Devotion is for Everyone – Francis de Sales

Francis de Sales, one of the great masters of the spiritual life, here makes clear that devotion, his term for the pursuit of holiness, is not something tied to a specific station in life.  All people, in a way appropriate to their own calling and personality, can make progress in the life of sanctity.  Read on his feast day, January 24.

When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.

I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.

Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbor. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfills all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.

bee collecting pollen

The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.

Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its colour, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

It is therefore an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, from the artisans’ shops, from the courts of princes, from family households. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state.

Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.

This post on devotion and the calling to holiness is an excerpt from The Introduction to the Devout Life (Pars 1, cap. 3) by St. Francis de Sales.  It is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the liturgical memorial or feast of St. Francis de Sales on January 24.

St. Francis de Sales

St. Francis de Sales was born near Annecy, in Savoy, in 1567, shortly after the conclusion of the Council of Trent.  He studied the law, but abandoning the prospect of a brilliant career in that field, was ordained to the priesthood in 1593, despite the opposition of his father. His first mission was to re-evangelize the people of his home district (the Chablais), who had gone over to Calvinism. Always in danger of his life from hostile Calvinists, he preached with such effectiveness that after four years most of the people had returned to the Church.  In his preaching against Calvinism he was driven by love rather than a desire to win: whoever wants to preach effectively must preach with love.”  A Calvinist minister gave him the following tribute: if we honored anyone as a saint, I know of no-one since the days of the Apostles more worthy of it than this man.

St. Francis was appointed bishop of Geneva, the city of John Calvin, in 1602, and spent the rest of his life reforming and reorganizing the diocese and in caring for the souls of his people by preaching and spiritual guidance.  He became the spiritual director of St. Jane de Chantal with whom he founded the nuns of the Visitation in 1610. In his most famous writings, the Introduction to the Devout Life (1609) and the Treatise on the Love of God (1616), St Francis taught that we can all attain a devout and spiritual life, whatever our position in society, that true holiness is not reserved for monks and hermits alone. His wrote that “religious devotion does not destroy: it perfects” every state in life and his spiritual counsel is dedicated to making people more holy by making them more themselves.  In this he anticipates the Second Vatican Councils teaching that the call to holiness is truly Universal (Lumen Gentium, chapter 4).

St. Francis de Sales died at Lyons on December 28, 1622, and was buried at Annecy on January 24 which is the day each year that the Church honors him in her liturgy.  He was canonized in 1665 and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1877.  Because of the many tracts he published to explain and defend the Catholic faith, Pope Pius XI proclaimed him Patron of the Catholic Press in 1923.  (bio by Dr. Italy)