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Posts Tagged ‘France’

Today’s her feastday!

She’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

 

 

For more on that book go here. 

They’ve created a matching game with some of the images from the book here. 

I have copies here – if you’d like a signed one! 

(St. Jerome images from the book in yesterday’s post)

She’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love their families.”  Here are the first two pages of the entry:

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on today’s saint, Therese of Lisieux.  From the General Audience of 4/6/11:

 

Dear friends, we too, with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love authentically and totally. Thérèse is one of the “little” ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery. A guide for all, especially those who, in the People of God, carry out their ministry as theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Thérèse continually entered the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this interpretation of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not in opposition to academic knowledge. Thescience of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of her The Story of a Soul, is the loftiest science.

“All the saints have understood and in a special way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of the evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that St Paul, St Augustine, St John of the Cross, St Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic, and so many other friends of God drew thatwonderful science which has enthralled the loftiest minds?” (cf. Ms C 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, for Thérèse the Eucharist was the sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to the extreme to raise us to him. In her last Letter, on an image that represents Jesus the Child in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!” (LT 266).

In the Gospel Thérèse discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point that she said: “To me, He has given his Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other divine attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love” (Ms A, 84r).

In these words she expresses herself in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “I have only to open the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the perfume of Jesus’ life, and then I know which way to run; and it is not to the first place, but to the last, that I hasten…. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit… my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Saviour Jesus, because I know that he loves the Prodigal Son” who returns to him. (Ms C, 36v-37r).

“Trust and Love” are therefore the final point of the account of her life, two words, like beacons, that illumined the whole of her journey to holiness, to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226).

Trust, like that of the child who abandons himself in God’s hands, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of self for ever, as the Saint says, contemplating Mary: “Loving is giving all, and giving oneself” (Why I love thee, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Thérèse points out to us all that Christian life consists in living to the full the grace of Baptism in the total gift of self to the Love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, his same love for all the others.

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Of the many saints we could celebrate today, she’s the one I’ll pick. I’ll start by highlighting a 10-year (ten!) old blog post of mine, written the day of her canonization.

(She is the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

I see the retreat master this past weekend was a Discalced Carmelite and the retreat was for Third-Order Carmelites (ah…that explains the big scapulars. Got it.) . He preached a very good homily tying together the Scriptures, the canonization of the saints that had taken place that day (he was quick enough to look up the Holy Father’s homily so he could quote from it at 11am Mass),  and, well, life.

What struck me about his homily was his description of three of the newly canonized – St. Damien, St. Jeanne Jugan, and St. Rafael Arnaiz Baron, as “outcasts” of a sort: St. Damien for his life among the lepers; St. Jeanne Jugan because of her removal as superior of the community she founded, and St. Rafael because of his health problems (diabetes), which prohibited him from joining the Trappists in the way he had hoped (he was able to become an Oblate, but not a brother or priest)

Sell all you have and give the money to the poor.

All of it.

Pope Benedict’s homily:

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the question that opens the brief dialogue we heard in the Gospel, between a man, identified elsewhere as the rich young man, and Jesus (cf Mk 10:17-30). We do not have very many details about this nameless character: all the same from the little we do have we are able to perceive his sincere desire to attain eternal life by living an honest and virtuous existence on earth. In fact he knows the commandments and has obeyed them since childhood. And yet all of this, while important, is not sufficient — says Jesus — there is one thing missing, but it is an essential thing. Seeing then that he is willing, the Divine Master looks at him with love and proposes the qualitative leap, he calls him to the heroism of sanctity, he asks him to abandon everything and follow him: “Sell what you own and give the money to the poor…then come, follow me!” (V. 21).

“Then come, follow me!” This is the Christian vocation that flows from a proposal of love by the Lord, and that can be realized only thanks to our loving reply. Jesus invites his disciples to the total giving of their lives, without calculation or personal gain, with unfailing trust in God. The saints welcome this demanding invitation and set about following the crucified and risen Christ with humble docility. Their perfection, in the logic of a faith that is humanly incomprehensible at times, consists in no longer placing themselves at the center, but choosing to go against the flow and live according to the Gospel.

And after Mass:

At the end of Mass, Benedict XVI made his way to the raised dias in front of the basilica, where tens of thousands of pilgrims were waiting gathered in the square, with whom he prayed the Angelus. In his reflection before the Marian prayer, he returned to the value of the witness of the saints canonized today. He asked French-speaking pilgrims to follow the example of St. Jeanne Jugan, “to take care of the poorest and smallest” to support with prayer and work “the generous people involved in the fight against leprosy and all other forms of leprosy due to the lack of love,  ignorance or meanness”. The pope also asked them to help the work of the Synod for Africa in progress this week in Rome. Benedict XVI also recalled the figure of St. Damian for Flemish pilgrims: “This holy priest was led by God to allow his vocation flourish into a total ‘yes’. May the intercession of Our Lady and the apostle of lepers free the world of leprosy, make us open to the love of God and give us joy and enthusiasm in service to our brothers and sisters. ”   Among the many pilgrims, the pope also greeted – in English – a group of survivors of nuclear attacks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “I pray – said the pontiff – that the world will never witness such a mass destruction of innocent lives again. May God bless you all, as well as your families and your loved ones at home”.

More on St. Jeanne Jugan, including the time Charles Dickens met her:

Jeanne chose the name Sister Mary of the Cross but was commonly known as Mother Marie of the Cross. She would often say, “the poor are Our Lord.” Locals began to call her humble sisters and their hospitality efforts, the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

In 1851 a small group of Little Sisters crossed the English Channel to establish the first home outside France, in a London suburb. Spain was next, followed by Belgium, Ireland, North Africa and North America. In just the last decade, new homes for the elderly have opened in India, Peru, and the Philippines. 

Like the grain of what that falls to the earth and dies, Jeanne’s life has produced great fruit that continues today—but she was not always honored or appreciated during her life.  One day a new priest who was put in charge of the young congregation decided to replace Jeanne as superior and place her in retirement without any say in the decision.  While others protested what was viewed as an injustice, Jeanne simply accepted it as the will of God, and went about begging for contributions to support the growing order. The priest was later removed by the Holy See in 1890. Jeanne told her sisters, “We are grafted into the cross and we must carry it joyfully unto death.” When she died 27 years later, few of the young Little Sisters even knew that she was the foundress.

Once after meeting Jeanne Jugan, Charles Dickens said, “there is in this woman something so calm, and so holy, that in seeing her I know myself to be in the presence of a superior being. Her words went straight to my heart, so that my eyes, I know not how, filled with tears.”  

 

 

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Saints are People Who are Brave…

From the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

More

 

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— 1 —

Well, hey. If you only come here on Fridays, please stay a while and check out my previous posts. You might be interested in my account of the various Triduum liturgies I attended here in Birmingham or the page I’ve started collating much of the more substantive writing I’ve done on books.

The collage below (click on each image for a larger version) features images from my books related to recent and near future liturgical commemorations and highlights – saints, Scripture readings, seasons:

 

Divine Mercy (this coming Sunday), St. Mark (4/25), Mary Magdalene (Gospel accounts), Easter, last page of entry on St. Thomas’ encounter with Jesus (this coming Sunday), the Road to Emmaus, St. Catherine of Siena (Monday).

For more on these books, go here. 

I also have copies of all of them except Heroes here, as well as The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days (great Mother’s Day gift!) Go here to order if you’d like a personalized copy! 

 — 2 —

From the Catholic Herald: “What Happens when Celebrities Walk to Rome:”

 

They have their joking and bantering moments, but they grasp the deeper meaning of pilgrimage: a journey of discovery into the soul, as well as a physical challenge surrounded by inspiring scenery.

Each of the characters has a back story: most touching was Les Dennis’s feeling for the Ave Maria, because his mother had sung it as a young girl in Liverpool Cathedral (but she left the faith when a priest refused to baptise her child born out of wedlock – a very wrong clerical decision, surely). Dana didn’t say a lot, but when she spoke to illuminate a wayside shrine to Our Lady, she was so patently sincere in her faith that the whole group seemed moved.

The pilgrims have a sense of awe that they are following in the footsteps of so many who went before, on the same route, from Canterbury to Rome (although in this instance, they started off in Switzerland). They are also in the tradition of Chaucer, where adventure was part of the journey too.

And The Road to Rome has another striking dimension: in these Brexity days of adversarial debate and shouty political arguments, here’s a genuinely European experience which is about crossing frontiers in peace, discovery, spirituality and merry companionship.

— 3 —

Sohrab Ahmari on the Sri Lankan martyrs:

“He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” but “he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-9).

By that stark measure of discipleship, Sri Lanka’s slaughtered Christians have amply proved themselves. On Sunday, they filled their churches in Colombo to greet the Risen Jesus only to fall victim to Islamist savagery. The Christians of Sri Lanka lost their lives for the sake of the Lord – simply, beautifully, radically – and even now their wounds are glorified like his.

The question the Sri Lanka massacre, and others like it in places such as Egypt, Nigeria and Iraq, pose to Christians in the West is: what have we sacrificed for the faith lately? What have we suffered for the suffering God?

A friend of mine likes to say that “there are no Styrofoam crosses”. If you’re handed a real cross, you will recognise it by the heavy weight, by the pieces of wood that splinter off and prick your hands as you try to carry it.

–4–

From First Things, a fascinating exchange between French writers Michel Houellebecq and Geoffroy Lejeune. 

Geoffroy Lejeune: I have been going to Mass every Sunday for the last thirty years and have experienced almost all the liturgical styles. I frequented some charismatic meetings, notably with the Communauté de l’Emmanuel, and like you I saw people dancing, singing, speaking in tongues—in short, giving themselves over to all the effusions that we thought were reserved to Americans alone. I have to admit that a form of joy reigns over these assemblies that is sometimes a bit worrisome, because certain members seem possessed (their behavior during so-called “evenings of healing” leads one to believe that this mystery can only be experienced if one is in bad shape). And I have never felt farther from God than on these occasions: I was eighteen years old, I was neither sickly nor depressed, and I ended up believing that, because I was unable to sob uncontrollably or pour out my feelings into a microphone in front of people I didn’t know, I was simply not made for the faith.

There is a wound that ought to be treated by the Church: the wound of not knowing God, or of not knowing how to find him. In the 1960s, when the Beatles were making the world dance, the Church asked itself how to continue to announce the gospel. In 1962, it called the Second Vatican Council. Wags remarked that the cardinals arrived there by boat and left by plane: The institution had just entered modernity. In drawing closer to common mores, in speaking the language of its time, the Church believed it could maintain its tie with the faithful who were thrown off balance by the liberal and sexual revolutions.

The changes, notably, concerned liturgy: Latin was abandoned, ornamentation was simplified, and the priest turned toward the congregation. Parishes invested in synthesizers, and girls began to keep the beat in the choir. But the drama of style is that it goes out of style. Sixty years later, the synthesizers are still there, and the girls too, but they have grown old, and their voices quaver—even the priests can no longer put up with them. Only the dynamic parishes of the city centers escape this liturgical impoverishment, but even there on a Sunday one can hear a guitarist trying his hand at arpeggios, and recall this cruel reality: He’s no Mark Knopfler.

This race toward modernity is an obvious failure, and the churches are considerably emptied as a result. Before Vatican II, one-third of French people stated that they went to Mass every Sunday. In 2012, this number had fallen to six percent, the sign of a major cultural upheaval.

The phenomena are probably linked: The Church tried to conform itself to the world at a moment when the world was becoming uglier.

Well, that doesn’t actually represent an “exchange” – but you can click back and read it for yourself. I read Houellebecq’s Submission a couple of years ago and wrote briefly about it here. I’m looking forward to reading his new novel, which will be published in English in the fall.

–5 —

If you have followed the story of the Notre Dame fire, you have probably picked up on the fact that what we see of Notre Dame includes a great deal of restoration. Here’s an article detailing centuries of work, destruction, and rebuilding:

What many don’t realize is that the majority of what one sees when one looks at Notre-Dame’s west façade is a modern restoration. The French Revolution badly damaged the symbol of the hated monarchy, robbed the treasury, and threw many of the art and artifacts contained therein into the River Seine. The 28 statues of biblical kings on the west portal were beheaded, even as the flesh-and-blood Louis XVI had been; the majority of the other statues destroyed; and the building itself used as a warehouse.

While Napoleon Bonaparte restored the building to the church in 1802, Notre-Dame was still half-ruined. Victor Hugo’s bestselling 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris (better known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame) drew attention to the cathedral’s plight.

 

— 6 —

Alabama prisons are terrible. Our governor wants to “fix” the problem by building more. A Republican state senator argues for a different approach – from a Christian point of view.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairman of a key prison oversight committee, and a longtime advocate for justice-system reforms, describes himself as appalled by the report’s findings. And, from his bully pulpit at the Statehouse, he’s been doing some preaching about it.

In comments to AL.com and to NPR, Ward has wondered aloud how a proud Bible-believing state can countenance such shameful prisons in its midst.

“No one in this state should read this report and just roll their eyes,” Ward said to AL.com. “It’s a disgrace to our state. I know everyone says, ‘They are criminals’ and ‘Who cares?’ We profess to be the most Christian state in the country, but no Christian would allow their fellow man to be treated the way that they are said to be treated. That may not be the popular view, but it’s the truth.”

 

 

— 7 —

Son who writes on film (and writes fiction) has a bunch of recent posts:

Jean de Florette

The Lord of the Rings

Silent comedies. 

Harold Lloyd, I think, was closer in style to Buster Keaton than Charlie Chaplin. All three’s movies were primarily made up a series of gags, but Lloyd was more interested in stunts and laughs (like Keaton) than narrative cohesion (like Chaplin).

Still, his comedy remains distinct. Where Keaton was The Great Stone Face, Lloyd was extremely expressive. He also had very boyish looks as opposed to Keaton who kind of looks like he could have just been a stuntman. Lloyd was also probably as daring as Keaton was. It’s the combination of boyish innocence in his face along with the outlandishness of his stunts that makes Lloyd my personal favorite of these three.

 

 

 

 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Today is the feastday of St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, the 17th-18th century French priest, founder of the Christian Brothers, who revolutionized education.

In brief:

Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719) is one of the most important figures in the history of education. As the founder of the Institute for the Brothers of the Christian Schools – not to be confused with the Irish Christian Brothers – he showed a revolutionary fervour for the education of the poor.

In teaching techniques, too, he was an innovator, insisting on grouping pupils together by ability rather than by age. Against the traditional emphasis on Latin, he stressed that reading and writing in the vernacular should be the basis of all learning.

Equally, Catholic dogma should lie at the root of all ethics. Yet de la Salle also introduced modern languages, arts, science and technology into the curriculum. Of his writings on education, Matthew Arnold remarked: “Later works on the same subject have little improved the precepts, while they entirely lack the unction.”

From a LaSallian page:

John Baptist"john baptist de la salle" de La Salle was a pioneer in founding training colleges for teachers, reform schools for delinquents, technical schools, and secondary schools for modern languages, arts, and sciences. His work quickly spread through France and, after his death, continued to spread across the globe. In 1900 John Baptist de La Salle was declared a Saint. In 1950, because of his life and inspirational writings, he was made Patron Saint of all those who work in the field of education. John Baptist de La Salle inspired others how to teach and care for young people, how to meet failure and frailty with compassion, how to affirm, strengthen and heal. At the present time there are De La Salle schools in 80 different countries around the globe.

An excellent summary of the life of the saint can be found at a webpage dedicated to a set of beautiful stained-glass windows portraying the main events.

Not surprisingly, de la Salle left many writings behind. Many, if not all, are available for download at no cost here. 

All are of great interest. De la Salle wrote on education, of course, but since his vision of education was holistic, he is concerned with far more than the transmission of abstract knowledge or skills.

You might be interested in reading his Rules of Christian Decorum and Civility.

It is incredibly detailed. Some might find the detail off-putting or amusing. I see it as a fascinating window into the past and a reminder, really, of the incarnational element of everyday life. The introduction to the modern edition notes:

De La Salle sought, instead, to limit the impact of rationalism on the Christian School, and he believed that a code of decorum and civility could be an excellent aid to the Christian educator involved in the work of preserving and fostering faith and morals in youth. He believed that although good manners were not always the expression of good morals, they could contribute strongly to building them. While he envisioned acts of decorum and civility as observing the established customs and thereby protecting the established social order, he envisioned them more profoundly as expressions of sincere charity. In this way the refinement of the gentleman would become a restraint on and an antidote to self-centeredness, the root of individual moral transgressions as well as the collective evil in human society.

Perhaps we can see a key difference here – the difference between educating with a goal of prioritizing self-expression and self-acceptance and that of prioritizing love of others and self-forgetfulness.

Huh.

 

A sample:

Decorum requires you to refrain from yawning when with others, especially when with people to whom you owe respect. Yawning is a sign that you are bored either with the compabruegel-yawning-man.jpg!Largeny or with the talk of your companions or that you have very little esteem for them. If, however, you find that you cannot help yawning, stop talking entirely, hold your hand or your handkerchief in front of your mouth, and turn slightly aside, so that those present cannot notice what you are doing. Above all, take care when yawning not to do anything unbecoming and not to yawn too much. It is very unseemly to make noise while yawning and much worse to yawn while stretching or sprawling out.

You need not refrain entirely from spitting. It is a very disgusting thing to swallow what you ought to spit out; it can make you nauseated. Do not, however, make a habit of spitting often and without necessity. This is not only uncouth but also disgusting and disagreeable to everyone. Take care that you rarely need to do this in company, especially with people to whom special respect is due

Also of interest might be two books on religious formation, gathered here into a single volume. The first centers on the Mass, and the second on the prayer life of a school.  The first was intended, not just for students, but for parents and the general public as well, and once again, offers a helpful and important piece of counter evidence against the ahistorical claim that the laity were not encouraged to “participate” in the Mass before the Second Vatican Council.

Of all our daily actions, the principal and most excellent one is attending Mass, the most important activity for a Christian who wishes to draw down God’s graces and blessings on himself and on all the actions he must perform during the day. jeanbaptistedelasalleNevertheless, few people attend Mass with piety, and fewer still have been taught how to do so well. This is what led to the composing of these Instructions and Prayers to instruct the faithful in everything relating to the holy Sacrifice and to give them a means of occupying themselves in a useful and holy manner when they attend Mass.

To begin with, we explain the excellence of holy Mass, as well as the benefits derived from attending it. Next, we point out the interior dispositions that should animate our external behavior at Mass. Finally, readers learn the means of focusing their attention fully during the time of Mass.

Following this presentation, we explain all the ceremonies of holy Mass. Finally, this book suggests two sets of prayers, one based on the Ordinary of the Mass, the other on the sacred actions performed by the celebrant during Mass. Thus the faithful can alternate between both sets of prayers without growing overly accustomed to either one. Those who prefer can select the one set they like best or that inspires them with greater devotion

 

 

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Today, of course is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

If you would like to share the story of St. Bernadette with your children, Loyola has my entry on her from The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints online here. 

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Bernadette was afraid, of course, but it wasn’t the kind of fear that made her want to run away. She stayed where she was and knelt down. She reached into the pocket of her worn-out dress, found her own rosary, and started to pray with the girl. When she finished, the girl disappeared.

Bernadette didn’t know who or what she had seen. All she knew was that being there had made her feel happy and peaceful. On their way back to Lourdes, she told her sister and friend saintswhat had happened, and soon the whole village knew.

Over the next few weeks, Bernadette returned to the grotto and saw the beautiful girl several times. Each time she went, more people went with her. Although only Bernadette could see the girl in white, when the other villagers prayed with her in the grotto, they felt peaceful and happy too. Those who were sick even felt that God had healed them while they prayed.

During those moments in the grotto, the girl spoke to Bernadette only a few times. She told her that a pure, clear spring flowed under the rocks. She told her that people needed to be sorry for their sins. And near the end, the girl said one more thing: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Bernadette had no idea what this meant. She repeated it to herself over and over on her way back to the village so she wouldn’t forget the strange, long words. When she told her parish priest what the girl had said, he was quite surprised.

Almost seven years ago, we spent a few days at Lourdes, as part of our 2012 Grand Tour.

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We had just spent a few days at a gite near Montignac and the next stop would be another rental in the Pyrenees.

I didn’t know what to expect, since much of what I had read treated Lourdes with a dismissive air, describing it as “Catholic Disneyland.”

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It’s amazing to realize that Lourdes has been a pilgrimage site for a century and a half.  If you ever get a chance, read a good history of the apparition and its consequences and uses by various parties within France and the Church.  It’s really one of the most fascinating events of modern Catholicism in which every aspect of this crazy, mysterious life on God’s earth comes to bear: God’s unexpected grace and movement among us; God’s power; our receptivity; our temptation to manipulate and distort; our fears; our hopes – answered in God’s grace.  Full circle.

(Also, if you have time and the inclination, peruse Zola’s Lourdes. Yes, he has his point of view, but as an account of what 19th century pilgrimage to Lourdes was like, it’s fascinating.)

Anyway, the town of Lourdes isn’t that bad.  Yes, close to the shrine, the religious souvenir shops selling the exact same goods (always a mystery to me) are crammed in shoulder to shoulder – but that’s what you find at Assisi and Rome around St. Peter’s as well. No different, just more concentrated here. The town, as I told someone going the next year, isn’t at all picturesque – if that’s what you’re expecting, forget it.  It’s a busy, ordinary modern mid-sized French town, not a picture-book charming village tucked in the mountains.

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The view from the hotel roof, looking down on the river and the (mostly) hotels lining it. The green-lit building on the bridge was a bar, inhabited by Irish football fans – there for a match v. a Lourdes team – until *very* late.

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But then the shrine.

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I pointed out to the boys the presence of the sick and the pride of place given them.  For every Mass, every procession, every prayer service, the sick are brought in first by the volunteer attendants.  On the walkways, there are specially marked lanes for wheelchairs.  One night, we saw an older man in a wheelchair (being pushed by a young man) get so frustrated with an unaware pedestrian strolling along in the marked lane, he almost poked him with a cane, and would have if the walker hadn’t been alerted Monsieur, pour les malades by someone (er…me).

When I mentioned the place of les malades to the boys, they asked me, “Why?”  I was startled that I had to explain – well, I said, besides being simply polite and compassionate, it’s also a response to the presence of Jesus in those in need, it’s honoring that presence and obeying his command to see him there.  It’s a living expression of what Jesus said: the last shall be first – the sick and weak – like Bernadette herself –  being the last in the world’s eyes.

Les Malades.

They are first to the waters, first to the light, first to the Body because in their physical condition, we can see them, we Christ, and we can even see ourselves.  For we are all the sick, we are all weak, crippled, deaf, paralyzed, suffering, in pain, we are all dying and every one of us yearn to be whole.

And so every night at Lourdes, the darkness illuminated by our thousands of tiny lights, we walk, shuffle, stride, limp and are pushed toward that water. We go on, just as we have always done across time, everywhere  led by the One who bound Himself to this weak, suffering Flesh, awash in the womb of a mother

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This was the line to go into the grotto. Just as he got there…this fellow was turned away. Pas du chien.

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I bought the picture below at a shop well off the beaten path.  The artist made pictures like this and hand-crafted rosaries.  She said to me, “Now you can say that you bought something that actually came from Lourdes.”

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(As opposed to..China.)

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Wish not to do all, but only something, and without doubt, you will do much. 

-St. Francis de Sales, letter, 7/20/1607.

Today’s the feastday of St. Francis de Sales. Which of course you know because all the bloggers and writers are posting: Francis de Sales…my patron saint! 

And really, yes. You should read St. Francis de Sales. But as you do,  try to catch, not simply the ways that he confirms your expectations, but perhaps the way he challenges them.

Over the years – decades– I have been interested in the ways that we modern, post-Conciliar Catholics approach, use and well, perhaps appropriate great spiritual figures of the past. Well, you ask – how can we appropriate them if they are ours? If we share the same faith?

Well, that’s the conundrum, isn’t it?

For we can pick bits and pieces of Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi, and we can collect their sayings that comfort us, we can tack attractively calligraphied sayings of theirs on our walls and make pillows and mugs out of them, but really –

-do we believe everything they believe?

Do we buy it?

So take St. Francis de Sales. We like him, we celebrate him because he’s the patron saint of writers and journalists – yay us – and because he wrote specifically for the laity – YAY us – but what happens when you actually read him? What happens when you try to reach beyond what comforts you?

For the truth is, most of us reading St. Francis de Sales today have been formed to believe that belief and conversion is essentially coming to believe that I am important, and I am loved by God, that I have a place in the universe. God loves me, God accepts me as I am. 

The essence of the spiritual life seems to be: Rest in God’s love. You’re doing your best. Don’t worry.  Be assured. Come as you are. 

Well, when you read Francis de Sales – and, of course, other spiritual teachers of the past – you might pick up on some differences. Yes (as we’ll see) Francis de Sales advises against scrupulosity all the time, and both he and Jane de Chantal warn against excessive interiority and obsession with one’s spiritual state.

But this moderation is advised, not because they’re communicating that where ever you are, you’re fine and embrace your imperfections and mess. It’s a little different than that. It’s more: You’re a person, so yes you’re an imperfect mess. But God calls you to shed that mess and move towards perfection, and he gives you the tools and the grace to do so. 

And further, if you recognize this, you have an obligation to do so. A duty.

So, although I am spiritually slothful myself, I have mused about this distinction for a long time and critiqued it in various ways, but last night, I was re-reading some Francis de Sales, a bit of clarity came to me, clarity about the world we’ve lived in since the Enlightenment. And with that clarity, came, I think, some understanding, and yes, acceptance.

Modern people – that means you and me – live in a world without God. Even if we are churchgoers and say we believe in God, we actually live in a world without God, because, we admit, everyone believes what they like and who are we to judge?

That’s a world without God.

Just admit it.

And living in a world without God means living in a world of anxiety. It means living on this world that exits – why? – not knowing why or how you came to be, not having any firm, objective sense of your own value or purpose, and certainly  not knowing if your life is any more meaningful than the weed you just pulled from your garden.

So in that radically non-transcendent universe, what is “salvation?”

It is, simply, the revelation that yes, you matter. Yes, you are here, not accidentally, but because Someone wants you to be, which means that you are loved.

And so that is the core of the meaning of conversion in 2019: Accepting your own value.

I’ve spent a lot of time puzzling over that persistent theme and critiquing it, but this evening, after reading St. Francis de Sales for a while, and trying to figure out the distinctions between his message and most of what I hear today – I think that’s it, and I get it.

In an empty, meaningless universe, if we can start there – you matter – well, that’s where we have to start. It may strike me as solipsistic and goopy, but if you have been formed to believe that your life means whatever you want  which means, in essence your life means nothing –  to learn that: your life has happened because the Creator of the Universe wants  it to…

….is, indeed, transformative.

But here we are, back with St. Francis de Sales. And he won’t let you rest there. He won’t let you rest with I’m okay, I’m loved, I’m here for a reason, I have amazing gifts and talents. 

Nope.

Traditional Catholic spirituality – as expressed by today’s saint – is not about resting on our laurels and delighting in our unique gifts and talents. It’s about honestly looking at ourselves, seeing what trash we’ve allowed in, and sucking it up, embracing hard discipline, and moving forward.

We post-Vatican II babies were raised to look back at this type of spirituality and shudder: Scrupulosity! God loves you just as you are!

The basic difference has been:

Salvation = understanding and accepting that God made you and loves you as you are

Salvation = cooperating with the grace of God to restore the you he made. 

And this is why St. Francis de Sales is so wonderful. He bridges this gap, he is realistic on every score, reminding us that we are not perfect and that we should be striving for perfection, but warning us against unrealistic expectations as well:

 My God ! dear daughter, do not examine whether
what you do is little or much, good or ill, provided it is
not sin, and that in good faith you will to do it for God.
As much as you can, do perfectly what you do, but when
it is done, think of it no more ; rather think of what
is to be done quite simply in the way of God, and do
not torment your spirit. We must hate our faults,
but with a tranquil and quiet hate, not with an angry
and restless hate ; and so we must have patience when
we see them, and draw from them a profit of a holy-
abasement of ourselves. Without this, my child,
your imperfections which you see subtly, trouble you
by getting still more subtle, and by this means sustain
themselves, as there is nothing which more preserves
our weeds than disquietude and eagerness in removing
them.

To be dissatisfied and fret about the world, when we
must of necessity be in it, is a great temptation. The
Providence of God is wiser than we. We fancy that
by changing our ships, we shall get on better; yes, if
we change ourselves. My God, I am sworn enemy of
these useless, dangerous, and bad desires : for though
what we desire is good, the desire is bad, because God
does not will us this sort of good, but another, in
which he wants us to exercise ourselves. God wishes
to speak to us in the thorns and the bush, as he did to
Moses; and we want him to speak in the small wind,
gentle and fresh, as he did to Elias. May his good-
ness preserve you, my daughter ; but be constant
courageous, and rejoice that he gives you the will to
be all his. I am, in this goodness, very completely
your, &c.

That’s from 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
annoyance, 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
are contradicted.

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
are 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
passers by.

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 dispatch which is of great
importance, and which cannot well be put off, and
so on.

And go ahead – get a head start on Lent with What St. Francis de Sales wants you to know about fasting. 

Oh, and check out Bearing Blog’s many posts on Introduction to the Devout Life. 

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