François Fénelon: Daily Deaths Destroy the Final Death
If we die in part every day of our lives, we shall have but little to do on the last
Reflecting on this short excerpt from a Fénelon1 letter about bearing crosses, I’m reminded of the challenge of accepting myself on the transformational journey. I had never come across his notion that our own 'selves' might be the heaviest crosses we have to bear. The more I reflect on it, the more it resonates. I find it to be an almost daily struggle to be patient with my un-transformed self. St John Climacus helps me when he writes: “To repent is not to look downwards at my own shortcomings, but upwards at God’s love; it is not to look backwards with self-reproach but forward with trustfulness; it is to see not what I have failed to be — but what by the grace of Christ I might yet become.” Fénelon’s letter also brings a comforting perspective on facing life's inevitable end. By embracing small acts of self-denial each day, we ease the weight of our final passing.
We must bear our crosses; self is the greatest of them; we are not entirely rid of it until we can tolerate ourselves as simply and patiently as we do our neighbor.
If we die in part every day of our lives, we shall have but little to do on the last.
What we so much dread in the future will cause us no fear when it comes, if we do not suffer its terrors to be exaggerated by the restless anxieties of self-love.
Bear with yourself, and consent in all lowliness to be supported by your neighbor.
O how utterly will these little daily deaths destroy the power of the final dying!2
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François Fénelon, born in 1651, was a French archbishop known for his profound spiritual guidance and theological insight. Ordained as a priest in 1675, his eloquence and deep understanding of theology quickly garnered attention. At Nouvelles-Catholiques, Fénelon excelled in guiding the spiritual formation of young women converts. His enduring legacy is captured in "The Spiritual Letters," where he beautifully conveys his belief that "All the saints are the torches or candles of God, which He has lighted and placed in our sight, and in our way, to lead us to Him," emphasizing themes of love, humility, and inner simplicity. Fénelon's compassionate and insightful approach to spiritual mentorship has made him a revered figure in Christian spirituality.
Fenelon, Francois. The Complete Fenelon. United States: Paraclete Press, 2008.