Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Pope shares the gift of St. Francis de Sales’ spiritual example of love

Published: January 21, 2023

By Father Andrew Hart, JCL
Theological Consultant

Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas? I hope so, and maybe a few other things besides. Sometimes the best gifts are unexpected. Last month, Pope Francis surprised us with a Christmas present — not a gift to be unwrapped but a reflection about a saint who should be better known.

St. Francis de Sales died on Dec. 28, 1622, and it was on that day, 400 years later, our Holy Father published an apostolic letter about him, Totum Amoris Est or “Everything Pertains to Love.” It conveys what Pope Francis calls “the spiritual legacy” of this great saint and his continued relevance in our lives today.

Francis de Sales was born in 1567 at a time of great upheaval. As a student in Paris, he experienced firsthand the religious and political tensions of the Reformation, which too often resulted in violence. This troubled him, and he experienced a spiritual crisis in his early adulthood.

We all face different troubles and tensions, but with the heavenly help of “The Gentleman Saint,” we too can learn to love God and be devoted to that love, no matter what.

However, while praying one day, he received peace and strength of heart and committed to loving God no matter what. As he said in his journal, “Whatever may happen, Lord… I will love you here, O my God.” His firm commitment to loving God above all else guided Francis in the years that followed.

He had studied law but decided to pursue the priesthood, against his family’s objections. Ordained in 1593, he became known as a powerful but peaceful preacher, as well as a skilled diplomat. In 1606, the pope named him bishop of Geneva. As his stature rose in worldly affairs, Francis was more interested in the affairs of the heart.

His great insight, Pope Francis explains, was reflecting on the loving relationship we have with God, and he had the talent of sharing the beauty of that relationship with others. He counseled royalty and regular folks alike, teaching all the power of prayer.

St. Francis de Sales also emphasized how devotion to God is connected to daily life. He wrote, “Almost all those who have treated of devotion have sought to instruct persons living apart from the world, or at least they have taught a kind of devotion that leads to such isolation. I intend to offer my teachings to those who live in cities, in families, those who, by virtue of their state in life, are obliged to live in the midst of others.”

As Pope Francis adds: “To live in the midst of the secular city while nurturing the interior life … to discover an interior peace that does not separate us from the world but teaches us how to live in it … but also to maintain a proper detachment from it.  That was the aim of Francis de Sales.”

Pope Francis’ letter is a gift to the Church. Read it yourself, or seek out one of St. Francis de Sales’ spiritual classics, “Introduction to the Devout Life” or “Treatise on the Love of God.” They are more accessible than you might think. Above all, ask St. Francis de Sales for his intercession.

We all face different troubles and tensions, but with the heavenly help of “The Gentleman Saint,” we too can learn to love God and be devoted to that love, no matter what. The feast of St. Francis de Sales is Jan. 24. Ask him to help you in your life — it might be the very gift you need. St. Francis de Sales, pray for us!

Understanding Our Church