Born in 1567 into a wealthy family, Francis de Sales received a wonderful education as the oldest of thirteen children.
At age fifteen, his father arranged for him to attend the University of Paris, with the intention that he would enter a public career.
Only after his mother’s intercession, was he allowed to enter a college supervised by Jesuits. At age nineteen, he made an impassioned commitment to the Lord and made a vow for lifelong chastity.
He was awarded a doctorate in law and theology at age twenty-four.
Within two years he was ordained a priest and installed as the provost at the Cathedral of Geneva.
However, because of John Calvin’s presence in Geneva, Catholicism had been outlawed there.
Francis began his duties in exile, twenty-five miles away.
Francis had good success at converting people and reopening many parishes.
He was made bishop in 1692.
Francis met Madame de Charmoisy, who wanted to live a devout life.
He wrote to her often and these letters became the basis of his famous work Introduction to the Devout Life.
The Complete Introduction to the Devout Life is organized into five parts: Recommendations and Activities to Guide the Soul; Suggestions for Raising the Soul to God; Advice Regarding the Practice of Virtues; Advice Concerning More Ordinary Temptations; Advice to Renew the Soul and Strengthen.
As a devotional guide, it offers direction to those who are most interested in building devotional practices.
The introduction confirms, “The spirituality he intends to promote in this book… is offered only to those who wish to take their spirituality more seriously than most.”
The book contains directions for reflections and guided prayers. It offers ten meditations on different topics.
The devout life not only strengthens one’s relationship to God but also witnesses to the world. Francis says, “The world sees the devout persons fast, pray, endure injuries, minister to the sick, give to the poor, are careful, restrain their anger…” Francis recommends a method for carrying our devotion time with us throughout the day.
He says “Gather a little souvenir of devotion… choose one or two points that we found most to our liking for us to recall for the rest of the day…” The Bible and its teachings are important at the outset of a devotional journey. Francis suggests, “Be devoted to the word of God, either by hearing it in familiar conversation with your spiritual friends or by listening to a sermon.”
He finds other devotional writings are helpful. One should “Always carry with you some beautiful book of devotion…”
In Introduction, there is great guidance for prayer.
To begin Francis says, “The first is to put yourself in the presence of God, and the second is to call upon his help.”
He confirms that God exists within us. “He [God] is very particularly in your heart and deep in your spirit…” As we are able to focus on God within ourselves, our prayer time is richer.
Francis also gives advice about avoiding distractions during time of study or meditation.
We must “Bind our minds to the mystery that we ponder so that it does not go running here and there…”
Francis takes sin very seriously.
Confession is a prime element in a life of a devout person.
“Contrition and confession are so beautiful and of so good an odor that they erase the ugliness and dissipate the stink of sin.”
He directs that our days should start with devotion.
“Devotions in the morning: Thank and adore God…ask forgiveness… resolve to use this day well… humble yourself before God…” But more than that, we should consider God at all times during the day.
“Aspire continually for God… Offer him your soul a thousand times a day.”
As an example, if we feel a temptation, a faltering of virtue, or a spiritual dryness, one should “Pronounce either on your lips or in your heart whatever love suggests to you on the spot…” For the benefit of ourselves, more than for others, we should “Make an open profession of wanting to be devout… boldly acknowledge that you are trying to meditate…” This strengthens our commitment to our devotional habits.
We should avoid too much of a routine and should review our practices.
“The development of a mature devout life is not a once only event… The revitalizing of one’s spiritual life is an essential part of its development.”
Francis recommends reviewing our progress at least annually.
He says, “It is necessary each year to renew the good resolutions by these practices.”
Introduction is a wonderful book to aid the development of a habit of personal devotion.
Francis talks about many elements of devotion as well as the proper attitudes for approaching them.
His recommendation to regularly review devotional habits is very helpful and worthwhile.
This work will be very helpful in my project to guide others in developing personal devotional practices.
Francis de Sales. The Complete Introduction to the Devout Life. Translated by John-Julian. Paraclete Giants. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013.
By Paul Sherwood, D.Min.