Thursday, August 5, 2010

excellent work we will never accomplish

From St. Francis de Sales Finding God's Will For You:

The enemy often tries to make us attempt and start many projects so that we will be overwhelmed with too many tasks, and therefore achieve nothing and leave everything unfinished. Sometimes he even suggests the wish to undertake some excellent work that he foresees we will never accomplish. This is to distract us from the prosecution of some less excellent work that we would have easily completed. He does not care how many plans and beginnings we make, provided nothing is finished. No more than Pharaoh does he wish to prevent "the mystical women of Israel" - that is, Christian souls - from bringing forth male children, provided they are slain before they grow up.


In the excellent book Chapter after Chapter, Heather Sellers suggests that, after reading your hundred or so books on the craft of writing, you ought to pick three as your mentors. And then stop reading the hundreds of others. Just have your trusty few to guide you as you actually write.

In the first place, this strikes me as very similar to the advice St. Francis gives here. In the second place, I think there is merit in also choosing three or four spiritual "mentors" as well, and I think St. Francis de Sales is one of mine. I've finished two of his books now, and I want to go right back to the beginning and start them again (especially as I read bearing blog's series on de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life). De Sales is like Br. Laurence, but more thorough. He's like C. S. Lewis, but more Catholic. He's like Dallas Willard, but more succinct (probably because he was writing by hand! - and not that I would cut any one of Dr. Willard's words).* 

See how St. Francis follows up the paragraph above, following his warning of the danger with an explanation of the reward that is ours if we go by the narrow way:

On the contrary, as the great St. Jerome says, "Among Christians it is not so much the beginning as the end that counts." We must not swallow so much food that we cannot digest what we have taken. The spirit of the seducer holds us down to mere starts and keeps us content with a flowery springtime. The Spirit of God makes us consider beginnings only so as to arrive at the end, and makes us rejoice in the flowers of the spring only in expectation of enjoying the fruits of summer and autumn.


This is what I need to hear. What I always need to hear. I like beginning. I like planning. I like pondering. But finishing? What a glory!

It is wise to research, to think, to pray, to ask. But there comes a point when we must act, and keep acting, and work through the summer and heat. Otherwise we're never really working.

And the real end we're waiting for comes at the end of the whole of a human life. Let us not grow weary - or distracted - in the way.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

*Speaking of spiritual mentors met via books, Lewis and Willard are probably my other two, though if I got two more, I'd add Frederica Mathewes-Green and Dorothy Sayers. If I could add a couple of poets? Donne and Herbert. And musicians? Rich Mullins and Michael Card, without a doubt. These are the people whose works I go back to again and again to learn how to love God aright. Who are yours?

2 comments:

Gabe said...

Mine are Dallas Willard, St. Benedict, Thomas รก Kempis, Evagrios the Solitary and the rest of Philokalia vol. 1.

Amber said...

My main spiritual mentors via books are St. Therese of Lisieux, Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer, and C.S. Lewis.

I also have an affinity for St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Theresa of Avila, but I do find them a little, well, over my head sometimes. *grin*

I like to dip into the writings of other saints quite often, but there are definitely some I feel engage, impact, and challenge me more than others.