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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!

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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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