True devotion must penetrate the heart

July 28, 2021 • 4 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 245
By St. Francis de Sales

I say, therefore, that devotion does not always consist in that sweetness, delight, consolation, or sensible tenderness of heart, which moves us to tears, and gives us a certain agreeable and savoury satisfaction in certain spiritual exercises; no, Philothea, for there are many souls who experience these tendernesses and consolations, and nevertheless are very vicious, and consequently have not a true love of God, much less true devotion.

Saul, whilst persecuting David to death, who was fleeing before him in the wilderness of Engaddi, entered alone into a cavern, where David and his people lay concealed; David, who on that occasion had many opportunities of killing him, spared his life, and did not even put him in bodily fear; but, having suffered him to go out without injury, afterwards called on him to demonstrate to him his innocence, and to convince him that he had been at his mercy.

Now, upon that occasion, what did Saul not do to show that his heart was mollified towards David? He called him his child, he wept aloud, he praised him, he acknowledged his goodness, he prayed to God for him, he foretold his future greatness, and he recommended to him his posterity. What greater manifestation could he make of sweetness and tenderness of heart? Nevertheless, his heart was not changed, nor did he cease to persecute David as cruelly as before.

In like manner, there are some persons who, on considering the goodness of God and the passion of our Saviour, feel so great a tenderness of heart as to make them sigh, weep, pray, and give thanks in so feeling a manner, that one would think their hearts were possessed with an extraordinary degree of devotion; but when it is put to the trial, we see that as passing showers of a hot summer, which fall in great drops on the earth, but do not sink into it, serve for nothing but to produce mushrooms; so these tender tears falling on a vicious heart, and not penetrating it, are altogether unprofitable.

For, notwithstanding all this apparent devotion, these tender souls will not part with a farthing of the ill-gotten riches they possess, nor renounce one of their perverse affections, nor suffer the least temporal inconvenience for the service of our Saviour, over whose sufferings they have but just ceased to weep; so that the good sentiments which they had were no better than certain spiritual mushrooms, and their devotion no better than a delusion of the enemy, who amuses souls with these false consolations, in order to make them rest contented, lest they should search any farther for the true and solid devotion which consists in a constant, resolute, prompt, and active will, to put into practice whatsoever we know to be pleasing to God.

A child will weep tenderly when it sees its mother pricked by a lancet so as to bleed; but if its mother, for whom it is weeping, would at the same time demand the apple or sweetmeats which it has in its hand, it would by no means part with them; such is the nature of our tender devotions when, contemplating the stroke of the lance which pierced the heart of Jesus Christ crucified, we weep bitterly.

Alas! Philothea, it is well to lament the painful death and passion of our blessed Redeemer; but why, then, do we not give Him the apple which we have in our hands, which He so earnestly asks for? why do we not give Him our heart, the only apple of love which our dear Saviour requires of us; why do we not resign to Him so many affections, delights, and pleasures, which He wants to pluck out of our hands, but cannot, because they are the sweetmeats of which we are more fond than of his heavenly grace?

Ah, Philothea, these are the friendships of little children, tender indeed, but weak, fantastical, and of no effect. Devotion, therefore, does not consist in these sensible affections, which sometimes proceed from a soft nature, susceptible of any impression we have a mind to give it. No; it sometimes comes from the enemy, who, in order to amuse, stirs up our imagination to artificial impressions.

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