Tag Archives: Saint Francis de Sales

24 August, Letters of Saint Jane Frances II: Keep a light heart.

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To Sister Péronne Marie de Châtel at Lyons.

Vive ✠ Jésus!

Annecy, 1615.

My dearly beloved Sister,

Your letters delight me, they are altogether after my own heart, that heart that so loves its dear Péronne. It is true, my child, that in this life we must always be beginning anew, but if it were not so where should we be? For this is essential to our humility and to confidence, the two virtues our good God asks of us. Be brave, train yourself to courage and to exactitude in the observance. Keep a light heart, and above all things put sadness far from you. God is wholly ours, and we, my daughter, have no other wish than to be wholly His. How then can we be solicitous about anything whatsoever? When you have time give me news of that heart that is so dear to me and that I know so well, I say, so well, thanks be to God.

I beseech you, my love, be a good example to others, avoid all useless conversation, never absent yourself from the community assemblies without real necessity. Give challenges to spur each other on to virtue. Let your chief care be to inculcate recollection, practise it yourself in good earnest, it ought to be pre-eminently our practice. Incite one another to it, and to seek Our Lord, and our own perfection in singleness of heart.

I have received all your letters and the other things you sent by Chambéry, but they came very late. Another time, my dearest daughter, to give you comfort we’ll talk as you desire, heart to heart, but I am feeling the cold today, and am pressed for time. In a word, humility, exact observance, holy confidence and joy in God.

Our very dear Father1 is, he says, entirely yours. All our Sisters salute you. To conclude, you are, as I told you the other day, my own dear Péronne, whom I love with all my heart.

1Saint Francis de Sales, her co-founder of the Sisters of the Visitation.

Image: Lake of Annecy, evening.

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21 August: Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, Letters I.

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 From a letter to Saint Francis de Sales, 1614. The two correspondents collaborated closely in the area that straddles today’s Franco-Swiss border. We could see Saint Jane’s mental state as pretty precarious from this letter, but she had raised a family, largely after her husband’s death, and founded the Sisters of the Visitation. Today is her feast day; let all who ever feel desperate take heart and hope from her weariness of self: she more than survived. I am sure this XIX Century engraving does her poor justice. Her letters are at Project Gutenburg.

This morning I am more wearisome to myself than usual. My interior state is so gravely defective that, in anguish of spirit, I see myself giving way on every side. Assuredly, my good Father, I am almost overwhelmed by this abyss of misery. The presence of God, which was formerly such a delight to me, now makes me tremble all over and shudder with fear. I bethink myself that the divine eye of Him whom I adore, with entire submission, pierces right through my soul looking with indignation upon all my thoughts, words and works. Death itself, it seems to me, would be less painful to bear than the distress of mind which this occasions, and I feel as if all things had power to harm me. I am afraid of everything; I live in dread, not because of harm to myself, but because I fear to displease God.

Oh, how far away His help seems! thinking of this I spent last night in great bitterness and could utter no other words than these, “My God, my God, alas! why hast Thou forsaken me.”

At daybreak God gave me a little light in the highest part of my soul, yet only there; but it was almost imperceptible; nor did the rest of my soul and its faculties share the enjoyment, which lasted only about the time of half a Hail Mary, then, trouble rushed back upon me with a mighty force, and all was darkness. Notwithstanding the weariness of this dereliction, I said, though in utter dryness, “Do, Lord, whatever is pleasing to Thee, I wish it. Annihilate me, I am content. Overwhelm me, I most sincerely desire it. Tear out, cut, burn, do just as Thou pleasest, I am Thine.”

God has shown me that He does not make much account of faith that comes of sentiment and emotions. This is why, though against my inclination, I never wish for sensible1 devotion. I do not desire it. God is enough for me. Notwithstanding my absolute misery I hope in Him, and I trust He will continue to support me so that His will may be accomplished in me.

Take my feeble heart into your hands, my true Father and Lord, and do what you see to be wisest with it.

The day after tomorrow we publish a contemporary reflection on ‘all ye that labour come to me’ which provides something of a reply to this letter. Tomorrow a Welsh saint who lived through most of the 17th Century. 

1Sensible here means ‘that can be felt’. It is possible to be devoted in practice to someone or to a task without feeling any measurable enthusiasm; which may be our calling for a moment or for years.

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28th January – Acquiring Hope

A 20th century Jewish philosopher, Ernst Bloch, in his impressive work The Principle of Hope, reminded people that hope means facing the future with creativity and courage. It is a most desirable gift to acquire in modern circumstances. He looked at attempts to express this over the centuries. People like Francis de Sales and Angela Merici clearly eliminated various fears from people’s lives, and thus made hope possible. However, we can ask whether it was typical of Catholic or Christian community practice to emphasise the empowerment that accompanies hope.

We often speak nowadays of bringing hope to the terminally ill, or to refugees, or to situations of drought and famine. It is a gift which can bring badly needed courage into such situations. We expect connections between hope and practical readiness to solve certain social problems. That is one valuable aspect, but not the first aspect in religious reflection on hope. Often in the New Testament hope is implied, not mentioned directly. In the early Middle Ages, this was felt to be an area in need of further clarification.

What is hope? The debate that emerged talked about the arduous times in life requiring perseverance. Hope flows from God just as forgiveness does. The first treatise on hope came from Eudes Rigaud, a Franciscan lecturer. He taught Bonaventure, who wrote his own account. When Thomas Aquinas used Bonaventure’s text, he turned it into syllogisms, merely logical statements. But hope is our way of narrating our resurrection faith, a process of imaginative awakening.

CD.

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