(Patron saint of journalists,
editors, writers, Bishops)
A trained swordsman, an accomplished
dancer, an agile equestrian, a recipient of two doctorates in Law (both Civil
and Canon), one of the best writers the world has ever known, as eloquent a
speaker as was known, a friend of saints, a priest, Bishop, and later Doctor of
the Church, and most important a saint who loved Jesus with his whole heart,
mind, soul and strength---- who was this most gifted of persons on both a
human, intellectual and spiritual plane?
None other than SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES.
His first recorded words were: “I love
God and my mother.” Indeed his earthly mother instilled in the little one a
tender and filial devotion to Mary, the Mother of God.
Even before the little one was born
she saw someone scurrying through the hillsides, searching for, encountering
and bringing back to the fold the lost sheep! This would symbolize his later
work as a Pastor in bringing back lost sheep to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ
and the Catholic Church.
The day of Francis’ first Communion
he made it a habit to visit the Most Blessed Sacrament so as to cultivate a
deep relationship with He who would always be his best Friend Jesus the Lord,
truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
Sent to Paris, he learned the most
exquisite manners so that one day he would be able to mingle with and impress
so as to bring to God the most highly educated members of the society. However,
he preferred to study with the Jesuits who helped him to form his character in
discipline and the spirit of
self-denial. He loved the
writings of the great convert Saint Augustine and even more the Bible, the Word
THE BOAT AMIDST THE STORM! The tempest violently beat against the boat
of his soul with extreme vigor! The
false theology of Jansenism had disseminated its pernicious doctrine throughout
Europe and it tainted partially the heart of young Francis when he was twenty.
This poisonous religious doctrine
taught that few could be saved, one should live in constant fear and sadness,
receive Holy Communion as rarely as possible, any type of entertainment was
forbidden, and priests had the right to deny absolution almost at whim. The young Francis imbibed this noxious air
and was almost devastated.
Sleepless nights, loss of appetite
resulting in loss of weight, almost on the brink of despair, Francis wandered
into the church of Our Lady of Victories in Paris. He approached a majestic statue of Our Lady
of Victory and below was the prayer penned by the Mellifluous Doctor, St
Bernard, the Memorare. The desperate
young man prayed this prayer with all his heart, “Remember O most gracious
Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your help
was left unaided….” Upon finishing this prayer to his heavenly Mother, it was
as if a blanket of despair was lifted from his whole being, the dark tunnel
that enclosed his life gave way to the splendor of light and hope! Francis
believed firmly now that he could be saved; all this came about through the
intercession of Our Lady of Victories!
UNIVERSITY OF PADUA: MORAL TORMENTS
AND TESTS. While working on his double
doctorate in Italy at the University of Padua, although gifted with a brilliant
mind, God allowed him to be tested by the students. Mercilessly they taunted
him and he took out his sword to defend himself with such expertise that he
responded to those whom he could have impaled and sent early to the cemetery: “You should be thankful that I am a Christian
and follower of Christ, otherwise….”
The moral battle was not over! St
Thomas Aquinas had this test! So did St. Anthony Claret as well as Saint Anthony
of the desert—it was the test to prove the purity of their body and soul. In
the case of Francis a loose woman was brought into his room with the intention
of seducing him; with will of steel he forced the woman out. Francis understood
well St. Ignatius’ meditation on the three grades of humility: death rather
As a University student his favorite
reading was a book written by Dom Scupoli Spiritual
Combat. He loved this work, read it constantly and strove to implement it
in his life. The essence of this book is
an Ignatian “Two Standards”. Satan and Jesus lift up their standards and it is
up to the individual to choose his standard.
On the day of his ordination to the
priesthood a brilliant light shone upon him which was seen by many people; at
other times later as a priest this brilliant light could be perceived, such was
the splendor of holiness of life of this future saint!
BATTLE FOR THE SALVATION OF THE
PROTESTANTS. As a young priest his Bishop
sent young Fr. Francis with his cousin (also a priest) to convert the hardened
Calvinists—many of whom were born as Catholics. His cousin accompanied Francis,
but due to the rigorous conditions abandoned the missionary work after a few
Indeed the conditions were
deplorable. However, the love that burned in the heart of Francis and his zeal
for the salvation of souls had no limit. With keen insight, dogged
determination and tenacity, and acute creativity he could not convert them
directly so he had a plan. First, was prayer to God who alone converts souls.
Then he realized he could not confront them immediately head on, so he decided
to utilize his literary skills and he wrote short, concise, but convincing
articles defending the faith. Then he would slip them beneath the doors of
their homes. Upon reading, many
recognized the erroneous doctrines of the Calvinists and began to return to the
Finally the grand finale arrived!
Young Father Francis debated the head Calvinist, known for his wisdom,
eloquence and conviction. In public the debate took place and Francis, in
imitation of the Proto-martyr St. Stephen, utterly demolished the King-pin
Calvinist! Victory! When he arrived
there were 72,000 Calvinists and 72 Catholics. Upon leaving in a few years the
tables were turned completely. There were 72,000 Catholics and 72 Calvinists
Recognizing the brilliance, clarity
of thought, apostolic zeal and profound spiritual life emanating holiness, the
Holy Father elevated Francis to the fullness of the priesthood; he was consecrated
As Bishop he was a tireless preacher,
prolific writer, lover of the poor and himself living extreme poverty. They had to hide his clothes otherwise he
would give them all away to the poor.
Furthermore, he dedicated much time
to the formation of priests, giving assistance to the Religious, spent many
hours in spiritual direction, especially to pious women. He would become the Founder of the Religious
Order of the Visitation; later Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque would be one of its
most eminent members. She was famous for the apparitions of the most Sacred
heart of Jesus.
However, of exceedingly great importance was his patrimony to the
Church and world at large as a writer. He wrote more than 1000 letters. But his real claim to fame as writer was his
two classics: Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on Love. The former is an invitation to all to pursue
holiness of life. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta later would reaffirm the
same teaching, saying, “Holiness is not
the privilege of the few, but the duty of all.” The latter, his Treatise on Love, could be
summarized in the concise saying: “The
measure with which we should love God is to love Him without measure.”
In twenty years he totally
transformed his diocese. With Charles Borromeo, Alphonsus Liguori, John Neuman,
Anthony Claret, Francis will go down as one of the greatest Bishops in the
Catholic Church--- indeed a model, inspiration and friend to all Bishops!
His dear friend and fellow saint,
Saint Vincent de Paul had the highest admiration for Francis, such that he
said: “He who sees Francis can see the Heart of Jesus… and “If Francis de Sales is so good, imagine how
Jesus must be!”
May Saint Francis de Sales intercede
for us, the church and the whole world. May his wisdom, his writings, his
humility, his apostolic zeal, his love for the truth and brilliant teaching and
filial love and trust in Mary help us to become shining stars in this life and
one day eternal shining stars in the heavenly firmament!