St Francis de Sales
Today's feast brings to us one of the extraordinary saints whose life spanned the end of the 16th century and the beginning years of the 17th century. Wikipedia offers a concise picture of the man:
Francis de Sales (French: Saint François de Sales) (August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622) was Bishop of Geneva and is a Roman Catholic saint. He is known also for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly Introduction to the Devout Life, along with his Treatise on the Love of God. His writings on the perfections of the Heart of Mary as the model of love for God influenced Jean Eudes to develop the devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
This Francis was known for his preaching skills. Perhaps an early version of a man of our own times, Archbishop Fulton Sheen! In the first reading today Paul speaks about his own God-given grace to be a preacher to the Gentiles. Francis directed his preaching to bring back those who had turned to Calvinism. Francis was especially successful in this mission.
In the gospel for today, St John's words are similar to what we hear so often today: the primacy of love that is seated in the Christian faith because Jesus himself made it so very clear that the Father's love for himself is no different from the Father's love for each of us. Jesus expands this scope of love between the Father and each of us: we are to "Love one another as I love you." This same love is to be the sign that distinguishes Christians. Furthermore Jesus teaches what St John writes in his First Letter: "Wherever there is love, there is God."
We are called to be signs or models of love and not simply love but unconditional love. Maybe we should focus some moments considering what the implications of this adjective, "unconditional," might mean in each of our lives. Just for starters imagine what our families, our communities, our culture might be were each person to take this call, this challenge to love one another with an unconditional love. Francis deSales was a man a stature and significant rank in his community. However, never was he a priest who did not demonstrate his efforts to love everyone, especially towards those who had needs. Likewise his lifestyle, preaching and teaching are models for us of a human being who saw in the challenge of unconditional love a way to demonstrate one's commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to live a life that he puts before humanity. This is the challenge for us today in our relationships with family, community and culture. No easy task is it?
Among his writings the Introduction to the Devout Life is recognized as a classic in the field of spiritual direction.