Saturday, January 28, 2012

St. Francis de Sales and Philothea on Phire

Last Tuesday, January 24, was the feast day of St. Francis de Sales – in the Novus Ordo calendar. This saint’s feast is on January 29 in the “old” calendar.

My Roman Martyrology (trans. by Rev. Raphael Collins, Newman Press, 1952) says, for January 29:

St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva, confessor and doctor of the Church, special patron before God of all Catholic writers in explaining, promoting, or defending Christian doctrine either  by publishing journals of other writings in the vernacular. He departed to heaven on the 28th of December, but because of the transfer of his body on this day, his feast is now celebrated…

Just as an aside here, one wonders why the feast was moved to the 24th in the new calendar. I’ve heard that many of the changes were…capricious.  At any rate, in my little world, I tend to follow the old calendar, and thus I am celebrating the feast of St. Francis de Sales on the 29th.

St. Francis de Sales is important to me personally for several reasons. For one thing, he is the patron saint of St. Francis de Sales Cathedral in Baker City, Oregon, in which city I have lived for the past nine years. We moved to Baker City a few months before my first anniversary as a Catholic, and I was thrilled to be attending Mass at the small but majestic-looking Cathedral. At the time, I was a little disappointed that it was not St. Francis of Assisi for whom the church was named, because I knew who he was. I didn’t have a clue as to the story of this de Sales guy.

But I learned. And I was delighted to find that St. Francis de Sales was the patron saint of Catholic writers. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and when I was a little girl in the early ‘60’s who wanted to be “just a housewife”, my teachers coached me to say that I wanted to be “an author” when I grew up – it was more in keeping with the times. This seemed a good option to me even at the time, because I knew I didn’t want to have a job outside the home; my motivation was not all that traditional, though – I just was very shy and didn’t want to deal with people! Writing at home seemed the perfect “career”, because I could assure myself that I wouldn’t have to go out into the scary world, and I could assure my teachers that I had a career goal.

I never did earn a living at writing, but I did earn a few dollars with some articles that were published by Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  I also “edited” the parish bulletin for several years, and thought of St. Francis de Sales watching over my shoulder when I worked on it. I often added little quotes from his writings to cultivate our identity as St. Francis de Sales Cathedral parish.

St. Francis de Sales is also the patron saint of the Diocese of Baker, and that’s been especially  important to me in the months since I started this blog.  I started the because it seemed that there was just too much going on in the Church in general and in our diocese in particular to justify my sitting on the sidelines any longer. I felt that there were things that needed to be said, and that a blog would be the way to say them.  And so, I began. I began with a prayer to St. Francis de Sales, and I continue to beg his assistance and guidance on a daily basis (at least!).

My special icon...thanks to N.A.
St. Francis de Sales also influenced my choice of a title for my blog. Having read his Introduction to the Devout Life”, I knew that he had addressed that treatise to “Philothea”. That’s why I have written in the banner section at the top of this blog:

 "You aim at a devout life, dear Philothea, because as a Christian you know that such devotion is most acceptable to God's Divine Majesty," says St. Francis de Sales in his book "Introduction to the Devout Life".

And we can all be Philotheas, as St. Francis notes: "I have made use of a name suitable to all who seek the devout life, Philothea meaning one who loves God."

I’m a Philothea, you’re a Philothea, all God’s children can be Philotheas!

But…I can’t resist…let’s switch gears to a liturgical issue. I love liturgy – good liturgy- and I love celebrating a feast as a feast, a solemnity as a solemnity. I love incense and bell-ringing and candles and appropriate altar antependia and plenty of altar servers. I love these things not as ends in themselves, but because their proper use enhances the liturgical sense of the celebration. Their proper use tells us whether it’s a memorial, or a feast, or a solemnity, and that gives us a proper appreciation of the importance of the saint for our parish, our diocese, or our community.

Since St. Francis de Sales is the patron saint of the Diocese of Baker, then, while most places celebrate this feast every year as a “memorial” in the new calendar, the parishes of the Diocese of Baker should celebrate it as a feast. And since the Cathedral parish bears the name of the Saint, the liturgical celebration there should a solemnity.  Of course, we’re talking about a Tuesday this year (not too many people around here follow the old calendar), so I suspect that in most parishes, the day passed without much fanfare or acknowledgement of the feast, and daily Mass was probably celebrated as a simple memorial of St. Francis de Sales. It would be interesting to hear what actually transpired around our Diocese.  This would have been an ideal day to devote a few extra prayers to St. Francis de Sales for a new bishop for our diocese – a bishop who is holy, pastoral, and courageous. Times are going to be tough for our new bishop, whoever he may be.

At the Cathedral parish, there was indeed a significant celebration of the feast day with an evening Mass at 7pm, followed by an ice cream social in the parish hall – a long-standing tradition there. I do not know whether or not the Mass was truly celebrated as a solemnity; in the past this has not been the case from a strictly liturgical point of view. Still, just the fact that there was Mass on a Tuesday evening is a big deal in this town!

Next year, perhaps we will find the Diocesan Chronicle filled with photos and stories of the various parishes of the Diocese of Baker having proper Feasts of St. Francis de Sales on January 24th.  

And perhaps it will be a time of great thanksgiving for a new bishop, as well.

(The information about feasts and solemnities is found in a document entitled General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, promulgated by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship in 1969. You can view the entire document here.)

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