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Saint Francis De Sales
Jane Frances de Chantal
Saint Francis de Sales did a great deal of preaching.
At the beginning, he confined himself to Annecy, but as he developed more confidence, and was more accepted, he spread out to areas outside Annecy.
But he didn't venture into any dangerous areas....yet! He was being prepared by the Lord, however to evangelize in the dangerous areas around Lake Geneva.
This area, the Chablais, which had been ruled by the House of "House of Savoie", had been invaded sixty years before by militant Protestants from Berne who took over the western part of it as well as some provinces on the north shore of the lake.
Catholic worship was outlawed, and churches were burned or destroyed when not appropriated for Protestant use. Religious orders were suppressed and priests were exiled.
Thirty years later, the Duke of Savoie was able to get this area back, only he had to agree to the condition that the Catholic religion remain forbidden.
He accepted, hoping to get his foot in the door. In 1589, the Protestants from Berne invaded again and lost. Only this time, in the peace treaty, the Duke insisted the Catholic Faith be allowed to be taught and followed. The way was opened for Catholics to come in and try to build up the Church again. But the Protestants broke their word and tried to recapture the area without success.
But it was still a stronghold of "Calvinism" and Calvinists. The situation seemed hopeless. As long as the Calvinists held a grip on the area, neither the Church nor the Duke of Savoie had a chance to bring the people back to the Faith.
The Duke asked the bishop to send missionaries at least into the little duchy of "Chablais, duchy of", in an attempt to convert some of those who had turned to Calvinism. In response, the bishop sent a priest, who was from Chablais, thinking he would be acceptable to the people because they knew him. That didn't work, and the priest had to flee for his life.
The bishop called a meeting of his chapter. Without trying to soft pedal any of it, he explained the problem to them. We don't know why Francis de Sales was the only one who seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. Yet he got up and volunteered to do the job. He spoke very directly and gently, "My Lord, if you think I'm capable of undertaking this mission, tell me to go. I'm ready to obey and should be happy to be chosen." He was unanimously accepted, with good reason. No one else wanted the job. However, it was at this point that his father stood up. He appealed to the bishop.
His son was only twenty seven years old. He had a bright future ahead of him. Perhaps he wanted to die a martyr's death, but that was not why the Lord brought him into the world. He was so passionate in his plea to the bishop that he was on the verge of calling the whole thing off. (He was not really sold on the project in the first place.) But Francis stood up and convinced the bishop into letting the project go on, as they had planned it.
There were no volunteers other than his cousin Canon Louis de Sales and Francis. On September 14, 1594, the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, they set forth to win back the Chablais for Jesus. They traveled from Annecy to the border of the Chablais region at which point they sent their horses back. They wanted to be like the apostles, following Jesus' mandate to them, "Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road...Wherever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, `The Kingdom of God has come near to you.'" They chose to go on foot from that point on.
The remnant of the once great Catholic population, amounted to about twenty scattered individuals, too petrified of the consequences to declare themselves openly.
These, Francis worked with and tried to bring back the love of Jesus which they had known. The raggedy missionaries worked originally in the one town, Thonon, preaching daily, and eventually gradually extending their efforts to the villages in the surrounding countryside. They do remind us of the early travels of Saints Paul and Barnabas on the island of Cyprus, as written in the Acts of the Apostles. They didn't catch many fish there. The same seemed to apply here.
Saint Jane Frances de Chantal
The Lord put a woman in his path in 1604, Baroness de Chantal, who would become St. Jane Frances de Chantal. She wasonly thirty two years old at the time and had recently been widowed. He gave her spiritual direction. He could see the Lord working in her life, and when he suggested to her, a few years later, they begin a religious order which would work out in the world, doing corporal works of mercy; she said yes and they began working on it. The name they chose for their order was Visitation of Our Lady, which came from Our Lady’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, a corporal work of mercy. The charism of the ladies would be to help others in need. Together, they would be responsible for the foundation of the Order of the Visitation in 1610. We will be writing the biography of this Saint in another chapter.
Bishop de Sales became very famous, not only in Annecy and Geneva, but in all of Europe. Being French, he was particularly welcomed by the French nobility. His preaching to members of nobility was responsible for the conversion of many Calvinists and French Huguenots in high places. In 1622, the Duke of Savoy was going to meet Louis XIII in Avignon, and invited Francis to join them there. It was important for Francis to meet with the king, in order to effect some favors for the French part of the diocese. But it was not a good time of the year, Christmastime. Avignon was extremely cold with no way of heating the old Papal Palaces. Also, it seemed he had a premonition that his end was not far off. He actually predicted to his friends that he would never see them again, at which they all became greatly distressed. Before leaving Annecy, he put everything in order, advised his Co-adjutor (who really should have gone in the bishop’s place) and went on the trip.
At Avignon, he led as far as possible, his usual austere life. After his meeting with the king, he went to Lyon, a day’s distance from Avignon. He stayed at the Convent of the Visitation. But rather than stay in luxurious accommodations, he stayed at a gardener’s cottage. Here, for a whole month, though sorely in need of rest, he spared himself no labor. He preached the Christmas day masses. On St. John’s Day, he suffered a paralytic seizure and lapsed into a coma. He regained consciousness, and although he recovered his speech, he suffered intensely, which he endured with touching patience. He experienced a great deal of pain with the physicians trying all kinds of remedies to cure him, which only caused more pain and made his end come sooner. After receiving the Last Sacraments, he laid murmuring words from the Holy Bible, expressing his humble and serene trust in God’s mercy. He was heard to say, "With expectation, I have waited for the Lord, and He heard my prayers, and bought me out of the pit of misery and the filth of mire."
St. Francis de Sales died at fifty six years old, on December
Saints Francis de Sales
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