By Francis Patrick Donnelly
I. DEVOTION is not to be identified with devotional practices any more than patriotism is with fireworks. A man may spend the great holidays quietly in his home, may saw wood on Washington's Birthday, and read a book on the Fourth of July, but if he observes the laws of his country and practises the ten commandments, he will be a true patriot and need not worry because he has not shouted himself hoarse hurrahing for the blessings, of freedom or burnt his fingers setting off firecrackers, or even tired the muscles of his arm waving the Stars and Stripes. All of these actions are laudable and have their good effects. They are manifestations of patriotism, although not the highest manifestations, and they are means— in some cases necessary means—to enkindle and foster true patriotism. Devotional practices are indeed much more necessary to devotion than all the usual means of displaying and stimulating patriotism are for the proper development of that virtue, yet a devotion may exist and be intense without having any particular and exceptional ways of manifesting itself. The hymns, the lights, the pictures, the beautiful shrines, the special services on certain days, these and many other excellent practices are required to arouse and keep alive true devotion. Without all that, there may often be reason to suspect the absence of devotion or to be skeptical of its intensity. By such displays, too, true devotion is exercised and developed, not wasting itself by use, but growing stronger, like a muscle, with exercise. Devotional practices, then, are helpful and even necessary, but they do not constitute devotion. Light and air are helpful and necessary for life, but they are from without and life is from within, and devotion, too, is from within.
We sometimes hear good men say: "This business of devotion is not for me. I am not much for feeling or sentiment." What should be said in answer? These good people should be politely but firmly assured that they do not know what devotion is. If devotion is not the same as devotional practices, neither is it the same as sentiment and feeling. True devotion is not feeling; it is willing. It is conviction, not sentiment. Feeling and sentiment are not always within our complete power. They may vary with the weather or with the pulse. Devotion does not watch the thermometer or fluctuate with the barometer. It does not disappear with our appetite and return after a good meal. Devotion belongs to the will and has its source in solid convictions. Give a man a firm unyielding grasp of a truth; follow that up with a relentless determination to abide by that truth, and you have equipped a man with a full-fledged devotion.
Every year many of our gallant firemen meet the death of heroes. Do they wait, when the alarm comes, for a gush of sweet feeling or the spur of sentiment to rouse them from sleep and put them in motion? They have no time to wait for such superfluities. As they rush to their post, hastily tightening their belts, one idea is uppermost in their minds: There is a fire somewhere and our place is at it to put it out. That is their conviction; that is their willing. Next morning, perhaps, they may feel the warmth of feeling and sentiment, if they can find in the papers, as often they will not, the scanty recognition of their bravery. Have they devotion? The noble deaths of so many are a testimony beyond the power of words to show that men who may not know how to define devotion or call it by its right name, know well how to practise it in its highest and most unselfish form.
Yet, if devotion is not perfect or perfected without some devotional practices, so we may not deny the splendid influence of true feeling and right sentiment upon devotion. The man who would banish sentiment and feeling from the hearts of the world is an active worker for the return of the glacial period of very hard rock and very cold ice. Who would eclipse the dawning hopes of youth or draw the curtain of twilight over the sunset memories of old age? Must all the canvas, on which are painted the pictures of the world, be made into flour sacks, and all our monuments broken up to macadamize our roads? The eloquent vender of food tablets may prove by facts and figures, by analytical tables and accurate weights, that his vest-pocket breakfast has all the nutriment of a table d'hote dinner, but the world will not be won away from its varied and substantial meal to any tasteless, odorless, colorless, sizeless substitute for a bill of fare. If man were a machine, then sentiment would be as useful as a bouquet on a locomotive. If we were all angels, and had minds not continually swayed by conflicting currents of the body, or forever unsettled by brilliant pictures of the imagination, then a truth would mean a resolution, and a resolution an act, and we should leap without a pause from duty to devotion; but unhappily we are not yet bodiless angels.
We throb with feeling, we glow with sentiment. Devotion is indeed conviction and willing, but true feeling and right sentiment must grace the path of duty, making conviction easier and willing prompter. Devotion will never produce its fullest and richest harvests unless feeling soften the soul and sentiment keep it ever warm. It is the purpose of many devotional practices, of pictures and songs and meetings, to awaken these emotions, stir up the being to some of its untouched depths, and so elicit the full cooperation of soul and body in realizing all the results of devotion.