By Visitation Spirit
Recent Talk Applies the Wisdom of St. Francis de Sales to Today
Does it seem like the world is only falling into more and more chaos? Have you ever gotten the sinking feeling that goodness might not prevail? That evil is winning? That the apocalypse is near?
As a result of these troubling times, it might be easy for us to adopt an attitude of resistance, negativity, and even despair to certain things we are experiencing or hearing. These days, division seems to be the defining mark for a Church that is supposed to have a mission of unity, as if we are in some kind of Catholic civil war.
However, we must remember, the devil revels in anything that causes the breakdown of the unity that God desires for the seed of His Kingdom, the Church. Instead of sensationalizing everything that is happening and perpetuating division and negativity, we can learn from St. Francis de Sales that we can take a stance spiritually in our lives against the ways of the world and to help remedy the issues in our Church.
Salesian Lecture by Dr. Thomas Donlan
As a response to the state of affairs in our world, a lecture was recently given by salesian scholar Dr. Thomas Donlan. (See YouTube video, "Salesian Wisdom in Times of Division”) Therein, Dr. Donlan showcased how St. Francis's life and teachings can help us navigate the turbulent waters of our modern times in the Church.
One might be inclined to call these unprecedented times, however, as with most things, history usually repeats itself. Thomas Donlan reminds us that St. Francis de Sales also lived through alarming times. The Protestant Reformation was in full swing, religious wars that were causing the loss of thousands of lives were a reality, and Catholics were fighting against Protestants and against fellow Catholics.
Extreme times lent themselves to extreme reactions and responses. Hard-line, "radical" Catholics took a strong, doom-and-gloom apocalyptic stance that caused them to peg Protestants as the spawn of Satan, take up extreme penitential mortification, distrust society, and have fears of an impending end to Catholicism. The main characteristic was that salvation is in the balance and thus desperate measures and attitudes needed to be adopted at all cost.
All of this was marked by fear, urgency, and violence.
Along Comes a Saint
God always seems to raise up a saint to be a beacon of hope in every age. In this case, God gave the world St. Francis de Sales. After having wrestled with his own fears and doubts because of all that was happening, he eventually adopted a balancing stance. He was still staunchly opposed to Protestantism, but he was not opposed to Protestants. Instead, he sought to find common ground and seek unity (without violence), all while making it clear that Catholicism is the true fruit of Christ's mission of redemption.
Instead of fear mongering, doubt and despair, St. Francis emphasized that God's love and mercy infinitely outmatches the influence of Satan in the world. And while the devil might have a hold on this world, God has the true sovereignty, and Christians have no reason to fear the devil. Hope should always be the response.
Jesus, I Trust in You
And this leads to the defining characteristic of St. Francis's views: his emphasis on God as merciful, a God we can trust, a trust that should give us an interior calm and spiritual strength. He would often use Matthew 11:29, "I am gentle and humble of heart" as the scripture verse to highlight this point.
He preached that the Catholic zeal at the time should be harnessed and focused towards mercy and gentleness. St. Francis would say: “We are here only to receive and carry the gentle Jesus…in proclaiming him [and] doing good works. Oh blessed are those who carry him gently and constantly.”
St. Francis was uninhibited in reminding everyone of God's bounty, like that of a fountain of eternal life—the source of living water. God came to give us life and life to the full. God desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of salvation. This means that human sin is no match for God's sovereignty and abundance. And this means that we need to adopt God's mind and heart by loving our neighbor, a failure of which St. Francis says is the most common failure of Christian love.
Watch the video of Dr. Thomas Donlan on the topic, "Salesian Wisdom for Times of Division"
The website Visitation Spirit promotes the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal. The website’s purpose is to help you walk the path toward greater sanctity, whether you are a lay person or one who will enter the Order of the Visitation as a religious sister.