Monday, 28 January 2008

A Spoonful of Honey

Last January 24, feast of St. Francis de Sales, I wrote the following piece.

I am a Salesian. Whenever I say this to people who are not so familiar with our charism I am immediately asked other questions as follow up: "Why Salesian? Why not Bosconian priest? Your Congregation was founded by St. John Bosco, was it not?" And I would have to do some further explanations, of course in the long run naming St. Francis de Sales as as our titular patron chosen by Don Bosco himself.

When I was a student in Rome, I had the privilege to take part in a retreat traced the footprints of St. Francis de Sales. We had as base the retreat house Centre Jean XXIII (see the website of this beautiful retreat center at http://www.centrejean23.org/main.htm), at Annecy, France (Haute-Savoie province, Rhone-Alpes region). The region of St. Francis de Sales was picturesque. Annecy had a beautiful lake and a panorama of the Alps served as backdrop.

We went to places that were significant in the life and work of St. Francis. I saw the site of the castle of Sales where he was born; the font where he was baptized; La Roche which was the district where he studied; Thonon, where he preached and converted a lot of people; the woods where he climbed a tree on which he stayed all night in order to escape from the wolves. We went to Geneva, Switzerland, which became his See, despite the fact that it was a Protestant stronghold; Lyons, where he died; and of course, Annecy, where we prayed at his tomb.

Leading us in our pilgrimage was an amiable French confrere, Fr. Morand Wirth, who is an expert on the life and works of the saint. He said in jest that before becoming knowledgeable of St. Francis, he was a normal Salesian, that is, one who is not so familiar with this particular patron. He thus hit us with a sad truth: Salesians do not know much about the gentle Bishop of Geneva whose name they bear. At the end of the retreat, he laughed saying that we were less normal Salesians for now we knew more about St. Francis de Sales.

Personally, when I was a novice, I was deeply impressed by this saint. I was struck in particular with a book that he wrote: Introduction to the Devout Life. It spoke of the universal call to holiness. Sanctity is not only for priests or religious; it is for everyone. This brand of spirituality we bring even to the young people of our schools and oratories. Yes, the young can be saints.

Another thing which struck me were words of St. Francis that I have heard even earlier, as a high school student: "On attire plus les mouches avec une cuillerée de miel qu'avec cent barils de vinaigre." (“A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.”) Our saint is known for his gentleness. By nature, he was choleric, but he mastered himself so that he became known for his meekness. In him we found the sweetness of God, the divine goodness that we find comforting.

Today, as we celebrate the feast of this saint, we thank God for the gift of a great example for humanity. May we be more Salesian by knowing this gentle soul of Sales. God bless!

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