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How St. Francis de Sales compares grace to birds’ ability to fly

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Philip Kosloski - published on 01/12/23

God wants to lift us up with his grace, but we need to open our wings like a bird to be able to fly in his love.

It can be tempting to think that we don’t have to do anything to receive God’s grace. While God does offer to us the gift of his grace, we need to be open to that gift in order to receive it.

Pope Francis reflects on this concept when looking at the writings of St. Francis de Sales in his apostolic letter, Totum amoris est.

He points out St. Francis de Sales’ comparison of grace to the flight of birds.

Francis had spoken of this relationship using a curious example drawn from ornithology: “There are certain birds, Theotimos, that Aristotle calls ‘apodans,’ because they have such short and weak legs as to be of no use to them; it is as if they did not even have them. Should they fall to the ground, they remain there, unable to take flight because, without the use of legs or feet, they cannot rise and take wing. Consequently, they remain on the ground and die there, unless a gust of wind, compensating for their inability, lifts them up, as it often does with other things. If, in that case, they flap their wings in response to the thrust of the wind, the wind itself will continue to help them by thrusting them ever higher, in order to help them to fly higher and higher.”

The same holds true for us: we were created by God to fly, to spread our wings in response to the call to love, but once we fall to earth, unless we choose to open those wings to the wind of the Spirit, we risk never again being able to fly.

St. Francis de Sales explains that “Grace possesses a holy violence, not to violate our liberty but to guide it to love. Grace acts strongly, yet in such a pleasing way that our will is not overwhelmed by so powerful a force; while pressing us, it does not oppress our liberty. Consequently, we are able, before all its might, to consent to or resist its promptings at our pleasure.”

God wants to give us his grace, but we can freely choose to accept it or reject it.

God does not violate our free will by forcing grace upon us. Instead, he offers it to us as a free gift, a gift that we need to accept before we experience its saving effects.

If we want to fly on the wind of God’s grace, we need to open the wings of our heart, letting him lift us up with his love.

Francis de SalesSpiritual Life
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