Four hundred years after his death, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622), celebrated on January 24, remains surprisingly topical: Doctor of the Church, founder of the Order of the Visitation, patron saint of journalists, he remains indispensable for an authentic Christian life in a time of upheaval. What are the main features of his spirituality?
Response with Canon Paul-Antoine Lefevre, of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, of Salesian spirituality.
An outstanding pedagogy
Saint Francis de Sales showed a prodigious and very fine psychological penetration which allowed him to develop very deep and adjusted analyses. His analyzes lead on a path of holiness, certainly demanding, but simple and accessible. His pedagogy presents an encouraging, friendly and optimistic approach. It is expressed simply and does not fit into the technicality of the vocabulary of theology, in order to remain accessible to all. For those who are bothered by its 17th century stylee century, they can discover it in popular works. Besides his Introduction to the Devout Life has been transcribed into contemporary French. This work is a great classic, which covers a wide variety of subjects, structured in small chapters, which all Catholics can read. There are bound to be subjects that can be useful to us: sadness, troubles, worries, droughts and spiritual consolations…
An Affordable Holiness School
Saint Francis de Sales has a great sense of balance. His school of holiness is not the very vertical one of the great contemplative orders. For ordinary mortals that we are, we need more progressive means, within our reach: his words are always well measured to respond to each condition of life. The Bishop of Geneva does not address himself to religious alone, for he has deep confidence in the greatness of the divine love which comes to seek us all. It emphasizes the little virtues that can be practiced easily every day: simplicity, humility, kindness, mortification of the heart, spirit of poverty, chastity… Saint Francis de Sales teaches that we do not measure our love of God than by our love of neighbour.
The holy bishop is very respectful of the ways of the Holy Spirit: he rarely prescribes in a directive way, because he does not want to put people in shackles. He is demanding, flexible and gentle and listens to the Holy Spirit – the first director of souls – to know how to proceed with such and such a soul, in order to follow in his footsteps thereafter. For example, with Jeanne de Chantal, the more precise directives came later: he first observed to see how the Holy Spirit wanted to direct this soul.
trust in god
This doctrine is the heart of his spirituality. It is linked to the “holy indifference”. Everything is centered on trust in God: when you trust him, you can abandon yourself like a child in the arms of Divine Providence. Francis de Sales says that we must obey the divine holy will, which manifests itself in two ways, according to him.