Thursday, January 24, 2008

St. Francis de Sales

I think Francis de Sales' appeal is very broad though - it's almost as if in his life, there's something for everyone to look to. He's interesting for his evangelizing, his courage as a bishop of a see he wasn't allowed to live in (Geneva), his truth-telling, his friendship, his spiritual direction, his writing…

Francis' book of spiritual direction for the laity is something that I'll be brazen enough to say everyone should have. There may be a few aspects of The Introduction to the Devout Life (read it online here) that seem dated and culture-bound - but honestly and surprisingly, not many. Which is, of course, why it is still read. He writes of prayer, fully cognizant of the situations in which laity busy in the world find themselves. He writes of temptation, of friendship, of how a disciple of Jesus should approach entertainment and leisure, work, conversation and marriage.
The tremendous common-sense and practicality that pervades his writings is clearly visible in this section from his Introduction to the Devout Life that makes up today's Office of Readings:
When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.
I say that devotion must be practised in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.
Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbour. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganised and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfils all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone's legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.
The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.
Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its colour, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.
It is therefore an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, from the artisans' shops, from the courts of princes, from family households. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state.
Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.
And for some local (i.e. Columbia SC) trivia. This morning at Mass at St. Peter's, Monsignor shared a little story about the founding in the early 20th century of the neighboring parish, originally to be dedicated to St. Francis de Sales. As the little community was struggling to collect funds for a church, they received a generous bequest, on the condition that the new parish would be dedicated to St. Joseph! Being the ever practical man that he was, I'm sure St. Francis wouldn't have minded. :)

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