Don’t mind what the children of the world say

July 7, 2021 • 6 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 219
By St. Francis de Sales

We must not concern ourselves about what the children of the world may say.

As soon as worldlings perceive that you desire to follow a devout life, they will discharge arrows of mockery and detraction against you without number.

The most malicious will attribute your change to hypocrisy, bigotry, or artifice. They will say that, being frowned upon and rejected by the world, you are now having recourse to God.

Your friends will make a thousand remonstrances which they imagine to be very wise and charitable. They will say that you will fall into a state of melancholy, that you will lose your credit in the world, and make yourself insupportable; that you will grow old before your time; that your domestic affairs will suffer; that you must live in the world, like one in the world; that salvation may be gained without so many mysteries; and a thousand like impertinences.

Dear Philothea, what is all this but foolish and empty babbling? These people have no concern for your health or for your affairs. “If you were of the world,” says our Saviour, “the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John, xv. 19).

We have seen gentlemen and ladies pass the whole night, nay, many nights together, at chess or cards; and can there be any occupation more absurd, stupid, or gloomy than that of gamesters? and yet worldlings say not a word, nor do friends ever trouble themselves about them; but should they spend an hour in meditation, or rise in the morning a little earlier than usual, to prepare themselves for communion, everyone would run to the physician to cure them of their hypochondria. You may pass thirty nights in dancing and no person will complain of it, but for watching during only one Christmas night everyone coughs, and complains that he is sick the next morning.

Who sees not that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and favourable to its own children, but harsh and rigorous towards the children of God?

We can never be well with the world without losing ourselves with the world: it is so fantastical that it is impossible to content it. “John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine,” says our Saviour, “and you say he hath a devil: the Son of Man is come eating and drinking, and you say, Behold a man that is a glutton, and a drinker of wine” (Luke, vii. 33).

It is the truth, Philothea, if through condescension to the world we take the liberty to laugh, play, or dance, the world will be scandalised at us; and if we do not, it will accuse us of hypocrisy and melancholy. If we adorn ourselves, the world will interpret it to be done for some ill end; if we neglect our dress, it will impute it either to meanness or avarice. Our mirth will be termed dissoluteness; and our mortification sullenness: and as it thus looks upon us with an evil eye, we can never be agreeable to it.

It aggravates our imperfections, publishing them as sins, makes our venial sins mortal, and our sins of frailty sins of malice. Charity is benevolent and kind, says St. Paul, but the world is malicious; charity thinks no evil, whereas the world, on the contrary, always thinks evil; and when it cannot condemn our actions it will accuse our intentions. So that whether the sheep have horns or not, be they white or black, the wolf will devour them if he can.

Do what we can, the world will still wage war against us.

If we are long at confession it will wonder how we can have so much to say, if we stay but a short time it will say we have not confessed all. It will watch our entire conduct, and if we utter one word of anger it will protest that our temper is insupportable; the care of our affairs will be made to appear covetousness, and our meekness folly.

But with regard to the children of the world, their anger is called generosity, their avarice proper economy, their familiarities honourable entertainments. The spiders always spoil the work of the bees.

Let us turn a deaf ear to this blind world, Philothea; let it screech as long as it pleases, like an owl, to disturb the birds of the day. Let us be constant in our designs, and invariable in our resolutions. Our perseverance will demonstrate whether we have, in good earnest, sacrificed ourselves to God, and dedicated ourselves to a devout life.

Comets and planets appear to be almost equally bright; but as comets are only fiery exhalations which pass away and, after a short time, disappear, whereas planets remain in perpetual brightness; so hypocrisy and true virtue have a great resemblance in outward show, but the one is easily distinguished from the other, because hypocrisy cannot stand its ground long, but is quickly dissipated like smoke, whereas true virtue is always firm and constant.

It highly contributes towards the security of devotion, if, at the beginning, we bear reproaches and calumny on its account, since we thereby avoid the danger of pride and vanity, which may be compared to the midwives of Egypt, who killed the male children of the Israelites on the very day of their birth, by the order of the inhuman Pharaoh.

As we are crucified to the world, the world ought to be crucified to us; since worldlings look upon us as fools, let us look upon them as madmen.

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