On this 400th anniversary of the date of the saint's death, Pope Francis' calls on his new letter to reflect on Christmas.
Pope Francis has written a letter on St. Francis de Sales, the bishop of Geneva and doctor of the Church (1567-1622), who is famous for his great writings, particularly notable for addressing the spiritual life of the laity.
At the general audience of December 28, the exact date of the 400th anniversary of the saint’s death and the day the apostolic letter is released, the Pope considered the saint’s reflections on Christmas.
The title of the Pope’s letter, he announced, is Everything pertains to love, taking up a characteristic expression of Saint Francis de Sales.
Let us then try to delve a little deeper into the mystery of Jesus’ birth, “in the company” of St. Francis de Sales, thus uniting the two commemorations.
The Pope noted how in one of his many letters to St. Jeanne Frances de Chantal, St. Francis de Sales spoke of Solomon’s throne, which had no equal. “And yet,” the saint wrote, “I would a hundred times rather see the dear Jesus in his Crib, than all the kings of the world on their thrones.”
Pope Francis reflected:
What he says is beautiful. Jesus, the King of the universe, never sat on a throne, never: He was born in a stable … wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger; and finally He died on a cross and, wrapped in a sheet, was laid in the tomb.
The Pope reiterated what he said in his Christmas Eve homily, that St. Luke notes three times that the Child was found in a manger, insisting a “great deal on the detail.”
St. Luke’s insistence shows the manger’s importance not only as a logistical detail, but as a symbolic element, that enables us “to understand what kind of Messiah is He who was born in Bethlehem; what kind of King He is, Who Jesus is.”
Seeing the manger, gazing upon the cross, looking at His life, a life of simplicity, we can understand who Jesus is. Jesus is the Son of God Who saves us by becoming man, like us; stripping Himself of His glory and humbling Himself (cf. Phil 2:7-8). We see this mystery concretely in the focal point of the crib, namely in the Child lying in a manger.
“This is the throne of our King,” Francis said.
Sign that shows “style”
The sign of the manger shows us God’s style, Pope Francis said, affirming as he has in the past that God’s “style” is characterized by three things: “Don’t forget, never forget: the style of God is closeness, compassion, and tenderness. Our God is close, compassionate, and tender.”
This style of God is seen in Jesus. With this style of His, God draws us to Himself. He does not take us by force, He does not impose His truth and justice on us. He does not proselytize us, no! He wants to draw us with love, with tenderness, with compassion.
… Jesus stripped, Jesus poor; but always with His style of closeness, compassion, and tenderness. God has found the means to attract us however we are: with love. Not a possessive and selfish love, as unfortunately human love so often is. His love is pure gift, pure grace, it is all and only for us, for our good. And so He draws us in, with this unarmed and even disarming love. Because when we see this simplicity of Jesus, we too cast aside the weapons of pride and go, humbly, to ask for salvation, to ask for forgiveness, to ask for light for our lives, in order to be able to move forward.
Do not forget the throne of Jesus. The manger and the Cross: this is the throne of Jesus.
Sign that shows poverty
Pope Francis also reflected on the poverty of the crib, in such contrast to our Christmas celebrations today.
Yes, let us be careful not to slip into the worldly caricature of Christmas. … that reduces Christmas to a sappy, consumerist celebration. We want to celebrate, we want to, but this is not Christmas, Christmas is something else. God’s love is not sugar sweet; Jesus’ manger shows us that. It is not a hypocritical goodness that hides the pursuit of pleasures and comforts. Our elders, who knew war and also hunger, knew this well: Christmas is joy and celebration, certainly, but in simplicity and austerity.
The hand of God
Finally, the Pope reflected on St. Francis de Sales’ invitation to receive everything from the hand of God with love.
And let us conclude with a thought of St. Francis de Sales that I have also taken up in the Apostolic Letter. He dictated it to the Visitandine Sisters – just think! – two days before his death.
And he said: “Do you see the baby Jesus in the crib? He accepts all the discomforts of that season, the bitter cold and everything that the Father lets happen to him. He does not refuse the small consolations that his Mother gives him; we are not told that he ever reached out for his Mother’s breast, but left everything to her care and concern. So too, we ourselves should neither desire nor refuse anything, but accept all that God sends us, the bitter cold and the discomforts of the season,” everything.
And here, dear brothers and sisters, is a great teaching, which comes to us from the Child Jesus through the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales: to desire nothing and reject nothing, to accept everything that God sends us. But be careful! Always and only out of love, always and only out of love, because God loves us and only ever wants our good.