In honor of today’s feast of St. Francis de Sales, the Doctor of Charity, I would like to post reflections of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI given in 2011 about this great saint:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“God is God of the human heart” (The Treatise on the Love of God, I, XV). These apparently simple words give us an impression of the spirituality of a great teacher of whom I would like to speak to you today: St Francis de Sales, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church.
Born in 1567, in a French border region, he was the son of the Lord of Boisy, an ancient and noble family of Savoy. His life straddled two centuries, the 16th and 17th, and he summed up in himself the best of the teachings and cultural achievements of the century drawing to a close, reconciling the heritage of humanism striving for the Absolute that is proper to mystical currents.
He received a very careful education; he undertook higher studies in Paris, where he dedicated himself to theology, and at the University of Padua, where he studied jurisprudence, complying with his father’s wishes and graduating brilliantly with degrees in utroque iure, in canon law and in civil law.
In his harmonious youth, reflection on the thought of St Augustine and of St Thomas Aquinas led to a deep crisis. This prompted him to question his own eternal salvation and the predestination of God concerning himself; he suffered as a true spiritual drama the principal theological issues of his time. He prayed intensely but was so fiercely tormented by doubt that for a few weeks he could barely eat or sleep.
At the climax of his trial, he went to the Dominicans’ church in Paris, opened his heart and prayed in these words: “Whatever happens, Lord, you who hold all things in your hand and whose ways are justice and truth; whatever you have ordained for me… you who are ever a just judge and a merciful Father, I will love you Lord…. I will love you here, O my God, and I will always hope in your mercy and will always repeat your praise…. O Lord Jesus you will always be my hope and my salvation in the land of the living” (I Proc. Canon., Vol. I, art. 4).
The 20-year-old Francis found peace in the radical and liberating love of God: loving him without asking anything in return and trusting in divine love; no longer asking what will God do with me: I simply love him, independently of all that he gives me or does not give me. Thus I find peace and the question of predestination — which was being discussed at that time — was resolved, because he no longer sought what he might receive from God; he simply loved God and abandoned himself to his goodness. And this was to be the secret of his life which would shine out in his main work: the The Treatise on the Love of God.
Overcoming his father’s resistance, Francis followed the Lord’s call and was ordained a priest on 18 December 1593. In 1602, he became Bishop of Geneva, in a period in which the city was the stronghold of Calvinism so that his episcopal see was transferred, “in exile” to Annecy.
As the Pastor of a poor and tormented diocese in a mountainous area whose harshness was as well known as its beauty, he wrote: “I found [God] sweet and gentle among our loftiest rugged mountains, where many simple souls love him and worship him in all truth and sincerity; and mountain goats and chamois leap here and there between the fearful frozen peaks to proclaim his praise” (Letter to Mother de Chantal, October 1606, in Oeuvres, éd. Mackey, t. XIII, p. 223).
Nevertheless the influence of his life and his teaching on Europe in that period and in the following centuries is immense. He was an apostle, preacher, writer, man of action and of prayer dedicated to implanting the ideals of the Council of Trent; he was involved in controversial issues dialogue with the Protestants, experiencing increasingly, over and above the necessary theological confrontation, the effectiveness of personal relationship and of charity; he was charged with diplomatic missions in Europe and with social duties of mediation and reconciliation.
Yet above all St Francis de Sales was a director: from his encounter with a young woman, Madame de Charmoisy, he was to draw the inspiration to write one of the most widely read books of the modern age, The Introduction to a Devout Life.
A new religious family was to come into being from his profound spiritual communion with an exceptional figure, St Jane Frances de Chantal: The Foundation of the Visitation, as the Saint wished, was characterized by total consecration to God lived in simplicity and humility, in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well: “I want my Daughters”, he wrote, not to have any other ideal than that of glorifying [Our Lord] with their humility” (Letter to Bishop de Marquemond, June 1615). He died in 1622, at the age of 55, after a life marked by the hardness of the times and by his apostolic effort.
The life of St Francis de Sales was a relatively short life but was lived with great intensity. The figure of this Saint radiates an impression of rare fullness, demonstrated in the serenity of his intellectual research, but also in the riches of his affection and the “sweetness” of his teachings, which had an important influence on the Christian conscience.
Masses at St. Francis de Sales Oratory at 8am and 10:30am. Those who assist at Mass today at an Institute apostolate may gain a plenary indulgence, under the usual conditions.