This book is a superb example of Francis de Sales’ pastoral style and earnest faith. Everything in here is worthwhile Christian reading, regardless of your faith background. I cannot speak highly enough of Francis’ exhortations to the faithful. You may disagree that the goal of Christian living is devotion, or holiness, but you cannot claim that following the advice set forth here will make you a lesser Christian.
There is one section which strikes me as being particularly poignant in a “post-Christian” world. Part 4, Chapter 13 speaks in depth of the differences between true devotion and simply good feelings. In much of Christianity, there is a popular movement toward “emotional” faith, where devotion is proved by having the right feelings at the right time in the right way. Some say that if you don’t “feel” the Holy Spirit moving, or if you aren’t “filled with joy” when the church praises, then you must not really be a Christian. This kind of thinking can be devastating for the faithful who do not experience constant elation, even in the presence of the Almighty. Francis warns against this line of thought and exhorts his reader to be earnest, steadfast, and dedicated each day, especially in times of spiritual dryness, when it seems like God is far away. Faith is easy when you experience positive emotions in its every encounter; true devotion shines through only when the going gets tough.
There are also a few quotes which I find especially encouraging. Part 1, Chapter 8 includes these powerful words (emphasis added): “Alas, of all these things we know absolutely nothing: all that we do know is that die we shall, and for the most part sooner than we expect. [...] Woe is me, for what mere trifles and unrealities have I ventured to offend my God? But, on the other hand, all devotion and good works will seem so precious and so sweet: Why did I not tread that pleasant path? Then what you thought to be little sins will look like huge mountains, and your devotion will seem but a very little thing.“
Near the end of the book (Part 5, Chapter 14), he writes these words, “The whole world is not worth one soul, and the soul is worth but little without its good resolutions.” This reminds us of the words of Christ in Mark’s Gospel: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Value your soul even more highly, Francis encourages us: live according to God’s Word and God’s Law, that you may be righteous.
These are just a couple of the great exhortations available in this book. I highly recommend it.
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