|The baptismal font in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, made from an inverted porphyry sarcophagus lid. Nice symbolism there.|
It’s my baptismal day, or so I’m figuring.
Thanks to the promptings of the Spirit and the pushes and shoves and support of the best bunch of sponsors and godparents an initiate could hope for–Max Lindenman, Frank Weathers, and The Anchoress Elizabeth Scalia–I’m jumping into the pool and coming up a neophyte Catholic blogger, no longer just an opinionated inquirer hanging out on the combox sidelines.
It’s an auspicious date, this being the feast day of St Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church and patron of Catholic writers and journalists. Before this morning, I have to confess I knew almost nothing about this particular “other St Francis,” my formation and leanings being toward Assisi, not Geneva. I had done documentary film work for the Salesians of St John Bosco years ago, but knew much more about the founder of that missionary community than I did about the saint for whom it is named. So in the noble tradition of mystagogia–Catholic-speak for “newbies learn more by diving right into the Mysteries than we could ever tell them ahead of time”–I’ve spent the morning introducing myself to my new patron, and taking his example and marching orders to heart.
Many Catholic bloggers are marking this patronal feast, but Pat Gohn probably says best and simplest what I, and maybe you, need most to know about the man she calls St Frank. I’ll simply add to her appreciation a couple of things that make Francis de Sales a particularly attractive patron for Catholic-blogger me:
- He was an apologist, but not a hammer of heretics. Called to contest Calvinism, Francis found that face-to-face confrontation was getting him nowhere, so he took to slipping little persuasive pamphlets under Calvinist doors. Ours is a Church as divided and polarized within, today, as Europe was without in Francis’ time. The Catholic blogosphere often resembles some Breughelesque village square full of people punching each other in the nose. Amid the din, I want to walk with Francis, dropping occasional valentines to our shared faith and invitations to reasoned conversation under the doors of anyone who might care to stumble on them.
- He knew what it was like to wrestle with darkness. As a young man of 19, Francis was profoundly shaken by the notion of predestination, a sermon on which sent him into six weeks of abject fear and depression. This crisis of faith granted him a lifelong sensitivity to and compassion for the scruples of others, and helped him develop a whole toolbox of practical strategies for learning from, instead of indulging and being overcome by, accidie. I who plunge myself into that darkness every other week, and who know no other way to be faithful, most of the time, than by doubting can appreciate having such a seasoned companion on the way.
- He was, in addition to his feats as an apologist, one heck of a spiritual director, as attested to by the thousands of letters he wrote to those in need of Francis’ particular blend of down-to-earth wisdom and passionate, poetic inspiration. When I was struggling, last week, with the call to blog, my friend Michael suggested that maybe what I needed was a good spiritual director. He’s right, and I’m in process toward that goal, but while I look for one a little closer to this time zone, Francis will make a wonderfully welcome ghostly confessor.
It’s the last that’s probably the most important, because in the end I see this blog as mostly a form of personal spiritual discipline to which others are privy if it helps. I will take Francis de Sales’ advice to Mademoiselle de Soulfour, a young novice who nearly crashed and burned in her attempts to achieve levels spiritual perfection far beyond her (or anyone’s) abilities, to heart as I go forward:
“Therefore, slow down, take a few deep breaths, and by reflecting on the dangers you escaped, avert those that might come your way. Treat as suspect all those desires which, in the common opinion of wise persons, cannot be followed up by good effects. Such would be, for example, the desire for a certain kind of Christian perfection that can be imagined but not carried out, one that many people can talk about, but that no one puts into practice.” (from Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, Paulist Press, copyright 1988 Péronne Marie Thibert, VHM, Wendy M. Wright, and Joseph F. Power, OSFS)
Standing here dripping wet with my baptismal candle in hand, reminded that the word blog sounds a lot like blago, or blessing, in the Slavonic of the Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy, I invoke the patronage of St Francis de Sales to make this blog not Christian perfection, but a blessed space where wise persons can gather to help one another put good effects into practice.
Now come to the baptismal party. There’s cake!