A. What is it?
>> “Introduction to the Devout Life” is a Spiritual Classic written by St Francis de Sales, published in 1609.
>> “The Introduction” is a compilation of letters and notes used in the Spiritual Direction of his cousin, Madame Marie de Charmoisy, the wife of an ambassador of the Duke of Savoy.
>> The writings of the book are addressed to the title, “Philothea” (= Lover of God)
>> Pope Pius XI at the declaration of St Francis de Sales as the Patron Saint of Catholic Writers and Journalists in 1923, wrote about the “Introduction to the Devout Life”:
… “Would that this book – the most perfect of its kind in the judgment of his contemporaries, as it was at one time in the hands of all – were now read by all, so that true piety might everywhere flourish again, and the Church of God might rejoice in seeing sanctity common among her sons.”
B. What does it speak of?
>> The “Introduction to the Devout Life” is a practical guide and exhortation to all people, to life a life of holiness.
>> It is also an excellent reference in Spiritual Direction.
>> The “Introduction to the Devout Life” consists of Five Parts:
1. Part I: Attaining a Firm Resolution to the Devout Life
>> It speaks of the nature of True Devotion and how all are called to it
>> The necessity of a Spiritual Guide for progress in the Devout Life is emphasized
>> “Purifying the soul” is the first step, and towards this, 10 mediations are provided
2. Part II: Prayer and the Sacraments
>> The necessity of Prayer and how it starts with “placing oneself in the Presence of God” is explained.
>>It also touches up the topics of Holy Communion, Invocation and Meditation with the Saints, Spiritual Bouquets, Retreats, Aridity in Prayer and the Word of God.
3. Part III: The Practice of Virtue
>> It explains how to practice individual virtues like Patience, Meekness, Humility, Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty.
>> It outlines 3 themes: (i) Discerning which virtues to work on (ii) Practising individual virtues in everyday life (iii) Remaining devout in dealings with society.
4. Part IV: Some Ordinary Temptations and how to overcome them
>> This is the “troubleshooting guide” or “snares of the enemy,” which explains what Philothea – the reader – can do when he/she encounters certain stumbling blocks.
5. Part V: Renewing and Confirming the Soul in Devotion
>> The last part speaks of an “annual review,” which St. Francis de Sales recommends undergoing every year around the time of the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism.
>> Philothea – the reader – is encouraged to examine oneself closely, to give thanks for all signs of progress – however tiny – and frankly acknowledge where one has slowed down the progress through willfulness or sloth.
C. Pointers for Reflections
1. A call for all people towards Holiness
>> St Francis de Sales says: “My purpose is to instruct those who live in town, within families, or at court, and are obliged to live an ordinary life as to outward appearances…
… It is an error, or rather a heresy, to wish to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the mechanic’s shop, the court of princes, or the home of married people… Wherever we may be, we can and should aspire to the perfect life.”
>> This passage from St. Francis de Sales was a major inspiration to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council and stands behind one of the central exhortations of Vatican II – “The Universal Call to Holiness.”
2. The daily examples/articles/experiences of life are used remind/teach about the Presence of God
>> This was the “Jesus style” – using familiar experiences of the people to teach a religious truth, through a parable or metaphor.
>> The “Introduction to the Devout Life” has incidents taken from the Bible and the biographies of Saints. It also makes use of stories and natural science information (especially from the writings of Greek philosopher, Aristotle and the Roman author, Pliny the Elder)
D. What virtues/points can we pick up from the “Introduction to the Devout Life” for this Season of Lent?
1. Aspiring towards holiness
2. Growing in little virtues
E. Tips to practice these virtues
1. Thank God for the state of life that we are in, and realize that God is calling us to sanctify and make holy, each work that we do, specific to our vocation
>> Let every duty and responsibility that we do – little or big – be seen and done, as steps towards holiness and sanctity; hence, “do everything in love – Bloom where you are planted!”
2. Identify our “root vice” (= the negative tendency in us, which causes/leads to other sins)
>> Consciously practise the opposite “root virtue”
>> Daily make an Examination of Conscience to check the progress
>> If successful, in humility, thank God.
>> If not successful, never be discouraged – instead, seek to practise the same “root virtue”, the following day.
May this Lent and the familiarity with this Spiritual Classic by St Francis de Sales, “Introduction to the Devout Life” help us to grow in our acclamation: “Eureka – I have found the Lord”
(The Full Text of the “Introduction to the Devout Life” can be found at:
God Bless! Live Jesus!