January 21, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Francis de Sales

John F. FinkSt. Francis de Sales, whose feast is on Jan. 24, is the patron of the Catholic press because he wrote and distributed small pamphlets to explain Catholic doctrine while he was Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland from 1605 to 1622. His book, Introduction to the Devout Life, is rightly considered a great devotional masterpieces, written for Christians of every walk of life and for every age.

Francis is known for his axiom “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar” to explain his approach toward his Calvinist opponents. He also helped St. Jane Francis de Chantal establish the Sisters of the Visitation. He is one of the 33 Doctors of the Church.

In Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis wrote that God has commanded Christians to bring forth the fruits of devotion, “each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.”

He emphasized that devotion must be practiced in different ways depending upon a person’s status—nobleman or working man, servant or prince, married or unmarried man or woman. This devotion must also “be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.”

He wrote that it was not proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian, or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income, or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious. He called this sort of devotion “ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable.”

He wrote that any devotion that worked against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling “is very definitely false devotion.” True devotion, he said, destroys nothing at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfills all things.

He compared true devotion to a bee that collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, leaving them whole, undamaged and fresh. True devotion not only does that to every sort of calling or occupation, it also embellishes and enhances it.

He also compared true devotion to a gem cast in honey. The gem becomes brighter and more sparkling. Similarly, “Each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion.”

When a person practices devotion correctly according to his or her way of life, he wrote, family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between spouses becomes more sincere, and our work becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

He called it not only an error but a heresy to try to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, artisans’ shops or family households. He acknowledged that the type of devotion that is purely contemplative, monastic and religious would certainly be out of place in those situations, but, he wrote, there are many other devotions fit for those who live in a secular state.

“In whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection,” he concluded. †

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