Paths of Love: The Discernment of Vocation

Texts of St. Francis de Sales cited in the book

Here you will find a compilation of the texts of St. Francis de Sales on vocation, love and counsels, cited or mentioned in the book Paths of Love.

  • Pleasure in things that is separate from love of God is a hindrance to the purity and growth of that love

    • The love of benevolence, then, causes in us a desire, more and more to increase the complacency which we take in the divine goodness; and to effect this increase, the soul sedulously deprives herself of all other pleasure that she may give herself more entirely to taking pleasure in God. A religious man asked the devout Brother Giles, one of the first and most holy companions of S. Francis, in what work he could be most agreeable to God: he answered by singing: "One to one," which he afterwards explained, saying, "Give ever your whole soul which is one, to God who is one." The soul pours itself out by pleasures, and the diversity of these dissipates and hinders her from being able to apply herself attentively to the pleasure which she ought to take in God. The glorious S. Paul reputed all things as dung and dirt in comparison of his Saviour. And the sacred spouse is wholly for her well-beloved only: My beloved to me and I to him. And if the soul that stands thus holily affected meet with creatures never so excellent, yea though they were angels, she makes no delay with them, save only what she needs for the help and furtherance of her desire. Tell me then, says she to them, tell me, I conjure you, have you seen him whom my soul loveth?  ... The desire to increase holy complacency cuts off all other pleasure, to the end that it may more actively practise that to which the divine benevolence excites it. (Treatise on the Love of God V, ch. 7)
  • The counsels are helps to perfection, yet charity is always the supreme measure

    • A Commandment testifies a most entire and absolute will in him who gives it, but counsel only represents a will of desire: a commandment obliges us, counsel only invites us; a commandment makes the transgressors thereof culpable; counsel only makes such as do not follow it less worthy of praise; those who violate commandments deserve damnation, those who neglect counsels deserve only to be less glorified. There is a difference between commanding and recommending: in commanding we use authority to oblige, but in recommending we use friendliness to induce and incite: a commandment imposes necessity, counsel and recommendation induce to what is of greater utility: commandments correspond to obedience, counsels to credence: we follow counsel with intention to please, and commandments lest we should displease. And thence it is that the love of complacency which obliges us to please the beloved, consequently urges us to follow his counsels, and the love of benevolence, which desires that all wills and affections should be subjected unto him, causes that we not only will what he ordains, but also what he counsels and exhorts to: as the love and respect which a good child bears to his father make him resolve to live not only according to the commandments which his father imposes, but also according to the desires and inclinations which he manifests.
    • The counsels are indeed given for the benefit of him who is counseled, so that he may be perfect: “If you would be perfect,” said the Saviour, “go sell all that you have, and give it to the poor, and follow me.” But the loving heart does not receive a counsel for its utility, but to conform itself to the desire of him who gives the counsel, and to render him the homage due to his will. And God does not want each person to observe all the counsels, but only those that are appropriate to the diversity of persons, times, occasions, and abilities, as charity requires; for it is charity, as queen of all virtues, all commandments, all counsels, and in short, of all laws and all Christian actions, that gives to all of them their rank, order, time, and value.
    • If your assistance is truly necessary to your father or mother to enable them to live, it is no time to practice the counsel of retiring into a monastery, for charity ordains that you now put into execution its command of honoring, serving, aiding and helping your father or your mother. Perhaps you are a prince, by whose posterity the subjects of your crown should be preserved in peace, and assured against tyranny, sedition, and civil wars; the occasion, therefore, of so great a good, obliges you to beget legitimate successors in a holy marriage. It is either not to lose chastity, or at least to lose it chastely, when for love of charity it is sacrificed to the public good. Are you weak and uncertain in your health, and does it require great support? Do not then voluntarily undertake actual poverty, for this is forbidden you by charity. Charity not only forbids fathers of families to sell all and give it to the poor, but also commands them honestly to gather together what is requisite for the support and education of wife, children and servants: as also it commands kings and princes to lay up treasures, which, being acquired by a laudable frugality, and not by tyrannical measures, serve as wholesome defenses against visible enemies. Does not S. Paul counsel such as are married, that, the time of prayer being ended, they should return to the well-ordered course of their married life?
    • The counsels are all given for the perfection of the Christian people, but not for that of each Christian in particular. There are circumstances which make them sometimes impossible, sometimes unprofitable, sometimes perilous, sometimes hurtful to some men, which is one of the reasons why Our Saviour said of one of the counsels, what he would have to be understood of them all: He that can receive it, let him receive it: as though he had said, according to S. Jerome's exposition: he that can win and bear away the honor of chastity as a prize of renown, let him take it, for it is proposed to such as shall run valiantly. Not every one then is able, that is, it is not expedient for every one, to observe always all the counsels, for as they are granted in favor of charity, so is this the rule and measure by which they are put in practice.
      When, therefore, charity so orders, monks and religious are drawn out of their cloisters to be made cardinals, prelates, parish-priests, yea sometimes they are even joined in matrimony for a kingdom's repose, as I have already said. And if charity make those leave their cloister that bad bound themselves thereto by solemn vow,—for better reason, and upon less occasion, one may by the authority of the same charity, counsel many to live at home, to keep their means, to marry, yea to turn soldiers and go to war, which is so perilous a profession.
    • Now when charity draws some to poverty and withdraws others from it, when she directs some to marriage and others to continence, when she shuts one up in a cloister and makes another quit it, she is not bound to give account thereof to any one: for she has the plenitude of power in Christian laws, as it is written: charity can do all things; she has the perfection of prudence, according to that: charity does nothing wrongly. And if any would contest, and demand why she so does, she will boldly make answer: The Lord hath need of it. All is made for charity, and charity for God. All must serve her and she none: no, she serves not her well-beloved, whose servant she is not, but his spouse, whom she does not serve, but love: for which cause we are to take our orders from her how to exercise counsels. To some she will appoint chastity without poverty, to others obedience and not chastity, to others fasting but not alms-deeds, to others alms-deeds and fasting, to others solitude and not the pastoral charge, to others intercourse with men and not solitude. In fine she is a sacred water, by which the garden of the church is fertilized, and though she herself have no color that can be called color, yet the flowers which she makes spring have each one its particular color. She makes Martyrs redder than the rose, Virgins whiter than the lily; some she dyes with the fine violet of mortification, others with the yellow of marriage-cares, variously employing the counsels, for the perfection of the souls who are so happy as to live under her conduct. (Treatise on the Love of God VIII, ch. 6).
  • An indifferent heart is inclined to follow the counsels

    • Indifference goes beyond resignation: for it loves nothing except for the love of God’s will... The indifferent heart is as a ball of wax in the hands of its God, ready to receive equally all the impressions of the eternal good-pleasure; it is a heart without choice, equally disposed for everything, having no other object of its will than the will of its God, and it does not place its love in the things that God wills, but in the will of God who wills them. For this reason, when God’s will is in several things, it chooses, at any cost, that thing in which it is most of all. God’s good-pleasure is for marriage and in virginity, but because it is more in virginity, the indifferent heart makes choice of virginity though this must cost it its life, as with St. Paul’s dear spiritual daughter St. Thecla, with St. Cecily, St. Agatha, and a thousand others. God’s will is for the service of the poor and of the rich, but yet somewhat more in serving the poor; the indifferent heart will choose that side. God’s will is in moderation practiced among consolations, and in patience among tribulations: the indifferent heart prefers the latter, as having more of God’s will in it. (Treatise on the Love of God IX, ch. 4).
  • The firm will to serve God in a particular manner is a vocation

    • How then, while having so great a variety of vocations and so many different motivations, can we distinguish the good from the bad?  And how can it be done without being fooled? Even if it seems that it might be very difficult, it is not such that we are entirely devoid of ways of recognizing when a vocation is a true one.  For, among the many that I could cite, I will mention one, for it is the best of all. A true vocation is nothing other than the firm and constant will possessed by the person called, to want to serve God in the manner and in the place where the Divine Majesty calls her. This is the best mark one could have to know when a vocation is true.
    • But when I say “a firm and constant will to serve God,” I do not mean that from the very beginning she would do everything that is necessary in her vocation with such a firmness and constancy of will that she is free of all repugnance, difficulty or distaste in what depends upon her. No, I do not mean that; still less that this firmness and constancy of will be such that she is devoid of committing faults, nor so strong that she would never waver or falter in the undertaking she has taken on herself to practice the means that could lead her to perfection.  Oh!  No indeed!  That is not what I want to say. Every human person is subject to such passions, changes, and ups and downs. We are such that today we like one thing that we will not like tomorrow; one day is never the same as another (v11).  Today we love humility and will say that it is a really desirable virtue, that it is the most beautiful and most necessary virtue of all and at this time we would like to use all our strength to acquire it.  On the following day, it will be very distasteful to us, or at least we will not prize or think as much of it as we did yesterday.  It will be said that it is certainly a great virtue, but even if it be great it will no longer be judged as the most desirable of all because to acquire it we must suffer, which is unpleasant.  Then, after that, it is not even noticed, or only slightly at best.  Do you see how changeable and inconstant we are? We must not judge the firmness and constancy of the will for a good that was earlier embraced, on the basis of such emotions and feelings. But we must consider whether among the variety of different feelings the will remains firm to the point of not leaving behind the good that it has embraced. Even if she feels disgusted or very cold in her love for any virtue, she doesn’t on that account stop using the means that are laid down for her to acquire it. So to have the mark of a true vocation, it need not be a sensible constancy, but one that is in the highest part of the spirit, one such as produces effects.
    • To know whether God wants us to be a religious, we must not wait for the Divine Majesty to speak to us in some sensible way or that he send from heaven some Angel to point out his will for us.  Even less so is there any need to have some private revelations about it.  There is no need to have ten or twelve theologians from the Sorbonne ponder whether this is a true inspiration or not or whether it must be carried out.  However, we must cultivate and correspond with the first impulse.  Then we must not be troubled if any distaste or coldness comes after that.  For, if we always try to keep our will very firm in wanting to discover the good that has been shown to us, God will not fail to make all redound to his glory. Now when I say this, I am not only speaking about you but also about women who are still in the world for whom we must show a concern and a desire to help them with all their truly good intentions.  When they experience the first impulse a bit strongly, nothing appears difficult for them; it seems that they can overcome every difficulty.  But when they experience ups and downs and when these feelings are no longer felt in the lower part of their nature, it seems to them that all is lost and that all should be left behind.  For they want to enter at one time and they don't want to at another.  What they are experiencing, then, is not enough to make them leave the world.  They say:  "I want to enter very much but I do not know whether it is God's will that I be a religious, since the inspiration that I feel right now doesn't seem strong enough.  It is true, in fact, that I have had stronger desires than now, but since they don't last, it makes one doubt if it is a true inspiration.  I have spoken about it to my parents or even to someone I don't remember who, where they are very supportive of me, but even that has passed, which leads me to believe that such an inspiration is not from God."   Finally, it becomes necessary to examine everything a thousand times in order to know whether they should follow this inspiration.
    • Certainly, when I come across such persons, I am not at all surprised with their fits of distaste and lukewarmness.  Still less do I believe that their vocation is less true because of them.  But the only thing to be done in such a case is to take the time to help them by informing them not to be surprised in any way with these moods and ups and downs.  Then encourage them to remain firm in spite of them.  "Pay no attention to them," I tell them.  "If you have been convinced by your parents, or by whomever, to become a religious, didn't you feel the inspiration or the impulse in your heart for the quest of so great a good?"  They say, "Yes, that is in fact true, but even that has disappeared."  "Yes," I rejoin, "perhaps the strength of the feeling but not in such a way that no affection for it still remains, since you say that you always feel, I don't know how to describe it, drawn in that direction."  You say, "What troubles me is that this attraction doesn't seem strong enough for such a drastic step."  But I answer this type of person:  "Don't be troubled by your feelings, don't pay too much attention to them.  Be satisfied with the firm resolve of your will, which amidst all that does not in any way lose sight of its primary goal or the love for it.  Be very careful about cultivating and nurturing well this first impulse.  Don't be anxious, no matter which direction it comes from.  For God has many ways of calling his servants and using them for his service.  Sometimes he uses sermons that are cast into the soil of hearts like a divine seed by the mouths of preachers.  But God does not only use this one way to call his creatures to his service, even though it is one of the chief ways and one which he uses more than any other to convert non-Catholic Christians and the unbaptized and not only to make them Christians.  Moreover, many have been touched and called by God to specific vocations through preaching, like Saint Nicholas of Tolentine was while listening to the sermon of a good priest who preached about the martyrdom of Saint Stephen.  While hearing that Saint Stephen saw the heavens that were opened and the Son of God seated at the right hand of his Father, he was so touched that he resolved at that very instant to leave the world.  From that moment on he never rested until he became a religious.  What happened after having made known his intention and on being received, he became such a good religious that he lived and died in a most holy way.  The example of those who have been called by God like him through preaching are almost too many to be counted.
    • ...
    • [Religious life is a place of seeking perfection, not a place where everyone is already perfect]
    • I have already shown elsewhere that religious orders have been called hospitals in every age and religious are known by a Greek word which means healers because they are in a hospital to heal one another like the lepers of Saint Bridget (n19) (v36).  We need not expect that those who enter religious life will be immediately perfect; it is enough for them to tend to perfection, and to embrace the means for growing in perfection. Our community, no more than any other religious community, is not a group of perfect women but rather a group of women who are aiming at and tending toward perfection.  It is a school where we come to learn about the means that we must use to become perfect.  And in order to do this, it is necessary to have this firm and constant will such as I spoke of, to embrace all the means of growing in perfection that are proper to the vocation in which one is called.
          Therefore, it is not the tearful, sorrowfilled and sighing person who is the best one called; nor those who are consumed mostly with the cross, nor those who will not move from the chapel, nor those who are always in the hospital, nor even those who begin with a burst of fervor.  We must not pay any attention to the tears of the weepers, nor listen to the sighs of the sighers, nor look for bearing and deportment to find those who are truly called.  But we should look for those who have a good, strong and constant resolve to be healed and who because of that resolve work faithfully to recover their spiritual health.
    • Furthermore, we must in no way mistake as a sign of a good vocation those fervors that might make one discontent in her vocation and permit one to be consumed with some desires that are vain and only apparently good at best for a greater holiness of life.  For while they are taken up with looking for what is most often not the best, they do not do the things which can make them perfect in the vocation that we have undertaken.  We have an example of this very thing in the young Oratorian priest who was so fervent that it seemed to him that the Oratorian way of life was not perfect enough to satisfy his fervor.  This is why he thought that he ought to leave them to enter a formal religious order (n20).  On seeing this, the good Father Philip Neri (n21), who was his Superior, took him there himself.  But on seeing this good religious entering with great fervor the place in which he foresaw that he ought not be, he wept bitterly.  However, the good religious of this community, thinking that this came from the abundance of consolation that he was weeping, said to Father Philip Neri:  "My Father, the consolation you are feeling must be very great indeed!  It seems to us that you ought to moderate your tears a bit and not allow them to flow so abundantly."  The blessed Philip Neri, illumined with a truly divine light, told them:  "Oh! I am not weeping because of the consolation I am feeling.  I am shedding tears of compassion on seeing this young man leaving one way of life so as to begin another, and while entering it with great fervor, he will nevertheless not persevere here."  What happened later was what he had predicted.(Spiritual Conferences, Conf. 17)
  • It is foolish to spend a long time thinking about which of two good things is God's will, when there is only a slight difference between them

    • S. Basil says that God's will is made clear unto us by his ordinances or commandments, and that then there is no deliberation to be made, for we are simply to do what is ordained; but that for the rest we have freedom to choose what seems good according to our liking; though we are not to do all that is lawful but only what is expedient, and to clearly discern what is expedient we are to follow the advice of our spiritual father.
      But, Theotimus, I am to warn you of a troublesome temptation which often crosses the way of such souls as have a great desire to do what is most according to God's will. For the enemy at every turn puts them in doubt whether it is God's will for them to do one thing rather than another; as for example, whether or not they should eat with a friend, whether they should wear gray or black clothes, whether they should fast Friday or Saturday, whether they should take recreation or abstain from it; and in this they lose much time, and while they are busy and anxious to find out what is the better, they unprofitably let slip the time for doing many good things, the effecting of which would be far more to God's glory, than this distinguishing between the good and the better, which has taken up their time, could possibly be.
      We are not accustomed to weigh little money, but only valuable pieces: trading would be too troublesome and would devour too much time, if we were to weigh pence, halfpence, farthings and half-farthings. So we should not weigh every little action to know whether it is of more value than others; indeed there is often a kind of superstition in trying to make this examination; for to what end should we puzzle to know whether it were better to hear Mass in one church than in another, to spin than to sew, to give alms to a man rather than a woman? It is not good service to a master to spend as much time in considering what is to be done, as in doing the things which need to be done. We are to proportion our attention to the importance of what we undertake. It would be an ill-regulated carefulness to take as much trouble in deliberating over a journey of one day as over one of three or four hundred leagues.
      The choice of one's vocation, the plan of some business of great consequence, of some work occupying much time, of some very great expenditure, the change of abode, the choice of society, and the like, deserve to be seriously pondered, in order to see what is most according to the will of God. But in little daily matters, in which even a mistake is neither of moment nor irreparable, what need is there to make a business of them, to scrutinize them, or to importunately ask advice about them? To what end should I put myself out to learn whether God would prefer me to say the Rosary or Our Lady's Office, since there can be no such difference between them, that a great examination need be held; that I should rather go to visit the sick in the hospital than to Vespers, or would prefer me to go to a sermon rather than to a church where there is an indulgence? Generally there is no such noteworthy importance in the one more than the other that it is needful to make any great deliberation. We must walk in good faith and without minute consideration in such matters, and, as S. Basil says, freely choose what seems to us good, so as not to weary our spirit, lose time, and put ourselves in danger of disquiet, scruples, and superstition. But I mean always where there is no great disproportion between the two works, and where there is no considerable circumstance on one side more than on the other.
      And even in matters of moment we are to have great humility, and not to think we can find out God's will by force of examination and subtlety of discourse; but having implored the light of the Holy Spirit, applied our consideration to the seeking of his good-pleasure, taken the counsel of our director, and, perhaps, of two or three other spiritual persons, we must resolve and determine in the name of God, and must not afterwards question our choice, but devoutly, peacefully, and firmly keep and pursue it. And although the difficulties, temptations and the variety of circumstances which occur in the course of executing our design, might cause us some doubt as to whether we had made a good choice, yet we must remain settled, and not regard all this, but consider that if we had made another choice we had perhaps been a hundred times worse; to say nothing of our not knowing whether it be God's will that we should be exercised in consolation or desolation, in peace or war. The resolution being once holily taken, we are never to doubt of the holiness of the execution; for unless we fail it cannot fail. To act otherwise is a mark of great self-love, or of childishness, weakness and silliness of spirit. (Treatise on the Love of God VIII, ch. 14)

Other Texts of St. Francis de Sales on Discernment (offsite)

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