|My favorite portrait of St. Francis de Sales.|
Unlike many others, it is not overly pious.
Pictured here is a wise but humble man,
gentle, and -- if you look closely -- playful.
A saint who was a human being.
Today we celebrate the feast day of my holy patron, St. Francis de Sales. One of his central tenets--and one emphasized by Vatican II nearly 400 years after his death--is the universal call to holiness. That is, everyone is called by God to live a holy life. It is not the perogative of an elite few.
Each one of us is called to be a saint. Those we know as saints were just as human as the rest of us, but through the grace of God they were committed to living holy lives. The same is possible--and necessary--for us, no matter who we are or what we do. "Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy," God tells us in Leviticus 19:2. "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect," Jesus says (Matthew 5:48).
Our trouble in comprehending or acceptiing this divine mission is often rooted in our perception of what holiness or perfection truly is. Holiness does not mean superhuman, esoteric piety. It is a commitment to follow Christ, to be conformed to his image, our true image, by our very lives. Mistakes, failures, misfortune, pain, sorrow, and sin will trip us up at times. However, what is impossible for us by nature, God supplies by grace to the receptive and faithful soul, no matter how erring. As the saying goes, God writes straight on crooked lines. Bones that are broken and then heal properly become even stronger. Christ was not crucified for nothing. He is, after all, a Savior.
St. Francis de Sales directs our eyes toward Calvary as we strive for holiness and walk the path of perfection. In his most famous work, Introduction to the Devout Life, he speaks very succinctly in practical terms about what it means to live a life of holiness--or devotion, as he terms it. The straightforward wisdom he offers is firm and tradition-tested, but also gentle and compassionate. More than anything else, he emphasizes genuine love of God, an interior disposition that discovers true joy and freedom in following Christ within our daily obligations and relationships. God's holiness is above all, but given to all who are willing to receive and live that holiness.
An excerpt from Introduction to the Devout Life that aptly summarizes his thought:
Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God.
Devotion is exercised in different ways. Its practice must be adapted to the strength, activities, and duties of each particular person.
Devotion does not consist in the sweetness, delight, consolation, and sensible tenderness of heart that move us to tears and sighs and bring us a certain pleasant, relishful satisfaction when we perform various spiritual exercises. Many souls experience these tender, consoling feelings but still remain very vicious. Consequently, they do not have true love of God, much less true devotion.
True devotion consists in a constant, resolute, prompt, and active will to do whatever we know is pleasing to God. Live Jesus!
St. Francis de Sales,
pray for us!
pray for us!