Today we celebrate one of my favorite saints who is Francis de Sales, a delightful character whose writings are so useful, so simple, so prudent, that he has been declared a doctor of the Church. He was born and raised in that part of what is now Italy and France called Savoy—a beautiful Alpine region with mountains and valleys and lakes that are one of the joys of travel in Europe. He lived in the 16th and 17th centuries—the time of the Protestant Reformation when religious wars and conflicts were so bitter and prevalent in various parts of Europe. He was named bishop of Geneva, but the Calvinists had taken over the city completely, and it was impossible for Catholics to live there, so Saint Francis de Sales spent his whole life as a bishop across the border in the French town of Annecy. It’s one of the loveliest towns in France, situated on its lake and surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery. I have visited and celebrated Mass in a number of the churches and other places associated with him, including his tomb.
In one of his writings, Saint Francis counsels us not to doubt that we are imperfect, and then goes on to say: “We should not let this upset us as it cannot be helped, but rather let it be a cause for humility, for this is the way to correct our faults and gradually improve. This is indeed the whole point of our being left with imperfections. . .” This doctrine of his is so mild, so encouraging, so beneficial! It is no wonder that the opening prayer for today’s Mass in honor of Francis de Sales says: “Father, you gave Francis de Sales the spirit of compassion to befriend all men on their way to salvation. . .” How true! Not to challenge; nor to accuse; nor to condemn, but to befriend. The old adage tells us that we can attract more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a barrel of vinegar. Well, in that case, Francis de Sales is a veritable honeycomb and millions have found him very attractive indeed. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: Father Brown composed this message some years ago.