Saint Francis de Sales
Bishop, Doctor of the Church
Saint Francis de Sales was born in 1567 near Annecy, of noble and pious parents, and studied with brilliant success at Paris and Padua. On his return from Italy he gave up the grand career which his father had destined for him in the service of the state, and became a priest.
When the duke of Savoy resolved to restore the shattered Church in the Chablais, Francis offered himself for the work and set out on foot with his Bible and breviary, accompanied by one companion, his cousin Louis of Sales. It was a work of toil, privation and danger. Every door and every heart was closed against him. He was rejected with insult and threatened with death, but nothing could daunt him or resist him indefinitely. And before long the Church blossomed into a second spring. It is said that he converted 72,000 Calvinists.
He was compelled by the Pope to become Coadjutor Bishop of Geneva, and succeeded to that see in 1602. Saint Vincent de Paul said of him, in praise of his gentleness, How good God must be, since the bishop of Geneva, His minister, is so good! At times the great meekness with which he received heretics and sinners almost scandalized his friends, and they protested when he received insults in silence. One of them said to him, Francis of Sales will go to Paradise, of course; but I am not so sure about the Bishop of Geneva: I am almost afraid his gentleness will play him a shrewd turn! Ah, said the Saint, you would have me lose in one instant all the meekness I have been able to acquire by twenty years of efforts? I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity. God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove; are you wiser than God? When a hostile visitor said to him one day, If I were to strike you on the cheek, what would you do? Saint Francis answered, with his customary humility, Ah! I know what I should do, but I cannot be sure of what I would do.
With Saint Jane Frances of Chantal, Saint Francis founded at Annecy the Order of the Visitation nuns, which soon spread over Europe. Though poor, he refused provisions and dignities, and even the great see of Paris. He died at Avignon in 1622.
Reflection. You will catch more flies, Saint Francis used to say, with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar. If there were anything better or more beautiful on earth than gentleness, Jesus Christ would have taught it to us; and yet He has given us only two lessons to learn of Him — meekness and humility of heart.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin