Thursday 23 February 2023

Totum Amoris Est - Pope Francis

Totum Amoris Est
On the Fourth Centenary of the Death of Saint Francis de Sales
Pope Francis
ISBN 9781784697570
CTS Booklet DO964

I picked up this volume for two reasons the first is it was the next volume in Father Mark Goring’s Saint Mark’s School of Reading, and the second was that I had just read two volumes by St Francis De Sales right before this. Introduction to the Devout Life as part of the Ascension Catholic Classics podcast and Roses Among Thorns with Father Mark. So this volume fit in perfectly with some other current volumes. This is available on the Vatican website for free, but I prefer the CTS Booklet version, I just wish they could publish an eBook edition. About this volume we are informed that:

“Pope Francis honours the legacy of St Francis de Sales on the 400th anniversary of his death by calling on the Church to be outward looking, praising the saint’s far-sighted vision in perceiving that changing times were a great opportunity for preaching the Gospel.”

The description of this volume is:

“Pope Francis marks the 400th anniversary of the death of St Francis de Sales with this Apostolic Letter:

"On this anniversary of the fourth centenary of his death, I have given much thought to the legacy of Saint Francis de Sales for our time. I find that his flexibility and his far-sighted vision have much to say to us. Partly by God’s gift and partly thanks to his own character, but also by his steady cultivation of lived experience, Francis perceived clearly that the times were changing. On his own, he might never have imagined that those changes represented so great an opportunity for the preaching of the Gospel. The word of God that he had loved from his youth now opened up before him new and unexpected horizons in a rapidly changing world. That same task awaits us in this, our own age of epochal change. We are challenged to be a Church that is outward looking." (Pope Francis)”

I highlighted several passages while reading this volume, they are:

“Long disenchanted by the “fleeting glories of the court”, [3] he spent those final days exercising his pastoral ministry amid a flurry of appointments: confessions, conversations, conferences, sermons, and, of course, letters of spiritual friendship.”

“Francis’ profound sense of God’s presence amid the events of daily life was evident in those last days in Lyon. He shared with his Visitation Sisters how he wished to be remembered by them: “I said everything in just two words, when I told you to refuse nothing and to desire nothing; I have nothing more to say to you”.”

“His teachings were the fruit of a great sensitivity to experience. He merely translated into doctrine what, enlightened by the Spirit, he had experienced and learned in the course of his remarkably innovative pastoral activity. We find it summed up in the Preface to the Treatise on the Love of God: “In Holy Church, everything pertains to love, lives in love, is done for love and comes from love”.”

“Devotion is like a flame with regard to fire: it increases the intensity of charity without altering its quality. “In the end, charity and devotion can be said to differ from one another as fire from a flame. Charity is a spiritual fire that, when fanned into flame, is called devotion. Devotion thus adds nothing to the fire of charity but the flame that makes charity prompt, active and diligent, not only in the observance of God’s commandments but also in the exercise of his divine counsels and inspirations”.”

“Saint Francis thus came to view the entirety of the Christian life as “the ecstasy of work and life”. [46] For him, Christianity was not to be confused with a facile escapism or self-absorption, much less a dull and dreary obedience. We know that this danger can always be present in the life of faith. Indeed, “there are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter”, and while we can understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, “slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith begin to revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress”.”

“As the criterion of discernment, he states that while, on the one hand, this ecstasy entails genuine self-renunciation, on the other it does not mean fleeing from life. We should constantly remind ourselves of this, lest we risk straying from the right path. In a word, those who think they are rising to God, yet fail to love their neighbour, are deceiving both themselves and others.”

“Here we find the same criterion that Francis used to measure true devotion. “If you see a person who in prayer has raptures that exalt him above himself to God, and yet has no ecstasy of life, that is, he does not lead a life elevated and joined to God, above all by means of constant charity, believe me, Theotimus, all his raptures are exceedingly dubious and dangerous”.”

“For Saint Francis de Sales, then, while the Christian life is never without ecstasy, ecstasy is inauthentic apart from a truly Christian life. Indeed, life without ecstasy risks being reduced to blind obedience, a Gospel bereft of joy. On the other hand, ecstasy without life easily falls prey to the illusions and deceptions of the Evil one. The great polarities of the Christian life cannot be resolved and eliminated. If anything, each preserves the authenticity of the other. Truth, then, does not exist without justice, pleasure without responsibility, spontaneity without law, and vice versa.”

“Francis could thus conclude his Treatise by appealing to a sermon of Saint Augustine on charity: “What is more steadfast than charity, not in requiting injuries, but in taking no account of them? Concerned not with passing things, but with eternity? Since it has an unshakable trust in the promises of the future life, charity can tolerate all things in this present life. It can endure whatever it must here below, because it hopes in the promises of the world to come.”

I hope those quotes give you a feel for the content of this Apostolic Letter. I admit I was unsure of what to expect when I began reading this. I am thankful I gave it a read. It is a small volume, 32 pages for this booklet edition and only 4 pages if you print it off from the Vatican site. This is a good little volume. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books by Saint Francis de Sales:
Introduction to the Devout Life
The Sign of the Cross
The Art of Loving God
Roses Among Thorns
Finding God's Will for You

Sermons of St. Francis de Sales:
Sermons of St. Francis de Sales on Prayer
Sermons of St. Francis de Sales on Our Lady
Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Lent
Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Advent and Christmas

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