Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Introduction to the Introduction

St Francis de Sales, whose Introduction to the Devout Life I have been posting about as a Lenten theme for the blog, was an incredibly gifted orator, evangelist, spiritual director, priest, and bishop. Born in the Dutchy of Savoy in 1567, he went against his aristocratic father's wishes that he enter politics, and became a priest, being sent to Geneva in 1593. The area was a Calvinist stronghold, and he set about converting many back to Catholicism, with great success. He was loved by the people (according to the Baronius edition of the Devout Life which we are reading) 'for his gentleness, wisdom, humility, and love of the poor.' In 1599 he was appointed coadjutor in Geneva, and then Bishop in 1602, and was loved greatly by King Henry IV and others in Paris, a city he visited often on pastoral affairs. But equally he continued to spend much of his time directing the faithful in the spiritual life, saying that 'it appertains principally to Bishops to lead souls to perfection.' One lady in particular whom he directed, showed his letters to another priest, who suggested that St Francis make his letters available to the wider public. This he agreed to do, and in the resulting book he addresses Philothea, a generic name which is greek for 'lover of God'. The book was so popular that even the Protestants edited it and distributed their own version. May God send us more priests like St Francis, with wisdom, a great zeal for evangelisation, and a manner that draws men and women to God!

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