Not a Reed, But a Firm Rock

One of the great models of Advent is John the Baptist. Although I always think of John primarily as someone who willingly embraced his role to “testify to the light” (but not himself being the light), Francis de Sales highlights something else about John. He writes

You have found in him not a reed, but a firm rock, a man possessed of unshakable stability in the midst of all sorts of changing circumstances….John is the same in adversity as in prosperity, the same in prison amidst persecutions as in the desert amidst applause; as joyous in the winter of trouble as in the springtime of peace; he fulfilled the same role in prison as he did in the desert!

John embodies well what St. Ignatius would call active indifference, what Buddhists might refer to detachment and absence of clinging. By whatever name, de Sales is right that this quality of stability is an important virtue in the spiritual life.

There will always be hardships and sources of turmoil in our lives. Contrary to the old saying, life is not a bowl of cherries; indeed, it sometimes seems to be a pile of pits. The challenge is to not be like those de Sales describes “who are fervent, prompt, and optimistic in prosperity [but] weak, depressed and disheartened in adversity.” To not be so inconstant “that when the weather is fine, nothing can equal [our] job, but when stormy, nothing can equal [our] depression.”

This is one of the importants tasks of our spiritual life – to develop the constancy of John, that we may be “as joyous in the winter of trouble as in the springtime of peace.”