Advice from St. Francis de Sales

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Francis de Sales, bishop, writer and spiritual director. Although himself an ordained person, he believed that “holiness is perfectly possible in every state and condition of life,” and his writings are of wonderful benefit to all of us. (If you haven’t read any of his works and are looking for some reading, I’d recommend Finding God’s Will for You and Introduction to the Devout Life.)

Francis offers wonderful advice and teaching for our spiritual journeys. Among the useful reminders he gives is is to be wary of undertaking too many things at once, even those things that seem to us to be good. After talking about the ways various saints who have come before him had lived their lives he writes:

We should not want to practice many exercises at the same time and all of a sudden. The enemy often tries to make us attempt and start many projects so that we will be overwhelmed with too many tasks, and therefore achieve nothing and leave everything unfinished. Sometimes he even suggests the wish to undertake some excellent work that he foresees we will never accomplish. This is to distract us from the prosecution of soem less excellent work that we would have easily completed.

This is important advice to keep in mind. It is easy to give in to the temptation to take on too many things when they all seem worthile and good. It is one I have to fight very hard because so many projects seem like wothwhile ways to further God’s plan. But I also know from experience that it is possible to take on so many different projects that one is overwhelmed and almost incapacitated from getting any of them done. This is precisely the goal of what Francis calls the “enemy” (what Ignatius would call the “evil spirit”).

We need to avoid the “spirit of the seducer [that] holds us down to mere starts” and remember that “it is not so much the beginning as the end that counts.”