In other words, to be a Christian means this:
After reading my three part exploration of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s trenchant book, Who Is a Christian?, some have wanted a more precise explanation of how to be a truly devout Christian. Here is the best advice I can offer.
The virtue of devotion is nothing other than a general inclination and readiness to do what is pleasing to God. It is that opening of the heart of which David spoke: “I will run in the way of your commandments when you have opened up my heart” (Ps 119:32). Those who are simply upright men and women walk in the way of the Lord, but the devout run along it, and when they are very devout they fly. Here are a few rules that you must follow in order to be truly devout.
You must before all things observe the general commandments of God and of the Church, which are established for all faithful Christians, and without which it is not possible to have any devotion. Beyond the general commandments, you must carefully keep the particular commandments that relate to your vocation. Whoever fails to do so, even if he were to raise the dead, will fall into a state of sin and, if he die, be damned.
For instance, bishops are commanded to visit their flock, to teach, reprove, and console them. If I [as a bishop] were to remain at prayer throughout the week, fast my whole life, and yet neglect these prescribed duties, I would die. If a person in the married state were to work a miracle but not fulfill the duties of marriage or care for his children, he would be “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8).
These, then, are two kinds of commandments that must be carefully kept as the foundation of all devotion. Yet the virtue of devotion does not consist in merely observing them, but in observing them promptly and willingly. The following considerations will help you to acquire this readiness.
The first is that God so wishes it, and we exist to do his will. Alas, every day we pray that “his will be done,” and yet when it comes to our doing it, how difficult it is! We offer ourselves to God so often, we say to him, “Lord, I am yours” (cf. Ps 119:94), and then when he wants to make use of us, we are so cowardly! How can we call ourselves his if we do not want to bend our will to his?
The second consideration is to think about the nature of God’s sweet, gracious, and mild commandments, not only the general ones, but still more those pertaining to our vocations. What could cause them to annoy us? Nothing, except our own will, which wants to reign no matter the cost. We desire things when they are not commanded and reject the same things when they are.
From out of a hundred thousand delicious fruits, Eve chose the single one that was forbidden to her, and no doubt she would not have done so had it been permissible. In a word, we wish to serve God, but according to our will, not his. To the extent to which we have less self well, we shall more easily observe the will of God.
Now, this is only another way of making the same point von Balthasar made. But except for the first and last paragraphs, it was written not in 2014 by me but four hundred years ago by St. Francis de Sales. I found it in a very useful devotional book published by Sophia Institute Press, Roses among Thorns. It is the 21st of 60 reflections drawn from the saint’s letters, and it fits like a glove.
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