Part 3 – Chapter 21 of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales
This is a Discerning Hearts recording read by Correy Webb
PART 3 – CHAPTER XXI. Remedies against Evil Friendships
HOW are you to meet the swarm of foolish attachments, triflings, and undesirable inclinations which beset you? By turning sharply away, and thoroughly renouncing such vanities, flying to the Saviour’s Cross, and clasping His Crown of thorns to your heart, so that these little foxes may not spoil your vines. Beware of entering into any manner of treaty with the Enemy; do not delude yourself by listening to him while intending to reject him. For God’s Sake, my daughter, be firm on all such occasions; the heart and ear are closely allied, and just as you would vainly seek to check the downward course of a mountain torrent, so difficult will you find it to keep the smooth words which enter in at the ear from finding their way down into the heart. Alcmeon says (what indeed Aristotle denies) that the goat breathes through its ears, not its nostrils. I know not whether this be so, but one thing I know, that our heart breathes through the ear, and that while it exhales its own thoughts through the mouth, it inhales those of others by the ear. Let us then carefully guard our ears against evil words which would speedily infect the heart. Never hearken to any indiscreet conversation whatsoever—never mind if you seem rude and uncourteous in rejecting all such. Always bear in mind that you have dedicated your heart to God, and offered your love to Him; so that it was sacrilege to deprive Him of one particle thereof.
Do you rather renew the offering continually by fresh resolutions, entrenching yourself therein as in a fortress;—cry out to God, He will succour you, and His Love will shelter you, so that all your love may be kept for Him only. If unhappily you are already entangled in the nets of any unreal affection, truly it is hard to set you free! But place yourself before His Divine Majesty, acknowledge the depth of your wretchedness, your weakness and vanity, and then with all the earnestness of purpose you can muster, arrest the budding evil, abjure your own empty promises, and renounce those you have received, and resolve with a firm, absolute will never again to indulge in any trifling or dallying with such matters. If you can remove from the object of your unworthy affection, it is most desirable to do so. He who has been bitten by a viper cannot heal his wound in the presence of another suffering from the like injury, and so one bitten with a false fancy will not shake it off while near to his fellow-victim. Change of scene is very helpful in quieting the excitement and restlessness of sorrow or love. S. Ambrose tells a story in his Second Book on Penitence, of a young man, who coming home after a long journey quite cured of a foolish attachment, met the unworthy object of his former passion, who stopped him, saying, “Do you not know me, I am still myself?” “That may be,” was the answer, “but I am not myself:”—so thoroughly and happily was he changed by absence. And S. Augustine tells us how, after the death of his dear friend, he soothed his grief by leaving Tagaste and going to Carthage. But what is he to do, who cannot try this remedy?
To such I would say, abstain from all private intercourse, all tender glances and smiles, and from every kind of communication which can feed the unholy flame. If it is necessary to speak at all, express clearly and tersely the eternal renunciation on which you have resolved. I say unhesitatingly to whosoever has become entangled in any such worthless love affairs, Cut it short, break it off—do not play with it, or pretend to untie the knot; cut it through, tear it asunder. There must be no dallying with an attachment which is incompatible with the Love of God. But, you ask, after I have thus burst the chains of my unholy bondage, will no traces remain, and shall I not still carry the scars on my feet—that is, in my wounded affections? Not so, my child, if you have attained a due abhorrence of evil; in that case all you will feel is an exceeding horror of your unworthy affection, and all appertaining thereto; no thought will linger in your breast concerning it save a true love of God. Or if, by reason of the imperfection of your repentance, any evil inclinations still hover round you, seek such a mental solitude as I have already described, retire into it as much as possible, and then by repeated efforts and ejaculations renounce your evil desires; abjure them heartily; read pious books more than is your wont; go more frequently to Confession and Communion; tell your director simply and humbly all that tempts and troubles you, if you can, or at all events take counsel with some faithful, wise friend.
And never doubt but that God will set you free from all evil passions, if you are steadfast and devout on your part. Perhaps you will say that it is unkind, ungrateful, thus pitilessly to break off a friendship. Surely it were a happy unkindness which is acceptable to God; but of a truth, my child, you are committing no unkindness, rather conferring a great benefit on the person you love, for you break his chains as well as your own, and although at the moment he may not appreciate his gain, he will do so by and by, and will join you in thanksgiving, “Thou, Lord, hast broken my bonds in sunder. I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the Name of the Lord.”