Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Need to Suffer for Those We Wish to Convert

     Last week I began a discussion regarding the devout life in a post Christian world.  In continuing our discussion think that it would be worth getting a few clues by looking back at how those who came before us handled times of adversity and even persecution.  While our time is not their time and the intellectual foundations of their issues are different from ours, we can still learn much from their approach to meeting their challenges.

     My favorite example in this is St. Francis de Sales.(1567-1622), the bishop of Geneva, Switzerland and doctor of the Church.  St. Francis grew up in a time when the Reformation had taken hold in Switzerland and the Savoy region of France.  Having heard the call to holy priesthood, St. Francis gave up his positions of political influence and his inheritance.  He built upon his training in all of the arts and skills of a gentleman and scholar, crowning them with a deep holiness cultivated from the time of his youth.  St. Francis also cultivated those virtues which mark all of the greatest saints – humility and a deep charity not only for God, but for the soul of his fellow man.

     While St. Francis was extremely industrious and innovative in communicating the Truth of the Faith, he attributed any success he might realize to something considerably less obvious to those who do not truly know Christ – his great charity was fed and prepared for by his prayer and penance.  He told those closely associated with his work, with the work of Christ, that their success would be the result not of the suffering of their “enemies”, but of their own suffering.

     St. Francis clearly understood that his suffering and the suffering of fellow believers is what would melt the hearts of those upon whose doorsteps he left his tracts and broadsheets (early newspapers), not the persuasiveness of his words (which were, and are, quite persuasive).  He readily undertook to fast and do penance not only for his own sins, but the sins of those to whom he had been sent.

     He also understood that he could not reach everybody.  Thus, he, along with St. Jean de Chantel, established the Nuns of the Visitation (the same order in which 50 years later St. Margaret Mary Alacoque would receive over an 18 month period her visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) to be visitors to those who would need to hear the Truth which must be communicated by personal witness, one disciple to another.

     When he became bishop of Geneva he strove to ensure that his priests were filled with zeal for souls and the holiness and wisdom to bring about a reversion to the fullness of the Christian faith.  What is more, the laity in his diocese were known for their extraordinary knowledge and observance of the faith.  He worked tirelessly for the conversion of those who had fallen away from the faith and for growth in those who continued to adhere to the fullness of the faith of their baptism.

     I tell you about St. Francis de Sales because I think that it is important in these times that we understand more clearly that regardless of how powerful and convincing our explanations and arguments in favor of the faith; it must be our prayer, penance, and suffering that will fortify the faith of those who have truly received Christ into their hearts, and elicit impulses of holy religion and faith in the hearts of those who have yet to open their hearts completely to Him.

     Trying times are precisely what bring out the saints among us.  How many of us will rise to the challenge?  I know one thing: we have all been invited and prepared through Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist to do what needs to be done.  But have we encountered Christ in the sacraments?  Are we ready to be an encounter with Christ for those to whom we have been sent?

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Comments are most welcome! As always, be charitable and remember the 8th Commandment (Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor).