St. Francis de Sales, great preacher, spiritual guide
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In recognition of this fact, the Vatican has issued a document entitled: From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017. Its focus is on what unites rather than divides, “Today we are able to tell the story of the Lutheran Reformation together. Even though Lutherans and Catholics have different points of view, because of ecumenical dialogue they are able to overcome traditional anti-Protestant and anti-Catholic hermeneutics in order to find a common way of remembering past events” (35). History shows us that these conciliatory sentiments were not always the case among Christians.
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) served as the Bishop of Geneva during the early years of the Reformation. He was noted as a great preacher and spiritual guide. This was a time of great acrimony and division within his diocese. He approached this sad reality with great love and patience. He worked very hard to restore unity by his preaching, writings, personal holiness, and acts of kindness. Francis believed that everyone, no matter what their occupation or state in life, was called to live a devout and spiritual life. At that time most lay people believed that only monks and hermits were called to be holy. His two most familiar works, Introduction to the Devout Life and The Love of God helped people to develop a spirituality that enabled them to be active contemplatives in a busy world. These two books have been helpful to Christians of many different denominations.
St. Francis often quoted a simple saying, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a hundred barrels of vinegar”. He tried to live this out in his own life by being gentle with others. This quality is not something that came naturally to the saint as he said it took him 20 years to overcome his temper. With God’s grace he was able to change. He also said that we should “have patience with all things, but, first with yourself.” Francis also believed that we should be as gentle and forgiving with ourselves as we should with others. His Christ-like attitude helped to bring healing, hope and unity to his diocese.
Above all, Francis de Sales believed in the unconditional love of God. God’s love for us and our love for God should be our spiritual foundation. If we trust in love, then we should not worry about things and this will bring greater peace. The following prayer, which St. Francis de Sales composed, expresses this attitude so well: “Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life; rather look to them with full hope that, as they arise, God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you lovingly in His arms. Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same understanding 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 imaginations.”
As we look at the divisions that exist in our world, we can look to this saint as an example of what can be done to help promote unity. What we need is more honey than vinegar. If we are drawn to the sweetness of God’s love, then we will overcome division and bring greater peace to our lives and to the world.
Published first under the title: BERGIE: St. Francis de Sales, great preacher, spiritual guide. St. Catharines Standard, Friday, February 10, 2017