Dusting off “the devout life”
Holy Francois de Sales died 400 years ago, on December 28, 1622. This major figure in the history of the Catholic Church wrote “The introduction to the devout life”. A work which has known since its publication in 1609 an immense success, it has not ceased to be republished until the 20th century. Father Michel Tournade, parish priest in Annecy and Oblate religious of Saint François de Sales, is one of his biographers and a specialist in this veritable bestseller. He notably wrote “A world to love – An adaptation of the Introduction to the devout life of Saint Francis de Sales” (ed. Nouvelle Cité, 2010).
The “devout life” as conceived by the patron saint of journalists has nothing obsolete or dusty about it, according to Michel Tournade. Moreover, in his latest work, “Living the beatitudes with Saint Francis de Sales” (ed. Salvator, 2022), the priest brings this text closer to another, just as famous: the beatitudes. In doing so, Michel Tournade manages to tell us how much both are very topical. For RCF, he comments on five verses of the beatitudes, in the light of Saint Francis de Sales.
→ READ: The beatitudes, happiness according to Jesus
“Blessed are the poor in heart, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3)
“The Beatitudes are first and foremost a path to happiness”recalls Michel Tournade. The poverty of which Christ speaks is that of the heart. Quite simply, it means that “to love, you have to be poor in heart”, explains Michel Tournade. In his “Introduction to the Devout Life”, Francis de Sales tells us that knowing oneself loved by God is a prerequisite: if one is not convinced of this, “there is no need to go much further “, comments the priest.
Certainly, Christians often say that God is love and that he loves humanity. But with François de Sales, “we have to go from us to you”: “God loves you, you, personally with what you are, without preconditions and without particular conditions.” To be devout is first of all this: to be convinced that God loves me. And if it’s not so easy, admits Michel Tournade, accustomed as we are to “this latent guilt…”
→ READ: Why do we read in the Bible “Blessed are you poor people”?
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Mt 5:6)
How to cope with discouragement ? When we see the state of the world, so many injustices… What to do when weariness overtakes us? The devout life offered by Saint Francis de Sales “is an antidote to our discouragement”, analyzes the specialist. “First you have to mourn not being God. Sometimes you would like to be Superman or a hero of Christianity… This vulnerability makes us better, more forgiving, more merciful to others.” François de Sales even goes so far as to say, according to Father Tournade, that “people who are perfect, or who think they are, are in reality quite boring!” Finally, our faults or our vulnerabilities “help us to be more brotherly, and perhaps also to need others more”.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4)
Difficult to understand this verse of the Beatitudes! “Perhaps the first thing we can say to ourselves is that Christ himself experienced this pain, facing the tomb of his friend Lazarus, for example”, recalls Michel Tournade. Faced with the enigma of evil and suffering, “one must refrain from giving too hasty explanations…”
François de Sales developed the theme of spiritual warfare at length. “Our spirituality is not just a kind of consolation, recalls Father Tournade, a comfortable mattress that would guarantee us against all hardships. There is this battle, which has a very special relationship with suffering, death, trial, affliction, etc., which is a battle won in advance because Christ is risen.” For the saint from Annecy, we are called to live our relationship with God intensely. It goes through a fight against absurdity, but it’s a path to happiness. “I’m a believer, anyway”said Abbé Pierre…
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5)
At François de Sales, gentleness is synonymous with action and commitment. “Soft does not rhyme with soft”, comments Michel Tournade. Christians are sometimes reproached for their softness… Let’s not forget that François de Sales experienced the Wars of Religion, he was five years old at the time of the massacre of Saint-Barthélemy, in 1572. In his time “there were fanaticisms “, recalls the specialist, and “the response was often an armed response”. “To feel the hero of God, the armed arm of God, the neighbor of God who will take care of his interests, it is a terrifying thing”recalls the priest of Annecy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Mt 5:8)
Do any of us have a pure heart? Who will see God? The pure heart, “it is not a state, specifies Michel Tournade, it is a project”. For François de Sales, this project is part of frequenting the Eucharist. On this point he was at odds with his time, which saw Jansenism “hyperbolize the unworthiness of the believer”. Where approaching the Eucharist was seen as “something daunting”, Francis de Sales said on the contrary that it was a necessary attendance. A “spiritual vitamin”, comments his biographer. The question for him was not to know if we are ready to welcome the Eucharist but if we have the desire for a meeting, “the desire for an immense tenderness, for an unconditional love of God, on which I will acquiesce with what I am”.
Drawing inspiration from Saint Francis de Sales to live the beatitudes | RCF