My latest column for the Knoxville News Sentinel:
If you’ve not done any spiritual reading so far this Lent, allow me to recommend the classic by St. Francis de Sales, “Introduction to the Devout Life.” It’s one of those books that sat on my shelf for 20 years before I got around to reading it. I wish I had read it 20 years ago. St. Francis writes in a flowing manner, like the current of a river gently transporting you from one insight to the next. Already I have so much to mull over – surely too much for only one reading. There will be lots of mulling in the next few years, by God’s grace.
One of the points St. Francis makes early in his book, which is written to a fictitious lay woman named Philothea (“Lover of God”) is that the devout life is for everyone, and not only for the ordained or those of consecrated life.
St. Francis writes:
“When God created the world He commanded each tree to bear fruit after its kind; and even so He bids Christians — the living trees of His Church — to bring forth fruits of devotion, each one according to his kind and vocation. A different exercise of devotion is required of each — the noble, the artisan, the servant, the prince, the maiden and the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual.”
This is what the Church refers to as “the universal call to holiness.” Each is called to honor God by giving to Him total devotion, according to his or her vocation. One’s Christian vocation is the way one makes his or her commitment to Christ take practical shape. Christian vocation is, if you will, the place where the rubber of faith meets the road of real life. I am committed to Christ. Now, how will that commitment find expression in the every day? How will it define me?
If a man is a priest, he is always a priest, wherever he goes and in whatever he does. The same is true for the consecrated religious, and for the married person. One’s vocation defines one’s self before God and others. It isn’t something you clock in and out of, like a job. It isn’t an avocation that directs one’s interest for a particular time. Rather, it’s a defining commitment, a commitment to and in Christ that defines who you are before Christ and in the eyes of the world.
Every Christian has a vocation. It makes sense, then, that every person is called to the devout life — to a life dedicated to growing in holiness, which means dedicating each day and every moment to learning to love a little better: love God, love one’s neighbor and, yes, love oneself with a holy and fruitful love. Love, in the end, is what holiness is all about, for if our devotion to God fails to lift us to heights of greater love for God and our neighbor, what’s the purpose of holiness? Surely, holiness and the devout life means more than just praising God and studying His holy Word sitting in our comfy chair under the light of our corner lamp. Each of us can begin by simply being more conscious of God’s presence in each moment, and of our call to be faithful to Him and serve Him in that moment.
True devotion will make us better Christians, which is to say better lovers, according to our vocation. May God grant us His grace this Lent to inspire in us a true devotion to Christ and His Church.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.