At the end of the general audience, the Pontiff asked for prayers for the pope emeritus so that “the Lord consoles him and sustains him in this testimony of love for the Church until the end.” On the fourth centenary of the death of Saint Francis de Sales, the apostolic letter “Everything Belongs to Love” was released today on the current spirituality of the great Bishop of Geneva. “God made child does not take us by force, he wants to attract us with love and tenderness”.
Vatican City () – Pope Francis called for a “special prayer” for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “who is silently supporting the Church”. At the end of the general audience on Wednesdays, in the Paul VI Hall, the Pontiff today asked the faithful to be especially close to his 95-year-old predecessor, who has lived in retirement in the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae monastery since 2013. “He is very sick”, Francis said, “let us ask the Lord to console him and sustain him in this testimony of love for the Church until the end”.
The invitation was at the closing of the audience that the Pontiff dedicated to Saint Francis de Sales, the great preacher and teacher of spirituality of the 17th century, whose death marks the fourth centenary today. On this anniversary, the Pope explained that he had written an apostolic letter entitled Totum amoris est (“Everything Belongs to Love”), which airs today. This text – whose title takes up one of the most famous phrases from the Treatise on the Love of God written by this holy Bishop of Geneva – covers his life and, above all, the relevance of his thought in a time of transition like ours, in many aspects similar to that experienced by Saint Francis de Sales.
During today’s catechesis, the Pope offered an example of this by taking up some of his pages on Christmas that underline the extraordinary meaning of the mystery of God who becomes a child. Saint Francis de Sales writes to Saint Francisca de Chantal the following: “It seems to me that I see Solomon on his great throne of ivory, gilded and carved, who had no equal in any kingdom, as Scripture says (1 Kings 10, 18-20 ); see, finally, that king who had no equal in glory and magnificence (cf. 1 Kings 10, 23). But I would rather see the Child in the manger a hundred times than all the kings of the earth on his thrones.”
By making himself small, in a manger, Pope Francis commented, he shows us God’s “style”, which is closeness, compassion and tenderness. With this style of his, God draws us to him. He does not take us by force, he does not impose his truth and his justice on us. He wants to attract us with love, with tenderness.
In another letter written two days before his death, St. Francis de Sales observed that the Child Jesus “did not refuse the little comforts that he was given” by his Mother. “It is not written that he ever extended his hands to his Mother’s breasts, he totally abandoned himself to her care and provision. In the same way we should not desire or refuse anything, but equally accept everything that God’s Providence allows us to happen to us, the cold and the inclement weather”. For Francis, this is a great teaching that must also be grasped today at Christmas: “Desiring nothing and rejecting nothing, accepting everything that God sends us.” But be careful: always and only for love, because God loves us and wants always and only our good’.