Beginning the Spiritual Journey

In his Introduction to Devout Life (IDL), Chapter 5, St. Francis De Sales (SFS) suggests that we must begin our spiritual journey with self purification.  When good desires come, cut off everything that is useless and irrelevant…..strip off the old self and be clothed in the new (Eph. 4:22-24). The first step of our spiritual health is to be purified from our sinful dispositions. Purification ordinarily happens over a period of time…little by little, by gradual progress, by constant improvement and with effort….. “The cure which takes place slowly is always more sure”.  The illnesses of the heart come on horseback, but they go away on foot. So do not be discouraged, but be patient and courageous…..

Be cautious as well! Do not take for granted that you have been fully purified and are free from imperfections… not try to fly without wings!

The practice of purification is a life-long process…it never comes to an end. So, do not be disturbed by imperfections…never lose courage! We may meet with failures, may be hurt by imperfections…..never lose courage! The Psalmist prayed: “Save me, Lord, from cowardice and discouragement” (Psalm 55:5).

Francis describes the different types of realities from which we should purify our self (Read IDL, Chapters 6, 7 & 8). This type of self-purification is an important part of beginning the spiritual journey.

In Chapter 6, SFS suggests “purification of self from mortal sins” as a way to begin the spiritual journey. He suggests a “General confession” of the whole life, from the age of reason, as a means of such purification. General confession increases self-knowledge and arouses in us a healthy embarrassment for our past life. It also makes us marvel at the mercy of God and his patience with us. It brings peace to our hearts, refreshes our minds, and urges us to good resolutions. It also provides our spiritual director with opportunity to give us advice that is more suitable to our condition.

The purpose of this is a general renewal of heart and complete conversion to God by making a commitment to the devout life.

In Chapter 7, SFS speaks of certain lingering desires and tendencies. There are some who give up sin and sinful ways, but keep looking back at what was given up, often with regret, like the Israelites longing for the onions of Egypt (Numbers 11:5).

Some are burdened with their attachment to sin. They gave up sin but not their attachment to sin. They gave up sin because God does not approve or the Church does not approve, and not because they have seen the sin as essentially sinful and mortal to themselves– they must recognize the essential harm. (Today we have the experience of the struggles of alcoholics and drug addicts)

When you decide to begin the devout life, you must not only turn away from sin, but also strip yourself of attachment to sin. The attachments will weaken your spirit.

In Chapter 8 of IDL, SFS advises us to cultivate an aversion not only to sin but to everything connected with it. Nurture a personal and deep “contrition” for all that is sinful. Increase contrition and repentance to extend even to the smallest things connected with sin.

SFS refers to the wisdom of 119:104 & 128 and Psalm 103:5, reminding us of the renewal of life that happens because of such aversion to sin and sinful ways.

In IDL, Chapter 19, 20 & 21, SFS speaks of making a General Confession and of making firm decisions and resolutions. 

In IDL, Chapter 22, SFS says that there are many inclinations and attachments to venial sins, besides mortal sins and attachments to sins. Being purified of mortal ones makes it possible for us to recognize the venial ones. You may or may not find venial sins – but you will find attachments and inclinations. It is from these that purification is needed.

SFS makes a distinction between sin and the attachment/inclinations to sin. It is one thing to tell a lie but it is another to take pleasure in telling lies or having a tendency to lie. It is from the tendencies that purification is needed. 

Attachments are directly contrary to devotion. They weaken the spirit.

Venial sins do not take away spiritual life, it spoils devotion because venial sin dwells in our hearts because of the attachment we have for it. SFS says that it is of no consequence to tell a small lie, but it is of great consequence if we allow the lie to linger and get into our hearts.

In IDL, chapter 23, SFS speaks of purifying self from attachments to things that can potentially endanger the spirit although those things are not bad in themselves. Useless and foolish attachments can take the place of good desires and prevent the energy of our spirit from being directed to good inclinations. They are not contrary to devotion, but can cause damage to devotion.

In IDL, chapter 24, SFS speaks of certain natural inclinations which are not sins in themselves. They are imperfections and their acts are known as defects or shortcomings. For example, some are by nature careless, others unfriendly, and others prone to anger and so on. We must purify ourselves from these imperfections. “There is no natural temperament so good that it may not be made evil by bad habits”. “There is no natural temperament so wicked which cannot be controlled and overcome, first of all by the grace of God and then by effort and constant care.” 

Fr. Gus Tharappel, msfs

IDL - Introduction to the Devout Life