Vatican City (AsiaNews) - In a season like ours, which "seeks freedom with violence and unrest", the principle remains that "the true spirit of freedom" culminates in the reality of divine love. St. Francis de Sales used to say this to his disciples, and Benedict XVI repeated it today dedicating his general audience to the saint that is "an exemplary witness of Christian humanism, with his family-style, with his parables that verge on the poetic, recalling that man has inscribed in his deepest being longing for God and that only Him does he find true joy and his fullest realization".
This "Doctor of the Church" was a "great master" to whom we owe, among other things, "care for the consecration of temporal things and for the sanctification of everyday life, which was emphasized at the Second Vatican Council and the spirituality of our time. He expressed the ideal of a reconciled humanity, in harmony between prayer and action in the world, between its secular condition and search for perfection, with the help of the grace of God that permeates the human being and, without destroying it, purifies it, raising it to divine heights. "
Francis was born in 1567 in a border region of France, his father was the lord of Boisy in Savoy. He received a "very accurate" education, pursuing higher studies in Paris, where he also devoted himself to theology, and law at the University of Padua, where he received his doctorate in canon law and civil law. But, reflecting on the thought of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, "he had a deep crisis that led him to question his eternal salvation and predestination of God towards him, living a true spiritual drama over the main theological issues of his time. "
His crisis came to an end in the Dominican church in Paris. Here, he opened his heart and prayed, "Whatever happens, Lord, you who keep it all in your hand, and whose ways are justice and truth, whatever you set out for me ... you who are always just judge and merciful Father, I will love you, Lord. "
Overcoming the resistance of his father, on December 18, 1593 Francis was ordained a priest. In 1602 he became bishop of Geneva, at a time when the city was a stronghold of Calvinism, "a poor and troubled diocese”, so much so that the bishop's seat was in exile in Annecy. "And yet the influence of his life and his teaching on Europe of the period and the following centuries is immense." Not surprisingly, Benedict XVI recalled "at the source of many ways of teaching and spirituality of our own time we find the trace of this teacher, without which there would be no St. John Bosco nor the heroic little flower of St. Therese of Lisieux. "
Francis de Sales is an "apostle, preacher, writer, man of action and prayer, committed to achieving the ideals of the Council of Trent; involved in the dispute and dialogue with Protestants, and experimenting more, beyond the necessary theological confrontation, the effectiveness of personal relationship and love; charged with diplomatic missions in Europe, and social tasks of mediation and reconciliation. "
But above all, St. Francis de Sales is the "guide of souls: from an encounter with a young woman, Madame Charmoisy, he drew inspiration to write one of the most widely read books in the modern age, Introduction to the Devout Life, by his profound spiritual communion with the exceptional personality of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, there emerged a new religious family, the Order of the Visitation, characterized - as the Saint desired – by a total consecration to God, lived in simplicity and humility in doing ordinary things exceptionally well.
"That of St. Francis de Sales - the Pope said - was a relatively short-lived life, but one lived with great intensity. From this holy figure radiates a rare fullness, as demonstrated in the serenity of his intellectual pursuits, but also the wealth of his affections, in the sweetness of his teachings which have had a great influence on the Christian conscience. The word humanity, he embodied with different meanings that, today as yesterday, our era may make use of : culture and courtesy, freedom and tenderness, nobility and solidarity. In appearance, he had something of the majesty of the landscape in which he lived, preserving its simplicity and naturalness. The ancient words and images in which he expressed himself sound unexpectedly, even to the ears of people today, like a native and familial language".
He died in 1622 at age 55, "after a life marked by hard times and apostolic work."