Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Gentleman Saint

Today was the feast of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church. From his most popular work, Introduction to the Devout Life:

... all true and living devotion presupposes the love of God;—and indeed it is neither more nor less than a very real love of God, though not always of the same kind; for that Love while shining on the soul we call grace, which makes us acceptable to His Divine Majesty;—when it strengthens us to do well, it is called Charity;—but when it attains its fullest perfection, in which it not only leads us to do well, but to act carefully, diligently, and promptly, then it is called Devotion. The ostrich never flies,—the hen rises with difficulty, and achieves but a brief and rare flight, but the eagle, the dove, and the swallow, are continually on the wing, and soar high;—even so sinners do not rise towards God, for all their movements are earthly and earthbound. Well-meaning people, who have not as yet attained a true devotion, attempt a manner of flight by means of their good actions, but rarely, slowly and heavily; while really devout men rise up to God frequently, and with a swift and soaring wing. In short, devotion is simply a spiritual activity and liveliness by means of which Divine Love works in us, and causes us to work briskly and lovingly; and just as charity leads us to a general practice of all God’s Commandments, so devotion leads us to practise them readily and diligently.

St. Francis did a great many great things, but he had a somewhat rocky start. He was a good-looking young man with great hair, long and thick and blond, and, despite thinking he had a vocation, and having renounced his title of Lord of Villaroget for it, he had so much difficulty with the fact that he would have to take a tonsure, he almost didn't go through with it. Fortunately, he did, and began to light up like a fire -- a necessary thing, because his first assignment was Geneva and the surrounding area, a very dangerous post as Geneva was Calvinist, and he set out, in his words, to tear down the walls of Geneva with charity. Geneva itself, of course, was completely closed to him. The Catholics were scattered and difficult to reach, and non-Catholics wouldn't even talk to him, so he launched a campaign of tracts, which is why he's patron saint of journalists. He had to survive a few assassination attempts, but people began to warm up to him. And perhaps more importantly for the broader church, it taught him an extraordinary patience and courtesy even with his avowed enemies and a sense of how to communicate with ordinary people struggling to make their way.

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