Malankara World

The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales

By Jean Pierre Camus


You know very well how Blessed Francis valued charity, but I will give you, nevertheless, some more of his teaching on this great subject.

To a holy soul who had placed herself under his direction, he said: "We must do all things from love, and nothing from constraint. We must love obedience rather than fear disobedience. I leave you the spirit of liberty: not such as excludes obedience, for that is the liberty of the flesh, but such as excludes constraint, scruples, and over-eagerness. However much you may love obedience and submission, I wish you to suspend for the moment the work in which obedience has engaged you whenever any just or charitable occasion for so doing occurs. This omission will be a species of obedience. Fill up its measure by charity."

From this spirit of holy and Christian liberty originated the saying so often to be met with in his letters: "Keep your heart in peace." That is to say: Beware of hurry, anxiety, and bitterness of heart. These he called the ruin of devotion. He was even unwilling that people should meditate upon the great truths of Death, Judgment and Hell, unless they at the same time reassured themselves by the remembrance of God's love for them. Speaking to a holy soul, he says: "Meditation on the four last things will be useful to you provided that you always end with an act of confidence in God. Never represent to yourself Death or Hell on the one side unless the Cross is on the other; so that when your fears have been excited by the one you may with confidence turn for help to the other." The one point on which he chiefly insisted was that we must fear God from love, not love God from fear. "To love Him from fear," he used to say, "is to put gall into our food and to quench our thirst with vinegar; but to fear Him from love is to sweeten aloes and wormwood."

Assuredly, our own experience convinces us that it is difficult to love those whom we fear, and that it is impossible not to fear with a filial and reverent fear those whom we love.

You find some difficulty, it seems, my sisters, in understanding how all things, as St. Paul says,[1] whether good, bad, or indifferent, can in the end work together for good to those who love God.

To satisfy you, I quote the words of Blessed Francis on this subject in one of his letters. "Since," he says, "God can bring good out of evil, will He not surely do so for those who have given themselves unreservedly to Him? Yes; even sins, from which may God in His goodness keep us, are by His Divine Providence, when we repent of them, changed into good for those who are His. Never would David have been so bowed down with humility if he had not sinned, nor would Magdalene have loved her Saviour so fervently had He not forgiven her so many sins. But He could not have forgiven them had she not committed them."

Again: "Consider, my dear daughter, this great Artificer of mercy, who changes our miseries into graces, and out of the poison of our iniquities compounds a wholesome medicine for our souls. Tell me, then, I beseech you, if God works such wonders with our sins, what will He not effect with our afflictions, with our labors, with the persecutions which we have to endure? No matter what trouble befalls you, nor from what direction it may come, let your soul be at peace, certain that if you truly love God all will turn to good. And though you cannot see the springs which work this marvelous change, rest assured that it will take place.

"If the hand of God touches your eyes with the clay of shame and reproach, it is only to give you clearer sight, and to cause you to be honored.

"If He should cast you to the ground, as He did St. Paul, it will only be to raise you up again to glory."[2]


"All by love, nothing by constraint." This was his favorite motto, and the mainspring of his direction of others. He has often said to me that those who try to force the human will are exercising a tyranny which is hateful to God and man. This was why he had such a horror of those masterful and dominant spirits which insist on being obeyed, bon gré mal gré, and would have every one give way to them. "Those," he often said, "who love to make themselves feared, fear to make themselves loved; and they themselves are more fearful than anyone else: for others only fear them, but they are afraid of every one."

I have often heard him say these striking words: "In the royal galley of divine love there is no galley-slave; all the oarsmen are volunteers." And he expresses the same sentiment in Theotimus, when he says: "Divine love governs the soul with an incomparable sweetness; for no one of the slaves of love is made such by force, but love brings all things under its rule, with a constraint so delightful, that as nothing is so strong as love, nothing also is so sweet as its strength."[3] And in another part of the same book he makes a soul, attracted by the delicious perfume shed by the divine Bridegroom on his path, say:

"Let no one think that Thou draggest me after Thee like an unwilling slave or a lifeless load. Ah! no. Thou drawest me by the odour of Thine ointments; though I follow Thee, it is not that Thou draggest me, but that Thou enticest me. Thy drawing is mighty, but not violent, since its whole force lies in its sweetness. Perfumes draw me to follow them in virtue only of their sweetness. And sweetness, how can it attract but sweetly and pleasantly?"[4] Following out this principle, he never gave a command even to those who were bound to obey him, whether his servants or his clergy, save in the form of a request or suggestion. He held in special veneration, and often inculcated upon me the command of St. Peter: Feed the flock of God which is among you, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre's sake, neither as lording it over the clergy, but being made a pattern of virtue to the flock. [5]

And here, my sisters, I feel that if will be for your profit, although the story is not to my own credit, to relate a circumstance which occurred in the early years of my episcopate. I was young, impetuous, and impatient; eager to reform the abuses and disorders which from time to time I met with in my pastoral visitations. Often, too, I know, I was bitter and harsh when discouraged.

Once in a despairing mood because of the many failures I noticed in myself, and others, I poured forth my lamentations and self-accusations to our Blessed Father, who said: "What a masterful spirit you have! You want to walk upon the wings of the wind. You let yourself be carried away by your zeal, which, like a will-of-the-wisp, will surely lead you over a precipice. Have you forgotten the warning of your patron, St. Peter, not to think you can walk in burning heat? [6] Would you do more than God, and restrain the liberty of the creatures whom God has made free? You decide matters, as if the wills of your subjects were all in your own hands. God, Who holds all hearts in His and Who searches the reins and the hearts, does not act thus. He puts up with resistance, rebellion against His light, kicking against the goad, opposition to His inspirations, even though His Spirit be grieved thereby. He does, indeed, suffer those to perish who through the hardness of their impenitent hearts have heaped to themselves wrath in the day of vengeance. Yet He never wearies of calling them to Him, however often they reject His offers and say to Him, Depart from us, we will not follow Thy ways. [7]

"In this our Angel Guardians follow His example, and although we may forsake God by our iniquities, they will not forsake us as long as there is breath in our body, even though we may have fallen into sin. Do you want better examples for regulating your conduct?"

[Footnote 1: Rom. viii. 28.]
[Footnote 2: Rom. viii. 28.]
[Footnote 3: Book i. 6.]
[Footnote 4: Book ii. 13.]
[Footnote 5: Peter v. 2, 3.]
[Footnote 6: 1 Peter iv. 12.]
[Footnote 7: Job xxi. 14.]

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