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How St. Francis de Sales treated those in error before and after their conversion

4 min • Digitized on January 6, 2022

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 117
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley


Our Blessed Father was always full of tenderness, compassion, and gentleness towards sinners, but he regarded and treated them in different ways according to their various dispositions.

A sinner who had grown old in evil, who clung obstinately to his wicked ways, who laughed to scorn all remonstrances, and gloried in his shame, formed a spectacle so heart-breaking and so appalling to the holy Bishop, that he shrank from contemplating it.

When he had succeeded in turning his thoughts to some other subject, on their being suddenly recalled to it, he would shudder as if a secret wound had been touched, and utter some devout and fervent [prayer] such as this: “Ah! Lord, command that this blind man see! Speak the word only, and he shall be healed! Oh, my God, those who forsake Thee shall be forsaken; convert him, and he shall be converted!”

With obstinate sinners of this class his patience was unwearied. For such, he said, God Himself waited patiently, even until the eleventh hour; adding that impatience was more likely to embitter them and retard their conversion than remonstrance to edify them.

For the sinner who was more open to conviction, and was not so obstinate in his malice, for him who had, that is to say, lucid intervals in his madness, Blessed Francis had the most tender affection, regarding him as a poor paralytic waiting on the edge of the pool of healing for some helping hand to plunge him into it. To such he behaved as did the good shepherd of the Gospel, Who left the ninety-nine sheep in the desert to seek after the hundredth which had gone astray.

But towards the sinner when once converted, how describe his attitude of mind! He regarded him not as a brand snatched from the burning, not as a bruised reed, not as an extinguished taper that was still smoking, but as a sacred vessel filled with the oil of grace, as one of those trees which the ancients looked upon as holy because they had been struck by fire from Heaven. It was marvellous to observe the honour which he paid to such a one, the esteem in which he held him, the praises which he bestowed upon him.

He always considered that souls delivered by God from the mouth of the roaring lion were in consequence likely to be more vigilant, more courageous in resisting temptation, and more careful in guarding against relapses.

He did all he could to cover the faults of others, his goodness of heart being so great that he never allowed himself to think ill even of the wicked. He attributed their sinfulness to the violence of temptation and the infirmity of human nature. When faults were public and so manifest that they could not be excused, he would say: “Who knows but that the unhappy soul will be converted? The greatest sinners often become the greatest penitents, as we see in the case of David. And who are we that we should judge our brother? Were it not for the grace of God we should perhaps do worse than he.”

He never allowed the conversion of a sinner to be despaired of, hoping on till death. “This life,” he said, “is our pilgrim way, in which those who now stand may fall, and those who have fallen may, by grace, be set on their feet again.” Nor even after death would he tolerate an unfavourable judgment being passed on any.

His reason for this was that as the original grace of justification was not given by way of merit, so neither could the grace of final perseverance be merited.

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