Thursday, January 24, 2008

On the Feast of St. Francis de Sales

"The thoughts of those moved by natural human love are almost completely fastened on the beloved, their hearts are filled with passion for it, and their mouths full of its praises. When it is gone they express their feelings in letters, and can't pass by a tree without carving the name of their beloved in its bark. Thus too, those who love God can never stop thinking about Him, longing for Him, aspiring to Him, and speaking about Him. If they could, they would engrave the name of Jesus on the hearts of all humankind."

- St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists. Francis was born to a noble family in France in 1567. His father was determined that he become a lawyer, so out of obedience, Francis studied law in Padua. After remaining silent for thirteen years about the discernment of his vocation, he told his parents that he wanted to become a priest. As one might expect, his father was utterly opposed to the idea at first, but eventually he gave his consent. Francis was ordained and appointed provost of the Diocese of Geneva, an area highly populated by Calvinists. Francis tried to organize a missionary expedition with the aim of bringing the Calvinists back to the Church, but was only able to recruit one volunteer: one of his cousins, and even he abandoned Francis after several years of seemingly fruitless labor.

Determined to persist in doing God's will, for years Francis continued to endure great hardships as he preached to the Calvinists - often talking to children when their parents would not listen to him - and distributed pamphlets explaining the truths of the Catholic faith. (He authored the first religious tracts!) By the time he completed his expedition, it is said he helped bring 40,000 Calvinists back to the Catholic faith.

At age thirty-five, Francis became Bishop of Geneva, and while he went about his administrative duties, offering spiritual direction remained his top priority. Consequently, he was often overworked, and his health suffered from this. Francis truly wished to, as he put it, "engrave the name of Jesus on the hearts of all humankind." He drew countless people to the faith by his preaching and was known for being exceedingly patient and gentle; thus he is sometimes called the "Gentleman Saint." He is also known for helping St. Jane de Chantal found her religious order: the Sisters of the Visitation. Francis died in 1622 and was canonized only 43 years later in 1665. He was declared a Doctor of the Universal Church in 1877 by Pope Pius IX. Three religious orders have been named for St. Francis: the Salesians, founded by St. John Bosco, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, founded by Abbé Louis Brisson, and the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, founded by Fr. Peter Mermier.

St. Francis wrote Introduction to the Devout Life and A Treatise on the Love of God, as well as many tracts on Catholic apologetics and countless personal letters. The vast majority of his writings are addressed to laypeople, in hopes that they would respond to the universal call to holiness and strive to become saints.

You can download St. Francis' Introduction to the Devout Life for free at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

St. Francis de Sales, pray for us! We also long to see the name of Jesus engraved on every human heart.

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