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ST. FRANCIS DE SALES AND HIS PASTORAL PROSPECTS: SALESIAN GENTLENESS AND INTEGRAL FORMATION

The topic we are going to deal with in this video is a Salesian theme and very much Bosconian. It is the gentleness of St Francis de Sales which Don Bosco made his own and re-presented with the concept of ‘the loving-kindness’.


Salesian gentleness is not about being lenient and surrendering. It certainly does not imply weakness of character. The gentleness that St. Francis de Sales lives, feels, proposes and on which he will base almost everything of his daily life has a deeply Christian root. It starts from Jesus who said of himself: “I am meek and humble of heart.


To tell the truth, gentleness is not a single reality; it is a combination of two virtues: gentleness and humility. The two terms are not even equivalent. St. Francis de Sales says that these two fundamental realities are the basis of holiness and he also says that they are very rare virtues.


He would say that one must have a gentle heart towards one's neighbour and a humble heart towards God. The combination of these two is the Salesian gentleness.

We might think that the more important of these two virtues is certainly humility. St. Francis de Sales says that humility is the first and foundation of all the other virtues and makes our hearts sweet. Let us listen to him:


"The Lord loves humility so much that he has no difficulty in allowing us to fall into sin in order to derive holy humility from it. Charity and humility are the main threads; all the others are connected to them. One has only to keep oneself between these two: one is the lowest, the other, the highest. The stability of the whole building depends on the foundation and the roof. Keeping the heart bound to the exercise of these, it is not very difficult to find the others. They are the mothers of the virtues: they follow them like chicks follow hens."


The virtue of humility, which St. Francis de Sales cultivated so much and longed for himself, is a fundamental virtue.

The Baroness of Chantal, when she met Francis de Sales, began a correspondence with him and was fascinated by the holiness that transpired. She wrote to Francis with great esteem, even calling him a ‘saint’. This language and this way of looking at his wretched person embarrassed him greatly because Francis wrote to her:


"I must forbid you to use the word ‘saint’ when you write about me because, my daughter, holiness in me is more apparent than real and more, the canonisation of saints is not your business."


The gentleness that St Francis de Sales proposes to us has two aspects: one, with oneself and the other, with others. One of the most frequently quoted and certainly most inspiring statement of St Francis de Sales is: "In education, we need a cup of science, a barrel of prudence and an ocean of patience."

This statement is all the more true if we think that the first educational task is the one with ourselves: this gentleness with ourselves starts from not being surprised by our limits and frailties because they are part of our human nature. We are made this way and precisely because we are made so, we are loved by God who wanted us. This sweetness comes from enduring our limits, not harshly but with much patience, we will say, ‘with much holy patience’. It is not resignation but comes from humility. It grows with much mercy.


With much evangelical realism, St. Francis de Sales says:

"Be patient with everyone, but above all with yourselves; I mean, that you do not get upset about your faults and that you always have the courage to get rid of them. I am happy if you begin every day anew; there is no better means of perfection in one's spiritual life than to begin again and again and never to think that one has done enough.”


St. Francis de Sales, like the Good Shepherd, truly having personified in himself the attitude of the Good Shepherd, sustains the wounds of his sheep. Let us pick up another passage from Francis' letter:

"Our faults should not please us but they should not also astonish us or take away our courage. Instead, we must draw from them humility and mistrust of ourselves, not with discouragement nor affliction of heart, nor even mistrust of God's love for us because God does not love our faults and venial sins. Just as a child's mother does not cease to love him because of weakness, though it displeases her. Indeed, she loves the child tenderly and with compassion. In the same way, God does not cease to love us tenderly."


Speaking of the daily battle of his conversion and our conversion, Francis expresses himself with a phrase that is particularly interesting. He says, "one must be gently at war."

His spiritual direction is very human, profound and very wise. It communicates trust in the person who entrusts himself to him and is born of a deep spiritual optimism and is certainly powerfully encouraging.


Let us listen to some of his insights regarding spiritual direction:

"We must hold together two things: an extreme affection for good daily prayer and our commitment to improvement, not being disturbed, concerned or surprised if we happen to commit shortcomings. The first element depends on our fidelity which must always be whole and grow from hour to hour; the second depends on our weakness from which we can never be able to free ourselves totally in this mortal life. When we commit a fault, let us ask our heart whether it has kept alive and intact the resolution to serve God. Let us say to it: why are you grumbling now? And it will answer: I was surprised, I don't know how but now I am so disheartened! Alas, dear daughter, we must forgive this poor heart. It is not because of infidelity that it errs but because of weakness."


Sweetness with oneself has a sure and evident reflection in sweetness with others. This is the second chapter on which we want to share a few words from Francis de Sales.

From Francis comes the key to gentleness with one's neighbor. It is expressed at the level of family, household and in the community interactions.

One must consider one's neighbour in God. When will we all be full of gentleness and serenity towards our neighbour? It is when we know how to see the souls of our neighbour with the Heart of the divine Saviour. Whoever considers his neighbour outside of this runs the risk of not loving him either with purity or with constancy. In that perspective, who would not love him? How can we not put up with him? Who would find him unpleasant and boring? When our neighbour is burdensome and unpleasant, only the love of the Saviour leads us to love him and this love is pure and liberates us inwardly.”


Historians say that, when Francis was bishop, a young man came to him and spoke in an abusive manner, and Francis corrected him, certainly, but with great restraint to the amazement of those who were listening.


Francis was later asked how he had exercised such restraint and delicacy in his reply, he said: "I was afraid of losing in a quarter of an hour that little bit of meekness that I have been trying to keep in the cup of my heart for 22 years”.


St. Paul VI, in 1967, the 400th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis de Sales, wrote an Apostolic Letter entitled ‘Sabaudie Gemma’, the Gem of Savoy. In it, precisely by portraying the gentleness of St. Francis with others that the Pope stated:

"One finds in him supreme integrity of life, supreme gentleness and benignity. He is never violent in disputes, he loves the errant while correcting errors; and if his positions differ, he never uses polemical opposition. Faithful in loving, praying and enlightening, he knows how to be patient for a long time, how to gradually lead errant people back to the fullness of truth.”


The biographers and historians of Saint Francis de Sales tell us that gentleness, which is one of his characteristics, was certainly not spontaneous. It did not come to him as a gift of nature. He built up his Christian gentleness over a long period of time and with an amiable conversion that lasted throughout his life.


Here is the video

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