Tag Archives: Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

28 February, Desert III: Serve Him there with good courage.

Traveler

We return to the letters of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. On August 21 last year we read of her own times of dryness of heart: here she is writing to one of her sisters to encourage her when she feels nothing. She is being led through the desert whether she likes it or  not, but she is on a safe road.

Oh! but yes; just a word for my Little One. I beg of you, my dearest Sister, not to trouble about what you feel or do not feel—this I say once for all. Serve Our Lord as it pleases Him, and while He keeps you in the desert serve Him there with good courage. He made His dear Israelites spend forty years there, accomplishing a journey that they could have made in forty days. Take courage then, and be satisfied with saying, and being able to say, though without relish, “I wish to live wholly for God and never to offend Him;” and when you stumble, as is sure to happen (be it a hundred times a day), rise up again by an act of confidence. Do likewise towards your neighbour, be content with having the desire to love him, or desiring to desire it, and to procure for him all possible good, and, opportunity given, minister gently to him.

In short take bravely the road in which God leads you—it is a safe one, although you may not have all the light and satisfaction you would like; but it is quite time to abandon to Our Lord all these plans and desires, and to walk blindly, as divine Providence wills, believing that it will lead you aright.

Image from FMSL

Collected Letters of St Jane Frances de Chantal

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25 August: Letters of Saint Jane Frances III, Fidelity is catching.

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To Mother Marie Jacqueline Favre, Superior at Lyons.

Vive ✠ Jésus!

Annecy, 1615.

They have taken me by surprise. Here is M. de Boisy, who tells me that if I wish to write to you, my daughter, now is the opportunity. He starts at dawn, and so at dawn I write this letter in all haste.

Well, as to your letters, they always give me pleasure and console me exceedingly. All praise to the good God who I see leads you and holds you by His paternal Hand, so that you have nothing to do but to cling close to it, and leave yourself to Him, walking with all possible humility, and simplicity, under His holy protection, while you train your little flock to advance faithfully, for it is in this way that He wishes you to show your fidelity, and it is for this end that I always tell you, my dearest, that you should keep yourself, as much as the performance of necessary duties allow, free and disengaged from occupations, so that you may be continually in the midst of your Sisters at the times that they are assembled together, thus will you enlighten and animate them in their duty by example as well as by precept. I quite agree with our worthy and excellent Archbishop. He is right, my daughter, believe me, you must be Mother and Mistress.

This was still early days for the congregation of the Sisters of the Visitation, founded by Saints Jane Frances and Francis de Sales. The opening of this passage shows the gulf between their world and ours: writing in haste to take advantage of a friend’s travels to send a letter! Note, too, her motto: I guess I’d translate it as ‘Jesus Lives’, but maybe ‘long live Jesus’ would be closer. Mother Marie Jacqueline found the double role of mother and mistress (superior, authority figure) a trial, even if Mother Jane Frances had every confidence in her. The excellent Archbishop is St Francis de Sales.

The church at TignesThe church at Tignes is not far from Annecy: Rupert Greville reflected on it during our Lent programme.

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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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