Summary: It is the will of God that all humans be saved, which was a crucial teaching of the Church all the way back to St. Paul.

Thursday of 2nd Week in Course 2019

St Francis de Sales

Jesus, our Lord, constantly had His mission from the Father in mind during His time on earth. That mission is to teach and heal, and to suffer and die for our salvation. It was the Father’s will that the Son should live as a real human being, to suffer and die and to rise so that we could be, by Baptism, incorporated into His Mystical Body, the Church. And then, at the general resurrection, we will rise in our own glorious bodies to be body and soul in His presence, in union with the Trinity, forever. That’s what Jesus, our High Priest, does for us, because of the self-sacrificial love of God for this creation.

There’s a line in today’s Gospel that a lot of ink has been spilled to explain: “whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ And he strictly ordered [the unclean spirits] not to make him known.” Most of the commentary centers on what is known as the Messianic secret. Jesus did not want people to speak of Him as the Messiah, because although He is the Messiah, He is not a political leader, as they wanted Him to be. The Jews, especially the revolutionary ones, wanted a Messiah who would raise an army and drive out the Romans and re-establish the kingdom of David. That’s not the Messiah God had in mind, a Messiah who would change hearts and draw humans together in one community of praise and service. So that explains why Jesus told them to keep quiet about Him.

But why would the kingdom of Satan, the evil spirits, want to make Him known as Son of God? That’s like spending resources to advertise your competition, isn’t it? Nobody would stay in business doing that. I’d like to advance a couple of ideas. Note that Mark tells us about the crowds who came to hear Jesus and to be healed: they were from all over the area, and many of them were from pagan territory. So the term “Son of God” would be familiar to the pagans, who lived in a world of many gods, and demi-gods like Hercules, who were the product of male gods mating with female humans. In fact, to some extent that explains heresies like that of Arius, who considered Jesus to be a god, but not of the same substance as the Father.

The other possibility, of course, is that the demons advertised Jesus precisely because they understood His mission, and wanted the authorities to come out and arrest Him before He had the time to organize the disciples to continue His mission. So part of Jesus’s mission was to silence the evil spirits, and even the disciples, so that could happen in peace.

Now our saint today, Francis de Sales, was a giant in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Like Jesus, He preached and taught and counseled in hostile territory–Switzerland, a land infested with Calvinism. One of the more unfortunate teachings of Calvin is that of predestination. This refers to his belief that “God appointed the eternal destiny of some to salvation by grace, while leaving the remainder to receive eternal damnation for all their sins, even their original sin. The former is called ‘unconditional election’, and the latter ‘reprobation’. In Calvinism, people are predestined and effectually called in due time (regenerated/born again) to faith by God.” Now Francis, as many of us do, had a sensitive conscience, and even though he was pious, he sinned, like all of us. So he was tempted to despair, to think that he was predestined to hell.

But “he was suddenly freed as he knelt before a miraculous image of Our Lady at St. Etienne-des-Grès. He made a vow of chastity and consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary.” From that time he was daily devoted to spreading the news of the will of God that all humans be saved, which was a crucial teaching of the Church all the way back to St. Paul. After his ordination, he was known as an effective preacher to Calvinists and other Protestants, and brought whole regions of Switzerland back to the Church.

For the last twenty years of his life, he was a bishop dedicated to catechesis, reform of religious communities and guidance of the clergy. He was constantly praying, "God's will be done! Jesus, my God and my all!" His great book of spiritual direction, Introduction to the Devout Life, has been translated into just about every human language, and is still very helpful. I think Francis de Sales has a lot to offer our modern Church, so we can pray, St. Francis, pray for us.

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