In addition to my duties as lecturer for the Knights of Columbus council at my church, I am also the faithful pilot for the Knights' fourth degree assembly. As lecturer, I write an original talk each month which I subsequently publish on this blog. As the faithful pilot, I am charged with choosing a reading to share with my fellow Sir Knights. While I don't normally reproduce those here, I think this one is worth sharing under the theme of "the more things change, the more the stay the same." And, it will give you something worthwhile to read as I finish up a short story I plan to publish here in the next few days.
This is from Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva in the early 17th Century. I have made modern some of the language and divided it into shorter paragraphs to make it easier to read.
We must Disregard the Criticisms of the Children of this World (Part 4, Ch. 1).
As soon as your worldly people perceive that you aim at leading a devout life, they will let loose endless shafts of mockery and misrepresentation upon you.The most malicious will attribute your change to hypocrisy, trickery, or bigotry. They will say that the world you have turned to God only because you have failed in the world. Your friends will raise a host of objections which they consider very prudent and charitable. They will tell you that you are growing depressed; that you will lose your worldly reputation, make yourself unacceptable to the world, grow old before your time, ruin your material prosperity. They will tell you that in the world you must live as the world does; that you can be saved without all this fuss; and much more of the like nature.
My daughter, all this is babbling and foolish talk. These people have no real regard either for your bodily health or your material prosperity. The Savior has said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, because I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”
We have all seen men, and women too, pass the whole night, even several in succession, playing at chess or cards. Is there any more dismal, unwholesome thing than that? But the world has not a word to say against it, and their friends are nowise troubled. But give up an hour to meditation, or get up rather earlier than usual to prepare for Holy Communion, and they will send for the doctor to cure you of hypochondria or jaundice!
People spend every night for a month dancing, and no one will complain of being the worse; but if they keep the one watch of Christmas Eve, we shall hear of endless colds and maladies the next day! Is it not as plain as possible that the world is an unjust judge; indulgent and kindly to its own children, harsh and uncharitable to the children of God? We cannot stand well with the world save by renouncing God's approval. It is not possible to satisfy the world’s unreasonable demands:
“John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say he has a devil. The Son of Man is come eating and drinking, and you say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a drunk, the friend of publicans and sinners.” Even so, my child, if we give in to the world, and laugh, dance, and play as it does, it will act as though it is scandalized at our behavior; if we refuse to do so, it will accuse us of being hypocritical or morbid. If we dress well, it will attribute it to some evil plan that we have; if we go in plain attire, it will accuse us of being cheap and stingy.
Our cheerfulness will be called dissipation and our mortification dullness. Ever casting its evil eye upon us, nothing we can do will please it. It exaggerates our failings and publishes them abroad as sins. It represents our venial sins as mortal, and our sins of weakness int sins of malice. Saint Paul says that charity is kind, but the world is unkind. Charity thinks no evil, but the world thinks evil of every one, and if it cannot find fault with our actions, it is sure at least to impute bad motives to them. Whether the sheep be black or white, horned or not, the wolf will devour them if he can.
Do what we will, the world must wage war upon us. If we spend any length of time in confession, it will speculate on what we have so much to say about. If we are brief, it will suggest that we are keeping back something. It spies out our every act, and at the most trifling angry word, sets us down as unable to get along with anyone. Attention to business is avarice, meekness mere silliness. As for the anger of the Children of the World, it is called being blunt, their avarice, economy, their mean deeds, honorable. There are always spiders at hand to spoil the honeybee’s comb.
Let us leave the blind world to make as much noise as it may—like a cat molesting the songbirds of day. Let us be firm in our ways, unchangeable in our resolutions, and perseverance will be the test of our self-surrender to God and deliberate choice of the devout life.
The planets and a wandering comet shine with much the same brightness. But the comet’s is a passing blaze, which does not linger long, while the planets cease not to display their brightness. Even so hypocrisy and real goodness have much outward resemblance. One, though, is easily known from the other, inasmuch as hypocrisy is short-lived, and disperses like a mist, while real goodness is firm and abiding. There is no surer groundwork for the beginnings of a devout life than the endurance of misrepresentation and calumny, since thereby we escape the danger of vainglory and pride, which are like the midwives of Egypt, who were bidden by Pharaoh to kill the male children born to Israel directly after their birth.
We are crucified to the world, and the world must be as crucified to us. It esteems us as fools, let us esteem it as mad.