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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St. Francis de Sales on Liberty of Spirit

The editor of Light and Peace amplifies Padre Quadrupani’s thoughts on liberty of spirit by appending these words of St. Francis de Sales:

“A heart possessed of this spirit of liberty is not attached to consolations, but receives afflictions with all the sweetness that is possible to human nature. I do not say that it does not love and desire consolations, but that its affections are not wedded to them. . . . It seldom loses its joy, for no privation saddens a heart that is not set upon any one thing.”

“The occasions for exercising this holy freedom are found in all those things that happen contrary to our natural inclinations; for one whose affections are not engaged in his own will does not lose patience when his desires are thwarted.”

“The effects of this virtue are sweetness of temper, gentleness, and forbearance towards everything that is not sin or occasion of sin.”

St. Francis explains that there are two vices opposed to liberty of spirit: the one is instability or dissipation, and the other is constraint or servility.

Instability or dissipation is “a certain excess of freedom which causes us to change our devout exercises or state of life without reason and without knowing if it be God’s will. On the slightest pretext practices, plans and rules are altered and for every trivial obstacle our laudable customs are abandoned. In this way the heart is dissipated and spent and becomes like an orchard open on all sides, the fruit whereof is not for the owner but for the passers-by.”

Constraint or servility is “a certain lack of liberty owing to which the mind is overwhelmed with vexation or anger when we cannot carry out our designs, even though we might be doing something better.”

St. Francis illustrates these two vices with this example: “I resolve to make a meditation every morning. Now if I have the spirit of instability or dissipation I am apt to defer it until evening for the most insignificant reason,—because I was kept awake by the barking of a dog, or because I have a letter to write, although it be not at all pressing. If on the contrary I have the spirit of constraint or servility I will not give up my meditation even though a sick person has great need of my aid just then, or if I have an important and urgent dispatch to send which should not be deferred.”

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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Liberty of Spirit

St. Paul addresses the issue of liberty of spirit when he assures the Romans: “You have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba, Father.” (Rom 8:15)

Padre Quadrupani gives this definition: “Christian liberty of spirit, so earnestly recommended by the saints, consists in not becoming the slave of anything, even though good, unless it be of God’s will.”

St. Francis de Sales teaches: “He who possesses the spirit of liberty will on no account allow his affections to be mastered even by his spiritual exercises, and in this way he avoids feeling any regret if they are interfered with by sickness or accident. I do not say that he does not love his devotions but that he is not attached to them.”

Quadrupani offers this distinction: “A soul that is attached to meditation, if interrupted, will show chagrin and impatience: a soul that has true liberty will take the interruption in good part and show a gracious countenance to the person who was the cause of it. For it is all one to it whether it serve God by meditating or by bearing with its neighbor. Both duties are God’s will.”

The Padre lists these benefits of possessing liberty of spirit: “It is this Christian spirit of freedom that excludes fear and uneasiness in regard to all those things which God has not permitted us to know. It gives us a sweet and tender confidence as to the pardon of our past sins, the present condition of our souls and our eternal destiny. It reminds us continually that although we have deserved hell, our divine Lord has merited heaven for us, and that it would be doing a great injury to His goodness not to hope for pardon for the past, assistance of divine grace for the present, and salvation after death. Finally, it teaches us to drown our remorse for sin in the ocean of the divine mercy.”

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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Recreate Sadness Away

Both St. Francis de Sales and Padre Quadrupani warn of the dangers that befall the soul obsessed with sad and gloomy thoughts.

Quadrupani warns: “As the sound of a trumpet gives the signal for a combat, so sad thoughts apprise the devil that a favorable moment has come for him to attack us.”

St. Francis de Sales says that “sadness is the worst thing in the world, sin alone excepted.” He advises: “Always be as happy as you can in well-doing, for it gives a double value to good works to be well done and to be done cheerfully.”

Padre Quadrupani suggests a way to overcome a stifling sadness. He writes: “It is wrong to deny one’s self all diversion. The mind becomes fatigued and depressed by remaining always concentrated in itself and thus more easily falls a prey to sadness. Saint Thomas says explicitly that one may incur sin by refusing all innocent amusement. Every excess, no matter what its nature, is contrary to order and consequently to virtue.”

“Recreations and amusements are to the life of the soul what seasoning is to our corporal food. Food that is too highly seasoned quickly becomes injurious and sometimes fatal in its effects; that which is not seasoned at all soon becomes unendurable because of its insipidity and unpalatableness.”

“As to the amount of diversion it is right to take, no absolute measure can be given: the rule is that each person should have as much as is necessary for him. This quantity varies according to the bent of the mind, the nature of the habitual occupations, and the greater or less predisposition to sadness one observes in his disposition.”

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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Always Active, Always at Rest

St. Augustine made this enigmatic statement: “Always active, always at rest.” Padre Quadrupani says something similar: “Cultivate a tranquil activity and an active tranquillity.” How are we to understand these puzzling maxims?

Quadrupani relates this story: “Saint Francis de Sales was never seen in a hurry no matter how varied or numerous might be the demands made upon his time. When on a certain occasion some surprise was expressed at this he said: ‘You ask me how it is that although others are agitated and flurried I am not likewise uneasy and in haste. What would you? I was not put in this world to cause fresh disturbance: is there not enough of it already without my adding to it by my excitability?'”

Quadrupani explains that we attain tranquility by honestly assessing our abilities and by not overreaching on account of our pride. He writes: “In order to acquire tranquillity in action it is necessary to consider carefully what we are capable of accomplishing and never to undertake more than that. It is self-love, ever more anxious to do much than to do well, which urges us on to burden ourselves with great undertakings and to impose upon ourselves numerous obligations. It maintains and nourishes itself on this tension of mind, this restless anxiety which it takes for infallible signs of a superior capacity. Thus Saint Francis de Sales was wont to say: ‘Our self-love is a great braggart, that wishes to undertake everything and accomplishes nothing.'”

The editor of Light and Peace adds this advice from St. Francis de Sales: “The desire of success is good, but only if it be not accompanied by solicitude. . . . Peace is necessary in all things and everywhere. If any trouble come to us, either of an interior or exterior nature, we should receive it peacefully: if joy be ours, it should be received peacefully: have we to flee from evil, we should do it peacefully, otherwise we may fall in our flight and thus give our enemy a chance to kill us. Is there a good work to be done? we must do it peacefully, or else we shall commit many faults by our hastiness: and even as regards penance, that too must be done peacefully.”

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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Interior Peace

Jesus said: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things.” (Luke 10:41)

Commenting on this verse, Padre Quadrupani writes: “Martha was engaged in a good work when she prepared a repast for our divine Lord, nevertheless He reproved her because she performed it with anxiety and agitation. This goes to show, says Saint Francis de Sales, that it is not enough to do good, the good must moreover be done well, that is to say, with love and tranquillity. If one turn the spinning-wheel too rapidly it falls and the thread breaks.”

Quadrupani gives this advice: “Be on your guard lest your zeal degenerate into anxiety and eagerness. Saint Francis de Sales was a most pronounced enemy of these two defects. They cause us to lose sight of God in our actions and make us very prone to impatience if the slightest obstacle should interfere with our designs. It is only by acting peacefully that we can serve the God of peace in an acceptable manner.”

“Do not on the other hand succumb to sloth and indifference. All extremes are to be avoided. Cultivate a tranquil activity and an active tranquillity.”

“Whenever we are doing well we are always doing enough and doing it sufficiently fast. Those persons who are restless and impetuous do not accomplish any more and what they do is done badly.”

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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Trees of Life

Concerning our destiny, our ultimate end, Archbishop Ullathorne writes in his book Endowments of Man: “If man were made for himself, he must be sufficient for himself, which is contradicted by all the facts of his nature.” Rather: “Man is a subject made for an object, and nothing can satisfy him but the object for which he is made. It is, therefore, impossible to know what he is as a subject until we know for what object he is made.”

And what is this object? In Christian Patience, he elaborates on the biblical metaphor of the just man as a fruitful tree: “The just man is compared in the psalm to a tree planted by the waters, whose fruits do not fail. If you plant a tree within a circle of fertile earth, the earth will nourish the tree and make it fruitful. But if you take it up from the circle in which it is planted, it will die and produce nothing. The soul is a tree made to be fruitful in love: it can only live in charity. The roots of that tree are the affections of the soul, which should be planted within the circle of self-knowledge, of that self-knowledge which is united to God by humility. But God is likened to the circle in this, that He has neither beginning nor ending. And the soul that is planted in the earth of humility, and is united with God, finds herself within that divine circle, within which she obtains the knowledge of God and of herself. . . . The pith and marrow of the tree is patience, and this patience is the demonstrative proof that God is in the soul, and that the soul is united with God. Thus sweetly planted, the tree will put forth the virtues as its flowers, and will produce such fruits as will be profitable to our neighbours, such, at least, as are willing to accept them from the servants of God. The soul herself will praise God, who is the Creator of the tree and its fruits, and will come to her final end in the everlasting God, from whom, without her consent, she never can be removed.”

In his Letters in Oscotian, Ullathorne gives this advice: “All strength of mind is in the truth of God, and all strength of heart in the charity of God. Think of Him and love Him, and you will be strong with a double strength.”

Quotations from Michael F. Glancey, Characteristics From the Writings of Archbishop Ullathorne (London: Burns & Oates, 1889).

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