François Fénelon was very much aware that some of his fellow Christians were trying to reach sainthood on their own. They saw how much veneration individuals received by performing highly religious acts of charity and hospitality. Some even chose a form of attire that made them stand out in a crowd. But he knew that when it came to serving God, let Him make whatever you do extraordinary. Be like Gideon of old, [2] who did not think himself worthy of such an honor. So, Bishop Fénelon had a word of advice for them. He said:

Generally speaking, I should fear that reading about extraordinary spiritual accomplishments tends to harm weak imaginations. Self-love easily flatters itself that it has attained the altitudes that it has admired in books. It seems to me that the only course in such a case is to take no notice of such temptations. Therefore, I advise you never to dwell voluntarily on astonishing achievements. It is a better way to discover how much self-conceit has to do with these supposed abilities. Nothing tends to wound the vanity of self-conceit and bring illusions to light as a simple desire to set aside these fantasies of selfish pride and ask the person who dreams of fulfilling those imaginings to act as though nothing of the sort existed. Without such a test, I do not believe a person can be proven genuine without it; I do not think the Church has given sufficient warning against these types of spiritual delusion.

The blessed John of the Cross[3] advises souls to look beyond such spotlights and remain in the dawning of simple faith. If the abilities are natural, such detachment will not hinder them from leaving their marks upon the soul; if not, such uncompromising faith will be a sure guarantee against delusion. Moreover, such a line will not keep a soul back from God’s proper leading, for there is no opposition. It can only distress self-conceit, which finds a hidden self-satisfaction in a person’s ambitions, and that self-conceit is the very thing that needs pruning.

Even if such an individual’s ideas are unquestionably honest and sound, it is most important to learn how to harness them and live by simple faith. However excellent the opportunities may be, letting go of them is still better. Did not the Apostle Paul say, “Let me show you a way of life that is best of all.”[4] – the way of faith and love; not clinging either to sight, feeling, or taste – only to obedience to the beloved One. Such a way is simple, genuine, straightforward, free from the snares of pride.

Written over 450 years ago

Vocabulary redacted by Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others.

[2] Judges 6:15

[3] Saint John of the Cross, also known as San Juan de la Cruz, the patron of mystics, contemplatives, and Spanish poets. He initially attempted to institute reforms in the Carmelite Order but was met with imprisonment. He attempted again after escaping from confinement and this time the reforms revitalized the Order. Saint John of the Cross is known as a great spiritual writer and as a Doctor of the Church. Saint John of the Cross’s feast day is December 14th.

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:31

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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