January 23, 2017

St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

St. Francis de Sales
January 24th, is the memorial of Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622), the 17th century French bishop and Doctor of the Church, whose desire to save souls resulted in the conversion of some 70,000 Calvinists in the region of Chablais (an area comprising parts of present day France and Switzerland). His gentleness of spirit, pastoral zeal and compassion made him a powerful teacher of the Faith. His most famous works Treatise on the Love of God and Introduction to the Devout Life, show holiness is possible for everyone, regardless of station.

Born into a noble family of means, Francis studied law in Padua, Italy. Although once cantankerous and choleric in his demeanor, during this period, he became enamored with living in imitation of Christ. Taking a vow of perpetual chastity, he placed himself under Mary’s protection. His devotion to God, while unshakable, put him at odds with his family. Francis’ father expected him to lead the life of a respectable gentleman befitting his class. Upon earning his degree, Francis informed his father of his divine calling. Compelled by his son's earnestness and renewed virtue, Francis' father granted his consent in full.

Ordained at the age of 23. Francis rose quickly through the clerical ranks. At the height of the Protestant Reformation, he was named provost of the Diocese of Geneva, which had become a citadel of Calvinism. Francis set about converting its inhabitants, particularly in Chablais. He authored pamphlets explaining Catholic doctrine and preached, often secretly, due to the hostility of Protestants.

In 1602, he became bishop of Geneva. Despite the demands of his office, he continued to teach, preach and hear confessions. So renowned were his sermons, that people traveled from far and wide to avail themselves of his wisdom. He maintained a large constellation of friends and correspondents, most notably Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, with whom he establishing the Sisters of the Visitation. His surviving letters and sermons show Francis' deep love for souls.

Saint Francis de Sales died on December 28, 1622, in his 55th year. He is often called "the Gentleman Saint" because of his patience and humility. His life is a testimony that true sanctity is transformative; God's grace perfects our natures. He was canonized by Pope Alexander VII in 1666. In 1877, he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX. St. Francis de Sales is patron of authors, Catholic press, confessors, the deaf, educators and journalists among others. O God, who for the salvation of souls willed that the Bishop Saint Francis de Sales become all things to all, graciously grant that, in following his example, we may always display the gentleness of your charity in the service of our neighbor.

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