‘You win more flies with a spoonful or honey than a barrelful of vinegar’ was one of the favourite sayings of the saint we celebrate on Tuesday. St Francis de Sales was born near Annecy in south western France in 1567. Despite some opposition from his father he was ordained a priest in 1593. The opening years of his ministry were hard and sometimes dangerous. Many of his fellow countrymen in that region of France had become convinced Calvinistic Protestants. Because of his love he was able to win many of them back to the Church. In 1602 he became Bishop of Geneva – the very heartland of the Calvinistic faith. By 1622 he died, worn out but so highly loved and respected that even his opponents believed him to be a saint.
Francis’ reflections on the spiritual life were put down in his book The Introduction to the Devout Life. This book pointed out that holiness was not just for monks or nuns but for all the faithful. The book was also full of practical common sense and wisdom, reflecting the life of Francis himself.
We live in an age where it has become fashionable to attack religion in general and Christianity in particular. Writers and artists sometimes like to show off their ‘radical’ credential by denigrating what we hold dear. In our replies we should imitate Francis who did not descend to his opponents’ rudeness and swagger. Rather we must love them and so gently convince them of their errors. May St Francis de Sales pray for us.