Denver, Colo., Jan 23, 2011 / 05:09 am
On Jan. 24, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that runs from Jan. 18-25, Catholics will celebrate the life of St. Francis de Sales. A bishop and Doctor of the Church, his preaching brought thousands of Protestants back to the Catholic fold, and his writings on the spiritual life have proved highly influential.
The paradoxical circumstances of Francis' birth, in the Savoy region (now part of France) during 1567, sum up several contradictory tendencies of the Church during his lifetime. The reforms of the Council of Trent had purified the Church in important ways, yet Catholics and Protestants still struggled against one another – and against the temptations of wealth and worldly power.
Francis de Sales, a diplomat's son, was born into aristocratic wealth and privilege. Yet he was born in a room that his family named the “St. Francis room” – where there hung a painting of that saint, renowned for his poverty, preaching in the wilderness. In later years, Francis de Sales would embrace poverty also; but early in his ministry, the faithful chided him for having an aristocratic manner.
In many ways, Francis' greatest achievements – such as the “Introduction to the Devout Life,” an innovative spiritual guidebook for laypersons, or his strong emphasis on the role of human love in Christian devotion – represent successful attempts to re-integrate seemingly disparate “worldly” and “spiritual” realities into one coherent vision of life.