ST FRANCIS DE SALE MASS
ST EUGENE’S CATHEDRAL, DERRY
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
THURSDAY 24 JANUARY 2008
St Francis de la Sale was born frail and in delicate health because of his premature birth. However, with care he gradually grew in strength and became active and energetic. His father wanted him to get himself a job and sent him to University to gain the right education but Francis had other ideas. He wanted to give his life to God. Francis was afraid that he would lose his vocation at the University and so he begged to be sent to a College which was well known for its religious ethos.
At College, Francis studies philosophy, Arts, Theology and the Law of the Church. In order to satisfy his father, he also took lessons in horse-riding, martial arts and dancing but Francis did not really care for any of these because he still yearned to give his life to God. Francis had not talked to his father about his desire to become a priest but his mother and a few close friends knew.
Eventually he was ordained a priest the religious condition of the people was deplorable and so the Bishop sent him to one of the toughest parishes in his diocese. Francis’ father was less than pleased. Along with his cousin, Francis set out to preach as often as he could to try and win back the people to the practice of their faith.
One evening he was attacked by wolves and he escaped by spending the night in a tree. Several times he was waylaid by assassins who had sworn to kill him and almost miraculously he always managed to escape.
Time went by and his work apparently was meeting with very little success. His father was no help to him as all he did was to write letters either begging him or commanding him to give it all up, have a bit of sense and return home. Francis, however, had no intention of quitting. He was always on the look out for new ways of reaching the hearts and minds of his people.
He began writing leaflets explaining the teaching of the Church. Every spare moment he had was spent writing these little papers which were then copied and distributed.
In the summer of 1595, he was attacked by a very hostile crowd who insulted and beat him. But soon after this bigger crowds began to come to listen to his sermons. His patient perseverance, despite every type of persecution, began to pay off. Conversions became more frequent and soon there was a steady stream of lapsed Catholics tip-toeing their way back to the Church. The Bishop was made welcome and was able to administer Confirmation and even presided at the 40 hour devotion – something which previously was unthinkable.
His untiring work of bringing back the lapsed Catholics to the fold was rewarded when he was made Bishop of Germany. As bishop he organised the teaching of the Catechism all over the diocese. He taught the lessons himself and children loved him and followed him.
His favourite subject was the devout life and his most famous book Introduction to the Devout Life arose from letters written to his cousin. He led a very austere life but the people were eager to see him. All the converts wanted him to come and preach. In 1622, even though he was exhausted, he kept on preaching and working. He died, while working, on the Feast of the Holy Innocent.
Real living – living devotion – presupposes the love of God. It is, in fact, that very love.
· When this love adorns the soul and make us pleasing to God, the love of God is called grace.
· When it gives us the power to do good, we call it charity.
· When it inspires us to do good often and readily and carefully it is called devotion.
Ostriches never fly. Hens fly sometimes with difficulty but eagles, swallows and doves fly swiftly and frequently. In the same way, sinners – like ostriches – never fly towards God. They roam about the earth seeking earthly things and never finding happiness. Those who are good but not devout fly sometimes on the wings of occasional good deeds but slowly and sluggishly. Those who are ready and willing to do good often, glide gracefully to God on high.