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John Paul I’s letter to St. Francis de Sales about listening

Pope John Paul I's letter to St. Francis de Sales

Renata Sedmakova | Shutterstock | Public Domain | Collage by Aleteia

Philip Kosloski - published on 02/11/24

In his letter to St. Francis de Sales, John Paul I praises the saint for his habit of listening to people and never ending a conversation, no matter how boring.
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In the early 1970s, Cardinal Albino Luciani (future Pope John Paul I) wrote a series of letters to past historical figures, including many saints.

He wrote the letters for the Catholic newspaper Messaggero di S. Antoniobetween 1971 and 1975, and his letters were later compiled into a book entitled Illustrissimi (To the Illustrious Ones).

One of his letters was addressed to St. Francis de Sales, and he begins it by referring to the saint’s “heart of flesh.”

[Y]ou yourself wrote that you had a “heart of flesh,” which was moved, which understood, which kept reality in mind and knew that men are not pure spiritus, but feeling creatures.

A listening heart

With this heart, St. Francis de Sales had a unique habit of never ending a conversation, however boring it might become:

Already as a university student in Padua, you made a rule for yourself never to avoid or curtail a conversation with anyone, no matter how unlikable and boring; to be modest and without insolence, free and without austerity, gentle and without affectation, pliant and without dissent.

St. Francis de Sales had a listening heart, open to encounters with everyone he met.

Loving his enemies

Another virtuous disposition that John Paul I points out is the saint’s willingness to love his enemies:

Like everyone, you were sometimes misunderstood, contradicted. The “heart of flesh” suffered, but went on loving the contradictors. “If an enemy were to put out my right eye,” you once said, “I would want to smile at him with my left; if he put out both my eyes, I would still have a heart to love him.”

John Paul I’s letter, while short, highlights many of the virtues of St. Francis de Sales and why he is a saint John Paul I wanted to imitate.

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