Saint Francis de Sales' book The Introduction to the Devout Life made its way into my life early in my walk with the Lord. I found it on my brother’s book shelf when I was looking for something to read and hungering to grow in my faith. With the word "introduction" in the title, I figured it must be meant for me.
For Those in the World, But Not Of It
Saint Francis and his guidance became a guide for me in my initial days of navigating the Faith. During my college years, I read it over and over again with my household sisters, and we strived to live his wisdom. Many years later, we still send each other messages on his feast day. In many ways, Saint Francis de Sales was a spiritual director for me at a time when I thought spiritual direction was a thing of history long past that no one did anymore.
Introduction to the Devout Life is far more than just an introduction. It is unique in that it is one of the earliest books written for those living in the world, but striving to not be part of it. Most of the works written before this had been for those in the cloister or priesthood. But in 1619, Saint Francis de Sales recognized the universal call to holiness and in his book he shares how to get there.
The title is somewhat misleading, as it guides you along the way wherever you are in the devout life. Divided by topic into short reflections, the reader can read straight through or by topic.
Favorite Quotes from The Introduction to the Devout Life
Saint Francis de Sales addresses the words of his book to "Philothea"- which translates to “one who loves God” or “soul in love with God.” That’s you, dear reader.
Saint Francis is tender and patient in his guidance, knowing that the reader is already trying to live a devout life. Saint Francis honors this effort with reverence. Often his writing is encouraging the reader to be gentle with oneself and to be at peace.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes.
Life of Union with the Lord //
“Devotion, the spiritual life, must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the soldier, the servant, the prince, the married woman, the widow or widower and the young. Not only is this true, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, temperament, activities and duties of each person.”
“We must not be disturbed by our imperfections, since for us perfection consists in fighting against them.”
On receiving the Eucharist:
"You cannot imagine our Savior in an action more full of love, or more tender, than this."
"Two points are always used to prepare oneself for the meditation: place yourself in the presence of God, and ask for his help in praying."
"God often sends us inspirations through his messengers, the angels, so it is fitting that we return our prayers to him in the same way. The holy souls of the deceased who live in Paradise with the angels also perform this pleasant duty of inspiring us and interceding for us by their prayers."
Practice of Virtue //
“The King of Glory does not reward us according to the dignity of the offices we have but according to the love and humility with which we fulfill offices."
“When God gives us His gifts, graces and talents, he intends us to use them.”
I have gone back to his section on friendship over and over again. His advice is reasonable and manageable—not overly spiritualized or unattainable.
“Love everyone with a strenuous love based on charity, but form friendships only with those who can share virtuous things with you. The greater the virtues you share and exchange with others, the more perfect your friendship will be.”
“Friends love each other despite their faults and flaws. Just as a gold miner separates the precious metal from the earth or sand, so friends must sort for the best in each other and treasure it.”
“A friend who would lead us into sin is an enemy.”
Exercises to Grow Spiritually //
“Lift up your heart again and again whenever you fall, but do so meekly humbling yourself before God because of your misery. Do not be surprised that human weakness is weak or human misery is wretched."
"Think of the little children who with one hand hold fast to their father while with the other they gather berries. If you handle the goods of this world with one hand you must also always hold fast with the other to your heavenly Father’s hand and turn toward him from time to time to see if you are pleasing him. Above all, be sure that you never leave his hand and his protection, thinking that with your own two hands you can gather more or get some advantage."
"How does your heart stand with regard to mortal sin? Be firmly resolved never to commit it for any reason. This resolution is the firm foundation of your spiritual life."
Wisdom… and Wit //
Saint Francis was not one to shy away from the reality of daily life, which makes The Introduction to the Devout Life very approachable. He also was not shy about helping the reader not to take themselves too seriously.
"Sometimes an act of spiritual devotion may help you- kissing an image of the Lord, prostrating yourself on the ground, raising your arms in the form of a cross, etc. This presumes, of course, that you are in private."
"Be patient with the big afflictions that may come, but also endure the things that accompany the trial and the accidental circumstance. Many people would be willing to accept trials if it didn’t inconvenience them!"
Patron Saint of Little By Little
If you haven’t read Introduction to the Devout Life, be ready to make a new friend in Saint Francis de Sales. He wants to encourage and lead you.
“You may take my word, if you persevere it will not be long before you obtain consolations so great and pleasing you will acknowledge that the world is mere gall compared to such honey…Little by little your strength will grow and day by day you will make progress.”
Saint Francis de Sales, pray for us!
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