A couple of days from the Feast of Divine Mercy appears apropos for writing a couple of reviews on spiritual books, which I distinguish from theological works by their focus on devotion rather than discerning doctrinal truths. Don’t forget to obtain a plenary indulgence this Sunday! (It’s not often that I get a chance to link back to the third post I ever wrote.) After all, the more mercy we receive from God the more our confidence in God and generosity to others grows. The less mercy we obtain, the less time we spend in prayer and the fewer our occasions of receiving the sacraments–especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the less confidence we place in God. I have come across a few people who claim that they cannot enter a Church lest it burn down! I know that they jested, but it does reveal a lack of confidence if nothing else! Instead of being struck dumbfounded on these occasions, would that I had told them that their sins were the only things which would burn up upon entering a Church!
But, the spirit of confidence in God’s mercy imbues both St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s How to Converse with God and St. Francis de Sales’ The Art of Loving God. De Sales wrote during the Counter-Reformation, while de Liguori wrote during the 18th century; but, de Liguori’s works have the savor of the Counter-Reformation, especially Prayer: the Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection. Unlike the aforementioned book and St. Francis’ masterpiece, A Treatise on the Love of God, the two books in question are both very short. De Liguori’s book is the size of a Lenten devotional one might pick up from church. De Sales’ The Art of Loving God fits easily into a jacket pocket.
How to Converse with God reminds the reader constantly of God’s care for us and how He wishes to be in every aspect of our lives. The easiest ways to do this are by resigning ourselves to God’s will and addressing all our fears, concerns, hopes, and plans to Him–not fearing that any of our doings will seem too trivial to the Lord of the Universe. This work is a consolation from cover to cover, filled with quotes from Scripture and anecdotes from the lives of the saints.
With St. Francis de Sales, one might describe his spirituality as robust, humble, and hopeful. He emphasizes that one must continue to try to seek virtue despite all the “stumbles” one makes. He uses the word stumbles because the passages in The Art of Loving God are addressed to a community of devout women which he himself formed. Among people seeking perfection, the worst error into which they are capable of falling is despair; so it is natural that he should wish to encourage them. These passages also focus on the simple virtues needed in everyday life: modesty, patience, simplicity, perseverance, obedience, and resignation to God’s will. The advice offered in the book is very realistic and helps one cultivate a trust in divine mercy. This might make an excellent book to read after de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life.
Next time, I’ll write about Philo’s Legum Allegoriae, which can be found in the The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged translated by C. D. Yonge. (Only $16 on Amazon for you lovers of theology!) Considering how erudite Philo is to have combined Greek philosophy and Jewish theology, one wonders just how much I shall understand. If someone wants to read an easy work of Philo’s, read his Embassy to Gaius, which describes the crisis provoked among the Jews by Caligula’s demand to be worshiped as a god and Philo’s audience with the tyrant. A very fun read!