François de Sales stands at the crossroads of the 16th and 17th centuries, at the end of the religious wars and the Counter-Reformation, where scientific and cultural discoveries upset the vision of the world. François was deeply marked by it. He knew how to discern the calls of God there. Bishop of Geneva in 1602, he committed himself as a true pastor attentive to his people. Apostle of gentleness, great communicator, conciliator, reformer, founder, he knew how to defend the faith and train his clergy while dialoguing with Protestants. A friend of Saint Vincent de Paul, he was a figurehead, leaving great saints in his wake: Saint Jeanne de Chantal, Blesseds Pierre-Marie Mermier and Louis Brisson, and of course Saint Jean Bosco. Let us remember that behind him, the spirituality of the sacred heart or the childhood path of a Thérèse of Lisieux are the beneficiaries.
What can we learn from the thought and spirituality of François de Sales today?
François de Sales has a balanced thought, drawing from the great authors and at the crossroads of theology, spirituality and human psychology. For him, the entire created universe is “unidiverse”, that is to say unique and diverse. In his vision, you cannot separate things. Francis knows how to unite contemplation and action, freedom and grace. To help his proteges or respond to his detractors, he chooses the path of the heart and not that of force. “God is God of the human heart,” he writes. He prefers to see divine action from the angle of goodness, rather than justice. The word “heart” is essential to him. Love is a gift from God, a gift that sets you free. God makes himself present to the human heart to elicit its response, through bonds of gentleness, bonds that support it patiently every day. He uses this beautiful image of eagles or swallows flying gracefully on the blowing wind. A breath that reminds us of the Holy Spirit who knows how to inspire us and take us to the heights of holiness. This universal vocation to holiness for all the baptized, even in prison cells, is a strong Salesian conviction! A lesson that Vatican II will retain.
Is it important to return to Salesian spirituality?
Want to change the world? “Start with your heart!” François de Sales would say today. I believe that he puts his finger on the real lever of the transformation of the world: to be attuned to the God of Love – to be fully oneself – to do one’s duty as a State. Salesian spirituality takes us as we are with our faults and takes us high. “Let’s be what we are and let’s be good”, he writes again: it’s the best way to change the world. By letting ourselves be led, educated by God, without forcing ourselves, our heart becomes in love with him and his project. We are enabled with confidence and hope to face trials and rise to the great challenges of our time. I really encourage you to buy François de Sales in your nearest bookstore!