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Archived Online Discussion
Topic: Introduction to the Devout Life
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Carl Anderson
Supreme Knight
Father Fiorelli
Carl Anderson:
Thank you for joining Fr. Fiorelli and me this evening as we discuss Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales.

Francis R. Lalor, P.G.K.
Iowa City, Iowa 52245, USA
Dear Fr. Fiorelli,

A few years ago, I read a copy of INTRODUCTION TO THE DEVOUT LIFE. My question is: Did St. Francis de Sales found a religious order? If so, what is its name? Is this religious order still in existence today in the U.S.? Thank you!
Father Fiorelli:
He and St. Jane de Chantal founded in 1610 the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. Then centuries later, one of the Visitation Sisters was instrumental in the founding of Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in 1875 -- there are 2 congregations, priests and brothers, and Oblate Sisters of St. Francis.

John W.
How can we use this book during lent as part of our lenten meditation?
Father Fiorelli:
That would be helpful. To do that take a chapter a day , but read it from beginning to end, rather than skipping around. However, in Part 3, where he deals with what we call the little virtues, you may be able to concentrate just on this section.

This book, in section XXXVIII especially, praises marriage highly. It seems a little ahead of its time in that way. What would have influenced St. Francis de Sales on this?
Carl Anderson:
I will leave the influences on St. Francis de Sales' writing to Fr. Fiorelli, but it is clear that one of the things that makes this book so valuable, even today, is the fact that in dealing with issues such as marriage, it speaks so clearly to the laity about their vocation and their part in the universal call to holiness.

Father Fiorelli:
He gave spiritual direction to a number of married people and appreciated very much their state in life. St. Jane Chantal, when he met her was a recent widow, and the mother of 4 young children. So he had a deep appreciation for the married state, and that was a central vocation, the duties and obligations of which would lead a spouse to holiness.

Father Fiorelli:
Obviously the Bible, that goes without saying, especially the Gospels and the Letters of St. Paul. In the Salesian tradition, I usually recommend the Letters of St. Francis de Sales. When he writes his letters he is actually giving spiritual direction in a very personal way. Personally I would recommend our present Pope Benedict, and his Deus Caritas Est.

James Deerlinger
Wyoming Michigan
I liked the concepts presented by St Francis but the language and depth of the principles are somewhat difficult to follow. It would be so good to have someone update the texts into a new edition - Do you know if someone is already doing that?
Father Fiorelli:
It's been done by a number of people who have come forth with an abridgement or contemporary rendering of the Introduction to the Devout Life.

Guilford, CT
For someone new to spiritual reading, is there are particular chapter or section of this book you would direct him to first?
Father Fiorelli:
I would start with the beginning. It is meant to progress with someone who has that exact question. The book itself brings you along.

Santa Fe, NM
This book seems to cover nearly every aspect of life. Are there modern books that supplement this material?
Carl Anderson:
There are wonderful spiritual books from every era of the Church. We are fortunate indeed in the fact that popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been men of great learning, and prolific writers on spiritual matters. In this book club, we have read works by these popes and some other excellent modern books on spirituality, including Fr. Robert Spitzer's Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life.

Father Fiorelli:
Yes. Except for the fact that the Introduction is a spiritual classic -- and any classic must be approached as just that, as a timeless tract on this topic. There's no substitute for a classic such as this, but there are other outstanding spiritual books that could supplement this. For example, Wendy Wright has a doctorate and has written many books on Salesian spirituality. She is a professor at Creighton U.

Ann Arbor, MI
Would you still recommend St. Francis de Sales' advice to seek out a spiritual director and, especially, to make a general confession? Bearing in mind the changes between Francis de Sales' time and today -- priests managing huge if not multiple parishes, frequent moves for both priests and parishoners, etc. -- what would it look like for a person to follow his advice on spiritual direction today?
Father Fiorelli:
It's still valid and timely advice. I know there is a priest shortage, but there are people other than priests, such as nuns or good Christian laypeople. Spiritual direction should not be confused with sacramental confession. On the other hand, religious priests would tend to have more time, or more familiar with spiritual direction. So I would definitely seek it out. What could subsititute for a spiritual director are like-minded Christian friends who would meet and discuss issues and pursue holiness together.

Former District Deputy Robert B. Camilleri
Las Vegas, Nevada
Given the pressures and demands of lay life, how can a lay person find time to lead the devout life that our esteemed Saint writes so movingly about?
Carl Anderson:
Holiness is not something "out there" to be acheived. It must be the fundamental guide to all of our actions in life. Prayer and spiritual reading are important - and anyone can take ten minutes a day to do both - but once we are informed about holiness, how we live our daily life is the key element. Quite simply, do we love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourself?

Father Fiorelli:
If that person keeps in mind that for St. Francis De Sales there are two pillars of the devoit life. 1) The desire to become devout or holy. 2) the duties, expectations of a person's daily life. In other words, the duties and obligations of one's daily life are the principle arena of God's will for us, because they constitute our vocation. To fulfill them and do them well is the essence of holiness.

Emmanuel Konyeaso.
Owerri Imo State
The modern man is too busy that in an attempt to cope with the fast-moving pace of technologies and machine-driven lifestyles,he rarely allots time for God.In this sense,St.Francis de Sales' book,The Introduction to the Devout Life,could be said to be a vade mecum for contemporary Christian spirituality.However,the question remains,could it succeed in instilling in the modern man the sense of prayer and the discipline of spending quantitative and qualitative time with God?
Emmanuel K.
Carl Anderson:
I don't think many people can come away from reading this book without a renewed sense of the importance of their relationship with God. This book is truly a "spiritual classic," and in that way, I think that it can be - and has long been - a vade mecum.

Father Fiorelli:
If the desire is there for holiness, then as far as Francis is concerned the means of holiness are readily available to all. This is because God desires our holiness in our daily life. The elements: prayer, sacraments, the practice of Christian virtue, and Gospel values.

New Haven, CT
What was it about dancing and other "frivolous" activities in St. Francis de Sales' day that made him so wary of them? And how can we apply his seemingly-dated warnings about them to our lives today?
Father Fiorelli:
A good question. In his day, a lot of what he describes was part of the courtly love situation, which was real dangerous flirtations and connections. That's why they were frowned about as dangerous for the saints of those days. It was different from the social dancing and association we know today.