Sunday, January 27, 2013

Into the Heights

When I first began learning of St. Francis de Sales years ago, my impression was that here was a practical, logical, learned, wise, down-to-earth writer who could teach systematically of the faith.  I turned out to be right.

I also thought of Francis (not when I read his writings, but mostly from a painting I'd seen) as a bit on the dry side.  I couldn't imagine this saint having the rapturous experiences of, say, a Teresa of Avila or a John of the Cross.  Certainly, thought I, this was one who had not (while on earth) "soared into the heights."

I could not have been more wrong.

"When the ardor of holy love is intense," wrote this great saint,"it makes so many assaults upon the heart, wounds it so many times, causes such languors within it, melts it so constantly, and bears it off into so many raptures and ecstasies that by such means the soul is almost entirely taken up with God..... How sweet is the amorous arrow that wounds us with such an incurable wound..."  (St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, Tan Books 1975 edition, Volume II, p. 41)

"I run, but ah, shall I never gain the prize towards which I rush, to be united heart to heart, spirit to spirit, to my God, my spouse and my life?" (Treatise on the Love of God, Volume I, p. 74)

"O God, as long as I see Your sweet face, which testifies to me that You are pleased with the song raised by my love, ah, how consoled am I!  Is any pleasure equal to the pleasure of truly pleasing our God?  But when You turn Your eyes away from me and I no longer perceive the sweet favor of Your complacence in my song, then, O true God, in what great torment is my soul!  But still it does not cease to love You faithfully and to sing continually its hymn of dilection... but it sings for the pure love of Your holy will." (Treatise on the Love of God, Volume I, p. 126)

"In heaven where we shall see God 'face to face,' we shall love Him heart to heart.  That is, just as all of us, each one in his measure, shall see His infinite beauty with a supremely clear sight, so too we shall be ravished with love of His infinite goodness with an extremely strong rapture.  We shall neither desire not be able to desire ever to make resistance to such rapture."  (Treatise on the Love of God, Volume II, p. 169)

"Lord, I am Yours, and I must belong to no one but You.  My soul is Yours, and must live only by You.  My will is Yours, and must love only for You.   I must love You as my first cause, since I am from You.  I must love You as my end and rest, since I am for You.  I must love You more than my own being, since my being subsists by You.  I must love You more than myself, since I am all Yours and all in You."  (Treatise on the Love of God, Volume II, p. 169)

St. Francis de Sales?  He was a practical, wise, learned bishop.  He was also a lawyer.  He wrote extensively, founded the Order of the Visitation, taught with great prudence and common sense, converted great numbers of people to the Catholic faith.  And he soared into the heights.

Caspar David Friedrich painting in public domain

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