Thoughts While (Almost) Walking on a Street in Paris

“God has given many counsels so that each of us can observe some of them. No day passes without some opportunity to do so.”

Finding God’s Will for You by St. Francis de Sales is my second book for Rose City Reader’s 2018 European Reading Challenge.

I happened to be reading Sophia Institute Press’s publication of Finding God’s Will for You while in Chicago. The painting on the cover of my edition of this book features Renoir’s portrait “Alfred Sisley,” a pensive man perhaps pondering God’s will for his life. I ran into the original of Monsieur Sisley’s portrait at the Art Institute of Chicago. Neither words nor photographs can convey the awe of looking at the Impressionist masters’ oil paintings in person.

My snapshot of Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street; Rainy Day,” 1877. Oil on canvas.

Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street; Rainy Day” has always been one of my favorite Impressionist paintings. But in person, it is breathtaking. The painting seems to have motion. You can lose yourself in the crowd on the street, waiting for the couple in the foreground to pass you. I could have stood there for an hour.

That museum visit will link in my mind my favorite Impressionist painters and one of the most practical spiritual directors of all time.

St. Francis de Sales, a 17th century bishop of Geneva (modern Switzerland), simplified discernment for lay people. With astonishing directness, he advised:

Even in important matters, we must be very humble and not think of finding God’s will by force of scouting and subtle discussion. After we have implored the light of the Holy Spirit, applied our thought to search for His good pleasure, taken counsel with our director and perhaps with two or three other spiritual persons, we must come to a resolution and decision in the name of God. After that we must not call our choice in doubt, but devoutly, peacefully, and firmly keep and sustain it.

Although the difficulties, temptations, and different events that occur in the course of carrying out our plan may cause us some uncertainty as to whether we have chosen well, still we must remain firm and not consider all such things. Rather, we must reflect that if we had made some other choice, we might be a hundred times worse off, and furthermore we do not know if God wills us to be trained in consolation or in desolation, in peace or in war. Once our resolution has been devoutly made, we must never doubt the holiness of its execution. If we do not fail, it cannot fail. To act otherwise is a mark of great self-love, or of childishness, weakness, and folly of mind.

This advice should be comforting for all who “think too hard,” fear to make decisions, and worry in hindsight about mistakes. God is a loving Father Who wants us to “get it right” and will make all things work together for good. St. Francis assures us that God does not want us to go astray and will provide sufficient help to keep us moving forward on His path.

Open your umbrella, and keep walking.

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