The Pope dedicates an apostolic letter to Saint Francis de Sales

Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva, Doctor of the Church and Founder of the Order of the Visitation, is honored by the Holy Father on the occasion of the 4th centenary of his death. The Pope returns to the salient points of his spirituality, anchored in charity, presenting it as a benchmark “for the changing times that we are living through”.

Adelaide Patrignani – Vatican City

A holy Savoyard bishop of the 17e century still speak to the faithful of the 21ste century? Yes, Pope Francis answers us through a copious apostolic letter of about twenty pages dedicated to Saint Francis de Sales – who died on December 28, 1622 – published this Wednesday.

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.

From the Heart of God to the Heart of Man

We discover a saint endowed with “temperament”, keen observer of the problems and characteristics of his time, but equally attentive to the complexity of the human heart, which he himself experienced through crises and upsurges. “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 “above all an attitude of the heart”, that “the experience of God is obvious to the human heart”, emphasizes Francis. “He only transformed into doctrine what he lived and deciphered with acuity, enlightened by the Spirit, in his singular and innovative pastoral action”, he summarizes.

nothing but love

Punctuating his text with numerous quotations from the Doctor of the Church, the Pope explores his spirituality more broadly.

As Saint Francis de Sales writes in one of his spiritual talks, “it is charity and love that give the price 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 isit’s all about love (Treatise on the Love of God). The “source of this love which attracts the heart is the life of Jesus Christ”, specifies the Successor of Peter, in particular on the cross, the culmination of the charity of Christ.

François de Sales also learns to “not to refuse or desire anything”, not by quietism or voluntarism, but by living the abandonment by “the contemplation of the very life of the incarnate Son”.

The Pope salutes the ability of the Bishop of Geneva to reconcile “contemplation and action”, thus surpassing “any unnecessary rigidity or withdrawal”wondering “in every moment, for every choice, in every circumstance of life, where the greatest love is”.

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

A spirituality inscribed in everyday life

The Pope also dwells on “the happy relationship between God and human beings” proposed by the Savoyard prelate, a harmonious dance between divine grace and human freedom which allows man to unfold. This grace “makes us understand that we are radically preceded by the love of God, and that his first gift consists precisely in receiving himself from his love, Francois recalls. Everyone, however, has the duty to cooperate in his own realization, spreading his wings with confidence in the breath of God”.

It is also a question of “devotion” and D’“ecstasy”, words seemingly colored with disuse and mysticism, but which are in reality relevant to any faithful. 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 is “the happy superabundance of the Christian life, elevated far above the mediocrity of mere observance”, a life “who has rediscovered the sources of joy, against all aridity, against the temptation to withdraw into oneself”.

Saint Francis de Sales was canonized in 1665, 43 years after his death

Saint Francis de Sales was canonized in 1665, 43 years after his death

Coping with a changing era

In this letter, the Holy Father finally makes it clear how much Salesian spirituality and the example of Saint Francis de Sales remain a light for today.

François does not hide his admiration for his illustrious namesake: “I found his flexibility and ability to see enlightening”, he confides. It also demonstrates that “his reflection on the spiritual life has an eminent theological value”. “One becomes theologian in the crucible of prayer”, notes the Pope, before noting the importance of the “ecclesial life” for Saint Francis de Sales. “Theology has also suffered from the individualistic culture, but the Christian theologian develops his thought by being immersed in the community, by breaking the bread of the Word there”, recalls the Sovereign Pontiff.

The one whose “the 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 inhabit 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”, can we 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 the 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 universal call to holiness

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” (Saint Paul VI). “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 distance. This was his intention, and it continues to be a valuable lesson for every man and woman of our time.” emphasizes the Pope.

The wish of the holy French bishop, patron of journalists, thus foreshadows “the conciliar theme of the universal vocation to holiness”.

His testimony of virtue, optimism and kindness bore fruit during his lifetime, but even more so after his birth in heaven. Saint Francis de Sales belongs for eternity to those who “prompt us to walk the unique and specific path that the Lord has planned for us”, recognizes the Sovereign Pontiff.

Representation of the Visitation (Florentine school of the 15th century), a hidden mystery which was dear to Saint Francis de Sales

Representation of the Visitation (Florentine school of the 15th century), a hidden mystery which was dear to Saint Francis de Sales

The Pope dedicates an apostolic letter to Saint Francis de Sales – Vatican News