St. Francis deSales on “INTERIOR MODESTY”
In The Art of Loving God, St. Francis continues his thoughts on modesty/ Interior modesty is related to exterior modesty. He writes, “Modesty of bearing controls the gestures and the deportment of the body. It avoids contrary vices of liberty and license” on the one hand and excessive showy stoicism on the other. “True interior modesty maintains the powers of our souls in tranquility in moderation.
Once again, St. Francis uses the example of Martha and Mary to make his point. Martha represents a lack of control and will. She is anxious to treat the Lord well. She flits about. She is always worried that she will have enough dishes prepared to entertain him. In the same way, a person’s will, that is not restrained by moderation flies from one subject to another. We get super-active with religious and spiritual activities. We think that we are serving God with all this activity, although none of this is needed.
It is interesting to note the one area of interior modesty on which deSales focuses. It is the subject of “understanding.” He feels that people who want to know too much will never achieve peace of mind. They will never be able to totally focus on God. St. Francis writes:
Once we have chosen our Lord as our sovereign, our interior faculties begin to calm down. They don’t waste energy now on one subject and then another. They no longer find themselves in a continual affliction of spirit and perpetual restlessness. These vices only aid to destroy peace and a tranquility of mind that is necessary for us.
The way to begin to build up this interior modesty is to focus on your God-given path. He points to the examples of number of religious sisters whom he knew. Two of the sisters followed the examples of Mother Theresa of Avila, Katherine Of Siena, and Catherine Genoa. They read the works of these holy women. The sisters could quote from their books. They spoke and acted just like the saintly women did. They seemed to be using the lives of these saints as their models.
Unfortunately, it was merely an imitation. Their actions were not genuine. The two sisters needed to stick to the vocation of their own time and place. This was the means through which they could have achieved true holiness. As deSales wrote, “They had the satisfaction of imagining themselves to be saints, although their satisfaction was vain.”
At the other extreme, deSales contrasted this to another sister he knew. This sister was always flitting around, looking for the latest kind of spirituality. She was always desiring something new to achieve sanctity. She was always discontent because the perfection she sought seemed hidden from her. All she had to do was be herself and live out her own vocation in her own place and time.
St. Francis deSales writes that interior modesty keeps the soul in a state between these two extremes. The happy medium is achieved first by simply living out your own vocation as it is. Listen to your superiors. Seek only to know what is necessary and nothing more. This will provide ample opportunities for you to achieve holiness.