Saint Francis de Sales’ Exemplary Christian Humanism

The celebration of the feast of St Francis de Sales brought into my heart the profound words Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this great saint in his catechesis given on March 2, 2011, at Paul VI’s Audience Hall at the Vatican. In that occasion Pope Benedict XVI said: St Francis de Sales is an exemplary witness of Christian humanism; with his familiar style, with words which at times have a poetic touch, he reminds us that human beings have planted in their innermost depths the longing for God and that in him alone can they find true joy and the most complete fulfilment.

By what he wrote, St Francis de Sales gives us some great insight into what Christian humanism is all about. First, Christian humanism implies being who you are as you ought to be. St Francis de Sales encourages us: Be who you are and be that well. In another place he also expressed the same thought when he said: Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.

Second, Christian humanism means living and working under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of calmness and inner peace. The bishop of Geneva teaches us: Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset. 

Third, Christian humanism means living and acting in God’s patience. He pinpoints at us this point when he says: What we need is a cup of understanding, a barrel of love, and an ocean of patience.

Fourth, Christian humanism means having patience mainly with myself. In his writings St Frances encourages us: Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew. In another place in his writings he develops this important thought when he said: Have patience with all things – but first with yourself. Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being. You are perfectly valuable, creative, worthwhile person simply because you exist. And no amount of triumphs or tribulations can ever change that.

Fifth, Christian humanism suggests the primacy of prayer amid our busy schedules. De Sales wisely counsels us as Christians: Every Christian needs a half-hour of prayer each day, except when he is busy, then he needs an hour. 

Sixth, Christian humanism gentleness is both strong and real. St Francis reminds us: Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength. 

Eighth, Christian humanism sees patience as a catapult of authentic growth. He said: Have patience to walk with short steps until you have wings to fly. 

Ninth, Christian humanism puts the fear of God from a loving perspective. This holy bishop puts it succinctly when he said: We must fear God out of love, not love Him out of fear. 

Tenth, Christian humanism combats until it defeats anxiety. St Frances tells us: Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall a soul, except sin. God commands you to pray, but He forbids you to worry.

Eleventh, Christian humanism reminds us that we serve our God in the myriad simple occasions of daily life. The bishop of Geneva tells us: Great occasions for serving God come seldom, but little ones surround us daily.

Twelfth, Christian humanism promotes love in all its simplicity. Saint Francis says: In everything, love simplicity.

Thirteenth, Christian humanism also implies taking care of own well-being. For that reason De Sales opens our eyes when he said: Take care of your health, that it may serve you to serve God.

Fourteenth, Christian humanism also reminds us that true progress can be likened, as Jesus says, to a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches (Matt 13: 31-32). On this point St Francis de Sales says: True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice.

Fifteenth, Christian humanism promotes meditation and peace to fare with a peaceful heart forward. That is why this great pastor of the Church drew our attention to this fact when he said: Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.

Sixteenth, Christian humanism is about encouraging us to love. In doing so we learn to love the way God loves. St Francis says: You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves. 

Seventeenth, Christian humanism means starting afresh in God each single moment. De Sales wisely counsels us: We shall steer safely through every storm, so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God. If at times we are somewhat stunned by the tempest, never fear. Let us take breath, and go on afresh. 

Eighteenth, Christian humanism opens our eyes to the fact that we are heavily attacked by the evil one when we do what is God before God’s eyes. St Francis tells us: A spoon full of honey gets more flies than a barrel full of vinegar. 

Nineteenth, Christian humanism teaches us that in times of trouble let us give time the time seasoned with gentleness. St Francis gives us the following advice: When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.

Twentieth, Christian humanism appreciates every tiniest deed done for God’s service. From his rich experience, St Francis de Sales was able to conclude: There is nothing small in the service of God.

These great insights into authentic Christian humanism which St Francis de Sales exhorts us to espouse and live by powerfully remind me of what Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily at the Solemnity of All Saints Day on Wednesday, 1 November 2006 at the Vatican Basilica of St Peter’s when he said: The example of the Saints encourages us to follow in their same footsteps and to experience the joy of those who trust in God, for the one true cause of sorrow and unhappiness for men and women is to live far from him.

St Francis de Sales, help me follow your footsteps and counsels to experience that joy which only God can give me. Amen.

St Francis de Sales pray for us!

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.