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01/ 8/2012 Saint Francis de Sales: The patron saint of good manners – Vatican Insider – 13th January, 2012

Church Etiquette
Giacomo Galeazzi
Vatican City

“I am increasingly alarmed by a certain barbarism in the way people behave and the progressive decrease of good manners in our society,” explains Salesian Father Mario Scudu. “It seems that good manners and so-called etiquette are medieval, a useless and humiliating superstructure for post-modern man. Experts say that it is a phenomenon that crosses all the social classes, from the politician who uses profanity and in discussions won’t mention others, to the last bureaucrat of some office in our city, almost annoyed by our presence. Certainly the complaint of rudeness has always existed, but it seems that today it is more abundant than ever – there’s certainly no lack of it.” On this subject, Saint Francis de Sales says: “I wouldn’t want you to leave a sermon saying: Oh, what a great orator! Oh, he has an incredible memory! Oh, what erudition! How well he speaks! I would rather you say this: Oh, how beautiful repentance is! Oh, how necessary it is! My God, how good and just you are! And things like that.” Saint Francis recommends the use of examples in preaching, but also gives some warnings about how to preach: “Speak with warmth and with devotion, with simplicity, candor, and trust… The words need to be inflamed, not through yelling or oversized gestures, but rather through inner feeling; it needs to come from the heart rather than the lips… The heart speaks to the heart, and the tongue speaks only to the ears.” Sermons are good if they change the lives of those who hear them.

Saint Francis de Sales was famous among his contemporaries for his holiness, which was also expressed through good manners. “His biographies speak of Francis as a perfect gentleman with everyone, whether they were noble, learned, or simple people,” says Father Scudu, “a man who always had a smile for the people he spoke with, who treated everyone with kindness and friendliness; who, when arguing with his Protestant adversaries, never used harsh, threatening, arrogant, or humiliating words. His adversaries came away from Francis perhaps unconvinced by his theological arguments, but won over all the same by his always-respectful behavior.” He himself summarized the importance of good manners in his own pastoral work, saying: “You attract more flies with a drop of honey than a barrel of vinegar.” He was a saint who has much to teach everyone about both civil and church life. Francis was born in 1567 to a family of old nobility in Château de Thorens in Haute-Savoie. He was educated with both rigor and affection, solidarity and sociability – a religious education centered around the mysteries of Christ. Francis’s father had ambitions for his first-born son to become a member of the Senate of Chambéry. But this paternal project quickly clashed with Francis’ aspirations, which led him to the Church and service to it. He was educated by the Jesuits of Clermont in humanistic studies and philosophy. He also began his first contact with theology at the Sorbonne

He left Paris for Padua (1588-1591) to study law at that famous university. He received his doctorate “in utroque jure,” that is, in ecclesiastical and civil law, and after a pilgrimage to Loreto, returned to his home country. His father’s ambitions immediately clashed with his determination to enter the ecclesiastical state. While preparing for the priesthood, he organized a fraternity of the Holy Cross in line with a Christ-centered spirituality. The political and religious “re-conquest” of the Duchy of Savoy from the Protestants was also a problem for Duke Carlo Emanuele I. In 1596, a new campaign was started by the Capuchins and diocesan clergy volunteers, and one of these was Francis de Sales. The undertaking was not simple – results were not immediate. Calvinist organizations were on guard, mistrusting everything they heard from the hated Papist missionaries. But the general population was not hostile. “Here Francis distinguished himself immediately through his friendly, kind, and respectful ways toward everybody. Even his meetings with Theodore Beza, the learned successor of Calvin from Geneva, were conducted with maximum courtesy and delicacy, even if they were unsuccessful,” says Don Scudu. “In 1596, the first tear in the apparently impermeable fabric of the Calvinists had appeared. A famous attorney returned to Catholicism. Then, in October 1598, a triumph: during the Forty Hours’ Devotion, three thousand heads of families formalized their act of abjuration, thus returning to the fold of the Catholic Church. “

In 1599, after the mission to Chablais and during one of his trips to Rome, he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Geneva, with right of succession. During his Roman trip he had contacts with Saint Phillip Neri, the oblates of Saint Frances of Rome at Tor de’Specchi, and the Piarists – all acquaintances who helped him to found his religious order, called The Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. In 1602, Francis became Bishop of Geneva – a vast diocese, with 130 more Protestantized parishes to be reclaimed for the Catholic Church. He worked extensively for the intellectual and moral formation of the clergy, firmly imposing the system of competitions to cover vacated goods. But he encountered innumerable difficulties when he undertook to reform the clergy, who were entrenched in a system of privilege. But Francis showed himself to be a very considerate and effective pastor, particularly in the pastoral care of the population. He was very active in preaching, giving catechism, and spiritual direction. He visited all the parishes in the diocese, even those tucked far up in the mountains. His commitments as a preacher were many, even outside of his diocese. He was sought after and acclaimed both for the depth of his doctrine and the persuasive, warm, and always encouraging manner that he had toward everyone. In 1604, Francis went to Dijon, and here, writes historian Pietro Stella, a lecturer at the Salesian University of Rome: “He was fated to meet Baroness Giovanna Francesca Fremyot de Chantal – a widow, spiritually mature, though tending toward the scrupulous, who was placed under his direction.

“This is the origin of one of the most exemplary and classic writings on spiritual direction – attentive, delicate, affective, psychologically effective, theologically substantive, all aimed toward God, his loving presence, his grace.” It was with Chantal that Francis started the Visitation, inspired by similar initiatives in Italy and Spain such as the Ursulines of Angela Merici, the Oblates of St. Frances of Rome, and the Carmelites of St. Teresa of Avila. Francis continued his work of as shepherd of souls, writer, and preacher for many years, alternating apostolic engagement with periods of weakness and illness. In 1622, he accompanied the Duke of Savoy to Avignon on a “political” mission to meet the King of France, Louis XIII. Having reached the Monastery of the Visitation de Lyon, he died of a stroke at the age of 56. Francis was not only a great bishop and a great preacher – he was also the author of famous spiritual books that are still reprinted and read today. The central idea of his preaching and his writings was: the love of God for us, and our love for God. The most famous of his writings is “The Philothea:” here he examines the fundamental concept of “devotion” understood “as a warm, dominant, intense, and ready love for God; a love that is not to be considered as exclusively for penitents and mystics or members of religious orders, but a vocation for everyone. It is God’s plan for man itself, realizable in any state of life” (Pietro Stella). In “Philothea,” Francis urges a “holy indifference,” that is, the absolute and trusting openness to the gifts of the Supreme Good, “abandoning one’s self” trustingly and totally to God and to His will. In the “Treatise on the Love of God,” he urges the need to do everything possible for the “bon plaisir de Dieu,” that is, for the love of God. For theologically founding the idea that “God is… the God of the human heart,” and for spreading this idea using new methods and styles, he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1877 (Jozef Strus). In 1967, on the fourth centenary of his birth, Paul VI named San Francis de Sales “Doctor Divini Amoris.” For his writing and effective preaching, in 1923 he was proclaimed patron saint of Catholic journalists and writers. The influence of the Savoyard Saint was great in both France and in Italy. In fact, many orders and religious congregations were based on his life and teaching. Among others, we recall Father Bosco, who founded The Salesian Society: truly inspired by him, his holy love of God, his goodness and sweetness, and good manners. He was a model and protector to the Salesians, who were supposed to imitate his sweetness and evangelical patience. Saint Francis is a saint who is fascinating, complete, and, in many ways, “modern.” Pietro Stella also writes: “In him, we find no radical contrast between nature and grace, between natural and supernatural order.
God. The most famous of his writings is “The Philothea:” here he examines the fundamental concept of “devotion” understood “as a warm, dominant, intense, and ready love for God; a love that is not to be considered as exclusively for penitents and mystics or members of religious orders, but a vocation for everyone. It is God’s plan for man itself, realizable in any state of life” (Pietro Stella). In “Philothea,” Francis urges a “holy indifference,” that is, the absolute and trusting openness to the gifts of the Supreme Good, “abandoning one’s self” trustingly and totally to God and to His will. In the “Treatise on the Love of God,” he urges the need to do everything possible for the “bon plaisir de Dieu,” that is, for the love of God. For theologically founding the idea that “God is… the God of the human heart,” and for spreading this idea using new methods and styles, he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1877 (Jozef Strus). In 1967, on the fourth centenary of his birth, Paul VI named San Francis de Sales “Doctor Divini Amoris.” For his writing and effective preaching, in 1923 he was proclaimed patron saint of Catholic journalists and writers. The influence of the Savoyard Saint was great in both France and in Italy. In fact, many orders and religious congregations were based on his life and teaching. Among others, we recall Father Bosco, who founded The Salesian Society: truly inspired by him, his holy love of God, his goodness and sweetness, and good manners. He was a model and protector to the Salesians, who were supposed to imitate his sweetness and evangelical patience. Saint Francis is a saint who is fascinating, complete, and, in many ways, “modern.” Pietro Stella also writes: “In him, we find no radical contrast between nature and grace, between natural and supernatural order. Grace is envisaged as an enrichment, and not as a desiccation of nature. Francis does not speak of the annihilation of the self, but of abandonment into the arms of God; not of the melding of the created being into the infinite sea of Divine Being…but of the full and loving meeting between two personal beings, the uncreated and the created, in the mystery of
the incarnation of the Son, and thus in the Church.” Because of this, his life’s message, both the Church and our modern world need to remember a saint like Francis de Sales. Saint Francis was a great preacher. For him, the true subject of preaching is the Church, because “the only true standard for a firm faith is the word of God preached by the Church of God.” For Saint Francis de Sales, “preaching is the manifestation and the declaration of the will of god, made to men through those who are legitimately sent to instruct them and inspire them to serve his Divine Majesty in this world, in order to be saved in the next.”

There are two objectives: to instruct, and to encourage the participants to live the Word of God. For Francis, the preacher must take care not to reap applause from the audience (and a certain artificiality and bombast in some sermons of the time was undeniable) but to help them come alive, after well-explaining the truth of Christianity (today we would say: let go of any thought about having an “audience” when preaching the Word of God).


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January 13, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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