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January Saint: St. Francis de Sales

We often think of saints as being spiritual “superheroes,” set apart from the rest of humanity and endowed with holiness and faith beyond the grasp of ordinary individuals.
 
St. Francis de Sales, however, would be the first to assure us that this is simply not so; having weathered his own spiritual crisis, he went on to become a gentle and reassuring saint who encouraged and celebrated the sanctity of both the ordained and the laity in all walks of life.
 
Francis was born in 1567 to an old, aristocratic family in the province of Savoy, France. The eldest of six brothers (there were 12 children in the family), it was assumed that he would follow his father into the law and eventually also take his place as the senator from Savoy. To that end, he was sent to study first in Paris and later at Padua, Italy, where he eventually earned his doctorate.
 
It was while he was studying in Paris that Francis experienced a severe spiritual crisis. He had come to believe in the notion of predestination and was so terrified of being automatically condemned to hell that he became physically ill. It was not until he was at prayer in the Church of St. Stephen that his crisis was suddenly lifted. It was then that he consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin and decided to become a priest.
 
Upon his return to Savoy, things seemed at first to be falling into line with his father’s plans; there had even been an advantageous marriage arranged for Francis, so it came as a great surprise to the elder de Sales when his son announced that he had decided to pursue an ecclesiastical life instead. A sharp dispute arose between the two, but Francis, by dint of his gentle and persuasive nature, eventually convinced his father to allow him to follow his religious calling.
 
For Francis, a large part of that calling would be taken up with both preaching and writing. After his ordination, he was sent to Geneva, Switzerland, which at the time was a center of Calvinism. His great gift for writing and his gentle character won many converts; as he was fond of saying, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.”
 
At the age of 35, Francis was appointed bishop of Geneva and, in addition to his administrative duties he continued to exercise his pastoral care of the people. He also continued to write; his two best-known books were “Introduction to the Devout Life” and “A Treatise on the Love of God.”
 
In his later years, Francis collaborated with another saint, Jane Frances de Chantal, to establish a new religious order, the Sisters of the Visitation.
 
Francis died in 1622 of natural causes. He was canonized in 1665 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1887. Because of the tremendous influence of his writing, he was also declared the patron saint of both the Catholic press and Catholic writers in 1923.
 
His feast day is Jan. 24.
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
Pernin, Raphael. "St. Francis de Sales." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.
“Saint Francis de Sales.” CatholicSaints.Info. Sept. 7, 2017.
Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z.” Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.
 
 

Don't give up trying to love God better

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet. … Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?”
 
~ Rebecca Harding Davis

 
Passing the ice cream store recently I noticed something unusual – a number of Great Danes standing outside the entrance as if they were waiting in line for a treat. I chuckled at the image of the dogs striding up and resting their big heads on the counter while their owners ordered them a large vanilla cone.
 
Then I recognized the name of a Great Dane rescue organization on the banner hanging from a table nearby and realized it was an adoption event.
 
I haven’t seen a Great Dane in a long time, probably not since my son and daughter-in-law brought one home from a similar organization to their little apartment, where they nursed and nurtured this abandoned, disturbingly skinny Snuffleupagus of Great Danes back to health. He shared apartment space with his counterpart, a feisty little Schnauzer, and two ferrets.
 
Years later my son and his wife would welcome another Great Dane just hours from her being euthanized, to nourish and nurture her, as well, until she was ready to be put up for adoption.
 
No longer in an apartment, this new pony-sized pup had more room to roam, but she was so weak and emaciated from a lack of care, she had trouble walking and was grateful for the generous couch where she could stretch out her body and be showered with attention and affection, plied with high quality food and, eventually, learn to play.
 
Looking at a photo of her gaunt body, I imagined the dogs in Scripture who scavenge under the table for scraps, dropped by the children who were fed first, and best. Fortunately, these two Great Danes no longer had to scavenge for scraps. They thrived under the care of my children, who eventually had children of their own, and who understand that real love provides more than leftovers.
 
It is a lesson suited not only to how we love our pets, our spouses, our children or our friends, but, most importantly, our God.
 
Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He did not say love the Lord in bits in pieces, a little here, a little there, when the mood strikes or when we can find room in our hearts or our lives.
 
Jesus calls us to understand, and the saints remind us, that loving God requires complete abandonment to God’s will -- an acceptance of the joy and struggles, but always with gratitude.
 
That can be a real challenge.
 
St. Francis de Sales pointed out that “many people say to our Lord, ‘I give myself wholly to thee without any reserve,’ but very few actually practice this self-abandonment.”
 
Many of us, perhaps more often than we’d like, fall into that category of people who truly want to serve God, but mostly in an advisory capacity. Still, St. Francis encourages us to not give up trying to love God better. He writes, “You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so you learn to love God and man by loving. Begin as a mere apprentice and the very power of love will lead you on to become a master of the art.”

--By Mary Morrell
 
 
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