Yes, it’s Sunday, but you are still allowed to think about him.
First, in case you don’t make it to the end of this post, I’ll put this at the beginning: A page with a few of the many Lenten sermons he gave – the sermons themselves are on Word docs, which is annoying, but there you have it.
Bishop, evangelist, teacher, writer, spiritual director and friend.
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.
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.
In reading his book on the love of God and especially his many letters of spiritual direction and friendship one clearly perceives that St Francis was well acquainted with the human heart. He wrote to St Jane de Chantal: “… this is the rule of our obedience, which I write for you in capital letters: do all through love, nothing through constraint; love obedience more than you fear disobedience. I leave you the spirit of freedom, not that which excludes obedience, which is the freedom of the world, but that liberty that excludes violence, anxiety and scruples” (Letter of 14 October 1604).
It is not for nothing that we rediscover traces precisely of this teacher at the origin of many contemporary paths of pedagogy and spirituality; without him neither St John Bosco nor the heroic “Little Way” of St Thérèse of Lisieux would have have come into being.
Dear brothers and sisters, in an age such as ours that seeks freedom, even with violence and unrest, the timeliness of this great teacher of spirituality and peace who gave his followers the “spirit of freedom”, the true spirit.
St Francis de Sales is an exemplary witness of Christian humanism; with his familiar style, with words which at times have a poetic touch, he reminds us that human beings have planted in their innermost depths the longing for God and that in him alone can they find true joy and the most complete fulfilment.
One of the more interesting Francis de Sales-related books I have read over the past year are some of his letters “to persons in the world,” collected here in this book found at the Internet Archive. (I’m sure they are in more contemporary bound versions but this is online…and free).
It is well worth downloading and keeping on hand. So much pertinent, valuable, wise advice and insight. Perhaps begin with his 10/14/1604 letter to Jane de Chantal. It’s long and rich and contains, among other bits, tremendous insight on true liberty in Christ.
The effects of this liberty are a great suavity of
soul, a great gentleness and condescension in all that
is not sin or danger of sin ; a temper sweetly pliable to
the acts of every virtue and charity.
For example : interrupt a soul which is attached to
the exercise of meditation ; you will see it leave with
aunoyance, worried and surprised. A soul which has
true liberty will leave its exercise with an equal coun-
tenance, and a heart gracious towards the importunate
person who has inconvenienced her. For it is all one
to her whether she serve God by meditating, or serve
him by bearing with her neighbour : both are the will
of God, but the bearing with her neighbour is necessary
at that time.
The occasions of this liberty are all the things which
happen against our inclination ; for whoever is not
attached to his inclinations, is not impatient when they
This liberty has two opposite vices, instability and
constraint, or dissolution and slavery. Instability, or
dissolution of spirit, is a certain excess of liberty, by
which we change our exercises, our state of life, with-
out proof or knowledge that such change is God’s
will. On the smallest occasion practices, plan, rule
ure changed; for every little occurrence we leave our
rule and laudable custom : and thus the heart is dissi-
pated and ruined, and is like an orchard open on all
sides, whose fruits are not for its owners, but for all
Constraint or slavery is a certain want of liberty by
which the soul is overwhelmed with either disgust or
anger, when it cannot do what it has planned, though
still able to do better.
For example : I design to make my meditation every
day in the morning. If I have the spirit of insta-
bility, or dissolution, on the least occasion in the
world I shall put it off till the evening for a dog
which kept me from sleeping, for a letter I have to
write, of no urgency whatever. On the other hand,
if I have the spirit of constraint or servitude, I
shall not leave my meditation at that hour, even
if a sick person have great need of my help at the
time, even if I have a despatch which is of great
importance, and which cannot well be put off, and