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But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and which have been committed to thee; knowing of whom thou hast learned them. (St. Paul, II Tim., c. III., v. 14.)
1. The writer of these instructions makes no pretension to have derived them from his own wisdom. The material was furnished him by the greatest saints and the most eminent doctors of the Church. You can therefore believe in them with great confidence, follow them without fear and adopt them as a safe and reliable guide in your spiritual life.
2. If you try to regulate your practice by making personal and indiscriminate application of everything you find in sermons and books you will never be at rest. One draws you to the right, the other to the left, says Saint Francis de Sales: doctrine is one, but its applications are many, and they vary 183 according to time, place and person. Besides, those who speak to a hardened multitude, from whom they cannot get even a little without exacting a great deal, insist vehemently upon the subject with which they wish to impress their hearers and for the time being appear to forget everything else. If they preach on mortification of the senses, fasting, or any other penitential work, they fail to explain the proper manner of practising it, the limits that should not usually be exceeded and the circumstances under which we can and should refrain from it. This is due to the fact that the cowardly and the lukewarm, whom it is more necessary to excite than to restrain, will take from these instructions only just what is suitable for them. Now as these form the majority, it is for them above all that it is necessary to speak.
3. It would then be better for you individually, without lessening your respect and esteem for books of devotion and for preachers animated by the spirit of God, to confine yourself as far as practice is concerned to the advice of your director and to the teachings of the saints as presented in this little volume.
4. Recall what has been already said, that 184 Saint Francis de Sales counsels you to select your spiritual guide from among ten thousand, and to allow yourself subsequently to be entirely directed by him as though he were an angel come down from heaven to conduct you there.
5. Without this rule of firm and confident obedience, books and sermons and all that is said and written for the multitude, will become for you a source of fatiguing inquietude, and of doubts and fears, owing to the fact that you will try to assimilate things which were not intended for you.
6. Remember, moreover, the pleasant saying of Saint Philip de Neri,—namely, that he had a special predilection for those books the authors of which had a name beginning with the letter S.; that is to say, the works of the saints, because he supposed them to be more illumined by heavenly wisdom.
Now, in observing these instructions you will have for guide and director not the poor sinner who has compiled them for the glory of God and the good of souls, but Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas, Saint Philip de Neri and especially Saint Francis de Sales, in whom the Church recognizes and admires 185 such exalted sanctity, profound wisdom, and rare experience in the direction of souls. These are the three eminent qualities requisite to constitute a great doctor in the Catholic Church, and to form the safest and the most enlightened guide for those who wish to be his disciples.186
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