Wednesday, January 24, 2007

St. Francis de Sales

Today is the memorial of one of my favorite saints, St. Francis de Sales. Below are excerpts from an online description of his inspiring life (to see the full text, click on the title of this post). I highly recommend his book, "Introduction to the Devout Life" to everyone. St. Francis de Sales, pray for us!
Born in France in 1567, Francis was a patient man. He knew for thirteen years that he had a vocation to the priesthood before he mentioned it to his family... Perhaps he was wise to wait, for he wasn't a natural pastor. His biggest concern on being ordained that he had to have his lovely curly gold hair cut off. And his preaching left the listeners thinking he was making fun of him. Others reported to the bishop that this noble-turned- priest was conceited and controlling.

Then Francis had a bad idea -- at least that's what everyone else thought. This was during the time of the Protestant reformation and just over the mountains from where Francis lived was Switzerland -- Calvinist territory. Francis decided that he should lead an expedition to convert the 60,000 Calvinists back to Catholicism. But by the time he left his expedition consisted of himself and his cousin. His father refused to give him any aid for this crazy plan and the diocese was too poor to support him.

For three years, he trudged through the countryside, had doors slammed in his face and rocks thrown at him. In the bitter winters, his feet froze so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow. He slept in haylofts if he could, but once he slept in a tree to avoid wolves. He tied himself to a branch to keep from falling out and was so frozen the next morning he had to be cut down. And after three years, his cousin had left him alone and he had not made one convert.
Francis' unusual patience kept him working. No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door. 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. This is the first record we have of religious tracts being used to communicate with people.

The parents wouldn't come to him out of fear. So Francis went to the children. When the parents saw how kind he was as he played with the children, they began to talk to him. By the time, Francis left to go home he is said to have converted 40,000 people back to Catholicism.

In 1602 he was made bishop of the diocese of Geneva, in Calvinist territory...

It was in 1604 that Francis took one of the most important steps in his life, the step toward holiness and mystical union with God...Three years after working with Jane (de Chantal), he finally made up his mind to form a new religious order...the Visitation nuns...

Francis was overworked and often ill because of his constant load of preaching, visiting, and instruction -- even catechizing a deaf man so he could take first Communion. He believed the first duty of a bishop was spiritual direction and wrote to Jane, "So many have come to me that I might serve them, leaving me no time to think of myself. However, I assure you that I do feel deep-down- within-me, God be praised. For the truth is that this kind of work is infinitely profitable to me." For him active work did not weaken his spiritual inner peace but strengthened it. He directed most people through letters, which tested his remarkable patience. "I have more than fifty letters to answer. If I tried to hurry over it all, i would be lost. So I intend neither to hurry or to worry. This evening, I shall answer as many as I can. Tomorrow I shall do the same and so I shall go on until I have finished."

At that time, the way of holiness was only for monks and nuns -- not for ordinary people. Francis changed all that by giving spiritual direction to lay people living ordinary lives in the world. But he had proven with his own life that people could grow in holiness while involved in a very active occupation. Why couldn't others do the same?...

For busy people of the world, he advised "Retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart, even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others and talk to God."

He believed the worst sin was to judge someone or to gossip about them. Even if we say we do it out of love we're still doing it to look better ourselves. But we should be as gentle and forgiving with ourselves as we should be with others. ..He died on December 28, 1622, after giving a nun his last word of advice: "Humility." He is patron saint of journalists because of the tracts and books he wrote.


At 12:19 PM, Anonymous mcw said...

Hey Fr. Greg-
It seems St. Frances de Sales method of reaching people has worked well for you too. I've often thought you are similar to the Pied Piper, but perhaps you're more like St. Frances. I know our kids' praise of you has brought many parents in the doors.

I like hearing a message about gossip and judgement. I do not like to share very much about my life with others anymore. I'll give my time, lend my talents, but do not like to share my personal history. Sometimes that makes me feel a bit shut down, and that makes me sad. I can see myself in others when they struggle, and I often want to help. I've been places in my life that I wouldn't wish for others to go, but when I see that they are there, I want to let them know that I know, based on my experiences, that you can make it through the other side and will be stronger for having gone through it. There have been times I did offer my experiences to others who I thought might benefit. In some cases, it did help them- and me too. Others decided to disregard my confidence and behaved in a way that was quite hurtful and did damage to some relationships. It's hard to get past that kind of behavior and be willing to risk again. Selfish as it may be, I decided a time ago to keep things to myself. I also have children who would be hurt by the spreading of ugly gossip. I recently chose to share something personal with someone who I thought would benefit from seeing something from a specific point of view, but the only reason I chose to share with this person was because I was fairly certain I wouldn't be judged or gossiped about. It felt weird and awkward but I did steps! Gossip is so destructive and bring out the ugliest qualities in people, and, unfortunately is so pervasive in our everyday lives. I wish it were a subject that was talked about more. I wish adults remembered that we set the example for our children. I wish people were more aware of how connected we all are, and to damage one part of the whole damages the whole. A lot of wishes for one small space!!!

At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He believed the worst sin was to judge someone or to gossip about them."

I totally agree and a lot of times this may come out of mere misunderstanding which rolls out of control!

"I wish people were more aware of how connected we all are, and to damage one part of the whole damages the whole."

My thoughts exactly for the last year!

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Tom said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Tom said...

Personally, I would love for priests to really talk up their favorite saints. Devotion to the saints has added texture to Catholic life ever since the day St. Stephen died, and its encouragement from our priests can only help.

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Zophiel said...

I went to Georgetown Visitation back in the mid to late '90's. . . St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal were very big there.



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