In Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis De Sales warns of a kind of false religiosity that can convince both others and ourselves that we’re right with God, when we’re not. Specifically, he warned of our tendency to “colour devotion according to our own likings and disposition”:
One man sets great value on fasting, and believes himself to be leading a very devout life, so long as he fasts rigorously, although the while his heart is full of bitterness;–and while he will not moisten his lips with wine, perhaps not even with water, in his great abstinence, he does not scruple to steep them in his neighbour’s blood, through slander and detraction. Another man reckons himself as devout because he repeats many prayers daily, although at the same time he does not refrain from all manner of angry, irritating, conceited or insulting speeches among his family and neighbours. This man freely opens his purse in almsgiving, but closes his heart to all gentle and forgiving feelings towards those who are opposed to him; while that one is ready enough to forgive his enemies, but will never pay his rightful debts save under pressure. Meanwhile all these people are conventionally called religious, but nevertheless they are in no true sense really devout.”
St. Thomas A Kempis, in Imitation of Christ, warns of a similar false security, that of thinking that knowing the Catholic faith well is the same as living the Catholic life:
What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it.
For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.
This is the greatest wisdom–to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world.
So as we today mark the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, let us redouble our fasting and abstinence, prayer and almsgiving, and continue to seek a deeper understanding of our faith from Scripture and the testimony of the Church and Her Saints. But let us not mistake any of these things for the purpose of Lent, or become proud of our own efforts. Instead, let these all be tools to aide us in our question for true devotion, “to love God and serve Him alone.”