Today, January 24, is the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, bishop and Doctor of the Church.
Two spiritual classics by St. Francis de Sales that I highly recommend are, Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God.
Francis was born on August 21, 1567 in Thorens-Glieres, Haute-Savoie, France. His was a very prominent family. His father, Francois, was Lord of Boisy, Sales, and Novel. His mother, Francoise, was a noblewoman. His father hoped he would become a magistrate, and assured for him the best education possible at the Capuchin college in Annecy.
While attending College de Clermont in 1584, Francis heard a lecture on predestination, which convinced him that he was doomed to eternal damnation. This led to a severe depression, and even physical illness. His despondency lasted until 1586, when he visited the parish church of Saint-Etienne-de-Gres in Parish and prayed the Memorare before a statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance and consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to a vow of chastity. Shortly after, he became a tertiary of the Minims, a religious Order founded by St. Francis of Paola. By the time Francis completed his studies at College de Clermont, he was convinced of God’s love for him, inspired by the words of the First Epistle of John that, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8b). Francis next enrolled at the University of Padua in Italy, where he studied law and theology, and it was there that he decided to enter the priesthood.
After graduating with his doctorate in law and theology, Francis returned to his family in the Duchy of Savoy, and the Senate of Chambery admitted him as a lawyer. His father secured a number of important positions for him, including as a senator. His father also chose a wealthy noble heiress to be Francis’ bride. Francis refused to marry, however, desiring to be true to his vow of chastity and to giving himself completely to the service of God. At first, his father would not accept that Francis wanted to be a priest, but with the intervention of the Bishop of Geneva, and after Francis signed over his rights of inheritance to his younger brother, he was ordained in 1593. He received an appointment as provost of the cathedral chapter of Geneva.
As provost, Francis began a campaign of evangelization in a territory that was almost entirely Calvinist. His efforts faced great opposition and he even escaped a number of attempts at assassination. No one would see him or come to his sermons. Francis wrote pamphlets teaching the truth of Catholicism and would slip them under the doors of homes. It is said that his efforts brought 40,000 who had fallen away back to the Catholic Church. He even developed a sign language to teach a deaf man about the faith. Francis traveled to Rome and Paris and formed close alliances with both Pope Clement VIII and King Henry IV. He became a favorite of King Henry for his devotion, learning and gentle spirit, and many in his court sought Francis’ counsel.
In 1602, the Bishop of Geneva died and Francis, who had been appointed coadjutor bishop in 1601, ascended to the See. He took up his residence in Annecy, however, since Geneva was controlled by the Calvinists and closed to him. During his tenure as bishop his reputation spread as one who was a marvelous preacher. His diocese became known throughout Europe for its organization, zealous clergy and educated laity. Francis himself was widely recognized for his goodness and gentleness, especially in how he approached the tension between Catholics and Protestants. Francis, along with St. Jane Frances de Chantel, founded the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, a women’s religious community, in 1610.
Francis wrote a great deal, but his two masterpieces are Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God. Both are addressed primarily to the laity and are renowned for their spiritual direction and pastoral sensitivity. Francis believed that charity was a greater road to progress in the spiritual life than penance and this is reflected in his writings.
In December of 1622, Francis joined Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, for a Christmas tour of the Duke’s domain. When the troupe arrived in Lyon, Francis elected to stay in the gardener’s hut on the grounds of the monastery of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. It was there that he suffered a stroke, from which he died on December 28, 1622. Francis was beatified by Pope Alexander VII on January 8, 1661 and canonized on April 19, 1665, also by Pope Alexander VII. He is the patron of Catholic writers, the Catholic press, the deaf, journalists, and adult education. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1877.
Father, you gave Francis de Sales the spirit of compassion to befriend all men on the way to salvation. By his example, lead us to show your gentle love in the service of our fellow men. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns will you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Christian Prayer, Liturgy of the Hours
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.