Each year on January 24, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, a Doctor of the Church, patron of journalists, writers and the deaf. In an age of media overload, he is particularly relevant given that he devoted a large part of his life to evangelizing the common folk through the use of the printed word.
This year, the feast of St. Francis de Sales (January 24) is followed by the first annual Sunday devoted to reflection on Scripture as a source of prayer and inspiration (January 26). Pope Francis has declared that the third Sunday in January will from now on be used to mark the importance of the Bible to our lives. St. Francis de Sales would be proud of this initiative.
He was born in 1567, son of a French aristocrat, and died in 1622 as Bishop of Geneva. In his early years, he led a life typical for his class, devoted to privilege and education. Among his lessons were riding, dancing and fencing.
Though his father wanted his first son to prepare for a career in the law, the young Francis was drawn to the Church and eventually was ordained to the priesthood, after obtaining a doctorate in law and theology. It was not an easy road as his father put pressure on him to prepare to follow in his footsteps, even going so far as to secure him some nice powerful positions in government and finding a wealthy heiress from among the nobility for the young Francis to marry.
But Francis the son was having none of that. He was to devote his life to prayer and spreading the Gospel. He both wrote and preached, eventually becoming Bishop of Geneva. His best-known work is An Introduction to the Devout Life, but he wrote many other flyers and books, which were distributed far and wide.
His style would fit well with this papacy. He proposed the Gospel rather than demanded that people believe. He has become known as the Gentleman Saint because of his courtly demeanour and humility with others. He was beatified in 1661 by Pope Alexander VII and was canonized four years later. Pope Pius XI declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1887.
Today, his legacy is celebrated every year in Lourdes, France, with the St. Francis de Sales Days international conference sponsored by the Federation of Catholic Media. Journalists, writers, publishers and broadcasters gather from around the world to reflect on the issues relating to spreading the Word in at a time when digital media almost form the air we breathe.
So let us use this occasion, both today and Sunday, to ask St. Francis to pray for us in our own journey to better understand the Word of God and to make of ourselves a Gospel for those around us.
–Joseph Sinasac, Publishing Director, Novalis