Penances too severe may weaken our ability to effectively fight temptations

March 7, 2022 • 2 min


From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 208
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley


Blessed Francis was no great friend of unusual mortifications, and did not wish them to be practised except in the pressing necessity of violent temptations.

In such cases it was his desire that those so assailed should try to repel force by force, employing that holy violence which takes heaven by storm, for, as by cutting and burning health is restored to the body, so also by these caustic remedies holiness is often preserved in the soul.

He used to say that to those who made all kinds of exterior austerities their custom, the custom in time becomes a second nature; that those who had hardened their skin no longer felt any inconvenience from cold, from hard couches, or coarse garments, and that when the flame of concupiscence kindled this dry wood they possessed no remedy which they could apply to extinguish the fire.

They are like the pagan king, who had so accustomed himself to feed upon poison that when he wished to end his miseries with his life by taking it, he was obliged to live on against his will, and to serve as a sport to his enemies.

The devil cares very little about our body being laid low so long as he can hold on to us by the vices of the soul; and so cunning is he that often out of bodily mortifications, he extracts matter for vanity.

Our holy Bishop wrote as follows to a person who regretted that her health prevented her from continuing her accustomed austerities:

“Since you do not find yourself any longer able to practise corporal mortifications and the severities of penance, and since it is not at all expedient that you should think of doing so, on which point we are perfectly agreed, keep your heart calm and recollected in the presence of its Saviour; and as far as possible do what you may have to do solely to please God, and suffer whatever you may have to suffer according to His disposal of events in this life with the same intention. Thus God will possess you wholly and will graciously allow you to possess Him one day eternally.”

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