In the pursuit of holiness, expect opposition from the world. Saint Francis de Sales advises us to remain unwavering in our resolutions, standing strong against threats, insults, and assaults. Discover the courage to face adversity and stay true to your devout path.

In The World, But Not Of It

When we pursue the devout life, Saint Francis de Sales warns that the world will cast threats, insults, and assaults upon us of every kind. Here, de Sales reminds us that when the world mocks us in our pursuit of holiness, we must stand firmly rooted in our resolutions.

The Threats Of The World

AS SOON as the men of the world perceive that you seek the devout life, they will launch forth all their raillery and slander against you; the most ill-natured will pronounce your altered ways to be hypocrisy, affectation, or bigotry; they will assert that the world having slighted you, rejected by it, you turn to God; and your friends will overwhelm you with a torrent of what they hold to be prudent and charitable remonstrances. They will tell you that you will grow morbid and melancholy, that you will lose your position in the world, will be considered insupportable, will become old before your time, that your domestic affairs will suffer, that in the world we must do as the world does, that we can surely be saved without such extravagancies and a thousand similar commonplaces. But all this is foolish, idle gossip, and those who talk thus do not really care either for your health or your fortunes. “If you had been of the world,” said our Saviour, “the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:19). We have often seen both men and women pass the whole night, or even several nights running, at cards or chess. What passion can be more wearying, more sad and melancholy than that? Yet no one has a word to say against it, and their friends are not disturbed; but if we devote an hour to meditation, or rise earlier than usual to prepare for Holy Communion, straightway everybody cries out for the doctor to cure us of the jaundice or of hypochondria. We may spend thirty nights in dancing, and no one will object, but if we do but keep watch on Christmas Eve, there is a great outcry the day following! Who cannot perceive that the world is an unjust judge, partial and indulgent to its own children, but harsh and rigorous towards the children of God.

Counted As Fools By The World

We can never stand well with the world except by coming to an open breach with it; to satisfy it is impossible, it is too exacting. “John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine,” saith our Lord, “and you say be hath a devil. The Son of Man is come eating and drinking, and you say, Behold a man that is a glutton and a drinker of wine, a friend of publicans and sinners.” (Luke 7:33). So it is, if out of compliance we yield, and laugh, play and dance with the world, it will be scandalized; and if we do not, it will accuse us of hypocrisy and gloom. If we wear fine clothes it will impute to us some secret design, and if we are ill-dressed, it will call us mean; it will call our gayety dissolute, and our mortification gloomy; and thus, ever beholding us with an evil eye, nothing that we can do will please it. It will exaggerate our failings, and publish our faults; our venial sins will be construed into mortal sins, sins of infirmity into sins of intention; and whilst, as St. Paul says, “charity is kind,” the world is ill-natured. Charity “ thinketh no evil,” but the world always thinks evil; and if it cannot find fault with our actions, it will attack our motives. Whether the sheep be black or white, have horns or have none, the wolf will devour them all the same if he can.

Whatever we do, the world will find fault; if we spend a long time at Confession, it will ask what we can have to say. If we take but a short time, it will say that we do not tell everything; it will spy out all we do, and from one little hasty word it will pronounce our temper unbearable; it will denounce our prudence as avarice, our gentleness as folly; but as to the children of the world their passions will pass as the fruit of a generous spirit, their avarice as forethought, their lusts as honorable. Spiders invariably spoil the bees’ labor.

Never heed this blind world, then; let it cry out as it will, like a bat that would disturb the birds of day. Let us be firm in our plans, unchanging in our resolutions; perseverance will show whether we are in earnest in offering ourselves to God and leading a devout life. Comets and planets are pretty nearly alike in their brightness, but the comets, which are but wandering lights, soon disappear, whilst the planets shine with perpetual brilliancy. So hypocrisy and true virtue have a considerable external resemblance, but they are easily distinguished, since hypocrisy does not endure, but soon vanishes like the rising smoke, whilst true virtue abides firm and constant. There is no small advantage to the confirmation of our rising devotion, in encountering opprobrium and calumny; for by their means we are saved from the dangers of pride and vanity, which are like the midwives of Egypt whom Pharaoh commanded to kill all the male Israelites so soon as they were born. We are crucified to the world, and the world should be crucified to us. It counts us as fools, let us count its votaries as madmen.

This article is taken from a chapter in An Introduction to the Devout Life by Saint Francis de Sales which is available from TAN Books



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