What Is Salesian Spirituality?

Salesian Spirituality is a practical everyday spirituality for living in the modern world as learned, lived and shared by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) and St. Jane de Chantal (1572-1641), spiritual friends. Salesian spirituality gives expression to a way to journey in the spiritual life as we embrace the duties of our state in response to the universal call to holiness - in the words of St. Francis de Sales to "bloom where you are planted." It's a "spirituality of the heart," as relevant today as in the time of St. Francis de Sales himself, an all-embracing, down-to-earth spirituality for everyone.

St. Francis de SalesThe essence of the spirituality can be found in the "Introduction to the Devout Life," a book written by St. Francis de Sales at the beginning of the 17th century. The book, often referred to as a spiritual classic, contains the collective wisdom of the first sixteen centuries of the Christian experience and is divided into five parts: (1) instructions and exercises needed to lead the soul from its first desire for the devout life until brought to a full resolution to embrace it; (2) various instructions for elevating the soul to God through prayer and the sacraments; (3) instructions on the practice of virtue; (4) necessary councils against frequent temptations; (5) exercises and instructions for renewing the soul and confirming it in devotion.

St. Francis de Sales wrote another spiritual classic, "Treatise on the Love of God." It is comprised of twelve books written for individuals more advanced in the spiritual life and addresses topics such as the human tendency to love God, meditation and prayer, an explanation of the history of divine love, the difference between benevolent and complacent love, and affective and effective love.  The "Treatise on the Love of God" focuses on: the fundamentals of Francis' science of love of God and the application of these basic principles. Francis' spirituality is found in numerous other writings including many of his sermons and letters.

The context for the "Rule of Life," which is followed by many Daughters and Sons of St. Francis can be found in Romans 13:10, "Love is the fulfillment of the law."  Salesians commit themselves to living according to the Spirit of Jesus and living the Gospel in the Church and in the world, as disciples of St. Francis de Sales and with Mary, the mother of the Church.

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The "Real" Story on St. Francis de Sales

By Thomas F. Dailey, O.S.F.S., S.T.D. (used with permission)

Francis de Sales (1567-1622), the Bishop of Geneva whom Pope Paul VI called "one of the greatest figures of the Church and of history." His rich and holy life, the twenty-six volumes of his writings we have preserved, the 400-old tradition of Salesian spirituality that is the subject of this issue - admittedly, this is a story not so easily condensed! Nevertheless, it is a story worth telling, and this paper begins to do so by gathering together some lesser-known tidbits of his life, anecdotes that I believe will make him more "real" to believers today. Not that the numerous hagiographies are "false," but I think a more realistic story can be told that may give him more relevance to you and me. To this end, I would like to introduce this saint by focusing on five aspects of his remarkable life: student, priest, bishop, founder, spiritual director.

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A Detailed Account of St. Francis' Life

Bishop of Geneva, Doctor of the Universal Church. born at Thorens, in the Duchy of Savoy, August 21, 1567; died at Lyons, 28 December, 1622. His father, François deSales de Boisy, and his mother, Françoise de Sionnaz, belonged to old Savoyard aristocratic families. The future saint was the eldest of six brothers. His father intended him for the magistracy and sent him at an early age to the colleges of LaRoche and Annecy. From 1583 till 1588 he studied rhetoric and humanities at the college of Clermont, Paris, under the care of the Jesuits. While there he began a course of theology. After a terrible and prolonged temptation to despair, caused by the discussions of the theologians of the day on the question of predestination, from which he was suddenly freed as he knelt before a miraculous image of Our Lady at St. Etienne-des-Grès, he made a vow of chastity and consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In 1588 he studied law at Padua, where the Jesuit Father Possevin was his spiritual director. He received his diploma of doctorate from the famous Pancirola in 1592. Having been admitted as a lawyer before the senate of Chambéry, he was about to be appointed senator. His father had selected one of the noblest heiresses of Savoy to be the partner of his future life, but Francis declared his intention of embracing the ecclesiastical life. A sharp struggle ensued. His father would not consent to see his expectations thwarted. Then Claude de Granier, Bishop of Geneva, obtained for Francis, on his own initiative, the position of Provost of the Chapter of Geneva, a post in the patronage of the pope. It was the highest office in the diocese; M. de Boisy yielded and Francis received Holy Orders (1593).

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