St. Francis de Sales
Francis de Sales was the Bishop of Geneva in Switzerland. Francis was born two months premature to a noble family in a castle: the Château de Sales. His father was the Lord of the castle, and his mother was a noblewoman, the daughter of a high-level magistrate.
Francis was given a top-notch education from a young age. At the young age of eleven, Francis went to a Jesuit school, the College de Clermont in Paris, France, to study rhetoric and the humanities. He had a private tutor and was an accomplished horseback rider, dancer, and fencer.
The Spiritual Woes of St. Francis de Sales
While in France, at the age of nineteen, Francis attended a theological conversation about the topic of predestination, and he became convinced that he was damned to hell. He was in such a state of despair that his body started to break down and he was even bedridden. Sometimes, our minds can convince of things that are not true and we can believe them with such conviction that we are closed off to the grace of God.
Later that same year or early the next year, grace broke through! At the Saint-Étienne-des-Grès church in Parish, Francis prayed the Memorare prayer in front of the statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance. He consecrated himself to God through the care of the Blessed Mother and vowed lifelong chastity.
Through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, Francis became personally convicted of the writing of St. John that “God is love.”
Way of Divine Love
St. Francis de Sales’ spirituality has come to be known as the Way of Divine Love, or the Devout Life. One of his most famous books is the Introduction to the Devout Life. This way of spirituality focuses on the very love of God as the source of highest devotion. From this true devotion flows a purification from all affections of sin and a real hatred for sin.
Of course, prayer is an absolute necessity. Preparation for prayer (whether mental or vocal) is practical in the writings of St. Francis de Sales. He recommends choosing one of the following: 1) attention to God’s omnipresence, 2) awareness that God dwells in our soul through Baptism, 3) picturing Jesus looking down on you from Heaven, or 4) imagining the Savior beside or in front of you. Then, we ask for the grace of God to serve and worship Him during the time of meditation.
Then, we meditate on God and what He has revealed. This should lead us to give thanks to God, to ask Him for good things for ourselves, and then intercessory prayer for the needs of others. Then, we resolve to correct what needs to be corrected and allow God to lead us to practical resolutions.
The Priesthood and Episcopacy
After his deep conversion, Francis went to Padua, Italy to study law and theology. He earned a doctorate in law and theology at the age of 25 and resolved to become a priest. He was ordained the following year. Francis was a good preacher. He had a warm, pleasant voice and spoke slowly and thoughtfully. He was also known for being much shorter in length than his confreres.
Within the next decade, Fr. Francis became a coadjutor bishop (like an auxiliary bishop today) in Geneva. Then, the bishop of Geneva died in 1602, Bishop Francis was consecrated as the Bishop of Geneva. His diocese became famous for being organized efficiently, the clergy were zealous for souls, and the laity were taught well.
His motto was: “He who preaches with love, preaches effectively.”
The Legacy of St. Francis de Sales
St. Francis de Sales is the patron of five religious orders. He is also one of the three primary Patrons of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP). St. Vincent de Paul met St. Francis de Sales in Paris when Francis was Bishop of Geneva. This meeting, combined with the writings of St. Francis de Sales had a profound effect on the holy man.
In 1923, Pope Pius XI said that St. Francis de Sales was to be known as the patron of writers and journalists because of his work in converting Calvinists in his region. He is also the patron saint of the deaf because he developed a sign language in order to teach a deaf man about the Faith.
This gentleman saint, born of nobility, was an accomplished student, dancer, and swordsman. He was a well-known administrator and a popular preacher. He was a sincere lover of God, devoted to that charity which enflames the hearts of all.