Malankara World

The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales

By Jean Pierre Camus


I am asked if there is not something of a mercenary spirit in these words of our Blessed Father: "Oh, how greatly to be loved is the eternity of Heaven, and how contemptible are the fleeting moments of earth! Aspire continually to this eternity, and despise heartily this decaying world."

You will observe, if you please, that there is a great deal of difference between a proper desire of reward and a mercenary habit of mind. The proper desire of recompense is one which looks principally to the glory of God, and to that glory refers its own reward. A habit of mind which, according to the teaching of the Holy Council of Trent, is most excellent.[1]

But a mercenary habit of mind is shown when we stop short voluntarily, deliberately, and maliciously at our own self-interest, neglecting and putting on one side the interests of God, and when we look forward only to the honors, satisfactions, and delights given to the faithful, and exclude, as it were, the tribute of glory and homage which they render for them to God.

As regards these words of our Blessed Father's, I am perfectly certain that, whatever they may at first sight seem to mean, they are assuredly the expression of thoughts, utterly unselfish, and totally devoid of the spirit of self-seeking. He had written just before: "Take good heed not to come to the feast of the Holy Cross, which is a million times fuller of exquisite pleasures than any wedding feast, without having on the white robe, spotless, and pure from all intentions save that of pleasing the Lamb."

Again, I should like to read to you an extract from one of his letters, in which you will see that he knew how to distinguish, even in Paradise, our interests from those of God: So pure and penetrating was his sight that it resembled that single eye of which the Gospel speaks,[2] which fills us with light and discernment in things spiritual and divine. He speaks thus in his letter: "I have not been able to think of anything this morning save of the eternity of blessings which awaits us. And yet all appear to me as little or nothing beside that unchanging and ever-present love of the great God, which reigns continually in Heaven. For truly I think that the joys of Paradise would be possible, in the midst of all the pains of hell, if the love of God could be there. And if hell-fire were a fire of love, it seems to me that its torments would be the most desirable of good things. All the delights of Heaven are in my eyes a mere nothing compared with this triumphant love. Truly, we must either die or love God. I desire that my heart should either be torn from my body or that if it remains with me it should hold nothing but this holy love. Ah! We must truly give our hearts up to our immortal King, and thus being closely united to Him, live solely for Him. Let us die to ourselves and to all that depends on ourselves. It seems to me that we ought to live only for God. The very thought of this fills my heart once more with courage and fervour. After all, that our Lord is our Lord is the one thing in the world that really concerns us."

Again, in his Theotimus,[3] he says:

"The supreme motive of our actions, which is that of heavenly love, has this sovereign property, that being most pure, it makes the actions which proceed from it most pure; so that the Angels and Saints of Heaven love absolutely nothing for any other end whatever than that of the love of the Divine goodness, and from the motive of desiring to please God. They all, indeed, love one another most ardently; they also love us, they love the virtues, but all this only to please God. They follow and practice virtues, not inasmuch as these virtues are fair and attractive to them; but inasmuch as they are agreeable to God. They love their own felicity, not because it is theirs, but because it pleases God. Yea, they love the very love with which they love God, not because it is in them, but because it tends to God; not because they have and possess it, but because God gives it to them, and takes His good pleasure in it."


There are some gloomy minds which imagine that when the motive of charity and disinterested love is insisted upon all other motives are thereby depreciated, and that it is wished to do away with them. But does he who praises one Saint blame the others? If we extol the Seraphim, do we on that account despise all the lower orders of Angels? Does the man who considers gold more precious than silver say that silver is nothing at all? Are we insulting the stars when we admire and praise the sun? And do we despise marriage because we put celibacy above it?

It is true that, as the Apostle says, charity is the greatest of all virtues, without which the others have neither life nor soul; but that does not prevent these others from being virtues, and most desirable as good habits. In doing virtuous actions the motive of charity is, indeed, the king of all motives; but blessed also are all those inferior motives which are subject to it. We may truly say of them what the Queen of Sheba said of the courtiers of Solomon: Happy are thy men who always stand before thee and hear thy wisdom. [4]

Nay, even servile and mercenary motives, although interested, may yet be good, provided they have nothing in them that cannot be referred to God. They are good in those who have not charity, preparing them for the reception of justifying grace. They are also good in the regenerate, and are compatible with charity, like servants and slaves in the service and households of the great. For it is right, however regenerate we may be, to abstain from sin, not only for fear of displeasing God, but also for fear of losing our souls. The Council of Trent tells us that we are not doing ill when we perform good works primarily in order to glorify God; and also, as an accessory, with a view to the eternal reward which God promises to those who shall do such in His love and for His love. In great temptations, for fear of succumbing, the just may with advantage call to their aid the thought of hell, thereby to save themselves from eternal damnation and the loss of Paradise. But the first principles of the doctrine of salvation teach us that, to avoid evil and do good, simply from the motive of pure and disinterested love of God, is the most perfect and meritorious mode of action.

What! say some:--Must we cease to fear God and to hope in Him? What, then, becomes of acts of holy fear, and of the virtue of hope? If a mother were to abuse the doctor who had restored her child to life, would it not excite a strong suspicion that it was she herself who had attempted to smother it? Did not she who said to Solomon: Let it be divided, [5] show herself to be the false mother? They who are so much attached to servile fear can have no real desire to attain to that holy, pure, loving, reverent fear which leads to everlasting rest, and which the Saints and Angels practice through all eternity.

Let us listen to what Blessed Francis further says on this subject.

"When we were little children, how eagerly and busily we used to collect tiny scraps of cloth, bits of wood, handfuls of clay, to build houses and make little boats! And if any one destroyed these wonderful erections, how unhappy we were; how bitterly we cried! But now we smile when we think how trivial it all was.

"Well," he goes on to say, "let us, since we are but children, be pardoned if we act as such; but, at the same time, do not let us grow cold and dull in our work. If any one knocks over our little houses, and spoils our small plans, do not let us now be unhappy or give way altogether on that account. The less so because when the evening comes, and we need a roof, I mean when death is at hand, these poor little buildings of ours will be quite unfit to shelter us. We must then be safely housed in our Father's Mansion, which is the Kingdom of His well-beloved Son."

[Footnote 1: _De Justificat_, cap. 12.]
[Footnote 2: Matt. vi. 22.]
[Footnote 3: Bk. xi. 13.]
[Footnote 4: 2 Paral. ix. 7.]
[Footnote 5: 1 Kings iii. 26.]

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