Malankara World

The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales

By Jean Pierre Camus


Blessed Francis, in speaking of perfection, often remarked that, although he heard very many people talking about it, he met with very few who practiced it. "Many, indeed," he would say, "are so mistaken in their estimate of what perfection is, that they take effects for the cause, the rivulet for the spring, the branches for the root, the accessories for the principle, and often even the shadow for the substance."

For myself, I know of no Christian perfection other than to love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves. All other perfection is falsely so entitled: it is sham gold that does not stand testing.

Charity is the only bond between Christians, the only virtue which unites us absolutely to God, and our neighbor.

In charity lies the end of every perfection and the perfection of every end. I know that mortification, prayer, and the other exercises of virtue, are all means to perfection, provided that they are practiced in charity, and from the motive of charity. But we must never regard any of these means towards attaining perfection as being in themselves perfection. This would be to stop short on the road, and in the middle of the race, instead of reaching the goal.

The Apostle exhorts us, indeed, to run, but so as to carry off the prize[1], which is for those only who have breath enough to reach the end of the course.

In a word, all our actions must be done in charity if we wish to walk in a manner, as says St. Paul, worthy of God; that is to say, to hasten on towards perfection.

Charity is the way of true life; it is the truth of the living way; it is the life of the way of truth. All virtue is dead without it: it is the very life of virtue. No one can reach the last and supreme end, God Himself, without charity; it is the way to Him. There is no true virtue without charity, says St. Thomas; it is the very truth of virtue.

In conclusion, and in answer to my repeated question as to how we were to go to work in order to attain to this perfection, this supreme love of God and of our neighbor, our Blessed Father said that we must use exactly the same method as we should in mastering any ordinary art or accomplishment. "We learn," he said, "to study by studying, to play on the lute by playing, to dance by dancing, to swim by swimming. So also we learn to love God and our neighbor by loving them, and those who attempt any other method are mistaken."

You ask me, my sisters, how we can discover whether or not we are making any progress towards perfection. I cannot do better than consult our oracle, Blessed Francis, and answer you in his own words, taken from his eighth Conference. "We can never know what perfection we have reached, for we are like those who are at sea; they do not know whether they are making progress or not, but the pilot knows, knowing the course. So we cannot estimate our own advancement, though we may that of others, for we dare not assure ourselves when we have done a good action that we have done it perfectly--humility forbids us to do so. Nay, even were we able to judge of the virtues of others, we must never determine in our minds that one person is better than another, because appearances are deceitful, and those who seem very virtuous outwardly and in the eyes of creatures, may be less so in the sight of God than others who appear much more imperfect."

I have often heard him say that the multiplicity of means proposed for advancement towards perfection frequently delays the progress of souls. They are like travelers uncertain of the way, and who seeing many roads branching off in different directions stay and waste their time by enquiring here and there which of them they ought to take in order to reach their journey's end. He advised people to confine themselves rather to some special spiritual exercise or virtue, or to some well-chosen book of piety--for example, to the exercise of the presence of God, or of submission to His will, or to purity of intention, or some similar exercise.

Among books, he recommended chiefly, The Spiritual Combat, The Imitation of Jesus Christ, The Method of Serving God, Grenada, Blosius, and such like. Among the virtues, as you know well, his favorites were gentleness and humility, charity--without which others are of no value--being always pre-supposed.

On this subject of advancement towards perfection, he speaks thus in the ninth of his Conferences:

"If you ask me, 'What can I do to acquire the love of God?' I answer, Will; i.e., try to love Him; and instead of setting to work to find out how you can unite your soul to God, put the thing in practice by a frequent application of your mind to Him. I assure you that you will arrive much more quickly at your end by this means than in any other way.

"For the more we pour ourselves out the less recollected we shall be, and the less capable of union with the Divine Majesty, who would have all we are without reserve."

He continues: "One actually finds souls who are so busy in thinking how they shall do a thing that they have no time to do it. And yet, in what concerns our perfection, which consists in the union of our soul with the Divine Goodness, there is no question of knowing much; but only of doing."

Again, in the same Conference, he says: "It seems to me that those of whom we ask the road to Heaven are very right in answering us as those do who tell us that, in order to reach such a place, we must just go on putting one foot before the other, and that by this means we shall arrive where we desire. Walk ever, we say to these souls so desirous of their perfection, walk in the way of your vocation with simplicity, more intent on doing than on desiring. That is the shortest road." "And," he adds, "in aspiring to union with the Beloved, there is no other secret than to do what we aspire to--that is, to labor faithfully in the exercise of Divine love."

[Footnote 1: 1 Cor. ix. 24.]

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