Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor – Readings

Commentary on Ephesians 3:8-12; Psalm 36; John 15:9-17

The First Reading, from the Letter to the Ephesians, speaks to one of Francis’ outstanding qualities – his effectiveness as a preacher. Paul, while acknowledging his shortcomings, speaks of having been given the grace:

…to bring to the gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things…

For Francis, it was to preach to those who had been won over by Calvinism, something he did with great success.  It was not unknown for people to burst into applause after he spoke.

During his last visit to Paris in 1618-19, he was constrained to go into the pulpit each day to satisfy the wishes of those who crowded to hear him. It was commented, “Never have such holy, apostolic sermons been preached.”  He also communicated the Gospel message through his numerous writings and letters of spiritual direction.

The Gospel, on the other hand, from the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel, touches on the very heart of the Christian message.  Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper that he loves them in the same way that the Father loves Jesus.  To keep Jesus’ commandments is to be identified with his love, just as Jesus himself identifies totally with the love of the Father for him.

He then gives them the central commandment of his teaching, the fulfilment of which is all they need:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

It is significant that he does not tell them to love God, nor even to love Jesus himself, but to love all those around them.  Later he will tell them that it is by this love for each other that people will recognise them as disciples of Jesus.  It is by the love they show for their brothers and sisters that they will show they love God.  For, as the First Letter of John says:

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:16)

Francis de Sales was a remarkable exemplar of this teaching.  He not only spoke in those wonderful sermons about love, but practised what he preached.  He was himself a person widely known for his love, gentleness, warmth and sensitivity for the needs of others.  He chose to live a life of extreme simplicity so that he could share more with the poor and needy.

He can be an example for each one of us in different ways.  Like him, we are all called to make the unconditional love of others the real test of our following of Christ and the Gospel.  And, in one way or another, to express that love in word, in deed and in our relationships.

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