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Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.
—I John 3:13
“As soon as worldly people see that you wish to follow a devout life they aim a thousand darts of mockery and even detraction at you,” wrote St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to the Devout Life. The advice from this bishop of Geneva is just as relevant today as it was nearly four centuries ago when it was penned. “The most malicious of them will slander your conversation as hypocrisy, bigotry, and trickery. They will say that the world has turned against you and being rebuffed by it you have turned to God. Your friends will raise a host of objections which they consider very prudent and charitable. They will tell you that you will become depressed, lose your reputation in the world, be unbearable, and grow old before your time, and that your affairs at home will suffer. You must live in the world like one in the world. They will say that you can save your soul without going to such extremes, and a thousand similar trivialities.”
St. Francis believed that those who wished to live a pious Christian life would be labeled fanatics and extremists. I contend that if those labels have never been applied to us, we probably aren’t very devout.
He continues: “Philothea, all this is mere foolish, empty babbling. These people aren’t interested in your health or welfare. ‘If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you,’ says the Savior. We have seen gentlemen and ladies spend the whole night, even many nights one after another, playing chess or cards. Is there any concentration more absurd, gloomy, or depressing than this last? Yet worldly people don’t say a word and the players’ friends don’t bother their heads about it. If we spend an hour in meditation or get up a little earlier than usual in the morning to prepare for Holy Communion, everyone runs for a doctor to cure us of hypochondria and jaundice. People can pass thirty nights in dancing and no one complains about it, but if they watch through a single Christmas night they cough and claim their stomach is upset the next morning. Does anyone fail to see that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and well disposed to its own children but harsh and rigorous towards the children of God?”
“We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it. It is so demanding that it can’t be satisfied. ‘John came neither eating nor drinking,’ says the Savior, and you say, ‘He has a devil.’ ‘The Son of man came eating and drinking’ and you say that he is ‘a Samaritan.’ It is true Philothea, that if we are ready to laugh, play cards, or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy. . . . Good humor will be called frivolity and mortification sullenness. Thus the world looks at us with an evil eye and we can never please it. It exaggerates our imperfections and claims they are sins, turns our venial sins into mortal sins and changes our sins of weakness into sins of malice.”
The more our lives contrast with those around us, the more our “odd behaviors” will stand out. If we take such things as prayer, meditation, fasting, and mortification seriously, we will find tribulation. If harsh judgments and ridicule are foreign to us, then perhaps so too is the devout life.
“Does anyone fail to see that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and well disposed to its own children but harsh and rigorous towards the children of God?”
Quotations are from Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, translated by J. K. Ryan, Image Books: New York, 1972, pages 235-236. Copyright © 1950 by Harper & Brothers. Used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.