Thursday, December 24, 2009

A review of Philothea, or An Introduction to the Devout Life

Having read this book, I can now understand why St. Francis de Sales is a doctor of the Church. Simply put, Philothea, or An Introduction to the Devout Life is a roadmap to Heaven. But unlike many of the theological tracts or mystical tomes which one often finds professing to do the same thing, this book is, very simply, a practical manual for living a devout life in a world that is often antagonistic to Christianity. It is also the closest many will get to having a canonized saint as one's own spiritual director.

The advice offered is excellent, grounded in sacred Scripture and the teachings of the saints, and enlivened with colorful metaphors. (St. Francis obviously had an affinity for bees.) Though St. Francis lived 400 years ago, his guidance easily translates to life in the 21st century. He had a keen insight into the workings of the human mind, the devious yet innocent-seeming temptations presented by the devil, and the challenges faced by the soul seeking to live a pious life amid the petty cares of everyday life. And his insights transcend time and culture.

No one can read this book without finding a section that directly applies to them, whatever their state of life. St. Francis's spiritual exercises, admittedly, are difficult. But who can doubt that following them to the full would have wonderfully efficacious effects on the soul? I have begun instituting a subset of them in my own life and have already reaped benefits. I hope to include more of them as time goes on and my spiritual stamina improves.

St. Francis's advice on correct behavior, attitude, and personal morality is incredibly wise. Those who read and accept these teachings will assuredly live happier, more fulfilling lives, which are more pleasing to God. The several chapters on friendship--specifically true friendship versus worldly friendship--were of particular utility to me. I think many young Catholics would do well to read and ponder St. Francis's words on the subject so as to avoid temptation and the near occasion of sin in their relationships.

In short, this book is a masterpiece of spiritual advice and I can't recommend it highly enough. Best of all, one need not read it cover-to-cover. It may be dipped into for incidental advice based on the reader's own flaws, strengths, state of life, and spiritual needs. If you are looking for a straight-forward, uncomplicated path to Christian devotion, this book is it.

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