Examples of Liberty of Spirit

The editor of Light and Peace draws from the experience of St. Francis de Sales, who gives us examples of liberty of spirit. St. Francis writes: “It remains for me to give you some examples of true liberty of spirit which will make you understand it better than I can explain it. But, before doing so, it is well that I should say there are two rules which it is necessary to observe in order not to make any mistake on the subject.”

The first rule is this: “A person must never abandon his pious practices and the common rules of virtue unless it is plainly evident that God wills that he do so. Now this will is manifested in two ways,—through necessity and through charity.” He gives this example: “I desire to preach this Lent in some little corner of my diocese; however, if I get sick or break my leg I need not give way to regret or inquietude because I cannot do as I intended, for it is evident that it is the will of God that I serve Him by suffering and not by preaching.”

The second rule is this: “When it is necessary to make use of this liberty of spirit from motives of charity, care should be taken that it is done without scandal or injustice.” For example: “I may know that I should be more useful in some distant place not within my own diocese: I should have no freedom of choice in this matter for my obligations are here and I should give scandal and do an injustice by abandoning my charge.”

St. Francis then relates a story which illustrates how both rules come into play: “Saint Spiridion, a bishop of olden times, once gave shelter to a pilgrim who was almost dying of hunger. It was the season of Lent and in a place where nothing was to be had but salt meat. This Spiridion ordered to be cooked and then gave it to the pilgrim. Seeing that the latter, notwithstanding his great need, hesitated to eat it, the Saint, although he did not require it, ate some first in order to remove the poor man’s scruples. That was a true spirit of liberty born of charity.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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