St. Francis de Sales pointed out that the first step in the devout life is the purification of the soul. We need to be patient, for “ordinary purification and healing, whether of body or soul, are accomplished little by little, progressing slowly, and often hardly at all.”
On the spiritual journey, failures and setbacks are inevitable; we should not be discouraged by them, nor should we overlook and ignore them.
St. Francis pointed out that our perfection consists in struggling against our spiritual infirmities, “which we cannot do unless we perceive them, neither can we conquer unless we come into collision with them. Victory does not lie in ignoring our infirmities, but in resisting them.”
The first thing we must purify ourselves of is sin, especially mortal sin, and the means to purify ourselves is the sacrament of penance. We are obliged to confess all our mortal sins committed since baptism. St. Francis de Sales recommended the practice of general confession.
A general confession is a repetition of all previous confessions, or at least of some of them. General confession is necessary if a person has made a bad confession in the past by purposely omitting a mortal sin.
For others, general confession is recommended as conducive to greater self-knowledge, to deeper humility, and to increased peace of mind. It is good to make a general confession annually after a retreat. This is called a confession of devotion.
Regarding general confession, St. Francis wrote, “Hesitate not, then, to open your heart fully in confession, for in proportion as your sins go forth, the precious merits of Christ’s passion will come in and fill you with all blessings.”
To make progress in the spiritual life, we must be purified both from sin and from affection for sin.
St. Francis wrote, “Some penitents, though they forsake sin outwardly, do not forsake the love of sin; that is to say, they resolve to sin no more, but it is with reluctance that they abstain from the fatal delights of sin. Their hearts renounce it, and seek to depart, but they frequently look longingly behind them, as did Lot’s wife.”
Hence we should strive to achieve deep contrition, which not only serves to purify us from actual sin, but also serves to purify us from all affection for sin. A hearty and vigorous contrition helps a person to lose all delight in everything appertaining to sin. An effective means to achieve this kind of contrition is the exercise of meditation.
St. Francis de Sales suggested the faithful meditate on the following: creation, why God made us, the mercies and favours of God, sin, death, judgment, hell, paradise, and the choice of a devout life.
Meditation, deep contrition, and sincere confession serve to purify the soul from mortal sins and affection for them. However we should also strive to purify ourselves from affection for venial sins.
St. Francis pointed out that though we can never be wholly free from venial sins, we can be free from affection for them. “There is a wide difference between a chance falsehood concerning some trivial matter, which is the result of carelessness, and taking pleasure in falsehood or deliberately telling lies.”
Inclinations to mortal sin are opposed to charity, and inclinations to venial sin are opposed to devotion. Mortal sin kills the soul spiritually, while deliberate venial sin wounds it grievously.
Detachment is an important aspect of purification. We should not let ourselves be absorbed by activities such as sports, balls, festivities, display, and drama.
St. Francis wrote, “The evil lies not in doing the thing, but in caring for it.” We should leave our heart free for God and for the interior life.