Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Francis de Sales: 3 Ways Not to Complicate the Spiritual Life

The Psalm today at Mass was, "Here am I Lord. I come to do your will," and in the Gospel today, Jesus says "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." It is fitting that all this talk about "God's Will" should coincide with the liturgical memorial of St. Francis de Sales.

I have a particular fondness for St. Francis de Sales. When I was in seminary, a statue of Francis was placed in a niche in the facade of the seminary chapel. When I would pray in the courtyard early in the mornings, I would ask for the intercession of the saints whose statues were in the courtyard and in the facade of the chapel. St. Francis, however, also is a favorite of mine because of his practicality. Francis de Sales makes it clear that the spiritual life is not abstract and complicated. His advice, writings, and direction are eminently accessible to anyone.  

Sometimes we tend towards overcomplicating the spiritual life. We act as though God is playing a game with us and making his will increasingly obscure to us. Then, we fear that we are going to make a decision that may ruin the rest of our lives if we don't get it right. This can lead to the problem that I see among a lot of people who wonder if God is calling them to a priestly or religious vocation. They become perpetual "discerners." Perpetual discernment is not helpful. 

A few helpful (paraphrased) hints from de Sales:

1. Don't waste your time discerning about precepts and commandments.  "Feed the poor."  No need to discern whether you should or shouldn't. Sure, it's okay to discern the best way to do it, but not "whether" to do it. Fornication? No discernment necessary. "Well, what if I really love her and we plan on getting married anyways?" Waste of time! Nothing to discern here.  God says, "No." Why waste your time trying to "discern" a loophole?  You can't discern your way out of what God has clearly commanded. 

2. Don't waste your time discerning about things that are pretty much the same. "Should I visit the sick today or should I feed the hungry?"  Well, both are good. If there's no major reason apparent why one should be done today over the other, don't waste your time discerning it. Just pick one and do it. "Should I go on a mission trip to Peru or to Haiti?" Sure, give it some thought, but don't become paralyzed by it. Make a decision and go with it. 

3. When it comes to your vocation in life or other big things, firstly ask for the grace to love God's Will, whatever it is. Secondly, pray about the thing. Ask God to show you what he wants. Then, ponder what God has shown you by examining your life. Then, seek the counsel of two or three persons who are able to provide solid spiritual advice. Don't ask fifty people. Don't ask people until you find one who gives you the answer that you want. Then, choose. If you sincerely seek to do God's Will, nothing more is needed. But, once you choose, don't go back to discerning again. Put the hand to the plough and keep going forward. Don't daydream about what the other choice could have produced. Don't live and act in fear that maybe you made the wrong choice.  

I grant that my paraphrases are not worthy of St. Francis de Sales, but you get the idea. God wants us to know His Will. He's not hiding it from us. And if we seek to do His Will, he will bless us and give us grace to persevere in it.  

So, let's not complicate it. "Here am I Lord, I come to do your will." 

1 comment:

  1. We read "The Introduction to the Devout Life" for our Tuesday spiritual classics group at St. Mary's in Beverly. It was the most popular book that we have done because of St. Francis' practical advice and amazing metaphors. Discernment is always general to specific, as he says. Just keep doing the Christian life, and God will create the opportunities and pathways to follow. I think the problem, certainly that I myself am guilty of, is thinking that God's will is a difficult secret. It's hard to believe that everyday activities, done in love, could be exactly what God wants from you today.