Patience & The Purification of the Soul
When flowers appear in our land,” says the Divine Spouse, “the time of cleansing and pruning is come.” What are the flowers of our hearts, Philothea, but good desires. Now, as soon as they appear, the hand must be put to the knife, to prune off from our consciences all dead and superfluous works. A foreign maid, when about to marry an Israelite, was to put off the robe of her captivity, to cut short her nails, and shave her hair; thus the soul that aspires to the honour of being spouse to the Son of God, ought to put off the old man, and clothe herself with the new; to cast off sin, and then cut and shave away all manner of impediments which may divert her from the love of God. The beginning of our health is to be purged from offensive humours. St. Paul, in a moment, was cleansed in a perfect manner; so were St. Catherine of Genoa, St. M. Magdalen, St. Pelagia, and some other saints; but this sort of purgation is wholly miraculous and extraordinary in grace, as is the resurrection of the dead in nature, and therefore we must not pretend to it. The ordinary purifying and healing, be it of the body or the soul, is only effected little and little, going on by degrees, with pain and labour.
The angels upon Jacob’s ladder have wings, yet they fly not, but ascend and descend from step to step. The soul which rises from sin to devotion is compared to the dawning of morning, which drives not away the darkness instantaneously, but by degrees. “The cure,” says a proverb, “which is made leisurely is ever the most assured.” The diseases of the soul, as well as those of the body, come posting on horseback, but depart leisurely on foot. Courage and patience, then, Philothea, are necessary in this enterprise. Alas! how much are those souls to be pitied who, seeing themselves subject to so many imperfections, having exercised themselves a little in devotion, begin to be troubled, disquieted, and discouraged, suffering their hearts almost to yield to the temptation of forsaking all, and returning back! But, on the other side, is it not also exceedingly dangerous for those others, who, by a contrary temptation, make themselves believe that they are cleansed from their imperfections the first day of their purgation, and esteeming themselves perfect, though scarce as yet roughly moulded, endeavour to fly without wings.
O Philothea, in what danger are they of relapsing, having been taken too soon out of the physician’s hands? “Rise not before it is light,” says the prophet: “rise after you have rested;” and he himself practising this lesson, and having been already washed and purified, yet desires to be cleansed again.
The exercise of cleansing the soul neither can nor ought to end but with our lives. Let us not, then, afflict ourselves with our imperfections, for our perfection consists in resisting them; and we cannot resist them without seeing them, nor vanquish them without encountering them. Our victory lies not in feeling them, but in not consenting to them. But to be disturbed by them is not to consent to them: nay, it is necessary, for the exercise of our humility, that we should be sometimes wounded in this spiritual combat; but we are never to be considered conquered, unless we either lose our life or our courage. Now, imperfections or venial sins cannot deprive us of spiritual life, for that is only lost by mortal sin. It then remains only that they deprive us not of our courage. “Deliver me, O Lord,” said David, “from cowardice and faint-heartedness.” It is a happy condition for us in this war if by always fighting we can be always conquerors.
Francis de Sales, S. (1885). An Introduction to the Devout Life (pp. 10–12). Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son.