Real devotion to Jesus Christ is a major commitment. So many people today say they are too busy, so busy that they don't have time for a life committed to Jesus.
Alternatively, some will say, "My work is my prayer." Well, work can be prayer, but only if it is rooted in special times of devotion. Your love for your wife or husband will not grow unless you make time to get off the treadmill and actually talk to her or him with complete attention. Why would our relationship with God be different?
It may appear that to faithfully carry out all the exercises St Francis de Sales recommends in his Introduction to the Devout Life is a full-time job.
Not so, responds Francis. "Perform these exercises confidently, as I have marked them out for you, and God will give you sufficient leisure and strength to perform all your other duties. Yes, even though he should have to make the sun stand still for you as he did for Joshua."
This is a statement of faith. If you commit yourself to carry out the duties Francis recommends, God will ensure that you will also have the time to carry out your responsibilities.
You may not have time available for those tasks that are not urgent and not important - as discussed in last week's article – but in any event such activities are a waste of your precious time.
Time is precious. "I entreat you by all that is sacred in heaven and on earth," wrote Francis de Sales, "continue and persevere in this blessed enterprise of the devout life. Our days glide away; death is at the gate."
Last week's article discussed the first two of three sections in which one is called to review the state of his or her soul. Francis recommends those seeking to be devout perform such a review every year near the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
The third section takes five days of serious focus carried on amidst one's necessary daily activities. There is one "consideration" for each day.
On the first day, reflect on "the nobility and excellence of your soul." Humans have been given the ability to understand this visible world as well as to know that there is a God, angels and saints in heaven.
What a wondrous thing is this soul! It is far greater than the souls of animals. Do not defile that soul by worry and anxiety or by focusing your attention on tawdry, worthless things.
Instead, exclaim, "O my soul, you are made for God! Woe to you if you are satisfied with anything less than God!"
The second consideration is on the excellence of virtue. Realize how virtues delight your soul and that vices leave it "weary and distraught." In this reflection, put yourself in the place of the Samaritan woman at the well who, when Jesus promised her a spring of water gushing up to eternal life, cried out, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty" (John 4.15).
On the third day, ponder the examples of the saints. "There is nothing they have not done in order to love God and be his devoted followers." The saints were ordinary people with ordinary desires who, through great devotion, rose above the coarse and tawdry and lived in God's kingdom. You too can be a saint.
Fourth, consider the love that Jesus has for you. He suffered, died and rose from the dead so that you might have eternal life. Can you not love him a little in return?
On the fifth and final day, consider God's eternal love for you. From before time began, God saw that you would be born. He saw the struggles and joys of your life and he loved you. God has always taken delight in you. "I have loved you with an everlasting love," God says to each one of us (Jeremiah 31.3).
At the end of this annual review, it is time to make a good Confession. You have pulled out the roots of your sin and have pondered God's awesome fidelity. Now is the time to hand over those sins to God for him to burn in his fire of forgetfulness.
You have chosen specific means that will help you not to commit those sins again. It is time to put those resolutions into action. It is time also to commit yourself to frequent prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion, and to commit yourself to perform good works constantly.
Then, "make a thousand protestations that you will persevere in your resolutions." On the first day of every month, again commit yourself to following through on those resolutions.
You desire to be devout and this is a new way of life. You must be resolute. You can prevail over every obstacle. With God's help, you will prevail. Never forget Jesus' last words on this earth: "Remember, I am with you always, till the end of the age" (Matthew 28.20).
(End of this series of articles)
(There are various translations available of St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life. I recommend the translation by John K. Ryan. It is the only one I have found in contemporary English.)