St. Francis de Sales was a bishop. St. Jane de Chantal was a wife, mother, widow and, later, a religious woman. In the early 1600s these two saints developed what one expert called “one of the deepest and most creative spiritual friendships in the Christian tradition.”
In that friendship, Francis helped Jane to find a deep surrender to the heart of Jesus. The intertwining of Jesus’ heart with hers provided the foundation of Jane’s life after her husband’s death. She found peace in the midst of loss. She found patience and interior flexibility, when she longed for the solitude of religious life but family demands required her time and energy. She found gentleness with herself and others.
Jane, too, provided something for Francis in that friendship. She gave birth to and tended the living community that embodied his vision of intertwined hearts. By the end of her life, 82 Visitation convents had been founded. Francis and Jane were, truly and together, spiritual father and mother to these communities.
Let me draw attention to two characteristics of the spirituality they promoted, and their friendship embodied.
The first is their motto: Live Jesus! Companies have advertising slogans, offering people a way to think of their products. This was Francis’ and Jane’s slogan, and it offered people a way to think of themselves. The motto is an invitation to Jesus: it gives Him permission to live in us. It’s also a command and encouragement to ourselves: to let Jesus be the measure and rule of our affections, thoughts, decisions, words and actions. Finally, it’s an invitation to others: to take the gentle yoke of Jesus upon themselves.
Second is their patronal event: the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. In this event, one pregnant woman visits another, each to offer help, and Jesus right there in the middle of their ordinary human interaction. For Francis and Jane, this event is a call to holiness for all people. The Visitation teaches us that God’s call is not only heard in the desert or the monk’s cell. You don’t have to flee from life’s circumstances to find Jesus. He can also be found in the everyday busyness of our lives, relationships and duties.
Four hundred years ago, from 1604 to 1622, a beautiful friendship developed between a bishop and a lay woman. Together, they created a new spiritual family and met a need of their time. Their friendship speaks to our time as well. Perhaps we, like them, can find friendships whose intimacy is not physical or psychological but spiritual — an intimacy that’s rooted in the heart of Jesus, in which we help each other receive the heart of Jesus, and bear fruit by offering His heart to others.
Books to Explore Further:
"Saints by Our Side series. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal." (Wendy M. Wright.)
"The Classics of Western Spirituality series. Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal." (Translated by Peronne Marie Thibert, VHM. Selected and Introduced by Wendy M. Wright and Joseph Power, OSFS.)