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Saints are part of our DNA as Catholics. They are our friends, our personal companions on our faith journey. They comfort and challenge us, they give us guidance and hope, they help us find God’s plan for our lives. Walking With the Saints passes on the stories of selected holy people who are powerful examples of Christian living.

Walking With the Saints
Companions in Faith

by Mitch and Kathy Finley

Read your way through just about any volume of lives of the saints and you may conclude that you’re unlikely to become a saint if you develop a long-term friendship with a member of the opposite sex. You could think this, however, only if you overlook that more than a few saints are examples of just the opposite. Indeed, these saints’ friendships—that they shared themselves with each other on a more-than-superficial level—contributed in significant ways to the fact that the grace of God accomplished surpassing holiness in their lives.

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
St. Jane Frances de Chantal (1572-1641)

From a distinguished family, Jane de Chantal was the daughter of a prominent lawyer, the president of the parliament of the Burgundy region of France. Her husband, with whom she had a happy marriage, was the baron of Chantal. Her brother was the archbishop of Bourges. Jane gave birth to six children, but only a boy and two girls lived past early infancy.

In 1601, Jane’s husband was killed in a hunting accident, and for three years thereafter she was deeply depressed. A priest offered to become Jane’s spiritual director, and she accepted gratefully. But as things developed, this priest was no great blessing. Jane struggled under his harsh and insensitive influence.

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Jane de Chantal met Francis de Sales for the first time in 1604, when Francis was the 37-year-old bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, and Jane was a 32-year-old noblewoman and widow with three children, living with her father in Dijon, France. During Lent that year, Francis gave a series of public sermons in Dijon which Jane attended and which affected her deeply.

Francis’ kindness and wisdom touched Jane’s heart. Aware that she needed spiritual help, Jane was able to meet with Francis and tell him of her situation. Francis sympathized, but he felt that he could not lightly take over Jane’s spiritual direction from another priest. After much prayer, however, Francis informed Jane that the other priest had accomplished nothing but to destroy her conscience. Thereupon, Jane made her confession to Francis, which resulted in a feeling of deep joy and freedom of heart.

As a spiritual director, Francis de Sales respected the life experience of those he directed. He was a good listener, and he refused to set himself up in the place of God “for fear,” he said, “of harming souls.”

In the beginning, Jane was mystified because Francis did not give her a set of firm rules to follow. Soon, however, she began to appreciate Francis’ gentle style. “Never,” she later recalled, “did that blessed one make quick replies.” Rather, he knew that God’s love was at work in Jane and that both he and she must be patient.

After Francis’ return to Geneva, the two corresponded regularly. In one letter, Francis advised, “As regards devotions, I should approve of your still going slow.” It was three years before the two met again, near Pentecost 1607. Jane put her life in Francis’ hands, but he advised waiting patiently while she found her own answers.

Jane felt called to join an order of women religious, but at the time religious orders demanded a life of such austerity that Francis advised against them all. There was a need, Francis said, for a new kind of religious community for women, “not too mild for the strong, nor too harsh for the weak.” It would be a community for women unable to join any of the existing orders because of their age, poor health, or need to care for children, and it would be especially appropriate for widows. These women religious would maintain their ties of affection with their families.

Later, Francis wrote his spiritual classic, On the Love of God, for the community that Jane established near Anneçy. Wanting to emphasize the contemplative prayer that would be at the heart of community life—rather than the life of active service that Francis had proposed—Jane named her community the Daughters of the Visitation of St. Mary, or Visitandines—a reference to the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth and Mary’s praying of the Magnificat (see Luke 1:39-56).

It was a great blow to Jane when Francis died in 1622, but with time and prayer she regained her spiritual equilibrium and carried on. Later in life, Jane suffered great spiritual aridity and anguish, but she remained firm in her faith. By 1635 there were 65 Visitandine convents, and Jane worked tirelessly to nurture them all. It was on her way back to Anneçy from a visit to one of the convents that Jane became ill and died on December 13, 1641. Her body was taken to Anneçy where she was buried near her beloved friend, Francis.

St. Vincent de Paul (1580?-1660)
St. Louise de Marillac (1591-1660)

Vincent de Paul is familiar to us because of the thousands of social service agencies, in more than 130 countries, that bear his name. Many don’t realize, however, that Louise de Marillac worked closely with Vincent in serving the poor in 17th-century France. Vincent was born about 1580 to a peasant family. Louise was born out of wedlock on August 12, 1591.

Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac met in 1623, and he agreed to be her spiritual director, even though his overriding concern was to serve the poor. Initially, she thought Vincent was rigid and distant. Gradually, however, the two became close friends.

When Louise’s dull, anger-prone husband died on December 21, 1625, she decided that she would not marry again. Louise lived in a little apartment and spent much time in prayer. She painted watercolors, knitted for Vincent’s poor people and sewed vestments for him. Vincent pleaded with Louise not to work so hard and not to burden herself with pious devotions and disciplines.

In her late 30s by this time, Louise had never known any human warmth, but she knew that she had to figure out what to do with herself. Gifted with practical wisdom when it came to spiritual issues, Vincent told Louise that he would not tell her what to do; she would have to figure it out for herself. Finally, more than two years later, Louise began to get her act together.

Vincent had established groups of upper-class women, which he called the Ladies of Charity, who cared for the poor and the sick. In 1628, Vincent asked Louise to travel about to inspect his growing charity activities, and Louise realized that she possessed talents she had never known she had. She wrote out detailed reports for Vincent and, before long, she became a management whiz.

In each place she found someone to teach the children to read because she believed that literacy was the key to improving people’s lives. She also became a captivating public speaker. In a few places Louise met opposition, even from the local clergy who accused her of trying to do their work, but, for the most part, the people welcomed and supported her.

Most of the Ladies of Charity were reluctant to serve the poor directly. They would send money or a servant instead. So Louise decided to recruit hearty country girls, who had common sense and didn’t shy away from work. She would train them in religion and nursing. On November 26, 1633, she welcomed her first four recruits.

At every opportunity, Vincent supported Louise and offered advice. When Louise’s difficult son needed help to become self-sufficient, Vincent found him work. Later, he solicited enough money from Louise’s father’s family for the young man to marry. About this time, Louise named her fledgling community the Daughters of Charity. She drew up statutes, and Vincent gave them his approval. The women of the community learned prayer, meditation, basic nursing skills and practical ways to help the poor. They wore peasant clothes rather than a traditional religious habit.

Because most of the Daughters of Charity were not well educated, Vincent and Louise held “conferences” once or twice a month, and all the Daughters were encouraged to join the conversation. Over time, Vincent stepped away from the work of the Daughters of Charity, confident that Louise could take care of it. The two had a long and affectionate friendship, and they continued to correspond until Louise died on March 16, 1660. Vincent followed her in death on September 27 of the same year

Next: Saints of the Eastern Tradition

 
Stepping Out in Faith
by Joan McKamey

Share your life with faithful friends. Follow in the footsteps of…

• St. Francis de Sales, whose gentleness and listening ear invited Jane Frances de Chantal’s trust. Patiently listen to a friend in need.

• St. Jane Frances de Chantal, who sought her friend Francis de Sales’s guidance yet trusted herself about the kind of religious community to form. Seek advice from others, but also trust God’s guidance and your own heart.

• St. Vincent de Paul, who refrained from solving Louise de Marillac’s problems and challenged her to sort things out herself. Give your friends the space they need to grow in confidence in their own abilities.

• St. Louise de Marillac, who moved beyond her negative impression of Vincent de Paul to become his friend. Have you made unfair or hasty judgments of others? Could you be missing out on a good friendship?

Share how these and other saints inspire you on your faith journey.
We will post selected inspirations in this feature.
 
 
 
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