are thoughts that some may find harsh, silly, or out-dated.  But among all this there is wonderful advice to help us along our path to holiness.  At the very least this book is an excellent reference when encountering certain snags in trying to live a good Catholic life (e.g. how to deal with impatience, or impure thoughts).  God willing, with St. Francis de Sales' guidance, after we have lived in this world, we, alongside this great Bishop and Doctor, may glorify our Lord in heaven.  St. Francis de Sales, pray for us!

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