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One of the aspects that made St. Francis de Sales famous is spiritual accompaniment. The themes of this accompaniment and especially the modalities are collected in three of his writings: the Philothea, the Letters and the Spiritual Retreats.

When he was in Paris, with the Jesuits, between the age of 18 and 20, he had an accompaniment experience that we could describe as ‘do-it-yourself’. It was a traumatic experience because it was conducted in total autonomy, scrupulously following a Jesuit text entitled ‘The Book of the Accompaniment’.

Soon after reading this book, he found himself disoriented and torn, amidst scruples and perfectionism. He finally decided to abandon this chain when he discovered that it was the trusting love in God that must guide us and the help of a wise guide, in order to be able to love one another in harmony, because one finally feels loved.

This leads us to Annecy, to the house of the ‘Gallerie’, where the order that was to be founded by St. Francis took its very first steps.

In the courtyard, the holy bishop gathered his first disciples, including Joan of Chantal, and through conversations in a very familiar but equally rigorous style, formed them to total donation to the Lord.

We find these interventions of his as a father and brother collected in the work, ‘Spiritual Retreats’, and we immediately enjoy a small extract:

“Now you will ask me what a soul that has totally abandoned itself into the hands of God is inwardly occupied with: it does nothing but remains with our Lord in holy idleness, without worrying about anything, neither of its body nor of its soul. In fact, since she has embarked under God’s Providence, why should she stand thinking about what will become of her? However, I do not mean to say that it is not necessary to think about the things to which we are obliged, each according to his own assignment. For example, if a sister has been given the care of the garden, she needs not say: I don’t want to think about it; our Lord will provide. Similarly, a superior or novice mistress must not say: ‘I have abandoned myself to God and I rest in His care’, and under this pretext, neglects to read and learn the teachings that are proper to the exercise of her office’”.

In ‘spiritual accompaniment’, Francis is very simple, very sensitive and delicate, and is equally clear in proposing paths to holiness.

In the ‘Philothea’, at the end of the first part, therefore substantially at the beginning of this path, there is an emblematic text, intense and determined, which invites us to take our baptism very seriously.

I want to be converted to the good and merciful God; I desire, propose, choose and irrevocably decide to serve and love him now and for eternity. To this end I entrust, dedicate and consecrate my spirit to him, with all its faculties; my soul, with all its powers; my heart, with all its affections; my body, with all its senses. I protest that I no longer wish to abuse any part of my being against her divine will and sovereign majesty.

To her, I sacrifice myself and immolate myself in spirit, to be forever to her a loyal, obedient and faithful creature. O Lord, you are my God, the God of my heart, of my soul, the God of my spirit; as such I acknowledge you and adore you for all eternity. Long live Jesus.

Certainly, very clear and very determined. The text we have heard sounds like a declaration of war; yet, it is also very delicate: delicate in welcoming personal stories, delicate in correcting accesses and also in sustaining labours. He himself will say that in every garden there are herbs and flowers that require, each one, special attention.

Often awaken in yourself the spirit of joyfulness and gentleness. This is the true spirit of devotion and if you are sometimes assailed by the opposite, spirit of sadness and bitterness, throw your heart passionately into God and commend it to him. Go out for a walk, read one of the books you enjoy the most.”

A small clarification, but a key to his style, comes to us from a profound scholar and biographer of Francis, the Jesuit André Ravier: “During our work, we were struck by a fundamental, essential law of correspondence of Francis de Sales. For him, there is no spiritual direction if there is no friendship, i.e. exchange, communication, mutual influence. Of course, he never renounces the authority as bishop, confessor and counsellor, but his authority always remains most humble, most human and, I dare say, most tender. He knows that God alone acts in the heart of the man or the woman and that only the spirit gives efficacy to the pastor’s words. He walks, taking one step after another. He searches, questions, suffers, hopes and prays, and is only fully at ease when he forms one heart, one soul and one spirit with his correspondence.”Let us try to recall and summarise some essential traits of his accompaniment.

First of all, the fundamental attention to the personal situation of the soul in front of him or her; to his or her state of life, to the state of health and to the deep desires that God causes to mature in her or him in order to attract them to Himself.

At the beginning of the ‘Philothea’, in chapter three of the first part, with great simplicity, Francis combines Christian holiness and existential condition.

The Christian life must be lived differently by the artisan, the servant, the prince, the widow, the maiden, the bride. But that is not enough; the exercise of devotion must be proportionate to the individual’s strengths, occupations and duties.

Any kind of precious stone dipped in honey becomes more resplendent, each according to its colour. The same is true for Christians: all become more friendly and sympathetic in their vocation if they combine it with devotion. The care for the family becomes serene, the love between husband and wife more sincere, the service of the prince more faithful, all occupations sweeter and more pleasant.

Prayer and meditation are certainly two essential aids in the path of accompaniment that Francis proposes. A method and much concreteness are the other aids.

Philothea, you must above all carry with you the resolutions and decisions made, to put them into practice immediately in the day. This is the indispensable fruit of meditation. If it is missing, not only is meditation useless but is often harmful because virtues that are meditated upon but not practised swell the spirit with presumption and we end up believing that we are what we set out to be: we can only become what we want to be when the resolutions are strong and sound; not when they are sluggish and inconsistent and therefore destined not to be implemented.

In his writings, Francis invites us not to escape from our condition in life. This is our first responsibility and we must not live it superficially.

To Madame de Brulard, wife of the President of the Parliament of Burgundy, he writes:

We are what we are...we are what God wills. It is the evil of evils to always want to be what we cannot be and not want to be what we can be. We must not sow in our neighbour’s field; do not desire to be what you are not but desire to be well what you are. What is the use of building castles in Spain if we have to live in France? We must bloom where God has planted us, abandoning ourselves to the ‘bon plasir de Dieu’ - as it pleases God.”

For Francis, this is the supreme rule that he lived and how he educated the laity and the consecrated.

All this, however, with a particular colour: to do ‘everything out of love and nothing by force’; a splendid Salesian teaching, and this section of the letter explains it to us:

“After having asked love of God, one must ask love of one’s neighbour. I advise you to visit hospitals at times, comfort the sick, tend to their infirmities and pray for them, doing assistance. In all this, take care that your husband, your servants and relatives do not feel sorry if you stay too long in church or neglect the home.

You must not only be devout and love devotion, but you must make it lovable to all, and you will make it lovable if you make it useful and pleasant. The sick will love your devotion if they find comfort in your charity; your family if they recognise that you are more concerned for their welfare, more amiable in your corrections and so on; your husband, if he sees that the more your devotion grows, the more cordial you are to him and the sweeter in the affection you bear him; your relatives and friends, if they see in you more frankness, forbearance and yielding to their wishes that are not contrary to those of God. In short, you must make your devotion attractive.”

We conclude this little tour in the little church of the ‘Gallerie’. It was a small cellar that Francis transformed into a chapel for his nuns and for those who wanted to enter to pray. In fact, it has an entrance that leads directly outside: From this same door the first nuns went out to visit the poor and the sick. Sacred environment that brings us back to God, protagonist of our journeys of faith and love.

Don Michele Molinar

Source: Infoans


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