“In his pictures, Arelius painted all faces after the manner and appearance of the women he loved, and so too everyone paints devotion according to his own passions and fancies. Someone given to fasting thinks himself very devout if he fast although his heart may be filled with hatred….Another person thinks himself devout because he daily recites a vast number of prayers, but after saying them he utters the most disagreeable arrogant and harmful words at home and among his neighbors. Another gladly takes a coin out of his pocket purse and gives it to the poor, but he cannot extract kindness from his heart to forgive his enemies. Another forgives his enemies but never pays his creditors and unless compelled to do so by the force of law.” -Francis de Sales
Francis de Sales wrote these words reflecting on the nature of the devoted life. He rejects these as signs of devotion primarily because they do not reflect an inner disposition of devotion that is always expressed in the outworking of love. We often paint a picture of spiritual devotion in what we find appealing. We then take that further and judge others according to our painting.
Let me illustrate. First, in the cultural milieu in which I was raised and have spent considerable time, spiritual devotion is often tied to how much a person reads. While moving books into my home office, I cataloged over a thousand physical books. In addition, I have 1,291 digital books. Most of these are in the 200 of the Dewey decimal system – religion. My wife thinks I have a problem.
If devotion was measured by reading, I would be doing better than the mass of Christians worldwide and throughout church history. However, in the church’s history, many Christians were illiterate, while others had little access to Christian writings. Even having copies of the Bible was rare. Today, I have traveled to areas with little access to Christian literature in their language. Yet, when I meet these dear Christians, I find them far superior in their devotion to Christ and expressions of His character.
How do we apply de Sales’ wisdom to our lives? Firstly, it necessitates a comprehensive transformation of our will, actions, and thoughts towards conformity with Christ. Pursuing devotion should never become a selective process where we highlight our victories in one area while ignoring areas that remain untouched by Christ’s love.
Secondly, we must be cautious about crafting an image of devotion that glorifies our strengths and diminishes the beauty of Christ in others. True devotion is not a competition; it’s a shared journey where we celebrate the diverse expressions of faith that reflect the multifaceted nature of Christ’s love.
Francis de Sales reminds us that devotion is not about outward appearances or checklist spirituality. It’s about cultivating a heart filled with love, compassion, and Christ-like character, which naturally overflows into our actions. Let us heed his counsel and seek a devotion that transcends superficiality, embracing Christ’s profound and transformative love.