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The Perfect Chapters for February

February 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Sarah Reinhard

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An Introduction to the Devout Life (Week 13 of 14)

Prayer is a sovereign remedy, for it raises the soul to God, who is our only joy and consolation; but in prayer let your emotions and words, whether inward or outward, conduce to trust and love of God; such as, O God of pity, Merciful and Good God, Loving Saviour, God of my heart, my Joy, my Hope, my Beloved Spouse, Beloved of my soul, and such as these.

Vigorously check the inclination to sadness, and although you seem to do everything coldly, sadly, and without fervor, go on all the same; for the enemy would fain enfeeble our good works by sadness, and when he finds that we will not discontinue them, and that they are but the more meritorious through resistance, he will cease to annoy us.

Refresh yourself with spiritual songs, which have often caused the tempter to cease his wiles; as in the case of Saul, whose evil spirit departed from him when David played upon his harp before the king. (1 Kings 16:23). It is also useful to be actively employed, and that with as much variety as may be, so as to divert the mind from the cause of its sadness, and to purify and enliven the mind, for sadness is a cold, withering passion.

– An Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Chapter 12, Paragraphs 2-3

The Perfect Chapters for February

There's no nice way to say it: I hate February.

I didn't fully realize it until this year when something clicked. In the midst of the blinding white sparkly snow everywhere, the cold that's everywhere, and the hopelessness I seem to battle every. single. year., I blame February.

The days are getting longer. We've had some sunshine. And I have no good excuse for any sort of “blues” or even low-grade depression. I'm in the richest country in the world, fat and dissatisfied both spiritually and physically.

I read this week's chapters with a sort of recognition that St. Francis de Sales must understand. Maybe, instead of seeing the endless piles of laundry as a hopeless testimony to futility, I should see them as an opportunity for diversion from the sadness that's choking me from the inside out. Perhaps the small objects that get chewed and rejected by the 76-pound puppy who's rearranging my life aren't my invitation to yell, groan, or threaten extinction of the species, but rather a chance to dance to some upbeat music as I run the vacuum. Could it be that the overwhelming weight that presses me and makes it hard to breathe is not, in fact, a sign that I need to just sleep all day, but rather a reminder that I should grab the rosary from the counter and grip it in my hand as I play Candy Land for the 500th time?

While my first response to anyone who downplays depression is a knee-jerk desire to punch them, my second response is usually to nod. I don't know why I can't just get over it. And in February, it really feels like I never will.

But de Sales isn't talking to theoretical people, which is one of the reasons I include this book as one of my favorites. De Sales, from across the centuries, is talking to the me who is in 2014. De Sales' wisdom spans the time.

Turn on some music. Praise the Lord. And for goodness' sake…give God a good dose of what's bothering you. Pray as an ongoing conversation, as opposed to a one-time-a-day stop.

It won't make things better. (And he doesn't promise that.) He reminds us that we must “above all resign yourself into God's hands, disposing yourself to suffer your grievous sadness with patience, as the fitting punishment for your vain joys; and never doubt that when God has sufficiently tried you, He will set you free from this trial.”

There is more hope in that than in any of the medications I've tried. There is more hope in his advice than in years of counseling.

But it's hard. We aren't a society that's particularly good at patience or disposing ourselves to anything other than what we want when we want it.

And that brings us to the chapters on consolations and dryness. They make me shake my head and realize how far–how very, very far–I have to go. As I read them, I find myself nodding even as I find myself snorting a bit. I can't help but think “REALLY?” and then to realize that, um, I'm a jerk.

And God loves me anyway.

Blessed Angela of Foligno says that the prayer most acceptable to God is that which is made forcibly and with constraint; that is, which we undertake not from our own taste or inclination, but solely in order to please God, to which we are as it were driven by our will, conquering and doing violence to the repugnance and dryness which we feel. It is the same as regards all other good works, for the more reluctance we feel towards their performance (be it external or internal), so much the more precious and estimable are they in the sight of God. The less self-interest we have in the pursuit of virtue, the greater therein will be the purity and brightness of divine love. The child embraces his mother when she gives him sugar, but it is a greater sign of love if he embrace her when she has given him wormwood or camomile.

An Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Chapter 14, Paragraph 13

Oh, Lord, that I may cooperate with the grace to pray in that way. I'm pretty sure it's only possible with his help…

Reading Assignment:

Week 14: Part 5: Chapter 1-18

ANNOUNCING OUR NEXT BOOK: In two weeks, we're starting with a new book, Interior Freedom by Fr. Jacques Philippe (beginning on February 25, lasting approximately 5 weeks). You can order a copy of the book from the EWTN Religious Catalogue or from your preferred retailer. We'll post the reading soon on the CSD book club page.

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you felt pervasive sadness in your life? What ideas can you put into practice for dealing with it now or in the future?

2. When is it most difficult to pray? How might you use the advice St. Francis de Sales gives in this section to strengthen you in your efforts?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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About Sarah Reinhard

Sarah Reinhard continues to delight ”and be challenged by” her vocations of Catholic wife and mother. She's online at and is the author of a number of books for families.

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  • Camila

    Fr. Jordan Aumann explains that “the passions can have a powerful influence on bodily health, especially the emotions of sadness, anger, and fear.” (Spiritual Theology p.185). He also explains that “in order to acquire the desired sentiment or to intensify the emotion already experienced, one should act as if already experiencing it. In this way one’s sentiment and emotions are controlled by one’s actions.” (Spiritual Theology, p. 185).

    He continues “from a psychological point of view the most important requisite for controlling the passions is the firm and resolute will to do so, but wishful thinking will not suffice; there must be a determined resolution translated into effective actions, especially if it is a question of a deeply rooted disorder on the emotional level.” (Spiritual Theology p. 186).

    So, since one in sadness desires joy then it would seem to me that an efficacious exercise (action) is to think and ponder on the goodness of God, and as both the psalmist and St. Augustines teaches, to praise God. “Nevertheless, to praise you (God) is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (Confessions, Book I)

    The Psalmist teaches us the same thing:
    (I think God created music for this reason and gave us the psalms which were meant to be sung as medicine for our soul.)

    “Why are you downcast, my soul;
    why do you grown within me?

    Wait for God, for I shall again praise him,
    my savior and my God.” (Psalm 42: 6)

    • Psalm 42 is always a good one, Camila, thanks for sharing that!

  • For those in the Philippines, the next book “Interior Freedom” by Jacques Phillippe is locally published by Sinag Tala as “I Choose to Be Free” by Jack Philip. Different title and they sort of translated his name. Exactly the same content. I dont know why but just letting people know so they can join in! 🙂

    • Thanks MTD! This is a great book. I had the blessing of spending some time alone with Fr. Jacques this past week. He is a true blessing to the Church.

      • Welcome! Cool that you met him! But yeah did see him on EWTN Live last week. Reading his book “The Way of Trust and Love” now. 🙂

        • His new book on prayer is fantastic as well. It will be out by the end of the month I think.

          • LizEst

            Looking forward to it!

        • ThirstforTruth

          Oops! Question above answered here. Now I recall, Fr.
          Jacques was on with Fr Mitch Pacwa on EWTN. That cab probably be seen on his Live Show on computer. Thanks
          Mary and God bless!

      • ThirstforTruth

        Dan…Did I hear/read correctly that Fr Jacques will be doing
        a series or making an appearance in the near future on EWTN?

  • Mary L

    Thank you for the pertinent questions. They resonate with the reading for the week.

    One thing that I have been told to do when I am sad or depressed is to make a gratitude list. If needed, I can even start with the absolute basics such as having food to eat and a home with running water. Quickly my list usually moves from ‘things’ to relationships and spiritual gifts that inspire gratitude, such as healthy children and the gift of Eucharist.

    Another help for me in sadness or dryness is to transform negative thinking with a positive ACTION, not positive thought. I can’t just think my way out of it. It requires prayer, and some kind of action. I thought of this when I heard the first reading from Sunday’s liturgy: IS 58:7-10
    “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless; clothe the naked when you see them and do not turn your back on your own.
    Then YOUR light shall break forth like the dawn, and YOUR wound shall be healed…” (caps are my emphasis…that’s how it jumped out to me).

    • The gratitude list is something I do as well, Mary, thanks for pointing that out.

      And yes, action vs. thought. True dat. The readings lately have jumped out at me as well. Thanks for sharing those too.

      (I’m all “thanks” huh? But I do really appreciate it!)

  • Patti Knudsen

    Very interesting thoughts. The part of this week’s reading that caught my attention is from paragraph 12. The discussion on Sorrow. An emotion that I, personally, have had great challenge in comprehending and acknowledging. When I say/proclaim/confess that I am sorry for something, I always question whether I am really sorry. How do I know what sorrow feels like? And I don’t mean the difference between wondering if I am sorry that I did something because it offended God, or saying I’m sorry so that I can avoid hell or punishment. (I do know that one is considered perfect contrition and the other is imperfect contrition—either of which is adequate for absolution. I mean how do I KNOW that I am TRULY sorry? I think this is colored by a comment once made to me by my father… and I quote “if you were truly sorry, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place.” The opening line that distinguishes between “sorrow that is according to God produces penance……whereas sorrow that is according to the world produces death” is the BEST interpretation and explanation I have ever had. It really brought it home to me. I spent considerable time going over this entire section. Loved all of it. So amazed to know that this has been addressed so eloquently by St. Frances de Sales. Wish I had come upon this many years ago. Wondering if others have felt the same? How do others KNOW that they are REALLY sorry?

    • Camila

      Patti, you raise some great questions that I too have had! I think you are seeking the difference between guilt and compunction. The guilt that leads to death is that ‘sting’ in the conscience that ‘makes you realize how bad we are’ and it just wallows in that and stays there. The virtue of compunction on the other hand feels that sting but allows us to see clearly how our actions have diminished God’s glory, knowing that I am very much loved by God, and also knowing I need God’s patient mercy and forgiveness. Compunction does not lead to self-hatred, it leads to a deep gratitude and joy for God being so kind and merciful. While guilt leads to death, compunction leads to life.

      I hope this helps a little.

      • Patti Knudsen

        Camila, yes it certainly does help. Truthfully, I had never looked up the word “compunction” although I know how to use the word in a sentence. I would not have thought of it as a “virtue”, but did some additional reading about it, and discovered it is a word I can use to describe what I am talking about. Thank you for your insight.

  • ThirstforTruth

    I found this prayer of St Francis de Sales online and thought most appropriate
    in light of today’s discussion and selection from the DEVOUT LIFE:
    Be at Peace
    Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life;
    rather look to them with full hope as they arise.
    God, whose very own you are,
    will deliver you from out of them,
    He has kept you hitherto,
    and He will lead you safely through all things;
    and when you cannot stand it,
    God will bury you in his arms.
    Do not fear what may happen come tomorrow;
    the same everlasting Father who cares for you today
    will take care of you then and everyday.
    He will either shield you from suffering
    or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
    Be at peace,
    and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.
    St Francis de Sales 1567 – 1622

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