At his trial, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates famously proclaimed: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates had observed the daily activity of the people of Athens and how they moved thoughtlessly from one activity to the next to fulfill a commitment, a need, or a desire. He pleaded with them to examine their hearts, find their God-given purpose in life, and pursue virtue. Athens wasn’t interested. They thought he was corrupting the youth, so they decided to kill him. A purposeful life of virtue, or holiness in God’s sight, was not what the Athenian pagan world wanted to hear, so they cancelled him.
A few decades ago, we called it, “The Rat Race.” We were driven along by society’s relentless marketing to buy, do, and claw our way up the economic and social ladders; no one questioned it. Today, we are driven by other forces expecting us to do similar things, worse things, and most people thoughtlessly listen and act. Sadly, so are some Christians.
God has always called us to a higher, purposeful, and abundant life. A life centered upon God’s words, God’s love, God’s righteousness, God’s forgiveness, God’s peace in Christ, and God’s presence in our lives through the indwelling Holy Spirit. And many Christians over the millennia, similar to Socrates’ dedication to virtue, dedicated themselves to understanding how to live the holy life Christ calls us to when He said, and still says, “Come, follow Me.”
How to live that holy life, or more specifically how to intentionally dedicate oneself to following Christ, has historically been called Devotion. It is a life of loving devotion to Christ, one that is centered around Christ, and one that is in union with Christ. The Devotion practiced in the early Church had fallen out of general popularity within a century following the Reformation. But it has gained increasing interest and adoption over the past fifty years across a wide spectrum of Christian churches. Why? Many Christians want a closer and deeper relationship with Christ, but they have not been taught how to find it. They know the Gospel. They read their Bibles. They pray. They are active in their churches. But like countless believers before them, they have a nagging sense deep in their soul that there is more to the Christian life than they have learned so far; that there is a path that goes “higher up and further in.” The path the Apostles followed.
Fortunately, the practice of Devotion had been summarized by St. Francis de Sales, the Catholic Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Church, in his book Introduction to the Devout Life, originally published in 1609. It is a collection of letters he wrote to the hundreds of people who actively sought him out for spiritual direction. Consequently, it is primarily a Catholic resource, but much of what he writes about is for all who love and want to “Live Jesus,” as he emphatically states:
His book is unique for he writes from his heart to the reader’s heart. He summarizes the ancient spiritual growth practices of the Church, leads his readers, whom he calls Philothea which means ” lover of God,” through a thorough examination of their heart regarding many practical and biblical aspects of faith, prayer, confession of sin, life, personal motivations, and virtues. He provides daily, weekly, monthly, and annual strategies for staying centered on Christ as we go about our everyday lives.
Simply put, the Introduction will transform the reader’s heart. Every person whom I’ve had the pleasure of leading through a study of the Introduction, at some point spontaneously admits: “I wish I read this book many years ago.” Why? Because they would have made better decisions, experienced less grief, had more peace, and lived a more abundant life for Christ.
Non-Catholics should note that the Introduction’s purpose isn’t to teach Catholic doctrine. As expected, it does mention Catholic practices, particularly in the first section. Yet, his meditations in the first section are unapologetically blunt, but characteristically gracious, about the eternal heaven or hell decision we make by choosing or rejecting Christ. Consequently, this is a timeless resource for all Christians and a refreshing break from the much of the watered-down teaching we often hear today.
This version of the book is a fresh new translation by the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales from the original French 5th edition of 1619. I am the General Editor of the U.S. Standard English Edition.
©2022 Rob Oberto, All Rights Reserved.