St. Francis de Sales
Francis was born in Savoy, France in 1567. His wealthy parents wanted Francis to become a lawyer. He obliged their wishes and earned a doctorate in law. In spite of this accomplishment, he still felt called to the priesthood. With the support of the bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1593. Francis entered into the priesthood at a time when the Calvinists were extremely active and influential in the Geneva region. Catholic priests had been banned from the area and forced into exile. In 1594, Catholic priests were allowed back in the region to reestablish a Catholic presence. In spite of the danger, Francis accepted the call to preach the faith in the Geneva area.
Rather than simply denouncing Calvinism, Francis chose to preach Catholicism. He proclaimed the positive message of the Gospel that would overcome the negative image of the Catholic faith. Not by force but by love, he sought to encourage people to return to their faith. At least twenty-three hundred families were reconciled with the Catholic faith because of his efforts. Because of his efforts, in 1602 Francis was named bishop of Geneva. Because Geneva continued to remain a stronghold of Calvinism, Francis cared for his Geneva diocese from the city of Annecy. He achieved wide fame as a preacher and spiritual director.
Francis sought to rejuvenate the Church by preaching the recovery of an intense spiritual devotion. In his effort to accomplish this, he authored the book, An Introduction to the Devout Life. This book was addressed to all Christian people regardless of their position in life. In whatever state of life a person occupied, the call was the same. The person was called to move away from sin and enlarge their capacity for love and the practice of virtue. Francis wrote, “Genuine devotion is simply true love of God.” The true test of one’s progress in this regard was the intensity of a person’s charity toward others. The principle criticism leveled against Francis came from those who claimed he made it too easy to become a saint.
The central call in the spirituality of Francis was “Live Jesus.” It is a challenge that continues to stand before each of us even today. To “Live Jesus” is to radically adjust our lives so that all we say and do reflects the presence of Christ.
We have been blessed with a powerful patron…one who is both strong and humble. Francis is a man who has simplified for us the path of holiness and yet presented us with a most daunting task…to live our lives in the way that Jesus lived his. The wisdom, love and dedication that was the foundation plank for Francis in his spirituality is the model that is given to us as those who belong to the parish dedicated to his memory. May we rely upon Francis as model for our own call to a life of grace and holiness. His words to us are both an invitation and a challenge, LIVE JESUS.