Confiance et paix

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Encor que je me sens misérable je ne m'en trouble point, et quelquefois j'en suis joyeux, pensant que je suis une vraie bonne besogne pour la miséricorde de Dieu.
Even when I feel that I'm miserable, I don't worry about it one bit, and sometimes I'm even joyful about it, thinking that I'm quite a good job for the mercy of God.
Saint Francis de Sales

The Gentleman Doctor of the Church

He has been called the "gentleman Doctor of the Church." Saint Francis de Sales was, in the fullest sense of the word, a gentleman -- fully human, courtly, well-spoken and, even elegant -- he was proud of his well-shaped beard -- but he was also -- and it is this, I think, that makes him so attractive -- a gentle man.

Gentleness. Webster gives a whole series of synonyms for the adjective gentle: kindly, amiable, mild, clement, peaceful, pacific, soothing, tender, humane, lenient, and merciful. Gentle, says Webster, refers to an absence of bad temper or belligerence, a deliberate or voluntary kindness or forbearance in dealing with others, an absence of harshness or severity.

A Battered Heart

Francis de Sales did not come by his gentleness cheaply. When we look at portraits of him dating from his lifetime we see a handsome, dignified man with a smiling, peaceful countenance. One would never guess the storms that had raged within, battering his heart and, driving him at the age of nineteen to the brink of despair and suicide. He was a student in Paris at the time. His depression and debilitating anxiety were probably the result of his sensitivity and scrupulous fervour, traits exacerbated by the intellectual and emotional upheavals of university life.


Delivered by the Blessed Virgin

Francis was, in fact, contemplating a plunge into the waters of the Seine to end it all when he was inspired to go to the shrine of the famous Black Virgin of Paris, Notre-Dame de Bonne-Délivrance. The lovely old statue is still in Paris, in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Thomas of Villanova at Neuilly. Our Lady of Good Deliverance still delivers countless troubled, anxious people from their inner turmoil. I went there in pilgrimage over twenty years ago and was privileged to offer Holy Mass at the altar of the Black Virgin.

From Paris to Tulsa

Priests and others who visit me here in Tulsa often comment on the beautiful reproduction of the statue of Notre-Dame-de-Bonne-Délivrance that stands atop a cabinet in the sacristy. She is there for a reason. I seek her intercession for all who need a fresh infusion of the virtue of hope.

The Greatest Evil That Can Happen to a Soul

Back to our saint and his crisis. Kneeling before the mysterious medieval image of the Black Virgin, the young Francis de Sales was delivered out of his crisis into a space of inner serenity, into what the nineteenth century Protestant hymn writer Fanny Crosby called "Blessed Assurance." Later in his life, he was to write in the Introduction to the Devout Life that, "With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul" (Introduction to the Devout Life, IV:11). The Doctor of the Church is not speculating; he is speaking from experience.

And the Soul's Greatest Boon

"With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul." What then would be the soul's greatest boon? Confidence. Listen to the gentle Bishop of Geneva:

It is very good to mistrust ourselves, but what good will that do unless we place all our confidence in God and await his mercy? And even if we do not feel such confidence, we must not cease to make acts of confidence and say, "Even though I have no feeling of confidence in you, I know that you are my God, that I am totally yours and have no hope except in your goodness; therefore I abandon myself entirely into your hands.
It is always in our power to make these acts, and even if we have difficulty in doing so, still, it is not an impossibility, and it is on these occasions and in these very difficulties that we give witness of our fidelity to God.
A thousand times a day cast your whole heart, your soul, your anxiety on God with great confidence, and say with the psalmist: "I am yours, Lord; save me."
Do not fear future evil in this world, for perhaps it will never come. But in any event, if evil should come, God will strengthen you. If God commands you to walk upon the waves of adversity, do not doubt; do not be afraid. God is with you; have courage and you will be delivered.
It is very fine to be aware of our misery and imperfection, but we must not stop there, nor fall into discouragement, but pick ourselves up by a holy confidence in God. The foundation of this rests in God and not in us because we change and God never changes.

God never changes. God is worthy of all our confidence. That "blessed assurance" is, ultimately, the only remedy for the anxiety that at certain hours torments even the most phlegmatic among us. Saint Francis de Sales invites us to let go of the false security of the anxieties that have become so dear, and to surrender in peaceful confidence to the "blessed assurance" of the Love of God. Confiance et paix.


Dear Father Mark, Thank you so much for providing us with the ability to share your wonderful prayers.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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