Religious Objects and Devotions

Father Guibert explains that a suitable religious object is a sign that strikes one’s sense-perception and awakens one’s memory. For example: “Here is a heart printed on a piece of cloth; in itself, it is but a remnant which may be crumpled and cast aside; but every time I look at it, it reminds me of my Master’s Heart, and of the love He showed in dying for me.”

But, he cautions: “We must not confine ourselves to signs; we must go on to make use of the practices that are the really fruitful part of devotions. It is by means of these practices, indeed, that we enter into communion with the objects of our piety. . . . Devotions are only really useful on condition that they escape the abuses which make them barren. They are abused, either if they are given an undue preponderance, or else if they overburden the soul or lead to superstition.” For example: “Who has not noticed some of the faithful in church go straight to the feet of some favourite statue without thinking that the Master, who is present in the Tabernacle, has the first claim upon their adoration?”

“When the Church approves a devotion, she intends to help souls, and not to burden them. Now, devotions would become an inconvenience and an obstacle to living, if they were multiplied to the point of embarrassment, and if they so tyrannized over the soul as to reduce it to slavery. If they were too numerous, they would consume in prayers and meetings hours which are indispensable for urgent duties; and by prolonged exercises, and by the hasty repetition of interminable formularies, they would wear out and dry up the soul, and they would give the painful sense of being overdriven which produces distaste, and deprives Christian piety of the sweetness which is both its attraction and its reward. Let no one, then, take upon himself a burden beyond his strength; and, since amongst devotions a choice has to be made, let each one give his preference to those that go best with his own spiritual disposition. They should no more tyrannize over us than embarrass us.”

“Above all, take care not to become the slaves of a sign. The sign is only a reminder for religious thought, and a stimulus to prayer and goodness. If it becomes predominant, it will absorb all your devotion, and you will fall into pagan superstitions.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On the Exercises of Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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