Apostolic Letter Totum amoris est of the Holy Father Francis on the fourth centenary of the death of Saint Francis de Sales, 28.12.2022 (thanks to “EVERYTHING PERTAINS TO LOVE”.[1] These words summarize the spiritual legacy left to us by Saint Francis de Sales, who died four centuries ago, on 28 December 1622, in Lyon. Slightly more than fifty years of age, he had been the “exiled” Bishop and Prince of Geneva for some two decades, and had come to Lyon on what was to be his last diplomatic mission. The Duke of Savoy had asked him to accompany Cardinal Maurice of Savoy to Avignon, where they were to pay homage to the young King Louis XIII, then returning to Paris through the Rhône valley following a victorious military campaign in the south of France. Exhausted and in poor health, Francis had undertaken the journey in a pure spirit of service. “Were it not most helpful to them for me to make this trip, I would surely have many good reasons to excuse myself. Yet if I can be of help, alive or dead, I will not refuse, but go or let myself be dragged there”.[2] That was his temperament. Upon his arrival in Lyon, he stayed at the monastery of the Visitation Sisters, in the gardener’s lodge, so as not to be a burden and to be free to meet with anyone who so desired. Long disenchanted by the “fleeting glories of the court”,[3]he spent those final days exercising his pastoral ministry amid a flurry of appointments: confessions, conversations, conferences, sermons, and, of course, letters of spiritual friendship. The deepest reason for such a way of life, completely centred on God, had become clearer to him over time. He explained it with simplicity and precision in his celebratedTreatise on the Love of God: “At the very thought of God, one immediately feels a certain delightful emotion of the heart, which testifies that God is God of the human heart”.[4] These words are a perfect synthesis of his thought. An experience of God is intrinsic to the human heart. Far from a mental construct, it is a recognition, filled with awe and gratitude, of God’s self-manifestation. In the heart and through the heart, there comes about a subtle, intense and unifying process in which we come to know God and, at the same time, ourselves, our own origins and depths, and our fulfilment in the call to love. We discover that faith is no blind emotion, but primarily an attitude of the heart, whereby we entrust ourselves to a truth that appeals to our consciousness as a “sweet emotion” and awakens in response, as he was wont to say, an enduring benevolence towards all of creation. In this light, we can understand why Saint Francis de Sales felt that there was no better place to find God, and to help others to find him, than in the hearts of the women and men of his time. He had learned this, from his earliest years, by developing a keen insight both into himself and into the human heart. Francis’ profound sense of God’s presence amid the events of daily life was evident in those last days in Lyon. He shared with his Visitation Sisters how he wished to be remembered by them: “I said everything in just two words, when I told you to refuse nothing and to desire nothing; I have nothing more to say to you”.[5] This was no mere voluntarism, “a will lacking humility”,[6]the subtle temptation along the path to holiness that confuses it with self-justification, the worship of the human will and its powers, and results in “a self-centred and elitist complacency, bereft of true love”.[7] Still less was it a matter of pure quietism, a passive and emotionless abandonment to a doctrine stripped of the flesh and history.[8] Instead, it was the fruit of his contemplation of the life of the incarnate Son. On 26 December, the saint spoke to the Sisters from the heart of the Christmas mystery: “Do you see the baby Jesus in the crib? He accepts all the discomforts of that season, the bitter cold and everything that the Father lets happen to him. He does not refuse the small consolations that his Mother gives him; we are not told that he ever reached out for his Mother’s breast, but left everything to her care and concern. So too, we ourselves should neither desire nor refuse anything, but accept all that God sends us, the bitter cold and the discomforts of the season”.[9] We are struck by how Francis recognized the importance of concern for the human dimension. At the school of the incarnation, he had learned to interpret history and to approach life with confidence and trust. The criterion of love By experience, Francis had come to realize that desire is at the root of all true spiritual life, but also the cause of its debasement. Drawing abundantly from the spiritual tradition that had preceded him, he recognized the importance of constantly testing desire through the exercise of discernment. He found the ultimate criterion for this assessment in love. In that final conference in Lyon, on the feast of Saint Stephen, two days before his death, he had said: “It is love that grants perfection to our works. I will tell you much more. Take a person who suffers martyrdom for God with an ounce of love; that person merits much, since he could give nothing greater than his own life. Yet another person who has only suffered a scratch with two ounces of love will have much more merit, because it is charity and love that give value to our works”.[10] With remarkable realism, Francis went on to speak of the complex relationship between contemplation and action: “You know, or you should know, that contemplation is in itself better than activity and the active life; nonetheless, if one finds greater union [with God] in the active life, then that is better. If a Sister in the … Continue reading ST. FRANCIS DE SALES 400th DEATH ANNIVERSARY 1622-2022