Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Saint Francis de Sales ("The Gentleman Saint") is an Inspirational Saint

Saint Francis de Sales is the Patron Saint of authors, journalists and writers -- which I can relate to since I have a Bachelor's degree in journalism and enjoy writing this blog -- as well as engaging in other writing endeavors. Honored as a saint in the Catholic Church (since Pope Pius XI named him patron saint in 1923), Francis became known for his deep faith and his gentle approach to the religious divisions in his land resulting from the Protestant Reformation. Francis is also known for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly the Introduction to the Devout Life and the Treatise on the Love of God.

He was born August 21, 1567 in Chateau de Sales (what is today Thorens-Glières, Haute-Savoie, France) in the Kingdom of Savoy near Geneva, Switzerland and died December 28, 1622 in Lyon, France at the age of 55 as a result of suffering a stroke.

As he was nearing his 20's, his father wanted him to pursue a career in law. As a result, Francis formally studied law -- but he also studied theology. I can relate to this part of his life in that I began working in the law field at the age of 28, and obtained a Bachelor's degree in Religion while in my 20's. Francis was admitted as a lawyer, but his true heart was to enter the priesthood. He was ordained in 1593.

Francis witnessed the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, which was a religious, social, economic, and political revolution that was sparked when a Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of his local church (the Theses being a list of questions and propositions for debate). Luther came to reject several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church -- believing it was corrupt -- and sought to reform it.

During the time of the Protestant reformation, Francis lived close to Calvinist territory. Those who followed John Calvin's teachings were called 'Calvinists' -- people who affirm the sovereignty of God and believe God predestines individuals to salvation. To explain this complex doctrine, theologians use the acronym T.U.L.I.P. to highlight Calvin's five main tenets: total depravity (all humans are sinful and are born with an inherent sin nature); unconditional election (God predestined individuals for salvation, and individuals cannot choose God without God enabling them to do so); limited atonement (God sent Jesus Christ to die for the sins of his chosen saints only, and not for the sins of those who are unbelievers); irresistible grace (God's chosen elect cannot resist God's grace in their lives); and, perseverance of the saints (once an individual is saved, he or she can never lose his or her salvation because he or she is eternally bound to Christ).

Francis decided he should lead an expedition to bring the 60,000 Calvinists back to the Catholic Church. For three years, he trudged through the countryside, had doors slammed in his face and rocks thrown at him. In the bitter winters, his feet froze so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow. Once, Francis was in the woods when he heard a pack of wolves howling after him. He had just enough time to climb a huge chestnut tree to save himself from the wolves and tied himself to a branch so that he wouldn't fall. The next morning, some farmers found him extremely cold and untied him. They took Francis to their home, warmed him up, and cared for him.With all of the journeys across states and countries that I've done on foot, I can relate (to a degree) with what Francis felt as he trudged endless miles through the countryside, having some people treat him unkindly, and pushing forward to the point of having his feet bleed. I experienced similar moments as I aimed to encourage young people toward a healthier lifestyle. I also experienced the kindness of people who cared for me when I needed help, as Francis experienced from farmers who found him.

Francis' unusual patience kept him working. No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door. So, Francis found a way to get under the door. He wrote little pamphlets to explain true Catholic doctrine and slipped them under doors. It is one of the first records of religious tracts being used to communicate the true Catholic faith to people who had fallen away from the Church.

Since the parents wouldn't come to him, Francis went to the children. When the parents saw how kind he was as he played with the children, they began to talk to him. I, too, went to the children with my message -- which was on health and fitness, speaking to thousands of school children through school assemblies. By the time Francis returned home, it is believed that he brought 40,000 people back to the Catholic Church. Through the success of Francis' efforts, Catholics who had just about given up on their faith returned to it.

During Francis' time, it was wrongly thought that achieving real holiness of life was a task reserved for only for the clergy and those in religious life, and not for lay men and women. It was believed that only contemplatives (people who withdraw from active participation in the world) could really achieve holiness. Francis insisted that every Christian was called to holiness and sanctity, no matter what their career or state in life. In holding that belief, Francis reflected the teachings of Jesus and the early Church Fathers. Essentially, in every career and every state in life, Christians can become more like Jesus Christ. That is what holiness really means.

Francis gave spiritual direction to lay people who were living real lives in the real world. He had proven with his own life that people could grow in holiness while involved in a very active occupation. Francis also recognized that Christian marriage and family life is itself a call to holiness.

At the age of 35, Francis became bishop of Geneva. He is known as "the Gentleman Saint" because of his patience and gentleness. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates Saint Francis de Sales' Feast Day on January 24.

I want to share some of Francis' writings with you. These have been gleaned from his collected letters, homilies, conferences and publications.

  • Those who run best in the race do not think of the crowd which is looking at them.
  • Take care of your health that it may serve you to serve God.
  • God never permits anything to come upon us as a trial or test of our virtue without desiring that we should profit by it.
  • When God sends inspirations into a person's heart, one of the first that is given is obedience.
  • You must choose: is it better that there should be thorns in your garden in order to have roses, or that there should be no roses in your garden in order to have no thorns?
  • Great works do not always come our way but every moment presents us with opportunities to do little ones with excellence.
  • Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.
  • Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.
  • Be who you are and be that well.
  • Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections.
  • Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.
  • When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.
  • Through devotion, your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

Hebrews 12:1 reads: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Saint Francis de Sales is one of those witnesses. In fact, all of the saints are the "witnesses" who envelop the throne of God and embrace Jesus Christ's example of faith. They ran the race of life while keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus. I've aimed to keep my eyes on Jesus as I've run life's course, and I've certainly had moments of stumbling along the way. However, God has continually been gracious to me.

Saint Francis de Sales inspires me and my faith. He was steadfast in his faith; persevered in the face of trials; endured difficult conditions; had conviction of heart; was good with children; was a gentleman; wrote thought-provoking and influential words; was brave enough to embark on a long journey on foot for what he believed in; and, not only lived his faith, but shared it through words and actions.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso