24 Jan – Memorial for St. Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was born in a castle to a well-placed family. His parents intended him to become a lawyer, enter politics, and carry on the family line and power. He studied at La Roche, Annecy, Clermont College in Paris, and law at the University of Padua. He became a Doctor of Law, returned home, and found a position as Senate advocate.
It was at this point that he received a message telling him to “Leave all and follow Me”. He took this as a call to the priesthood, a move his family fiercely opposed. However, he pursued a devoted prayer life, and his gentle ways won over the family.
He became a priest, and a provost in the diocese of Geneva, Switzerland, a stronghold of Calvinists. He was a preacher, writer and spiritual director in the distrcit of Chablais. His simple, clear explanations of Catholic doctrine, and his gentle way with everyone, brought many back to the Roman Church.
He was ordained Bishop of Geneva at the age of 35. He travelled and evangelized throughout the Duchy of Savoy, working with children whenever he could. He was a friend of St. Vincent de Paul. He turned down a wealthy French bishopric. He helped found the Order of the Visitation with St. Jeanne de Chantal. He was a prolific correspondent. He was declared a Doctor of the Church.
– Patron Saint Index
2 Samuel 7:4-17
The word of the Lord came to Nathan:
‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I have never stayed in a house from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until today, but have always led a wanderer’s life in a tent. In all my journeying with the whole people of Israel, did I say to any one of the judges of Israel, whom I had appointed as shepherds of Israel my people: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” This is what you must say to my servant David, “the Lord of Hosts says this: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. (It is he who shall build a house for my name, and I will make his royal throne secure for ever.) I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Yet I will not withdraw my favour from him, as I withdrew it from your predecessor. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’
Nathan related all these words to David and this whole revelation.
Jesus began to teach by the lakeside, but such a huge crowd gathered round him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there. The people were all along the shore, at the water’s edge. He taught them many things in parables, and in the course of his teaching he said to them, ‘Listen! Imagine a sower going out to sow. Now it happened that, as he sowed, some of the seed fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky ground where it found little soil and sprang up straightaway, because there was no depth of earth; and when the sun came up it was scorched and, not having any roots, it withered away. Some seed fell into thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it produced no crop. And some seeds fell into rich soil and, growing tall and strong, produced crop; and yielded thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold.’ And he said, ‘Listen, anyone who has ears to hear!’
When he was alone, the Twelve, together with the others who formed his company, asked what the parables meant. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God is given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables, so that they may see and see again, but not perceive; may hear and hear again, but not understand; otherwise they might be converted and be forgiven.’
He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables? What the sower is sowing is the word. Those on the edge of the path where the word is sown are people who have no sooner heard it than Satan comes and carries away the word that was sown in them. Similarly, those who receive the seed on patches of rock are people who, when first they hear the word, welcome it at once with joy. But they have no root in them, they do not last; should some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, they fall away at once. Then there are others who receive the seed in thorns. These have heard the word, but the worries of this world, the lure of riches and all the other passions come in to choke the word, and so it produces nothing. And there are those who have received the seed in rich soil: they hear the word and accept it and yield a harvest, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’
What the sower is sowing is the word
Among the huge variety of videos that one might view on Facebook, there would be those rare handful that are particularly heartwarming, uplifting and inspiring. The story of Ian Manuel and Debbie Baigrie is one such example. When Ian was 13, he was involved with an attempted robbery that ended with him shooting Debbie in the face. She miraculously survived, and Ian was given life imprisonment after confessing to the crime. While in prison, he called Debbie to ask for her forgiveness. She not only forgave him, she became his friend and advocate, helping to end the practice of giving juveniles life-without-parole sentences for crimes of lesser severity than murder.
The parable of the sower is a well-known one, and readers of this parable would usually relate to this parable by immediately placing themselves into one of the categories of receivers – are they the path, rocky ground, full of thorns or good soil? While preparing for this reflection, I came across the following quote by John Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers. “As the sower fairly and indiscriminately disperses seed broadly over all his field, so does God offer gifts to all, making no distinction between rich and poor, wise and foolish, lazy or diligent, brave or cowardly. He addresses everyone, fulfilling his part, although knowing the results beforehand…” If we are the sower, we would probably think that it is an unwise and highly uneconomical move to sow seeds along the path and among thorns. Our resources are, after all, limited. But God does not face the same constraints we do. His love and grace are always in abundance for all who are open to them, even if they do not appear to be worthy or suitable recipients.
What is so appealing about Debbie and Ian’s story? Both of them had made unlikely moves — one showed incredible humility and courage in seeking forgiveness from someone he almost killed, while the victim went beyond forgiveness to offer help and support to her attacker. Perhaps, in our effort to lead Christ-like lives, one of the keys is to make unlikely moves that will help others transform themselves from a path to a field, rocks to soil, thorn-filled to thorn-free.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)
Prayer: We pray for the discipline to turn away from sin and find the strength to make the difficult but God-loving decisions that are uncomfortable for us.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the forgiveness of God.