.- At the Wednesday general audience on March 2, Pope Benedict XVI discussed the life of St. Francis de Sales, a 17th century bishop and Doctor of the Church whose secret to holiness was his unreserved trust in God.
“He was an apostle, preacher, writer, man of action and of prayer,” the Pope recalled, describing how the saint became “committed to realizing the ideals of the Council of Trent, and involved in controversies and dialogue with Protestants.”
“Yet, over and above the necessary theological debate, he also experienced the effectiveness of personal relations and of charity.”
St. Francis de Sales was born in 1567 to a noble family in the Duchy of Savoy. At a young age, he experienced profound anxiety while reflecting on the topic of predestination. In the course of this “profound crisis,” the Pope observed, the young man “ found peace in the radical and liberating truth of God's love: loving Him without asking anything in return and trusting in divine love.”
This unreserved trust in God, Pope Benedict observed, “would be the secret of his life.”
Although he acquired a law degree and could have married, Francis de Sales chose to become a priest and take on the difficult task of bringing Swiss Calvinists back to the Catholic Church. He was ordained in 1593, and later consecrated as the Bishop of Geneva in 1602.
His ministry in Geneva frequently subjected him to dangerous travels and rejection by Swiss Protestants. However, by the end of his life he had succeeded in bringing between 40,000 and 70,000 of them back to the Catholic fold.
He also collaborated with St. Jane Frances de Chantal in founding the Order of the Visitation, whose sisters live a life of “complete consecration to God” in “simplicity and humility.” St. Francis de Sales died in 1622 while visiting one of the convents he had helped to found.
Alongside these accomplishments, the saint also composed significant spiritual and theological works. Pope Benedict called attention to his book “An Introduction to the Devout Life,” a book that was unusual in its time for calling laypersons “to belong completely to God while being fully present in the world.”
The Pope also highlighted the importance of St. Francis de Sales' most important theological work, the “Treatise on the Love of God.”
“Following the model of Holy Scripture,” he observed, “St. Francis of Sales speaks of the union between God and man, creating a whole series of images of interpersonal relationships. His God is Father and Lord, Bridegroom and Friend.”
Pope Benedict told his listeners that St. Francis de Sales' vision of Christian life could provide important wisdom for “a time such as our own, which seeks freedom.”
“This great master of spirituality and peace,” he said, “gave his disciples the 'spirit of freedom' – true freedom.”
The Pope described the saint as “an exemplary witness of Christian humanism,” with a profound insight into the human heart.
“He reminds us that inscribed in the depths of man is nostalgia for God, and that only in Him can we find true joy and complete fulfillment.”