Is devotion missing?



I am tired of living as though God does not exist.

We go to Mass as if it were a checklist item, occasionally neglected and seldom mentioned outside of necessary logistics. We appease company in polite conversation by succumbing to absolute generalizations or minimalist maxims rather than admitting the nuance and complexities that characterize living with other human beings. We take it upon ourselves to account for every detail of every operation and plan out our entire lives as if the hand of God has no bearing on our affairs.

Do we believe in the all-powerful loving God who by virtue of his existence demands our sincere regard, who by his Incarnation and Crucifixion more than deserves our love and reverence? Or do we consider him an inconsequential aside, and thus, not truly God?

My initial diagnosis of our problem was unbelief; but after reading the conclusion of St. Francis de Sales’ Philothea, I wonder if it is rather an issue of devotion. We lack zeal, our wills are weak, and many of us have not instituted proper devotional practices in our lives to support our faith. St. Francis wrote that “if you are told that it is possible to lead a devout life without following all these rules and exercises, do not deny it, but answer meekly that your great infirmity requires more support and aid than others do.” Indeed, I have great infirmity, and I do need reminders and steady guidance to stay on target. We should “never be ashamed of the ordinary and necessary actions which conduct us towards the love of God.” Rather, we should “boldly acknowledge” them and heed St. Ignatius of Loyola's admonishment: “for the love of God do not be slack or tepid.”

I think this lack of strength in will and devotion is the true issue at stake. We are human — imperfect and forgetful. Unfortunately, it is simply the case that deficiency in devotional practices reduces us for all intents and purposes to the plane of unbelief. I find great encouragement, though, in the rousing challenge of St. Ignatius: “Do not let the children of this world outdo you by showing greater care and zeal for temporal things than you do for eternal ones. It should shame you to see them running towards death more eagerly than you do towards life. Think poorly of yourselves if a courtier renders more attentive service for the favor of an earthly prince than you do for that of the heavenly King, or if a soldier trains and fights more bravely for the glory of victory and a bit of booty than you do for a victory and triumph over the world, the devil, and your own selves, as well as for the kingdom and eternal glory.”

Jesus Christ knew, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41), but by his grace, as St. Paul experienced, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). We are stronger for depending on the Lord rather than our own frail selves. Thus, I began with an invective of unbelief but I conclude in hope of weakness. When we are aware of our own insufficiency, our eyes are open to see and hands open to receive God’s great gifts.

Does our tepidity stem from unbelief or a weak will? Do we not believe that God is good and all-powerful, or do we fall by entertaining flimsy devotional practices, slacking in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving? Where does the fault lie? Devotion to the Lord should shape the rhythm of our lives, stirring us to greater love and evident faith.

I hope we fall into the farce of unbelief on account of weakness instead of unbelief itself — I hope we recognize our weakness and ask Christ to fill us with his strength. I hope we remember that our God is the Alpha and Omega of our lives, and I hope that we appropriately pursue the life he has ordained for each of us.

In my father's words: if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. Sustained by grace, let's live the Christian life right.