Book Talk Tuesday - Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 1, Chapter 1

Book Talk Tuesday – Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 1, Chapter 1


CHAPTER I. What true Devotion is.

YOU aim at a devout life, dear child, because as a Christian you know
that such devotion is most acceptable to God’s Divine Majesty. But
seeing that the small errors people are wont to commit in the beginning
of any under taking are apt to wax greater as they advance, and to
become irreparable at last, it is most important that you should
thoroughly understand wherein lies the grace of true devotion;–and
that because while there undoubtedly is such a true devotion, there are
also many spurious and idle semblances thereof; and unless you know
which is real, you may mistake, and waste your energy in pursuing an
empty, profitless shadow. Arelius was wont to paint all his pictures
with the features and expression of the women he loved, and even so we
all colour devotion according to our own likings and dispositions. One
man sets great value on fasting, and believes himself to be leading a
very devout life, so long as he fasts rigorously, although the while
his heart is full of bitterness;–and while he will not moisten his
lips with wine, perhaps not even with water, in his great abstinence,
he does not scruple to steep them in his neighbour’s blood, through
slander and detraction. Another man reckons himself as devout because
he repeats many prayers daily, although at the same time he does not
refrain from all manner of angry, irritating, conceited or insulting
speeches among his family and neighbours. This man freely opens his
purse in almsgiving, but closes his heart to all gentle and forgiving
feelings towards those who are opposed to him; while that one is ready
enough to forgive his enemies, but will never pay his rightful debts
save under pressure. Meanwhile all these people are conventionally
called religious, but nevertheless they are in no true sense really
devout. When Saul’s servants sought to take David, Michal induced them
to suppose that the lifeless figure lying in his bed, and covered with
his garments, was the man they sought; and in like manner many people
dress up an exterior with the visible acts expressive of earnest
devotion, and the world supposes them to be really devout and
spiritual-minded, while all the time they are mere lay figures, mere
phantasms of devotion.

But, in fact, all true and living devotion presupposes the love of
God;–and indeed it is neither more nor less than a very real love of
God, though not always of the same kind; for that Love one while
shining on the soul we call grace, which makes us acceptable to His
Divine Majesty;–when it strengthens us to do well, it is called
Charity;–but when it attains its fullest perfection, in which it not
only leads us to do well, but to act carefully, diligently, and
promptly, then it is called Devotion. The ostrich never flies,–the hen
rises with difficulty, and achieves but a brief and rare flight, but
the eagle, the dove, and the swallow, are continually on the wing, and
soar high;–even so sinners do not rise towards God, for all their
movements are earthly and earthbound. Well-meaning people, who have not
as yet attained a true devotion, attempt a manner of flight by means of
their good actions, but rarely, slowly and heavily; while really devout
men rise up to God frequently, and with a swift and soaring wing. In
short, devotion is simply a spiritual activity and liveliness by means
of which Divine Love works in us, and causes us to work briskly and
lovingly; and just as charity leads us to a general practice of all
God’s Commandments, so devotion leads us to practise them readily and
diligently. And therefore we cannot call him who neglects to observe
all God’s Commandments either good or devout, because in order to be
good, a man must be filled with love, and to be devout, he must further
be very ready and apt to perform the deeds of love. And forasmuch as
devotion consists in a high degree of real love, it not only makes us
ready, active, and diligent in following all God’s Commands, but it
also excites us to be ready and loving in performing as many good works
as possible, even such as are not enjoined upon us, but are only
matters of counsel or inspiration. Even as a man just recovering from
illness, walks only so far as he is obliged to go, with a slow and
weary step, so the converted sinner journeys along as far as God
commands him but slowly and wearily, until he attains a true spirit of
devotion, and then, like a sound man, he not only gets along, but he
runs and leaps in the way of God’s Commands, and hastens gladly along
the paths of heavenly counsels and inspirations. The difference between
love and devotion is just that which exists between fire and
flame;–love being a spiritual fire which becomes devotion when it is
fanned into a flame;–and what devotion adds to the fire of love is
that flame which makes it eager, energetic and diligent, not merely in
obeying God’s Commandments, but in fulfilling His Divine Counsels and