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Pope: Saint Francis de Sales was a great reader of the Signs of the Times

  • Religion

On the 400th anniversary of the death of the Saint Francis de Sales, Pope Francis issues an Apostolic Letter entitled ‘Totum amoris est’ (‘Everything Pertains to Love’), in which he recalls how the Doctor of the Church was able to help people seek God in charity, joy and freedom in an era of great changes.

By Alessandro Di Bussolo

A fine “interpreter” of his time, who in a new way had “a thirst for God,” and was an “extraordinary director of souls,” capable of helping people seek the Lord in their hearts and find Him in charity.

This is how Pope Francis describes St. Francis de Sales in his Apostolic Letter ‘Totum amoris est’, (‘Everything Pertains to Love’) written on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the death of the Doctor of the Church, Patron of journalists and communicators, and “exiled” Bishop of Geneva.

The Pope highlights that the great vocation of this French saint, who was born in the castle of Sales, in Savoy, on 21 August 1567, and died in Lyon on 28 December 1622, was that of asking himself “in every situation in life where the greatest love is to be found.”

It is, therefore, not surprising, notes Pope Francis, that St. John Paul II called him a “Doctor of Divine Love,” not only for having written “a weighty Treatise on that subject, but first and foremost because he was an outstanding witness to that love”. 

In changing times, new opportunities for proclamation of the Gospel

After asking himself about “the legacy of Saint Francis de Sales for our time”, the Pope explains that he found his “flexibility and his far-sighted vision” enlightening.

In early Seventeenth-century Paris, the man Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once called “an apostle, preacher, writer, a man of action and of prayer”, “perceived clearly that the times were changing”. He might “never have imagined that those changes represented so great an opportunity for the preaching of the Gospel. The word of God that he had loved from his youth now opened up before him new and unexpected horizons in a rapidly changing world.”

“That same task,” says the Pope, “awaits us in our own age of epochal change.”

“We are challenged to be a Church that is outward-looking and free of all worldliness, even as we live in this world, share people’s lives and journey with them in attentive listening and acceptance. That is what Francis de Sales did when he discerned the events of his times with the help of God’s grace. Today he bids us set aside undue concern for ourselves, for our structures and for what society thinks about us, and consider instead the real spiritual needs and expectations of our people.”

Seeking God in the heart and in history

According to Saint Francis’ de Sales, the Pope explains, the experience of God “is intrinsic to the human heart”.  

This idea, underpinning his entire life “centered on God”, are explained with simplicity and precision in the Treatise and specifically with these words: “At the very thought of God, one immediately feels a certain delightful emotion of the heart, which testifies that God is God of the human heart.”

These words are the synthesis of his thought: “It is in the heart and through the heart”, the Pope says, “that we come to know God and, at the same time, ourselves, our own origins and depths, and our fulfilment in the call to love”. Thus, we discover that faith is not ” a passive and emotionless abandonment to a doctrine stripped of the flesh and history” but is “first and foremost an attitude of the heart” that is born from the contemplation of the life of Jesus.

“At the school of the Incarnation, he had learned to interpret history and to approach life with confidence and trust.”