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Francis de Sales: Are You Too Attached to Your Spiritual Practices?
What to do when the means become the end?
Francis de Sales’1 letter reminds me that I have to be so careful not to become too attached to specific means or practices as I work toward the ultimate goal of loving like God loves. Instead, de Sales suggests, I open myself to the ways God wants me to serve him and others with the life I’m actually living. If I can learn what this means, if I can put it into practice, then I can slowly develop a deeper tenderness for myself, which naturally grows more empathy for those around me, all of which strengthens my love for God — the goal I’m working toward.
June 25, 1608
You mention your impatience. Is it really impatience or only natural repugnance? Since you call it impatience I'll take it for such until this fall when I hope to speak to you more fully about this in person.
Meanwhile, judging by what I have come to know of you through your letters, more than through the few conversations I have had with you, I must tell you, my very dear sister, in liberty of spirit, that I think you have a heart which is too attached to the means of arriving at your goal.
I know very well that your goal is none other than the love of God, and you have to use means and practices to reach it; however, I say that you attach yourself tenaciously to those means which you like, and want to reduce everything to that.
That is why you are upset when anything gets in your way or distracts you.
The remedy would be to try to convince yourself to fill your mind with this conviction — that God wants you to serve Him just as you are, both by practices that are suited to your state in life, and by the actions that go with it.
Once you are convinced of this, you must bring yourself to a tender affection for your state in life and for everything about it, out of love for Him who wills it so.
You see, my dear sister, it's not enough to give this a thought in passing; you must give it first place in your heart, recalling it often, thinking it over seriously, welcoming and enjoying the truth of it.
Take my word for it, all that is contrary to this advice is nothing but self-love.
The various conditions in which you find yourself at prayer and outside of prayer, sometimes feeling strong, sometimes weak, at times looking at the world with delight, at other times with disgust — all this is something God is allowing you to live through humbly and gently.
This is how you can see what you are of and by yourself and what you are with the help of God; in no way should this discourage you.
May the holy love of God ever live and rule in our hearts.
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More Letters from Francis de Sales
Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was a French Catholic bishop and saint. He was born in the Savoy region of France and was the son of a noble family. He was educated at the University of Padua and was ordained a priest in 1593. After a short period in the court of the Duke of Savoy, he became the Bishop of Geneva in 1602. He was devoted to the Counter-Reformation, used a moderate approach in his dealings with Protestantism, and became known as the gentleman saint. He wrote many spiritual works, including Introduction to the Devout Life and his sermons and letters were collected as the Treatise on the Love of God. He was canonized in 1665 and is the patron of journalists and writers.
Francis., Chantal, Jeanne-Françoise de. Letters of Spiritual Direction. United States: Paulist Press, 1988.