Francis de Sales and the Enemy Spirit

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Francis de Sales, bishop, writer and spiritual director.  Francis believed that “holiness is perfectly possible in every state and condition of life,” and his writings are of wonderful benefit to all of us, especially for lay people.

Francis offers wonderful advice and teaching for the spiritual journeys. A particular piece of advice for those of us who sometimes have difficulty saying “no” is to be wary of undertaking too many things at once, even those things that seem to us to be good, including spiritual practices.  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 so easy to give in to the temptation to take on too many things when they all seem worthwhile and good.  But we 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.”

For those unfamiliar with Francis’ writings, I would suggest reading his  Finding God’s Will for You and his Introduction to the Devout Life.

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