At this point, it would be necessary to make a distinction. We certainly do not deny the title of disciples to the great majority of Catholics who sincerely practice their faith and try to follow the commandments of God and of the Church. It is a sign of their charity, for those who love God keep His commandments as we can read in the gospel of Saint John. Now, there are different degrees of charity and not all the disciples are on the same level. We are all supposed to love God above all things, as we dare to say when we say the act of charity or during the Station of the Cross. But we have to recognize that it is not true, otherwise we would never commit sins. Does it mean that we lie when we say the act of charity? Maybe! Or maybe not! It depends in fact on your intention and your desire. It is the same thing when we say the act contrition. We claim that we will not sin again each time we go to confession, and yet, we all have to return again to the Sacrament, because we do sin again. Are we sincere when we say the act of contrition? Maybe! Or maybe not!
In this matter each one has to examine his conscience. “Do I really love God above all things? Do I really have the firm purpose to amend my life and to sin no more? If it were the case, I would be a saint by now. But I am not! So I do not love God above all things. I wish I loved Him above everything, but I do not.”
At least, you wish. You have here a foundation expressed by your desire of loving God. It is certainly not enough and you still have to build upon this foundation, but you have already something to begin with. Now listen to the Lord: Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.
It is precisely love that allows us to do the will of God. When I say that I love God, I say Lord, Lord! When I truly love God, I do His will. I might be sincere when I say that I love God, but I still have to let my words followed by acts. In other word, I have to make my desires effective. Unfortunately, there are many good desires that remain vain.
Saint Francis de Sales, for being a great leader of souls, knows this fact very well. For that reason, he encourages Philothea – my soul – to find the true devotion. You aspire to devotion, dearest Philothea, because being a Christian, you know that it is a virtue extremely pleasing to the divine Majesty. At the beginning, there is an aspiration due to the fact that we are Christian. This is the word of God that we have heard, the seed that Christ has sowed in our souls. But we have seen, in the last past Sundays, that it is not enough. Now we have to find the true devotion, and there is only one.
What this true devotion is? Saint Francis says that it consists in a certain excelling degree of charity. We are speaking now about excellence. We are called to excellence, to perfection. It not only makes us ready, active and diligent in observing all the commandment of God, Saint Francis adds. That would be already a good thing. That would be marvelous if all men would do that. But it is not God’s will; it is not His whole will. He asks more. He wants us to be perfect. Saint Francis continues: Devotion prompts us to do readily and heartily as many good works as we can, even though they be not in any sort commanded, but only counseled or inspired.
Observing the all the commandments is good. It is necessary for eternal life. It the minimum required in order to be counted among the Disciples of Christ. Saint Paul is very clear about that in the epistle. There are things that are simply out of place for Christians. The wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience. The commandments of God are for all men and there is no dispensation possible in this matter. You follow them or you die!
But God asks you more than observing the commandment. He wants you to love Him as He loves you. And because He loves you, He expects you to do certain things that are not ordered but desired by Him. These things are not absolutely necessary for salvation, but when you really love God, you are even not concerned by your salvation but by things that please God. You would go to hell for His love if it were His desire.
Do you wish in good earnest to set out on the way of devotion? Seek out some good man to guide you and conduct you; it is the admonition of admonitions. It is a necessity to have a guide in order to enter on the path of devotion, Saint Francis de Sales says. It is a part of self-denial we were talking about last Sunday. If you want to be perfect, you have to let Christ lead you to the top of the mountain. You do need a guide to lead you in the mountain. Certainly, this guide is Christ, but Christ has chosen men to by His ministers on earth.
You cannot begin the ascension just by yourself. Even though you are a good mountaineer, it is still dangerous. It is almost impossible to come through an accident by yourself if you fall in a crevasse. And if you think that you are good enough a mountaineer so that you do not need a guide, then you are in great danger of falling for being presumptuous.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: a great mountaineer who climbed the mountain of holiness at 24 years!
Seek out some good man to guide you and conduct you: it is the admonition of admonitions. Dear brethren, do you really want to follow Christ on the path of perfection? That is your choice. But if you make this choice which is the right choice, then you have to use the necessary means. Do not even think that you can become a Saint by yourself. Only God makes Saints, and God usually uses human instruments. Saint Francis de Sales is clear, and he is just faithful to the spiritual tradition of the Church: without a guide, without a good and wise spiritual director, you will not reach the top of the mountain. And spiritual direction is precisely a part of self-denial we are talking about since the beginning of Lent.
May our Blessed Mother help us find a good guide who will help us become a Saint and lead us safe to the height of holiness.