Devotion is not only not unpleasant, but most pleasant

September 16, 2021 • 4 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 3
By St. Francis de Sales


The Properties and Excellence of Devotion.

They who discouraged the Israelites from going into the Land of Promise told them it was a country which destroyed its inhabitants, that is, that it had an air so contagious, that it was impossible to live long there: and further, that the natives were such monsters that they ate up other men like locusts.

So the world, Philothea, defames holy Devotion, representing devout persons with angry, sad, and grim countenances; pretending that Devotion engenders melancholy and unsociableness.

But as Josue and Caleb protested that the Promised Land was not only good and fair, but also that the acquisition and possession of it would be easy and pleasant, so the Holy Ghost, by the mouths of all the saints, and our Saviour, by his own, assure us that a devout life is pleasant, happy, and amiable.

The world sees that devout people pray often, suffer injuries, serve the sick, give to the poor, watch, moderate their hunger, restrain their passions, deprive themselves of sensual pleasures, and such other acts as are in themselves severe and rigorous; but the world does not see the inward cordial devotion which render all these actions agreeable, pleasant, and easy.

Consider the bees upon the thyme: they find there very bitter juice, yet in sucking it they turn it into honey. O worldlings! it is true devout souls find much bitterness in these exercises of mortification, but, in performing them they convert them into sweetness and delight.

The fire, the flames, the racks, the swords, seemed flowers and perfumes to the martyrs, because they were devout. If, then, Devotion can give a sweetness to the cruellest torments, and even to death itself, what will it not do to the actions of virtue?

Sugar sweetens green fruits, and tempers the crudity and unwholesomeness of those which are ripe. Now, devotion is the spiritual sugar, which takes away bitterness from mortification, and offensiveness from consolation; it takes away discontent from the poor man, and solicitude from the rich—desolation from the oppressed, and insolence from the exalted—sadness from the solitary, and dissoluteness from those who must live in society; it serves for fire in winter, and dew in summer; it shows us how to live in abundance, and how to suffer want; it renders alike profitable honour and contempt; it entertains pleasure and pain almost with the same cheerfulness; and it replenishes our soul with admirable sweetness.

Contemplate Jacob’s ladder, for it is the true emblem of a devout life.

The two sides between which we ascend, and in which the rounds are fastened, represent prayer, which obtains the love of God, and the sacraments which confer it; the rounds are nothing but divers degrees of charity, by which we advance from virtue to virtue, either descending, by action, to the help and support of our neighbour, or ascending, by contemplation, to a blessed union with God.

Now, look upon those who are on this ladder:

They are either men who have angelical hearts, or angels who have human bodies.

They are not young, yet they seem so, because they are full of vigour and spiritual activity.

They have wings to fly, and soar up to God in holy prayer; but they have feet also to walk with men, by holy and friendly conversation.

Their faces are fair and pleasant, because they receive all things with sweetness and content.

Their legs, arms, and heads are all uncovered, because their thoughts, affections, and actions have no other design nor motive but to please God.

The rest of their bodies are covered only with a fair and light robe, to show that they make use indeed of the world and worldly things, yet in a most pure and sincere manner, not touching more of them than is necessary for their condition.

Such are devout persons. Believe me, Philothea, Devotion is the pleasure of pleasures, the queen of virtues, and the perfection of charity.

If charity be milk, devotion is the cream; if charity be a plant, devotion is its flowers; if charity be a precious stone, devotion is its lustre; if charity be a rich balm, devotion is its odour: yea, the odour of sweetness, which comforts men and rejoices angels.

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