Desire and Duty: Salesian Pillars of the Spiritual Life

This week's reflection is written by
V. Rev. Lewis S. Fiorelli, OSFS, Provincial.

Early in her friendship with Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal received some sound advice from Francis on how to attain to Christian holiness while living the busy life of a recent widow and mother of four young children.

His advice to her in that 1604 letter is brief but profound, and it stands as the foundation for the devout life of all Christians, no matter one’s vocational state or developmental stage in life. His advice constitutes the Salesian foundations for what the Second Vatican Council would later famously term, “the universal call to holiness.”


Francis assured Jane that her desire for holiness meant that she was already half way there (see his Treatise on the Love of God, Book 12, chapters 2 and 3). But she needed first to transform her simple desire into a solid resolution which would take, on her part, effort, discipline and perseverance. In order to transform her desire for holiness into a firm resolve, he recommended to her what he would later write to Philothea in his celebrated Introduction to the Devout Life: prayer, especially mental prayer, the sacraments, above all the Eucharist, and the practice of those solid Christian virtues that are particularly suited to the daily ebb and flow of one’s state in life.

Desire for the devout life is always linked, as it was for Jesus himself, in a firm determination to do and to accept God’s will. And for Francis we don’t have to look far and wide to know what God is asking of us. The principal arena for God’s will is found in the duties and responsibilities that cluster around our state in life. At that time, Jane was a widowed mother of four young children living with a difficult father-in-law under very challenging circumstances. This is where she was planted and so this was where she was to bloom spiritually. How? By practicing the virtues and doing what each succeeding present moment of those circumstances called for. In that way, she would link her daily life to God’s will for her, and she would do that frequently and in many ways, large and small, throughout the day.

Those were circumstances unique to Jane de Chantal at that particular moment of her life. If we truly desire to be holy, we need only look at where we are planted at this particular moment in our life: our living and work environments, our spiritual, physical and emotional situations, the people in our lives, and so on. This is where we are now planted. Therefore, this is where God wants us to bloom spiritually by linking our will to the divine will for us as each succeeding present moment and circumstance of our daily life unfolds. In Book 12, chapter 9 of his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis expresses this quite simply: “At hundreds of times during the day let us join our life to God’s love.”

Like Jane, let us learn to link our desire for holiness to the duties, responsibilities and challenges of our actual daily lives. Let us pray and celebrate the sacraments as often as circumstances permit. And let us practice the particular virtues, however humble and little, that each moment or circumstance call for.

Desire and Duty: these remain the Salesian pillars of Christian holiness.