January 24, 2012

St. Francis de Sales

Ah!  Today is the feast of St Francis de Sales. I could not be happier...dipping into his terribly practical but always inspiring prose is exactly what I need to get back on track after a very long and emotional weekend (the March for Life is always a very long and emotional weekend for me).

St. Francis de Sales is the patron of writers--I discovered this on my confirmation day when my Dominican uncle was making sure I wasn't taking the name "Francis" for Francis of Assisi. I actually took the name for Francis Xavier, but made a little mental note to look up Francis de Sales and keep him in mind, too. Anyway, he is the patron of writers because he wrote a lot, especially letters, to all sorts of people. He is known most for his letters to and friendship with St. Jane de Chantal (foundress of the Sisters of the Visitation)--and their friendship is a model for the ages.  He also wrote the challenging and excellent spiritual work Introduction to the Devout Life. But his many letters to lay people are my favorites, and for quite some time I have tried to read one every day, and let it shape my day.  They are wonderful, sharing how to deal with everyday problems (expectant mothers who are anxious, wives who don't like their in-laws, men who can't bring themselves to work, those searching for a Vocation, or ignoring the vocation they already have) with characteristic practicality and grace. And there is wisdom in every particular situation he addresses that can be applied to our own daily life and struggles.

But he is not one for pious platitudes, and I fear that quoting him (as I do below) doesn't do him justice.   He also displays great joy, and I wonder how someone can love as fully as he seemed to in his letters. It is this overwhelming love of our souls that inspires his work and makes it feel so personal. He is one tough guide, accepting that we will rise to the spiritual challenge he gives us. His yearly examination of the soul in relation to God is a test of self-knowledge that I've never had the courage to take. If we are not honest, humble and willing to work, there isn't much he can do for us.

All the same, here are a couple of my favorite quotes:
After sin, anxiety is the worst thing that can afflict a soul. It is the result of a strong desire to escape a present evil or to reach a desired goal. But anxiety increases the pain and prevents the attainment. Birds that are caught in nets flap and flutter wildly in an effort to escape, but they only become more thoroughly trapped. When you want to get out of a bad situation and go to a good one, be sure you are calm and deliberate. I am not recommending carelessness, but an unhurried, untroubled approach to solving your problems. Without this, you may make a mess of things and have even more difficulty.

At the first sign of anxiety, pray to God. Talk with your spiritual director or some other friend. Sharing your grief unburdens your soul. It is the best remedy for anxiety.

Never think that geographical distance can ever separate souls whom God has united by the ties of His love. The children of the world are separated one from another because their hearts are in different places; but the children of God, having their hearts where their treasure is, and sharing only one treasure--which is the same God--are consequently always united and joined together.

Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life. Rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in His arms.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow.The same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day.

He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
- a prayer of St. Francis de Sales

Be who you are, and be that well.

The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales have daily readings posted on their website.
Pope Benedict XVI on this World Communications day.


  1. Margaret, I really needed to hear those words of St. Francis de Sales' today, so thank you. I've never read any of his works - can you suggest a good book to start with? One for lay people?

  2. Oh, I am so glad! Definitely pick up "Letters to People of the World" which I linked to above. The letters are short (2 pages, sometimes 3) and so very practical. They are exactly what you need to shape your day. And even if the particular circumstance is not applicable to your situation, the wisdom is universal. They have never failed me.

  3. I'm a fan of St. Francis de Sales also. I've always loved the second to last quote.

  4. Just what I needed after this week...