True Liberty

St. Francis de Sales lists three marks of true liberty in a soul:

1. “The heart which possesses this liberty is not attached to consolations, but receives afflictions with all the sweetness that the flesh admits of. I do not say that it does not love and desire consolations, but that the heart is not bound to them.”

2. “Such a heart is in no way attached to spiritual exercises, so that if sickness or any other accident interferes with them it feels no regret. I also do not say that it does not love them, but that it is not attached to them.”

3. “Such a heart rarely loses its joy, for no privation saddens one whose heart is not bound to anything. I do not say that it never loses its joy, but that it is only for a short time.”

He describes a person with true liberty as one who “will leave his prayer, and with an amiable countenance and gracious manner greet the importunate person who disturbs him. For it is the same to him whether he serve God in meditation or by bearing with his neighbour; they are both the will of God.”

He cautions his spiritual children to avoid those evils that take away liberty of spirit and lead us away from God:

“Liberty of spirit has two vices: a spirit of inconstancy and a spirit of constraint. For example: I resolve to make a meditation every morning. If I have a spirit of inconstancy I will defer it till evening at the slightest excuse—for the barking of a dog which has disturbed my sleep, for a letter to be written, though it is not at all urgent. On the contrary, if I have a spirit of constraint I will not omit my meditation, even though a sick person is very much in need of my services.”

“Curiosity, ambition, restlessness, and forgetfulness of the end for which we are in this world are the cause of our having more impediments than works, more bustle than business, more undertakings than results. And these incumbrances, these superfluous occupations with which we burden ourselves, are what divert us from God, and not the legitimate exercise of our employments.”

The Saint marvels at true liberty of spirit: “How happy are these beloved hearts of my daughters, in having left for a few years the false liberty of the world to enjoy eternally the enviable slavery which takes away no liberty, save that which would prevent us from being truly free.”

Quotations from Maxims and Counsels of St. Francis de Sales, translated by Ella McMahon (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1884).

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