When God created the world, he commanded each tree to bear its own specific fruit (cf. Gn 1:12); and likewise he bids Christians, the living trees of his Church, to bring forth fruits of loyal discipleship, each one according to his circumstances and vocation. A different exercise of discipleship is required of all, and this discipleship must be adapted to the strength, the occupation, and the duties of each individual. I ask you, would it be fitting that a bishop should seek to lead the solitary life of a monk? What if the father of a family were as unconcerned in making material provision for the family’s future as a vowed religious. Or if workers spent all day in church. Would not such practices be exaggerated and impossible to carry out? Yet such a mistake is often made, and the world, which cannot or will not distinguish between real discipleship and the indiscretion of those who consider themselves devout, grumbles and finds fault with a disciple’s life, which is in no way connected to these errors.
True discipleship hinders no one; on the contrary, it perfects everything; and that which runs counter to the rightful vocation of any person is, you may be sure, a mistaken devotion. Aristotle says that the bee sucks honey from flowers without damaging them, leaving them as whole and fresh as it found them. True discipleship does better still, for it not only interferes with no vocation or duty, but it adorns and beautifies them all. Throw precious stones into honey, and each will grow more brilliant according to its color; in the same way, everyone fulfills their own special calling better when done in a spirit of discipleship—family duties are lighter, married love is deeper, service to our country more faithful, in short every kind of occupation becomes more acceptable and better performed where this loyal discipleship is the guide.
It is an error to seek to banish spirituality from the soldier’s guardroom, the merchant’s shop, the offices of government, or the family home. Of course, a purely contemplative devotion, such as is proper to the religious and monastic life, cannot be followed in these secular voca-tions, but there are various types of spirituality well suited to lead those whose calling is secular along the paths of perfection. The Old Testament gives us examples in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Job, Tobias, Sarah, Rebecca, and Judith. And in the New Testament, we read of Saint Joseph, Lydia, and Saint Crispin, who led perfectly devout lives while carrying out their trades. We have Saint Anne, Martha, Saint Monica, Aquila, and Priscilla, as examples of holiness in the heart of the family, Cornelius, Saint Sebastian, and Saint Maurice among soldiers, and Constantine, Saint Helena, Saint Louis, and Saint Edward as examples among leaders. We even find instances of some who fell away in solitude, usually so helpful to perfection, and some who had reached the heights of spiritual life in the world, which seems so antagonistic to it. Be sure that wherever we may be, we can and must aim at the perfect life.
St. Francis de Sales—Excerpt from Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 1: Chapter 3
Francis de Sales. (2012). Courage in Chaos: Wisdom from Francis de Sales. (K. Hermes, Ed.) (pp. 13–15). Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media.