Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Francis de Sales: an example for us all

St. Francis de Sales, d. 1622.
Today, the Church remembers St. Francis de Sales. The story of his life is probably, at least in parts, somewhat familiar to our college readers. Francis was born into a well-to-do family. He was handsome and popular and his father made sure that he attended the best schools and that he had plenty of opportunities for social advancement.

In all of this social climbing, however, Francis remained very devout in his Catholic faith. That is, until college, where he had a real crisis of faith when he was first exposed to the teachings of the Protestant Reformers - namely Calvinists. Francis wanted nothing more than to please God and to be saved through Christ and he became convinced that he was predestined to hell. This so thoroughly disturbed him, that he became physically ill and bedridden for a time.

In his illness and despair, Francis visited a nearby church to pray. He re-dedicated his life to God and became convinced that whatever life had in store for him - ups and downs - it was all good, because "God is love." He came to understand that the most important thing that he could do would be to remain faithful and to serve God and his fellow man. Everything else, then, would fall into place. With this understanding, the legalistic and unhealthy doubts thats plagued him about his assurance of salvation began to fade away, and Francis grew to become an important teacher and leader in the Church. One of his most famous works is his book, An Introduction to the Devout Life, which is still considered by many to be one of the most important books on living out our Catholic faith.

Francis was eventually called to be the Catholic bishop of Geneva - a center of the Reformation. His preaching and his humble example won many back to the Church and he is remembered as a brilliant theologian, a passionate preacher and a devoted servant to the poor.

Many of us (if we are honest), have undergone some crisis of faith while in college. This can lead to despair or can lead us down a path of greater understanding and devotion. If we ignore our doubts, our questions and our problems, we are giving in to despair and, in a sense, throwing in the towel. If we use difficult questions and fresh doubts to spur ourselves on to a deeper understanding of our faith, we have done well. College is for learning more about things. The Church and the Catholic faith are no exception: learn more and ask questions.

St. Francis de Sales, pray for all who are undergoing a crisis in their Catholic faith. 

Edited 1/24/2012 to correct spelling errors. BN