In the reading from II Samuel, David is out of his mind with grief
over the deaths of King Saul and his son, David’s bosom friend, Jonathan.
How can these beloved warriors of Yahweh -- swifter than eagles, stronger
than lions! -- have fallen?
In the second, very short reading from Mark, Jesus’ relatives describe him
as “out of his mind,” presumably because Jesus had demonstrated the power
to drive out demons, and that seemed to put him in league with evil.
But today is the memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, a Christian humanist
and devout gentleman of the Catholic Reformation. If ever there was
a saint who was “in his mind” – both sane, balanced, moderate and holy – it
was Francis de Sales.
Francis was appointed bishop of Geneva in 1602, at the age of 35, and served
with wide acclaim and admiration until his death in 1622. He was canonized
in 1665 and named a Doctor of the Church (one of only 33 today) in 1877.
He is the patron of authors, because of the literary talent to be discovered
in the spiritual and theological classics, "Introduction to the Devout Life
and Treatise on the Love of God." Appropriate to the gentle art of persuasion
which he perfected in his preaching to those who had left the Catholic Church
for Calvinism, Francis is also the patron of educators.
For more than a quarter of a century I have been married to one of the world’s
leading authorities on Saints Francis de Sales and Jeanne de Chantal and the
tradition of spirituality they founded. Dr. Wendy M. Wright’s many books,
both scholarly and popular, are contemporary expressions of that Salesian
tradition. Of the many insights and anecdotes she has shared with me
over the years, here’s just one.
When Francis was a young man he had a crisis of faith not unlike that of
the young Martin Luther a century earlier. He was radically anxious
about his own salvation. Luther’s famous resolution was to realize that
there was nothing he could do, or needed to do, but have utter, naked faith
in God’s grace.
Francis had a different insight. Unable to convince himself of his
own salvation, he decided that nonetheless he could love both God and his
neighbor unconditionally. Everything remembered and written about Francis
indicates he did just that, as preacher to his brothers and sisters separated
by religion, as spiritual director, as friend of the poor and sick, as author,
as bishop, as founder, with St. Chantal, of the Order of the Visitation.
One of the great insights of this Doctor of the Church was that such a simple
but radical path, such a “bond of perfection” (St. Paul’s term for Christian
friendship) was open to everyone and not just priests and religious or the
spiritually gifted. Francis is often described as one of the founders of a
genuine lay spirituality. I have seen that spirituality up close and
personal, the only place it can bear full fruit. I have seen it in
my home, and I wager you have seen it in yours, too – even if you didn’t name
it “Salesian” but simply thought of it (you did think of it, right?) as Christlike.
What does it mean for a Christian to be in her right mind? To love
unconditionally, no matter what grief that exposes one to, no matter how the
less generously minded will perceive you. Or, as the patron of authors put
it with graceful but challenging simplicity:
“The measure of love, is to love without measure.”