A Gentleman Saint

saint-francis-de-salesYou would assume that all saints would be bona fide ladies and gentlemen, at least by the time they were officially declared saints through the canonization process. Yet saints, even in heaven, are usually remembered for their dominant or besetting personalities and characteristics. Some are fiery, some are gentle, some are reserved, some are bold. What they have in common we find in paragraph 828 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practice heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors (Lumen Gentium 40; 48–51). “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history” (John Paul II, Christifideles laici 16, 3). Indeed, “holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal” (Christifideles laici 17, 3).

To sum it up all saints lived in heroic virtue and in fidelity to God’s grace. We know that many others who have not been officially canonized have also lived in this virtue and grace. Yet those who are canonized do serve as models and intercessors.

When I converted to the Catholic Church I was asked to chose a patron saint at the time of my confirmation. I took this very seriously. I wanted to chose someone who modeled for me not only heroic virtue and fidelity to God’s grace, but someone who because of what he or she lived and endured and overcame could be a model for the life ahead of me. That saint for me became Bishop Francis de Sales (1567–1622). Not only is Francis de Sales the patron saint of writers (something I aspire to), he was greatly used by God to bring many lapsed Catholics back to the faith after the Protestant revolt (again something my heart burns to see happen!).

I was first introduced to Francis de Sales through a novena I learned of from the Coming Home Network, specifically to pray for those who had abandoned or were not practicing their faith. I prayed this novena before I was even a Catholic, longing to see lapsed Catholics come back to the fullness of the faith. The more I researched I discovered that de Sales had received training as a lawyer, but could not ignore what seemed a persistent call from God to the priesthood.

Today, one of the writers I greatly admire, David Warren, devoted his blog to St. Francis de Sales. He describes the refocusing of his life from law to theology:

“Thrice in a single day, according to the legend, this scion of a noble family, that was grooming him for high station in law and public life, fell off his horse. Each time his sword and scabbard came off — how embarrassing! — and each time they came to rest in the pattern of a Christian Cross. I mention this as if it were important, because it is. We portray saints and mystics today as if they were Triumphs of the Will, heroes overcoming all adversities to win the main prize, each a spiritual Hercules. This tends to leave God out of the account, and thus the Will by which each was actually not only motivated, but directed.”

Sam Guzman, of the Catholic Gentleman, comments on Francis’s vocation of evangelization in a blog six years ago:

“While St. Francis was full of zeal, he didn’t meet with much success. In fact, he got chased out of towns and had many doors slammed in his face. But he didn’t quit. Instead, he began copying out pamphlets containing Catholic teaching and apologetics and slipping them under the doors of the Calvinists. This is the first known example of someone using tracts for religious evangelization (tracts weren’t invented by Baptists!). We can only imagine what he would think of social media. Eventually, through perseverance and creativity, St. Francis was successful in converting thousands back to the Catholic faith.

“At the age of 35, St. Francis was promoted to the Bishop of his diocese. His kind and patient teaching style won him a huge following among the faithful, and he had a special interest in encouraging lay people to live holy lives. He said, “It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman…. It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world.” He is remembered for his many writings, especially Introduction to the Devout Life—a guide to the spiritual life for laypeople.”

“St. Francis de Sales is the gentleman saint extraordinaire. He lived a holy life in a very difficult time for the Church—the Reformation. His patience, humility, and above all, gentleness, were his trademarks” (Sam Guzman).

A Gentleman Saint