Recently I was drawn to revisit the life and works of St. Francis de Sales. There are many saints and philosophers I have looked to for inspiration and guidance in Christian mysticism, but Francis de Sales is one that until now I had quickly passed over. Perhaps he didn’t grab my attention simply because he hasn’t received the same kind of publicity as St. John of the Cross and other well-known mystics. Perhaps it was because I was in a place where I judged him as too socially oriented. In any case he did come back onto my radar, and I now appreciate him as another wise teacher of how we can integrate our internal and external lives.
The Spirit mysteriously moves people in many different ways and so, even in mysticism, there is no one specific way that is the way for all. There are lots of examples of mystic saints whose spirituality has led to a significant withdrawal from ordinary human society. While the life of a monastic or a hermit can be a genuine calling, many do not feel called in that way despite awareness of their regular need for solitary time and contemplation. Neither must one aspire to the common image of a mystic as forever moving through the world with feet barely touching the ground, blind to all but the Invisible and deaf to all but the Ineffable, though we can acknowledge there are moments when such a state is welcome and good. And, for what it’s worth, the Gospels don’t reveal a Jesus who demonstrates or teaches a permanent withdrawal, either physically or psychologically, from the everyday world most of us know. A summary of his message might be, “Yes, love God with all that you are, seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and be in the world but not of it, yet nonetheless be in this world – be here now – doing the loving works of our Papa.” So it is that some of us are most inspired by saints who have found, demonstrated, and taught ways to be genuine mystics, with hearts and minds as open as possible to God, as well as persons fully present and engaged in ordinary human society.
Frances de Sales seems to be such a saint, and the essential principles in Salesian spirituality are quite compelling. Here is a list of those principles, care of The Saint Francis de Sales Association:
- God is love, and all creation is an outpouring of that love.
- All creation has been made for Christ, with Christ and through Christ.
- All creation should be treated with respect and care.
- Jesus is the model for all fully human living.
- You possess divine dignity and are worthy of profound respect.
- God has testified that you are good, worthy of divine love and mercy.
- Despite your weakness and sinfulness, God loves you so much that He sent His only Son to become human.
- You are called to be holy, that is, to grow in union with God.
- Pursuing a holy life is called “devotion,” that is, doing what is both commanded and counseled by God promptly, actively, and diligently.
- The pursuit of holiness must be practical. It must transform your attitudes, attributes, and actions.
- Acknowledge your sins and failing, learn from them, but do not dwell on them.
- God gives you talents and abilities, gifts that should be discovered, developed and used for the good of others.
- Relationships are essential to living a fully human, that is, a holy life.
- Each moment of each day comes from the hand of a loving God and is graced for your salvation.
- The only time you have is each present moment. Don’t live in the past; don’t dwell on the future.
- Living each moment to the fullest with an eye to loving God must lead you to show compassion for others.
- The challenge of each moment is discerning God’s will, that is, the particular, unique way that God may be calling you to love Him, yourself, and others.
- God’s will is frequently communicated through the events, circumstances, and relationships in which you find yourself.
- God seldom requires you to perform great or extraordinary feats, but He always challenges you to perform everyday actions with extraordinary attention and enthusiasm.
- The “little virtues” of patience, humility, gentleness, simplicity, honesty, and hospitality are powerful means for growing holy.
- All prayer and meditation must lead to action.
- The motivation with which you perform some action may be far more important and powerful than the action itself.
- Freedom is one of the most precious and powerful gifts that God gives you.
- You are to use that freedom to grow in conformity to God’s will.
- Intellectual learning, prayerful reflection, social interaction, work, play and all things creative should be valued as graced by God and viewed as means for growing into a fully human person.
- Each new day is a new beginning, a new opportunity for growing in holiness.
- Let your passion be disciplined.
- Let your discipline be passionate.
- Keep things in perspective.
- Develop a sense of humor.
Two important works by St. Francis de Sales are Introduction to the Devout Life, and Treatise on the Love of God. The embedded links are for free online versions at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.