The Holy and Wise St. Francis de Sales Has Some Advice to Help You Become a Saint
The teachings of St. Francis de Sales, whose feast we celebrate Jan. 24, are as relevant today as they were 400 years ago.
St. Francis de Sales, one of the 37 Doctors of the Church, also had another honorary title — Doctor of Charity — because of the gentle way he drew straying sheep back to the Church while deepening the devotion of those already in the fold. As a young priest, before becoming bishop of Geneva, he re-evangelized the whole population of Calvinists in Chablais, France. At night he would slip his writings under the doors of anti-Catholics. The result: more than 70,000 people returning to the Church.
To celebrate the 400th anniversary of St. Francis de Sales, TAN Books has released a four-volume set of his writings, The St. Francis de Sales Signature Set. From just one of the books alone — one highlighting consoling thoughts — we can see a beautiful sample of what this great saint, the patron of journalists, teaches everyone. He wanted to reach everyone and therefore made his timeless writings simple to understand for all, being most comfortable among the simple himself.
He applies to himself what he counsels to others:
I know what sort of a being I am; yet even though I feel myself miserable, I am not troubled at it; nay, I am sometimes joyful at it, considering that I am a truly fit object for the mercy of God, to which I continually recommend you.
Since at every season of life, early or late, in youth or in old age, I can expect my salvation from the pure goodness and mercy of God alone, it is much better to cast myself from this moment into the arms of His clemency than to wait till another time.
This saint begins his consoling writings by focusing on the love God has for us from all eternity:
That God looks upon you with love you have no reason to doubt, for He looks upon the most dreadful sinners in the world lovingly when they have the least true desire to be converted to Him. Tell me, do you not intend to belong to God? Do you not desire to serve Him faithfully? And who gave you this desire, this intention, unless Himself in His loving regard for you?
After mentioning some of the weaknesses that bring us misery, he continues:
But enough! Live joyful; Our Lord looks upon you with love, and with so much the more tenderness as you are the more feeble. Never permit your mind willingly to entertain thoughts to the contrary; and when they come, regard them not, turn your eyes away from their iniquity, and have recourse to God with a courageous humility, to speak to Him of His ineffable goodness by which He loves us, poor, abject, and miserable as we are.
While understanding that our weak condition might discourage us, this saint wants us to concentrate on the remedy:
Our Lord loves with an extremely tender love all those who abandon themselves entirely to His paternal care, allowing themselves to be governed by His Divine Providence, without considering whether its dealings towards them are sweet or bitter, being assured that everything coming from His paternal Heart will be for their good and advantage. Placing their confidence in God, they say: ‘My Father, I commend my soul, my body, all that I possess, into Thy hands, that Thou mayest do with them in Thy love what pleases Thee; whatever happens, nothing will move me from my firm resolution of acquiescing in the divine will concerning me and all that belongs to me; I wish to bury my will in that of God, or rather I wish Our Lord to will in me and for me, according to His good pleasure: I cast the care of myself into His hands.’
St. Francis de Sales also writes:
We must possess a continual and imperturbable equanimity amid the great variety of human occurrences, and though all things change around us, remain immovable, with our eyes fixed on God alone. And though all things, I will not merely say around us, but even within us, should turn topsy-turvy; whether our souls be joyful or sorrowful, in peace or in trouble, in light or in darkness, in temptation or in repose, in happiness or in disgust; though the sun scorch, or the dew refresh; we should always keep our will fixed on the good pleasure of God, as its sole and supreme object. It is true that we require great confidence to abandon ourselves, without any reserve, to Divine Providence; but when we do abandon all, Our Lord takes care of all, and disposes of all.
St. Francis teaches us to be like little children who cast their cares on their parents and run to them for protection. Our Lord said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
On this theme, our saint teaches us:
And we, like our heavenly Father’s little children, can also advance in two ways: first, by the steps of our own will, when we conform it to His, holding the hand of His divine will by that of our obedience, and following wherever He conducts us, that is to say, doing what He signifies to be His wish — for when He wishes anything to be done, He always gives the power to do it; and secondly, we can accompany Our Lord, without any trouble of our own, merely allowing ourselves to be carried by Him, according to the divine good pleasure, as an infant in the arms of its mother, by an admirable agreement, which is called the union, or rather the unity, of our will with that of God.
In all cases we are not to be afraid, he counsels:
Do not look forward to the occurrences of this life with fear, but accept them with perfect confidence that, as they happen, God will protect and deliver you; He has guarded you until the present; hold fast by the hand of His Providence, and He will assist you on all occasions: and where you cannot walk, He will carry you. What should you fear, belonging to God, who has so emphatically assured us, that all things work together for good to those who love Him?
The true servant of God is not solicitous about the morrow; he performs faithfully what God requires of him today, and will perform what God will require of him tomorrow, and the same the next day, and the next day, without a word.
Another time, he writes:
Fear not evil to come upon you from this world; for, perhaps, such evil will never happen, and even if it should happen, God will strengthen you. He commanded St. Peter to walk upon the waves; and St. Peter, seeing the winds and the storm, was afraid; and fear sank him; he sought the assistance of his Master, who said: Man of little faith! Why didst thou doubt? And reaching out His hand, Our Lord helped him. If God requires you to walk on the waves of adversity, fear not, doubt not, God will be with you; have good courage and you shall be delivered.
No doubt there are troubles in the world and the Church, along with personal and family difficulties. Regarding these he says:
Whatever leads to discouragement, to despair, to trouble, is contrary to charity, which teaches us to make every effort, though with fear and trembling, but never to distrust the goodness of God, who wills all men to be saved, and to come to penance.
Again he urges us:
Keep up your heart then; remove anxieties; often cast your confidence on the Providence of Our Lord; and be assured that heaven and earth will sooner pass away than that Our Lord will fail to protect you, so long as you are His obedient child, or at least desirous to be so.
In every situation, Francis de Sales repeatedly teaches the importance of doing God’s will. Jesus and Mary show the way, and it is prayed in the Our Father. In one instance, the saint makes an easy-to-understand comparison:
As he who sails on board a ship does not advance by his own motion, but by the motion of the vessel, so the heart embarked on board the divine good pleasure should have no other wish than that of being carried by the will of God. Then, no more will the heart be heard to say: Thy will be done, not mine; for it will no longer have any will to renounce; but it will say these words: Lord! Into Thy hands I commend my will; as if its will were no more at its own disposal, but only at that of the Divine Providence.
Francis shows us:
To be a good servant of God is to be charitable towards our neighbor, to possess an inviolable resolution in the superior part of the soul to follow the will of God, to have such a profound humility and simplicity as will make us confide entirely in God and rise again when we fall, to endure patiently ourselves and our abjections, and to endure tranquilly our neighbors and their imperfections.
To possess such characteristics is a sign of humility:
For why should we think it strange that others have imperfections, when we have them ourselves? Humility makes our heart meek towards the perfect and the imperfect, towards the former through reverence, towards the latter through compassion. Humility helps us to receive sufferings meekly, knowing that we deserve them, and favors reverently, knowing that we do not deserve them.
Then he counsels us on temptations:
Thoughts which cause vexation and agitation of mind cannot proceed from God, who is the Prince of Peace, but are temptations of the enemy, and therefore to be rejected and disregarded.
Be not troubled, however great the temptations that assail you. Let the enemy rage at the door; let him stamp, thump, romp, yell; do the worst in his power; we are sure he cannot enter but by the door of our consent. Let us keep it closed, often taking a look to see that it is properly fastened, and there is nothing to fear. …
You will tell me; but he annoys me, and the noise he makes outside is so great that I cannot understand or arrange anything well within. Patience! … Courage! … Provided that he does not enter, all is right. It is a very good sign if our enemy knocks and storms at the door, for it shows that he is not where he would wish to be. If it were open, he would no longer cry out, he would enter, and take a seat. Remember this, so as not to fall into scrupulosity.
Remember what I think I told you before; it is a very good sign that he makes so much noise and disturbance outside the will, for it shows he is not inside. And courage! So long as we can say with resolution, though without consolation: Live Jesus! There is nothing to fear.
To conclude: these temptations, like others, are but afflictions; and we must rely upon the assurance of Holy Scripture: ‘Blessed is he who endures temptation; for having been proved, he shall receive the crown of life.’ I must inform you that I have seen few persons advanced in holiness without this trial, and therefore we must have patience. Our God will send the calm after the storm.
When we observe that persecutions and contradictions threaten us with some great annoyance, we must take shelter, both we and our afflictions, under the holy cross, by a true confidence that all will turn to the good of those who love God.
God’s mercy is unfathomable, he says:
We deal with a Master who is rich in mercy to those who invoke Him; He forgives a debt of ten thousand talents on a small petition. We must have sentiments worthy of His goodness; we must serve Him with fear; but while we tremble, we must not cease to rejoice. The humility that discourages is not a good humility.
He constantly boosts our confidence and hope, reminding us:
God loves us; He knows what we require better than we do ourselves. Whether we live or die we are the Lord’s. To Him belong the keys of life and death; those who hope in Him shall never be confounded.
Let us not amuse ourselves so much with trifles; let us look only to His most holy will. Let this be our beautiful star; it will guide us to Jesus Christ, either in the crib or on Calvary. He who follows it will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of eternal life, which is not subject to death.
- st. francis de sales