Saint Francis de Sales
By Frances V. Rodrigues
According to research I found Francis de Sales was born into a noble family of the Duchy of Savoy, known today as Haute-Savoie, France in 1567. It borders Switzerland and Italy, which played an important role in Francis’ life and formation of faith. He was famously known as a patient man.
This patience started as a young man as he thought about the vocation of the priesthood for thirteen years before he mentioned it to his family. His father wanted him to have the best schooling and sent him to Paris, and later to Padua, Italy where he was given the title of “doctor” certified both in law and theology, saying nothing of his desire for the priesthood for he knew all too well that his father had plans of his future in the military and politics.
Throughout those thirteen years he waited for God’s will to be clear to him. He realized one day that God finally made it clear as he was riding. He fell three times from the horse and every time his sword and scabbard came to rest on the ground in the shape of a cross. He interpreted this, amongst other signs, that God was calling him to a life of sacrifice and self-giving love for the church.
In the beginning of his transformation to a religious life, he as well as others realized that he wasn’t a natural pastor with his sermons being characterized as him being conceited and controlling. However, time passed as he grew better and more competent with his abilities as a pastor. During this time in his life the Protestant Reformation was in full force just a stone’s throw away and over the mountains from where he lived, in which Calvinism was taking over Switzerland. He decided against all odds to lead an expedition to convert 60,000 Calvinists back to Catholicism.
He received no support from his family, community, and church, so he went alone with his cousin on a very arduous task. For three years, he traveled through the countryside having doors slammed in his face and rocks thrown at him. Yet, his patience keep him focused and he kept working through it, even when no one else would listen to him or even open the door. So far he had not even made one convert. So, Francis found a way to get under the door.
He wrote out his sermons, copied them by hand, and slipped them under the doors, being the first recorded such use to communicate with people. Adults wouldn’t talk to him so he started to talk to children, which led him a slow transition to the Adults. By the time he went back home he is accredited with having converted 40,000 people back to Catholicism.
However, by far the most important turning point in his life came in 1604 in Dijon, France where he meet Jane de Chantal (also a saint). It was with her insistence for him to take over her spiritual direction that she quickly made a path to mystical union with God and Francis was bound to follow her.
He later created a religious order with Jane and continued to serve the people through preaching, visiting, and instructing. He took great pride knowing that even though he was so busy he couldn’t think for himself that he knew God was pleased with him, in turn making it exponentially gratifying to Francis himself. He guided people through letters and his demand was great. He wanted to assure that his letters were answered with the utmost care and time, again showing his well known patience.
Then with his enormously successful book in 1608, Introduction to the Devout Life, he proved that ordinary people can grow in holiness while living their lives from day to day without having to be a monk or nun. It was a tremendous breakthrough for ordinary people to know they can achieve holiness.
Francis was deeply moved by the love of God and wrote on the perfections of the heart of Mary as the model of love for God. It was everything to him. The key to his love of God was prayer and he compared it to romantic love in a moving quote on the topic “The thoughts of those moved by natural love are almost completely fastened on the beloved, their hearts are filled with passion for it, and their mouths full of its praises. When it is gone they express their feelings in letters, and can’t pass by a tree without carving the name of their beloved in its bark. Thus too those who love God can never stop thinking about him, longing for him, aspiring to him, and speaking about him. If they could, they would engrave the name of Jesus on the hearts of all mankind.”
His faith in this love transcended all aspects of life. He conveyed this through his teaching. He said that you should pray with your whole soul in the presence of God to be filled by him and busy people should retire in the solitude of their hearts and talk to God. He also insisted that a person’s test of prayer was in his/her actions and believed that the worst sin was to judge someone or to gossip about them.
Even in his last days he was in demand more than he had ever been until His death on December 28, 1622. He was said to have given a nun a last word of advice: “Humility”
He is known today as a patron saint of writers and journalists because of his remarkable and extensive use of flyers and books both in spiritual direction and his efforts to convert the Calvinist of the region. He is also known as a patron saint of the deaf as he developed a sign language to teach a deaf man about God after he catechized him.
In my reflections on St. Francis de Sales I truly believe him to be a great and remarkable man. He sought out people to convert and when he had doors slammed in his face and stones thrown at him he continued to engage in enthusiastic campaigns of evangelism, to be an angel of God spreading the word. He was noted for his deep faith and his approach to spiritual direction through the use of flyers and books, which reminds me of the present day flyers that help us grow spiritually and our understanding of the faith in order to apply it to our daily lives, no matter how busy we are.
I feel that his teaching are so relevant to us today, and now that I have gotten to know St. Francis de Sales better, I can clearly understand and continue to hear his message to us in homilies given by Father Landry. How many times can we say that we make more time for other things in our lives more than God and prayer? Or, how can I become holy and become a saint in this day and age? For a time in my life those questions never entered my mind. Now through a renewed fervor for the faith I am closer to God then I have ever been. I learn through scripture, mass, and prayer that God is the most important person in my life. And like St. Francis de Sales I too have tried to convert people in my life back to Catholicism, which I know is not easy and takes time and patience. I pray for them to find their way back to God.
In addition to St. Francis de Sales, I too detest the sin of gossip and judging someone. I’ve always known that no matter what we have done badly in our lives, that through the sacrament of Reconciliation we are forgiven because God loves us always. When we do gossip it only is done to make ourselves look better than the one we are talking about. We should all try being more humble and have humility for others (friend or foe) instead of being negative and having pomposity.
If he were here today I think he would have no problem recognizing some of the same obstacles he faced during his time. I’m sure he would immediately try to persuade us and advise us to have a stronger and deeper connection for the love of God and to spread his word wherever we go always connecting to Him. He would comment on his teaching of ordinary people to grow in holiness, the importance of prayer and God’s love, and encourage parents to be more accepted of their sons and daughters own will to follow in the religious vocations; since we all know we are especially in dire need of young men to become priests. I can definitely relate to St. Francis de Sales and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to learn about his life, and his teachings.