At some point in our life, as people who believe in God, we wrestle with a relationship with God. As in any relationship, the ultimate question arises: "Does God love me?" Toward the end of his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales offers a response to our question:
"Before our Lord Jesus Christ as man suffered on the Cross for you, his Divine Majesty by his sovereign goodness already foresaw your existence and loved and favored you. When did his love for you begin? It began when he began to be God. When did he begin to be God? Never, for he has been forever, without beginning and without end. So also he has loved you from all eternity and for this reason he has prepared for your all these graces and favors. Hence he speaks to you as well as to others when he says by the prophet, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you, taking pity on you.' (Jer. 31.3)"
---Introduction, Part 5, Chapter 14 (p. 286)
Prayer thought for the day: "I have loved you with an everlasting love."
How will I respond to the everlasting love of God for me? Before I can decide how I might want to respond, I need to take stock of my present state regarding God. De Sales offers some thoughts to help us take stock.
"How is your heart toward God himself? Do you take delight in thinking about him? Does such remembrance leave an agreeable sweetness behind it? 'I remembered God, and I was delighted," said David. Does your heart feel and inclination to love God and a particular satisfaction in dwelling on this love? Does your heart love to reflect on God's immensity, goodness, and sweetness? If remembrance of God comes to you amid worldly affairs and vanities, do you willingly receive it and does it take possession of you heart? Does it seem to you that your heart turns that way and, as it were, runs out to meet God? … It is the same with souls that really love God. No matter how busy they are, hen remembrance of God comes to them, they lose almost the vary thoughts of all other things because of joy that this dear remembrance has returned. This is a very good sign."
---Introduction, Part 5, Chapter 4 (p.277)
Prayer thought for the day: I will try to remember You, as You remember me.
The way we think of ourselves can also influence how we relate to God. That influence can be positive or negative. De Sales offers us some considerations about ourselves that can point us in a positive and realistic direction.
"God has placed you in this world not because he needs you in any way - you are altogether useless to him - but only to exercise his goodness in you by giving you his grace and glory. For this purpose he has given you intellect to know him, memory to be mindful of him, will to love him, imagination to picture to yourself his benefits, eyes to see his wonderful works, tongue to praise him, and so on with the other faculties."
"Consider the nature God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty."
---Introduction, Part 1, Chapters 9 and 10 (pp. 53-56)
Prayer thought for the day: All I am is Yours, Lord.
We've all heard of the "call to holiness." The word "holiness" often creates images in our minds, images which are influenced by the saints we know about. All too often we can't imagine that we are called to be holy as they were. Isn't "holiness" just for special people? Listen to de Sales.
"My purpose (in writing the Introduction to the Devout Life) is to instruct those who live in town, within families, or at court, and by their state in life are obliged to live an ordinary life as to outward appearances. Frequently. on the pretext of some supposed impossibility, they will not even think on undertaking a devout life… A strong, resolute soul can live in the world without being infected by any of its moods."
---Preface to the Introduction (pp.33-34)
"Genuine, living devotion (holiness) presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. … When divine love has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also do this carefully, frequently, and promptly, it is called devotion."
---Introduction, Part 1, Chapter 1 (p. 40)
"Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the prince, the widow, the young girl, and the married woman… The practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strengths, activities, and duties of each particular person."
---Introduction, Part 1, Chapter 3 (p. 43)
Prayer thought for the day: I am graced to be holy today.
Our concept of "being holy" is influenced by the many saints whose lives we may have heard or read about over the years. Some of them led very extraordinary lives or did extraordinary things. Perhaps St. Francis de Sales can help us to clarify our conception of what "being holy" means.
"Consider Jacob's ladder, for it is the true picture of the devout life. The two sides between which we climb upward and to which the rungs are fastened represent prayer, which calls down God's love, and the sacraments which confer it. The rungs are the various degrees of charity by which we advance from virtue to virtue, either descending by deeds of help and support for our neighbor or by contemplation ascending to a loving union with God."
---Introduction, Part 1, Chapter 2 (p.42)
"Imitate little children who with one hand hold fast to their father while with the other they gather strawberries or blackberries from the hedges. So too if you gather and handle the good of this world with one hand, you must always hold fast with the other to your heavenly Father's hand an turn toward him from time to time to see if you actions or occupations are pleasing to him."
---Introduction, Part 3, Chapter 10 (p. 153)
Prayer thought for the day: Father, I will hold your hand today.
Sometimes we use our sinfulness as a reason to believe that God couldn't be calling us to be holy as He is holy. Even when we might want to answer the call, we find that our sins seem to get in the way. De Sales offers us some realistic (and saintly) advice.
"Let us not forget the maxims of the saints, who teach us to advance a little further each day on the road to perfection. This thought should encourage us not to be surprised or to feel miserable whenever we have something to correct. Each day we must begin again with renewed courage."
---Letter 1049; Oeuvres 16, p. 312
"Even though we commit many faults through human weakness, we would not become upset. While detesting the fact that we have offended God, we can still experience a certain joy in humility and a kind of delight in our miseries. In the midst of all the occupations of each day, see to it that you do not become too absorbed in material things. Keep a tight grasp of Christ's hand. Whenever you find yourself with more than you can handle, do no panic, but look to Christ."
---Letter 449, Oeuvres 14, pp. 7-8 (From Every Day with Saint Francis de Sales)
Prayer thought for the day: Lord, remembrance of Your mercy gives me reason to get up when I fall.
Even though we may not sin seriously, we all experience temptations every day. They seem to be all around us. We worry that they may pull us away from our resolve to respond to the Lord. De Sales' thoughts can give us the courage to resist and not become anxious.
"In this temptation we must take the same stance we take against temptations of the flesh, not arguing at all, but doing as the Israelite children did with the bones of the Paschal Lamb, not trying to break them but simply throwing them into the fire. In no way must we answer or even pretend to hear what the enemy is saying, no matter how hard he pounds on the door. We mustn't even say 'Who is it?' 'That's true,' you tell me, 'but he is so annoying and is making such a loud racket that those inside can' even hear each other speak.' It's all the same; be patient, speak by means of signs: we must prostrate ourselves before God and stay there at his feet; he will understand very well from this humble gesture that you are his and that you want his help even though you are unable to speak. But especially, stay inside; don't so much as open the good either to see who is there or to chase this pest away. Finally he will grow tired of shouting and will leave you in peace...
So courage then! Things will improve soon. So long as the enemy doesn't get in; the rest doesn't matter. Still, it's a very good sign that he is raging and beating at the door; it's a sign that he doesn't yet have what he is after. If he had it, he would no longer carry on this way. He would come in and stay. Remember this so as never to get caught up in scruples."
---From a letter to St. Jane de Chantal, 1604 (From W. Wright's Francis de Sales ...)
Prayer thought for the day: My weakness is the throne of God's mercy.