Regulating all our desires

July 5, 2021 • 5 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 202
By St. Francis de Sales

Chapter XXXVII.


Everyone knows that we are obliged to refrain from the desires of vicious things, since even the desire of evil is of itself criminal: but I tell you, moreover, Philothea, you must not be anxious about balls, plays, or such like diversions, nor covet honours and offices, nor yet visions and ecstasies, for there is a great deal of danger and deceit in such vanities.

Desire not that which is at a great distance, nor that which cannot happen for a long time, as many do, who by this means weary and distract their hearts unprofitably.

If a young man earnestly desires to be settled in some office before the proper time, what does all his anxiety avail him? If a married woman desires to be a nun, to what purpose? If I desire to buy my neighbour’s goods before he is willing to sell them, is it not loss of time to entertain such a desire? If, while sick, I desire to preach, to celebrate Mass, to visit others that are sick, and perform the exercises of those who are in health; are not all these desires vain, since it is out of my power to put them in execution?

Yet, in the meantime, these unprofitable desires occupy the place of the virtues of patience, resignation, mortification, obedience, and meekness under sufferings, which are what God would have me practise at that time.

I can by no means approve of persons desiring to amuse themselves in any other kind of life than that in which they are already engaged; nor in any exercises that are incompatible with their present conditions; for this distracts the heart, and makes it unfit for its necessary occupations.

If I desire to practise the solitude of a Carthusian, I lose my time; and this desire occupies the place of that, which I ought to have, of employing myself well in my present office; no, I would not that anyone should even desire to have a better wit or judgment than what he is already possessed of, for these desires answer no purpose, and only occupy the place of that which everyone ought to have, of cultivating the talents which he inherits from nature; nor would I have anyone desire those means to serve God which he has not, but rather diligently employ those which he has.

Now, this is to be understood only of desires which totally occupy the heart; for, as to simple wishes, if they be not too frequent, they do no harm whatsoever.

Do not desire crosses, except in proportion to the patience wherewith you have supported those which have been already sent you; for it is presumptuous to desire martyrdom, and not to have the courage to bear an injury.

The enemy often suggests a great desire of things that are absent, and which never shall come to pass, that so he may divert our mind from present objects, from which, however trivial they may be, we might obtain considerable profit to ourselves. We fight with the monsters in Africa in imagination, and ın the meantime, for want of attention, we suffer ourselves to be killed by some insignificant reptile that lies in our way.

Desire not temptations, for that would be rashness; but accustom your heart to expect them courageously, and to defend yourself against them when they come.

A variety of food, taken in any considerable quantity, overloads the stomach, and if it is weak destroys it: overcharge not then your soul, neither with a multitude of worldly desires, which may end in your ruin, nor even with such as are spiritual, as they are apt to beget distractions.

When the purified soul finds herself freed from bad inclinations she feels a craving after spiritual things, and as one famished she longs for a variety of exercises of piety, mortification, penance, humility, charity, and prayer. Philothea, it is a good sign of health to have a keen appetite; but you must consider whether you can digest all that you would eat.

Amongst so many desires, choose, then, by the advice of your spiritual director, such as you may execute at present, and turn them to the best advantage afterwards; God will send you others, which you must also practise in their proper season, and thus you will never lose your time in unprofitable desires, but bring them all forth in good order; but as to those that cannot be immediately executed, they should be locked up in some corner of the heart till their time comes.

This advice I not only give to spiritual persons, but also to those in the world; for without attending to it, there would be no living without anxiety and confusion.

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