Today is the memorial of St. Francis de Sales who should be more than a name to you.
Catholic saints are a diverse lot, which is, of course, part of the appeal – no matter who you are, no matter what you do or where you are from, or what your gifts are, there are saints – disciples of Jesus – whose witness will speak to you, as we say today. To see faith in Christ lived out in so many different ways that are, at their core, the same – letting Christ and his sacrificial love flourish within – is invaluable.
I think Francis de Sales’ appeal is very broad though – it’s almost as if in his life, there’s something for everyone to look to. He’s interesting for his evangelizing, his courage as a bishop of a see he wasn’t allowed to live in (Geneva), his truth-telling, his friendship, his spiritual direction, his writing…
Francis’ book of spiritual direction for the laity is something that I’ll be brazen enough to say everyone should have. There may be a few aspects of The Introduction to the Devout Life (read it online here) that seem dated and culture-bound – but honestly and surprisingly, not many. Which is, of course, why it is still read. He writes of prayer, fully cognizant of the situations in which laity busy in the world find themselves. He writes of temptation, of friendship, of how a disciple of Jesus should approach entertainment and leisure, work, conversation and marriage.
I can never think it well for one whose vocation is clear to waste time in wishing for some different manner of life than that which is adapted to his duty, or practices unsuitable to his present position—it is mere idling, and will make him slack in his needful work. If I long after a Carthusian solitude, I am losing my time, and such longing usurps the place of that which I ought to entertain—to fulfil my actual duties rightly. No indeed, I would not even have people wish for more wit or better judgment, for such desires are frivolous, and take the place of the wish every one ought to possess of improving what he has. We ought not to desire ways of serving God which He does not open to us, but rather desire to use what we have rightly. Of course I mean by this, real earnest desires, not common superficial wishes, which do no harm if not too frequently indulged.
Do not desire crosses, unless you have borne those already laid upon you well—it is an abuse to long after martyrdom while unable to bear an insult patiently. The Enemy of souls often inspires men with ardent desires for unattainable things, in order to divert their attention from present duties, which would be profitable however trifling in themselves. We are apt to fight African monsters in imagination, while we let very petty foes vanquish us in reality for want of due heed.
Do not desire temptations, that is temerity, but prepare your heart to meet them bravely, and to resist them when they come.
Too great variety and quantity of food loads the stomach, and (especially when it is weakly) spoils the digestion. Do not overload your soul with innumerable longings, either worldly, for that were destruction,—or even spiritual, for these only cumber you. When the soul is purged of the evil humours of sin, it experiences a ravenous hunger for spiritual things, and sets to work as one famished at all manner of spiritual exercises;—mortification, penitence, humility, charity, prayer. Doubtless such an appetite is a good sign, but it behoves you to reflect whether you are able to digest all that you fain would eat. Make rather a selection from all these desires, under the guidance of your spiritual father, of such as you are able to perform, and then use them as perfectly as you are able. When you have done this, God will send you more, to be fulfilled in their turn, and so you will not waste time in unprofitable wishes. Not that I would have you lose any good desires, but rather treat them methodically, putting them aside in one corner of your heart till due time comes, while you carry out such as are ripe for action. And this counsel I give to worldly people as well as those who are spiritual, for without heeding it no one can avoid anxiety and over-eagerness.
More reasons to pay attention to St. Francis de Sales:
Sherry Weddell has a fascinating and important post on the revitalization of the faith in 17th century France, Francis de Sales and the “network” of laity, religious and clergy that brought it to birth.