Today we celebrate the feast of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church, and one of my faves!
The oldest of 12 children, he was born in 1567 to a wealthy family in Savoy (part of present day France near Switzerland). Taught by the Jesuits as a boy, he later studied law and theology and the University of Padua. Upon his return from Italy, he found that his father had secured him a position in politics. Much to his parents’ dismay, Francis desired to enter the priesthood. Their minds were swayed when the bishop of Geneva intervened by appointing Francis as the provost of the diocese of Geneva.
At that point in time it was not too long after the Protestant Reformation, and Switzerland was a Calvinist area. In fact, the bishopric of Geneva was actually in Annecy, Savoy. St. Francis made it his mission to evangelize the people of Geneva and bring them back to the Faith. His zeal, holiness, and learnedness inspired many to return to the fold.
In 1602, St. Francis was appointed Bishop of Geneva. Instituting catechetical instruction for the faithful of all ages was his first task, as knowledge of the faith would be their defense against the heresies put forth by Protestantism. He reformed the clergy – both religious and diocesan and spent time visiting the parishes scattered throughout the region. Holding a special love for the poor, he became well-known for his patience and mildness. He heard confessions and preached constantly. With St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the Institute of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, for young girls and widows.
His many and influential writings led him to be declared at Doctor of the Church. Today he is most well-known for his book, Introduction to the Devout Life. And this is why he is one of my faves! This book had a great impact on my spiritual growth.
An excerpt from Catholic Encyclopedia explains well the tenets of this writing:
An Introduction to the Devout Life, a work intended to lead “Philothea”, the soul living in the world, into the paths of devotion, that is to say, of true and solid piety. Everyone should strive to become pious, and “it is an error, it is even a heresy”, to hold that piety is incompatible with any state of life. In the first part the author helps the soul to free itself from all inclination to, or affection for, sin; in the second, he teaches it how to be united to God by prayer and the sacraments; in the third, he exercises it in the practice of virtue; in the fourth, he strengthens it against temptation; in the fifth, he teaches it how to form its resolutions and to persevere. The Introduction, which is a masterpiece of psychology, practical morality, and common sense, was translated into nearly every language even in the lifetime of the author, and it has since gone through innumerable editions.
There are two elements in the spiritual life: first, a struggle against our lower nature; secondly, union of our wills with God, in other words, penance and love. St. Francis de Sales looks chiefly to love. Not that he neglects penance, which is absolutely necessary, but he wishes it to be practiced from a motive of love. He requires mortification of the senses, but he relies first on mortification of the mind, the will, and the heart. This interior mortification he requires to be unceasing and always accompanied by love. The end to be realized is a life of loving, simple, generous, and constant fidelity to the will of God, which is nothing else than our present duty. The model proposed is Christ, whom we must ever keep before our eyes. Source
If you’ve never read this book, I urge you to do so. Pope John Paul, the Great, reminded us of our universal call to holiness. He radiated this call in the way he lived his life, and I’m sure many of you, like me, can still see him and hear him challenging you to live that call. I contend, however, that St. Francis de Sales issued that same call in the sixteenth century through this very simple, but profound book. Reading, meditating on, and following the teaching set forth in Devout Life is the path to holiness. It calls us to let go of attachment to sin, to grow in virtue, and to be faithfuln in big and small things. It is both remarkably simple and remarkably difficult. But then again, of course it is: it’s the call to live the gospel.
Saint Francis de Sales, pray for us! Anne
I ran across a terrific article written by a seminarian in Vienna on the Universal call to holiness. I thought you might enjoy it.
I ask for your continued prayers for Barbara. She is home recuperating, but still has a ways to go. Thanks!