By Sr. Regina Bechtle
St. Francis de Sales’ feast is January 24. He was an influential adviser, colleague and friend of St. Vincent de Paul in early 16th century France.
In De Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God, he speaks about prayer or “affective love” and then describes our actions in life as “effective love.” Sound familiar?
St. Vincent later borrowed the terms, putting his own twist on them: affective love is tender love; effective love takes flesh in works of charity that serve the poor. It’s not either-or but both-and.
As the Bishop of Geneva in the Reformation era, de Sales was known for his kind, respectful and courteous approach to the Protestant Calvinists and others who disagreed with him. He wrote, “Love will shake the walls of Geneva [the Calvinists]. By love we must invade and conquer it. Ardent prayer must break down the walls and brotherly love charge them…I would rather answer to the good God for too much gentleness than for too much severity. Is not God all love?”
He preached gentleness as the best way to disarm and convert others. His approach modeled the proverb, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” though he probably never actually said those words. As our world, our nation, our neighborhoods and our families wrestle with the many issues that divide us today, I wonder what would happen if opposing sides dared to adopt the tactics of Francis de Sales?