How St. Francis de Sales converted a sinful priest by meekness and humility

February 25, 2022 • 4 min

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 191
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley

Again—There was in his diocese a certain ecclesiastic who for very grave faults, and for the scandal occasioned by them, was not only imprisoned and treated while in prison with the greatest severity, but moreover, after regaining his liberty, remained for six months suspended from all ecclesiastical functions.

Our Blessed Father most unwillingly yielded to the entreaties of the officers of justice not in any way to interfere in the matter, but to let the law take its course, and to leave the offender in their hands to be treated with exceptional rigour.

So little, however, did this mode of dealing with the criminal answer, that, though while in prison he had been tractable, humble, lavish of promises of amendment, and apparently penitent, when once he had shaken off his fetters he relapsed into all his old evil habits, and passed from bad to worse. The authorities were in fine constrained to deprive him of his benefice, and to banish him from the diocese.

A few years later a very similar case occurred in which the officers showed the same unwillingness to permit the intervention of Blessed Francis, and this from no want of respect or love for him, but, as before, from a fear lest his gentleness and charity should hinder the course of justice.

In this case, however, the holy Bishop was firm.

If, (he said,) you forbid him to appear before me, you will not forbid me to appear before him. You do not wish him to come out of prison, suffer me then to go to prison with him, and to be the companion of his captivity. We must comfort this poor brother, who entreats us for help. I promise you that he shall not leave the prison except with your leave.

Accompanied by the officers of justice he then proceeded to the prison. No sooner did he see the poor man kneeling humbly before his Bishop, and accusing himself of his sins, than the holy Prelate embraced him tenderly, and turning to his gaolers said:

Is it possible that you do not see that God has already pardoned this man? Is there any condemnation for one who is in Christ Jesus? If God justifies him, who shall condemn him? Certainly not I.

Then, turning to the culprit, he said:

Go in peace, my brother, and sin no more. I know that you are truly penitent.

The officials protested that the man was a hypocrite, and like that other suspended priest would himself soon show that they were right.

It is, however, possible, (replied the Saint,) that had you treated that other priest with lenity, he, too, would have truly repented; beware, then, lest his soul should one day be required at your hands. For my part, if you will accept me as this man’s bail, I am ready to pledge my word for his good behaviour. I am certain that he is sincerely repentant, and even if he is deceiving me, he will do more injury to himself than to me, or others.

The guilty man, bursting into tears, declared himself willing to undergo any penance that might be imposed upon him, and even to give up his benefice of his own accord, if the Bishop should judge this to be the proper course.

I should be much grieved if you were to take that step, (replied Blessed Francis,) the more so as I hope that, just as the steeple in falling crushed the church, so now being set up again it will make it more beautiful than before.

The officials gave way, the prison doors were thrown open, and after a month’s suspension, a divinis, the penitent resumed all the duties of his sacred office. Thenceforth he lived so holy and exemplary a life as fully to verify the predictions of his holy Bishop, who, when these two memorable instances, one of perversion and the other of conversion, were once afterwards discussed before him, said:

It is better by gentleness to make penitents than by severity to make hypocrites.

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