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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

When the Walk Becomes Sluggish

November 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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An Introduction to the Devout Life (Week 2 of 14)

All the children of Israel actually departed from Egypt, but they did not all depart heartily, wherefore in the desert some of them regretted the flesh, the melons, the leeks, and onions of Egypt (Numb. xi). And so some penitents, though they forsake sin outwardly, do not forsake the love of sin; that is to say, they resolve to sin no more, but it is with reluctance that they abstain from the fatal delights of sin, their hearts renounce it, and seek to depart, but they frequently look longingly behind them, as did Lot’s wife. They abstain from sin as a sick man abstains from dainties, which the physicians tell him will be fatal to him if he eats thereof, he abstains but most unwillingly, he talks about them, and measures how far he may transgress, at least he would fain behold what he desires, and envies those who can indulge in what is forbidden to him. Thus these weak cowardly penitents for a while refrain from sin, but reluctantly – they would fain be able to sin and yet escape condemnation – they have still all the taste for forbidden gratification, and count those happy who enjoy it. – “An Introduction to the Devout Life”, Part 1: Chapter VII, paragraph 1)

When the Walk Becomes Sluggish

I first read this book about ten years ago, and I do not exaggerate when I say that it changed my life. The wisdom of St. Francis de Sales awakened my heart to the existence of a God who deserved my undying devotion. Until then, I had been a Catholic by choice. An intellectual convert who had weighed the evidence and acknowledged that the Catholic Church was the One True Church established by Christ, and worthy of my obedience. I was excited by my knowledge of God but hadn’t yet experienced His love for me. I had no concept of the “devout” life, other than through my contact with certain individuals in whom I’d witnessed a supernatural spark which I began to crave.

An Introduction to the Devout Life opened for me an entirely new world, inspiring me to fall head over heels in love with Christ! I couldn’t get enough time with Him. Suddenly prayer became a powerful presence in my life. Adoration no longer boring, but the fulfillment of a need so deep that I came away feeling refreshed and at peace. My faith was no longer a “duty,” but an absolute joy. I learned, as St. Paul advises, to pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17). For every moment I was grateful and, had I been asked to give my life for my Lord, I can say with certainty that I would have been honored. Even my decision to homeschool my children was a direct result of reading this book because I imagined our school time spent learning, loving and living the lives God desired for us, together as a family.

But time has a predictable way of passing, and I’m humbled to share that the springtime of my soul, which had been so lovely, slowly faded into late fall – dark and cool – bearing little of its former beauty.

It all began with what I thought was an inconsequential decision. A few years into my fervor I decided to start waking thirty minutes later and give up my early morning prayer time for some much-needed sleep.  I had assumed I could find time later in the day for prayer (an impossible goal). Shortly thereafter, I decided one Tuesday that we shouldn’t attend Mass because I had too much to do that day. A few days later, after staying up late the night before, I decided that wrestling with five little ones under nine during daily Mass would require too much energy. And so it went. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, my prayer life slowly receded behind all those earthly obligations, frustrations and escapes.

That passionate fire once lit by the Holy Spirit smoldered quietly as I barreled through my days. I was quite certain that something needed to change, but I lacked the will to make the time. It was much easier to avoid that longing by embracing various substitutions for our former relationship. I didn’t do bad things. In fact, I continued to spend my free time teaching my children about God, reading books on theology and watching movies about the saints. I knew all along that I should find time to spend with God, but was trapped among my pressing and “easily accessible” substitutes.

Gradually, my life of “devotion” began to ring hollow. I viewed others who were living more worldly lifestyles with jealousy. While we struggled financially because we’d renounced debt, friends and family members whom we knew to have lesser incomes or who had chosen to have two incomes and fewer kids, seemed to live lavishly, purchasing new cars, taking annual vacations and frequently eating out. I had friends who weren’t struggling to take five young children to Mass every Sunday morning (much less every morning), who had never tried to fit confession into Saturday schedules filled with kids’ activities and entertainment. They didn’t seem concerned about what their children were watching, what kind of games they were playing or to what music they listened on their iPods (which, by the way, also had unlimited internet access). Yet their children seemed to be doing great. Somewhere along the line, living for Christ became HARD. With great sadness, I’ll even admit that as I watched my neighbors with envy, the decision I’d made to homeschool my children even became for me a great weight that I wasn’t sure I wanted to carry.

Mind you, I’m not implying that any of these examples is objectively related to a Christian lifestyle; but, for me, there was a direct relationship because my husband and I had made these sacrifices willingly as a result of our love for Christ. Slowly, but surely, I began to feel like a martyr, sluggishly making my way through life, viewing my days as a series of endless chores rather than the acts of love they had been at one time. I began to live like one wearing shackles, rather than one who is free.

Where had I gone wrong? It may seem obvious, but it took me a while to realize that my troubles began when I turned my eyes from Christ. Like Peter, who took his eyes off our Lord and began to waver as he caught sight of the wind (Matt 14:22-23), I glanced away and began to waiver as well.

I’ve realized that devotion is not merely a matter of walking the walk. Without much-needed grace gained through prayer and the sacraments, I will lack the will necessary to train my eyes on Christ. As a result, it's only a matter of time before my eyes begin to wander.

Mother Mary Loyola addresses waning passion in her book, First Communion. I can attest to her assertions:

The devil has no chance with the fervent. So he tries to cool their fervour by getting them to be careless about prayer and the sacraments. This done, the way is open to him and he begins to attack them by all sorts of temptations. We are not ignorant of his plans, and as to be forewarned is to be forearmed, we must lay this up in our memory for our whole lifetime – that all falls from fervour begin by a neglect of prayer. A more useful piece of knowledge we could scarcely have. – First Communion, p. 229

Epilogue:  Thankfully, I have since reestablished my prayer life and am so grateful that God is ever faithful, despite my many shortcomings.  I just wanted to take this opportunity to address a problem that, at some time or another, plagues many Christians in their walk with Christ.

 

Reading Assignment:

Week 2 Part 1: Chapter 12-2

 

Discussion Questions:

1. Is St. Francis de Sales speaking to you in the above passage? Do you ever find yourself looking over your shoulder, retaining a secret affection for sin (and/or as in my example – a more worldly life)?

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

 

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts
For More Information on the Book Club:  https://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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