This first sermon in the annual Lenten Sermon Series at St. Francis de Sales Oratory was delivered by Canon Raphael Ueda:
St. Francis de Sales was born on August 21, 1567, in the Duchy of Savoy, then independent of France and bordered by Calvinist Germany. The Dukedom of Savoy was torn by war between the Calvinists and Catholics. The region was divided by a continuous religious war, but the breach was felt especially within families more than on the field. St. Francis de Sales, as soon as he became conscious of the things which were happening around him, had to breathe this atmosphere of war.
In his youth he was occupied with the question of predestination. He asked himself this question. Shall I be among the elect or shall I be among the damned?
An uncertainty of his spirit and an agony of his heart ruined his health to the point of throwing St. Francis to the edge of complete despair.
One day he was in the church of St. Etienne in Paris, and he prayed the prayer of St. Bernard to the Virgin of Good Deliverance– “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection was left unaided.” After saying this prayer, he was cured in an instant, so in the end he was released from this long endured suffering.
Then he made a vow of chastity and consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary. And this devout servant of Our Blessed Mother left us a list of imperishable works among which we find “Introduction to the Devout Life” and “Treatise on the Love of God”. He was proclaimed Doctor of the Universal Church by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1877.
St. Francis de Sales has received this title of the Doctor of the Church on account of the great advantage the whole Church has derived from his teaching.
In the West four eminent Fathers of the Church attained this honor in the early Middle Ages: St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome.
In the East three Doctors were pre-eminent: St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, and St. Gregory Nazianzen.
To these great names others have subsequently been added. And St. Francis de Sales is one of them.
The title of Doctor is used for an authorized teacher. In this general sense the term occurs in the Old Testament; in Second Chronicles Azarias prophesies that "many days shall pass in Israel, without the true God, and without a priest, a doctor, and without the law”. It was the duty of these doctors to expound the law, and this they performed at the time of Christ, who was found in the Temple "in the midst of the doctors" (Luke 2:46). In the New Testament, the doctors are those who have received a special gift or charisma of whom St. Paul says that "God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). The Doctors of the Church are those who have expounded the law of faith and morals eminently, and have lived what they taught to a high degree of sanctity and thus are proclaimed as the Doctors by the Catholic Church.
Law in the widest sense is understood to be that exact guide, rule, or authoritative standard by which a being is moved to action or held back from it. And in a more exact sense, law is spoken of only in reference to free beings endowed with reason.
In the proper and strict sense laws are the moral norms of action, binding in conscience, set up for a public, self-governing community. This is probably the original meaning of the word law, whence it was gradually transferred to the other kinds of laws (natural laws, laws of art). In this sense law can be defined by St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica I-II:90:4) as: A regulation in accordance with reason promulgated by the head of a community for the sake of the common welfare.
To obtain in any community a unified and systematized co-operation of all there must be an authority that has the right to issue binding rules as to the manner in which the members of the community are to act. The law is this binding rule and draws its constraining or obligatory force from the will of the superior. Both because the superior wills and so far as he wills, is law binding. Law is the criterion of reasonable action and must, therefore, itself be reasonable.
Law (in the strict sense) and command are preeminently distinguished from other authoritative standards of action, inasmuch as they imply obligation.
In what then do our obligations toward law consist? Modern ethical systems which seek to construct a morality independent of God and religion, are here confronted by an inexplicable riddle.
They say “We are obliged to fulfill the law only on account of itself or because it is the law of our reason”.
But in truth we do not owe obedience to the laws of Church and State because we bind ourselves thereto, but because their superior authority obliges us.
Whoever asserts that man can bind only himself, strikes at the root of all authority and asserts the principle of anarchism.
Whoever maintains that none can put more than himself under obligation denies, thereby, all authority.
St. Francis de Sales gives us the reason for the authentic Authority which the Catholic Church received from God in “The Catholic Controversy”.
How then shall those, who, in our age, would use an extraordinary mission excuse and relieve themselves of this proof of their mission? What privileges have they greater than an Apostolic Mission?
Our Lord very often used His mission to give credit to His words. “As my father hath sent Me, I also send you. My doctrine is not mine, but of Him that sent me. You both know Me, and you know whence I am. I am not come of Myself."
He also gave authority to His mission by bringing forth miracles.
So Jesus says, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? Otherwise believe for the works themselves.”
Indeed the Catholic Church confirms the works of St. Francis de Sales as saying that “The works of Francis de Sales, filled with celestial doctrine are bright light in the Church, pointing out an easy and safe way to arrive at the perfection of a Christian life.”
The spirituality which he initiated has never died. This spirituality of faith, equilibrium, optimism and dynamic charity has given to the Church a number of servants. The most prominent and the most marvelous servant among them is St. John Bosco, the founder of the Congregation of Salesians.
So, dear faithful, with full confidence let us pray to St. Francis de Sales so that he will continue to guide us on the way to Eternal Salvation.