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The Holy Family in Prayer

Mortification and patience of Saint Francis de Sales

From a noble and wealthy family, bishop of Geneva, Francis de Sales only aspired to the richness of evangelical poverty. He liked to lack many things, graciously repeating this saying which was familiar to him: “I never find myself better than when I am hardly well.”

It was according to this maxim that he had lodged in Annecy. He had a very suitable hotel, except that he was only the tenant. His apartment was very pleasant; but he decided to choose for the night a small, narrow and dark room. This room was called Francis’ room, and the one where he received the world, the bishop’s room. “Thus, he said, the bishop of Geneva will be in his place during the day, and Francis de Sales in his during the night.”

It was also noticed that he almost never warmed himself, that he suffered, without complaint, the great heats and the great cold, and that he was never seen to make a movement or to take an attitude that could be said to be inspired by love of his ease. He sometimes suffered from the sting of flies and horseflies, which stuck their sting in his head or on his face, without doing anything to keep them away.

He recommended not to wait for great occasions to show courage, to take advantage of the least pains, and to compensate by generosity and promptness what might be lacking in the greatness of trials.

“Generally, he says, we do not like our crosses very much, unless they are shiny, embossed and enameled. However, they are all of gold, as long as you look at them from the right angle.”

One of his penitents having written to him that she was accustomed, in order to be delivered from her headaches, to recite an Our Father in honor of Our Lord’s crown of thorns, he replies that this is not forbidden. “But, my God, he adds, no, I would never have the courage to pray to Our Lord, through the pain He had in His head, to exempt mine from all pain. I would rather resort to the crowning of Our Lord to obtain a crown of patience around my headache.”

Besides, his patience in illnesses was incredible. He was always gentle, peaceful and even gracious to those who served him. “Never did he complain, says St. Jane of Chantal, nor did he put on a face or grimace, but he bore his ailment and received the remedies offered to him without showing any unpleasantness or sorrow.”

He bore the infirmities of age with the same constancy as his labors advanced. If he sometimes spoke of them, it was to humble himself, and as much as was necessary to give an explanation of his conduct. “I am burdened with years, he wrote to a friend in 1621, and to say it to you, with inconveniences that prevent me from being able to do what I want.” Outside of this, he suffered in silence. “He who complains sins,” he sometimes said. And when he was reproached for neglecting himself and not asking for the relief he needed, “We must all die, he would reply; ten years more or less is nothing.”

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