St. Francis de Sales and the Visible Church

(written 1/24/20)


st francis de sales catholic controversy

Those Apostles being gathered together in Jerusalem with the little company of the disciples and the most glorious Mother of the Savior formed the true Church. And of what kind? Visible without doubt, yea so visible that the Holy Spirit came to water those holy plants and seed-plots of Christianity.

–St. Francis de Sales, “On the Mission of the Church”, chap. V

The Church: The Scriptures, the sacraments, the family bound together by divine love. We take for granted that this institution is an end in itself. We don’t belong to the Catholic Church because we get free exercise classes, or free meals–though we enjoy a nice church dinner every now and again. We belong to the Catholic Church because we believe we find salvation in Her.

The life of the visible Church itself gives us a reason to believe in Christ and His revelation of God. Jesus of Nazareth founded this institution which has stunning marks of holiness—that is, the courage of the Apostles and martyrs, the beautiful lives of the saints, the universality of our Church’s ceremonies, the unique staying power of this two-thousand-year-old enterprise.

Our Church certainly seems to have supernatural integrity. She also seems to have managerial problems. Pretty severe ones. Severe enough that the unified whole seems to break down.

On the one hand, the evidently holy stuff: Christ, His Scriptures, His sacraments, the ancient saints. On the other hand, the evidently messed-up stuff: Extended sex-abuse cover-ups, lack of accountability, internecine strife ad nauseam, bishops shutting down peoples’ blogs and squelching free speech, etc.

No need to wonder how Protestantism started. We can see it clearly from where we find ourselves. The impetus to break down the whole that is the visible Church that carries invisible graces. Let’s keep the ‘pure’ stuff, and jettison the ‘worldly’ stuff. Let’s keep Scripture and jettison so-called ‘tradition.’ Let’s keep our ‘pure’ local group and jettison communion with compromised Rome. Let’s keep the doctrines I agree with and jettison the ones that I don’t. The pope runs an institution rife with corruption; therefore, I have the right to appoint myself my own personal pope.

We can see how it started, Protestantism. But: Now it’s 500 years later, and we can also see clearly that it doesn’t really work. St. Francis de Sales put it like this:

It does not follow that if a body is everywhere diseased, that it is therefore dead. Thus, widespread failure of faith does not mean that faith has failed in the Church, or that the Church is dead. (chapter X.)

Being “half-Catholic” doesn’t work, or trying to be Christian without Christ’s Church. The Church he founded is simply one, unbreakable thing. All the holy stuff has tons of perfectly human and messed-up aspects to it. And all the ‘worldly’ parts partake so intimately of the holiness that you actually can’t just chuck anything, without ultimately sinking the whole ship. As soon as anyone says to him- or herself, “Well, this solemn teaching; or this pope; or this Ecumenical Council just isn’t for me”—you wind up actually having nothing left. Because you don’t have Catholicism anymore.

They got through it, five centuries ago, the Catholics. They belonged to a holy Church with a lot of problems, but they did not become Protestants. St. Francis de Sales helped a lot of them. They had enough faith to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We can, too.

Mental Prayer and PB & J’s

Soil that receives the seed, allows it to grow, and then brings forth fruit thirty-, sixty-, a hundredfold. As the Lord explained, that fertile soil represents “those who hear the word and accept it.”

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parableThe Word: Jesus Christ, the Person. Those who hear Him. Those who hear the gospels, and think about them regularly. Those, in other words, who live under the “roof” of the Church, venerating the Son of God, rejoicing in the salvation He won for us, and striving always to participate in His unfathomable love.

The Lord gave me the gift of mental prayer at a young age. I know I had it by age twelve, since I have a vivid memory of writing a poem about the Lord Jesus for a seventh-grade English assignment.

But Christian mental prayer is no extraordinary, esoteric gift—at least not for people raised in the Church. It was just the simple fact that my parents made sure I was where I was supposed to be every Sunday morning. So I heard the gospel readings, and I found them interesting. I found Him interesting—Jesus Christ. More interesting than anything else, even including basketball. My middle-school existence consisted, therefore, of Christian mental prayer at chance moments, and endless shoot-arounds, lay-up drills, and three-on-threes.

Seriously, though, let’s listen to St. Francis de Sales. They laid the Gentle Doctor to rest 395 years ago today, so January 24 makes an especially good day to listen to him. That said, a lot of people make their way toward heaven by studying the teaching of St. Francis de Sales every day. …Anyway, he wrote:

Children learn to speak by hearing their mother talk, and stammering forth their childish sounds in imitation; and so if we cleave to the Savior in meditation, listening to His words, watching His actions and intentions, we shall learn in time, through His Grace, to speak, act, and will like Himself.

Christian mental prayer—which is the highway to heaven—involves absolutely nothing that the average bear doesn’t already have in his or her life. The opposite. Christian mental prayer is like sandwiches, folding laundry—like making sure there’s milk in the fridge—it’s the homiest, most day-to-day thing, for a practicing Catholic. When we are where we’re supposed to be every Sunday morning, the gospels become part of the way we think, feel, react, and speak.

Once we reach adulthood, however, we do become susceptible to Word-choking distractions in life. So we must set aside time for the Lord every day, time for meditation on the gospels–at least a few minutes.

May the good Lord help us to do that. So that He can bear His fruit in us.

St. Francis’ Bones and Teaching


Today we mark the 390th anniversary of the burial of St. Francis de Sales in the Visitation chapel in Annecy, France.

Because the French Revolutionaries rampaged all over the country, desecrating the tombs of the saints, St. Francis’ remains had to be hidden. Today would be a good day, then, for us to do an act of penance for those poor, misguided maniacs who, out of twisted hatred for the Christian faith, disturbed the bodies of many saints who slept peacefully, awaiting the Final Day. May God be merciful to all the twisted maniacs who hate the Church.

The Fathers of the First Vatican Council petitioned Pope Pius IX to declare St. Francis a Doctor of the Church, and the Pope gladly complied.

intro-dev-lifeSt. Francis’ Introduction to the Devout Life offers the best advice available to anyone who wants to establish a good spiritual life, in my humble opinion. Here’s a quote:

Especially I commend earnest mental prayer to you, more particularly such as bears upon the Life and Passion of our Lord. If you contemplate Him frequently in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with Him, you will grow in His Likeness, and your actions will be molded on His.

He is the Light of the world; therefore in Him, by Him, and for Him we shall be enlightened and illuminated; He is the Tree of Life, beneath the shadow of which we must find rest; He is the Living Fountain of Jacob’s well, wherein we may wash away every stain.

Children learn to speak by hearing their mother talk, and stammering forth their childish sounds in imitation; and so if we cleave to the Savior in meditation, listening to His words, watching His actions and intentions, we shall learn in time, through His Grace, to speak, act and will like Himself.

Believe me, there is no way to God save through this door. Just as the glass of a mirror would give no reflection save for the metal behind it, so neither could we here below contemplate the Godhead, were it not united to the Sacred Humanity of our Savior, Whose Life and Death are the best, sweetest and most profitable subjects that we can possibly select for meditation. It is not without meaning that the Savior calls Himself the Bread come down from Heaven; just as we eat bread with all manner of other food, so we need to meditate and feed upon our Dear Lord in every prayer and action.

Another All-Star Week


Here in the mid-Atlantic, we are enjoying a winter wonderland. For a little perspective, let’s keep this in mind: Down in Melbourne it is 100 degrees on the court for the Australian Open. Novak Djokovic had to forfeit his semi-final match because of heat exhaustion.

Statue of St. Angela Merici in St. Peter's Basilica
Statue of St. Angela Merici in St. Peter's Basilica
Perhaps you remember: Back in early October, we highlighted an ecclesiastical “All-Star Week“. Well, we are in the middle of another one…

On Saturday, we kept the memorial of St. Francis de Sales, heroic bishop, consummate gentleman, and author of a very good book (a few very good books, in fact). Then on Sunday, we kept the feast of St. Paul’s conversion. Yesterday we kept the memorial of St. Paul’s most prominent disciples, Sts. Timothy and Titus.

These apostolic men alone could out-hustle any competitors. But there is more!

Today, we keep the memorial of St. Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursulines. St. Angela is the female equivalent of St. Ignatius Loyola, as Dr. Ann White pointed out in the Jan/Feb 1999 issue of “Review for Religious.”

St. John Bosco blessing some young men
St. John Bosco blessing some young men
Tomorrow, we keep the memorial of the Common Doctor, the Angelic Doctor, the Master of the Schools, the Patron of learning, the greatest genius of all time–St. Thomas Aquinas!

Then, on Saturday, we keep the memorial of St. John Bosco, a.k.a. Don Bosco.

All the other All-Star teams–N.H.L., Pro Bowl, N.B.A., you name it…they all take a back seat to the Church’s all-star team this week.

Two Shampoos and a Good Book

Right now, Duke is beating poor Maryland by 40+ points.

Playing at Duke is rough.

intro-dev-lifePlease forgive me for making a boo-boo in my last post. I lamented that the Hoyas have a losing record in the Big East. In fact, the record stands at 3-3. I forgot that we had beaten Providence College. Tomorrow afternoon we play Seton Hall at 2:00. The game will be broadcast on MASN and AM 980.

Today is the feast day of the gentle bishop, St. Francis de Sales. If you would like to have a spiritual life, and you are looking for a good, straightforward book to teach you how to do it, look no further.