St. Francis De Sales on Friendship, Fasting, and Modesty

This is the sixth article in my series based on my reading of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. Written 400 years ago, it is available in various translations. I am reading the 2015 version published by Ignatius Press (San Francisco) and the Augustine Institute (Greenwood Village, CO) The first article was “What Does It Mean to be Devout?” followed by “Purification in the Devout Life.” The third article was “The Devout Life – Prayer.”. The fourth article was “St. Francis De Sales on Virtues.” The fifth article was “More on the Virtues From St. Francis De Sales.”

Today I begin with chapter 19 of Part III in St. Francis De Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. He is now discussing friendship. In today’s world where some people have hundreds, if not thousands of friends, on social media, it is very important for us to consider what friendship really is. It has nothing to do with how many people have liked you on social media.

St. Francis De Sales writes, “Do you, my child, love everyone with the pure love of charity, but have no friendship save with those whose intercourse is good and true, and the purer the bond that unites you so much higher will your friendship be. If your intercourse is based on science, it is praiseworthy, still more if it arises from a participation in goodness, prudence, justice and the like; but if the bond on your mutual liking be charity, devotion, and Christian perfection, God knows how very precious a friendship it is!” (110). What do we do we talk about (what St. Francis De Sales calls intercourse) with our friends? Are you friends someone you have fun with? Are you friends someone who hang out with because of what they have? For instance, if you are high school or college, do you look for someone who has a car to be your friend? Do you pick people who throw the best parties to be your friend? Or do you pick people to be your friends who bring you closer to Jesus? Where you spend eternity may depend on who you pick as your friends.

Remember, virtues are good habits. St. Francis De Sales writes, “And Saint Thomas, in common with other philosophers, acknowledges that friendship is a virtue” (112). Good friends help us to be good people.

Yet, not all friendships do this. St. Francis De Sales writes, “They may begin with a virtuous affection, but if discretion be lacking, frivolity will creep in, and then sensuality, till their love becomes carnal: even if spiritual love there is a danger if people are not on the watch, although it is not so easy to be deluded therein” (112). What is the basis of your friendships? Are they based on worldly things or that which is good and holy (St. Francis De Sales, 112)?

When choosing our friends, we need to ask ourselves, “will this person help me be a better person.” That doesn’t mean they have to be perfect. No one is (except Jesus). Jesus ate with sinners. However, Jesus did not allow them to lead him into sin. He sought to lead them to what is good and holy. We can ask ourselves, “will this person lead me to sin or can I lead them to what is good and holy.” Here, we should caution ourselves with the words of St. Francis De Sales about the devil, “Beware of entering into any manner of treaty with the Enemy; do not delude yourself by listening to him while intending to reject him” (114). We must not allow the devil to lead us astray. That is what he has been trying to do since the days of the first sin in the garden (Genesis 3).

Choose your friends wisely. St. Francis De Sales writes, “He who has been bitten by a viper cannot heal his wound in the presence of another suffering from the like injury.” Again, this does not mean we don’t have friends who have the same struggles as us but they must desire to change too. For example, an alcoholic takes a very positive step in seeking help at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) from people who share the same struggle. However, it would not be wise for an alcoholic to hang out in a bar with friends who continue to drink.

Real friendship cannot be based on superficial texts or social media posts. St. Francis De Sales writes, “Friendship demands very close correspondence between those who love one another, otherwise it can never take root or continue…and a mutual giving and receiving of emotions” (116). Real friendship goes deeper than our external actions. Real friendship goes to the depth of the soul.

Real friends will help us “sift the sand of imperfections and reject it” (St. Francis De Sales, 116). Yes, friends accept people where they are at in life. Then, after accepting the friend, help that friend become who Christ calls them to be. A real friend does not want us to persist in sin. Jesus accepted the woman caught in adultery. He did not condemn her but He did tell her “do not sin any more” (See John 8:1-11).

Moving from friendship to other Christian practices, in chapter 23, St. Francis De Sales, discusses “bodily mortifications.” In doing so, he discusses the purpose of fasting. Fasting is not simply a penance for sin. Proper fasting leads us to Christ. Fasting should not be seen only as an obligation. We do well to see it as a sacrifice we make to bring us closer to Christ. We should not starve ourselves with long term fasting. God wants us to have healthy bodies. However, gluttony is somethings we should avoid for the good of our bodies. Proper fasting signifies our love for our Lord. When you give something up for the Lord, it should be something of value to you. If you give up something you don’t like, where is the sacrifice in that?

Moving to chapter 24, St. Francis discusses solitude. Solitude should not be rooted in a desire to escape or shun society. At times we need solitude to find our Lord. We can all benefit from some solitude. I know I very much desire times of solitude. Yet, I also believe that by living in the midst of the world, we allow God to use us to help make the world a better place. We may hate the sin that is in the world but we can love the people even in the midst of sinfulness. St. Francis De Sales writes, “The bumble bee makes no honey alone, but if it falls among bees it works with them. Our own devout life will be materially helped by intercourse with other devout souls” (122). Through good dialogue (aka intercourse” with fellow Christian disciples we can become better disciplines. We need friends who are devout.

I will end this article with a brief mention of the virtue of modesty in dress covered by St. Francis De Sales, Part III, chapter 25). Modesty involves humility. Does one dress to love “sexy”? That may lead that person into sin and it may lead others who look at the immodestly dressed person to the sin of lust. It can cause one to see the person as an object of physical pleasure rather than as a friend and a child of God who deserves to be loved as a person. It is very important to consider our modesty in dress. However, St. Francis reminds us that modesty in dress is more than a matter of sexy clothes. Modesty involves being neatly dressed. He writes, “Always be neat, do not ever permit any disorder or untidiness about you. There is a certain disrespect to those with whom you mix in slovenly dress” (124). Do not dress like a slob! Dress in a way that respects yourself, other people, and God.

That’s it for today. I will be writing more on what St. Francis offers us in the Introduction to the Devout Life in the coming weeks.


Fr. Jeff

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