Friday, January 24, 2014

Realism from DeSales on Lay Spirituality

Welcome, new blog follower Rita! Pleased as punch to have you.

In today's Office of Readings, St. Francis De Sales has some excellent advice for laity trying to develop a spiritual routine:

I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.

Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbor. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfils all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.

I wonder what this saint would think about lay people using the breviary? My guess is that he would have advised Philothea against it, unless she were fluent in Latin, and living a life of leisure. He might have recommended one of the shorter, devotional offices that had been devised partly with lay use in mind, such as the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or one of the many shorter "Book of Hours" that had been  popular in both Latin and vernacular languages for the literate classes since the middle ages.

He'd probably be happy that the Church has made it's official liturgical prayer more accessible to the laity, and would be saying "Amen" to the Church's recommendation that we adapt the Liturgy of the Hours to the particular circumstances of our lives, rather than driving ourselves crazy trying to keep up the entire daily cycle of seven hours with monastic fidelity. He'd be all on board with the recommendation that laypeople focus on lauds and vespers as the "hinges" of the day, and not worry about the rest unless it really made sense given the kind of lives they lead and the promptings of the Spirit. 

How do I know whether the prayer life I've chosen is working? St. Francis D. says a suitable prayer life will make the rest of your daily vocational duties go better, not worse:
...each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

Okay, it's weekly Q&A time.  All comments and questions are welcome. Just hit the word "comment" and let 'er rip.