Saint Francis de Sales, the Doctor of Divine Love
Today is the feast St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), of one of the greatest saints of the post-Reformation. As a priest, bishop, writer and spiritual director, his message was always the same: we can become holy by living our ordinary lives in a holy way. Pope John Paul II called him "a man of unity in a time of division " and a "doctor of divine love." It's impossible to summarize this tireless, serene and inspiring saint, but here's a start:
The oldest son of a noble family in the Savoy region of France, de Sales was expected to follow his father into the law and then a political career. But although he earned a law degree at the University of Padua, he insisted on becoming a priest. He was ordained in 1592, and began devoting himself to battling the spread of Calvinism.
This new sect had broken away from the Lutherans and embraced the teachings of John Calvin who believed that only some mortals are predestined for salvation. You don't have to be a scholar or theologian to recognize that the idea of predestination is the opposite of Catholic teaching. One of the great consolations of our faith is that we have free will. We can redeem ourselves and find God's forgiveness up until our last breath. De Sales likened the Church to a beautiful garden where each of us forms part of that beauty.
De Sales developed a reputation as a master preacher and gifted spiritual director and he was named Bishop of Geneva in 1603.
He was a great friend of Saint Vincent de Paul , the patron of charity. He co-founded the Visitation Order with Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. His most notable book was Introduction to a Devout Life, which is still considered one of the great works of devotional literature. He also found time to develop a sign language so that he could teach a young illiterate deaf mute the catechism. And there you have the greatness of de Sales: he was so brilliant and so open to all souls that he could relate to anyone. He never stopped working until he died peacefully at the relatively young age of 56. But he left an enormous legacy in the saints and religious orders who claim him as their patron (from the Salesians of Don Bosco to the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest). And then there are the many educational institutions that bear his name.
Francis de Sales was canonized in 1665 and declared a doctor of the Church in 1977. He is a patron of writers and all those who work in the media (including bloggers!). He is also a patron of the deaf and hearing impaired.
In his words, "May God alone be your repose and your consolation."
* * *