(Edited for modern English, with minor abridgement.) Since its initial publication, more than four centuries ago, Introduction to the Devout Life has become the most popular Catholic "how to" guide to spiritual formation. Written for the laity, and emphasizing charity over penance, it quickly became immensely influential.
It's author was an extraordinarily gifted man of prayer and study, who became known as "the gentleman saint." Francis de Sales was the eldest of six French brothers, born into the comfortable world of Savoy nobility. He was educated by Jesuits, eventually receiving his doctorate in law and philosophy. But law and luxury were not prime motivators for Francis. In Paris, while contemplating the eternal consequences of his life, Francis experienced a profound spiritual awakening, which prompted him to consecrate himself to the Virgin Mary with a vow of chastity.
Francis was ordained at the age of 26, and elevated to bishop nine years later. Yet, the young pastor would not have an easy flock to shepherd. He was assigned to the diocese of Geneva, a stronghold of Calvinist Protestants, making him the target of repeated assassination attempts. After all, some firebrand preachers had condemned his Introduction for tolerating dancing and even jokes!
But the patient bishop's gentle spirit proved useful in soothing the resentments of Christian rivals. Eventually, his eloquent faith -- spoken, written and lived -- converted 40,000 Protestants.
At a time wracked by religious resentment, his motto became, "He who preaches with love, preaches effectively." His message was, "God is love." Consequently, his enduring Catholic spirituality is often referred to as "The Way of Divine Love."
Every Christian can benefit from the wisdom shared by this prayerful Doctor of the Church.