Lawyer and Provost
With a first-rate education, Francis de Sales was soon admitted to the bar and was nominated a senator by the duke, two steps along the way of a father’s dream that his son embark on a diplomatic career. Yet Francis refused the title. Instead, he was named Provost of the cathedral chapter of Geneva, a quasi-political position that put him second in rank to the local bishop. This appointment may have assuaged his father’s aspirations, but it also signaled to Francis that he should alight upon an ecclesiastical career. To that end, he was ordained to the priesthood at age twenty-six and volunteered for a "missionary" assignment to the region of the Chablais, which by that time had become so thoroughly Calvinist that only about a hundred people, in a population of nearly 25,000, were still Catholic. The force of Protestant policy, which prohibited public interaction with the papist preacher, would prove to be no match for the rhetorical skills of this saint. Francis de Sales re-converted the entire region, some 72,000 in all.
The lesson here is rather clear. Following God’s call takes courage. Following God’s way – the way of perfect charity – takes courage. Francis de Sales’ ecumenical success, and subsequent transformation of an entire culture, depended not on his own oratorical skills or political savvy, helpful though these no doubt were. What counted most, in his becoming who he was to be and in his doing what he was to do, is a sure and certain reliance on the power of God. His achievements may have redounded to his own glory, but his motivation was always and only to do what God willed. If we would but keep this goal in mind, we can be assured that our work cannot, ultimately, fail.
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