It is easier to use an uplifting language, to fulfill certain positive precepts, to reject certain pleasures, than to be deeply filled with the evangelical spirit, to keep it in the depths of the soul to ennoble it, purify it, and improve it; in short: to reproduce it in works, leaving in them the seal of sweetness and goodness. Many prayers can be murmured by word of mouth, and yet not have that impulse that elevates to heaven, nor that piety abandoned to the maternal guidance of Providence, without murmuring for the present, without concern for the future. A tender love for God, an active goodness towards men, a just and uncompromising awareness of himself, are the elements of a truly Christian existence.
Frederic Ozanam, Letter to Amélie Soulacroix, May 1, 1841.
- Frederic wrote this letter to his fiancée Amélie just two months before the wedding. During the correspondence they share in their forced separation, in the first half of this year 1841, there are some very interesting paragraphs that reveal to us what is the spirituality that guides the life of Frederic. This brief text, which we reflect on, gives us particularly an idea of how deep is the religious feeling of Ozanam, and how far he is from positions which, then and now, are unfortunately very common in many believers.
- In general, we might say that people (and believers in particular) need assurances to hold on to, where to settle our lives, and we prefer to take hold to them rather than to live in a certain “provisionality”, on the edge of the precipice. Faith, for some, is a set of certainties. For others, faith is a struggle, a path we make from hope and trust, without knowing very well where it will lead us … but trusting in Him who gave his life for us. Faith, in short, is an act of love towards the One who loved us first. This is what Saint John says in 1 John 4:19: “We love, because he first loved us.” But the apostle does not remain there, and adds, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
- There are believers who believe that professing the Christian faith is equivalent to fulfilling a series of precepts. Frederic says that this is easier, and it’s true: you do not have to think too much, the commitment is lax and our conscience is silent when we fulfill certain obligations that make us “nominally” Christian … but we do not go to the bottom of the question.
- Frederic shows three examples for this reality: to use “an uplifting language”, to fulfill “certain positive (good) precepts”, to reject “some pleasures”. At first, we could say that they are not bad things, nor they move away from a religious feeling according to the following of Jesus Christ. But the problem is not that: the question is to stay there and not make the leap.
- Frederic invites us to go further and (1) fill our life “with an evangelical spirit, to keep it in our soul” to “ennoble it, purify it and improve it”, and (2) “to reproduce it in works, leaving in them the seal of sweetness and goodness.” The first point reminds us of that passage of St. Paul (2 Cor 6:16) that invited us to be temples of the Holy Spirit; the second, the text of James (St 2:26), which says that “faith without works is dead.”
- To us Vincentians, Frederic is asking us to be authentic Christians, and he recommends some attitudes to become so:
- Have a piety that is abandoned to divine guidance.
- Do not “murmur” for the present. How much we complain and criticize what happens around us! Let us complain less and let’s get down to business.
- Do not worry “for the future”. God guides the boat. If we are convinced of that, we can not be people without hope.
- Love God tenderly. With an “affective and effective” love, as Saint Vincent de Paul said.
- “An active goodness towards men”: for Vincentians, this love is manifested in the service of the needy.
- A “just and uncompromising awareness” of oneself: I am the primary responsible for my actions and the direction I give to my life. I can not ask others what I do not demand of myself.
Questions for dialogue:
- Let’s do some life review. At what point am I in my following of Jesus Christ?
- Am I a Christian of “precepts”? Am I satisfied with fulfilling a series of obligations?
- Of the six attitudes pointed by Frederic, which do I need to improve?
- Is my faith leading me to a real and practical commitment on behalf of the impoverished?