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Both in Paris and in Padua, he was personally troubled by the problem of predestination. The theological dilemma of God's foreknowledge hit home, with the force of a sledgehammer upon his soul, in For a six-week period he suffered a personal "crisis" - what today we might call clinical depression - in which he feared that he would be eternally damned. No one can determine for sure what actually caused such a traumatic event in Francis' young life.

It may have been physical fatigue, the energy of his many youthful endeavors finally wearing him out. It may have been intellectual consternation, the theological debates just not sitting well with him. It may have been a psychological complex, his naturally high anxiety yielding its destructive force on his delicate conscience. Whatever the cause, this crisis would prove to be a spiritual "conversion" for Francis. Therein lies a profound and endearing lesson.

Francis de Sales would learn to see life through eyes of hope and would later counsel folks about the vagaries of human existence in such a way that both reflected and inspired optimism. Without, hopefully, enduring the same pain, we could learn from this, too - that fatigue comes with hard work, that consternation comes with critical thinking, and that anxiety comes with caring so much.

Yet these need not be cause for crisis, not if we believe, as we should, that God's love for us, personally and not just conceptually, surpasses the transitory ups and downs of our existence.

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In truth, there is really nothing we can do to make God love us more. With such a first-rate education, Francis de Sales was soon admitted to the bar and was nominated a senator by the duke, two steps along the way of a father's dream that his son embark on a diplomatic career. Yet Francis refused the title. Instead, he was named Provost of the cathedral chapter of Geneva, a quasi-political position that put him second in rank to the local bishop.

This appointment may have assuaged his father's aspirations, but it also signaled to Francis that he should alight upon an ecclesiastical career. To that end, he was ordained to the priesthood at age twenty-six and volunteered for a "missionary" assignment to the region of the Chablais, which by that time had become so thoroughly Calvinist that " o f the some twenty-five thousand souls who inhabited the area, only about a hundred Catholics remained" Ravier, The force of Protestant policy, which prohibited public interaction with the papist preacher Winklehner , would prove to be no match for the rhetorical skills of this saint.

Through dialogues with local leaders, including dinner-time discussions that almost converted Calvin's successor Theodore de Beze , through public liturgical celebrations, and through an ingenious means of pamphleteering for which he was later named Patron of Journalists , Francis de Sales re-converted the entire region, some 72, in all. Underlying this priestly passion and ecumenical endeavor is something more than oratorical skill.

Francis de Sales had courage. In following a priestly vocation, he defied his father - not the kind of thing a first-born son would normally do. At his son's request to be permitted to enter into the service of the Church, Francis' father wept, acceded, and then shut himself away in his study Ravier. Later, in taking on the heretical opposition, he defied convention. In fact, his opening speech to the cathedral chapter, that ecclesiastical body which led the citizenry by pride and prestige, would signal the source of the saint's success. In what had to be a rather gutsy maneuver, he began his keynote address with a veritable call to arms by claiming, "At last the day has dawned!

We must reconquer Geneva, the ancient seat of our assembly. It is our fault if the name of the Lord is blasphemed among the nations, and of this, God through his prophets bitterly complains. Such are the waters of contradiction, which in my opinion, renews the ardor of heretics. I beg of you, fellow combatants, to check the flow of this water; let each one of us watch his own source and prevent it reaching the enemy; let the flow of our sinful actions surge back to their origin, and there evaporate in the heat of our Eternal Sun to deprive our enemy, as well as our people, of the spectacle of our scandals.

Breach the walls of Geneva with our ardent prayers and storm the city with mutual charity. The lesson here is rather clear. Following God's call takes courage. Following God's way - the way of perfect charity - takes courage. Francis de Sales' ecumenical endeavors, and subsequent transformation of an entire culture, depended not on his own oratorical skills or political savvy, helpful though these no doubt were. What counted most, both in his becoming who he was to be and in his doing what he was to do, is a sure and certain reliance on the power of God.

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His achievements may have redounded to his own glory, but his motivation was always and only to do what God willed. If we would but keep this goal in mind, we can be assured that our work cannot, ultimately, fail. Committed to spreading the teaching of the Council of Trent, he would use his position to educate his diocese in the doctrines of the Church.

He preached frequently, too much so for some high-brow tastes like his father's , and his sermons became known for their manifold eloquence. He organized diocesan synods, reorganized administrative structures, and initiated the practice of parish visitations, twice visiting the entirety of his diocese with horseback as his only mode of transportation.

He also formed the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine CCD and personally taught catechism classes, even to the point of inventing a type of sign language by which he taught prayers to a young man born deaf for which he would later be named Patron of the Deaf. He was, without doubt, a very personable pastor beloved by all in his flock. But there were administrative troubles, too. Religious life in his diocese was in a sorry state.

Saint Francis of Assisi, Fonder of the Friars Minor

To use the saint's words, from his letter to the Holy Apostolic See, "the regular discipline is everywhere ruined in the abbeys and priories" by crass ignorance, putrid incontinence, avarice, and insolent arrogance Oeuvres XXIII Despite their resistance, which was often tied to financial concerns, the bishop was able to reform the monastic orders by re-instituting penitential practices. Then, too, his establishment of a new educational entity - the Florimontane Academy - would be short-lived.

This school was to serve "all the gallant masters of the honorable arts Some believe it to be the pre-cursor of today's French Academy. But it existed for only three years, one reason for its demise being the three lawsuits in which the bishop came to be embroiled.

We find here another lesson. Beyond the fact that even saints get sued is the realization that people are perplexing! It would have been easy for the bishop to avoid the degradations and the complications of diocesan affairs, by removing himself to the safe confines of an episcopal mansion or hiding behind increased layers of bureaucratic structure.


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But Francis de Sales practiced a very direct and personal "contact" with all the people in his care, commoner and scholar alike, saints and sinners together. And not everything he did was a success. Sometimes even the best-laid plans fail. So be it. He, and we, must move on, confident that the good Lord will provide.

One venture Francis de Sales initiated did succeed In , together with Jane de Chantal, he founded the Visitation of Holy Mary, a religious order of women whose aim was the life of charity exemplified in the Virgin Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth. This new order was uniquely conceived. It was established not on the traditional vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, but always and everywhere on charity: "We have no bond but the bond of love," Francis wrote in the first Book of Profession.

And, rather than focusing on stringent practices of mortification behind the walls of the monastery, as was common in religious orders of the time, these sisters would actually go out into the city, to visit and care for the sick. This new religious lifestyle attracted many women who would not otherwise have been 7 able to join the convent; older women, widows, even the disabled were given access to this way of life.

Behind this success story, however, is another story, one that combines acquiescence and firmness. When the Visitation order sought to expand its foundations beyond the diocese of Geneva, the founding saints encountered resistance, in the "conservative" thinking of the bishop of Lyons Mgr. Denys Simon de Marquemont.

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This neighboring prelate could not envision a break with Church tradition that would allow cloistered nuns to venture in and out of the monastery, no matter the good deeds they were seeking to do. Francis de Sales acquiesced to the demand that his Sisters observe the canonical enclosure and submit to a monastic Rule of life.


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  • After all, his emphasis for these nuns was not on what they did in terms of apostolic activity, but on the humble and gentle spirit with which they were to cultivate a prayerful life of obedience to God's will. Nevertheless, he stood his ground when it came to the question of how these Sisters were to live. To this day, the nuns in Visitation monasteries practice a simple life, without pious austerities, yet fervent in their quest for spiritual perfection. Pope Francis is not proposing a revolution, but the bureaucratic recognition of a system that already exists, and might even be essential to the survival of the church.

    If the rules were literally applied, no one whose marriage had failed could ever have sex again. This is not a practical way to ensure there are future generations of Catholics. And if the Catholic church does not teach eternal truths, conservatives ask, what is the point of it? The battle over divorce and remarriage has brought to a point two profoundly opposed ideas of what the church is for. They represent those Jesus is supposed to have given St Peter, which symbolise the powers to bind and to loose: to proclaim what is sin, and what is permitted.

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    But which power is more important, and more urgent now? The present crisis is the most serious since the liberal reforms of the s spurred a splinter group of hardline conservatives to break away from the church. Their leader, the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was later excommunicated. Over the past few years, conservative writers have repeatedly raised the spectre of schism.

    If he wins, the church could fall apart. The Catholic church has spent much of the past century fighting against the sexual revolution, much as it fought against the democratic revolutions of the 19th century, and in this struggle it has been forced into the defence of an untenable absolutist position, whereby all artificial contraception is banned, along with all sex outside one lifelong marriage.