Thoughts of St. Francis

Prayerfully and slowly read through the following thoughts from St. Francis De Sales and dwell on them for a while. They are NOT direct quotations. They are paraphrased and some of them carry my own reflections. However, all of them are essentially the ideas, thoughts and insights of St. Francis De Sales.

Find holiness in every day matters - each one has the freedom to choose to be good and to do good, to live noble and virtuous lives and reject what is bad and harmful. 

In whatever state of life men and women find themselves, they can discover the way to God, joyfully and without fear. God can be found anywhere, everywhere and by everyone.

The hours we spend in our daily chores need not be spiritually empty or useless. It is in the daily chores that we live out our life of faith. 

Francis de Sales exhorts us to practice virtues that can help us to grow in right relationship with God, ourselves and others. 

Francis exhorts everyone to live devout, faithful and joyful lives. Devotion is simply that spiritual agility by which charity works in us.

Devotion rouses us to do as many good works as we can promptly and lovingly, even though they are in no way commanded, but rather only counseled or inspired.

Charity and devotion differ no more from one another than does the flame from the fire.

The world paints a sad and morbid picture of devout persons. The devout are seen fasting, praying, bearing with insults, denying themselves pleasures, etc.  The world does not recognize the inner joy of devout persons who make  difficult choices and live austere lives.

The bees suck the bitter juice from thyme and convert it into sweet honey because that is their nature. Similarly the devout find bitterness in their exercises of sacrifices and mortifications, but they transform the bitterness into delights. Devotion makes the difficult delightful!

Devotion removes unpleasantness from mortifications and sacrifices; discontent from the poor and anxiety from the rich; despair from the oppressed and arrogance from the powerful……The devout is able to live in prosperity and suffer need…..

The devout are sincere, honest and transparent….they have nothing to hide because they have no other intention than pleasing God.

The devout use the things of the world with complete sincerity and detachment…they take with moderation what is needed for their state of life.

The bee sucks the honey from flowers without damaging them. True devotion does not damage any life-situation, but it enhances, enriches and makes the life-situation even better. Devotion makes the care of family peaceful, the love of spouses more sincere, service more generous and loyal and occupation more pleasant and loveable.

The call to Holiness is not the exclusive privilege of the monks and nuns. All are called to live a life of holiness. Holiness is never too lofty and unattainable for ordinary people. However, no one lives the life of holiness in the same way. A priest’s call to holiness differs from that of a married man and a nun’s obligation regarding prayer and other spiritual exercises differs from that of a single or a married person.

Holiness is not away from the world… but in the world. We need to find it in our life-situations. Many Christians reduce holiness to mere external forms of piety, over-exaggerating certain aspects like external and vocal prayer, fasting, at the same time neglecting charity and due respect to their neighbor. According to St. Francis de Sales such people are not really devout, although popularly considered so.

The devout Person should integrate prayer and action. St. Francis de Sales cautions every Christian of the danger of dichotomy in living. It is not enough to appear devout and perform some acts of devotion. One has to be truly devout in thoughts, words and deeds.

If a person is really devout he/she should show it not only in praying but also in his/her actions as well. He, who is in the habit of fasting, may falsely believe that because he fasts he is very devout, even though his heart is filled with hatred. Some people will not take a sip of wine or even water, anxious about sobriety, but have no scruples to damage the good name of their neighbors by speaking ill or by false statements.

It is said: ‘Prayer is the key of the day and the lock of the night’. I used to tell my students that we must be like the camel – the camel begins the day on his knees and ends the day on his knees as well.

“If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back quite gently and place it tenderly in God’s presence. And if you do nothing else while at prayer but bring your heart back again and again and place it in God’s presence………..though it went away every time you brought it back, your time of prayer would be very well spent” (Introduction to Devout Life, St. Francis De Sales).

The focus that St. Francis de Sales gives is not on the definition of prayer because his aim was to help people to grow in God’s love through prayer. For him all the good movements of the will, proper interior disposition and good thoughts are prayers. He says: “In it (prayer) occurs so many interior movements that it is impossible to mention them all, not only because of their quantity, but also because of their nature and quality, which being spiritual, can only be extremely subtle and almost imperceptible to human understanding.” Through prayer we come to know God’s will in our daily life.

St. Francis de Sales was a man who could pray at all times and in all places. One can pray in the prison cells or in the chapel, traveling in a bus or walking in the woods and even when one is engaged in doing some serious work. These prayers need not be formal prayers. In any circumstance one can at least think a holy thought, say a simple prayer form the heart, become aware of the all-pervading presence of God or at least do what one does with love. 

God can fill only a humble heart with His gifts. Therefore, humility is one of the foundations of an authentic spirituality. True humility consists in acknowledging the gifts of God and being grateful to Him for them. Trust and humility go hand in hand. It is by practicing humility that we become humble (not by trying to overcome pride). St. Francis de Sales says: “Do not strive to destroy pride. Make humility strong by practice.” For him, humility is the recognition and acceptance of the truth about self. The following are some of my thoughts on humility.

The little virtues like patience, gentleness and humility are very often neglected by people as just the ordinary. They are  definitely not “little” – on the contrary, they are great virtues, they make a difference in our day to ay life. St. Francis de Sales saw great power in them. They can shape our lives and relationships. They also help us form and build communities.

A kind word spoken, a warm greeting, a little help, a cheerful approach, a patient listening or a gentle look can work miracles in our daily life. The truth is that we get a lot of opportunities to practice these virtues, while the chances for practicing other so-called great virtues are very rare. One who waits for them, neglecting these little virtues, will meet with disappointment.

Gentleness and humility are often seen as signs of weakness.Only a person who is very strong can be humble and gentle. Only the strong can bend – the weak breaks when bend.  Gentleness and humility flow from the inner strength of a person. Such strength flows also into patience and self-control. For Francis "Nothing is so strong as gentleness - nothing so loving and gentle as strength."

Gentleness and humility are often seen as being passive, "non assertive" and self depreciating.  The gentle and the humble are able to express themselves without leaning on someone else; they do not have to be aggressive and hurt others to better themselves and they do not have to blame someone else for their failures or shortcomings. They can stand on their own feet accepting their own incompleteness and without having to put someone else down.

According to Francis de Sales, little virtues are those that can be practiced by anyone at any time and in all situations. The great virtues appear to be mere wishful thinking without the practice of the little virtues. The little virtues are virtues like gentleness, humility, patience, simplicity, good-naturedness, tenderness towards our neighbor, bearing their imperfections, etc.

“No one is esteemed before God for having lived long, but for having lived well. For nothing is small in the service of God”

“Every moment comes to us pregnant with a command from God, only to pass on and plunge into eternity, there to remain forever what we have made of it” 

If you place a cup beneath a fountain and keep it there while you drink, it will be never less full, drink as you will. But take it away and you will soon empty it. The same is true of human love and friendships. Do not withdraw them from their real source in God, and they will never be empty.

Fr. Gus Tharappel, msfs