Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hail, Francis, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

 "St. Francis de Sales," St. Mary Oratory, Rockford, IL

Today is the feast of St. Francis de Sales ( 1567 AD - 1622 AD).  Francis was born into the Savoyard aristocracy, was educated by Jesuits, and trained for a career in law.  His father had selected a suitable Savoyard heiress to be Francis's wife, but Francis, who had already consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary and made a vow of chastity, desired to become a priest.  A battle of wills ensued, which was resolved when the bishop of Geneva obtained for Francis the choice position of Provost of the Chapter of Geneva, the highest office in the diocese. This appeased Francis's father, and Francis was duly ordained.

St. Francis volunteered to evangelize Le Chablais, a district in which Calvinism had become ascendant.  At the risk of his life, St. Francis travelled about the hostile district, and before long, his learned and zealous but gentle preaching succeeded in restoring a large portion of the people to the true Faith.   Of his success as a preacher St. Francis said, "whoever wants to preach effectively must preach with love."  St. Francis's preaching nearly obtained the conversion of Theodore Beza, a leader of the Protestant revolution and successor to Calvin, but Beza's courage failed at the final moment.

In 1602, St. Francis was consecrated bishop of Geneva.  Francis devoted himself to restoring the spiritual health of his diocese by catechetical instruction, by careful guidance of his clergy, by visiting the remote parishes of his mountainous diocese, and by reforming religious communities.  Perhaps most powerfully of all, St. Francis's loving and patient mildness, joined with his great love of the poor, shone forth as a highly attractive example of devotion to the Gospel.  St. Francis lived simply and practiced intense economies so as to be better able to provide for the wants of the needy.  In 1607, together with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the Institute of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, for young girls and widows who felt called to the religious life but lacked strength for the austerities of other orders.  

St. Francis's pen was also active on behalf of the Faith, and he authored many catechetical and devotional works, including the classic "An Introduction to the Devout Life," about which we have posted several times recently.

St. Francis de Sales, pray for us.

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