I knew the letter was coming. But I never expected to be drawn as deeply into it. Pope Francis wrote an Apostolic Letter on the 400th anniversary of the death of Francis de Sales. I was surprised by how much resonance I found with St. Vincent.
Vincent trusted collaborator
He had me when I read …
“Saint Francis de Sales felt that there was no better place to find God, and to help others to find him, than in the hearts of the women and men of his time.
He had learned this, from his earliest years, by developing a keen insight both into himself and into the human heart.”
Vincent said much the same in many ways.
This is not surprising. Vincent knew and was influenced deeply by St. Francis de Sales.
But he was also a trusted collaborator of St. Francis and St. Marie de Chantal, co-founders of the Visitation Sisters.
Vincent’s first biographer, tells us these saints so esteemed him that they chose him as superior of the first monastery of the Visitation, a position he held for some 40 years.
Pope Francis reminded us…
“(Francis’) writings were no theory concocted behind a desk, far from the concerns of ordinary people.” His teachings were the fruit of a great sensitivity to experience.”
Francis was impressed and intrigued by the great issues emerging in the world, by the novel ways in which they were being approached, by the new and remarkable interest in spirituality and the unprecedented questions it raised.
In a word, he sensed an authentic “epochal shift” that demanded a response couched in language both old and new.
St. Francis de Sales, Vincent, and “epochal change”
What really caught me was the way he highlighted St. Francis’ relevancy for today.
One could say that today we are not living an epoch of change so much as an epochal change.
The situations that we are living in today therefore pose new challenges which, at times, are also difficult for us to understand.
Our time requires us to live problems as challenges and not as obstacles: the Lord is active and at work in our world. Thus, go out into the streets and go out to the crossroads: call all those whom you find, excluding no one (cf. Mt 22:9).
Accompany especially those who are on the roadside, “the lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb” (Mt 15:30). Wherever you may be, build neither walls nor borders but village squares and field hospitals.
Pope Francis is convinced that Francis de Sales’ “flexibility and his farsighted vision have much to say to us,” especially in recognizing the real-life struggles of ordinary people and judging faith by love.
Finding holiness in the midst of societal change
Like the Second Vatican Council would teach 350 years later, the Pope wrote…
St. Francis de Sales knew that every person was called to holiness and that the call was specific to each person and his or her talents, shortcomings, and state in life.
St. Francis de Sales encouraged the faithful “to keep asking at every moment, in every decision, in every situation in life, where the greatest love is to be found.”
“To live in the midst of the secular city while nurturing the interior life, to combine the desire for perfection with every state of life, and to discover an interior peace that does not separate us from the world but teaches us how to live in it and to appreciate it, but also to maintain a proper detachment from it — that was the aim of Francis de Sales, and it remains a valuable lesson for men and women [especially Vincentians] in our own time”
How do we find God in the midst of change?
Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk