Few saints in the calendar match the incomparable kindness and simplicity, the patience and sympathy, and the clear and eloquent reasoning of Bishop Francis of Sales of Geneva. As he was wont to say, “You will catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar.” Francis was born into an aristocratic Catholic family in Savoy, a region between France and Switzerland in the 16th century, when the religious differences in Europe had hardened into mutual suspicion and hatred. Francis, though trained in law, gave up a distinguished career and opted to become a priest, much against the wishes of his parents. He was determined to win the Calvinist believers of his region back to the old faith. Over several years with his cousin Louis, also a priest, he had the joy of bringing back thousands. What impressed his peers was the simplicity and friendliness of his style, plus the power of his preaching and his writing. At just 32 years old, Francis was made bishop of Geneva. His life as bishop was noted for his pastoral zeal. He preached wherever he went, heard confessions of the ordinary folk, reformed religious communities, instructed the young and old and held annual meetings for his clergy. He also carried on a voluminous correspondence, finding time to write some masterpieces of the spiritual life which are treasured even today. Francis of Sales was canonized within fifty years of his death in 1622. Subsequently he was declared ‘doctor of the Church’, and ‘patron of Catholic writers’. We can do no better than recall two of his sayings on the art of preaching: “In order to speak well, we need only to love well.” And, “the more you say, the less people will remember.”
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