Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Spiritual voice (7): from "Christian Perfection" by François Fénelon

[François de Salignac de La Mothe Fénelon (1651-1715) was a member of the court of King Louis XIV of France and served as tutor to the duke of Burgundy. Widely esteemed, he was appointed archbishop of Cambrai in 1696 and became acquainted with those in the Quietist movement, which stressed the importance of complete detachment from worldy things. His defense of quietism earned him the consternation of Pope Innocent XII and banishment by Louis. However, his subsequent appointment to a small parish earned him the reputation of being an ideal pastor. Fénelon wrote to many leading figures of his day and served as their spiritual director. His writings were later compiled and published; the theme of his writings is complete love of God. In this excerpt from his "Christian Perfection," Fénelon emphasizes the spiritual life as the only way to joy, far from being a life of drudgery.]

Christian perfection is not so severe, tiresome, and constraining as we think. It asks us to be God's from the bottom of our hearts. And since we thus are God's everything we do for him is easy. Those who are God's are always glad, when they are not divided, because they only want what God wants and want to do for him all that he wishes. They divest themselves of everything, and in this divesting find a hundredfold return.

Pease of conscience, liberty of heart, the sweetness of abandoning ourselves in the hands of God, the joy of always seeing the light grow in our hearts, finally, freedom from the fears and insatiable desires of the times, multiply a hundredfold the happiness which the true children of God possess in the midst of their crosses, if they are faithful.

They sacrifice themselves, but to what they love most. They suffer, but they want to suffer, and they prefer the suffering to every false joy. Their bodies endure sharp pain, their imagination is troubled, their spirit droops in weakness and exhaustion, but their will is firm and quiet in their deepest and most intimate self.

What God asks of us is a will which is no longer divided between him and any creature. It is a will pliant in his hands which neither seeks nor rejects anything, which wants without reserve whatever he wants, and which never wants under any pretext anything which he does not want. When we are in this disposition, all is well, and the most idle amusements turn to good works.

Happy are they who give themselves to God! They are delivered from their passions, from the judgments of others, from their malice, from the tyranny of their sayings, from their cold and wretched mocking, from the misfortunes which the world distributes to wealth, from the unfaithfulness and inconstancy of friends, from the wiles and snares of the enemy, from our own weakness, from the misery and brevity of life, from the horrors of a profane death, from the cruel remorse attached to wicked pleasures, and in the end from the eternal condemnation of God.

What folly to fear to be too entirely God's! It is to fear to be too happy. It is to fear to love God's will in all things. It is to fear to have too much courage in the crosses which are inevitable, too much comfort in God's love, and too much detachment from the passions which make us miserable.

So let us scorn earthly things, to be wholly God's. I am not saying that we should leave them absolutely, because when we are already living an honest and regulated life, we only need to change our heart's depth in loving, and we shall do nearly the same things which we were doing. For God does not reverse the conditions of his people, nor the responsibilities which he himself has given them, but we, to serve God, do what we were doing to serve and please the world and to satisfy ourselves.

There would be only this difference, that instead of being devoured by our pride, by our overbearing passions, and by the malicious criticism of the world, we shall act instead with liberty, courage, and hope in God. Confidence will animate us. The expectation of the eternal good things which are drawing near, while those here below are escaping us, will support us in the midst of our suffering. The love of God, which will make us conscious of God's love for us, will give us wings to fly on his way and to raise us above all our troubles. If we have a hard time believing this, experience will convince us. "Come, see and taste," said David, "how sweet is the Lord."

Jesus Christ said to all Christians without exception, "let him who would be my disciple carry his cross, and follow me." The broad way leads to perdition. We must follow the narrow way which few enter. We must be born again, renounce ourselves, hate ourselves, become a child, be poor in spirit, weep to be comforted, and not be of the world which is cursed because of its scandals.

These truths frighten many people, and this is because they only know what religion exacts without knowing what it offers, and they ignore the spirit of love which makes everything easy. They do no know that it leads to the highest perfection by a feeling of peace and love which sweetens all the struggle.

This one commandment suffices to blow away in a moment all the excuses which we could make for having reservations from God. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all they soul, with all they mind, and with all thy strength." See how the terms were joined together by the Holy Spirit, to prevent all the reservations which a person could wish to make to the prejudice of the jealous and dominant love.

All is not too much for God. He suffers no division, and he allows us no longer to love outside of God except what God himself commands us to love for love of him. We must love only him not only with all the stretch and strength of our hearts, but also with all the concentration of our thoughts. How then could we believe that we love him if we cannot resolve to think on his law and to bend all our energy to doing his will?

Those who fear to see too clearly what this love asks fool themselves by thinking that they have this watchful and devoted love. There is only one way to love God: to take not a single step without him, and to follow with a brave heart wherever he leads.

All those who live the Christian life, and yet would very much like to keep a little of themselves within the world, run great risk of being among the lukewarm of whom it is said they will be "spewed out of the mouth of God."

God has little patience with those weak souls who say to themselves, "I shall go this far and no farther." Is it up to the creature of make the law for his Creator? What would a king say of a subject, or a master of a servant, who only served him in his own way, who feared to care too much for his interests, and who was embarrassed in public because of belonging to him? What will the King of kings say to us if we act like these cowardly servants?

[Questions to think about:

*What is the one disposition or attitude that Fénelon believes is necessary in order to move from a miserable to a joyful spiritual life?

*Those who give themselves to God, Fénelon writes, are delivered from a "countless mass of evils." From what things has God delivered you?

*The divided souls are those who are weak and timid, who desire to stay where they are spiritually. Reflect on a time when you wanted to stay where you were but God was calling you to move ahead.]

Powered by Blogger