We live in an age which is obsessed with its ‘rights’ – in every situation you can find people who are keen to assert that they can’t be pushed around. Some of those caught in the glare of the media seem pushy and obnoxious. We are urged to contest anyone who stands in our way. It seems as if the meek and the peacemakers are regarded with scorn. That’s why we need saints like the one we celebrate on Monday.
St. Francis de Sales was the epitome of gentleness. His writings are shot through with genuine meekness, and his own life was one of humble service. Perhaps his most famous observation was that ‘you win more flies with a spoonful of honey than a barrel full of vinegar’. But he was no pushover and certainly showed great courage and bravery. Born in 1567 he became Bishop of Geneva in 1603. In his early years as a priest he had been under threat from Protestant extremists who were angry at his success in winning people back to the Catholic faith. In Geneva, the very epicentre of the Calvinist reform, he faced much abuse and aggression. And yet by the time of his death many of those same Calvinists acknowledged that a saint had been in their presence. Francis managed to combine loyalty to the faith with scrupulous courtesy and concern for all those he met – even his opponents.
It would be easy for us to retaliate in kind when we find ourselves mocked or ridiculed for our faith. It is harder and better for us to learn from Francis. May he pray for us so that we can, in the words of the old hymn, ‘love friend and foe in all our strife’.