What can Catholic Communicators Learn from St. Francis de Sales?
St. Francis de Sales. Image from here.
January 24 is the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of Catholic writers, the Catholic press and journalists. It is also the day when the pope releases his annual message for the World Communications Day.
For Catholic communicators, it’s a great excuse to eat some celebratory cake and reflect on the life of this saint, who offers encouragement and wisdom for those who partake in our noble profession.
Born in 1567 and ordained in 1593, St. Francis de Sales spent his life spreading the Gospel with a special emphasis on encouraging lay people to lead lives of holiness.
In the early years of his priesthood, St. Francis sought to bring Calvinists back to the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation. Needless to say, trudging through the countryside in the middle of winter to engage in door-to-door evangelization was no easy task. To add insult to the injury of frozen toes, he often had doors slammed in his face. Exercising the virtue of patience, he came up with the innovative solution of writing out Catholic teachings on pamphlets and sliding them under slammed doors. This is one of the first examples in history of the faith being transmitted in this way.
While our socks are much warmer and our pamphlets are certainly more appealing than they would have been at Francis’ hand, we still have much to learn from his perseverance in communicating the faith against all odds, using whatever methods were necessary to reach his audience. Sometimes this involves taking up a new communications medium or recognizing when one method isn’t working and exploring new avenues to accomplish our work.
Although he ministered in the 16th century, St. Francis de Sales would also easily relate to the modern struggle of getting bogged down with email. Providing spiritual direction to many people via letters, he often found himself inundated with outstanding correspondence, but handled it with his legendary patience and great perseverance: “I have more than fifty letters to answer. If I tried to hurry over it all, I would be lost. So, I intend neither to hurry or to worry. This evening, I shall answer as many as I can. Tomorrow I shall do the same and so I shall go on until I have finished.”
Next time you are wondering how you are going to tackle your exploding inbox, ask for St. Francis’ intercession! He’s been there and surely can pray for this important aspect of your ministry.
Finally, his writings, which were geared toward laypeople, and his zeal for preaching the universal call to holiness can serve as a helpful example in our own ministry. As Catholic communicators, we have the mission of transmitting the faith in a way that can be easily understood and subsequently lived more fully. St. Francis’ heart for bringing the Gospel to all, regardless of education, ability or status in the Church, is a heart we should all seek to develop. Keeping the recipient of the Gospel message always in mind is a powerful motivator.
As we celebrate the feast of our patron saint today, we pray he would inspire us to share the Gospel clearly and simply using the many gifts we’ve been given.
Thank you for your vocation to Catholic communications! In the words of St. Francis de Sales: “Be who you are and be that well.”