Monday, January 17, 2011

Novena to St. Francis de Sales: Day Two: Gentle Evangelization

Several years ago I attended a meeting hosted by “Call to Action”, a Catholic dissident group populated mainly aging baby-boomers still hungering for the revolution the Second Vatican Council didn’t bring them. Before anyone jumps to conclusions, I was not a proponent of this group -- on the contrary, I fashioned myself somewhat of an orthodox gadfly, a burr in their saddle, so to speak. I attended primarily to see where my elders went wrong and to make an attempt to refute any dissent. It was not a very loving or charitable mission, I’m afraid, and I believe I may have repelled more than attracted with my twenty-something confidence and brash behavior born of pride and youthful zeal…

I was not without my “cheerleaders”; there were many disgusted and dismayed by the overt disobedience and disrespect toward the Tradition and authority of the Church. They encouraged my zeal, and our camaraderie born from the threat of discord in the Church strengthened us all. Good and holy men and women who had never met suddenly found brotherhood in opposition to dissent. There were silver linings…

Despite that, I was a zealot, and far too naïve for my own good. I insulted a “respected prelate” who supported the dissenters and attracted the ire of several priests. I alienated friends whose doctrinal ideations differed from mine. Soon I found myself in a “spiritual bunker” awaiting the next barrage of attacks. The camaraderie of my orthodox friends slipped away as the zeal for the fight waned over time and effort. God used all this for my spiritual growth and humility. St. Francis de Sales taught me that there was a better way.

Early on in his vocation, St. Francis zealously wanted to return Geneva to the Church. The Calvinists had reduced the faithful to a small handful by rhetoric and, at times, brute force. Risking his own life, Francis set forth to restore Geneva to Christ and rescue those duped by heresy. He was young, full of energy and zeal, a true son of the Church. He was eloquent, educated, and insightful. There was a problem: no one would listen to him. Doors were shut in his face or never opened at all. His sermons were not heard. He was rejected.

St. Francis de Sales learned quickly that the traditional approach of fiery sermons and lively debate were not the means to achieve his goal; he needed patience, love, and above all, charity. He showed gentle attention to children and the young; he wrote simple, convincing and charitable sermons (“The Controversies”) concerning the authority of the Church, and slipped them under the doors he passed. He waited patiently and lovingly for hearts to turn…and they did. They recognized in the persistence and patience of the gentle priest a voice that cried out as one in the wilderness, and scores returned to the Church. He provided loving direction to lay men and women, encouraging them to true devotion within their state in life; each moment of one-on-one attention did what fire-and-brimstone sermons could not – restored hearts to Christ and His Church. His intelligence, charity, and holiness finally earned him the ear of the people, and 40,000 are said to have been converted back to the Church by the time he returned from his mission.

As we pray on this second day of our novena let us ask St. Francis de Sales to teach us charity, patience and true devotion that we might turn others to Christ. Let us remember those we love who have left the Church and lift them in prayer, asking St. Francis to intercede on their behalf that one day they, too, may join us in faithful devotion to God. Most importantly, let us pray that by God’s grace we may exemplify the love of St. Francis de Sales and bring wandering hearts home.

Novena Prayers

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