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How St. Francis de Sales interacted with unbelievers

4 min • Digitized on January 1, 2022

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 104
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley


When the Chablais was restored to the Duke of Savoy, Bishop de Granier, the predecessor of our Holy Founder, eager to further the design of His Highness to bring back into the bosom of the Roman Church the population that had been led astray, sent to it a number of labourers to gather in the harvest.

Among these, one of the first to be chosen was our Saint, at that time Provost of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter in Geneva, and consequently next in dignity to the Bishop.

With him were sent some Canons, Parish Priests, and others. Several members of various Religious Orders also presented themselves, eager to be employed in this onerous, if honourable, mission. [M. Camus must have been misinformed. St. Francis had but few fellow-workers in the early years of his mission in the Chablais.—Editor of the book]

It would be impossible to give a just idea of the labours of these missionaries, or of the obstacles which they encountered at the outset of their holy enterprise. The spirit of Blessed Francis was, however, most flexible and accomodating, and greatly tended to further the work of the people’s conversion.

He was like the manna which assimilated itself to the palate of whoever tasted it: he made himself all things to all men that he might gain all for Jesus Christ.

In his ordinary mode of conversation and in his dress, which was mean and common, he produced a much less jarring effect upon the minds and eyes of these people than did the members of Religious Orders with their various habits and diversities.

He, as well as the secular Priests who worked under him, sometimes even condescended so far as to wear the short cloaks and high boots usual in the country, so as more easily to gain access to private houses, and not to offend the eyes of the people by the sight of the cassock, which they were unaccustomed to.

To this pious stratagem the members of Religious Orders were unwilling to have recourse, their distinctive habit being, in their opinion, almost essential to their profession, or at least so fitting that it might never lawfully be laid aside.

Our Blessed Father went on quite a different tack, and caught more flies with a spoonful of the honey which he was so much in the habit of using, than did all the others with their harsher methods.

Everything about him, whether external or internal, breathed the spirit of conciliation: all his words, gestures, and ways were those of kindliness.

Some wished to make themselves feared; but he desired only to be loved, and to enter men’s hearts through the doorway of affection. On this account, whether he spoke in public or in private, he was always more attentively listened to than anyone else.

However much the Protestants might attack him and purposely provoke him, he, on his side, ever dealt with them in a spirit absolutely free from contention, abstaining from anything likely to give offence, having often on his lips those beautiful words of the Apostle: If any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor the Church of God. [1 Cor. xi. 16.]

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