In particular, Pope Francis highlighted a passage from Introduction to the Devout Life that perfectly summarized false devotion. Pope Francis remarks that, “Francis’ description of false devotion is delightful and ever timely. Everyone can relate to it, since he salts it with good humor.“
Someone attached to fasting will consider himself devout because he doesn’t eat, even though his heart is filled with bitterness; and while, out of love for sobriety, he will not let a drop of wine, or even water, touch his tongue, he will not scruple to drench it in the blood of his neighbor through gossip and slander.
Another will consider himself devout because all day long he mumbles a string of prayers, yet remains heedless of the evil, arrogant and hurtful words that his tongue hurls at his servants and neighbors.
Yet another will readily open his purse to give alms to the poor, but cannot wring an ounce of mercy from his heart in order to forgive his enemies.
Another still will pardon his enemies, yet never even think of paying his debts; it will take a lawsuit to make him do so.” All these, of course, are perennial vices and struggles, and they lead the saint to conclude that “all these fine people, commonly considered devout, most surely are not.”
Not only is this description of false devotion “salty,” but it also cuts a little too close to home.
We may be tempted at times to be proud of our religious devotions, such as fasting or even praying the Rosary, but if our heart is far from God, these devotions are false.
For St. Francis de Sales, the key to authentic devotion is in loving God with our whole heart, mind and strength. We certainly must fast, but if we do, we also need to have a loving heart towards our neighbor.
Our devotional life needs to be matched with an equally intense love of God and neighbor.