“The Three Comings of the Lord” – St. Bernard from the Office of Readings – Discerning Hearts Podcast

From a sermon by Saint Bernard, abbot

The Three Comings of the Lord

We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.

In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself ways: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.

Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.

If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all.

Excerpts from the English translation of The Liturgy of the Hours (Four Volumes) © 1974, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.

IDL88 – Part 4 – Chapter 3 – Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales – Discerning Hearts Podcast

Part 4 – Chapter 3 of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

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PART 4 – CHAPTER III. Of Temptations, and the difference between experiencing them and consenting to them

“PICTURE to yourself a young princess beloved of her husband, to whom some evil wretch should send a messenger to tempt her to infidelity. First, the messenger would bring forth his propositions. Secondly, the princess would either accept or reject the overtures. Thirdly, she would consent to them or refuse them. Even so, when Satan, the world, and the flesh look upon a soul espoused to the Son of God, they set temptations and suggestions before that soul, whereby—1. Sin is proposed to it. 2. Which proposals are either pleasing or displeasing to the soul. 3. The soul either consents, or rejects them. In other words, the three downward steps of temptation, delectation, and consent. And although the three steps may not always be so clearly defined as in this illustration, they are to be plainly traced in all great and serious sins.

If we should undergo the temptation to every sin whatsoever during our whole life, that would not damage us in the Sight of God’s Majesty, provided we took no pleasure in it, and did not consent to it; and that because in temptation we do not act, we only suffer, and inasmuch as we take no delight in it, we can be liable to no blame. S. Paul bore long time with temptations of the flesh, but so far from displeasing God thereby, He was glorified in them. The blessed Angela di Foligni underwent terrible carnal temptations, which move us to pity as we read of them. S. Francis and S. Benedict both experienced grievous temptations, so that the one cast himself amid thorns, the other into the snow, to quench them, but so far from losing anything of God’s Grace thereby, they greatly increased it.

Be then very courageous amid temptation, and never imagine yourself conquered so long as it is displeasing to you, ever bearing in mind the difference between experiencing 298 and consenting to temptation, 3—that difference being, that whereas they may be experienced while most displeasing to us, we can never consent to them without taking pleasure in them, inasmuch as pleasure felt in a temptation is usually the first step towards consent. So let the enemies of our salvation spread as many snares and wiles in our way as they will, let them besiege the door of our heart perpetually, let them ply us with endless proposals to sin,—so long as we abide in our firm resolution to take no pleasure therein, we cannot offend God any more than the husband of the princess in my illustration could be displeased with her because of the overtures made to her, so long as she was in no way gratified by them. Of course, there is one great difference between my imaginary princess and the soul, namely, that the former has it in her power to drive away the messenger of evil and never hear him more, while the latter cannot always refuse to experience temptation, although it be always in its power to refuse consent. But how long soever the temptation may persist, it cannot harm us so long as it is unwelcome to us.

But again, as to the pleasure which may be taken in temptation (technically called delectation), inasmuch as our souls have two parts, one inferior, the other superior, and the inferior does not always choose to be led by the superior, but takes its own line,—it not unfrequently happens that the inferior part takes pleasure in a temptation not only without consent from, but absolutely in contradiction to the superior will. It is this contest which S. Paul describes when he speaks of the “law in my members, warring against the law of my mind,” 4and of the “flesh lusting against the spirit.”

Have you ever watched a great burning furnace heaped up with ashes? Look at it some ten or twelve hours afterwards, and there will scarce be any living fire there, or only a little smouldering in the very heart thereof. Nevertheless, if you can find that tiny lingering spark, it will suffice to rekindle the extinguished flames. So it is with love, which is the true spiritual life amid our greatest, most active temptations. Temptation, flinging its delectation into the inferior part of the soul, covers it wholly with ashes, and leaves but a little spark of God’s Love, which can be found nowhere save hidden far down in the heart or mind, and even that is hard to find. But nevertheless it is there, since however troubled we may have been in body and mind, we firmly resolved not to consent to sin or the temptation thereto, and that delectation of the exterior man was rejected by the interior spirit. Thus though our will may have been thoroughly beset by the temptation, it was not conquered, and so we are certain that all such delectation was involuntary, and consequently not sinful.”

For other chapters of the Introduction to the Devout Life audiobook visit here

IDL87 – Part 4 – Chapter 2 – Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales – Discerning Hearts Podcast

Part 4 – Chapter 2 of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

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PART 4 – CHAPTER II. The need of a Good Courage.

“HOWEVER much we may admire and crave for light, it is apt to dazzle our eyes when they have been long accustomed to darkness; and on first visiting a foreign country, we are sure to feel strange among its inhabitants, however kindly or courteous they may be. Even so, my child, your changed life may be attended with some inward discomfort, and you may feel some reaction of discouragement and weariness after you have taken a final farewell of the world and its follies. Should it be so, I pray you take it patiently, for it will not last,—it is merely the disturbance caused by novelty; and when it is gone by, you will abound in consolations. At first you may suffer somewhat under the loss what you enjoyed among 295 your vain, frivolous companions; but would you forfeit the eternal gifts of God for such things as these? The empty amusements which have engrossed you hitherto may rise up attractively before your imagination, and strive to win you back to rest in them; but are you bold enough to give up a blessed eternity for such deceitful snares? Believe me, if you will but persevere you will not fail to enjoy a sweetness so real and satisfying, that you will be constrained to confess that the world has only gall to give as compared with this honey, and that one single day of devotion is worth more than a thousand years of worldly life.

But you see before you the mountain of Christian perfection, which is very high, and you exclaim in fearfulness that you can never ascend it. Be of good cheer, my child. When the young bees first begin to live they are mere grubs, unable to hover over flowers, or to fly to the mountains, or even to the little hills where they might gather honey; but they are fed for a time with the honey laid up by their predecessors, and by degrees the grubs put forth their wings and grow strong, until they fly abroad and gather their harvest from all the country round. Now we are yet but as grubs in devotion, unable to fly at will, and attain 296 the desired aim of Christian perfection; but if we begin to take shape through our desires and resolutions, our wings will gradually grow, and we may hope one day to become spiritual bees, able to fly. Meanwhile let us feed upon the honey left us in the teaching of so many holy men of old, praying God that He would grant us doves’ wings, so that we may not only fly during this life, but find an abiding resting-place in Eternity.”

For other chapters of the Introduction to the Devout Life audiobook visit here

IDL86 – Part 4 – Chapter 1 – Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales – Discerning Hearts Podcast

Part 4 – Chapter 1 of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

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PART 4 – CHAPTER I. We must not trifle with the Words of Worldly Wisdom

DIRECTLY that your worldly friends perceive that you aim at leading a devout life, they will let loose endless shafts of mockery and misrepresentation upon you; the more malicious will attribute your change to hypocrisy, designing, or bigotry; they will affirm that the world having looked coldly upon you, failing its favour you turn to God; while your friends will make a series of what, from their point of view, are prudent and charitable remonstrances. They will tell you that you are growing morbid; that you will lose your worldly credit, and will make yourself unacceptable to the world; they will prognosticate your premature old age, the ruin of your material prosperity; they will tell you that in the world you must live as the world does; that you can be saved without all this fuss; and much more of the like nature.

My daughter, all this is vain and foolish talk: these people have no real regard either for your bodily health or your material prosperity. “If ye were of the world,” the Saviour has said, “the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”

We have all seen men, and women too, pass the whole night, even several in succession, playing at chess or cards; and what can be a more dismal, unwholesome thing than that? But the world has not a word to say against it, and their friends are nowise troubled. But give up an hour to meditation, or get up rather earlier than usual to prepare for Holy Communion, and they will send for the doctor to cure you of hypochondria or jaundice! People spend every night for a month dancing, and no one will complain of being the worse; but if they keep the one watch of Christmas Eve, we shall hear of endless colds and maladies the next day! Is it not as plain as possible that the world is an unjust judge; indulgent and kindly to its own children, harsh and uncharitable to the children of God? We cannot stand well with the world save by renouncing His approval. It is not possible to satisfy the world’s unreasonable demands: “John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say he hath a devil. The Son of Man is come eating and drinking, and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, the friend of publicans and sinners.” Even so, my child, if we give in to the world, and laugh, dance, and play as it does, it will affect to be scandalized; if we refuse to do so, it will accuse us of being hypocritical or morbid. If we adorn ourselves after its fashion, it will put some evil construction on what we do; if we go in plain attire, it will accuse us of meanness; our cheerfulness will be called dissipation; our mortification dulness; and ever casting its evil eye upon us, nothing we can do will please it. It exaggerates our failings, and publishes them abroad as sins; it represents our venial sins as mortal, and our sins of infirmity as malicious. S. Paul says that charity is kind, but the world is unkind; charity thinks no evil, but the world thinks evil of every one, and if it cannot find fault with our actions, it is sure at least to impute bad motives to them,—whether the sheep be black or white, horned or no, the wolf will devour them if he can. Do what we will, the world must wage war upon us. If we spend any length of time in confession, it will speculate on what we have so much to say about! if we are brief, it will suggest that we are keeping back something! It spies out our every act, and at the most trifling angry word, sets us down as intolerable. Attention to business is avarice, meekness mere silliness; whereas the wrath of worldly people is to be reckoned as generosity, their avarice, economy, their mean deeds, honourable. There are always spiders at hand to spoil the honey-bee’s comb.

Let us leave the blind world to make as much noise as it may,—like a bat molesting the songbirds of day; let us be firm in our ways, unchangeable in our resolutions, and perseverance will be the test of our self-surrender to God, and our deliberate choice of the devout life.

The planets and a wandering comet shine with much the same brightness, but the comet’s is a passing blaze, which does not linger long, while the planets cease not to display their brightness. Even so hypocrisy and real goodness have much outward resemblance; but one is easily known from the other, inasmuch as hypocrisy is short-lived, and disperses like a mist, while real goodness is firm and abiding. There is no surer groundwork for the begin294 nings of a devout life than the endurance of misrepresentation and calumny, since thereby we escape the danger of vainglory and pride, which are like the midwives of Egypt, who were bidden by Pharaoh to kill the male children born to Israel directly after their birth. We are crucified to the world, and the world must be as crucified to us. It esteems us as fools, let us esteem it as mad.”

For other chapters of the Introduction to the Devout Life audiobook visit here

IDL85 – Part 3 – Chapter 41 – Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales – Discerning Hearts Podcast

Part 3 – Chapter 41 of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

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PART 3 – CHAPTER XLI. One Word to Maidens

“O ye virgins, I have but a word to say to you. If you look to married life in this life, guard your first love jealousy for your husband. It seems to me a miserable fraud to give a husband a worn-out heart, whose love has been frittered away and despoiled of its first bloom instead of a true, whole-hearted love. But if you are happily called to be the chaste and holy bride of spiritual nuptials, and purpose to live a life of virginity, then in Christ’s Name I bid you keep all your purest, most sensitive love for your Heavenly Bridegroom, Who, being Very Purity Himself, has a special love for purity; Him to Whom the first-fruits of all good things are due, above all those of love.

S. Jerome’s Epistles will supply you with the needful counsels; and inasmuch as your state of life requires obedience, seek out a guide under whose direction you may wholly dedicate yourself, body and soul, to His Divine Majesty.”

For other chapters of the Introduction to the Devout Life audiobook visit here

IDL84 – Part 3 – Chapter 40 – Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales – Discerning Hearts Podcast

Part 3 – Chapter 40 of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

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PART 3 – CHAPTER XL. Counsels to Widows

“SAINT PAUL teaches us all in the person of S. Timothy when he says, “Honour widows that are widows indeed.” 122Now to be “a widow indeed” it is necessary:—

1. That the widow be one not in body only, but in heart also; that is to say, that she be fixed in an unalterable resolution to continue in her widowhood Those widows who are but waiting the opportunity of marrying again are only widowed in externals, while in will they have already laid aside their loneliness. If the “widow indeed” chooses to confirm her widowhood by offering herself by a vow to God, she will adorn that widowhood, and make her resolution doubly sure, for the remembrance that she cannot break her vow without danger of forfeiting Paradise, will make her so watchful over herself, that a great barrier will be raised against all kind of temptation that may assail her. S. Augustine strongly recommends Christian widows to take this vow, and the learned Origen goes yet further, for he advises married women to take a vow of chastity in the event of losing their husbands, so that amid the joys of married life they may yet have a share in the merits of a chaste widowhood. Vows render the actions performed under their shelter more acceptable to God, strengthen us to perform good works, and help us to devote to Him not merely those good works which are, 283 so to say, the fruits of a holy will, but to consecrate that will itself; the source of all we do, to Him. By ordinary chastity we offer our body to God, retaining the power to return to sensual pleasure; but the vow of chastity is an absolute and irrevocable gift to Him, without any power to recall it, thereby making ourselves the happy slaves of Him Whose service is to be preferred to royal power. And as I greatly approve the counsels of the two venerable Fathers I have named, I would have such persons as are so favoured as to wish to embrace them, do so prudently, and in a holy, stedfast spirit, after careful examination of their own courage, having asked heavenly guidance, and taken the advice of some discreet and pious director, and then all will be profitably done.

2. Further, all such renunciation of second marriage must be done with a single heart, in order to fix the affections more entirely on God, and to seek a more complete union with Him. For if the widow retains her widowhood merely to enrich her children, or for any other worldly motive, she may receive the praise of men, but not that of God, inasmuch as nothing is worthy of His Approbation save that which is done for His Sake. Moreover, she who would be a widow indeed must be voluntarily cut off from all worldly delights. “She 284 that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth,” S. Paul says. 123A widow who seeks to be admired and followed and flattered, who frequents balls and parties, who takes pleasure in dressing, perfuming and adorning herself, may be a widow in the body, but she is dead as to the soul. What does it matter, I pray you, whether the flag of Adonis and his profane love be made of white feathers or a net of crape? Nay, sometimes there is a conscious vanity in that black is the most becoming dress; and she who thereby endeavours to captivate men, and who lives in empty pleasure, is “dead while she liveth,” and is a mere mockery of widowhood.

“The time of retrenchment is come, the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” 124 Retrenchment of worldly superfluity is required of whosoever would lead a devout life, but above all, it is needful for the widow indeed, who mourns the loss of her husband like a true turtle-dove. When Naomi returned from Moab to Bethlehem, those that had known her in her earlier and brighter days were moved, and said, “Is this Naomi? And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi (which means beautiful and agreeable), call me Mara, for the Almighty 285 hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty.” 125Even so the devout widow will not desire to be called or counted beautiful or agreeable, asking no more than to be that which God wills,—lowly and abject in His Eyes.

The lamp which is fed with aromatic oil sends forth a yet sweeter odour when it is extinguished; and so those women whose married love was true and pure, give out a stronger perfume of virtue and chastity when their light (that is, their husband) is extinguished by death. Love for a husband while living is a common matter enough among women, but to love him so deeply as to refuse to take another after his death, is a kind of love peculiar to her who is a widow indeed. Hope in God, while resting on a husband, is not so rare, but to hope in Him, when left alone and desolate, is a very gracious and worthy thing. And thus it is that widowhood becomes a test of the perfection of the virtues displayed by a woman in her married life.

The widow who has children requiring her care and guidance, above all in what pertains to their souls and the shaping of their lives, cannot and ought not on any wise to forsake 286 them. S. Paul teaches this emphatically, and says that those who “provide not for their own, and specially for those of their own house, are worse than an infidel;” 126but if her children do not need her care, then the widow should gather together all her affections and thoughts, in order to devote them more wholly to making progress in the love of God. If there is no call obliging her in conscience to attend to external secular matters (legal or other), I should advise her to leave them all alone, and to manage her affairs as quietly and peacefully as may be, even if such a course does not seem the most profitable. The fruit of disputes and lawsuits must be very great indeed before it can be compared in worth to the blessing of holy peace; not to say that those legal entanglements and the like are essentially distracting, and often open the way for enemies who sully the purity of a heart which should be solely devoted to God.

Prayer should be the widow’s chief occupation: she has no love left save for God,—she should scarce have ought to say to any save God; and as iron, which is restrained from yielding to the attraction of the magnet when a diamond is near, darts instantly towards it so soon as the diamond is removed, so the widow’s heart, which could not rise up wholly to God, or simply follow the leadings of His Heavenly Love during her husband’s life, finds 287 itself set free, when he is dead, to give itself entirely to Him, and cries out, with the Bride in the Canticles, “Draw me, I will run after Thee.” 127I will be wholly Thine, and seek nothing save the “savour of Thy good ointments.”

A devout widow should chiefly seek to cultivate the graces of perfect modesty, renouncing all honours, rank, title, society, and the like vanities; she should be diligent in ministering to the poor and sick, comforting the afflicted, leading the young to a life of devotion, studying herself to be a perfect model of virtue to younger women. Necessity and simplicity should be the adornment of her garb, humility and charity of her actions, simplicity and kindliness of her words, modesty and purity of her eyes,—Jesus Christ Crucified the only Love of her heart.

Briefly, the true widow abides in the Church as a little March violet, 128shedding forth 288 an exquisite sweetness through the perfume of her devotion, ever concealing herself beneath the ample leaves of her heart’s lowliness, while her subdued colouring indicates her mortification. She dwells in waste, uncultivated places, because she shrinks from the world’s intercourse, and seeks to shelter her heart from the glare with which earthly longings, whether of honours, wealth, or love itself, might dazzle her. “Blessed is she if she so abide,” says the holy Apostle.

Much more could I say on this subject, but suffice it to bid her who seeks to be a widow indeed, read S. Jerome’s striking Letters to Salvia, and the other noble ladies who rejoiced in being the spiritual children of such a Father. Nothing can be said more, unless it be to warn the widow indeed not to condemn or even censure those who do resume the married life, for there are cases in which God orders it thus to His Own greater Glory. We must ever bear in mind the ancient teaching, that in Heaven virgins, wives, and widows will know no difference, save that which their true hearts’ humility assigns them.”

For other chapters of the Introduction to the Devout Life audiobook visit here

IDL83 – Part 3 – Chapter 39 – Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales – Discerning Hearts Podcast

Part 3 – Chapter 39 of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

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PART 3 – CHAPTER XXXIX. The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed

“THE marriage bed should be undefiled, as the Apostle tells us, 120i.e. pure, as it was when it was first instituted in the earthly Paradise, wherein no unruly desires or impure 281 thought might enter. All that is merely earthly must be treated as means to fulfil the end God sets before His creatures. Thus we eat in order to preserve life, moderately, voluntarily, and without seeking an undue, unworthy satisfaction therefrom. “The time is short,” says S. Paul; “it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had not, and they that use this world, as not abusing it.”

Let every one, then, use this world according to his vocation, but so as not to entangle himself with its love, that he may be as free and ready to serve God as though he used it not. S. Augustine says that it is the great fault of men to want to enjoy things which they are only meant to use, and to use those which they are only meant to enjoy. We ought to enjoy spiritual things, and only use those which are material; but when we turn the use of these latter into enjoyment, the reasonable soul becomes degraded to a mere brutish level.”

For other chapters of the Introduction to the Devout Life audiobook visit here

IDL82 – Part 3 – Chapter 38 – Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales – Discerning Hearts Podcast

Part 3 – Chapter 38 of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

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PART 3 – CHAPTER XXXVIII. Counsels to Married People

“MARRIAGE is a great Sacrament both in Jesus Christ and His Church, and one to be honoured to all, by all and in all. To all, for even those who do not enter upon it should honour it in all humility. By all, for it is holy alike to poor as to rich. In all, for its origin, its end, its form and matter are holy. It is the nursery of Christianity, whence the earth is peopled with faithful, till the number of the elect in Heaven be perfected; so that respect for the marriage tie is exceedingly important to the commonwealth, of which it is the source and supply.

Would to God that His Dear Son were bidden to all weddings as to that of Cana! Truly then the wine of consolation and blessing would never be lacking; for if these are often so wanting, it is because too frequently now men summon Adonis instead of our Lord, and Venus rather than Our Lady. He who desires that the young of his flock should be like Jacob’s, fair and ring-straked, must set fair objects before their eyes; and he who would find a blessing in his marriage, must ponder the holiness and dignity of this Sacrament, instead of which too often weddings become a season of mere feasting and disorder.

Above all, I would exhort all married people to seek that mutual love so commended to them by the Holy Spirit in the Bible. It is little to bid you love one another with a mutual love,—-turtle-doves do that; or with human love,—the heathen cherished such love as that. But I say to you in the Apostle’s words: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church. Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as unto the Lord.” 111It was God Who brought Eve to our first father Adam, and gave her to him to wife; and even so, my friends, it is God’s Invisible Hand Which binds you in the sacred bonds of marriage; it is He Who gives you one to the other, therefore cherish one another with a holy, sacred, heavenly love.

The first effect of this love is the indissoluble union of your hearts. If you glue together two pieces of deal, provided that the glue be strong, their union will be so close that the stick will break more easily in any other part than where it is joined. Now God unites husband and wife so closely in Himself, that it should be easier to sunder soul from body than husband from wife; nor is this union to be considered as mainly of the body, but yet more a union of the heart, its affections and love.

The second effect of this love should be an inviolable fidelity to one another. In olden times finger-rings were wont to be graven as seals. We read of it in Holy Scripture, and this explains the meaning of the marriage ceremony, when the Church, by the hand of her priest, blesses a ring, and gives it first to the man in token that she sets a seal on his heart by this Sacrament, so that no thought of any other woman may ever enter therein so long as she, who now is given to him, shall live. Then the bridegroom places the ring on the bride’s hand, so that she in her turn may know that she must never conceive any affection in her heart for any other man so long as he shall live, who is now given to her by our Lord Himself.

The third end of marriage is the birth and bringing up of children. And herein, O ye married people! are you greatly honoured, in that God, willing to multiply souls to bless and praise Him to all Eternity, He associates you with Himself in this His work, by the production of bodies into which, like dew from Heaven, He infuses the souls He creates as well as the bodies into which they enter.

Therefore, husbands, do you preserve a tender, constant, hearty love for your wives. It was that the wife might be loved heartily and tenderly that woman was taken from the side nearest Adam’s heart. No failings or infirmities, bodily or mental, in your wife should ever excite any kind of dislike in you, but rather a loving, tender compassion; and that because God has made her dependent on you, and bound to defer to and obey you; and that while she is meant to be your helpmeet, you are her superior and her head. And on your part, wives, do you love the husbands God has given you tenderly, heartily, but with a reverential, confiding love, for God has made the man to have the predominance, and to be the stronger; and He wills the woman to depend upon him,—bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh,—taking her from out the ribs of the man, to show that she must be subject to his guidance. All Holy Scripture enjoins this subjection, which nevertheless is not grievous; and the same Holy Scripture, while it bids you accept it lovingly, bids your husband to use his superiority with great tenderness, lovingkindness, and gentleness. “Husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel.”

But while you seek diligently to foster this mutual love, give good heed that it do not turn to any manner of jealousy. Just as the worm is often hatched in the sweetest and ripest apple, so too often jealousy springs up in the most warm and loving hearts, defiling and ruining them, and if it is allowed to take root, it will produce dissension, quarrels, and separation. Of a truth, jealousy never arises where love is built up on true virtue, and therefore it is a sure sign of an earthly, sensual love, in which mistrust and inconstancy is soon infused. It is a sorry kind of friendship which seeks to strengthen itself by jealousy; for though jealousy may be a sign of strong, hot friendship, it is certainly no sign of a good, pure, perfect attachment; and that because perfect love implies absolute trust in the person loved, whereas jealousy implies uncertainty.

If you, husbands, would have your wives faithful, be it yours to set them the example. “How have you the face to exact purity from your wives,” asks S. Gregory Nazianzen, “if you yourself live an impure life? or how can you require that which you do not give in return? If you would have them chaste, let your own conduct to them be chaste. S. Paul bids you possess your vessel in sanctification; but if, on the contrary, you teach them evil, no wonder that they dishonour you. And ye, O women! whose honour is inseparable from modesty and purity, preserve it jealously, and never allow the smallest speck to soil the whiteness of your reputation.”

Shrink sensitively from the veriest trifles which can touch it; never permit any gallantries whatsoever. Suspect any who presume to flatter your beauty or grace, for when men praise wares they cannot purchase they are often tempted to steal; and if any one should dare to speak in disparagement of your husband, show that you are irrecoverably offended, for it is plain that he not only seeks your fall, but he counts you as half fallen, since the bargain with the new-comer is half made when one is disgusted with the first merchant.

Ladies both in ancient and modern times have worn pearls in their ears, for the sake (so says Pliny) of hearing them tinkle against each other. But remembering how that friend of God, Isaac, sent earrings as first pledges of his love to the chaste Rebecca, I look upon this mystic ornament as signifying that the first claim a husband has over his wife, and one which she ought most faithfully to keep for him, is her ear; so that no evil word or rumour enter therein, and nought be heard save the pleasant sound of true and pure words, which are represented by the choice pearls of the Gospel. Never forget that souls are poisoned through the ear as much as bodies through the mouth.

Love and faithfulness lead to familiarity and confidence, and Saints have abounded in tender caresses. Isaac and Rebecca, the type of chaste married life, indulged in such caresses, as to convince Abimelech that they must be husband and wife. The great S. Louis, strict as he was to himself, was so tender towards his wife, that some were ready to blame him for it; although in truth he rather deserved praise for subjecting his lofty, martial mind to the little details of conjugal love. Such minor matters will not suffice to knit hearts, but they tend to draw them closer, and promote mutual happiness.

Before giving birth to S. Augustine, S. Monica offered him repeatedly to God’s Glory, as he himself tells us; and it is a good lesson for Christian women how to offer the fruit of their womb to God, Who accepts the free oblations of loving hearts, and promotes the desires of such faithful mothers: witness Samuel, S. Thomas Aquinas, S. Andrea di Fiesole, and others. S. Bernard’s mother, worthy of such a son, was wont to take her new-born babes in her arms to offer them to Jesus Christ, thenceforward loving them with a reverential love, as a sacred deposit from God; and so entirely was her offering accepted, that all her seven children became Saints. And when children begin to use their reason, fathers and mothers should take great pains to fill their hearts with the fear of God. This the good Queen Blanche did most earnestly by S. Louis, her son: witness her oft-repeated words, “My son, I would sooner see you die than guilty of a mortal sin;” words which sank so deeply into the saintly monarch’s heart, that he himself said there was no day on which they did not recur to his mind, and strengthen him in treading God’s ways.

We call races and generations Houses; and the Hebrews were wont to speak of the birth of children as “the building up of the house;” as it is written of the Jewish midwives in Egypt, that the Lord “made them houses;” 115whereby we learn that a good house is not reared so much by the accumulation of worldly goods, as by the bringing up of children in the ways of holiness and of God; and to this end no labour or trouble must be spared, for children are the crown of their parents. Thus it was that S. Monica stedfastly withstood S. Augustine’s evil propensities, and, following him across sea and land, he became more truly the child of her tears in the conversion of his soul, than the son of her body in his natural birth.

S. Paul assigns the charge of the household to the woman; and consequently some hold that the devotion of the family depends more upon the wife than the husband, who is more frequently absent, and has less influence in the house. Certainly King Solomon, in the Book of Proverbs, refers all household prosperity to the care and industry of that virtuous woman whom he describes.

We read in Genesis that Isaac “entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren;” or as the Hebrews read it, he prayed “over against” her,—on opposite sides of the place of prayer,—and his prayer was granted. That is the most fruitful union between husband and wife which is founded in devotion, to which they should mutually stimulate one another. There are certain fruits, like the quince, of so bitter a quality, that they are scarcely eatable, save when preserved; while others again, like cherries and apricots, are so delicate and soft, that they can only be kept by the same treatment. So the wife must seek that her husband be sweetened with the sugar of devotion, for man without religion is a rude, rough animal; and the husband will desire to see his wife devout, as without it her frailty and weakness are liable to tarnish and injury. S. Paul says that “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband;” because in so close a tie one may easily draw the other to what is good. And how great is the blessing on those faithful husbands and wives who confirm one another continually in the Fear of the Lord!

Moreover, each should have such forbearance towards the other, that they never grow angry, or fall into discussion and argument. The bee will not dwell in a spot where there is much loud noise or shouting, or echo; neither will God’s Holy Spirit dwell in a household where altercation and tumult, arguing and quarrelling, disturb the peace.

S. Gregory Nazianzen says that in his time married people were wont to celebrate the anniversary of their wedding, and it is a custom I should greatly approve, provided it were not a merely secular celebration; but if husbands and wives would go on that day to Confession and Communion, and commend their married life specially to God, renewing their resolution to promote mutual good by increased love and faithfulness, and thus take breath, so to say, and gather new vigour from the Lord to go on stedfastly in their vocation.”

For other chapters of the Introduction to the Devout Life audiobook visit here

IDL81 – Part 3 – Chapter 37 – Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales – Discerning Hearts Podcast

Part 3 – Chapter 37 of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

Catholic Devotional Prayers and Novenas - Mp3 Audio Downloads and Text 10

This is a Discerning Hearts recording read by Correy Webb


“EVERYBODY grants that we must guard against the desire for evil things, since evil desires make evil men. But I say yet further, my daughter, do not desire dangerous things, such as balls or pleasures, office or honour, visions or ecstacies. Do not long after things afar off; such, I mean, as cannot happen till a distant time, as some do who by this means wear themselves out and expend their energies uselessly, fostering a dangerous spirit of distraction. If a young man gives way to overweening longings for an employment he cannot obtain yet a while, what good will it do him? If a married woman sets her heart on becoming a religious, or if I crave to buy my neighbour’s estate, he not being willing to sell it, is it not mere waste of time? If, when sick, I am restlessly anxious to preach or celebrate, to visit other sick people, or generally to do work befitting the strong, is it not an unprofitable desire, inasmuch as I have no power to fulfil it? and meanwhile these useless wishes take the place of such as I ought to have,—namely, to be patient, resigned, self-denying, obedient, gentle under suffering,—which are what God requires of me under the circumstances. We are too apt to be like a sickly woman, craving ripe cherries in autumn and grapes in spring. I can never think it well for one whose vocation is clear to waste time in wishing for some different manner of life than that which is adapted to his duty, or practices unsuitable to his present position—it is mere idling, and will make him slack in his needful work. If I long after a Carthusian solitude, I am losing my time, and such longing usurps the place of that which I ought to entertain—to fulfil my actual duties rightly. No indeed, I would not even have people wish for more wit or better judgment, for such desires are frivolous, and take the place of the wish every one ought to possess of improving what he has. We ought not to desire ways of serving God which He does not open to us, but rather desire to use what we have rightly. Of course I mean by this, real earnest desires, not common superficial wishes, which do no harm if not too frequently indulged.

Do not desire crosses, unless you have borne those already laid upon you well—it is an abuse to long after martyrdom while unable to bear an insult patiently. The Enemy of souls often inspires men with ardent desires for unattainable things, in order to divert their attention from present duties, which would be profitable however trifling in themselves. We are apt to fight monsters in imagination, while we let very petty foes vanquish us in reality for want of due heed.

Do not desire temptations, that is temerity, but prepare your heart to meet them bravely, and to resist them when they come.

Too great variety and quantity of food loads the stomach, and (especially when it is weakly) spoils the digestion. Do not overload your soul with innumerable longings, either worldly, for that were destruction,—or even spiritual, for these only cumber you. When the soul is purged of the evil humours of sin, it experiences a ravenous hunger for spiritual things, and sets to work as one famished at all manner of spiritual exercises;—mortification, penitence, humility, charity, prayer. Doubtless such an appetite is a good sign, but it behoves you to reflect whether you are able to digest all that you fain would eat. Make rather a selection from all these desires, under the guidance of your spiritual father, of such as you are able to perform, and then use them as perfectly as you are able. When you have done this, God will send you more, to be fulfilled in their turn, and so you will not waste time in unprofitable wishes. Not that I would have you lose any good desires, but rather treat them methodically, putting them aside in one corner of your heart till due time comes, while you carry out such as are ripe for action. And this counsel I give to worldly people as well as those who are spiritual, for without heeding it no one can avoid anxiety and over-eagerness.”

For other chapters of the Introduction to the Devout Life audiobook visit here

IDL80 – Part 3 – Chapter 36 – Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales – Discerning Hearts Podcast

Part 3 – Chapter 36 of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

Catholic Devotional Prayers and Novenas - Mp3 Audio Downloads and Text 10

This is a Discerning Hearts recording read by Correy Webb

PART 3 – CHAPTER XXXVI. Of a Well-Balanced, Reasonable Mind

“REASON is the special characteristic of man, and yet it is a rare thing to find really reasonable men, all the more that self-love hinders reason, and beguiles us insensibly into all manner of trifling, but yet dangerous acts of injustice and untruth, which, like the little foxes in the Canticles, 109spoil our vines, while, just because they are trifling, people pay no attention to them, and because they are numerous, they do infinite harm. Let me give some instances of what I mean.

We find fault with our neighbor very readily for a small matter, while we pass over great things in ourselves. We strive to sell dear and buy cheap. We are eager to deal out strict justice to others, but to obtain indulgence for ourselves. We expect a good construction to be put on all we say, but we are sensitive and critical as to our neighbor’s words. We expect him to let us have whatever we want for money, when it would be more reasonable to let him keep that which is his, if he desires to do so, and leave us to keep our gold. We are vexed with him because he will not accommodate us, while perhaps he has better reason to be vexed with us for wanting to disturb him. If we have a liking for any one particular thing, we despise all else, and reject whatever does not precisely suit our taste. If some inferior is unacceptable to us, or we have once caught him in error, he is sure to be wrong in our eyes whatever he may do, and we are for ever thwarting, or looking coldly on him, while, on the other hand, some one who happens to please us is sure to be right. Sometimes even parents show unfair preference for a child endowed with personal gifts over one afflicted with some physical imperfection. We put the rich before the poor, although they may have less claim, and be less worthy; we even give preference to well-dressed people. We are strict in exacting our own rights, but expect others to be yielding as to theirs;—we complain freely of our neighbors, but we do not like them to make any complaints of us. Whatever we do for them appears very great in our sight, but what they do for us counts as nothing. In a word, we are like the Paphlagonian partridge, which has two hearts; for we have a very tender, pitiful, easy heart towards ourselves, and one which is hard, harsh and strict towards our neighbor. We have two scales, one wherein to measure our own goods to the best advantage, and the other to weigh our neighbors’ to the worst. Holy Scripture tells us that lying lips are an abomination unto the Lord, 110and the double heart, with one measure whereby to receive, and another to give, is also abominable in His Sight.

Be just and fair in all you do. Always put yourself in your neighbour’s place, and put him into yours, and then you will judge fairly. Sell as you would buy, and buy as you would sell, and your buying and selling will alike be honest. These little dishonesties seem unimportant, because we are not obliged to make restitution, and we have, after all, only taken that which we might demand according to the strict letter of the law; but, nevertheless, they are sins against right and charity, and are mere trickery, greatly needing correction—nor does any one ever lose by being generous, noble-hearted and courteous. Be sure then often to examine your dealings with your neighbor, whether your heart is right towards him, as you would have his towards you, were things reversed—this is the true test of reason. When Trajan was blamed by his confidential friends for making the Imperial presence too accessible, he replied, “Does it not behove me to strive to be such an emperor towards my subjects as I should wish to meet with were I a subject?”

For other chapters of the Introduction to the Devout Life audiobook visit here