St. Francis de Sales: A Man for Others

This week's reflection is written by
Very Rev. Lewis S. Fiorelli, OSFS.

January 24 is the feast day of St. Francis de Sales. In honor of his feast day, I would like to reflect upon a few lesser-known aspects of his life.

If we were to ask Francis de Sales for the briefest and best summary of his spirit and doctrine, he would probably answer us with what he wrote at the end of his spiritual masterpiece, Treatise on the Love of God: "Live Jesus whom I love!" (Bk 12, ch. 13)

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For Francis de Sales, as for every Christian, it is Jesus himself who is the key that unlocks for us the depths of the divine and discloses for us the dignity of every human person. In his human life among us, Jesus is the truest and best model for every believer's relational life with both God and neighbor. It is, therefore, the vocation of every Christian to imitate Christ and to live Jesus.

Francis truly laid hold of the example of Jesus. In his brief five and half decades of life, the gentle man from Savoy lived Jesus by imitating his deep and abiding humility before God and his sincere, unfeigned gentleness toward every person he encountered. Like Jesus, Francis looked upon each person as gifted by God and invited to a life of grace and a destiny of glory. He used all of his many talents and limitless energy in the service of that gift, hoping thereby to actualize its wonderful promise and potential. When his people needed concrete footwashing love, Francis rolled up his sleeves and did all his power to assist them. When they needed a comforting word, at times a challenging word, he spoke it with both clarity and charity. When the poor, the simple and the marginalized needed an advocate and a friend, they found both in their bishop.

Some examples will show this. A very busy bishop, preacher and founder, Francis nevertheless took the time to teach a deaf man the comforting truths of the faith. He did this by inventing a sign language and for this reason is known today as the Patron of the Deaf. For years he gave spiritual guidance to a simple hotel maid and marveled at the simplicity and strength of her faith, learning from it; he defended an eager young scholar who warmed to the teachings of Galileo long before the Church did; he frequently left his lofty episcopal pulpit to play the clown for very young children to whom he personally taught catechism. He learned from them as well. These not so well- known incidents from the life of Francis indicate just how well he learned from Jesus whom he loved. For like his Lord before him, he became the friend and the servant of others, of allothers.

God must have looked upon Francis and saw in him someone after his own heart, a saint who so perfectly imitated the gentle and humble Jesus that he could honestly say, along with St. Paul, "The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me" (Gal. 2: 20). It is for this reason that St. Vincent de Paul would later say of his friend Francis de Sales that he had never known a more perfect imitation of Jesus than that of the gentle Bishop of Geneva.

St. Francis de Sales is the church’s Doctor of Divine Love. Through both his personal holiness and his many beautiful writings, De Sales has left the church and each of us a rich spiritual legacy. From him, we learn how to live Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, and how, in that way, to perfectly fulfill love’s double commandment.