Simple Spirituality

Understanding our call to holiness through the teaching of St. Francis de Sales

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If you ever wonder how beautiful the human soul is, you can find your answer in reading the works of St. Francis de Sales. He would ask you to concentrate on little virtues and enable you to see your greatness before the eyes of the Lord. He would assure you to not be hard on yourself in spiritual growth; instead, he would show concessions to your temperament, gentle tolerance to your imperfections, and loving endurance and cheerfulness that will make you a great living saint.

A focus of his teachings was that everyone can reach the height of spirituality; everyone can become a saint in his or her own life situation. This stands in stark contrast to the common ideology of his time. In the 16th century, a growing portion of the Catholic Church stressed perfectionism. Spiritual giants that would later become saints were regarded as “perfect,” meaning that living such spirituality was impossible for ordinary men and women. It was St. Francis de Sales who fostered a silent revolution in the idea that everyone can be living saints wherever they may be in life. As Bishop of Geneva, this Doctor of the Church taught everyone to practice little virtues to reach the heights of saintly life. This is something we are all called to do.

“Learn to do any small, trivial act with great love” was his spiritual moto.

He would say, “opportunities of acquiring offices, benefices, inheritances, large sums of money, are not to be met with every day, but at any moment we may earn farthings and halfpence. By trading well on these small profits, many have, in course of time, grown rich. We should become spiritually wealthy and lay up for ourselves much treasure in heaven, if we employ in the holy love of God, the small opportunities which are to be met with at every hour of our lives.” 

Because of his contagious spiritual devotion, many individuals sought spiritual direction from St. Francis de Sales during his ministry. He would guide his spiritual sons and daughters through letters. His book, Introduction to the Devout Life, is a compilation of many such letters he wrote to his spiritual friends. The book was first published in the 17th century, and remains a most useful guide, especially for the lay faithful, to reach the heights of holiness in one’s life. It teaches simply that you can glorify God in your own spiritual and secular world. Another one of his books, “The Treatise of Love of God,” is a highly theological book that would help anyone who is seeking an intimate relationship with God. This book will help the reader fall in love with God. It encourages one to grow in personal holiness, which leads to a mystical bond with the Divine. These books are great resources for those seeking to enrich their spirituality and to live out the call to holiness. Once more, look at your soul – you are a living saint!

Fr. Biju Mathew, MSFSComment