Today is the feast day of my Patron Saint, Saint Francis de Sales. His story is truly incredible, and his book, The Catholic Controversy, is a beautiful defense of the Catholic faith. One thing that immediately grabbed my attention when I read the book is that the arguments made between Catholics and Protestants have not really changed much since the “reformation.” Moreover, this great apologist was charged with the task of re-converting thousands of Protestants, and he accomplished his mission in a dreadfully hostile environment. He was successful because he coupled rigorous argumentation with his ardent faith in God, the Church, and the one true Gospel. Saint Francis de Sales is a shining example of what it means to be a ‘pillar and bulwark of truth.’
Another important work by St. Francis is, Introduction to the Devout Life. The writing in this treatise is powerful, clear, and inspiring. This book carries with it the important mark of spirituality characteristic of this wonderful Doctor of the Church. In the tumultuous and distracting times we currently live in, it is often beneficial to take a step back in order to examine ourselves, to work towards a better understanding of what it means to live a life to the glory of God. This introduction, presented by St. Francis, is a guide for pursuing a holy and devout life while living in the world, not isolated from it. This is particularly important for the layman, since we are often confronted with the trials of the world in challenging and nefarious ways. In addition to this, the obstacles facing the Catholic Church, whether it is the common man or the Priest, are only going to increase in their intensity. If this is going to be our state of affairs in the future, and I believe it is, then we ought to prepare our hearts and minds for this scenario by constantly renewing ourselves with daily devotions to God. This book is a great tool for that end.
St. Francis’s writings are vast. He is a saint that is for the common man and woman seeking to live their lives in devout fashion, aiming for His eternal glory in the beatific vision.
Here are some highlights of his life (taken from chronology of his life found in the preface of Introduction to the Devout Life):
- 1594 – At the order of Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, Francis’s bishop, Claude de Granier, sent Francis into Chablais, a region in the southern shore of Lake Geneva that was under Calvinist domination. His purpose was to reinvigorate Catholic life there. Francis labored intensely for four years, rebuilding the Church in the company of his cousin, Canon Louis de Sales. They faced peril from all sides: foul weather, wild animals (Francis was once treed for the night by wolves), and paid assassins. His father, certain that Francis would be murdered, tried to dissuade him by refusing him any support: no horses, no money, no servants. However, Francis rejoiced to be thus alone and exposed, seeing himself now under the sole protection of God’s providence.
- 1595 – Francis wrote The Controversies, articles of mediation on the truth of the Catholic faith, which he posted in public places to initiate dialogue with the people of Thonon, the capitol of Chablais. Progress grew slow, but Francis persevered and eventually drew more and more people back to the Church. Even Protestants came to hear him preach, and a number of influential Calvinists were converted to the Roman faith. He won the respect of all with whom he came in contact with because of his profound commitment to the Church and to the teaching of the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563), which he upheld and taught in a clear and engaging manner. He was generous and gentle to Catholic and Protestant alike, inspiring confidence and affection.
- 1597 – Francis began to meet secretly with Theodore de Beze, patriarch of Geneva and successor to John Calvin, who was a great theologian and venerated Calvinist. Beze, at age seventy-eight, while loyal to the teaching of Protestantism, had begun to seek a rapprochement with Rome in the hope of achieving Christian unity. Heated theological discussion between Francis and Beze ensued. A message, dated May 20, reached Francis from Pope Clement VIII; the Pope praised Francis for his zeal and dedication. Minister de Beze was almost converted to Catholicism while hearing Francis preach on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
- 1617 – Francis’s Treatise on the Love of God, ten years in the writing, was published in August in Lyons. Francis was convinced that the true way for spiritual advancement was not extraordinary visions and raptures but constant renewal of one’s desire to belong to God, to do His will, and to live a life of activity. Biblical justification, according to Francis, is the resolute orientation of our hearts and minds toward what is beautiful, true, and good.
The Prayer of St. Francis de Sales
Be at Peace
Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life;
rather look to them with full hope as they arise.
God, whose very own you are,
will deliver you from out of them.
He has kept you hitherto,
and He will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will bury you in his arms.
Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today
will take care of you then and every day.
He will either shield you from suffering,
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace,
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.
St. Francis de Sales 1567-1622
– Lucas G. Westman