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Thursday, November 30, 2006

St. Frances de Sales' Devout Life - Advent Reading

This is a difficult time of year for me as it is, and on top of it, I have just begun reading St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life

As a dear Marian Sister I know has observes, this book is anything BUT an "introduction"! And yet, it has hit me right between the eyes! If you haven't read it, I recommend it highly, but read it in pieces. Another dear friend gave it to me on Thanksgiving, and the following day I picked it up, read a bit...and set it down. Then picked it up again. St. Francis's style is very easy and coherent...and gentle. Yet firm.

And I think that's what makes this so difficult. Because he speaks like a father, refers to the reader as "my daughter", and he writes with authority...the kind that cuts more deeply than a scalpel.

You know how it is when you cut yourself with a razor, initially you feel nothing. Your first sign that you have slipped is not the pain, but the blood. And sometimes just the sensation of the slip and if you look closely, you realized you have gashed your skin, but it's minutes before the blood appears.

The truth St. Francis avails us to is like that...yet deeper, more like a scalpel, merciless, yet gentle and healing.

He even takes on the other saints, is critical of St. Paula, St. Bernard in his earlier years, and uses them as an example to the rest of us, so that we won't be so intimidated.

Yet, in the first few chapters I was so intimidated that I read, I set the book down, declared it was impossible, and walked away. Yet it drew me back because there was TRUTH there, and it wouldn't leave me alone. Yes, I was bleeding, and indeed, the very knife that caused the wound also linked to the remedy.

This book has hit me squarely between the eyes. As I went on reading, even as I wanted to reject it, it drew me in and it was as though I was being forced to look at myself in a mirror, ultra-magnified, under surgical-flourescents, and asked to take a GOOD LOOK at what I saw.

And the sight wasn't pretty. Not at all.

I imagine that someone who has been involved in a disfiguring accident has much the same reaction. First the accident occurs, and then, after they wake up, they are given a mirror, the doctors, therapists, family, etc., knowing that as painful as it is to recognize the disfigurement, the patient needs to understand what happened. If we don't recognize where and how we are wounded, we cannot even hope to fix it. Nor can those sent to help us. And so that person stares into the mirror, first in denial.....then in shock..and that person is drawn back again and again, trying to come to terms with what he or she sees, and understand that it is a true reflection.

That's where I've been this week....trying to understand that yes, this is a true reflection of myself, it's not pretty...and if I am to become closer to the Lord, then I need to first see the flaws. It is not my place to fix them, no more so than a woman disfigured by flashburns can fix herself. It is the place of the Divine Healer to come in, take the mirror away, and ask us all to place our trust in Him alone. To recognize, not deny, that we are in pain, that we have been disfigured, and that in order for the remedy to occur, there will be significant pain, sacrifice, and effort on all parts, yet in the end, the result will be miraculous.

Doctors cannot promise redemption or miracles to a disfigured person. And sometimes, God does not choose to erase the physical maladies we all suffer. Yet He does promise to erase the spiritual maladies, yet not without our cooperation. Not without our effort in walking the path to holiness.

The readings this coming Sunday are all about walking the path to holiness, doing God's will, and trusting in him. They are about avoiding the chaos of the world and remembering who we are and that we look forward to the coming of Christ, again, while we remember the historical birth of the infant Jesus.

The Lord does not ask us to complete an easy task, but so far, in my 32 and nearly 1/2 years, I have never once found that the most difficult things were not also the most worthwhile. Jesus asks us to follow Him, to do as he did...and in order for us to carry this out, we must come to terms with our sinfulness, our attachments to sin, and the fact that we do not walk this road alone. Jesus became one of us, suffered horribly and died in humility so that we could enter Heaven. The least we can do is recognize our own attachments to those things that seperate us from following Jesus, and in doing so, learn how to grow in holiness.

If you are looking for solid, challenging, prayerful Advent reading, I highly recommend this book. Already, after a few chapters and meditations, I recognize that my life will never be the same.

Praise God, may it be so for you as well.

St. Francis de Sales, pray for us!


Anonymous said...

And here I thought I'd have to wait until after Christmas to buy a copy. Not so!

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Wow, that's quite an endorsement! I was going to read it anyway but I'm moving it up on my list. Thanks!

A Pilgrim said...

Amen Sister! (it's my Baptist background showing, but I'm Catholic now!!!)

I try to read this book, and it is deep and challenging. Yet, as you say, De Sales is so gentle, yet firm.

And then, what you go on to share, ouch! How true. We see in a mirror dimly now. What a great work the Potter is doing with this lowly clay, and it is HIS work.