In the fifth and final part of An Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales recommends spiritual exercises for renewing the soul and strengthening devotion.
The saint wrote, “Our earthly nature easily falls away from its higher tone by reason of the frailty and evil tendency of the flesh, oppressing and dragging down the soul, unless it is constantly rising up by means of a vigorous resolution, just as a bird would speedily fall to the ground if it did not maintain its flight by repeated strokes of its wings.
“In order to do this, my child, you need frequently to reiterate the good resolutions you have made to serve God, for fear that, failing to do so, you fall away, not only to your former condition, but lower still; since it is a characteristic of all spiritual falls that they invariably throw us lower than we were at the beginning.”
We should renew from time to time the following resolutions: “The first is to forsake, reject, detest, and forever renounce all mortal sin. Second, to dedicate and consecrate your soul, heart, and body, with everything appertaining thereto, to the service and love of God. Third, that if you should unhappily fall into any sin, you would forthwith rise up again, with the help of God’s grace.”
Examination of soul
We should examine our soul regularly, especially during retreats. St. Francis de Sales taught that we should examine:
1. The state of our soul towards God: our attitudes towards the Commandments of God, venial sins, and spiritual exercises; our affections towards God.
2. One’s condition with regard to oneself: the nature of our love for self; whether we have boasted or have indulged in recreations which can injure our health.
3. Conduct towards one’s neighbour: whether we love them from our heart and for the love of God, whether we are quick to speak ill of others, and whether we have injured others directly or indirectly.
4. The passions, feelings, and affections of the soul: what attachments hinder our spiritual life, what passions engross it, and what chiefly attracts us.
These examinations should lead to thanksgiving for any spiritual progress and to humility for any shortcoming. We should ask for forgiveness and entreat God to make us truly faithful.
St. Francis de Sales proposed the following subjects for reflection to support the renewal of good resolutions:
1. The excellence of the soul: it has an understanding capable of knowing angels and paradise, it has a noble will which can love God, it also has a heart that can find no repose save in God alone.
2. The excellence of virtue: only virtue and devotion can satisfy our soul in this world; compare virtues with their opposing vices.
3. The example of the saints: the sacrifices of the martyrs, the purity and charity of the holy and blessed women, and the detachment and resolutions of the holy confessors.
4. The love that Jesus Christ bears us: His sufferings on earth; His heart loves and cares for each one of us.
5. God’s eternal love for us: God has always loved us, and from eternity prepared the favours and graces which He has bestowed on us.
Towards the end of the book, the saint wrote, “Look to heaven, and do not lose it for earth; look at hell, and do not plunge therein for the sake of this passing life; look at Jesus Christ, and do not deny Him for the world’s sake; if the devout life sometimes seems hard and dull, join in Saint Francis’s song: ‘So vast the joys that I await, no earthly travails seem great.'”
- 靈魂與天主的關係 —— 我們對天主十誡的態度；怎樣看小罪；內在的靈修，和我們對天主的愛。
- 對自己的關係—— 如何愛護自己；是否愛溺或縱情世娛，有損身心。
- 對待別人 —— 是否因愛天主而愛別人；是否慣於以言行直接或間接傷害他人。
- 靈魂的情感 —— 超性生活有否被繫戀所阻礙，或被情慾所佔有；心儀於那些東西；什麼事物最能吸引自己。
- 靈魂的崇高 —— 有認知天使和天堂的能力；擁有一顆愛天主尊貴的心志；感到只能安頓於天主之內。
- 德行的崇高 ——只有聖德與熱心，才可以使靈魂得到富足；嘗試比對聖德和相反的罪惡。
- 聖賢的芳表 —— 欽佩殉道者的犧牲、聖女的貞潔和愛德、精修者的脫俗和善志。
- 耶穌基督對我們的愛 —— 基督在世的苦難；常感恩於祂聖心對我們的愛和關顧。
- 天主對我們永恆的愛 ——天主常愛我們；自永恆已準備賜給我們諸恩寵。