It’s all about love

A holy Savoyard bishop of 17 e century can he still speak to the faithful of the xxi e century? Yes, answers Francis in an apostolic letter of about twenty pages “Totum amoris est” dedicated to Saint Francis de Sales, who died on December 28, 1622, and published on December 29.

The Holy Father makes us better acquainted with the earthly journey of this tireless pastor and preacher of the “Great Century”, marked by serious political crises in the Kingdom of France and by the wars of religion. We discover a saint endowed with “temperament”, a fine observer of the problems and characteristics of his time, but just as attentive to the complexity of the human heart, which he himself experienced through crises and uplifts. “At the school of the Incarnation, he had learned to read history and to inhabit it with confidence”, writes the Sovereign Pontiff. His “God-filled lifestyle” teaches that faith is “first and foremost an attitude of the heart”, that “experience of God is self-evident to the human heart”.

Punctuating his text with numerous quotations from the Doctor of the Church, the Pope extensively explores his spirituality. As Saint Francis de Sales writes in one of his spiritual conversations, “it is charity and love that give value to our works”. Love, which manifests itself especially in gentleness, is the keystone of Salesian spirituality – and the Pope highlights this in the very title of this apostolic letter, Totum amoris is, it’s all about love. The “source of this love which attracts the heart is the life of Jesus Christ”, specifies the Successor of Peter.

Master in the art of discernment, formed by many spiritual friendships, Saint Francis de Sales knows how to lead to “the interior attitude which unites thought with feeling, reason with affection, and which he will call the “God of human heart”.

There is also talk of ‘devotion’ and ‘ecstasy’, words apparently colored with antiquity and mysticism, but which are in reality relevant to any devotee. The first, which feeds charity, is “rather a lifestyle, a way of being in the concrete of daily existence, explains the Pope. It brings together and gives meaning to the little things of everyday life, food and clothing, work and leisure, love and fertility, attention to professional obligations”. The second, for its part, is “the happy superabundance of the Christian life, elevated well above the mediocrity of simple observance”, a life “which has found the sources of joy, against all aridity, against the temptation of withdrawal into oneself”.

In this letter, the Holy Father finally makes it clear how much Salesian spirituality and the example of Saint Francis de Sales are a light for today. One whose “influence [du] episcopal ministry on Europe of the time and of the following centuries appears immense” was addressed to a “world so variously thirsty for God”. “He is above all a privileged interpreter of a change of era and the guide of souls in a time which, in a new way, thirsts for God”, insists the Pope. The Bishop of Geneva had “the intuition of a change in action and the requirement, quite evangelical, to understand how to be able to live in it”. This challenge finds an echo in today’s world, François observes. “This is also what awaits us as an essential task for the change of times that we are living: a Church that is not self-referential, free from all worldliness but capable of inhabiting the world, of sharing the lives of people, of walking together, to listen and to welcome”, one can read. Saint Francis de Sales, who relied above all on the grace of God, “invites us to come out of an excessive preoccupation with ourselves, with the structures, with the image that we give in society and to ask ourselves instead what are the concrete needs and spiritual expectations of our people. It is therefore important, even today, to re-read some of his crucial choices, in order to live in change with evangelical wisdom”, encourages the Holy Father.

The founder of the Order of the Visitation – with Saint Jeanne-Françoise de Chantal -, always desiring that each believer, whatever his state of life, can live his faith to the full, also shows that “holiness is not the prerogative of one or the other class”. “Crossing the earthly city while preserving interiority, combining the desire for perfection with each state of life, finding a center that is not separated from the world but learns to inhabit it, to appreciate it, also learning to take its distances. This was his intention, and it continues to be a valuable lesson for every man and woman of our time,” the Pope said. (Adelaide Patrignani)

It’s all about love – L’Osservatore Romano