"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."

St Philip Neri

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"Obedience is a short cut to perfection."

St Philip Neri

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"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."

St Augustine

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St. Francis de Sales  (1567-1622)
 Bishop, Founder of the Visitation and Doctor of the Church


By St Francis de Sales

Book II. The History Of The Generation And Heavenly Birth Of Divine Love.

Ch 12. That Divine Inspirations Leave Us In Full Liberty To Follow Or Repulse Them

I will not here speak, my dear Theotimus, of those miraculous graces which have almost in an instant transformed wolves into shepherds, rocks into waters, persecutors into preachers. I leave on one side those all-powerful vocations, and holily violent attractions by which God has brought some elect souls from the extremity of vice to the extremity of grace, working as it were in them a certain moral and spiritual transubstantiation: as it happened to the great Apostle, who of Saul, vessel of persecution, became suddenly Paul, vessel of election.(1)

We must give a particular rank to those privileged souls in regard of whom it pleased God to make not the mere outflowing, but the inundation - to exercise, if one may so say, not the simple liberality and effusion, but the prodigality and profusion of his love. The divine justice chastises us in this world with punishments which, as they are ordinary, so they remain almost always unknown and imperceptible; sometimes, however, he sends out deluges and abysses of punishments, to make known and dreaded the severity of his indignation.

In like manner his mercy ordinarily converts and graces souls so sweetly, gently and delicately, that its movement is scarcely perceived; and yet it happens sometimes that this sovereign goodness, overflowing its ordinary banks (as a flood swollen and overcharged with the abundance of waters and breaking out over the plain makes an outpouring of his graces so impetuous, though loving, that in a moment he steeps and covers the whole soul with benedictions, in order that the riches of his love may appear, and that as his justice proceeds commonly by the ordinary way and sometimes by the extraordinary, so his mercy may exercise liberality upon the common sort of men in the ordinary way, and on some also by extraordinary ways.

But what are then the ordinary cords whereby the divine providence is accustomed to draw our hearts to his love? Such truly as he himself marks, describing the means which he used to draw the people of Israel out of Egypt, and out of the desert, unto the land of promise. I will draw them, says he by Osee, with the cords of Adam, with the bands of love,(2) and of friendship.

Doubtless, Theotimus, we are not drawn to God by iron chains, as bulls and wild oxen, but by enticements, sweet attractions, and holy inspirations, which, in a word, are the cords of Adam, and of humanity, that is, proportionate and adapted to the human heart, to which liberty is natural. The band of the human will is delight and pleasure. We show nuts to a child, says S. Augustine, and he is drawn by his love, he is drawn by the cords, not of the body, but of the heart. Mark then how the Eternal Father draws us: while teaching, he delights us, not imposing upon us any necessity; he casts into our hearts delectations and spiritual pleasures as sacred baits, by which he sweetly draws us to take and taste the sweetness of his doctrine.

In this way then, dearest Theotimus, our free-will is in no way forced or necessitated by grace, but notwithstanding the all-powerful force of God's merciful hand, which touches, surrounds and ties the soul with such a number of inspirations, invitations and attractions, this human will remains perfectly free, enfranchised and exempt from every sort of constraint and necessity. Grace is so gracious, and so graciously seizes our hearts to draw them, that she noways offends the liberty of our will; she touches powerfully but yet so delicately the springs of our spirit that our free will suffers no violence from it. Grace has power, not to force but to entice the heart; she has a holy violence not to violate our liberty but to make it full of love; she acts strongly, yet so sweetly that our will is not overwhelmed by so powerful an action; she presses us but does not oppress our liberty; so that under the very action of her power, we can consent to or resist her movements as we list.

But what is as admirable as it is veritable is, that when our will follows the attractions and consents to the divine movement, she follows as freely as she resists freely when she does resist, although the consent to grace depends much more on grace than on the will, while the resistance to grace depends upon the will only. So sweet is God's hand in the handling of our hearts! So dexterous is it in communicating unto us its strength without depriving us of liberty, and in imparting unto us the motion of its power without hindering that of our will! He adjusts his power to his sweetness in such sort, that as in what regards good his might sweetly gives us the power, so his sweetness mightily maintains the freedom of the will.

If thou didst know the gift of God, said our Saviour to the Samaritan woman, and who he is that saith to thee, give me to drink; thou perhaps wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.(3) Note, I pray you, Theotimus, Our Saviour's manner of speaking of his attractions. If thou didst know, he means, the gift of God, thou wouldst without doubt be moved and attracted to ask the water of eternal life, and perhaps thou wouldst ask it. As though he said: Thou wouldst have power and wouldst be provoked to ask, yet in no wise be forced or constrained; but only perhaps thou wouldst have asked, for thy liberty would remain to ask it or not to ask it. Such are our Saviour's words according to the ordinary edition, and according to S. Augustine upon S. John.

To conclude, if any one should say that our free-will does not co-operate in consenting to the grace with which God prevents it, or that it could not reject and deny consent thereto, he would contradict the whole Scripture, all the ancient Fathers, and experience, and would be excommunicated by the sacred Council of Trent. But when it is said that we have power to reject the divine inspirations and motions, it is of course not meant that we can hinder God from inspiring us or touching our hearts, for as I have already said, that is done in us and yet without us.

These are favours which God bestows upon us before we have thought of them, he awakens us when we sleep, and consequently we find ourselves awake before we have thought of it; but it is in our power to rise, or not to rise, and though he has awakened us without us, he will not raise us without us. Now not to rise, and to go to sleep again, is to resist the call, seeing we are called only to the end we should rise. We cannot hinder the inspiration from taking us, or consequently from setting us in motion, but if as it drives us forwards we repulse it by not yielding ourselves to its motion, we then make resistance.

So the wind, having seized upon and raised our apodes, will not bear them very far unless they display their wings and co-operate, raising themselves aloft and flying in the air, into which they have been lifted. If, on the contrary, allured may be by some verdure they see upon the ground, or benumbed by their stay there, in lieu of seconding the wind they keep their wings folded and cast themselves again upon the earth, they have received indeed the motion of the wind, but in vain, since they did not help themselves thereby.

Theotimus, inspirations prevent us, and even before they are thought of make themselves felt, but after we have felt them it is ours either to consent to them so as to second and follow their attractions, or else to dissent and repulse them.

They make themselves felt by us without us, but they do not make us consent without us. 

1. Acts ix. 15.
2. Osee xi. 4.
3. John iv. 10.